A breathtakingly beautiful dog, the Irish Setter’s beauty is in part the result of historical necessity. Its elegant, yet substantial build enabled this breed to hunt with speed and stamina. The build is slightly longer than tall, giving ample room for movement without interference between fore and hind legs. The trot is ground covering and efficient. The coat is flat, straight, and of moderate length, with longer feathering on ears, backs of legs, belly, chest, and tail, providing protection from briars without becoming entangled in them. The rich mahogany color is unique and beautiful.
The precise origins of the Irish Setter are obscure, but the most reasonable theories consider it to have resulted from a blend of spaniels, pointers, and other setters— mostly the English but, to a lesser extent, the Gordon. Irish hunters needed a fast-working, keen-nosed dog, large enough to be seen from a distance. They found their dog in the red and white setters produced from these crosses. The first kennels of solid red setters appeared around 1800. In only a few years, these dogs had gained a reputation for their rich mahogany color. By the mid 1800s, Irish Red Setters (as they were originally known) had come to America, proving themselves as effective game bird hunters. Back in Ireland, around 1862, a dog that was to forever change the breed, Champion Palmerston, was born. With an unusually long head and slender build, he was considered too refined for the field, so his owner ordered him drowned. Another fancier interceded, and the dog became a sensation as a show dog, going on to sire an incredible number of offspring. Virtually every modern Irish Setter can be traced to Palmerston. Interest changed from field trials to dog shows, and emphasis changed from hunting ability to glamour. Despite this, the Irish Setter remained a capable hunter, and dedicated enthusiasts took steps to retain the breed’s dual abilities. The breed increased principally in popularity as a show dog, however, and later as a loyal family pet. It eventually rose to a place among the most popular breeds in America in the 1970s, but has since dropped in popular ranking.
The Irish Setter approaches everything in life with a rollicking, good-natured attitude, full of gusto and fervor. Given a daily outlet for its energy, this breed makes a pleasant companion. Without ample exercise, an Irish Setter can be overly active inside the home, and become frustrated. This is an amiable breed, eager to please and be part of family activities. The Irish Setter is good with children, but can be perhaps be too rambunctious for toddlers.
The Irish needs exercise, and lots of it. It is not fair to take a dog selected for boundless energy and expect it to sit inside. A minimum of one hour of hard strenuous games and exertion a day is recommended. Because of this dog’s energy, the Irish Setter is not suited as an apartment dog. The coat needs regular brushing and combing every two to three days, plus some clipping and trimming to look its best.