Pointing and Hunting Irish Setters that also Win in the Show Ring
As a breeder with a mind to dual champions, I cannot breed for a type to win only in the specialty ring or the national field trials. Don’t get me wrong, I love winning as much as anybody, but one national venue is not my focus. Breeding dogs that compete and finish in both venues is. There is no other way to accomplish this except through a strict adherence to the written Irish setter breed standard. After all, the breed standard was written to preserve the integrity of everything that defines the Irish Setter – mind, body and spirit.
Many breeders use the standard only as a guideline, not as written, and this lets personal preferences over-ride functionality. Dual purpose breeders have to be hard on their own stock when evaluating them as bitches and stud dogs. A dog with weak hocks or one with all of its movement in front will have a difficult time in the field. Technically these dogs should be penalized in the show ring as well. No matter how many championships this dog might have – why would you want to pass on these traits in a breeding program? All you accomplish is weakening your lines and, in the end, the breed. All of which defeats the entire purpose of breeding the dual dog. You might even say that breeding these dogs defeats the purpose of breeding an Irish setter. Breeders should want to strengthen the traits and beauty of the Irish setter -- and this is the hard part.
It is easier to be a specialist since your breeding program needs only to focus on the traits necessary for one venue, be it field or show. Breeders of dual dogs cannot afford to ignore the traits required for BOTH show and field. I like the Norwegian system where a dog cannot become a field champion without a high level show win and similarly cannot become a show champion without a high level field trial win. To make the approved breeding list the dogs must have high level wins in both venues and must have passed their health clearances. I believe in this system, and use it as a guideline in my own breeding program.
Multiple generations of hunting titles are the only guarantee you will have a hunting dog. Multiple generations of show titles are the only guarantee you will have a dog of the quality to win in the ring. A breeder of dual dogs must have both, and be able to demonstrate both, to prospective clients. Pedigrees lacking this vital information also lack the guarantee of the talent or structure needed for either the show ring or field – and should be viewed with caution by prospective buyers.
What I’m looking for is a sound dog with excellent movement and natural instinct. A well-bred dog should not have to be taught to point or move well; these qualities should be in the dog’s genes. I look for traits that produce the form that provides the function. In addition, in my program, all of my dogs live in the house with me – I do not have a kennel -- so they must be well-behaved and socialized.
Obviously there is no perfect dog, but a good breeding program should try to breed as close to the written standard as possible, and a dual purpose breeder must breed as close to that standard as possible. For example, a balanced dog needs to have a proper coat texture – no one wants to be combing burrs out of a fuzzy, fluffy coat. But why get an Irish Setter if you have to shave it every time it goes in the field? A proper coat – adhering to the breed standard – is genetically designed to both protect the dog in the field and have the distinctive beauty for which the breed is known.
Yes, with each generation there are going to be some traits that need to be tweaked. The hallmark of a good breeding program is that it is a multi-generational, careful plan that takes all of this into account. These goals require time and thoughtful research. You must look for health, talent, temperament, and conformation, in short, well balanced dogs that will complement and enhance what you already have
I want good, sound-moving dogs with correct conformation. They must be tractable and trainable. They need to be healthy dogs with good, proven, longevity. For me, these are the ingredients of the recipe for a successful Irish Setter breeding program. For example, I had a bitch that finished her amateur field championship at the age of ten and this was strictly because of her correct conformation and movement. Her competition was entirely dogs eight years younger than she, yet she was able to run for 30 minutes, and win.