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Are showbred red setters ‘just red dogs, not setters’?

The showbred Irish setter is under fire. In his recently published book ‘The Irish Red Setter’, Raymond O’Dwyer states they “lack the conformation of a galloping dog that is clearly required of a setter”.

According to the author, chairman of the Irish Red Setter Club so motherclub of all FCI-countries, responsible for the standard in most of the world, differences in colour, size, conformation, energy and mental attitudes between showbred Irish setters in the English speaking world and workers/duals are “enormous”. He warns for the effect when this policy is continued.

What is your opinion? Is the showbred animal “just a red dog” and not an Irish setter anymore, like the book suggests?

More info on the book with reviews: http://www.corkuniversitypress.com

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There is talk in the thread above about them all being Irish Setters, but truly they are not. There is talk about all sticking together and admiring the qualities of the "other camp", but truly there is so little (nothing) for me to admire dogs bred exclusively for the show ring.

The basic problem is, and always will be, that the setter breeds were created BEFORE dog shows. Dog shows had NOTHING to do with developing the true Irish Setter and they have NOTHING to do with maintaining the true Irish Setter. Shows are nothing more than a fashion contest in which the prettiest dog or the most popular owner get the points, no matter how poorly the dog performs its original work.

When they hold a horse race, do they line the horses up, trot them around and give the prize to the horse the judge thinks looks like it can run the fastest? At the Olympics do they line the athletes up, look them over and give the gold medal to contestant that looks like they will win a given event? No of course not, that would be unthinkable, it's impossible to tell just be looking at an athlete how they will perform. AND SO IT IS WITH DOGS - THE ONLY WAY TO PICK THE BEST SETTER IS TO PUT THEM IN A FIELD WITH WILD BIRDS AND JUDGE ACTUAL PERFORMANCE!!

There is much that is critical to the work of an Irish Setter that can't be assessed in the ring, keenness of nose, bird sense, desire and intelligence for example. It's not simply a matter of conformation!! Even conformation isn't able to be properly assessed in the ring. Setters need to gallop over rough ground, through and around heavy cover, not trot around a grass ring. To watch the latter and predict the former is speculation at best.

People enjoy dog shows, fine, so long as they treat their dogs well, then good luck to them. I just wish they would honest about what it is they are doing, certainly what they are NOT doing in any way shape or form is maintaining/breeding/improving the true Irish Setter. They are breeding red dogs that don't look, think or act anything like a true Irish Setter!!
Makes you wonder, then, what people had in mind all those years ago when they brought together their best working dogs to hold the first dog show. Were the dogs at that show judged on performance? Or appearance? Or both? And if neither the former, nor the latter, what was the point at the time?

Who wrote the first breed standard? Was it a working standard? Or was it a breed "blue-print" for the ideal working dog? If so, why did they want the dogs to look a certain way? Perhaps their intentions - however well placed at the time - brought about the fracturing in the breed as it currently exists. Seems to me that as soon as you create - or give name to - a difference, people there will be who choose a side (and a love) and move to further that particular cause. Hence what might now be a "true Irish Setter" to one, is merely a red dog to another.

The fact remains that the breed has fragmented. And very likely, it was the standard written all those years ago that described the appearance of the ideal Irish Setter (at the time very much a working breed) that brought about the very fragmentation it was written to prevent. To question the rationale of those who today breed either type by stating that they are not doing the best, as they see it, by their breed, is IMHO akin to waving a red cloth before a wounded bull (or should that be a red setter cloth?). Hence we have FT people jumping up and down about how show Irish can't work, and show people jumping up and down about how FT Irish don't look like Irish Setters.

Rob, as always I respect your opinion, and enjoy reading (and learning from) your posts. But to tell me that my show-bred Irish is not an Irish Setter hurts just a little too much... No, I've never trialled him. Could he work in the field? I have no idea. I have seen him (sight) point and flush birds. Do I think this makes him a working Irish? Of course not.

But to me, he's an Irish Setter. And yes, he's also red.
I find it rather amazing that the most intolerant and bitchiest comments always appear to be written by field trial breeders/owners.

Rob, is your solution that we ban all setters from breeding unless they look/act/think and (are proven to) behave the way they did before dog-shows were thought of?

Or would you want to split the breed in to real and fake?

Come on Rob, it is now year 2008. Dog-shows are here to stay and there is room for all types of Irish red setters. Not everybody can step out of their back-door and have perfect hunting-conditions, but there are many other ways of working with dogs (including irish setters).

So lets not have these mindless outbursts of "the true setter".
Personally I am NOT interested in shows, neither am I interested in field-trials or hunting. Both sports leave me cold.
Yet I have been breeding setters since the mid 80's.

I honestly feel there is room for me as well in the world of irish setters. :-)
I agree with Ursula. Why, are people involved in the field trials ,show such intolerance in their comments? I am afraid here in the UK and Ireland if the dogs had been bred solely for the purpose of hunting the breed will have died a long time ago as there is very little demand in the British Isles for this type of hunting. I am surprised that field trials people do not make the effort to come and see show dogs fare in the field, they might well be surprised to see how well some of the show dogs point and flush birds. I am watching this everyday in my own paddocks with dogs entirely bred from show lines. In the end if they are able to do this and on top of it they have conformation and movement that will allow them to last a whole day without showing tiredness and they are as close to the Breed Standard (in their appearance) as possible, I think I still have Irish Setters around me not red dogs! wouldn't you agree? Or perhaps I should not ask for anybody 's opinion as it may come again like a blow on the head!
I'm not sure that working/field trial people are the less tolerant of the two camps, but if we are perhaps it is because we have everything to lose and nothing to gain. You see it is from once fine field stock that the show dogs are created.

What I'd like to know is why show people are so keen to claim their dogs can still work? Interestingly, you never hear field people claiming their dogs could successfully compete in the ring!! What we field people value in a setter is functionality, and it was this functionality that was the driving force behind the creation of Setters (and all working dogs). Today that functionality is in danger of being lost, and when it is I maintain so too will the breed be gone. To see show people breeding without a care for the very functionality that created and defines the breed is of course disappointing to us field types.

With regard to the first dog shows, you correctly say that all the dogs there were working dogs, shows were intended to be an adjunct to field work. Fare enough, there is nothing wrong with that. It would have been unimaginable to the folk at the time that people would claim “non-working” Setters are still real Setters, since these folk understood that it is through their work and the physical/mental traits required to perform that work as near to perfectly as possible that the Setter is defined. So the breeds was developed via field work, then shows were introduced to at a latter stage as a means of evaluating the conformation of these working Setters. However shows then developed a “life of their own”, people started breeding programs with the sole aim of winning shows, and the Setter breeds have suffered ever since.

As for viewing show Setters in the field, I have on a number of occasions and those that I’ve seen are frankly pathetic. I’ve had my dogs in a field with show dogs on a number of occasions and I don’t understand how anybody that has seen the differences I have seen could claim they are still the same breed. The same species - yes, bred of the same origins - yes, but the same breed – I think not.

Melinda – no hurt intended, but I feel that it is only through open and honest discussion that the Setters will be saved. I talk to show people all the time and many tell me that they are only breeding to “maintain the breed/bloodlines”, in fact they are maintaining nothing, and worse they are contributing to the ruination of good working line.

Ursula – I have no interest in banning anything. However I would like to see a great deal more honesty. Rather than people who are completely ignorant as to the traits and intricacies of working dogs claiming their dogs “can still work and would make fine hunting dogs”, let us have some honesty. If your dogs have been bred for X number of generations with the major selection criteria being “improving the conformation” – aka winning dogs shows, then say so. If people believe so strongly about dog shows, if they believe they are truly improving the breed, then why be dishonest? Why do they claim their dogs would make fine hunting dogs when
(a) they don’t hunt themselves, have never hunted and have no knowledge of hunting other than what they’ve read or been told and
(b) they themselves have put in place a breeding program that doesn’t value the traits that make a fine hunting dog, but rather selects for altogether different criteria.

As for breeding Setters when the thought of hunting “leaves you cold”. What can I say, Setters are hunting dogs, that is what they were developed to be, and that is what defines them, hunting – how they do it and how well they do, it what sets Setters apart from other breeds of dog. How can anybody breed true Setters without hunting ability as the primary selection criteria in their breeding program? Red show dogs – yes, red companion dogs – yes, but Setters – ??
Unless I have misunderstood things totally, I think there are quite a few members on this page that have BOTH field-trial AND show qualifications, yet they have a show-dog background.

I agree that there are plenty of owners/breeders that may have a very hazy idea as to what "hunting-ability" actually means.
But that does not apply across the board.
There are also plenty of people on this site knowlegeable enough to see the differance.
And also to perhaps wonder why you get so worked up about all this, after all, you are not going to mate one of your pure "hunting" setters with an extreme show-setter are you?
Just as well as few serious show-breeders would use a specialised field-trail-setter in their breeding.

So what actually DO you stand to loose (as you put it) by (for instance me) not seeing the fun in hunting with my setters (or showing) and rather working them in obedience?
Ursula - the reason I get so worked up is because I have so much to loose. What is at stake is the entire future of the breed I love. True Irish Setters were once lost in the USA becasuse of the breeding practices of show/pet people and there is a great danger of this happening world wide.

I want people to understand that true Irish Setters are hunting dogs and if they want to own a true Irish they will be getting hunting dog. I expend my time and energy spreading this message because I think it will help counter the rubbish spread in other circles (rings ;-)) and because I think spreading such a message will help preserve the true Irish, a breed I love.
I should have written "almost lost in the USA", rather than "once lost in the USA"
Rob, I may be totally dim here, but I still can not see your point.

The irish setter is a fairly large breed as far as population goes, and as in all large breeds there are variations and differant types.
This is in no way unique for the setter.
The way I see it, you make an active choice as to the type of setter that is most suited.

If you were forced to choose a stud-dog with pure show-background, I could well understand you getting upset and worked up. But as there are plenty of FT-type dogs about, so what are you loosing by people not breeding the type YOU consider to be the one and only one?

Yes, the irish setter is a hunting dog and all my buyers are very well aware of the fact.
What I instead object to are breeders telling buyers that "their" setters dont hunt as they are from show-lines.
Mine are from show-lines and still (given a chance) hunt.
Not with the intensity you as a hunter would want them to, but most have the nose and the instinct right there...yet in a slightly diluted version.

I will carry on saying the same thing = There is room for all types and no need to start to attack each other.
My long post was truncted by website, unable to get it to post in full and so have added to the bottom of this thread
For me – the entire debate boils down to this. What is a true Setter? Is it
(A) any pup born to Setter parents? Or
(B) does it require something extra. Must the dog also posses those traits that enable the dog to perform the original work of the breed to a suitable standard.

In other words if a breed was developed to perform a particular function, should the continued ability to perform that function be part of what it takes to be considered a member of that breed.

For kennel clubs the world over the answer is clearly (A). They make their money via dog registrations and so the more the merrier.

For me the answer is (B), it was the original work that lead to the formation of the breed in the first place and it is only via continually selecting for those traits that originally created the breed, that the breed can be maintained.

See my comments in a previous post in regard to domestic vs wild deer for my thoughts on the huge changes that occur within a genetic pure (no crossing breeding) population when the selection criteria driving the breeding of those animals is changed. Domestic and wild deer are both still deer (ie same species) but they are certainly not the same type of animals – certainly not the same breed as it were.

I’m not saying that field trials are faultless either. Field trial formats involve compromise and are not a perfect format for evaluating working dogs. However they are best system yet devised for testing dogs in this imperfect world.
Hi Guys
Rob I have to say I do enjoy your replies and I am learning more and more everytime I read them.As I say before I am a fairly new comer to the breed and you could have knocked me over with a feather at that first show when the reality of how different Irish Setters can be dawned on me.My boy and two girls show a lot of interest in birds even when they are in the show ring (Which can be rather interesting) at times.To me they are Irish setters not just red dogs and I am proud to now be associated with the breed.However,what does amaze me is the lack of sportsmanship sometimes from fellow owners within the breed.I have even witnessed an exhibitor being told "you are wasting your time don't even bother" all because their dog was not dripping in coat and a glamour dog.Surely this cannot be right?.After all we all own Irish Setters because we love the breed?.I fully agree that showing is facey and clicky and judges often award wins to the Irish setter of the moment.This is what is killing the breed.We have to be tolerant and understanding of the different lines of dogs around us we may not agree they are to the standard and often the judging leaves a lot to be desired but this is what is killing the Irish Setter in some parts of the world.Here an average show will attract between 2 and 9 dogs terribly low numbers and there is only one working kennel within NZ.The Irish Setter in this part of the world is surviving by the skin of its teeth.Extremely sad for such a gentle natured wonderful family companion and sadly despite the amount of hunting that does take place within NZ there is not a demand for the working line,the world is changing and the role of our canine friends is too.I have been told by judges that my dogs have been given their wins on movement ,they are not dripping to the floor in coat but they are allowed to be dogs,they run,chase birds and can become dirty without me stressing about their coats being good enough for the show ring.I have and never will claim that my Irish Setters can work they show interest.However,it is my love of the breed and ensuring healthy,happy and wonderful temperament dogs that keeps me hooked on the breed.Had I taken to heart the attitude,behaviour and comments directed at me from fellow exhibitors and breeders then I would have taken my dogs home and walked away from the breed.Sadly many others in this part of the world have already done so.




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