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“Diversity, The Spice of Life”
What if dogs did not exist, and we decided to invent them for the very first time? What would we create? The most convenient dog for today’s busy world might be one that does not need a lot of land to exercise on, does not require a lot of grooming, and just wants to watch TV on our lap -- but how boring if all dogs were bred for this “convenience” standard.
Most historians agree that, something like 10 million years ago, dogs evolved from “friendlier” wolves that scavenged around human camps. Over the ensuing millennia, humans practiced selective breeding to isolate and intensify specific useful wolf behaviors to benefit humanity while controlling or eliminating other behaviors, such as attacking. Breeds of dogs that could hunt, flush, and retrieve birds but not eat them; find, by sight or scent, and chase down speedy mammals but not kill them; herd or guard livestock; pull carts or sleds; and perform other specialized tasks were developed.
Originally, English Setters were created to locate upland game birds, hold them with their power, and bring them back to the hunter without stealing the bird. Developed to work in colder climes, English Setters have long, protective hair and furnishings. Hunting upland game birds requires a medium-sized, fast dog to cover sufficient ground to find the birds, a train-able dog to hold a point, a tract-able dog that will be steady to wing and shot, and a dog with a fairly large mouth with squared flews to hold the bird softly while retrieving. The train-ability and intelligence of English Setters transfer nicely to activities other than hunting.
The breed’s ancestors must have been mellow and affectionate because those traits are innate in modern-day English Setters, but fixing these traits was probably not the main goal of breed developers.
These days, hunting is done for sport, if at all. We have furnaces, so we don’t need long hair on our dogs to keep them, or us, warm on three-dog nights. A small rather than a medium-sized dog fits better into today’s more crowded world, especially when we travel.
The original purpose of the English Setter, like that of so many other breeds, is no longer crucial to society’s survival. Some traits that support that purpose, like long coat, large saliva-flinging flews, bird drive, and need for exercise, are somewhat inconvenient in today’s world.
English Setters don’t know bird hunting is no longer job one. It’s a testament to their resilient nature that they have adapted so well to a world where hunting is not their main function.
We who breed and/or own English Setters love everything about them. Their looks, including skeletal structure, size, head shape, and coat, are directly evolved from their origin as bird dogs. We wouldn’t change anything about them, even if we now buy chickens at the supermarket instead of serving wild quail on the dinner table.
As with people, diversity in dogs is the spice of life. Though society has changed drastically since breeds of dogs were first developed, the breeds still demonstrate the genetic coding established by their original function. Would you change that? I certainly wouldn’t! As breeders, we treasure those wonderful people who appreciate the unique character of our breed and want an English Setter to love (and love them), just the way it is.