Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Rose By Any Other Name...

As part of my job being the webmaster and blog owner for the National Red Setter Field Trial Club, I receive numerous phone calls and emails from folks looking for red setter puppies, hunting dogs, or just information on the breed. Some of the common questions I am asked include "What is the difference between our dogs and an Irish setter," or "Are your dogs registered as Irish setters," or "What is the difference between your dogs and the Irish setters I see at the dog shows?" So, as a review of what our dog are (and are not), here is a brief synopsis of our dogs...

Our dogs are Irish setters. They are sometimes called Irish red setters (the name commonly used for the breed in the parent country of Ireland), red setters (commonly used by members of our club to separate our working dogs from the show dogs), or Irish setters (the breed name found on our pedigrees).

Our dogs are Irish setters. They are registered with American Field (FDSB) as Irish setters. Some of them may also be registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC), as Irish setters. We also have Irish setters registered with other registries throughout the world.

Our dogs are Irish setters. Irish setters are working dogs. This means that they are bred specifically to to a job, in this case be bird hunters. Both the AKC and the NRSFTC (as well as several other registries across the world) specifically note in their breed standards that the Irish setter's purpose is to be a bird dog. In addition, they are bred to hunt, find, point, and handle upland game birds for the favor of the handler/hunter. The original intent of the breed was primarily for hunting grouse; in the United State this has expanded to several other species of upland game, including several species of quail, chuckar, pheasant, woodcock, and some other bird species.

Our dogs are Irish setters. The National Red Setter Field Trial Club is the guardian of the Irish setter breed. Our breed standard is quite specific, and is performance-based. First and foremost, the Irish setter must be a bird dog. All traits, behavioral and conformational, must support this basic premise. There are other breed clubs and organizations throughout the United States and elsewhere that purport to be the "official" vanguard or representative of the breed. They are not. With the exception of the parent country of Ireland (which has a working standard for the breed as part of its mission), only the National Red Setter Field Trial has the express purpose and mission of producing an Irish setter who's purpose is to be a working bird dog.

Our dogs are Irish setters. When you purchase or obtain an Irish setter, you are acquiring a bird dog. The National Red Setter Field Trial Club membeship is devoted and dedicated to this purpose. There are others in the United State who aspire to similar goals and purposes, and we commend them and support them. These include members of the Irish Setter Club of America who have a small but highly dedicated group of individuals who are devoted to the working qualities of the Irish setter. There are also members of the North American Versatile Hunting Dog Association (NAVHDA), National Shoot To Retrieve Association (NSTRA), and other organizations who are equally committed to our common goals.

Our dogs are Irish setters. There are many individuals and organizations (including bench enthusiasts) who say that their dogs are "Irish setters." Do not be decieved by this illusion. There are some bench-bred Irish setters who have hunting instinct. They are few and far between. Most bench-bred "Irish setters" cannot hunt. They are not Irish setters. They should not be registered as Irish setters, because they have no hunting instinct, pointing instinct, running instinct, or behavioral or conformational traits that are necessary to be able to hunt birds. I'm sure that they are very nice companion dogs, agility dogs, show dogs, rescue dogs, and so on. But, they are not Irish setters, because they cannot hunt. If you are looking for a hunting dog, do not obtain one of these dogs. If you want a bird dog, obtain an Irish setter.

Our dogs are Irish setters. They have traits that make them bird dogs. They are gaited in such a manner that they can run for hours, looking for birds. They have conformations that have been developed through a selection process tested by performance. Bench shows (which judge dogs based upon visual conformation triats) are not a valid test of a hunting dog. Our organization has little concern for the opinions of a conformation judge. They are looking for "pretty;" we are looking for performance. Our dogs can smell game birds. They have pointing instinct which causes them to freeze to a point when they detect the presence of a game bird by smell. Our dogs are highly intelligent. They have the ability to learn quickly, under performance driven conditions, to handle wild game birds. Bench-bred "Irish setters" do not have these traits. As a result, they cannot hunt for several hours at a time, find birds, or handle birds if they could find them. They are not really Irish setters.

Our dogs are Irish setters. They come in various shapes, sizes, and expressions of conformation and behavior. Some have high tails; some have white on their chest; some have short ears; some have brown noses; some have wide ranges; some like to run edges; some prefer to point quail over wookcock... but, they are all Irish setters in our hearts and minds, because they are first and foremost, bird dogs.

Our dogs are Irish setters. They are the product of many, many years of dedicated and intensive selective breeding, driven by the desire to produce the best bird dog in the United States. Our goals are very different from those of bench enthusiasts. Our goals are driven by the working qualities of the breed. The Irish setter has historically (for hundreds of years) been used as a working grouse dog. Our intent is the same... we continue the quest of hundreds of hunters from years gone by, buried in the mists of Ireland, forward to the contemporary needs of today's hunter. We have borrowed traits from other breeds in our quest, just as those in the past have done. There are those in the canine world who strongly disagree with our past practice of crossbreeding. These advocates of "purity" have a poor knowledge of population genetics and evolution. We, on the other hand, are unconcerned, as we have an understanding of bird dog culture, history, and devotion and respect to those in the past who have provided us with this beloved breed.

Our dogs are Irish setters. If you would like more information about the Irish setter (or Irish red setter, or red setter, as you may) you should contact a member of the National Red Setter Field Trial Club. We know a lot about Irish setters.

Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou are thyself, though not a Montague.
What's a Montague? It is nor hand, or foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
-Romeo & Juliet, 1594 A.D.

Some Irish setters...

AKC Ch. Irish setter Speedie Edie O'Floin

Rachel, a stylish red setter owned by Jim Baker

Flushing Whip Photo Op, bred by Al Fazenbaker

Pierce Shultz of southwestern Ohio heads out to hunt with his red setter

Valli Hi Country with handler Jane Hassinger of Valli Hi Kennels

Celtic's Fireboy pointing birds at age 17... this dog was blind and deaf and still pointing birds. That's an Irish setter.

Finn McCool retrieves a pheasant for Deb Fazenbaker

Finn McCool points a game bird

Flushing Whip Flash Edition making game in the winter

Irish setter Brophy's Absolute Power illustrating the class of a field trial competitor

Irish setter Caylie... a western Irish setter born in Ohio

Irish setter Moxie with the fruits of an afternoon hunt in Minnesota

Irish setter Champion Bearcat... the winningest bird dog in the history of American Field trials in the United States of America... more placements than any other breed of pointing dogs in the country.

Celtic's Superfund honors Celtic's Sedition... demonstrating the intelligence and biddability of a working Irish setter in the field

Future bird dogs

Thanks to all the dedicated members of the Irish setter bird dog fraternity who have contributed to the continued improvement of the Irish setter as a working bird dog. Some of the products are seen in the photos above, and include the efforts of Jack Flynn, Jim Baker, Roger Boser, Joe Edwards, Jane Hassinger, Al Fazenbaker, Deb Fazenbaker, Anthony Blaise, Paul Ober, Pierec Shultz, and Chris Hall. This is but a miniscule part of the culture so dedicated to the Irish setter breed.
We have a phrase that describes that passion... The Purest Challenge.
Come join us.