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Articel from 1988 by Rita Bryden, and still worth reading

Our Dogs April 1 1988


Judging The Breed



The ORIGINAL purpose for which the Irish Setter was bred must be the primary concern of anyone who judges or expects to judge this beautiful breed with any degree of competence. The breed standard was written by sportsmen who not only appreciated the Setter´s working capabilities, but also the aesthetic picture painted by this most handsome of breeds in motion an on point.


It is no wonder that our predecessors regarded deviation from the norm and acceptance or reward for exaggeration as unworthy. The Rev T. Pearce, a well respected judge at field trials and shows in the 19th Century, under his pseydonym “Idstone”  wrote: “It is quite true that good judges…disagree on some minor points, but on grand landmarkes all agree.” Distortion to satisfy some personal whim must never be tolerated by the good judge. Only the mediocre or ill-informed lacking both knowledge of the Irish Setter´s evolution as a highly respected gundog and a failure to understand even the literal meaning of the breed standard, could allow a breed to deteriorate.

   It was not without experiencing some dismay when I was told by one of our present day judges that she never read the breed standard- “it was only for novice judges”. I would not want anyone to be able to repeat standard like a parrot, but I do expect everyone who wants to judge our breed to study it, again and again and again.

   With patience and determined study, understanding of what breeding and judging the Irish Setter is all about will be the reward of the aspiring and experienced judge alike. Failure to recognise what the breed was bred for reduces the level of judging in the show ring to one of judging appearance only and this is fraught with difficulties being totally influenced by the fads and fancies of  the times we live in.

   Throughout the history of the Irish Setter as we know it certain fashions of the day have taken precedence over common sense. The only people to blame when this happens are the judges of the day. In 1933 in the correspondence column of “OUR DOGS”, much was written about “The Heads of Irish Setters”. There were many contributors following a letter to the Editor from Miss Thorne Baker expressing her concern that the Irish Setter head was becoming over-long and that there was a danger that true breed type would be lost. The support she received from such notable names in the breed as W.J Rasbridge, Mrs Nagle, the late D. Leighton and the late Mrs Ingle Bepler was strengthened by a huge number of letters from others who may not have been so well known, but who certainly knew about Irish Setters. All were quite adamant the fault lay in the fact that judges of the day were being unduly influenced by a fashionable whim. Less politely they were really saying that certain judges did not know what an Irish Setter head of true type should be.

   Mr H.C. Hignott, alas I have no further information about him except that he bred Irish, wrote to the Editor of “OUR DOGS”.


The correspondence on the above subject (Heads) is naturally of great interest to me, as some years ago I warned breeders of the Irish Setters that unless a halt was called we should be faced with a type of Irish Setters which, like a few other breeds, would be styled “modern” when the standard has nothing modern about it. Our best judges do not differ very much, and when they do it is generally on minor details.

The main reason for so much controversy in type is mostly the result of the cry which commenced a few years ago for new judges. The cry has been answered and in my opinion one of the most handsome breeds of gundogs we ever possessed has suffered. It is not the finding of a fault that matters most but knowing the value of it that is of importance.”

   Again in the 150s, the fad for long necks and short backs dominated the show rings. The long neck is quite untypical as even a cursory look at some of the photographs of the great dogs of the past prove beyond doubt. The standard says that the “neck should be moderately long” and the qualifying word in the statement is “moderately”. Similarly the argument in favour of short backs is mistaken. Any animal which is required to run and freeze should be long rather than short in the back.

Note I did not say long in the loin.

   Surprisingly, even today, I read reports describing such and such a dog as “short coupled”. To be well ribbed back is important and a strong well knit loin makes for a firm topline, but never would I refer to the Irish as “short backed” or “short coupled”.


  Two decades later, in the 1970s, the emphasis shifted to the rear end of the Irish Setter. Slowly surely judges, failing to spot the change taking place in the construction of the pelvic region, encouraged, by their placing in the ring, acceptance of the “falling croup”. The rugged haunches with the space between well filled all but gave way to the rounded dropped quarters with the tail set on too low. A few of us looked on in disapproval, a few put pen to paper. The whole rear end construction altered and with it came incorrect movement. That driving action, the lift and thrust as well as the necessary showing of the pads, is unobtainable if the dog lacks a well construction pelvic region and by that I mean have rugged haunches, the tail set-on just below the level of the back, good width to the first and second thighs and the stifle moderately bent. Without this “finish”, the description “racy” as applied to the Irish Setter is meaningless.

   Over a hundred years ago the Rev Pearce wrote:

“The Setter´s head should never be heavy; it should be light and airy.” Fifty years ago Miss Thorne-Baker expressed concern about the tendency to over-long heads. Today, the wheel has turned full circle and once again the heavy head is appearing in the ring. This needs watching.

   Judging the breed is a task that should not be undertaken lightly. The quality of animals presented today is high, but with this brings a heavy responsibility for judges. It is not enough to have read the breed standard, the judge must also understand it. And with understanding comes the ability to shoulder the responsibility for the future of the breed. It takes courage to stand in the middle of the ring and real integrity to make value judgements. Anything less is not judging, but a mere performance.


   Irish Setters are sensitive, highly intelligent and active dogs with a delightful if sometimes exasperating sense of humour. It´s there in their eyes, their stance, their movement; demonstratively affectionate is how the standard describes them and I would not disagree.

   To my eyes there is no more pleasing picture than that of an Irish Setter, balanced, and everywhere in proportion.


Rita Bryden gave permission 4 July 2012 to publish the above article.
Tommy och Anne Eisgård



Views: 250

Comment by David McIlveen Wright on August 28, 2012 at 5:15pm

very interesting

Comment by Dawne Morgan on August 31, 2012 at 1:56am
Very interesting that is just as relevant today as it was back then....
Comment by Chantal McIlveen-Wright on September 1, 2012 at 9:38am

Many thanks Anne & Tommy, this is a very interesting publication. I am just a pet owner but looking at pictures of champions in the 50's, 70's, 90's and nowadays, clearly something went very wrong somewhere along the way and I certainly do agree with the fact that some judges are not serving the breed, far from it. What a sad thing!!!


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