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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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Hi Henk,
I will have to scan the book again, to find where Mr ODwyer calls the showbred animal "just a red dog'. I know what he thinks of the showbred animal, but from my recollection he continues to call them setters, and acknowledge they all came from the original Irish bred stock.
However............. (rem, I live in USA) his opinion of American FIELD stock is very clear.
Maybe the question should be "are (American) FIELD bred setters 'just red dogs, not setters?
I quote from the book:
"there are few places where good workers survive without a transfusion of working blood from Ireland. Other routes may have been taken, as is the case in America, where outcrossing with other pointing breeds was used to improve the working abilities of the breed. However in my opinion this was unnecessary and damaging, as the true type and style of the breed is altered and the resulting dogs are no longer true Irish setters."

Joan (Owner of Irish Setters)
I will go ahead and buy the book now that I have read your various opinions. Sounds as if it could be worth while...

... and then possibly I will come back and join this discussion.
Yes, your last quote is correct. Not only the show world in English speaking nations is under fire in the book, the USA field scene as well.

No surprise, it is in line with O’Dwyers “teacher” John Nash (Moanruad) who was rebuilding the working Irish setter in the fifties and did not support the “retrieving a heritage from a cousin”-activities at the time. The book deals with this in just a few sentences.

Another line he questionmarks due to possible outcrosses is Of Boyne that is mainstream show both UK/USA. Plus an explanation for too dark coats in showlines for the same reason. If you want we can discuss them here.

The topic title here is based on the red line in his book. An example of that (pp 161): “In the unforgettable words attributed to Billy Phelan, a professional trainer from Co. Waterford in the 1940s and 1950s, ‘Not every red dog is a setter!’ A simple statement full of truth. If the dog is not a worker, he is not entitled to be called a setter.”

Before, O’Dwyer was noted for definitions of purity in Irish setters like this is shown by the way the dog is able to work like the working style describes. The book is full of criticism on showbreeding so a focus here on that is –in my eyes- correct.
In order to avoid any confusion or misunderstanding ,I would like to clarify that what I said about Mr O'Dwyer's book was that I was horrified by the one-sidedness of the comments NOT that the book was horrifying.
What concerns me mostly is that Mr O'Dwyer does acknowledge his limitations on his knowledge of the show-bred Irish Setter (p2 of the book) but then proceed to make sweeping statements concerning the show lines.
For us to have a constructive debate we need to be clear about how we all arrived where we are today. If I may pick up on the earlier points made by Joan and Ursula, it is very true that the breed has evolved differently under different breeding programmes. In the mid 1950's in Britain there were probably no more than a dozen significant breeding kennels and by and large the breed conformation and appearance was very similar to a century earlier. This made the sad but essential decision to cull lines to eliminate PRA relatively straightforward whereas the decision to eliminate CLAD in the 1990's was made much harder because of the much broader base of smaller breeding kennels. Today we have two distinct camps, show and field, with dogs of very different appearance. Field dogs will certainly struggle to win in the show ring, as we know. I am not aware of any genuine and concerted effort to demonstrate whether show stock are competent in the field and based on my own observations I believe they may well be more competent than is thought. Perhaps someone will have the time and financial resources to decide this question once and for all?
P.S. By the way, in the U.K., at a field trial the Irish Setter is very often referred to as the Red Dog, but at shows always as an Irish Setter.
While I wasn't "horrified" (lol) by the book, I was quite disappointed in it's onesidedness. I shouldn't have been, knowing that Mr. O'Dwyer is admittedly only interested in field dogs, but still........ History cannot deny (or hide, or ignore) the show dogs that influenced the complete history of the Irish Setter. Like them or not, they all share the same original bloodlines. You, Catherine, have just told us important facts in the history of Irish setters that were completely ignored in this book.
Noticable to me was no mention whatsoever of health issues. References to dogs that died young, but never why. No mention of the versitilty of the breed. Very Disappointing. But I like the pictures : )
Susan, I think you should wait to buy the book when it goes on sale........ we are making a discussion of it, because Henk seems to think it proves his points... but really, unless you don't already know the early IS history, or are extremely interested in field lines, you will not get much from it.............. a nice addition to my growing IS collection, but worth the big price tag???? I don't know. I was disappointed.
Joan (who loves IS in the field, in the ring, on the couch........ not so much when they are knocking my hand off the computer..........oh, who am I kidding? I love that too : )
Joan/Catherine and all: O’Dwyer tells why his work was made this way in his Introduction: because in his eyes “all books with no exception” concentrated on show-aspects of the breed “without dealing adequately with the function that gave rise to the physical form of the breed.” (pp1).

So this book ends a one-sidedness that lasted in O’Dwyers eyes since colonel Millners ‘The Irish Setter’ in 1924.

What “sweeping statements” on showlines in the book are so “horrifying”? Those may provide some discussion here.

I picked a few as a start may be more listies like Susan can join the discussion now:

Right size is between 22-25 inches (so below the standard – in line with the French!) (p 206) for O’Dwyer, the Irish Red Setter Club 21-26 inches (pp 160).

“Greatest problem” with the showtype in English speaking nations is “that the dog lacks the conformation of a galloping dog that is clearly required of a setter”. (pp 161). And: “The true test of conformation is the fluid movement of a galloping dog “(pp 155).

The darker colour in show types “comes from crossing with other breeds”. In the eyes of O’Dwyer the correct color is “rich golden chestnut or blood red” (pp 163).

“An overabundance of hair must be considered a fault” (pp 163).

Ears should not be excessively long or carry too much hair (pp 156).
So we agree. The book IS onesided!

In my terribly inexperienced opinion, one extreme is no more correct (or original) than the other extreme, although I consider them all examples of Irish Setters. (see photos from early 1900's for a more dual type dog). Mr. O'Dwyer, while dedicated and obviously influencial, does favor one extreme type. What's to discuss? Some of his comments do show a bias, rather than facts. Such as his 'opinion' of colour...... where he 'suspects' 'possible' outcrossing. to justify his opinions. I need to read more than that to be swayed. "I" suspect possible selective breeding : )
I joined this discussion just to dispute your show setters are 'just red dogs' comment... which I hadn't seen in the book. I'm out of my depth discussing more, so I will bow out now.
OK, I haven't read the book (but I will!).
But I admit that many of the themes referred to catch my attention. As both Frances and Joan have written, any kind of extreme is to be avoided - but having said that, diversion within the breed is generally a good thing (thinking of inbreeding coefficients). As to suspicions on 'possible outcrosses' well, we've been into all that with the Afghan and anyone knowing a bit about genetics and selective breeding will be able to make up their own mind on this point.
We are talking about red setters, well the reason for having a solid red dog in th first place must have been the outcross to a solid coloured dog of a different breed in the long-ago past - or the irish red setter would still remain an irish red & white setter...
Susan, I really am keeping out of this now, really! I just wanted to clear up that I am not talking about the idea of a solid-coloured dog in my statement, by the time dogs were starting to be shown there were already solid colours appearing with frequency. I am referring to a particular shade... the dark mahongy of the showdog. And yes, I'm sure it orignially came from SOMEWHERE, but I could also guess, as it was so stunning, that people would continue to breed these darker dogs. My point in bringing it up was only that Mr. O'Dwyer doesn't like it, and uses his opinion - albiet an educated opinion unlike mine, lol - rather than fact to back it up.

Enjoy the book - Any book about these great dogs is worth having, and Mr O'Dwyer certainly knows his field dogs!

Joan (honestly back to lurking now)
Sorry Joan, I did not mean any criticism. I was actually referring to the citation Henk made that (quote): darker colour in show types “comes from crossing with other breeds” (end of quote). The point I wanted to make was that all breeds are the produce of mixed breedings of one kind or another. Only in the last 100 years have dogs been bred 'pure' and this is not necessarily always a good thing (just food for thought...). We often feel 'it had to come from somewhere' when in actual fact mutations and changes occurr continuously (just think of CLAD) and do not have to be introduced by foriegn blood.
Joan - please don't back out - discussions only stay interesting if they have input!
Joan a pity you leave the discussion. Still a note on color. All things O'Dwyer wrote on color, I heard as a boy of one of the most influential SHOWbreeders at the time, so mid sixties. Exactly. I still keep his records, here enabling a venture into the centuries on that aspect.

And Susan, yes of course in recent centuries there were "crosses", at the time of course not seen as such.... O'Dwyer deals with this in his book as well. He mentions Irish solid colored breeds as possibility. Accdording to the guy here above by the way, it was the Irish water spaniel.

But color and way of work can define in a way the -relative- "Irishness" of lines. Like for instance the way of pointing. Crouching instead of pointing is still often found in Irish lines for example.

Awaiting your contributions for the debate...Hey weren't you buying the book for Christmas, thought I read that somewhere...?
Henk - you are right about 'the book for Christmas' but I ran out of money buying gifts for other people - so my gift to myself has had to wait;-((

I think we want to keep the 'irishness' in the irish - meaning the enthusiasm, the keenness, the joyful love of life - and not breed coach potatoes. Not all people have the financial means or the oportunity to work their setter in the field. Times have changed. But the characteristics of the breed as a trainable, capable and intelligent (yes!) working dog should be maintained.




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