One of two Setter breeds native to Ireland, the Irish Red and White Setter has a slightly obscure history. Thought to descend originally from the Spaniel family, the Irish Red and White Setter is no doubt an ancient breed. In use and temperament it is nearly indistinguishable from its cousin the Irish setter; and they would develop, in Ireland, alongside one another for centuries.
In ancient times, historical information was not always recorded and therefore, a true and complete historical account of the creation and development of the Irish Red and White Setter is non-existent. What is thought to be true is that the Romans, while traveling into what is now the country of Ireland, introduced the sport of bird-hunting. Although the Romans would eventually leave that land, many of their customs and traditions would be left behind and adapted by the local inhabitants. Bird-hunting would continue to be popular in Ireland. Spaniel type hunting dogs were thought to accompany returning Crusaders in later centuries and would further enhance the sport of bird-hunting.
From these early Spaniels, other breeds and varieties of dogs would evolve. It is thought that all Setter breeds evolved from the Spaniel family. The early form of the breed would often be referred to, throughout history as the “setting Spaniel”. The early breed of Setters was known for, and thus named after the specific skill of “setting”, meaning that when hunting game (often Quail or Pheasant) the dog would search silently until it came upon a scent; at which point, the Irish Red and White Setter would become motionless, freezing in place to alert the hunter that it has found its prey.
This is very different than the hunting styles of many of the Spaniel types, who chase after their prey in order to flush it out. Only a dog with superior intelligence and a patient temperament could freeze itself and the game in order to allow the hunter to approach close enough to dispatch the game bird, often using only a net or bow and arrow. The invention of firearms would nevertheless, change hunting forever. Shooting birds became the preference to a more primitive type of hunting. Setters were thought to be ideal in this new style of hunting as there was little risk of accidentally shooting or injuring the dog, since it does not chase its prey.
The earliest reference to a hunting dog of the “setting” variety comes from a manuscript dated to the 1300’s. John Scott further records, in his book, The Sportsman’s Repository, 1820: “A Duke of Northumberland of the fourteenth century has the reputation of being the first sportsman, who broke and trained the Setting dog to the net.” Dr. Caius, writing in 1570, explains that the hunting breeds in the area then were mainly white in color with large red spots, and that they were all generally referred to as “Spaniels”. Also in the 16th century there would be imagery and descriptions of hunters being accompanied by a hunting dog that would crouch down at its prey. In these later centuries, there would be copious accounts of “setting dogs” and their characteristic hunting style.
The 17th century would give numerous depictions, through the art of painting, of a dog very closely resembling the modern Irish Red and White Setter. These paintings show dogs of the Setter type with white coats containing large red spots. The red and white variety of the Setter breed was well established by the 18th century, in Ireland. Being that travel was difficult in those times, variations of the breed were regionally specific, with references to the red and white breed type found in records from many differing regions throughout the country. Coloring of the early breed varied by region, however the mostly white coat with red spots was most common. Developing out of this general coat coloring, there would be a documented range from nearly all white to all red.
Bred mainly for their working ability, the Irish Red and White Setter’s color was of little mind to their breeders at this time. By the end of the 18th century, all-red Setters began to appear in Irish kennels. The all-red variation was not considered at that time to be a separate breed, and even when all-red dogs were bred to other all-red dogs, they would on occasion, and sometimes generations later, produce red dogs with white markings. These all-red Setters would eventually become the Irish Setter breed, distinct and separate from the Irish Red and White Setter that is thought to be its predecessor.
The all-red Setter began to grow in numbers, and in 1863, both the red and white variety, and the all-red variety of Setter type were shown at Dublin, Ireland’s Rotunda Show. The flashiness of the all-red coat appealed to the judges and the public making the all-red variety the preference from that time forward. Quickly, the all-red Setter variety became the dominant type. The demand for the all-red Setter grew tremendously. Although thought to be the original type of the breed, the Irish Red and White Setter could not compete with the massive demand for his cousin, the all-red Setter.
The breed’s numbers began to decline rapidly, and by the end of the 19th century, they were rarely seen in the show ring. So few were their numbers, that the Irish Red and White Setter was thought to be extinct among members of the show circuit. Despite their lack of success in the show arena, the Irish Red and White Setter, at least the few that remained, were highly esteemed for their abilities in the field and their competency in the work for which they were originally bred.
In the early 1900’s, war broke out for Europe and America. Many dog breeds would suffer near extinction during this time, as food was scarce and maintaining a kennel was virtually impossible. The Irish Red and White Setter was one of these breeds. A few members of the breed would survive the war, and a revival effort for the Irish Red and White Setter would then begin, when Reverend Noble Houston, an Army Chaplain, returned home to Ireland and found that many good dogs had perished during the war.
In the 1920’s, Rev. Houston, supported by his cousin Dr. Elliot, found that there were a few Irish Red and White Setters that remained and were living in Monaghan. From these dogs, Rev. Houston obtained a female called “Gyp”. Renamed for the house of Dr. Elliot, Gyp was given the prefix “Eldron”. “Eldron Gyp” was mated and through the litters resulting from this original mating, Rev. Houston reestablished the breed. Many of the Reverend and Dr. Elliot’s dogs bred in the 1920’s and 1930’s were given the prefix Eldron. Most of the dogs resulting from these litters remained in Ireland, however a few were sent out to establish the Irish Red and White Setter breed in other countries. Several dogs were sent to England, two were sent to Spain, and just one was sent to America.
Rev. Houston did not attempt to reestablish the Irish Red and White Setter breed through breeding alone, however. He began gathering pedigree information on Irish Red and White Setters dating as far back as the 1790’s. Rev. Houston was not the only breeder of Irish Red and White Setters in Ireland at this time; however his records are the only ones that have survived. He did not record specific pedigrees on his dogs, but he did document, in the parish registers, Irish Red and White Setter litters that he produced.
In the early 1940’s, Rev. Houston contacted an Irish Red and White Setter breed fancier by the name of Maureen Cuddy. She owned an Irish Red and White Setter pup herself. The dog was a sickly puppy, a female that Mrs. Cuddy called “Judith Cunningham of Knockalla”. Mrs. Cuddy nursed the puppy to health and it is believed that all modern Irish Red and White Setters today descend from this one dog. Mrs. Cuddy and Rev. Houston continued a correspondence that would last many years. She is credited with much research and the preservation of the recorded information and history of the Irish Red and White Setter breed.
Mrs. Cuddy, together with her husband William, helped to found a group of Irish Red and White Setter breed fanciers in Ireland. This group would help gain recognition for the breed. By 1944, Ireland’s Irish Red and White Setter Society (IRWSS) was formed.
After World War II, the numbers of Irish Red and White Setters began to increase gradually. In America, it was not until the 1960’s that breeding pairs were imported into the country, and the population of American bred Irish Red and White Setters began to increase as well. At this point, the breed was becoming more firmly established in its home country of Ireland, as well as England and now in America. In 1978, the Irish Red and White Setter was recognized as a distinct breed, separate from its cousin the all-red Irish Setter, by both the Irish Kennel Club and the Kennel Club (UK).
Despite this increase in numbers for the Irish Red and White Setter, the numbers in America and Canada remained fairly insignificant. In 1997, the Irish Red and White Setter Association (IRWSA) was formed in America to promote the breed. The IRWSA would eventually become the parent club to the breed. A breeding program was begun for the Irish Red and White Setter and registration numbers in America began to increase slowly. The Irish Red and White Setter was not recognized as a unique breed, however, by the American Kennel Club (AKC) until January 1, 2009. It is currently ranked 150th out of 167 breeds on the 2010 AKC most popular dog breeds list.
Although still unable to regain its preference to the all-red Irish Setter, the Irish Red and White Setter currently sees somewhat better registration numbers in its native Ireland and in England than it does in America. The Irish Red and White Setter is now, as it was centuries ago, revered as a highly skilled working dog and an asset in the field.
A stately dog of medium to large proportions, the Irish Red and White Setter is commanding in stature. Bred to work the field as a companion to the sportsmen of the day, the Irish Red and White Setter displays an aristocratic attitude; with an expression of intelligence and loyalty. The breed stands roughly 22.5 to 26 inches, with a weight standard of 50 to 70 lbs. Its gait is long and efficient. The Irish Red and White Setter moves forcibly, but with an athletic grace.
Lacking a protuberance of the occipital area, the Irish Red and White Setter has a domed skull that is broad and possessing of an unexaggerated stop. The ears, set at the level of the eyes, lie close to the head. Displaying a friendly attitude, the eyes are round and dark, yet kind. They are hazel or dark brown in color. The muzzle is square and neat, with a clean scissors bite.
The Irish Red and White Setter breed has a well-developed neck displaying good musculature. It is not overly thick, but is moderately long with an insignificant arch. The shoulders are sturdy, leading into a non-sloping topline; the appearance should be straight. The Irish Red and White Setter has a deep chest and strong ribs. The body is solidly built and powerful.
The front legs are muscular, straight, and well-built. The hindquarter is short and wide; built for force and authority. The feet of the Irish Red and White Setter possess toes that are set close together with feathering in between. The tail does not reach below the hock in length, and is carried at or below the line of the back. Strong at the base, it is moderately long and tapers nicely to a precise point at the tip.
The coat is generally short, straight, and silky on the head, front of the legs, as well as the neck and top of the back, with a slight wave being permitted. The feathering is plentiful on the ears, back of the legs, chest, tail, and undercarriage. The color of the Irish Red and White Setter’s coat is called “parti-colored” meaning it is a base of bright white, possessing solid red spots throughout. Flecking or mottling is allowable only on the face, feet, and lower part of the legs. Roaning in the coat however is not permitted.
Similar to the Spaniel, the Irish Red and White Setter is considered a “Gun Dog”, originally bred to hunt game bird such as pheasant, quail, and grouse. The Setter’s hunting style, however, it quite unique, thus distinguishing it from other similar type breeds. Other hunting and gun dogs flush game out into the open, the Irish Red and White Setter does not. It silently searches for a scent. Upon locating its prey, the Setter will “set” or freeze in place, alerting its hunting companion to the area in which he may locate the prey.
This style of hunting is desirable in that it allows the hunter an option as to how best to capture the prey. Nets, as well as guns or bow and arrow may be used in this type of hunting. Those who favor this method of hunting believe the Setter type to be superior to the flushing type. It is thought that a Setter possesses the enthusiasm and energy needed to be an adequate hunting companion, but in addition, it has an even temper, making it exceedingly calm and patient, allowing it to control its instinct to chase game birds the moment it catches their scent.
The Irish Red and White Setter is smart, vivacious, and affectionate by nature; a loving and faithful companion. A high-energy and active breed, the Irish Red and White Setter will require sufficient physical exercise and mental stimulation. Active owners are a must for the Irish Red and White Setter, as the breed demands at least an hour of exercise every day. Members of the breed that do not receive the recommended amount of exercise will become nervous. They can become high-strung and fussy, in some cases the Irish Red and White Setter will become hard to manage if not properly maintained physically.
The type of exercise can be a long walk or simply letting the dog run. If it does not receive adequate attention from its human companion, the Irish Red and White Setter may become bored. Boredom may lead to frustration expressed as destructive behavior. The requirements for mental stimulation may be achieved through games such as fetch or a type of “hide-and-seek” where the dog may search for items in the home or yard. Because the Irish Red and White Setter does not chase or herd other animals instinctively, it is unlikely to wander off, however all dogs should generally be kept on a leash or in a fenced yard for their own safety.
The Irish Red and White Setter is of a medium size, and is adaptable to apartment living only when a proper activity level is maintained. A large yard is preferred for the breed, however regular and lengthy visits to the park can substitute for a lack of space at home. Although the Irish Red and White Setter is unlikely to chase after other animals, cars, or joggers; it is a dedicated hunter. Once it detects a scent it is interested in, it will follow it aggressively. The breed is highly capable of hunting in varying terrain, and wetlands, ponds, and the like will not deter the Irish Red and White Setter from following its nose. Be sure to keep the dog on a leash while walking it.
If a watchdog is what is desired, the Irish Red and White Setter is not the best candidate. The breed is friendly and affectionate; therefore it has very little guardian instinct. The Irish Red and White Setter does not display an overtly dominant nature and is not excessively territorial. It has a pleasant temperament with children. It is a social breed and prefers the company of family and friends to time spent alone. The Irish Red and White Setter will behave well around most other pets, but is more comfortable with other dogs and animals that it has known since puppyhood. The Irish Red and White Setter is overall a lively and outgoing breed, recommended for a very active and loving household.
Because the Irish Red and White Setter breed possesses an abundance of energy, early training is essential to guarantee that the dog grows to be a well-adjusted member of the family. The Irish Red and White Setter is highly intelligent, often understanding new commands within 15 to 25 repetitions, with the ability to respond correctly to a first command 70% of the time or better, according to Stanley Coren, in his book The Intelligence of Dogs.
Formal training should begin early on in the dog’s life and should be harsh in no way. The Irish Red and White Setter is sensitive and will respond poorly to rough handling or improper discipline. The owner of an Irish Red and White Setter must always be fair and consistent in corrections and commands; authoritative, but calm and confident as well. Any signs of passiveness or meekness in the trainer will be sensed by the Irish Red and White Setter, as it is receptive to tone of voice in humans. If the dog believes itself superior in intelligence to its owner, it may become difficult to handle.
As with all dogs, socialization is extremely important and should begin as soon as possible. Exposure to new people, places, and things when the dog is young will help it to understand its world and the type of behavior that is expected of it as a member of the family and of society. The Irish Red and White Setter is an impulsive breed, and has a propensity to jump up or try to stand up on its back legs when it gets excited. This may be dangerous to small children and pets, or taken as a sign of aggression by other medium to large breed dogs, therefore the Irish Red and White Setter should be taught the proper way to greet new people and new friends early on. When careful training and consideration are given, the Irish Red and White Setter will grow to be a treasured and devote member of the family as well as an exceptional companion for the hunt.
All breeds of dog require a certain level of physical care and grooming to maintain a healthy body and a beautiful appearance. This being the case, the Irish Red and White Setter, like all dogs should have their nails clipped regularly, and their teeth, ears, nose, and eyes cleaned and inspected for any potential health concerns. A healthy diet is also essential.
Beyond the basic dog care and grooming practices, the Irish Red and White Setter will require some attention to its coat. Being medium in length, and possessed by a working type dog, the coat will require some regular brushing to keep it free of debris and mats. Trimming should be slight as the Irish Red and White Setter is meant to be kept neat and tidy, but in its natural physical state. Shaving is not encouraged, however some thinning or trimming of the Irish Red and White Setter is allowed to maintain a cleanly appearance. The whiskers should be left alone, never trimmed. The feathering between the toes should be intact; however hair along the edges and underneath the feet may be trimmed away. Bath the dog as needed but not excessively.
Generally a healthy breed due to the care taken by those breeding Irish Red and White Setters, the dog has a relatively long life span of roughly 10 to 15 years. There are however, some unique health concerns that are specific to the Irish Red and White Setter breed.
An inherited blood disease called von Willebrand’s Disease is sometimes seen in the Irish Red and White Setter breed. It is a condition where the blood does not properly clot. It affects both male and female dogs, and is incurable. The result can be an affected individual bleeding to death. Although mainly a genetic disorder, on occasion a dog has been affected by the condition temporarily after infection or sickness, later to be cleared of the condition after such incident of illness is finished. Symptoms of von Willebrand’s Disease include allergy to anesthesia, gastrointestinal bleeding, flaking skin, excessively occurring diarrhea, blood in feces/urine, bumps under the skin, bruising, bleeding from the mucous membrane, and hemorrhage following even minor surgery or injury.
Posterior Polar Cataract (PPC) is also a health concern seen in the Irish Red and White Setter breed. It is rare, and is a minor condition that does not render the affected individual blind. It causes little inconvenience to the dog and may only be of real concern if a second cataract develops which could lead to blindness.
Another condition seen in the Irish Red and White Setter is Canine Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency (CLAD), an inherited immunodeficiency disorder. It affects white-blood cells, causing the affected individual to be unable to fight off infection. CLAD, although affecting puppies to varying degrees initially, is without doubt fatal.
Other health issues affecting the Irish Red and White Setter breed include, but are not limited to: