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rec.pets.dogs: Irish Setters Breed-FAQ
Posting-frequency: 30 days
Last-modified: 10 Nov 1997
There are nearly 100 FAQ's available for this group. For a complete
listing of these, get the "Complete List of RPD FAQs". This article
is posted bimonthly in rec.pets.dogs, and is available via anonymous ftp
to rtfm.mit.edu under pub/usenet/news.answers/dogs-faq/faq-list, via
the Web at http://www.zmall.com/pet_talk/dog-fa.../faq-list.html, or
via email by sending your message to with
in the body of the message.
This article is Copyright 1997 by the Author(s) listed below.
It may be freely distributed on the Internet in its entirety without
alteration provided that this copyright notice is not removed.
It may NOT reside at another website (use links, please) other
than the URL listed above without the permission of the Author(s).
This article may not be sold for profit nor incorporated in other
documents without he Author(s)'s permission and is provided "as is"
without express or implied warranty.
Holly Kruse, 2 January 1995 ]
Copyright 1995-1997 by Holly Kruse.
* Jul 11 96
* Jun 6 97
Table of Contents
* Table of Contents
* Characteristics and Temperament
* Frequently Asked Questions
* Breed History
* Special Medical Problems
+ Rescue (National)
+ Breed Clubs
+ Online Resources
Characteristics and Temperament
Many observers find Irish Setters to be among the most beautiful of
all dog breeds. Their dark red color, profuse feathering, and
happy-go-lucky nature make them quite attractive to many dog lovers.
However, Irish Setters are not the breed for everyone! They are very
energetic dogs who require plenty of exercise, attention and
Irish Setters were originally bred to hunt upland game, and they are
still proficient hunters. The breed today is essentially split into
two varieties: the larger, darker, more heavily-coated dogs who come
from conformation bloodlines, and the much smaller, lighter dogs
descended from field trial lines, often called "Red Setters." With the
institution of AKC Hunting Tests and the Irish Setter Club of
America's Versatility Certificate program, many owners of
non-field-bred Irish Setters in the United States have been delighted
to learn that their dogs still possess a strong hunting instinct.
Irish Setters are among the largest of the sporting breeds, with males
ideally measuring 27 inches at the withers and weighing about 70
pounds, and females measuring 25 inches at the withers and weighing
about 60 pounds. The Irish Setter is characterized by its
"brick-on-brick" head and its silky coat, which is short on the body
and longer on the chest, ears, backs of legs, tail, and undercarriage,
and which ranges in color from chestnut to mahogany.
Although its potential is often not fully developed, the Irish Setter
is a very versatile breed. Not only are Irish Setters beautiful
companions and able hunters, they also possess the ability to excel at
competitive obedience, tracking, and agility. There are several Irish
Setters with advanced obedience degrees, and many Irish Setters are
now pursuing agility titles.
Frequently Asked Questions
_"Are Irish Setters high-strung and hyperactive?"_
Irish Setters are extremely active, energetic dogs, as are most
sporting breeds. If they do not get adequate exercise and training,
they can be difficult to live with. Their reputation as "hyper"
dogs seems to have emerged when Irish Setters became extremely
popular in the 1970s. The combination of irresponsible breeding
without selection for sound temperaments and placement in homes
which were not up to the demands of an active, sporting breed
undoubtedly contributed to the perception that Irish Setters are
"hyper." With the decreased popularity of the breed in the 1980s
and 1990s, the quality of the Irish Setter temperaments being
produced is uniformly much higher.
_"Are Irish Setters stupider than most other breeds?"_
Anyone who has lived with them knows that these dogs are experts at
getting their way! Irish Setters present a training challenge
because they are stubborn, easily distracted, and quick to bore,
but most of them are quite intelligent. It takes a great deal of
patience and commitment to train an Irish Setter; however, such
training is an absolute necessity, and it usually proves to be fun
and rewarding for both dog and owner. Training must start early,
and the trainer should keep in mind that most Irish Setters aren't
mentally mature until they are at least 2 years old.
_"How much grooming does an Irish Setter need?"_
Their long feathering requires quite a bit of attention, otherwise
it will quickly become matted. Daily brushing is the MINIMUM Irish
Setter grooming requirement.
_"Would an Irish Setter make a good guard dog?"_
No. Many Irish Setters will alert you to the presence of strangers
on your property, but for the most part they are more likely to
happily greet intruders (or to hide behind the sofa) than wrestle
the family silver from burglars.
_"Are Irish Setters good with children?"_
Yes, though since both Irish Setters and children often have a
tendency to play rough, interactions between them should be
_"Since Irish Setters are no longer near the top of the AKC popularity
list, are they hard to find?"_
Quality Irish Setters from reputable breeders can be hard to find,
so there is usually a wait for a puppy. Also, in some places the
demand for older rescue dogs is far greater than the supply.
Whether you are dealing with a breeder or a rescue representative,
expect to be questioned thoroughly about your expectations and your
ability to cope with the breed's maintenance demands.
As with most of the sporting breeds that developed in the British
Isles and Ireland, there is much speculation about the origins of the
Irish Setter. The breed's formative years were in the eighteenth
century, and the breed was clearly established by 1800. Its ancestry
can be traced to a dog known as the setting spaniel, and crosses were
undoubtedly made with Pointers, English Setters, Gordon Setters, and
other spaniels. Some breed historians have suggested that early
crosses were made with Bloodhounds, Irish Water Spaniels, and Irish
Terriers, though there is no documentation to support such conjecture.
Among setters in Ireland, red and white coloring was dominant well
into the nineteenth century; even today many Irish Setters are marked
with small areas of white on the chest, neck, or between the toes
despite the long-standing official division of Irish Setters and Irish
Red and White Setters (not AKC-recognized) into separate breeds.
Nineteenth century descriptions of Irish Setters with black or, more
rarely, orange coloring or markings point to the probability of
cross-breeding with English and Gordon Setters.
Modern Irish Setter type can be traced to a British dog of the 1870s
named Ch. Palmerston. Palmerston has been described as large for his
time -- he weighed 64 pounds and measured 23.5 inches at the shoulder
-- with an unusually long and narrow head, heavy bone, and dark red
coloring. Because of the impact of the few of Palmerston's daughters
who were imported to the United States, there is little doubt that all
American Irish Setters can trace their ancestry to Palmerston.
During the first half of the twentieth century, there was very little
difference in "type" between Irish Setters who competed in field
trials and Irish Setters who competed in conformation competition. In
recent decades, however, as field trial competitors sought to breed
dogs that were competitive against other pointing breeds in field
trials, and as conformation-minded breeders produced larger,
heavily-coated dogs that were more competitive in the show ring, the
breed has split into two distinct types.
The Standard is the physical "blueprint" of the breed. It describes
the physical appearance and other desired qualities of the breed
otherwise known as type. Some characteristics, such as size, coat
quality, and movement, are based on the original (or current) function
for the dog. Other characteristics are more cosmetic such as eye
color; but taken together they set this breed apart from all others.
The Standard describes an ideal representive of the breed. No
individual dog is perfect, but the Standard provides an ideal for the
breeder to strive towards. To find a copy of the standard, check with
the AKC, the national breed club, or a good book on the breed.
Special Medical Problems
Irish Setters are generally a hearty breed, often reaching 13 or 14
years of age; still, they are prone to health problems of varying
degrees of severity:
Epilepsy is present in Irish Setters. The Irish Setter Club of America
has recently launched a closed database, managed through the Genetic
Disease Control Institute, which will be used to attempt to determine
if there is a hereditary component to idiopathic epilepsy in Irish
Setters. With seizure disorders, and with all the conditions mentioned
here, it is important that Irish Setter puppy buyers ask breeders
about the frequency of occurrence of such disorders in the pedigree.
Gastric Dilation-Volvulus (GDV)
Often also called gastric torsion (or bloat, a misnomer, because in
bloat without torsion the stomach does not rotate), GDV afflicts Irish
Setters more often than most other breeds. In this condition, the
stomach twists and distends, acutely affecting key veins in the
abdominal cavity and causing the failure of body systems. It should be
noted that while GDV in Irish setters is sometimes accompanied by the
classic symptoms of bloat, such as a distended abdomen and
unproductive attempts to vomit, these symptoms often are not present,
at least not in the earlier stages of GDV. Extreme restlessness is
often the only observable symptom. Any Irish setter suspected of being
in torsion should receive immediate veterinary attention, and Irish
setter owners should not be shy about insisting on x-rays to ascertain
a dog's condition. Furthermore, since traditional home methods of
relieving bloat (such as passing a stomach tube or releasing trapped
gas with a hypodermic needle) are not effective in cases of torsion,
Irish setter owners are advised not to waste time trying such remedies
when they suspect torsion; getting veterinary attention for dogs in
torsion should be the top priority.
Precautions should be taken by Irish Setter owners to lessen the
likelihood that their dogs develop this acute and life-threatening
condition. These precautions include 1) feeding two or more smaller
meals per day rather than one large meal, 2) wetting dry food and
allowing it to soak before feeding, 3) not allowing vigorous exercise
for one hour before and two hours after feeding, 4) elevating food
dishes, and 5) using a high quality food that doesn't contain soy.
GDV can be quickly fatal, but if caught in time a prodedure called
gastropexy, in which the stomach is surgically tacked to the abdominal
wall, can be performed. This surgery radically decreases the
possibilty of GDV recurrence. Extensive information about GDV can be
found on the homepage of Purdue University's College of Veterinary
Medicine at http://www.vet.purdue.edu/depts/vad/cae/cgdvweb.htm.
Also somewhat common in Irish Setters. All breeding stock should be
radiographically cleared of hip dysplasia by the Orthopedic Foundation
of Animals (or the equivalent national orthopedic registry) at two
years of age before being bred.
Hypothyroidism is fairly common in Irish Setters. Proper diagnosis of
low thyroid activity requires a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)
response test in addition to the standard T4 test.
Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
PRA, a form of hereditary blindness, was once a serious problem in
Irish Setters. Recently, however, a DNA test was made available to
determine which Irish Setters are PRA carriers and which are not. In
Irish Setters, PRA is a simple recessive and can therefore be
eliminated from breeding programs by breeding known non-carriers to
known non-carriers. Unlike some other forms of PRA, in Irish Setters
the condition has an early onset; combined with the simple recessive
nature of its inheritance, the early onset of the disease enabled some
Irish Setter breeders to implement an effective, if controversial and
not widely adopted, program of test-breeding to eliminate PRA from
their breeding programs in the decades before the DNA test became
available. Information on the DNA test for PRA (rod-cone dysplasia 1)
in Irish Setters is available at
Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD)
HOD afflicts some Irish Setter puppies (primarily between four and
eight months of age) and is sometimes fatal. Symptoms can include
fever, lethargy, swelling of joints, and lameness. Many veterinarians
are not experienced in diagnosing and treating this condition, so it
is important that puppy owners be aware of HOD's existence.
Oversupplementation of puppies and high levels of protein in puppies'
diets have been linked to the development of this condition.
Elderly Irish Setters often develop spondylosis, an arthritic
condition of the vertebrae which decreases mobility. This condition
often responds well to treatment with Adequan or its oral forms (such
as Cosequin and Glycoflex), and/or acupuncture.
Books, Periodicals, and Articles
E. Irving Eldredge and Connie Vanacore, The New Complete Irish Setter,
Howell Book House, 1983. (In print)
Luz Holvenstot, Irish Setters, T.F.H. Publications, 1979. (In print)
William C. Thompson, The New Irish Setter, Howell Book House, 1968.
(Out of print)
Patricia Gallagher, Irish Setters Today, 1977. (Out of print)
Joan McDonald Brearley, This is the Irish Setter, T.F.H. Publications,
1975. (Out of print)
Walter Hutchinson, Hutchinson on Setters, Donald R. Hoflin Publishing,
1980 (Out of print)
Rowland Johns, Our Friend the Irish Setter, E. P. Dutton & Co., 1933.
(Out of print)
Irish Setter Club of America Memo to Members. Bi-monthly magazine
available to ISCA members. For membership application, contact:
969 Randy Way
Brentwood, CA 94513
For the Irish Setter Club of America Breeders Directory and other ISCA
Fort Worth, TX 76108
Marilee Larson 27371 Whitmor Pioneer, CA 209/295-1666 Fax:
Irish Setter Club of America
Mrs. Marion Pahy, Corresponding Secretary, 16717 Ledge Falls,
San Antonio, TX 78232, 210/494-0389 (Founded 1891)
Irish Setter Association of England
Mr. W. Bryden, Hill Farmhouse, Church End, Renhold, Bedford,
Belfast and District Irish Setter Club
Mr. P. Nolan, 16 Clifton Crescent, Belfast 14
Irish Setter Club of Wales
Mr. P. Rowlands, 11 Ffordd Lerry, Wrexham, Clwyd, LL12 8JB
* Mailing list for Setter owners and fanciers. To join, send
SUBSCRIBE SETTERS-L yourfirstname yourlastname
to . This list is open to all setter
* Garland Kimmer's Irish Setter Homepage, at
* More information on Irish Setters, particularly Irish Setters in
the United Kingdom, is available at
* The American breed standard is available on the AKC's homepage,
Irish Setter FAQ
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