Showing An Introduction

showingThe English Setter has become a popular show dog, due largely to it’s glamour and elegance. Classes are held at many local shows, and also at most of the general championship events. 

A number of shows each year feature classes for our breed. Dogs are judged according to the Breed Standard agreed by the Kennel Club. The Standard used is the same at all British shows – it is the judge’s interpretation which can vary! Details of these events can be found in publications such as  Our Dogs. 

Most Championship Shows schedule classes for the breed, as do a number of Open shows do too. Each of the Breed Clubs run both Championship and Open shows, and spectators are very welcome to attend these. Contact Club Secretaries for details. A link to Show Diary can be found on the site navigation bar covering Championship, Breed Open & General Open Shows.

Digby Jan 2006 So, what is this dog showing business? Each breed of dog was designed for a particular purpose, and selective breeding over the centuries (about 500 years in the case of English Setters) has developed the desired characteristics.

Setters were developed as gundogs, galloping over vast areas of moorland and using their excellent scenting powers to detect the scent of game (grouse, partridge and pheasant), indicating their presence by ‘setting’ (pointers ‘point’, and setters ‘sett’, remaining motionless while indicating where the birds are.

The handler then ‘walks the dog in’ and the birds are flushed). The characteristics required for this type of work are those which give stamina – a good spring of rib to enable heart and lungs to work efficiently, sound and muscular construction, wide nostrils to take in the scent, and a good coat for protection from the elements and from the heather.

Most of all, the dogs were selected for their trainability. A working dog had to earn it’s keep, and only the best would be bred from. The Breed Standard (which has been revised several times over the years) reflects all these attributes.

However, in our breed the increased interest in showing many years ago has led to a split in the breed, and setters from show lines have greatly increased coat and glamour. Dogs are judged by how they conform to the Standard, with judges these days also taking account of the apparent general health of the dog.

Companion Dog Show

The first rung of the ladder is the Companion Dog Show, (formerly known as Exemption Shows) always run in aid of charity, often as part of a village fete. Usually there are 4 classes for pedigree dogs, followed by various novelty classes. Novelty classes are not restricted to cross-breeds, and dogs entered in any class do not need to be registered at the Kennel Club.  Companion Dog shows (advertised in local papers) are great fun, ideal for practicing showing and are an excellent way of socializing young dogs. Entry fees are modest  – prizes can vary from good to lavish!

Open Shows

The next rung on the ladder. All dogs at these and subsequent levels of show have to be registered at the Kennel Club. General Open Shows are run by local canine societies.

A range of classes are offered, some for a specific breeds and other variety classes such as Any Variety Gundog, or Any Variety Puppy.

These shows are quite numerous – there may be several each year held within twenty miles of where you live. They are advertised in Dog World or Our Dogs. Send off for a Schedule of classes, see which ones your dog is eligible for and post the entry. Entry fees are up to £5 per class. Beware – it is at this stage that the rules and regulations start, so read them carefully or ideally get a doggy friend or your puppy’s breeder to give you a hand. The good news is that the rules are generally the same for each show, are always printed in the schedule and you soon get the hang of them.

Open Shows are a great introduction to showing – there are plenty of them and they are fairly inexpensive. You will soon get to know other exhibitors in the breed – English Setter folk are a sociable lot (they get it from their dogs)

Championship Shows are the top rung – this is serious stuff! General shows have classes for many individual breeds, and are usually held over several days. The standard at British shows is very high, and increasingly exhibitors are travelling here from abroad.

These shows too are advertised in the dog press, entry fees average £20 for each dog with additional costs for parking, catalogues etc.

There is no doubt that the summer shows, often in beautiful settings are wonderful – but go prepared for rain too!

Any pedigree dog can enter a championship show but the expense means a bit of practice at lower levels is advisable first.

The best dog and best bitch in most breeds at this level will gain Challenge Certificates. When a setter has three CC’s from different judges, it gains the title of Show Champion  – a greatly coveted award which ensures a place in the history of the breed. 

Certain awards at Championship level will qualify your dog for Crufts – the world’s premier canine event where in excess of 20,000 dogs compete for top honours. This is every exhibitor’s highlight of the showing year, and is the biggest dog show in the world.

If, after reading all this you are still keen to show, consider attending Ringcraft classes. Showing is simply a matter of presenting a dog at its best, so puppies must learn to stand still while the judge assesses their structure, and move (in a straight line and at a steady pace!) when required.

Handlers need to learn how to get the best from their unruly puppy – all setters take time to grow up, so don’t despair if you feel yours is the worst puppy ever. Judges do not expect perfection, but equally you want your pup’s best points to be appreciated. Patience is essential! Your puppy’s breeder, or a dog-showing friend will recommend a local class, or alternatively ask at reputable pet shops.

Now your puppy is finally getting near to six months old and is almost old enough to show. English Setters should look natural, not barbered, but some trimming is advisable to enhance their looks. Ask the breeder if they will either do the trimming for you (watch how it’s done) or teach you how. It isn’t difficult, but easier to learn by watching than from a textbook.

Then – select a local Open show, and send in your entry. Pack a show bag the night before (show lead, water bowl, treats, slobber-cloth, brush and comb, pick-up bags), bath the dog in a mild shampoo, set the alarm to ensure you arrive in plenty of time and…sleep well!


So, did you enjoy your first show? No doubt you will have learned some tips, and hopefully gained a few friends. Showing is simply another facet to the companionship we have from our dogs – oh, and which was the best dog at that last show? Why, the one you brought home with you of course!

Good Luck!