JaneDogs Exploring the Wonderful World of Dogs

Setters and Pointers

Gordon Irish and English Setters

The magnificent Pointer with its unique head is as legendary as the three conventional Setter breeds pictured here. Historically developed for fowling which is the capturing of wild birds for eating, the huntsmen or 'fowlers' worked with a net. The dogs mesmerized the birds by staring at them, then the fowlers threw a net over them, selecting the birds they wished to cook, and letting the small or young birds go free. Once the gun was invented these dogs worked with shooters instead of fowlers with nets. Despite their original use becoming almost redundant, most Setters and Pointers today retain the instinct for finding birds.

How the Pointer and Setters Worked

The dog(s) begin by searching for birds around the edges of the field. This helps to burn off the dog's initial exuberance. It also assist the dogs to establish their bearings and familiarize themselves with the type of smells are required to seek. The dogs then systematically work back and forth, starting near the huntsman and gradually working further and further afield until the bird or game is found. When two dogs work as a team, one works close to the huntsman while the other goes further afield. If either dog finds game, the other dog assists. The correct manner in which the dog assists is to be aware of where the huntsmen and the other dog are positioned. They also respond should the huntsmen send them towards an area such as undergrowth beside a river.

Once game is detected, the dog freezes, either pointing or crouching. If other dogs are present, they also freeze, "honouring" the first dog's point. The pointing or setting dog remains motionless until the huntsman is in position. The huntsman might also give a command instructing the dog to remain still. In times gone by, the dogs had to 'freeze' while a net was thrown over the bird(s). But once guns came into use, the bird was shot.

Many modern Setters and Pointers still retain this instinct to spot birds and 'freeze', despite never having been used for their original purpose. It is recorded that the very first dog show held in Newcastle upon Tyne in England in 1859 was exclusively for Setters and Pointers. So historically, these breeds are very important, their good looks retaining popularity for almost two centuries.  

References and Further Reading

[1] Gilbert Leighton-Boyce 'A Survey of Early Setters' Self-Published London 1985 ISBN 0-9510417-0-3 Pages 5 and ix.