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Do our Irish Setters lack pointing instinct in comparison to the other pointing & setting breeds?

I've been urged to start this new theme rather than continue the discussion under the theme on 'standard' set by Wim. I am at present not actually sure this will end up being a very valid discussion theme as we may just end up with votes of 'no they don't' versus 'yes they do'... 

All statements can really only demonstrate personal impressions as I doubt any of us here can look back on many years of experience in training a large number of Irish Setters originating from many different breeding lines...

But here we go, I'd like to put the following questions to you:

  1. Is the pointing/setting instinct still present in our breed?
  2. Should we be doing more to preserve pointing & hunting instinct?
  3. Do you as a breeder look to breed from dogs with pointing instinct?
  4. Would you wish for your dog to be assessed by a trainer as to his (the dog's!) natural ablities?
  5. What background knowledge do you base your views on?

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I think the instinct to point and set is still there.All my setters have and do do it but ,because they don't need to do it ,I have noticed,as they get older they don't bother so much.

As I purely have setters for pets it doesn't really matter ,to me,whether they point or set or not,

From my own experience of owning show lines for nearly 30 years, I have found some dogs have and some have totally lost it. It seems to be that if they have a good nose they will point. Having, in the last few years, spent more time field training I found that having a dog with a nose is a good start but that should not stop there ( I mean the discussion and the dog!) you need a lot more bred in the dog to make a gundog. There is the point of course but also there is the willingness to work ( and also comes in the obedience) and the stamina ( how long will they quarter well ?) and in what conditions ( and there comes the question of too much coat...when a dog will get soaked and heavy in long grass if he carries too much coat) and then will it be steady to the gun ? and I could go on....but I think that is enough to start the discussion for now :-))) I look forward to hearing what others have experienced. One of my show bitches is being shot over this Autumn. She is now 6 years old and it has taken me and her many hours of one to one training to get there! It is very gratifying and far less expensive than entering shows!

Thank you both for your comments.

Howard, I think you have a valid point there: often setters will 'set' as youngsters but getting no confirmation or reaction from their owner, the interval between point & chase becomes smaller with time. Personally, I try to reinforce the behaviour by talking softly to the pup and saing what a good boy he is, at the same time softly and calmly stroking along the spine and controlling the dog to prevent him from charging in.

I know it does not matter when they are pets. But you may find a new kind of bond forming when your dog realizes that you are his partner in the hunt:-)


Catherine, great to hear you are well into the training and actually taking your girl on some rough-shooting. I value your input in saying that in the UK training your dog to work is actually less expensive than showing. It shows that if the interest is there, it is possible to find ways of training your dog. It would seem that your trainer had no qualms in taking on a dog & owner who were beginners. That has been my experience: an tremendous encouragement for the 'old hands' when someone new is interested in starting off in 'dogging'.

As to the qualities needed for a dog to work, of course you and Christiane are both right on that point: There is more to a good hunting dog than the ability to point. But I had to start somewhere..;o)

Amongst the working fraternity alot is said about the dog's 'heart', a dog with the 'heart' to go is given highest praise, meaning his will and courage to run and hunt for birds in all conditions over long periods of time, never giving up. Not something you can train for... I guess this is a quality the dog must be born with.

If I see some pictures! There is more ground to train on than here in Holland!!

Wim, there is more ground to train on in NL than in Switzerland!!!

(Sorry, what do you mean by 'if I see some pictures'?)

Thanks for joining in, Sue. As we know all dogs are individuals first and I have experienced all sorts of attitudes in my setters. Some are actually intelligent enough to realise with time and experience that chasing will not get them anywhere and they change their tactic and start to point and stalk. Others stalk as pups and later loose that behaviour and just chase. Then there are those that start off by chasing every sparrow, blackbird, motorcycle, cars... etc in sight and carry on until they are old a deaf... I sometimes doubt their intelligence;-))

Youngs dogs can actually benefit from being allowed to chase as it gives them that extra kick they need to develope their instinct. Definitely not something to encourage if you wish to actively discourage the hunting instinct.

I know the dilemma when it comes to encouraging hunting instinct in areas where this is not acceptable. Switzerland is NOT the place for your dog to range fast and wide! But I have actually found that by actively training my dog to be obedient when in a hunting environment it means I end up having far better control over him in non-hunting situations where something catches his attention and he may want to chase.

I have also found the dogs to be intelligent enough to know when we are working and when we are on a 'normal' dog walk. I know even triallers say there dogs may potter around and even dig for mice when outside their hunting environment. They then change gear when out on the moors:-))

Susan, I agree totally. The dogs know the difference between a walk in the countryside and a day working the land. I think the obedience/control achieved on a training day becomes invaluable when you just want to take Setters for a walk.

As a hunter it is more than beautiful to hear someone say it all aloud as you said it Catherine! You have understood the point! Way to go and good luck with your dogs!

Thank you , Katariina! I admire your photos so much but I think I am still a long way from achieving what you do! But I have found my show dogs have been completely welcome and encouraged by the working side of our Breed ( and I know Susan will say the same  as she comes to train in the UK) and I have had a great time training with qualified hunters !

What's the reason that there are more English setters in field trials than Irish Setter? That what I see around me and if I watch results on 7-actu.com.

I don't think that the pointing abillity is the poblem!


The need for speed is what matters!!


Hmm, this is getting confusing for me here. Wim, I originally come from the 'show' side of the breed and with that background know more about starting off with a 'show' bred dog than I do about the high class field trials.

But maybe I can give you my thoughts and am thankful for correction where wrong. IMO (in my opinion) In Italy and France the number 1 field trial dog (britanniques = amongst british breeds) are English Setters and Pointers. They are bred in enormous numbers and often produced in masses (!). More working english and pointers are bred in Italy & Spain than in the breed's country of origin! The very fast and far running dog is prized there for what is considered the crown of trials: the grand quête or grande cerca. The Irish Setters play a very minor role in those countries. There are sure to be historical reasons for this.

I believe the traditional hunter will not usually appreciate a dog that is trained for these trials as they are considered running machines rather than shooting dogs.

Susan, for me you have totally hit the nail on the head with your description of the modern day working dog and I concur fully with your last sentence.  Ann Millington mentioned the Irish Setter's raison d'etre in the other discussion.  It is as the traditional setting/shooting dog and not a running machine.  Are we dong more to preserve the pointing/hunting instinct in our dogs or are we overlooking this in our obsession with ever greater speed and the fast and far running dog.  As an owner of pure show dogs and a non-participant in field trials I can only observe from the sidelines but I wonder whether we can only blame the showing fraternity for the oft debated loss of the natural pointing/setting instinct in our Irish.  We have previously discussed the potential of a fast and far running dog to miss birds altogether.  Is that what we want in our working Irish? 




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