Information about the Irish Setter
The Irish Setter, is a setter, a breed of gundog and family dog. The term Irish Setter is commonly used to encompass the show-bred dog recognized by the American Kennel Club as well as the field-bred Red Setter recognised by the Field Dog Stud Book.
The coat is moderately long, silky, and of a red or chestnut in color. It requires frequent brushing to maintain its condition and keep it mat-free. The undercoat is abundant in winter weather, and the top coat is fine. Their coats should also feather in places such as the tail, ears, chest, legs, and body. Irish Setters range in height from 25 to 27 inches (630 to 690 mm), males weigh 60 to 70 lb (27 to 32 kg) and females 53 to 64 lb (24 to 29 kg). The FCI Breed Standard for the Irish Setter stipulates males: 23 to 26.5 inches (580 to 670 mm), females: 21.5 to 24.5 inches (550 to 620 mm). Irish Setters are deep chested dogs with small waists.
Irish Setters get along well with children, other dogs, and any household pets, and will enthusiastically greet visitors. Even though they do well with household pets, small animals may pose a problem for this breed, as they are a hunting breed. Some Irish setters may have problems with cats in the house, and may be too rambunctious with small children. As the FCI, ANKC and UK Standards state, the breed should be “Demonstrably affectionate.” As a result, Irish Setters make excellent companion animals and family pets.
Irish Setters are an active breed, and require long, daily walks and off-lead running in wide, open spaces. They are, however, a breed with a tendency to ‘play deaf,’ so careful training on mastering the recall should be undertaken before allowing them off-lead.
Irish Setters enjoy having a job to do. Lack of activity will lead to a bored, destructive, or even hyperactive dog. This is not a breed that can be left alone in the backyard for long periods of time, nor should they be. Irish Setters thrive on constant human companionship. Irish Setters respond swiftly to positive training and are highly intelligent.
Though they are usually alert to their surroundings, Irish Setters are not well-suited as guard dogs, as they are not a naturally assertive breed.
Irish Setters are also widely used as therapy dogs in schools and hospitals. Therapy dogs are permitted in hospitals with special permission and can visit patients on the assigned floors. This is a venue where the therapy dogs are permitted in schools and then asked to sit with children as the students read to the Irish Setter. This process helps to enable the student the ability to read without being corrected or judged. Generally the Irish Setter will lie on the floor with the student as the student continues to read, in this calming and relaxed setting. Irish Setters are people dogs that do require to be with their humans.
One of the first references to the ‘Setter,’ or setting dog, in literature can be found in Caius’s De Canibus Britannicus, which was published in 1570 (with a revised version published in 1576). Translated from the original Latin, the text reads:
The Dogge called the Setter, in Latine, Index: Another sort of Dogges be there, serviceable for fowling, making no noise either with foote or with tongue, whiles they follow the game. They attend diligently upon their Master and frame their condition to such beckes, motions and gestures, as it shall please him to exhibite and make, either going forward, drawing backeward, inclinding to the right hand, or yealding toward the left. When he hath founde the byrde, he keepeth sure and fast silence, he stayeth his steppes and wil proceede no further, and weth a close, covert watching eye, layeth his belly to the grounde and so creepth forward like a worme. When he approaches neere to the place where the byrde is, he layes him downe, and with a marcke of his pawes, betrayeth the place of the byrdes last abode, whereby it is supposed that this kind of dogge is calles in Index, Setter, being in deede a name most consonant and agreeable to his quality.”
It would be incorrect to assume the dog described above in any way resembles the Irish Setter (or any Setter) as we know the breed today. Caius was referring to a type of setting spaniel, most likely now extinct. The description of the work undertaken by this early pillar of the breed resembles the working behaviour of modern Irish Setters. Of this early dog, Caius went on to write: “The most part of theyre skinnes are white, and if they are marcked with any spottes, they are commonly red, and somewhat great therewithall.” If this is the case, it is safe to assume the solid red colouring of today’s Irish Setter came about by selective breeding practices.
Further reference to Setters in early literature can be found in The Country Farme by Surflet and Markham, published in 1616. They wrote: “There is also another sort of land spannyels which are called Setters.”
It is clear that, by the early 18th Century, the type of dog known as the ‘Setter’ had come into its own right. It is also clear the Irish had begun actively breeding their own type. For example, the de Freyne family of French Park began keeping detailed stud records in 1793. Other prominent landed Irish gentry also known to have been breeding setter lines at the same time include Lord Clancarty, Lord Dillon, and the Marquis of Waterford.
It was noted as early as 1845 that Setters in Ireland were predominantly either red, or, according to Youatt, “…very red, or red and white, or lemon coloured, or white patched with deep chestnut.” Clearly, the preference for a solidly-coloured dog was having an effect on the appearance of the typical Irish-bred setter.
The Breed Standard for the modern Irish Setter was first drawn up by the Irish Red Setter Club in Dublin and approved on 29 March 1886. It consisted of a 100-point scale, with a given number of points awarded for each of the dog’s physical attributes. The points system was later dropped; however, aside from some minor changes, the Standard remains largely unchanged today in most countries where the breed is formally recognised.
The Irish Setter was bred for hunting, specifically for setting or locating and pointing upland gamebirds. They are a tireless, wide-ranging hunter, and well-suited to fields and wet or dry moorland terrain. Using their excellent sense of smell to locate the mark (or bird), the Irish will then hold a pointing position, indicating the direction in which the bird lies hidden.
The Irish Setter was brought to the United States in the early 19th century. It commanded great respect in the field and was one of the most commonly used dogs among the professional meat hunter fraternity.
In 1874, the American Field put together the Field Dog Stud Book and registry of dogs in the United States was born. The FDSB is the oldest pure-bred registry in the United States. At that time, dogs could be registered even when bred from sires and dams of different breeds. At about this time, the Llewellin Setter was bred using blood lines from the Lavarack breeding of English Setter and, among other breeds, bloodlines from native Irish Setters. Around the same time, the red Irish Setter became a favorite in the dog show ring.
The Irish Setter of the late 19th century was not just a red dog. The AKC registered Irish Setters in a myriad of colours. Frank Forester, a 19th-century sports writer, described the Irish Setter as follows: “The points of the Irish Setter are more bony, angular, and wiry frame, a longer head, a less silky and straighter coat that those of the English. His colour ought to be a deep orange-red and white, a common mark is a stripe of white between the eyes and a white ring around the neck, white stockings, and a white tage to the tail.”
The Setter that was completely red, however, was preferred in the show ring and that is the direction that the breed took. Between 1874 and 1948, the breed produced 760 conformation show champions, but only five field champions.
In the 1940s, Field and Stream magazine put into writing what was already a well-known fact. The Irish Setter was disappearing from the field and an outcross would be necessary to resurrect the breed as a working dog. Sports Afield chimed in with a similar call for an outcross. Ned LaGrande of Pennsylvania spent a small fortune purchasing examples of the last of the working Irish Setters in America and importing dogs from overseas. With the blessing of the Field Dog Stud Book, he began an outcross to red and white field champion English Setters. The National Red Setter Field Trial Club was created to test the dogs and to encourage breeding toward a dog that would successfully compete with the white setters. Thus the modern Red Setter was born and the controversy begun.
Prior to 1975, a relationship existed between the AKC and the Field Dog Stud book in which registration with one body qualified a dog for registration with the other. In 1975 the Irish Setter Club of America petitioned the AKC to deny reciprocal registration, and the AKC granted the request. It is claimed, by critics of the move, that the pressure was placed on the AKC by bench show enthusiasts who were unappreciative of the outcrossing efforts of the National Red Setter Field Trial Club, as well as some AKC field trialers following a series of losses to FDSB red setters. Working Irish Setter kennels today field champion dogs that claim lines from both the FDSB dogs and AKC dogs.
The modern Red Setter is smaller than his bench-bred cousin. While show dogs often reach 70 lb (32 kg), the working Red Setter is generally around 45 lb (20 kg). The coat is less silky and the feathering is generally shorter. The colour is lighter, with the working dog found in russet and fawn colours. The Red Setter often has patches of white on his face and chest as the Irish Setter of old did. There have been efforts to rekindle the field abilities of the true type Irish by a handful of dedicated breeders in California and elsewhere with some success. More than a dozen AKC Dual Champion Irish Setters have been made, evidence of the big red’s native ability when proper traits are selectively sought in breeding.