Irish Setters have medium-sized frames and were originally bred to be red and white. However, a solid red coat color appeared during the 19th century that quickly became a sign of superior sporting ability. These dogs have fine, straight, glossy coats, with shorter hairs on the head and forelegs and longer hairs on the chest, ears, leg backs, and tail. The coat color can range from rich chestnut to mahogany, but there is no black. Irish Setters have medium sized, almond-shaped eyes that are brown in color. The ears are set low and the nose is chocolate or black. These dogs measure 24 to 27 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh 35 to 70 pounds.
While these dogs make giddy housemates, they have near-limitless energy and can tire out even the most active of people.
Irish Setters are known for their style, clownish personality, and powerful presence. They are high-energy dogs and need regular exercise to remain healthy and happy. Their outgoing, loving, and stable personalities make them a huge hit with families. However, their high need for activity may not make them a good choice for very active or sedentary families.
King Timahoe, the Irish Setter of President Nixon, and the Disney movie from 1962 called Big Red helped make Irish Setters famous and boosted the breed's popularity with families.
Irish Setters are sweet-natured dogs with outgoing and stable personalities. The breed is not known to be hostile, shy, or timid. These dogs make great companion animals and get along very well with children. They are amiable, eager to please, and at times boisterous. These dogs very much love spending time with their human family members and are not happy when left alone for long periods.
The rollicking, good attitude these dogs possess makes them fun companions, but they need a lot of physical activity on a daily basis to thrive. A minimum of one hour of strenuous activity combined with a daily walk or run will help keep excess energy and feelings of frustration and restlessness at bay. A securely fenced yard is a must when owning one of these dogs to keep them from chasing animals all over the neighborhood.
Families without a lot of time or energy may find the Irish Setter challenging to live with. While these dogs make giddy housemates, they have near-limitless energy and can tire out even the most active of people. These things should be considered before purchasing or adopting an Irish Setter.
Irish Setters are known to suffer from a number of potentially serious health conditions that can negatively affect length or quality of life. Congenital hip dysplasia, epilepsy, OCD, hypertrophic osteodystrophy, panosteitis, and hypothyroidism are all known to affect the breed.
Additionally, Irish Setters are at increased risk for certain eye conditions, including progressive retinal atrophy, and for developing gastric torsion, a potentially fatal condition. Megaesophagus, skin allergies, and hemophilia A are also more common in this breed than in some other breeds. A type of bone cancer called osteosarcoma also occurs in Irish Setters at higher than normal rates.
Routine veterinary care, timely canine vaccinations, a varied and balanced diet, and regular exercise all help ensure Irish Setters live a long life of up to 15 years.
Irish Setters are happy, calm, and well-behaved dogs, as long as they are given an outlet for their excess energy. They are also a very trainable breed, although their enthusiasm may make them act against that training, on occasion.
Positive reinforcement works very well when training Irish Setters. They need a firm approach and a high level of consistency. Because they are stubborn, intelligent, and independent thinkers, it is not unusual to have some setbacks along the way, especially early on in training. A gentle, patient trainer will achieve the best results in the shortest period of time.
Training sessions much be kept short and fun, and repetition must be carefully watched for. If these dogs become bored during training, their mind will travel elsewhere and their body will quickly follow. Pulling them back into the session at this point becomes difficult, and they may begin to dislike the training experience.
The glossy, long red coat of Irish Setters must be groomed regularly to prevent mats, tangles, and snarls. Combing and brushing is necessary most days to keep the coat manageable, and clipping and trimming will help maintain a neater appearance. Inexperienced dog owners may benefit from visiting a professional groomer when it comes to trimming or shaping the coat.
Bathing about once each month is generally sufficient, although Irish Setters that spend a considerable amount of time outdoors may require washing more frequently. Use of a pH-balanced canine shampoo will protect the skin from irritation while cleaning the coat.
The nails need clipping every few weeks to prevent snagging and breaking, and the teeth require brushing with a canine toothbrush and toothpaste to protect against tartar buildup, tooth decay, and periodontal disease. Weekly ear checks to look for signs of infection and remove excess wax accumulation are also important.
Developed from a mix of English Setter, Irish Water Spaniel, Irish Terrier, and other breeds, the Irish Setter was created to "set" game, but the breed later evolved into a gundog once firearms were introduced. The breed kept its setting skills, though.
These dogs didn't start out solid red. Early records of the breed show the dogs to be red and white during the 17th century. Sometime after that, solid red coats began emerging and these dogs split from what is now called the Irish Red and White Setters. The solid red coat was considered superior, so efforts were made to increase the numbers of this variety of dog.
Irish Setters are popular in the show ring and as companion animals in the United States. However, their high energy needs make them challenging for many families. This should be considered before purchasing or adopting one of these dogs.
The American Kennel Club officially recognized the Irish Setter in 1878.