The Interesting History Of The Irish Setter

  • 26/03/2020

In this article, Becky from Breed Advisor discusses the interesting history of the Irish Setter.

 

The origin of the Irish Setter is shrouded in mystery and subject to intense debate from fans of the breed. Some believe that they came about by crossing Irish Terriers with Irish Water Spaniels while opponents insist that they were developed by crossing English Setters with Springer Spaniels with a touch of Gordon Setter for good measure.

What we do know is that in the 17th century, hunters were interested in a dog for its working abilities. The color was of little interest, as long as the dog could point and retrieve.

Over time, the Setter's role became more refined with few hunters using their ability to retrieve the game. Instead, the Setter was required to quietly search for the game by scent, and when they came across prey, they would freeze rather than taking chase. The Setter name comes from the distinctive position taken by the dogs to indicate where the birds are, before they are then flushed out, and the hunters take a shot.

By the end of the century, the Irish hunters began to breed selectively for both working ability and appearance. They wanted to develop a dog that was taller and more athletic, and this was the dog that would become the Irish Setter. That said, the early dogs were still smaller than the Red Setter we know and love today. They also had less coat and a working style which meant they stayed close to the hunter.

The color of the dogs had still not become a stable feature of the breed. This was because, at this point, both the Irish Setter and the Irish Red and White Setter were considered to be the same breed.

It wasn't until the 19th century that the solid colored Red Setter began to appear in Ireland. Their popularity was boosted by the Irish Earl of Enniskillen, who was a passionate setter breeder and who in 1812, declared that he would have no other kind of dog in his kennels.

One of the most famous Irish Setters of the time was a dog, born in 1862, called Palmerston. He had a dark red coat and was taller than most of the setters of the time. Passing on his physical features to his puppies, Palmerston became a famous stud dog, and many of his offspring made the trip across the Atlantic. Even today, the breeding of many of the Irish Setters in the US can be traced back to this one dog.

In the late 1800s, The Field Dog Stud Book was published. This pure-bred dog registry of working dogs was the first of its kind in the United States.  One of the early entries was for a dog called 'Elcho,' and he was the very first Irish Setter to be imported in the US. Elcho went on to become the first Irish Setter to become a champion in both the show ring and in the field.

With that elusive combination of brains and beauty, it wasn't long before the Irish Setter became one of the most popular breeds in the country!

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