Posts Tagged ‘setter’

Russian gun dogs 1907

These hunters must have been borrowing heavily from the British traditions. Two setters or a setter and pointer in the cart and black retriever in the front. These men may have even been British who brought their dogs in the Russian wild for a some “primitive” rough shooting in the Irkutsk region of Siberia.

I cannot make out the birds they were hunting. Maybe snipe?


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Arthur Fitzwilliam Tait Currier and Ives Wild Duck Shooting A Good Day's Sport

This painting was done for Currier and Ives, and if you want to see romantic portrayals of America from the nineteenth century, look up Currier and Ives prints.

The dogs are the traditional American retriever– the retrieving setter. I know American water spaniels and Chesapeake Bay retrievers are technically American retrievers, but they were regional dogs. And Chesapeakes were often just called “Newfoundland dogs.”

The ducks are a species called a redhead, but I think are better called “American pochard.”  They are very closely related to the pochard duck of Europe.

The British often complained that American setters weren’t as staunch to a point as their dogs were, and they blamed it on the dual purpose function of our setters.

In fact, it has been claimed that the popularity of the retriever in Britain largely resulted in the desire to have setters and pointers hold their position.   They could breed and train for a dog to hold the point very tightly, while another dog did all the retrieving.

But Americans used our setters just as the Europeans used their HPR’s, and this is why outside of those two regional breeds, retrievers did not exist in significant numbers in the US until after the Second World War.

Our setters did the job.

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Painting by George Horlor (1851).

The dog at his feet is a bloodhound, a dog that any Highland ghillie would need to track wounded deer.

The identities of the other two are less clear.

I think they are setters. Solid white and gold-colored setters were not unknown in the nineteenth century.

But then again, cream-colored and gold-colored retrievers were not unknown in the nineteenth century either.

Gordon setters were very similar to wavy-coated retrievers in conformation, and they were also known to come in the reddish gold color.

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The setter is in the setting position; the pointer is pointing.

Yes. There used to be a distinction between these behaviors.

Now, setters point upright.

Apparently, the behaviors are inherited the same way.  Hugh Dalziel wrote about setter-pointer crosses known as “droppers.”  The first cross were generally good dogs in the first cross, but breeding crosses to each other tended to produce dogs that were no good at pointing or setting.

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This  1805 depiction appears in the Cynographia Britannica.

Black and tan setters are not necessarily Gordon setters, and red setters are not necessarily Irish. However, the red and white dog does fit with our understanding of the history of Irish setter in which red and whites were the original dog. But unlike the various Irish setter breeds, this dog is either a brown-skinned red or a rusty liver. I’m not willing to come down on either side because it’s hard to tell.

The white dog is most interesting.

It lacks the ticking or Belton markings one typically sees on modern English setters. It appears to almost solid white except for what appear to be some light lemon markings.

It is also a brown-skinned red and is quite similar to the red dog. Perhaps they are littermates.

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This dog is Ch. Kerry Palmerston, a top show dog in the early twentieth century.

He is heavier in bone than we normally see in Irish setters today, but it is well within the range that we see in retrievers. In fact, if I hadn’t identified this animal as an Irish setter, I bet that many of my readers would think I had posted another photo of an early flat-coat.

Setters, especially Irish setters, were originally much more retriever-like in their appearance. Golden and flat-coated retrievers have significant heritage from these dogs, even though many goldens have since been bred away from this type.

Irish setters were known for their intelligence and air-scenting abilities– traits that would have been useful for a working retriever.  Today’s Irish setters do not have that same reputation.

These setters may have been crossed into Labrador retrievers. The late nineteenth and early twentieth century retriever fancier Harding Cox thought that Labradors should be interbred with setters to make the dogs less coarsely built:

Of late years the Labrador has grown in favour, and though the writer has no personal experience of his merits, there are knowledgable sportsmen who swear by him, by reason of his alleged possession of all the virtues which a Retriever should possess. Many of these dogs have been carefully bred and the strains jealously guarded; but to the writer’s eyes they appear, for the most part, rather coarse and cloddy; so that the element of the Setter becomes a necessity, if the quality of the modern Retriever is to be maintained. But first get your black Setter – no easy matter forsooth; though the cross of the red Irish Setter with the Labrador would probably produce a fair percentage of blacks. These could be crossed in with a high-quality, show, Flat-coated Retriever, and thus a fresh current of blood would be introduced, which not only would check the tendency to excessive inbreeding, but would probably increase the powers of scent, and induce that steadiness which, it must be regretfully admitted, is often sadly wanting in our modern dogs; for they are high-couraged creatures, and somewhat impatient of restraint.

From British Dogs, Their Points, Selection, And Show Preparation (1903) W.D. Drury.

I don’t know if any Labradors had setter ancestors, but I do know that the common practice of breeding Labradors/St. John’s water dogs to flat-coats means that many Labradors have setter ancestry, although not as close in their pedigrees as golden and flat-coated retrievers.

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