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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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Replies to This Discussion

Joanne - I'm afraid I have to disagree with you, what is killing the Irish Setter breed isn't that judges give the points to unworthy dogs, what is killing the breed is that people with no interest in origins of the breed, or the functionality of the breed are breeding and selling dogs they claim are "true Irish Setters".

Also the gene pool of working Irish Setters in New Zealand is quite large. There may be only one large(ish) working Irish Setter breeder in NZ (who is by the way a good friend of mine), but there have been quite a few imports of working blood lines from around the world, and there are small breeders, only having a litter or two each, but collectively making a contribution to the breed. Irish Setters have an impressive record in New Zealand field trials, where they regularly dominate against the Pointers and other hunting breeds. More importantly Irish Setters are widely recognised in New Zealand hunting circles as outstanding performers on the wild pheasants and quail that give the best of dogs a run for their money.
Just for the record, I agree with Rob that it is the working Irish setter being in danger. And for that reason the original red setter, its very soul.

Its a tragedy knowing this danger comes from people who obviously love the Irish setter so much. So a killing kind of love.

Anyway many "relations" might benefit from O'Dwyers book after 83 years oif Irish silence - better late than never.
Hi Ursula,

The problem I have with people breeding Irish Setters and not selecting for hunting ability goes something like this:

Person 1 (Breeder) is not a hunter and has no interest in hunting. Nevertheless they get an IS pup. The reason they choose the IS breed varies, but frequently it is because of this breeds stunning good looks, communicative eyes or gentle temperament. Whatever they case, they fall in love the dog (I’ll call her Rose) and think Rose an outstanding specimen. Perhaps they start entering Rose in dog shows and the judge says some nice things about their dog, now they have “expert” confirmation about how wonderful Rose is. Perhaps they never show, but just “know” themselves what a wonderful dog Rose is. In any case they decide that Rose is so wonderful she simply “must” be bred from. So they contact the relevant kennel club, submit the required paper work and associated $$. The kennel club says thankyou very much and registers Person 1 as an IS breeder.

Person 2 (Puppy Buyer) decides they would like to get a hunting dog. For whatever reason they decide they’d like to get an IS. Maybe they choose an IS because Granddad used to hunt with one and they have fond childhood memories of granddad and his dog. Maybe it was a family decision, Person 2 wants a hunting dog but the rest of the family want a great pet and dog they can live with. The book on dog breeds they got from the library says that IS are fine hunting dogs with a gentle temperament and are great with children. So the IS sounds like exactly the breed for them. Person 2 contacts the kennel club, who supplies a list of registered IS breeders.

Our puppy buyer sees Person 1 on the list and gives them a call. Person 1 says that yes they will have some pups for sale in a couple of months. They recently mated their lovely bitch Rose to an outstanding international sire and the pups will be just fantastic. Puppy buyer says they are looking for hunting dog that will also be a family pet. Breeder assures puppy buyer that these pups will be wonderful pets (just look at Rose) and that IS breed make great gundogs.

Why the breeder is not truthful with the puppy buyer I don’t know. Why the breeder doesn’t say “I’m sorry, my breeding program doesn’t select for hunting ability, I think you really should contact Mr/Mrs XX” I don’t know. I suspect it has to do with:
(a) Pride in their dogs - the breeder loves and is very proud of Rose, it isn’t easy to say that her hunting ability is unproven.
(b) Pride in themselves – as a breeder this person is now considered to be “a dog expert”, they are reluctant to admit to a first time puppy buyer that they don’t know anything about hunting or hunting dogs.
(c) Ignorance – they have seen Rose stalking pigeons in the park or some such similar behaviour and truly believe that equates to working ability
(d) The breeders steadfast belief that Rose is a “true IS” and they know enough (from literature and art works) to know that “true IS” are hunting dogs, therefore it follows that their beloved Rose would be a wonderful hunting dog “if only she given the opportunity” because after all Rose is an IS and IS are hunting dogs, plus you should see her with the pigeons in the park.
(e) Money. The breeder has invested big bucks in this litter, the kennel club fees, vet bills, whelping box, stud fees etc. Selling the pups is how they plan to get that money back, if they have to stretch the truth a little to ensure a sale, so be it. The breeder is comforted in the knowledge that the pups “could” turn out to be great hunting dogs.

So for whatever the reason, the breeder tells the puppy buyer that these pups will be just what they are looking for, hunting dogs that will make great family pets. So time goes by and the puppy buyer collects the pup. This is the first pup they have trained a puppy and they want to do it right. So they have bought a selection of gundog training books and DVDs. They set out a training program and follow it with great care and dedication. The problem is pup doesn’t respond to the training the way the pups in the books and DVDs do. Thinking that it must be something they are doing, puppy buyer joins the local gundog club. They meet once a month in a field near town, plant pigeons for the pups, do retrieving training etc. Puppy buyer goes through all the same exercises everybody else is doing, but still him pup doesn’t seem to “get it” sure pup will chase the pigeons when it flies, but dammed if he’ll point it. Or pup doesn’t much care to retrieve and hates the water. Whatever, the bottom line is that the pup just isn’t as interested in birds etc as the other pups in the class. (and how could you expect this pup to be as interested in birds, field work, retrieving etc as the other pups. The other pups have come from breeding programs that made hunting ability the #1 priority, no dog/bitch that wasn’t a good hunter was bred from. The IS pup on the other hand comes from stock that has been untested for hunting ability for 4 generations). This naturally leads to a great deal of frustration and disappointment in the puppy buyer. They’ve done everything in the books/DVDs and now the same exercises as the other puppy owners, all with little result. Puppy buyer comes to believe his pup is a dud, so that pup is given to the rest of the family as a pet and Person 2 begins the search for a new pup that will hunt. One of the guys in the gundog club has a litter of GSPs coming up, Person 2 has seem both the sire and dam in the field and they’re great performers, so they decide to go with a pup from that litter and it turns out to be a great hunter.

Person 3 (A different puppy buyer) decides they would like to get a hunting dog, they haven’t decided 100% on any one breed, but think to themselves that it would be great to get an IS. In order to do some research before getting a pup they call into the local gundog club and talk to the people there about their dogs. Maybe they talk to Person 2, maybe they just talk to any of the other club members who know what happened to Person 2, either way the message Person 3 gets at the local gundog club is that IS are useless in the field. “They were great gundogs once, but the show folk have bred the hunt out of them” is how it’s often put. What is Person 3 to think, the message they get from a number of the club members is loud and clear. There isn’t anybody at the club with great hunting IS to disprove this notion, and so Person 3 decides they really do want a hunting dogs and so gets a GSP, Brittany, Pointer, GWP etc.

And so the story goes. Over and over, it happens not just once or twice, but thousands of times, right across the world. It gets to the point that people wanting hunting IS can’t find anybody breeding them, so they get a different breed. People breeding hunting IS can’t find hunters looking for IS so they stop breeding.

In most parts of the world, the odds of a puppy buyer getting in contact with a breeder of hunting IS via the Kennel Club are very remote. Far, far more likely they will be put in contact with a show or pet breeder. This problem exists in other hunting breeds also, the more beautiful the public considers a breed to be, the more desirable they are as show dogs and pets, then the worse the problem is. Besides all the Setters breeds, Weimaraners are another gundog breed that comes to mind that has been badly effected by popularity and show/pet breeders ignoring working abilities. German Wirehair Pointers and other “ugly “breeds on the other hand remain relatively free of this influence in their hunting stock.

So no, nobody is forcing me to breed my field stock with non-working setters. However, people breeding IS without selecting for working ability are impacting the IS breed and indirectly via these actions they are impacting on me. Every time they sell a pup with little/no hunting instinct as a “fine hunting prospect” to an unsuspecting puppy buyer, every time they turn another hunter away from the Irish Setter breed, they are putting a nail in a the coffin of the “true” Irish Setter.
But Rob, we are now talking about totally different things!

We are now talking about breeders not telling the truth. We are talking about breeders that are dishonest out of stupidity or for whatever reason. And yes, there are some stupid ones about, just as you will find stupid and ignorant people in ALL walks of life.
I do hope you are not trying to point out this is true for all breeders of setters with show-background?

What you get so worked up about is actually a question of educating the puppy-buyers (and to a degree, the breeders). If I want a dog of any breed for a specific purpose, I am only showing my total ignorance as a buyer if I will buy from the first person that happens to breed that particular breed.
You are looking at the breed as if it was for instance a car. Meaning that if you buy a new Volvo in Australia, and one in Germany, those cars should work in the same way. They should look the same and perform the same.
That does not apply to any dogs...or people for that matter!

Every hunter that has ever phoned me and asked about my litters has been refered to a breeder with FT-lines. I had one hunter that did not take no for an answer and that dog hunted better than his previous FT-bred setter, so he was delighted.
I think he was just lucky and of course a skilled trainer.

The target to attack should NOT be those (nasty?) breeders with their show-dogs but rather the STUPID and IGNORANT buyers and eqally STUPID and IGNORANT breeders of dogs, regardless of what type they are breeding for!

Believe me Rob, STUPIDITY and IGNORANCE is not limited to people that breed for shows! It is equally distibuted and found on both "sides" :-)
My experience has been vastly different to yours in this regard. I've never come across a field person that claimed their dogs would perform well in the ring if given the chance, however I very frequently come across show people that claim the reverse, that their show bred dogs would perform well in the field if only they were given the chance. Whether these show breeders make such claims based on ignorance or dishonesty I'm not able to say, however I can say that for the vast majority of the show bred dogs I've seen in the field those claims were complete rubbish.

Yes an experienced puppy buyer looking for a hunting dog would know to stay well clear of a show bred pup, but it's not the experienced people that get caught. It's the first time puppy buyer that contacts a breeder provided to them by the kennel club and is then mislead. Could the puppy buyer have done more to protect themselves, perhaps. Could the both the kennel club and the breeder done more to provide accurate information, most certainly!! They are after all the ones with the doggy experience. (If you get a builder in to your home to provide you with advice as to the best solution for a sagging/leaking roof and then follow the advice provided, only to find the situation not resolved, who is to blame? You for taking the advice or the builder for providing it?)

That you refer all hunters wanting a pup to a more appropriate breeder is commendable and I hope the hunting breeder returns the favour. Sadly this is far from the normal situation. The vast majority of show breeders I've spoken to are delusional or dishonest about the field abilities (or potential field abilities) of the pups that they breed. Further it is these show breeders that by selling their ill bred (for field work) pups to hunters that are squarely to blame for the low opinion in which IS are held in many hunting circles.

I’m not sure why you claim we are talking about completely different things. I have maintained all along that it was show/pet breeders that are ruining the IS and that is still my position. I have never said it that every show/pet breeder was ruining the breed, rather that there are people ruining the breed and those people are show/pet breeders. I also said I didn’t want to banning anything (in regard to the breeding of non-hunting IS) and that is still the case, what I said I wanted was a great deal more honesty from those show/pet breeders. Particularly those (predominately) show breeders that are duping unsuspecting buyers who are looking for a hunting dog into taking their show ring rejects.

As I've stated I believe the primary selection criteria for all IS should be hunting ability, that after all was how the breed was created and is IMO the only way the breed can be maintained. If people insist on breeding IS for other traits, let them at least be honest about it and direct those looking for a hunting IS to a more appropriate breeder. To do otherwise is to actively contribute to the destruction and decline of one of the worlds great hunting dog breeds.
Well lets just say we have totally different experiances Rob.
We live in different parts of the world for a start.

I have personally come across quite a few upset puppy-buyers that had been told by the FT-breeder that their newly bought setter-puppy would make an excelent pet (and nothing else needed). Oh and yes, it would be great for showing too!

If you breed for highest speed and good hunting-ability and get a litter of say 12 puppies...you need to find 12 capable hunters wanting a specialised breed.
Now in Sweden (where I live) this is not allways so easy. As a FT-breeder you will then sell your surplus to pet homes. These unsuspecting new owners will find themselves with a high powered worktool needing so much more than they could ever offer.
We have had exactly this discussion on this site before and I got jumped on by Henk amongst others. No, I do not think that the majority of FT-setters I have seen make good pets. They will make good pets AS WELL AS good hunting-dogs, but not good pets if that is all they are supposed to be!

There is room enough for all.
But whatever you buy, you need to find out what you are getting in to.
So lets fight STUPIDITY and IGNORANCE instead of each other.
Again I will have to repeat it. In the British Isles, if the breeders had bred purely for hunting the breed would have disappeared a long time ago as there is very little demand here for this kind of dogs. The majority of people who go shooting here, go on driven shoots . I do believe that it is then wrong to sell a dog,whose main reason for living is hunting, as a pet who will then get really bored and then will in turn give a really bad name to the breed( i.e. highly strung etc etc...) Therefore I do not see a problem with having bred dogs who will do well in the show ring ( and perhaps have not got such a good nose as a pure field trial dog) and probably give a lot of pleasure as a very affectionate and loyal pet. Obviously it will be good to see a few breeders carrying on with the field trials lines but they should not be sold as pets and yet ,inevitably some of them will be. It is my limited experience that show setters have not lost their ability to hunt.
I'll end my participation in this discussion with this post. Some people are clearly getting upset by my posts.

Ursula - If we take the members of this board as a representative international sample, how many of the folk with field breed setters have or would claim there dogs could do well in the ring? How many of the folk with show/pet bred dogs have claimed their dogs can or could be good hunting dogs? IMO the vast majority of field people don't give a stuff about the ring and are happy to admit their dogs are unlikely to win any shows. On the other hand it the vast majority of show folk still want to claim their dogs are (or could be) good hunters, despite having very little understanding of what it takes to make a good hunting dog and not having tested hunting ability or selected for it in their breeding programs.

In my experience UK bred hunting and field trial IS make outstanding pets for active homes. Some of the Scandinavian and American EXTREME Field Trial dogs I've seen would, I agree, be too hot for an average pet home.

Catherine - I disagree with you for two reasons:
(a) IMO those dogs that were not part of a breeding program that selected for hunting ability as their first priority have already ceased to be true Setters, so their presence or absences makes no difference to the number of IS.

(b) With fewer pet/show dogs to choose from, more people wanting an IS would have gotten a dog from a working breeder and they would have discovered what wonderful pets and companions the true IS makes. The dogs coming straight from hunting kennels in the UK are the most beautiful and intelligent of canine companions, there is no need to dilute this or change that, they are perfect just the way they are.
Sounds like shooting Last Mohicans still active on fields with red setters on this site reading last posts. Suggesting their offspring is ok for a reservate but not civilized world.

I’ll stick to Catherine’s post, focusing on Ursula’s keyword “ignorant” – the other keyword “stupid” is in my eyes a bridge too far here. Stupid is in my eyes if you know facts and simply go on denying them.

Biggest example of ignorance on this site were in my eyes comments of white on red Irish setters. Anyone re-reading the topic may be able to decide on exactly who was ignorant. Many posts proved it was ignorance leading to opinions, playing a deciding role in selection-schemes. This topic was inspired by Ursula’s comments.

Catherine’s comments.

“Good to see a few breeders carrying on with field trial lines but they should not be sold as pets.”

Where are the days that Ch Brackenfield Hartsbourne Bronze, admired by Florence Nagle (Sulhamstead) siring pets, show setters, allround hunting, field trialing, agility and obedience. If his offspring would never have been sold as pets, your setters would never have been born.

In all of the history of setters, hunting dogs were pets as well. You can’t hunt all year through. This was the time, providing best art on Irish setters. In that heritage is also the origin of character-traits, so admired in all cultures active with Irish setters. It is called the treasure room of the breed.

"Again I will have to repeat it. In the British Isles, if the breeders had bred purely for hunting the breed would have disappeared a long time ago as there is very little demand here for this kind of dogs".

Facts of Ch Brackenfield Hartsbourne Bronze main forefather of your dogs, proves you are wrong. At the time already, driven shooting was the main way of hunting. Statistics show, it was after his time that the Irish setter became a very popular dog,…A dive down came in show only times.

I’ve taken time to response on Catherine’s post as I’ve known all dogs behind hers and admired them. Quite a few were able to beat always all entries in shows, be active as allround hunting dog plus reasonable performance in field trials. What did you gain/lose by a show-only selection scheme for a breed listed as gundog?
Ch. Brackenfield Hartsbourne Bronze
Born 1954, bred by Mrs E. Walker, owned by Miss S.J. Lennox.
SHOW Champion with 6 CCs and 12 Res CCs.
Qualified in the field 1957 (Trained by Mrs Mason).
Sired 4 SHOW Champions and also numerous dogs and bitches with KC Stud Book Numbers and 1 bitch (bred by Mrs Mason) who gained a Certificate of Merit at Field Trial.

This is a Public Forum : Abusive comments of a personal nature are uncalled for, they only serve to create division and resentment.
Interesting to see "abusive" used where a red setter is praised for its natural abilities.

Your info about a main forefather of your dogs -Ch Brackenfield Hartsbourne Bronze- is incomplete.

I can provide a list for exports and offspring, but will stay in your country so that you don't have to look that far.

He did not only sire show champions in the UK, his best son was full champion Orichalc Juniper.

His grandson Ridgetor Firbanks became a field trial champion in your country. He was owned by professor Beazley, co-author of still one of the best books on field trials with setters.

Bronze qualified "extremely well" at a field trial. Firbanks is called "the classic recent instance of the show-bred Irish setter turning into an exceptional worker".




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