Saturday, March 17, 2012


It's St. Patrick's Day, and you know what that means:  it's time for me to write about an Irish dog breed!  So this year I picked the Irish Setter.  When Mom was a kid, she really wanted to have an Irish Setter, but she didn't get one.  Later on, she decided she wanted a German Shepherd, but she didn't get one of those either.  In fact, she didn't get any dog at all while she was growing up.  But I think maybe I told you that before.

Anyway, about Irish Setters.  They are hunting dogs, and what they hunt is mostly birds such as pheasants, quail, and grouse.  The Setter finds the birds by scent, and when it finds one, it sort of crouches down and holds the position to show the hunter where the bird is hiding.  Irish Setters can hunt well in any sort of terrain or weather.  They don't seem to mind getting wet, which means they are good at hunting in wetlands, as well as on moors and other such drier places.

Irish Setters are very energetic dogs, so they need lots of exercise, and if you can give them a job to do, that's a good thing, too.  Besides hunting, Setters have also been used for tracking, retrieving, agility, competitive obedience, and as therapy dogs.  They are playful, affectionate, and the breed standard says they should have a "rollicking" temperament.  Setters can be mischievous, independent, and stubborn, but they are also very intelligent and learn quickly, if you use positive training methods.  They love children and other dogs, but they might not do well with smaller animals such as cats.

The coat of an Irish Setter is long and silky, and it needs to be brushed pretty often to keep mats out of it.  There is a thick undercoat in winter, with a finer top coat.  Also, the coat is feathery in places like the ears, tail, chest, legs, and body.  Setters are usually between 25 and 27 inches tall.  The males weigh 60-70 pounds, and the females weigh 53-64 pounds.  These dogs have deep chests and small waists.

There are two types of Irish Setter.  One is the field type, which is bred for hunting and field trial work.  The other type is bred for showing.  The field dogs are usually a little smaller and have shorter coats.  Also they are even more energetic than the Irish Setter show dogs.

All the way back in 1570, a man named Caius wrote a book in Latin about dogs, and he was the first to talk about a sort of spaniel that was a "setting dog" or "setter."  People must have liked dogs that hunted in this way, because they started breeding them selectively.  By the early 18th century, the Irish had started developing their very own type of setter by mixing Irish terriers, Irish Water Spaniels, English Setters, Pointers, and Gordon Setters.

When these dogs first came to the U.S., they were red-and-white, and they had shorter legs than the modern Irish Setter.  During the 19th century, the white markings were mostly all bred out, and the breed now has a solid chestnut or mahogany coat.  A tiny bit of white is allowed on the chest, throat, toes, and in a thin streak on top the head, but there's not supposed to be any black.

An Irish Setter usually lives to be 12 to 14 years old.  Health problems for the breed can include bloat, epilepsy, severe skin allergies, elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, auto-immune disease, ear infections, and eye problems such as PRA.

If you live in an apartment, you should probably not get an Irish Setter.  And even if you have a fairly big yard, you should plan on taking your Setter out for a brisk walk most days.  People who want a guard dog should maybe think about a different breed, because Irish Setters are so friendly that they just greet everybody and let them come on in the house.  But other than that, they make good pets, if you don't mind having a lot of dog hair in your house.  Black-and-white dog hair would be the best kind to have, but I have to admit that Irish-Setter-colored hair is kind of pretty, too.


  1. One of my first loves was an Irish Setter,Big Red, that was owned by one of our neighbors when I was small. Mom once found me in his dog house, with his head in my lap, and I was telling him the story of Goldilocks. I think the love was mutual after that.

    1. Dear Aunt Ginny,
      That is a very sweet story about you and Big Red. I hope that if Mom ever made me stay in a dog house, you would come sit with me and tell me a story! (You can still fit inside a dog house, can't you?)
      Love, Piper