Exclusively Setters

Home for Irish Setter Lovers Around the World

Hi All,

First up, I’m wondering how well frequented and therefore useful this site is anymore. It’s a shame because there’s some great advice here from the past.

My wonderful intact male setter is 1 month short of being 2 years old.
He’s a generally well-behaved dog. We’ve done a lot of training with him, though perhaps not as consistently as we should have, but as much as life has allowed (no-one is perfect!).

One of the things we found with puppy training was how “blunt-instrument” the courses often were, trying to apply one-size-fits-all training techniques to all types of dogs, and was therefore maladapted to a hunting dog breed like setters. One instance springs to mind of having a class in the forest when he was about 6 months. The forest being a paradise of smells and distractions for him (which admittedly might have been the point), was way too overwhelming for an inquisitive, passionate young setter to concentrate on “sit” and “leash walk”.

These days his recall is pretty good and his leash walking is also pretty good. However, neither of these two most important facets are where I’d like them to be.

For example, our boy, in a field, if not in “hunting mode” (i.e. without a scent in the nose - we don’t hunt with him), will come straight back when called 5/6 times.
This is good. I don’t want him to come back 30 seconds and a quick last pee after he’s been called. That is, when he decides to obey. As much as we got a setter for their independent and fun-loving nature there are times when he just needs to do as he’s told.

However, if we are out and there’s a scent, a deer or even something simply more attractive than usual he is off to chase, explore, hunt. He will come back when called but eventually, not immediately and those intervals between recall and return are growing, even if only 5 or 10 minutes. Yet there’s a lot of trouble he can get into in those 5 or 10 minutes and he’s not “under control”.

I’m very aware that we have a wonderful, lively passionate dog with a still strongly present hunting instinct. If I wanted a robot I would have got a German Shepherd. Still, he is living in a domestic environment and needs to conform to domestic rules, not hassling smaller dogs, coming back despite a scent or another dog to play with, walking at my side (ideally without a leash, but loose-easy is fine).

My question then is, putting aside the old setter excuses of irascible, fun-loving, rascal, what are reasonable training expectations to make his life easier (knowing what he has to do) and ours.
Furthermore, if anyone has good training book recommendations  for training hunting breeds for domestic life, recommend-away!

Thanks community!

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Hi Denis,

Our Setter is only 15 months so it sounds like you have more experience than me but I thought it may be useful to share my experience, if only for a comparison.

Our dog is female and mostly a very obedient companion. Around the house she is a model dog. Clean, she has yet to steal any food although she does regularly steal item of clothing, socks, my sons dirty rugby kit etc. She sleeps well, on her own in the kithcen, and as long as she is well exercised, is great company around the house.

On walks she is probably the friendliest dog in the neighbourhood. Sometimes a bit too friendly as she hasn't quite worked out when other dogs don't want to play or when their owners don't want a big red dog doing the Harlem Shuffle at them until they give her a cuddle. Still, we can live with this. She does have a nasty habit of steeling other dogs balls and then running off and hiding them. She has gotten herself a reputation and this is becoming very embarrassing.

In terms of recall she is generally very good (unless she has just stolen a ball, then forget it). High quality treats help massively. We do choose to walk her in wide open spaces when we can, like the local racecourse or large farmers fields, as she loves to run. She will run off, given the room, in huge circles, chasing sky larks, pigeons, seaguls etc. Regardless of whether they are on the ground or 50 feet in the sky. When she is doing this, recall is tricky. She will eventually return when the birds have flown off or we walk on. We're used to this now and tend to go with it. We've noticed that the fewer times we call her back the more she notices when we do.

On more rambling walks (narrow paths, woodlands etc) she does have an annoying habit of straying too far. We have to make a continual effort to call her, so that she stays within eyeshot. She covers A LOT of ground, double, triple, quadruple that of any of our friends dogs (Labs, Workign Cockers). We've been considering buying a tracker, for piece of mind, to manage this.

She does jump up on people still, despite our best eforts to disuade her but she is getting better. This has caused much embarrassment. She also hates being kept still, on the lead. She will growl and bark if you stop and chat for too long when out with her on the lead. This also makes a trip to the pub after a long country walk problematic if you don't have a large chew or a pre-loaded Kong on hand.

On the whole she is well behaved for a young dog, if not a little bit too independent at times. Like you said. I wouldn't change her for the world. The pros of her loving nature far outweigh the cons of her slightly rebellious side.


Thanks Luna, that’s a lovely reply. That sounds quite like my boy, too. Mostly good, completely adorable. Could do better. It’s why we love them, isn’t it for that « slightly too independent » character. 

Still, I’d like to know if my aim of tranquil leash walking and slightly more obedience is realistic?

i have 2 x setters a 3 year old male and a 9 month old bitch. The male was always a bit of a wanderer, out on walks he would be way ahead only seeing him occasionally when he checked we were still there, redcal was good when he wanted it to be, any distraction and you would be wasting your time. I managed this a bit by letting him lose me on walks ans once he realized i wasn't there he would come looking with a worried look on his face. He would go bouncing of into the woods and i would just go a different way, i did this for several weeks and now dont need much recall as hes always checking on me making sure i have not got lost. At 2 years he changed overnight, stayed much closer and the recall was much better, he also seemed to take to training easier. Lead walking still a problem, pulls like a train one way and on the way back walks perfect, a good headcollar sorts this out. Hes just turned 3 and he seems to have settled again, much happier to just walk along side and chasing seagulls is not as intense as it was.

The 9 month old bitch has not had much training because she just seems to pick it up from the big fella and she has a recall that you cannot fault, even on a crowded beach she will go visit people but the second i blow the whistle shes right there in front of me, she is also very ball driven, if shes playing with the ball she sees nothing else where as the male just not interested.

Hi Dave,

Thanks so much for sharing - exactly the kind of response I was hoping for. Very informative.

Yep, good recall when they want it to be. Any distraction, wasting your time. Everything you’ve said resonates.
My boy just turned two. He is already better and I keep gently working on reinforcing our bond. He does need to know who’s boss though - and I can do this nicely. 
I asked the community because there are so any people who train dogs and whose training is not well-suited to Setters.

Obviously I don’t know where you are based, but it was reassuring to see an English tv dog trainer, Graeme Hall (who is generally excellent) not exactly succeed with a 4 year old headstrong, male Setter.

So your answer has helped me enormously regarding « realistic expectations ».

I have a second question for you: Has life become « easier » for you and your big fella with a second dog around? I get the feeling my lad needs a playmate, or would do better with one. (We all want what’s best for our dogs. I’m probably being a bit idealistic.) They are so social. 

Hi Denis

i would say a second dog worked fantastic, but from advise I received same sex pairings less likely to get on so Henry (big fella) has been neutered Hattie the pup will not be spayed if I can avoid it and they get on superb.

The arrival of the pup really helped Henry but it took him about a week to figure out he could play with her without breaking her, but since then I have trouble separating them.

Henry is a bit of an anxious dog, don’t know why he was well socialised and was the life and soul of the party. Then at about 20 months he became very standoffish even with dogs he knew very well, if I stopped to talk Henry would go say hello to dogs and they go of to the side and sit and wait, when I set of again he would join me but you could not get him to come over until I moved. Henry was also a poo eater, we trained him not to eat his own but when out he was terrible.

once Hattie arrived Henry suddenly became very social again and has stayed that way, also the poo eating stopped and although he has the occasional snack like most dogs do it’s no longer a problem.

also lead walking, walk either of them separately they are still bad, but walk them together and they walk almost perfect.

Hope that helps

If you have a look on my Facebook account there are lots of photos in uploads also lots of videos





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