Bridging the Great Divide Between Show and Field


AKC Gazette breed column— Parent clubs, judges, breeders, owners, how about if we let all our sporting dogs go back to being dual-purpose dogs? If that means decreasing excessive coat to a moderate length, maybe that’s what we should do.

Some sporting breeds have a marked divergence between the field type and the show type, with the two differing considerably in appearance. The English Setter is one of those breeds. Compared to show-type English Setters, field English Setters are smaller, have less bone, have a different-style head with less flew, a lot less coat, and carry their tails very high.

Show-type English Setters love their birds just as much as field English Setters do. Field-type English Setters would be unlikely to win points in the show ring because they don’t fit the written breed standard. Show-type English Setters find it difficult to win field trials because they can be slower than the judges like and do not hold their tails at “12 o’clock,” as the field judges want them to; indeed, the breed’s standard calls for a tail that “is carried straight and level with the back.”

Since both types evolved from the same origins, with the dog’s express function of helping to put meat on the table, one wonders how this divide occurred.

Dual Champions

The dual championship is the only title that certifies that the dog has enough breed type to earn a show championship and enough hunting skill to earn a field championship. It is one of the most difficult titles to attain in all of dogdom.

Of the 28 breeds currently in the Sporting Group, dual championships have been achieved in only nine of those breeds over the last five years:

Dual Champions finished over the last five years, by breed:

  • Brittanys — 90
  • Vizslas — 43
  • German Shorthaired Pointers — 29
  • German Wirehaired Pointers — 18
  • Gordon Setters — 5
  • Irish Setters — 4
  • Pointers — 2
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers — 1
  • Weimaraners — 1

What do these breeds have in common? For one thing, most of them are not coated breeds. Amount of coat may be partly responsible for the great divide.

It is impossible to keep English Setters in show coat and run them in the field at the same time because vegetation in the field tears out that precious coat. Those who have gone the show-ring route have had to give up running their dogs in field trials, which requires a commitment of years of training time and years of running in trials, making coat growth impossible.

Yes, coated breeds can and do earn hunt-test titles, but the jewel in the crown—the dual championship—eludes their grasp if they want to have enough coat to be competitive in the show ring.

Some English Setter owners have done their show-ring campaign first and then shaved the dog down for the field. A good example of a dog who successfully competed in both areas is DC Set’r Ridge’s Solid Gold, CDX, MH, HDX, CGC, who won the national specialty and many Bests in Show before he got shaved down to work on his field championship, proving once and for all that a great show dog can also be a great field dog.

The American Brittany Club has been very successful at keeping their breed from undergoing the great divide. They really work at it. Since 1943, the club has held the breed’s national specialty in conjunction with their National All-Age Field Championships, demonstrating the parent club’s commitment to promoting the breed’s participation in both field and show.

Judges’ education materials for the Brittany emphasize over and over that the parent club wishes this breed to be a dual breed. The club has written into the breed’s standard the following words about coat:

Too little is definitely preferable to too much. Dogs with long or profuse feathering or furnishings shall be so severely penalized as to effectively eliminate them from competition.

Their methods must be working, because Brittanys lead the way, by far, year after year, in the number of dual champions finished, and now there are well over 700 duals in the breed.

There are only 12 dual-champion English Setters, the last one attaining his dual title in 2002. This distinctive dozen are treasured as members of the breed who have attained a rare and difficult honor.

English Setter Dual Champions, with date FC/AFC* Championship finished

  1. DC Heathrow’s Rainbow Robber, HDX, FC (6/1985)
  2. DC Indian Bend Bow and Arrow, MH, FC (6/1992)
  3. DC/AFC Cobblestone’s Stolen Moments, CD, MH, AFC (1/1996; FC 6/1992)
  4. DC Gemody’s Heathrow SoSiouxMe, MH, FC (6/1993)
  5. DC/AFC Heathrow’s the Black Marble, MH, CGC, AFC (6/1997; FC 6/1994)
  6. DC/AFC Heathrow’s Robbin’ Hood, MH, AFC (2/1995; FC 6/1993)
  7. DC/AFC Heathrow’s Winchester Ranger, UDX, MH, TD, OA, NAJ, NAP, NJP, VCD1, HDX, CGC, AFC (7/1995; FC 5/1995)
  8. DC Set’r Ridge’s Solid Gold, CDX, MH, HDX, CGC, FC (2/1997)
  9. DC Columbine Heathrow’s Skylark, MH, CD, CGC, FC (4/1997)
  10. DC Gold Rush’s Fancy Dancer, CDX, SH, HD, FC (5/2000)
  11. DC Kelyric Starry Starry Sky, CDX, SH, HD, FC (12/2000)
  12. DC Set’r Ridge’s Real Gold, MH, FC (11/2002)

*FC=Field Champion; AFC=Amateur Field Champion (where the handler is not a paid professional). List compiled by Carl Sillman, English Setter breed historian.

Though many English Setters are both talented hunters and fine examples of breed type, they rarely get an opportunity to show what they can do in the field. They can’t both hunt and satisfy that coat “requirement” for the show ring.

This “requirement” is strictly an acquired feature of the contemporary show ring. English Setter Ch. Daro of Maridor went Best in Show at Westminster Kennel Club in 1938 with only an inch or two of coat hanging from his belly. The amount of coat Daro had when he went BIS at the Garden would have presented no problem for running in the field at the same time. With that amount of coat, he could have run in a field trial one day, had a bath, and then competed at a conformation show the next day.

The English Setter breed standard says regarding coat:

Feathering … of good length but not so excessive as to hide true lines and movement or to affect the dog’s appearance or function as a sporting dog.

Photos of English Setter national-specialty winners over the years reveal that they carried moderate coat until the 1980s, when coats started getting longer and longer. When the dogs with the big coats started winning, guess what? Breeders started breeding for more coat. And that’s how we got to the situation we’re in now, where many English Setter show dogs have very long coat, almost to the floor.

Consider that all the standards of all the sporting breeds emphasize structure for hunting, not coat length. Excessive coat serves no function except to give the dog a certain look—and indeed, it can even interfere with the dog enjoying normal doggie activities.

So, parent clubs, judges, breeders, owners, how about if we let all our sporting dogs go back to being dual-purpose dogs? If that means decreasing excessive coat to a moderate length, maybe that’s what we should do. I guarantee, the dogs won’t miss their long furnishings at all.

Jill Warren, English Setter Association of America

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