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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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Thanks for your input, Mel. Your experience is very sad as it means that your first impression of being unwelcome has had the effect of putting you off the field trials side of the breed for life. We all know that the same experience can be had by newcomers in the show world, depending very much on who they first encounter. Though usually through no bad intent from anyone - just due to reasons beyond our control.

It is also a great pity that the dogs you saw running left no lasting impression and were maybe were not up to scratch at that trial. I suppose it all depends on the whole scenario: a sunny day out on the scottish moors, in the heather, a fantastic scenery, people with the same interest of seeing the dogs run and find... doesn't that make your mouth water? :-))

Of course times have also changed in that the 'country life' in the UK of shooting has become far removed from most of us today. I believe this is the reason why the field trial folk got together some years ago to discuss how to encourage new people to train and trial their dogs. The KC trainings days (in Reeth, Yorkshire) were created from those discussions and now provide a great starting point for anyone interested. Sadly, I found the continental pointing breeds are far stronger and have more young people showing an interest than the traditional british pointing breeds.

I fully agree with your final message! Merry Christmas to you too!

Mel, I've never been to any trials down south but have heard there can be alot of hares around...;-)

I don't know what the situation was like wit the Irish working dogs in the 80s & 90s but I was extremely impressed at the many dogs of highest working standard when I first visited the UK trials in summer last year. When speaking to various A panel field trial judges they confirmed my impression that our little red friends are to be taken very seriously indeed! (I hear the Pointer people trembling in fear...VBG)

I agree that the obligation for judges to see a field trial has both good and bad aspects. The good being obvious: A show judge should know what is expected of the breed when working. The bad being what as you say: a show judges visiting a trial out of interest and voluntarily will surely be more welcome than one that is being pressurised by the KC and may actually have no interest whatsoever... Still, hopefully with time both sides will adapt and welcome the opportunity to exchange views. Personally, I can't really imagine any show judge NOT being interested in seeing the dogs in action. 

As to your own dogs' behaviour, I think that is in line with the impression coming across from all the posts in this discussion. To put it simply: some do and some don't.:-))

Eva, I am not in a position to take any stance as to who's to blame for 'the great divide' that came over the breed. The majority of members here on ES are pet or show owners and only few are from the working side of the breed. In my opinion maybe we should just look critically at our own dogs and ask ourselves if we should be doing more to preserve some working instinct. The working fraternity must look at their dogs and do their own homework.


Actually I fear you may have misinterpreted my concept of the 'modern day working dog'. In my last phrase (the post to Wim) I wrote:

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.

This was written in my reply to Wim on the context of the 'Grand quête' or 'grand field trials' as seen in Italy, France and Spain. So far I have not encountered the same kind of trial in the UK, even though there are many hard and fast running dogs! In the UK it seems that after the last summer trial many dogs & owners go directly on to working their dogs for the shooting season that begins on August 12th. They need dogs that can produce birds!

Susan, please don't patronise me.  Even though I freely admit to having no direct experience of participation in the working side of Irish Setters and have only spent time as a spectator where, luckily and unlike Mel, I met with kindness and encouragement, I have listened and observed discussion among the field trialing fraternity.  I don't believe I misinterpreted your last phrase to Wim.  The fast and far running working dog is preffered, even in the UK though maybe not to the extent that it is on the continent.  We have already and in past debates discussed the potential of this type of dog to miss birds!    

My comment reference the apportioning of blame for "the great divide" was probably in defense of the poor old show dog who has historically always taken the flack for this. In reality the gap is getting ever wider and for that we must look to both sides.

Yes the majority of the members on ES are pet or show owners and we are trying to participate in this debate.  Many of our show/pet dogs DO exhibit natural pointing setting instinct and we are very proud of that.  If we had the time and the inclination we could encourage it further.  Time is probably the commodity most difficult to find.  We all know that many field trialers send their dogs to professional trainers where they are away for many many months at a time.  I, for one, couldn't bear to be parted from my own dogs so could never do that, even for a qualifier.  However the idea of being trained to train my own dogs definitely appeals. 

In my opinion we do look critically at our own dogs, not only in trying to preserve a semblance of the working spirit but also, and more importantly, in all aspects of health and well being.  The fact that we do not work our dogs doesn't make them inferior Irish Setters, even though, sad to say, they are regarded as such by many working people.  Mel's last sentence is very pertinent here.  Lets share the debate equally for we learn from each other.



Sorry, Eva, that was not my intention. I am actually thrilled by the many reactions of people saying their dogs do still point! I agree we have every right to value and cherish this ability in our setters.

Yes, we've already discussed pro's and con's of fast dogs - so all I'll say on this theme is that I prefer a fast dog that misses birds to a pottering one that misses them too;-))

I remember in the past seeing Caskeys Jezamy regularly pointing when out on her run. She stood out from the crowd and I thought: that is one who could run for a qualifier. Maybe she passed this quality on to some of her offspring, including your Louis.

I know not everyone wants to work their setter. I am just a bit surprised that the numbers of Irish Setter people interested in working their dogs seems to be lower than in breeds like the Pointer and the Gordon Setter. I can not work out why that is the case. I always love meeting other Irish Setter people at the Reeth training weekend, I think last year there were three or maybe four of us...? The majority there being made up by the continental pointing breeds, followed by Pointers.

I fully agree with your last paragraph providing we are also in agreement that we show people should not look at the working dogs as being inferior either.



I most definitely agree that if there are birds to be missed then a fast dog has the better reason than the pottering one who can have no excuse:-))

I, like you, find it difficult to fathom why fewer Irish Setters are worked compared to to the other pointing breeds.  Maybe in the case of Pointers and ES speed would play a part but that wouldn't apply to the Gordon.  Certainly when I first started you would see more Irish Setters bought as pets than English, Gordons or Pointers.  Even though registrations have dropped dramatically since the halcyon 70's you still see more Irish than any of the other breeds.  Could it be that Irish are harder to train to work?  Maybe we could all get our thinking caps on.

Reference your final statement the biggest difference in opinion between show and working Irish is the look of the dog, particularly from one extreme to the other (and both sides are guilty of that).  I think unless we reign these extremes in and come together to breed a more moderate Setter fitting the Standard we will never find the common ground.  I do agree with you though that there is no reason for either show or working dogs to be considered inferior to each other.  I would also hope that the poor old show dog would stop routinely getting blamed for every health defect known to man because there is good and bad on both sides.  Apologies for that last comment being off topic:-)))

Thanks, Eva.

Actually my reason for preferring the fast dog over the pottering dog was purely an aesthetic one;-))

I am not blaming the poor old show dog. And actually, a large number of the present owners of working dogs started off with exactly that: a much loved pet from 'show' lines. (my ' ..' indicating that the definition is not always 100% clear).

I fully agree with your comment on breeding a more moderate Setter fitting the standard.

The UK KC standard states:' ...tremenendously active with untiring readiness to range and hunt under all conditions.'

The IKC & FCI standard: '...hardy, healthy, intelligent dog, posessed of excellent working ability and great stamina.' 

Oops, am I guilty of going off topic here? ;-)

Hi Susan,

It is your conversation....so I think you are quite entitled to direct it the way you feel we will get the more interesting viewpoints and comments  .....:-))))

Aesthetics eh!!.........weyhey!!!..............and there is me thinking it is all about precision!

I know it is not you but many have blamed the poor old show dog in previous posts.  You get to the point where you "bite" before you get "bitten"...if you get my meaning!

My Edward always tells me after he has come back from a bit of "rangeing and hunting" that he is just conforming to the KC standard.

I agree with Catherine,,,all subjects are multi-layered and going off topic makes for a more rounded and interesting discussion.  I am all for it.

Wim, are you sure your Irish Setter is slower than an ES ? What I saw when judging him, I wouldn't think that he needs more speed. And in fact I know only few IS that lack speed. Sometimes I miss stamina and passion. And the natural pointing instinct is very high in P and ES, then  GS and least IS. Nevertheless you can train it and I have seen Foxterriers pointing brilliantly,-))) But it is not the same.

Christiane, sorry your short post almost got drowned in all the others. I appreciate your input as an experinced field trial judge for setters and pointers. May I query your statement? You say: 

...the natural pointing instinct is very high in P and ES, then  GS and least IS

I assume this impression is based mainly on working bred dogs? Would you make a difference here when considering show bred dogs? Would you differentiate between the IRWS and the IRS?

Sorry, I am NOT going to get a Foxterrier (happy chappies as they may be...)!!!


Well, in the setter world I am a newbie. Since 7 months I have my second setter. My first one came from showlines and was epileptic. The health problems I have seen made me decide I never wanted a setter out of showlines again. The setter I have now is a real working setter. She is very different from the show bred dogs. From day one she is living with me I have noticed she is using her nose. That is something my first setter never did. Recently we went to pointing school. Not because she needed it, she is a natural talent, but it would be useful to me. We still need a lot of training together but we can make it to EC level. She is already quartering for me. Today she was pointing at pheasants for me and she found two:-)




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