Exploring the origin of pointing dog breeds from the United Kingdom and Ireland
In the final chapter of this mini-series on the origins of pointing dogs, we cross the English Channel to talk about Pointers and setters. Some might argue that by crossing the channel we are leaving behind the versatile breeds and are now looking at more specialized bird dogs. However, like everything else in the bird dog world, it’s a lot more complicated than that.
Pointers and setters came to England in the 1600s and 1700s, most likely originating from the area now serving as the border between France and Spain. However, it’s entirely possible that there were already long-haired hunting dogs in England that had shown some pointing behavior. The history is a little muddy, but one thing is for certain: Pointers and setters soon exploded in popularity among the wealthy and elite in England.
The agricultural revolution led to a better understanding of livestock breeding practices to enhance desired traits. Cows were bred to produce more milk, sheep were bred to produce more wool… and soon dogs were bred to point and hunt better. Dog shows and field trials became a natural extension of the livestock shows and trials. Competition took off and the dogs became supercharged versions of themselves.
Over in Ireland, setters were developing as skilled hunting companions in the moors. The original setter was likely red and white, but soon breeders were looking for that gorgeous, solid red coat of today’s Irish setter. The red and white setter nearly died out, but thankfully breed enthusiasts fought to bring it back from the brink of extinction. At the same time, little black and tan dogs were being bred and shaped into the Gordon setter that we know today.
When considered as a group, the British and Irish breeds represent hunting dogs with style. They perform all the same tasks as the rest of the pointing breeds, but they do it with an undeniable beauty and intensity. It’s not hard to see why they were desired throughout Europe and nearly caused the loss of many of the continental breeds.
Tune in to learn more about some of the trickier questions, too. What does “setter” really mean? Are we supposed to put “English” in front of the Pointer? And perhaps most fascinating… why has retrieving traditionally not been a priority for these dogs?
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Hunting Dog Confidential is presented by Eukanuba Premium Performance Dog Food
Jennifer Wapenski is the managing editor of Hunting Dog Confidential Magazine and co-host of the Hunting Dog Confidential podcast. She has a lifelong passion for the outdoors, dogs, and wildlife; as an adult, she discovered that upland bird and waterfowl hunting were natural extensions of these pursuits. Jennifer lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their two Deutsch Langhaars.