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Posts Tagged ‘history of setting spaniels’

Irish Red and White Setters are a rare breed of setter that closely resembles the old Irish setter. Originally, Irish setters were red and white, but those in different regions in Ireland having different amounts of red and white. Those that were predominantly red became popular among British sportsmen in other parts of the Isles.

The working strain of Irish setter developed in the US as the Red Setter includes dogs that have broader heads and white markings. These dogs are also lighter red in color. Some resemble small golden retrievers from a distance. However, white markings were not preferred in the show form of Irish setter, and Western European and Soviet/Russian lines of hunting Irish setter became solid red and very dark in color. Because of this selection for solid red in all of these lines of Irish setter, the “parti-coloured” setter nearly disappeared.

In Northern Ireland, a presbyterian minister named Noble Huston found some red and white setters in County Down. These would provide the foundation stock for this breed of setter. Some people mistake them for Brittanys (especially those from European lines or “French” Brittanys as they are called in the US, which can have black skin pigment) or Welsh Springers.  The only thing those breeds have is a common ancestry with the European land spaniels, which were common in France and Britan during the Middle Ages. The French developed spaniels that would freeze for game, while the British developed spaniels as flushing dogs. The French “setting spaniels” (the Brittany is only one of the several breeds of French setting spaniel) would later appear in the British Isles (becoming the setter breeds) and in Germany (creating the German longhair, the Large and small Munsterlanders, and the long-haired variety of Weimaraner).

The exact origin of the setters and land spaniels is up to conjecture. There is an old theory that spaniels are derived from Spanish stock. The word spaniel is a corruption of the word for Spain (Espanol) which appears in French as “Epagneul.” I don’t know whether this is true or not, but several references in history appear calling spaniels “Spanish dogs.” However, I don’t know a single breed from Spain that is a spaniel. I know of a spanish water dog that can be used as retriever. There is also the Spanish pointer, which is a heavy pointer,  similar to the Bracco Italiano and Spinone Italiano, that was crossed with foxhounds and setting spaniels to create the English pointers and perhaps the other pointers of Northern, Western, and Central Europe. But there are no Spanish spaniels.

My guess is that spaniels, setting spaniels, and setters descend from crosses between herding dogs and scent hounds or pointers. Herding dogs are easily handled, and often exhibit a modified stalking behavior, which is what setting or pointing behavior actually is. Hounds and pointers have good noses, and this mix would work to create this type of dog.

The truth is these breeds are actually quite old. Some sources take them back to the later days of the Roman Empire. It is impossible to know what created these breeds of gun dog, but we do know that their original purpose was to aid in falconry and greyhound coursing, which were big sports among the nobles in the Middle Ages. A flushing spaniel could send game birds into the air or send rabbits into the open to be dispatched by the falcon or greyhound. The French called them Oysel dogs. Later, when stocking game birds became a necessity on hunting preserves, a pointer or a setter/setting spaniel could be used to point out birds that could then be captured by throwing a net over them.

My guess is that that spaniels, setting spaniels, and setters have their origins in France. The Spanish dog in their ancestry that gave them their name could only be the Spanish pointer. A cross between a flushing spaniel and this pointer could produce some stock that could be at the base of setting spaniels and setters. However, the original setters and setting spaniels crouched in their pointing position (hence the name “setter,” a corruption of the word sitter). The only other breeds that crouch in a stalking behavior are herding dogs. Pointers stand erect when indicating and always have. Modern setters assume this position when “setting.” Thus, it is likely that herding breeds had some role in the development of the setters from the British isles (and this is widely known in the Gordon setter breed).

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