Dual-Type English Setters
American gun dog breeds largely originated or were developed in Europe, both on the mainland and in the British Isles. The first pointing breeds to be brought to this country were English pointers, Gordon Setters, Irish Setters, and English Setters. They were upland bird-finding specialists, trained to point their quarry and hold until the hunter approached. Davis tuck, in The Complete English Setter described this breed’s design role: “The original purpose for which the English setter was developed was a facility in the procurement of game birds for meat.” Pointers and setters were then upland specialists and still are today; however, style and function have both been altered in various ways in America. Depending upon your personal preference, the changes have been either an improvement or a degradation of these breeds.
Today’s Dual-Type English Setter is a product of English breeding and training philosophy in many ways. To paraphrase the late George Bird Evans, they should be called tri-type in reference to their conformation, hunting aptitude, and temperament. InEngland, the sporting breeds qualified in the field before being shown in the bench, thus the dual-type distinction. The hunting package included the hunt/search instinct, pointing instinct, retrieving instinct, and the instinct to honor or back a brace-mate’s point. The original purpose of the bench show was to see that the dog had proper conformation to do its job in the field. The English also preferred a clam, sensitive dog taking time and patience to train or develop it.
Despite the history of field trial and bench show breeders taking the breed in widely divergent directions, Dual-Type English Setters still exist in the United States. There are gun dog breeders who prefer natural gun dogs that point, back, and retrieve naturally, and make calm, thoughtful companions in the house and around the family. These dogs are registered in both The American Field’s, Field Dog Stud Book and with The American Kennel Club (FDSB and AKC). The FDSB dogs are preferred by grouse hunters in the Appalachians and other areas where ruffed grouse are the quarry of choice. There are also bench show breeders who still believe in keeping their dogs hunt-worthy. These dual-type dogs are also registered by the AKC. So both these groups breed dogs representative of the Dual-type English setter.
Most of us who champion these special animals are lovers of companion gun dogs with little interest in either the field trial or bench show types in competition. We believe in the Dual-Type English setter, a calm companion that points and retrieves to the gunner when afield. Field trial and bench show English setter are specialists, but the dual-type dog that possesses all of the qualities discussed is the most representative of the original English setter.
To be a dual champion, a setter would be required to win titles in the field and on the bench. This achievement is possible only within the AKC. In referencing Dual-Type English setters, I’m not necessarily referring to dogs that are competed. In fact, most are not. Dual-type simply refers to dogs that are bred to maintain a certain physical type (phenotype), hunting style and temperament. Most of us who live with and hunt these talented companions own FDSB-registered bloodlines, and do not compete them on the bench or in the field. There are no field trials or shows that fully prepare a dog for what we do and want. Our goal is to breed a physically substantial dog that can hunt rugged terrain all day today, tomorrow, the next day, and so on. Secondly, we try to breed into them a pensive temperament that innately equips them to pace themselves and contribute to lasting stamina in rugged terrain. Thirdly, we try to breed dogs that at the end of the day know when to shift gears, curl up beside the fire, and become a calm companion. The sensitive temperament these setters possess is perhaps their most notable characteristic, and the one that separates them from their competitive brethren. After all, companion gun dogs are companions first. Even for the most avid hunter, more than ninety percent of their existence will be in the house as a family member. This temperament facet, often overlooked by competitive breeders and trainers, is as important in their breeding as is hunting aptitude and conformation.
I have been breeding, training, and hunting gun dogs for forty years. Dual-Type English setters have been the love of my life for the past twenty-eight of those years. At any moment three to six of them share my home with additional youngsters in the kennel waiting to be part of the pack that is my family. They are orange and white, black and white, and tri-color beauties that defy description. To fully appreciate these dogs’ beauty, strength of character, and sensitivity, you must share your life with them. As a trainer to the public, I handle all breeds, and recognize that there are great gun dogs in all strains. However, I know of no bloodline in any pointing breed that makes a more sensitive, calm and loving companion. They will shore my life long after the infirmities of advancing age force me to give up bird hunting. For me, Dual-Type English setters do not represent a hobby or even a passion. They are an inseparable part of a lifestyle.