I think it was Benjamin Franklin that once said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes”. I would add a third for all Setter aficionados. Long haired gundogs will always find every cocklebur or sticky weed seed in the field, at least it seems the case with our Sweet Lou and Adeline. Those of us that hunt setters take it for granted that at the end of the day our dogs will probably require more maintenance than shorter coat gun dogs but we accept the trade off to chase those beautiful feathery tails in the field.
You can bet that at some point during the hunt our dogs will engage cover that will not only yield birds but burs. Most gun dogs will attempt to self-debur in the field and sometimes will be observed chewing at a paw or under legs. This is the time to take a break and provide some field maintenance with comb or gloved fingers. A bur deep between pads or the pits of the body if not removed can quickly result in extreme discomfort and irritation shortening the dogs hunt. In the field I always carry a small metal staggered tooth comb and during water breaks check my setters for potential problem areas focusing on pads of the feet, legs, pits of the legs and tail areas. For best results, refrain from pulling the comb through the tangled bur to minimize discomfort to the dog. Using the comb to slowly scale back the layers of hair around the bur will result in easier removal and over time most dogs learn to accept the procedure. These short field pit stops help minimize chances of a more serious injury that could cause a need to shut down the dog for several days while they heal.
Some setter owners clip the feathers around feet and legs during hunting season to lessen the chance of tangled hair. This can be an option but I tend to let nature take its course accepting that my buddies will be back at the hotel with a cold one while I’m still grooming dogs on the tail gate. Checking the dogs for burs after the hunt on the tail gate is the time to conduct a quick physical examination with the purpose of preventing further injury should a problem go unnoticed. This tail gate check should include exams of the eyes, feet, ears, and under side for any injury or debris that without removal or treatment could increase the chance of causing infection.
All in all I wouldn’t let coat maintenance be the deciding factor in choosing the breed of gundog you will own. With a little patience and with the right combing techniques burs can become a minor inconvenience and well overshadowed by the many fine qualities long haired gun dogs bring to their owners. For me, I’ll take the TRADE OFF.