THE four divisions of the United Kingdom may be said to have each a breed of setters peculiar to itself, though of late years many of each variety have been distributed beyond the limits of their respective districts. The English setter may be taken as the true type of the breed, next to which comes the Irish setter, while the old Llanidloes, or Welsh breed, retain more of the spaniel character. Their curly waterproof coats are, however, admirably suited to the wet climate of their native hills. It is said, and I think probably with truth, that the Scotch or Gordon setter is crossed with the bloodhound, which gives the comparatively heavy head and long folding ears often shown by him, and at the same time accounts for the delicacy of his nose and for the coarseness of his coat. At all events, his appearance is not so typical as that of the English and Irish breeds. The Gordons are now usually described as black and tans, to avoid the disputes as to the breeding of the several entries, for while there is no doubt that many black tans are not true Gordons, it is also indisputable that many true Gordons are black, white, and tan.
Similar remarks may apply to the Irish setter, but he has not been treated in the same way, though, no doubt, a red setter of English breed, without any Irish blood, if exhibiting the desired points in perfection, would win in an Irish class. I must, however, take things as I find them, and describe the setter according to the definition given in our prize lists, omitting the Welsh setter, which is not of sufficient importance to interest any but the few possessors of him who remain.
The setter is, without doubt, either descended from the spaniel, or both are offshoots from the same parent stock. Originally - that is before the improvements in the gun introduced the practice of "shooting flying," - it is believed that he was merely a spaniel taught to "stop" or "set" as soon as he came upon the scent of the partridge, when a net was drawn over the covey by two men. Hence he was made to drop close to the ground, an attitude which is now unnecessary; though it is taught by some breakers, and notably to very fast dogs, who could not otherwise stop themselves quickly enough to avoid flushing. Manifestly, a dog prone on the ground allowed the net to be drawn over him better than if he was standing up; and hence the former attitude was preferred, an additional reason for its adoption being probably that it was more easily taught to a dog like the spaniel, which has not the natural cataleptic attitude of the pointer. But when "shooting flying" came into vogue, breakers made the attempt to assimilate the attitude of the setting spaniel, or "setter" as he was now called, to that of the pointer; and in process of time, and possibly also by crossing with that dog, they succeeded, though, even after the lapse of more than a century, the cataleptic condition is not so fully displayed by the setter as by the pointer.
In the present day, as a rule, the standing position is preferred, though some well known breakers, and notably George Thomas, Mr. Statter's keeper, have preferred the "drop," which certainly enables a fast dog to stop himself more quickly than he could do by standing up. It is, however, attended with the disadvantage that in heather or clover a "dropped" dog cannot be seen nearly so far as if he was standing, and on one occasion, at the Bala Trials of 1873, the celebrated Banger was lost for many minutes, having "dropped" on game in a slight hollow, surrounded by heather. As a rule, therefore, the standing position is the better one, but in such fast dogs as Banger and Drake, "dropping" may be excused. At the above meeting, however, after a long and evenly-balanced trial between Mr. Macdona's Banger and Mr. B. J. Ll Price's Belle, the latter only won by her superior attitude on the point, and Banger was again penalised for dropping at Ipswich in 1878.
With regard to the low carriage of the setter's flag when at work, and his spaniel-like lashing of it; I think they indicate his spaniel descent, and are to be considered from that point of view. This "tail action" is now out of fashion with many good sportsmen, who allege that grouse as well as partridge do not lie so well to a dog exhibiting it fully as they do to a quiet trail. In theory this sounds well, but, as far as I know, it was never propounded until it was required to excuse the fox-like trail of Drake and Banger in particular, and generally of the Laverack setters; and I confess that in practice I never noticed it in a long experience with both kinds of flag carriage. My bias in favour of "tail action" was founded upon the close observation of three successive litters, which I bred from a wonderfully good bitch about thirty years ago. Lucy was extremely handsome, fast, and untiring, which qualities, coupled with a good nose, gave her a considerable local reputation; and I think I may quote the opinion of that excellent sportsman, the present Rector of Wadhurst, who repeatedly shot over her in my company, that no better single-handed setter was ever seen.
She had merry "tail action" without being overdone, which indeed her great pace forbade; and I was anxious to breed from her, for which purpose I put her for three successive years to the late Mr. John Clifton's Bacchus, of great renown in Worcestershire, nineteen puppies altogether being reared. Of these about half had the "tail action" of the mother, while the remainder were without it; and in every case, without a single exception, the " trailers " had no nose whatever, or a very bad one, while the "lively" ones possessed excellent scenting powers, and were indeed nearly all first class dogs. This drew my attention to the two kinds of flag carriage, and since then I have almost always seen the quiet trail accompanied by a nose of equal dulness. In the pointer I have not found the same remark apply, having both seen and myself possessed dogs of that breed with good noses unaccompanied by " tail action" in a proportion fully equal to one-half, if not more, and I have consequently abandoned all idea of connecting the one with the other in the pointer.
In the setter, however, I have still thought, from careful observation, that my original fancy held good, and when I saw Sir R. Garth's Grouse and May, produced at Stafford as pure Laveracks, on trial for the first time in public, the absence of all "tail action" and their low carriage of the head prejudiced me against the breed, which their subsequent bad performance confirmed. Even the brilliant pace and style of Countess and Nellie did not entirely dissipate this original bias; for, though I am not induced to believe that this strain is, on the average, possessed of absolutely bad noses, yet I should not say that they come up to the level of the best old English setter strains, or to the Gordons or Irish. Indeed, I consider this their weak point. Countess, Nellie, and Daisy could find game well enough with a good scent, but they were comparatively useless with a bad one. In addition to Ranger, whose nose in undeniably good, Dash II., a three-quarter Laverack, who has recently won all before him at Horseheath, may be adduced as a notable exception to the above conclusion; but beyond these I cannot recollect any setter who has appeared in public without tail action possessed of an tmexceptionably good nose.
Hence rightly or wrongly, I have still regarded these two features as of considerable importance; and, knowing' them to be strongly developed in the spaniel, I conclude that they are transmitted to his descendant the setter, and, as such, that they are to be regarded as his natural attributes.