History of the Irish Setter

history of the irish setterMost readers will be aware that the Irish Setter breed came to the US and other countries from Ireland. This breed actually began as one called the Irish Red Setter which was primarily a bird hunting dog that was helpful in food hunting for owners. It was most likely a combination of several breeds including setters and spaniels. The Irish Red was a quiet hunter with a superb sense of smell, able to lead a hunter to the prey and “set,” using body language to indicate the location of the prey in order that the master could bag the prey.

The Irish Setter became a favorite hunting dog throughout the Europe during the 18th century. Some concerns arose about the ideal color markings and there were increasing attempts to breed for the overall mahogany or red color. When the Irish Red made it to the US in the mid-19th century, the debates about color were ongoing and there might be traces of color debate even today.

When this beautiful dog came to America in the 19th century, it arrived as a hunting dog. Its legs were shorter and ears different than what we now think of as the Irish Setter. It was originally well known for the red and white marking and for being a hunter who performed extremely well in field trials which still holds true today.

There are now a number of national organizations including those focused on field performance in hunting and retrieving in addition to the kennel clubs.  The breed started to become trained to show and was one of the first accepted into the American Kennel Club in 1878. It is in the AKC shows that we are probably most aware of the Irish Setter with the long ears and beautiful coat.

Over the years, there have been many breeders involved in the evolution of the Irish Setter and the Irish Red Setter as known today. There is a 1940’s movie called “Big Red” that helped to popularize the breed as did the fact that President Nixon had an Irish Setter.

This dog breed is now seen more than ever. Over the years, people have become increasingly enamored with the looks and playful personality of the Irish Setter and they have come to be a frequent choice as a family pet and a show dog. Despite this change, there are still both Irish Setters and Irish Red setters that are primarily hunters, retrievers, and field competition dogs.

There are numerous writings and opinions about the Irish Setter. Even today, one can find varied opinions as to which type of setter is the best which is a discussion that has been going on for generations.