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Irish Setter

Breed: Irish (Red) Setter
active, affectionate, sensitive
Cost: $500-$1000
12-14 years
Recommended for:
active people, large families


Commonly called the Red Setter, this dog is very dear to the Irish although its exact origins are unknown. Bred for the purpose of 'setting' (standing rigid whilst scenting game), the Irish Setter was a favourite breed of bird shooters. The Setter was primarily the result of breeding spaniel and pointer types during the 1700's. Irish Setters were first seen in either the solid red coat or a red and white spotted coat. However by the time the first Irish Red Setter Club was formed in 1882 the red and white spotted variety had declined. The breed continues to be popular not only as a gun dog but also as a family pet and in the show ring. This is likely due to its elegant flowing red coat, placid temperament and athletic demeanour.


Big, elegant and athletic. Irish Setters are a flashy looking dog with a rich chestnut or mahogany coloured coat flowing over a large, well proportioned frame. The coat is moderately long with abundant feathering over the tail, bib, ears and ankles. At birth the coat is actually a light red, changing to the rich chestnut at about three to four months of age. The breed stands quite tall, about 70cm at the withers, and white may be apparent on the chest, throat, chin or toes.


When you combine the Irish Setter's natural liveliness and exuberance with its size, you get quite a handful. Like most sporting dogs, Irish Setters need plenty of exercise and positive training. They are a willing and affectionate breed, although with an unfair reputation for stupidity and poor trainability. Bad breeding during the height of popularity furthered this poor reputation. However dedicated breeders now emphasize selection for breed improvement, including importing European dogs with outstanding temperament. This has favoured the breed in recent years though obedience training is still essential at a very early age. Irish Setters are a willing though sensitive breed, and will not respond well to harsh training practices which may otherwise suit other breeds. Roger, an Irish Setter once featured on Burke's Backyard, misbehaved constantly; breaking plants, digging holes and barking incessantly. In a segment in 2001, Don demonstrated how easy it was to educate Roger, simply with positive, gentle techniques. And just because your pup grows up quickly (juveniles reach their full size within the first year) don't expect an equal level of mental maturity until at least two years of age.

Health and lifespan

In several ways, Victorian Irish Setter breeders are leading the way to ensure the best health for their breed. A number of health problems are known to afflict the breed but the Victorian Irish Setter Club has made an organised effort to eradicate these issues. DNA testing is now available enabling breeders to screen for two particular conditions; Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), an eye disease which affects many breeds, and Canine Leucocyte Adhesion Deficiency (CLAD), a disease of the immune system which afflicts Irish Setters. Breeders who test their dogs receive certification, and as of July 2002 the Victorian Irish Setter club will not endorse any breeder who has not tested their animals. This has created an enviable position where Irish Setters within the club need never suffer these diseases again. It is proactive measures such as these, performed in the best interests of the breed, which should be considered by responsible breeders of all animals. Hip dysplasia may also occur and clubs encourage breeders to test their dogs. Owners who allow their young dogs to become overweight or exercise excessively may also contribute to the incidence of hip dysplasia. Irish Setters are deep chested dogs, predisposing them to bloat, a build up of gasses within the stomach. The causes of bloat are still unclear. It's thought that stress is a major factor, plus exercising too close to mealtimes. Feeding two small meals a day of good quality concentrate, and allowing the dog to digest its food before exercise may help to prevent this condition. With the advent of these control measures, healthy Irish Setters have an average lifespan of 12-14 years.

Space and exercise

Irish Setters thrive on an active lifestyle and need plenty of stimulation. Otherwise destructive and unwelcome behaviour will set in. Daily walks, at least an hour a day, are advised. Off-leash energetic activity is great, but ideally should only be done in secure areas away from traffic. Even well trained Irish Setters can become distracted and deaf to a calling owner. These large dogs are not really suited to small yards.

Maintenance and cost

The fine, single coat requires a once weekly brush, paying particular attention to ensure knots and matting don't develop around the ears and feet. It is also a good idea to clip the area around the collar, thinning down the hair to prevent matting. Breeders will quite often slip purpose-made scarves, called 'snood's' over the dog's ears to prevent them from falling into their food. The coat has little odour and will not shed in large amounts. Cost from $500 - $1000.

Recommended for

Irish Setters really are best suited to those active individuals or families with regular time to spend exercising their pet. Owners must be prepared to take their pup to obedience training and continue providing exercise and stimulation throughout most of the dog's life. Although many Red Setters are owned by people with small yards, it is not ideal. The lively nature of the dog combined with its size can make this breed unsuitable around small children, who are likely to be knocked around. Large families are ideal for these dogs and everyone can contribute to the dog's active lifestyle.

Further information

For more information on positive training techniques, see the 2001 Burke's Backyard Fact Sheet called 'Problem Dog'.

We filmed this segment in Victoria. Thanks to Jayne and John Stewart and the members of the Irish Setter Club of Victoria for their help with this Road Test. The Stewarts can be contacted on (03) 9740 9759.

A large range of Setters will be on exhibit May 19, 2002 at the Town and County Festival, Mornington race course.

Irish Setter Club of Victoria Inc.
Secretary, John Frigo
Phone: (03) 9696 0278

Irish Setter Association of NSW
President, Alastair Patterson
Phone: (02) 6236 9233

Setter Club of Queensland
Secretary, Norelle Houldsworth
Phone: (07) 3390 3704

For breeders in other states, contact your state canine authority

South Australian Canine Association - SACA
Phone: (08) 8349 4797

Canine Association of Western Australia - CAWA
Phone: (08) 9455 1188

Tasmanian Canine Association - TCA
Phone: (03) 6272 9443

North Australian Canine Association - NACA
Phone: (08) 8984 3570

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