The Irish setter is one of the most familiar breeds of dog in both American and Europe. But not many people have heard about the Irish red and white setter, considered the ancestor breed of the Irish setter. Even today, some all-red Irish setters produce puppies with some white patches. The popularity of the all-red Irish setter nearly wiped out the Irish red and white setter. Today, they are rare, even in Ireland.
Like the Irish setter, the Irish red and white setter was bred to be a highly trainable, enthusiastic hunting companion. It is unknown how old the breed is, but the breed is at least as old as the late 1700s. But by 1850, fashion dictated that all-red dogs were preferred over red and white coats. Although the Irish red and white setter was celebrated on an Irish postage stamp in the early 1900s, the breed was in a steep decline.
Both breeds were called the Irish setter and even showed in the same classes. But by the end of World War II, Irish dog breeders decided to separate the two breeds. Although some dogs had been imported to the United States in the 1800s, the breed disappeared until more dogs were imported in the 1960s. By 1997, there was enough interest in the rare breed to start the Irish Red and White Setter Association.
Comparison to the Irish Setter
The two Irish setter breeds differ in more than just color. Irish red and white setters average 22 to 26 inches tall, slightly smaller than the Irish setter, especially those in America, where taller togs are preferred in the show ring. Irish setters average 24 to 27 inches tall. While Irish setters weigh in at 60 to 70 pounds, Irish red and white setters can be as light as 40 pounds but some males can weigh 70 pounds. Like with the Irish setter, males are generally taller and heavier than females.
Irish setters have long, floppy ears that practically hug the sides of the head. In contrast, the Irish red and white setter’s ears are set higher and stick out further from the head. The ears also are usually shorter, too. The Irish red and white setter is less prone to ear infections because their ears get better air circulation.
There are many books, vets and dog owners that will assert that Irish red and white setters are not as scatterbrained as Irish setters. However, temperament varies widely in individual dogs due to their health and training, so this generalization should be taken with a large grain of salt.
These dogs need plenty of exercise in order to be trainable and to prevent health disorders such as hip dysplasia. Because they were bred to hunt, these dogs may chase or harass smaller pets but tend to get along with other dogs. Irish red and white setters do well in canine sports such as agility or flyball and have even been trained to be search and rescue dogs.
The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Dogs, Dog Breeds & Dog Care. Dr. Peter Larkin & Mike Stockman. Hermes House; 2005.
The Howell Book of Dogs. Liz Palika. Howell Book House; 2007.
Dummies.com. “Irish Red and White Setter: A Dog for Outdoors.”
Irish Red and White Setter Association