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Setters in the USA

          I overheard an interesting conversation once. Breeders were discussing their impressions from the World Dog Show in Madrid. One person put it this way:

          "The Irish, English and Scottish Setter pool was excellent, but among the Irish ones, among all those beautifully presented and prepared dogs one was standing out like a movie star. Something so beautiful that you couldn't take your eyes away. A big, strong-built one, with flowing hair, elegant... and how he moved! We looked into the catalog to see the dog's name and what breeder he was from and then it turned out that it was a Setter from the USA..."

           I cite the above opinion deliberately, since I remember my own amazement with the photos and film tapes of Irish Setters from America, sent to me years ago by my friend, the American breeder Ms. Pam Schaar. According to her, Setters are ever so popular in America. AKC has several ten of thousands registered Setters and the most numerous among them are Irish Setters.. Pamela writes that, the American breeding stock undergoes many passing fads concerning different dog types and different bloodlines. Bloodlines are usually oriented at one excellent ancestor. Americans are not scared of inbreeding and they often cross outstanding fathers and their daughters or half-siblings. Dogs from some kennels are very strong, heavy and stocky. Others are lighter and flowy, much like hounds with their characteristic long, narrow, lean head with often a little aquiline nose. The best American show dogs are presented on the covers and in adv of various magazines, including the two popular titles - Memo To Members and Setters Incorporation. The top list of twenty of each of the four breeds is chosen each year on the basis of rankings. The dogs are excellent show dogs, presented - among others - at the most prestigious two: Westminster and Country Club. There are plenty of dog shows in America with each state holding dozens of them. The top dogs in a given year always reflect the current trend in breeding among the judges and breeders. You can tell American Setters from the European ones at first glance, no matter the breed is the same.

          The differences are especially in the size (American dogs are large, near the upper limit of the European standard), with a sloping back, thicker and slicker hair, perfect movements and a little different presentation style. American judges - like their British colleagues - do not count the dogs' teeth but check the occlusion. Dogs with mesiocclusion and posterocclusion are eliminated from the contest. American dogs are always presented in quite quick trot, with proudly raised head and tail. When resting, the dog has the head and tail raised high by the handler, so that it forms a single straight line with the neck.

In general terms, the 1990s Setters in America looked like this:
ENGLISH SETTERS - large, 68-70 cm at the withers on the average, perfectly angled legs, with attractive, strongly shaped heads with prominent occiput and long, low positioned ears. Well-kept, almost incredibly long hair. There is more dogs with very light coats in the show rings - almost white or orange-white.

SCOTTISH SETTERS - very large, 68-72 cm at the withers, big-boned and quite heavy, but elegantly shaped heads, very thick, a little fluffy coat, looking at times like a cross between our Gordon Setters with Newfoundlanders and Afghan Hounds. A wonderful straight back line. At the same time, their weight and size does not make their movements any less light and elegant.

IRISH SETTERS - large, 70-72 cm at the withers, perfectly angled, with wonderfully long necks, low set, very long ears, even back line and long hair, almost to the ground. Many dogs seem to have a little different heads - long and narrow, with quite small occiput.

          The ACK registers several thousand specimens yearly, and at least several hundred are valuable Setters. Naturally, there are also faulty dogs. Frankly speaking, Americans do not just breed champions. The aforementioned malocclusions are frequent, as well as flat chest, short loins, tails set too high, PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), displasia, skin problems and volvulus. Many kennel clubs registered at the AKC require strict tests from potential parent dogs: X-ray displasia test and blood tests for DNA and PRA. Another area of high interest is the gait - harmonious and attractive is always the effect of correct anatomy.

          Americans have reached perfection in preparing their dogs for show. Hardly any breeder does it him- or herself. Typically, a show dog is under the care of a professional handler all the season. The handler feeds, grooms, trains, prepares and - finally - presents the dog at the shows. The owner enters the show ring only to receive the prize and have their picture taken with the dog. The really good dogs mate often, but only carefully chosen bitches - since the owners rarely believe that a faulty bitch will give birth to valuable puppies, and rightly so. They do not want their dog's "good name" be wasted this way.

          Owners of outstanding, certified champs are usually well-off people since professional dog breeding is a very expensive hobby in the US and nobody hopes to make a profit from it. On the other hand, mating often costs several thousands USD. Recently, impregnation of bitches with frozen semen of a valued male is gaining popularity. I received my first leaflet advertising this method, over 8 years ago. It realized in a couple of American institutes, e.g. the JCSB Institute in OHIO, where artificial insemination of canines from the Mid-West is performed. The Institute is less than 20-minutes-drive from the Cleveland-Hopkins Airport and many breeders use its sperm bank e.g. to have puppies of an already diseased male. There are very few Setters from the USA in Europe and I must admit their reception is varied. I suppose it is due to the fact that many judges - who are entitled to their own interpretation of the standards - have their own types and certain dogs are just not their type. What will enchant one judge - e.g. very long ears, deep-bent hock joints or the long flowing hair - for another arbiter will be too much and they will rather pick a "mainstream" dog. Current trends are also of importance. Recently, for around three years, the Multichampion and triple World Winner Vicary's PIPERPIPER from Belgium has been making incredible triumphs on the European dog shows. Despite the big competition their dog has some special air about him that makes him win easily over all contestants. Since I had the pleasure to see and admire him in Budapest - I must admit that Vicary's PIPERPIPER has something of an American Setter about him, despite his English-Belgian origin. I personally like good American dogs. Not just Setters, but many others too. We could see this when we were admiring the dogs brought over from the USA by two our friend breeders - who spent a few years in the US - Ms. Małgorzata Supronowicz and Mr. Tomasz Borkowski. As Tomasz Borkowski, International Dog Judge puts it in the Pies magazine of 1996: "... The conflict between dogs from the USA and Europe stretches over many breeds. The competitive value of American dogs on European show rings is so significant, that many European Clubs (defensive of the American dogs) would like to separate the breed or boycott the dogs from the other side of the Ocean entirely ... Good dogs from America are a knock-out for the European lead ..."

          To sum up this chapter - it is worth learning from Americans their professional approach, since they are good role models here. And the dogs - let's admit it - are many European breeders' dream.

Jadwiga Konkiel