The Irish Setter is a large gundog breed that originated in Ireland. It is also known as the “red setter” to differentiate it from the other Irish setter breeds: the Red and White Setter and the now believed to be extinct Hail Setter. The Irish Setter is a racy-built gundog characterised by a long head with a glamorous coat, light bones and a very refined head. The first thing one will notice when seeing the Irish Setter for the first time is the soft, silky shiny coat of red or chestnut colour. Beautiful featherings adorn the upper portion of the ears, on the back of the front and back legs, and on the belly, forming a fringe extending to the chest and throat. The feet are also well-feathered between toes as well as the tail, which has moderately long hair, forming a fringe. The Irish Setter, besides being a graceful hunter is also a remarkably affectionate dog, which is why it is also trained as a therapy dog. The average Irish Setter height ranges between 61cm to 71cm while weight ranges between 29kg to 34kg for males and between 25kg to 29kg for females.
The first mention of a dog similar in working ability and appearance to the modern Irish Setter was in a Latin book entitled “De Canibus Britannicus” published in 1570. The breed mentioned here greatly resembles the Irish Setter as we know it today. Further references to early Setters can be found in “The Country Farme” published in 1616 which makes the setter breed one of the oldest breeds. During the 18th century, the Irish people began to actively breed their own type of Setters, particularly those with very large estates where game birds can be found. By 1845, the predominant Setter breeds in Ireland were either red, red and white, lemon, or white with deep chestnut patches. The modern solid red colour that we see today is a result of selective breeding practices. Working Irish Setters are lighter and have less feathering that is generally shorter than the show ring Setters.
Bred to be a successful hunter, the Irish Setter is also extremely affectionate and will enthusiastically greet visitors at any time of the day. This people-friendly attitude makes it unsuitable as a guard dog. It is an excellent companion dog and a family pet. It loves having a job to do and lack of activity can lead to boredom which can translate into unpleasant behaviours such chewing, digging, or hyperactivity. It should not be left alone in the backyard for long periods of time. It thrives best when it is around its human companions and because it is highly affectionate, the Irish Setter is also widely used as a therapy dog in schools and hospitals. In the field, the Irish Setter is an excellent locator, pointer and setter of upland game birds. It is a tireless hunter that can cover a wide area in any type of environment, wet or dry.
The Irish Setter can sometimes have a stubborn streak and has a tendency to play deaf especially when something caught his attention. Proper and early obedience training particularly on mastering the recall should be carried out as early as possible in the dog’s life, especially if it will be allowed to walk off-lead later in life. The best training method is firm and gentle training coupled with positive reinforcements.
A young Irish Setter’s coat is short so grooming is quite easy. It is important to show the puppy that grooming is an enjoyable session so that it will grow up knowing that grooming is a pleasurable experience. An adult Irish Setter has a thicker and longer coat. Regular grooming sessions must be adhered to in order to keep the coat matt- and tangle-free. Pay close attention to the area behind and under the ears because this is where most matts form which can cause problems to the dog. Use a thinning scissor to remove small hair balls that formed small lumps hidden under the coat. Check the armpits, groin area, in between toes and under the tail for the same problem.
The Irish Setter is generally a healthy breed but it is affected by a few health issues including canine leukocyte adhesion deficiency (CLAD), seizure, gastric torsion or bloat, canine hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, osteosarcoma, Von Willebrand’s disease, celiac disease, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). The average lifespan of the Irish Setter is between 12 and 15 years.
The adult Irish Setter is an active breed, owing to its hunting lineage. It requires about 1 to 2 hours of daily exercises like long walks and off-lead running preferably in a large open area where it can channel its loads of energy. An insufficiently exercised Irish Setter can become bored which can translate into hyperactivity and worst, destructive behaviour. However, it is not a good idea to exposed a young Irish Setter to rugged exercises until he is old enough to do so. A few minutes of play time in the garden until he is about 4 months old is enough and then up to 15 minutes of simple walk/play/run until about 6 months of age.
Children and Irish Setters get along quite very well, but the breed can be quite exuberant with small kids. As a very loving breed, the Irish Setter also gets along well with other dogs. However, being a natural hunter, the Irish Setter may pose a problem to small household animals. Some Irish Setters don’t get along well with cats, although early socialisation is always the key to correcting this issue.