The English Setter is one of the handsomest of sporting dogs. Their abundant coats give them an advantage over the Pointer in facing cold, wet, windy weather, or brambles and briers in a rough country. Their admirers also claim they possess more dash and vim, do not thicken up so quickly with age as the Pointer, and that they improve in their work from year to year. The picture presented by a well-bred Setter with soft, expressive eye, low-set ear, head chiseled on classic lines, clean cut neck, graceful outline, and attractive coat and coloring, leaves nothing to be desired in point of beauty. In addition, they possess the sweetest and most companionable of dispositions.
The modern Setter is said to be descended from Spaniels which had been trained to stop and set the birds instead of flushing them. The time and place, however, where this first occurred is shrouded in obscurity. The excellence of our present-day Setters can be attributed largely to Edward Laverack. This gentleman, about 1825, secured a brace of Setters, Ponto and Old Moll, from the Rev. Mr. Harrison, of Carlisle. These dogs he mated, their progeny in turn were interbred, and this formula of breeding was continued for upward of fifty years, in the course of which time Mr. Laverack created a strain of Setters bearing his name, which were as famous for their field qualities as for their beauty.
The types of all breeds of dogs have been determined almost entirely by bench shows, and if these had been the only influence that had operated upon the English Setter family, there would be but one recognized type of English Setter. This, however, is not the case, for half a century ago, just about the time that bench shows were getting upon a sound basis, practical sportsmen in both Europe and America instituted field trials for Bird Dogs. These contests have enjoyed a remarkable vogue, and as a result we have had bench show Setter fanciers developing a type of Setter which expressed their ideals of what an English Setter should be, and another group of field trial men devoting all of their attention to developing field qualities with an entire disregard for size, color, general type, conformation, and other things that the bench-show men hold most dear. The only question that concerned the field-trial man was utility, his only standard “the survival of the fittest.”
The conclusions that men arrive at in writing a bench-show standard as to how a practical working dog should be built and how his head should be supported on his neck or his shoulders placed in relationship to his body, is more or less whimsical and subject to change. There is no way of determining that which is right and that which is wrong. There is always danger of overemphasizing the importance of some point at the expense of others and losing sight of the fact that under the laws of correlation it is impossible to change one point without changing all others to a greater or less degree.
The field-trial men have never permitted details of conformation to detract from their single object of practical performance. As a result of the operation of the law of the survival of the fittest, a field trial type has been evolved that is easily recognized, and breeds truer to type than the bench-show dogs that have been fashioned in response to the opinions of men who were without means for determining the accuracy of their judgment. The bench-show winning Setter today is a very elegant animal, but no more so than the field trial dog, with every element of utility expressed in his countenance, written in his frame, and recorded in his pedigree.
The bench-show Setters of today have a Laverack foundation. Half a century ago this was more or less mixed with native blood, which disappeared before rapid importations of dogs from abroad. These early importations were nearly all Laverack, or at least the Laverack strain predominated. Those that followed them were often mixed with other Old English Setter strains, and all of them were distinguished by much grace and beauty, particularly in coat, color, and general outline. Many of them had been bench-show winners abroad and a few had appeared at English field trials. Occasionally they were placed in America, but on the whole they were all lacking the speed, dash, endurance, and unquenchable spirit necessary to win American stakes. Their names are regarded with disfavor in field trial pedigrees.
Among the first Laverack dogs to be brought to this country were: Pride of the Border and Fairy; then came Emperor Fred and Thunder; Plantagenet and Foreman were prominent in bench shows in the early ’80’s, and shortly afterward Rockingham, Princess Beatrice, Count Howard, Monk of Furness, and Cora of Witherall had the center of the stage. In the ’90’s Albert’s Ranger was attracting a good deal of attention, and later came Mallwyd, Sirdar, Stylish Sargent, Dido B, Bloomfield Racket, Blue Bell, Moll O’Leck, Meg O’Leck, Stylish Bell Bonner. All of these dogs while attractive in appearance lacked rugged character and the well-balanced proportions of the field-trial strain. Most of them were bred in England or were descended from dogs of English breeding which, although they might have proven fairly satisfactory workmen under old country conditions, were unable to cope either in speed, style, endurance, or quick, snappy way of working with the field-trial type.
The history of the field trial strain is as follows: About the time the Laverack strain of Setters were in their zenith in England, Mr. R. L. Purcell Llewellin, who for several years had been experimenting with various families of setters, purchased a number of Mr. I,averack’s best dogs of the pure DashMoll and Dash-Lill Laverack blood. These Laveracks he crossed with some entirely new blood, which he obtained in the north of England, represented by Mr. Statter’s and Sir Vincent Corbet’s strain since referred to as the Duke-Rhaebes, the latter being the two most prominent members of this blood.
The result of these crosses was eminently successful, particularly at field trials, and swept everything before them. Their reputation spread to America, and many were purchased by sportsmen in different sections of the United States and Canada, so that this line of breeding soon became firmly established in this country.
The name that stands out most conspicuously in the foundation of the field-trial Setter in America is Count Noble. This dog was purchased from Mr. Llewellin by Dave Samborn, of Dowling, Michigan, who, after trying him out on the prairies, was on the point of returning him to England, but was persuaded not to do so by the late B. F. Wilson, of Pittsburgh. The character and qualities that Samborn objected to were those to which Mr. Wilson attached the highest importance. On the death of Mr. Samborn, Count passed into the hands of Mr. Wilson, who gave him opportunity to demonstrate his sterling qualities and his reputation was soon established from coast to coast.
The body of this famous dog, mounted, is now in the Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, where it is visited annually by many sportsmen. Other famous names are: Gladstone, Sue, Druid, Ruby and Gath and their descendants; Bohemian Girl, Roderigo, Gath’s Hope, Gath’s Mark, Count Gladstone IV, Antonio, Tony Boy, Geneva, Mohawk, Lady’s Count Gladstone, Rodfield, and Count Whitestone II. Thousands of the descendants of these famous dogs are scattered all over the country, and many of them in field trials have perpetuated the fame of this branch of the Setter family. The men who for half a century have owned and bred and raised them have always been deeply concerned with the absolute purity of the line of breeding of their dogs, and have never tolerated an out-cross of any kind and object to a dog whose reputation is based solely upon some bench-show performance.
The question of formation, weight, and color have always been of minor importance. Everything has been predicated upon their performance in the field, and as a result of this devotion to the single standard of utility they have succeeded in establishing a general type easily recognized, but for which no standard has ever been written.
The standard of the bench-show Setter as approved by the English Setter Club of America is as follows:
HEAD, EYES, AND EARS.-The form of the skull is an eminent characteristic. It should be long, with moderate dome, with but little difference between the width at the base of the skull and the brows, and with a moderately defined occipital protuberance.
The brows should be at a sharp and decided angle from the muzzle.
The stop should be well defined and clean-cut, with a slight furrow between the eyes.
The muzzle should be long, fairly square, of width in harmony with the skull, and without any fullness under the eyes.
The lips should not be too full nor too pendant. Between the eyes and point of the nose the line of the muzzle should be straight; a dish-face or Roman nose is objectionable.
The nose should be black or dark liver in color, except in white, lemon-and-white, orange-and-white, or liver-and-white dogs, when it may be of lighter color. The nostrils should be wide apart and large in the openings.
The jaws should be of equal length; an overshot or undershot jaw is objectionable.
The ears should be carried closely, hung well back and set low; of moderate length, slightly rounded at the ends; the leather thin and soft and clothed with silky hair.
As a whole, though avoiding extremes, the head should be light rather than heavy, clean-cut, and of length and size in harmony with the body.
The eyes should be bright, mild, intelligent, and of a dark-brown color.
NECK.-The neck should be long and lean, arched at the crest, and not too throaty.
SHOULDERS, CHEST, AND RIBS.–The shoulders and chest should not be too heavy; they should be formed to permit perfect freedom of action to the forelegs.
The shoulder blades should be long, wide, sloping well back, and standing moderately close together at the top.
The chest between the shoulder blades should be of good depth, but excessive width at this point is objectionable.
Back of the shoulders the ribs should spring gradually to the middle of the body, and then gradually lessen to the back ribs, which should have good depth.
BACK, LOIN, AND Hips.-The back should be strong at its junction with the loin, sloping upward in a slight rise to the top of the shoulders, the whole forming a graceful outline of medium length; any sway or drop in the back is objectionable.
The loin should be strong, with moderate length, slightly arched, but not to the extent of being roached or wheel-backed.
The hip bones should be wide apart and without too sudden droop to the root of the tail. FORELEGS.-The arm should be flat, muscular, strong, with bone fully developed, and with muscles hard and devoid of flabbiness; of good length from the point of the shoulder to the elbow; well let down at such angle as will bring the legs fairly under the dog.
The elbows should have no tendency to turn either in or out.
The pastern should be short, strong, and nearly round, with the slope from the pastern joint to the foot, deviating slightly from the perpendicular.
HINDLEGS.-The hindlegs should have wide, muscular thighs, with well-developed lower thighs. The stifles should be well bent and strong.
The hocks should be wide and flat; the cow hock is to be avoided.
The pastern should be short, strong, and nearly round, with the slope from the pastern joint to the foot deviating slightly from the perpendicular.
FEET.-The feet should be closely set and strong, pads well developed and tough, toes well arched and protected with short, thick hair.
They should point straight from rear to front. STERN.-The stern should taper to a fine point, with only length enough to reach the hocks, or less; the feather must be straight and silky, falling loosely in a fringe and tapering to the point when the tail is raised; there must be no bushiness whatever. It should not curl sideways above the level of the back.
COAT.-The coat should be flat and of moderate length, without curl; not too long or soft or woolly. The feather on the legs should be thin and regular.
WEIGHT, SIZE, COLOR, AND MARKINGS.-Weight: Dogs, about forty to forty-five pounds; bitches, thirty-five to fifty pounds.
Height: Dogs, about twenty-two to twentythree inches; bitches, twenty-one to twenty-two inches.
Colors: Black, white and tan; black and white; blue belton; lemon and white; lemon belton; orange and white; orange belton; liver and white; liver belton, and solid white.
Markings: Dogs without heavy patches of color on the body, but flecked all over preferred. SYMMETRY.-The harmony of all the parts is to be considered. Symmetrical dogs will be slightly higher at the shoulders than at the hips. The judge is specially directed to look for balance and harmony of proportions and an appearance of breeding and quality, and to avoid massiveness and coarseness.
MOVEMENT AND CARRIAGE.-An easy, free, and graceful carriage, suggesting rapidity and endurance. A merry tail (whipping from side to side) and a high carriage of head.
Stiltiness, clumsiness, or a lumbering gait are objectionable.
VALUE OF POINTS.-Head, eyes, and ears, 12; neck, 4; shoulders, chest, and ribs, 14; back, loin, and hips, 12; forelegs, 10; hindlegs, 12; feet, 6; stern, 3; coat, 3; weight, size, color, and markings, 3; symmetry, 5; movement and carriage, 16. Total, 100.