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Irish Setter

Introduction | History & Health | Temperament & Personality | Breed Standard

Irish Setter

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The Irish Setter, also known as the Red Dog from Erin, the Red Dog, the Irish Red Setter, the Modder Rhu (Gaelic), the Red Spaniel or simply the Red Setter, is an impressive breed best known for its hunting skills, flashy style, powerful movement and clownish personality. The Irish Setter has been described as being perhaps the most glamorous and unforgettable of all modern dog breeds. It was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1878, as part of the Sporting Group. The Irish Setter Club of America was founded in 1891 and is one of the oldest breed clubs in the country.
The average male Irish Setter stands about 27 inches at the shoulder and weighs about 70 pounds. Females typically are 25 inches tall and approximately 60 pounds. There is no size requirement or disqualification in the American breed standard. The Irish Setter's coat is short and fine on head and forelegs and moderately long and flat elsewhere. There should be long, silky feathering on the ears, back of the legs, under the belly and brisket and on the tail, preferably with no sign of waviness or curl. The coat should be mahogany or a rich chestnut red, with no black. A small amount of white on chest, throat or toes is not penalized, but not preferred.

History & Health


The origin of the Irish Setter dates back to the early 1700s in Ireland. By the early 1800s, the breed was firmly established not only in its homeland but throughout the British Isles. While its precise ancestry is the subject of debate, some speculate that the Irish Setter descends from crosses of Irish Water Spaniels and Irish Terriers. According to other experts, it is more likely that the breed's progenitors were English Setters crossed with Irish Water Spaniels, Springer Spaniels and Pointers, with some Gordon Setter blood thrown into the mix.
The solid red setter first appeared in Ireland in the 19th century. Its earliest ancestors primarily were red and white. The breed was developed to locate birds with its keen sense of smell and, once the prey was discovered, to hold its position (instead of chasing the birds) to avoid entering the line of fire. The first Irish Setters were imported to America in the 1800s to work as gundogs on game, particularly ruffed grouse, quail, prairie chickens, woodcock, partridge, pheasant, wild duck and teal. A legendary setter named Elcho, imported from Ireland to the United States in 1875, was one of the first of his breed to be a phenomenal success in both the show ring and the field. However, most sportsmen did not continue breeding and refining the Irish Setter for public field trial competitions. The Llewellin Setter and the Pointer eventually cornered the market in that sport, although the Irish Setter remains a competent hunting companion and high-class shooting dog, pointer and retriever in its own right.
The physical beauty of this breed, together with its happy-go-lucky, rollicking disposition, made it highly sought after as a show dog. By the mid-1900s, many fanciers bred the Irish Setter more for flashiness than for hunting skills. It has been suggested that some show breeders crossed the Irish Setter with the Borzoi to give it a lankier, more elongated look, although if this practice occurred it was quickly nipped in the bud by breed traditionalists. Today, many breeders are working to reestablish the Irish Setter's bold field abilities without sacrificing proper conformation, color, temperament and breed type. These attributes are not incompatible.


The average life expectancy for the Irish Setter is 11 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include arthritis, bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus), canine leukocyte adhesion deficiency, entropion, eversion of the cartilage of the nictitating membrane, corneal ulceration, epilepsy, hip dysplasia, hypertrophic osteodystrophy, hypothyroidism, insulinoma, Irish Setter hypochondroplasia, congenital idiopathic megaesophagus, melanoma, vascular ring anomaly, osteosarcoma, patent ductus arteriosus, progressive retinal atrophy and von Willebrand disease.

Temperament & Personality


Irish Setters were developed to be bird dogs, tracking, pointing and retrieving game birds in the field. Today, they are rarely used in the field, but maintain their high energy and stamina in modern life. Irish Setters are loyal family dogs for those with active lifestyles. They get along well with children, love people and get along well with other household pets. They will want to be a part of any and every family activity. Though they are generally well-mannered dogs, Irish Setters are brimming with energy and are prone to leaping and jumping on guests. They are good watchdogs, in that they will let you know when someone is approaching, but they should not be relied upon as guard dogs – visitors will be welcomed into an Irish Setter's home as if they are old friends.

Activity Requirements

Irish Setters require a lot of activity to maintain an even temperament. Prospective owners should be prepared to dedicate at least one hour per day to a Setter's physical activity requirements. Brisk walks are good, but they should be allowed to run several times per week. Irish Setters are country dogs, they require wide open space and room to roam.
Agility training is often a good outlet for Irish Setters as it works the mind and the body. Though they aren't as reliable as a Golden Retriever and may not win agility championships, Irish Setters enjoy the activity and appreciate the bonding time.


Irish Setters need very little training when it comes to hunting birds, but household obedience is a different story. Don't let the long hair fool you – this is not a Golden Retriever. Training and Irish Setter requires patience, consistency and a calm-assertive attitude. This breed develops habits quickly, and bad habits can be nearly impossible to break, so the earlier you begin training a Setter, the better.
Irish Setters can be rambunctious well after puppyhood passes and even if they receive adequate exercise. It is very important to teach your setter proper manners and not to jump on people, no matter how excited he may be to see them.

Behavioral Traits

Separation Anxiety is common in this breed. Irish Setters are social creatures and they love spending time with people. Leaving them alone for long periods of time can lead to destructive behavior and excessive barking. It is important to properly exercise your Setter before leaving him alone, as lack of exercise can make these destructive tendencies worse. Irish Setters are best suited for people who have flexible work schedules, or families with a stay at home parent.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
The Irish Setter is an active, aristocratic bird dog, rich red in color, substantial yet elegant in build. Standing over two feet tall at the shoulder, the dog has a straight, fine, glossy coat, longer on ears, chest, tail and back of legs. Afield, the Irish Setter is a swift-moving hunter; at home, a sweet natured, trainable companion.
At their best, the lines of the Irish Setter so satisfy in overall balance that artists have termed it the most beautiful of all dogs. The correct specimen always exhibits balance, whether standing or in motion. Each part of the dog flows and fits smoothly into its neighboring parts without calling attention to itself.

Size, Proportion, Substance
There is no disqualification as to size. The make and fit of all parts and their overall balance in the animal are rated more important. 27 inches at the withers and a show weight of about 70 pounds is considered ideal for the dog; the bitch 25 inches, 60 pounds. Variance beyond an inch up or down is to be discouraged. Proportion --Measuring from the breastbone to rear of thigh and from the top of the withers to the ground, the Irish Setter is slightly longer than it is tall. Substance--All legs sturdy with plenty of bone. Structure in the male reflects masculinity without coarseness. Bitches appear feminine without being slight of bone.

Long and lean, its length at least double the width between the ears. Beauty of head is emphasized by delicate chiseling along the muzzle, around and below the eyes, and along the cheeks. Expression soft, yet alert. Eyes somewhat almond shaped, of medium size, placed rather well apart, neither deep set nor bulging. Color, dark to medium brown. Ears set well back and low, not above level of eye. Leather thin, hanging in a neat fold close to the head, and nearly long enough to reach the nose. The skull is oval when viewed from above or front; very slightly domed when viewed in profile. The brow is raised, showing a distinct stop midway between the tip of the nose and the well-defined occiput (rear point of skull). Thus the nearly level line from occiput to brow is set a little above, and parallel to, the straight and equal line from eye to nose. Muzzle moderately deep, jaws of nearly equal length, the underline of the jaws being almost parallel with the top line of the muzzle. Nose black or chocolate; nostrils wide. Upper lips fairly square but not pendulous. The teeth meet in a scissors bite in which the upper incisors fit closely over the lower, or they may meet evenly.

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck moderately long, strong but not thick, and slightly arched; free from throatiness and fitting smoothly into the shoulders. Topline of body from withers to tail should be firm and incline slightly downward without sharp drop at the croup. The tail is set on nearly level with the croup as a natural extension of the topline, strong at root, tapering to a fine point, nearly long enough to reach the hock. Carriage straight or curving slightly upward, nearly level with the back. Body sufficiently long to permit a straight and free stride. Chest deep, reaching approximately to the elbows with moderate forechest, extending beyond the point where the shoulder joins the upper arm. Chest is of moderate width so that it does not interfere with forward motion and extends rearwards to well sprung ribs. Loins firm, muscular and of moderate length.

Shoulder blades long, wide, sloping well back, fairly close together at the withers. Upper arm and shoulder blades are approximately the same length, and are joined at sufficient angle to bring the elbows rearward along the brisket in line with the top of the withers. The elbows moving freely, incline neither in nor out. Forelegs straight and sinewy. Strong, nearly straight pastern. Feet rather small, very firm, toes arched and close.

Hindquarters should be wide and powerful with broad, well developed thighs. Hind legs long and muscular from hip to hock; short and perpendicular from hock to ground; well angulated at stifle and hock joints, which, like the elbows, incline neither in nor out. Feet as in front. Angulation of the forequarters and hindquarters should be balanced.

Short and fine on head and forelegs. On all other parts of moderate length and flat. Feathering long and silky on ears; on back of forelegs and thighs long and fine, with a pleasing fringe of hair on belly and brisket extending onto the chest. Fringe on tail moderately long and tapering. All coat and feathering as straight and free as possible from curl or wave. The Irish Setter is trimmed for the show ring to emphasize the lean head and clean neck. The top third of the ears and the throat nearly to the breastbone are trimmed. Excess feathering is removed to show the natural outline of the foot. All trimming is done to preserve the natural appearance of the dog.

Mahogany or rich chestnut red with no black. A small amount of white on chest, throat or toes, or a narrow centered streak on skull is not to be penalized.

At the trot the gait is big, very lively, graceful and efficient. At an extended trot the head reaches slightly forward, keeping the dog in balance. The forelegs reach well ahead as if to pull in the ground without giving the appearance of a hackney gait. The hindquarters drive smoothly and with great power. Seen from front or rear, the forelegs, as well as the hind legs below the hock joint, move perpendicularly to the ground, with some tendency towards a single track as speed increases. Structural characteristics which interfere with a straight, true stride are to be penalized.

The Irish Setter has a rollicking personality. Shyness, hostility or timidity are uncharacteristic of the breed. An outgoing, stable temperament is the essence of the Irish Setter.

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