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The Dual Irish Setter: The Essence of the Breed

Side photo of an Irish Setter standing outside in the nature.

This article was originally published in Showsight Magazine, June 2013 issue.


The Dual Irish Setter: The Essence of the Breed

Wind gently blowing the mahogany coat, he is a majestic statue standing on point. His head high his body ridged as he takes in the aroma cone of the game bird he has located. The Irish Setter on point is as stunning and beautiful as he is in the ring. Unfortunately he is often thought of as just a show dog that no longer has the ability to work as a true sporting dog. The fact is the Irish Setter is a versatile dog; he excels in the show ring but is equally comfortable working in Obedience, Rally, and Agility and also in the field. He is an outgoing friendly dog that loves people; however, he is devoted to his owner when it comes to working in the field he prefers his owner as his working partner.

Starting in the late 50s and 60s there was a movement within the Irish Setter fancy to identify and bring back strong pointing genetics to make the Irish Setter competitive with other pointing breeds. This movement was successful and the Irish Setter today is competitive in all breed field competition; however it did cause a split in the breed as to show and field type.

To be recognized by AKC as a Dual Champion, a dog must achieve the title of Champion of Record and Field Champion. In the years between 1956 and 1981 Irish Setters were achieving Dual Championship titles on the average of one every couple of years, then larger gaps in time of 6 years, 8 years and 5 years between titles. Since 2008 we have had resurgence in Dual Champions. In 2008, four Irish Setter achieved the title of Dual Champion and in April 2013 we crowned Dual Champion #23. Of note these talented dogs are not only Dual Champions but many have also achieved multiple titles.

DC/AFC Pompei’s Look Who’s Here SH RN

What factors have influenced this increase in Dual Champions?

In the late 70s the Irish Setter Club of America introduced the Versatility Certificate. Dogs earning the ISCA VC or VCX title had to demonstrate virtues in Conformation, Obedience and Field. This was a first step in promoting breeders and owners to identify inherited genetics for pointing ability. This program introduced many fanciers to field performance who would otherwise not have ventured into the field.

During this same period of time, AKC picked up on the fact that many parent clubs were offering field performance working certificates. The AKC Hunt Test was born.

Hunt Tests provided entry level noncompetitive competition that gave fanciers more opportunity to work with their dogs in the field, with the added plus of earning an AKC title. Junior Hunter is a basic instinct test, Senior and Master Hunt Tests require more ability and training and demonstrate the abilities a hunter would want in a class gun dog.

The Hunt Tests have been helpful identifying dogs with natural hunting instincts and pointing genetics. There is no bigger thrill than seeing your dog on point for the first time. Once owners become familiar with the field performance and find out how much their Irish Setter enjoys the work they often move up into Field Trial competition.

In 2001, a rotating ISCA National Hunt Test and Walking Field Trial was initiated. This event has been very instrumental in bringing Irish Setter owners into the world of field performance and is responsible for sparking the interest for many of our current dual minded breeders and owners. Five of the last eight Dual Champions either started in Hunt Tests or also earned a Hunt Test Title. During this same time period, the Irish Setter Club of America increased parent club support and recognition of those breeders and owners pursuing Dual Titles. They did this by offering more annual awards for dogs competing in combined Field, show and obedience events and by giving more recognition to dogs earning Dual Championships with annual awards, article in the Memo to Members and cover page advertising.

In 2010, ISCA started the process to seek approval to offer an AKC Titled National Walking Gun Dog Championship. This Walking Championship will rotate around the country and will give Irish Setters the opportunity to compete in different venues to earn not only a National Championship title but also points towards Field Championships.

Identifying dogs with natural pointing genetics and hunting instincts is necessary to developing breeding programs that will produce dogs with the potential of becoming Dual Champions and maintaining the essence of the breed. Proof of strong genetics titled dogs achieving National Field Championship, National Amateur Field Championship, Field Champions, Amateur Field Champions and Master Hunter.

Essence of the Breed—8-week-old puppy pointing a wing.

What is the essence of the breed—maintaining breed type and maintaining function—does it conform and does it perform. Breed essence can be judged by looking and the number of dogs earning Dual Champions plus Champion/Amateur Field Champions plus Champions/Master Hunters to the number of dog registrations. There is no one single factor that determines it—breed popularity, show ability, inherent field ability and the collective interests of the breed supporters. Between the years 2002-2007, Irish Setters earned 283 JH, 24 SH, 11 MH, 26 FC and 11 AFC. Since then we have seen an increase in dogs achieving performance titles including approximately 45 Master Hunters.

I have been involved with Irish Setters for 40 years and the last fifteen years I have seen an increase appreciation of the Dual champion Irish Setter, and as a result more Dual minded breeders dedicated to producing Dual Irish Setters. With continued support dedicated breeders and owners, the Irish Setter is and will continue to be a beautiful, aristocratic bird dog.