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Breeder Buzzwords – The Irish Red and White Setter

Known by many as the “other” Setter throughout the 20th century, the Irish Red and White Setter has gone from near total obscurity to become one of the Sporting Group’s most stylish and capable birddogs.

According to the Irish Red and White Setter Association of America, the setting Spaniels of the Emerald Isle were originally white with red patches. This ancient color combination became threatened by conformation shows where solid red Setters were preferred. “There are records of all red dogs in kennels at the end of the 18th century,” according to the IRWSA. “Most authorities are of the opinion that the all red dogs came from breeding white and red dogs that had increasing amounts of red.”

In “The Essence of Setters,” author and judge Marsha Hall Brown highlights some of the factors that contributed to an eventual decline in the numbers of the red and white dogs. “The divergence of type between the two Irish Setter strains widened as a result of the setter’s usefulness, the dog show, the field trial and the aesthetic demands of popular fancy,” according to Brown. “The working red setters and the red and whites found on farms in Ireland or used as shooting companions were sturdier in build than the lean red dogs used for field trials and the red dogs that became so popular at dog shows.”

So popular had the red dogs become among both field trial and conformation show competitors that by the end of World War I, their presence in Ireland, Britain and North America was all but a distant memory.

“Anna Redlich credits Rev. Noble Huston of Ballynahinch, County Down, to saving the line and gradually building up the numbers,” according to the IRWSA. “With the aid of his cousin, Dr. Elliott, he was able to slowly bring back the breed. Dr. Elliott lived in a house named Eldron, and that prefix is in the names of dogs bred in the ‘20s and ‘30s. The Rev. Huston did not keep official pedigrees, but did record his litters in the parish register. Although most of the dogs were kept in Ireland, a single dog was sent to the United States, two to Spain and several to England. There were other breeders in Ireland during this time, but their contributions to the current lines are not recorded.

In the 20th century, fanciers of the red and white dogs rallied support for the breed (or variety) during two successive periods. “Two major revivals occurred to save the breed from extinction – one in the 1940s and the more recent in the late 1970s,” Brown notes. The Irish Red and White Setter Society was formed in Ireland in 1944, and in 1980 the Irish Kennel Club divided the Irish Setter by “approving a standard for the ancient yet revived breed.”

As a new millennium dawned, Irish Red and Whites Setters were being exported to other English speaking countries. In 2005, Sh. Ch. Vanders Veracity became the first of the breed to win an all-breed Best in Show in the U.K.

In 2009, the American Kennel Club granted full recognition to the Irish Red and White Setter as a member of the Sporting Group, and in 2012, registrations placed the breed 155th among the 175 AKC-recognized breeds.

The Irish Red and White Setter is an athletic gun dog with a keen intelligence and a brilliant coloration. Photo by Krista Droop.

Athletic Rather than Racy
The General Appearance section of the AKC breed standard describes the Irish Red and White Setter, in part, as being bred “primarily for the field.” As a functional gun dog, the breed is considered “athletic” in make and shape in contrast to its rather “racy” red cousin.

The beauty of this breed’s silhouette is owed to a complete freedom from exaggeration. Bred for performance, the breed is built to facilitate a particular hunting style. All parts work together to allow the dog to hunt at a moderate pace and within moderate range of the gunner.

Aristocratic without any raciness, this Setter is strong and powerfully built. The breed is unadulterated in form, well balanced in all parts and “proportioned without lumber.” The amount of bone is “moderate in proportion to size.

A “moderately long” neck and a topline that’s “level, not sloping” distinguish the Irish Red and White Setter. The chest is “deep” with ribs “well sprung,” and the back is “very muscular and powerful” with a croup that is “well rounded and sloping downward to the tail set.” The moderately long tail, with “no appearance of ropiness,” does not reach below the hocks and is carried “level with or below” the back.

The AKC breed standard indicates that body length “from point of shoulders to base of tail is not shorter than the height at the top of the withers.” Dogs measure between 24-1/2 and 26 inches, bitches between 22-1/2 and 24 inches.

According to the standard, conformation judges of the versatile Irish Red and White are encouraged to evaluate the breed “chiefly from a working standpoint.” It is as a field dog that the breed is expected to conform.

Kindly, Friendly, Keen and Intelligent
As a field dog, attitude is important for the Irish Red and White Setter and this is addressed in both the General Appearance and the Head sections of the AKC breed standard. The breed’s “keen and intelligent” attitude is expressed in a “kindly, friendly” manner. Round eyes with a “slight prominence but without haw” are “dark hazel or dark brown” in color.

In “The Essence of Setters,” Brown indicates that the head of the Irish Red and White Setter is the breed’s most unique characteristic with many fine points to consider. “It must not look like the other Setters, and it must be evaluated without the artificial renderings of traditional Setter grooming.”

As noted by the AKC breed standard, the skull of the Irish Red and White Setter is “broad in proportion to the body and domed without showing an occipital protuberance…” The stop is “distinct but not exaggerated,” and the muzzle is “clean and square.” Jaws are “of equal or nearly equal” length, and a scissors bite is considered “ideal.”

According to Brown, “From the side the head appears heavy in skull and light in the muzzle. From the front the dog must look alert and intelligent.”

Colors Show Maximum Life and Bloom
Red and White is the name of this Setter, and it is in the brilliance of its coloration that the breed is distinguished from its solid-colored cousin. As indicated by the AKC breed standard, the base white color and the solid red patches demonstrate “the maximum of life and bloom.”

Color and markings are a high priority in the Irish Red and White Setter. The majority of the breed’s silky coat is a pearly white, with “clear islands” of red positioned variously on the head and body. “Flecking” of red is permitted “around the face and feet and up the foreleg as far as the elbow and up the hind leg as far as the hock,” but “roaning, flecking and mottling on any other part of the body is most objectionable and is to be heavily penalized.”

In a 2010 AKC Gazette breed column titled, “Upcoming 2010 National Event,” Lee Robinson invites Pat Brigden to address the Color class that she began in 1984 at specialty shows in the U.K. “In the early 1980s…some IRWS were poorly marked…Some puppies had undesirable color, and many were very much ticked, and it was necessary to breed out these defects.” Most Irish Red and White Setters today, it is said, are correctly colored and marked.

Brigden describes ideal markings, in her opinion, as follows: a base coat consisting of at least 60 percent white, which should be a pearly white with a gleaming shine; a true rich chestnut red with a deep shine that appears over both eyes; the ears; a desirable but not essential thumbprint on top of the head; clearly defined body patches on both sides of the head and body; no ticking on the white parts of the body; a preference for a white collar; and a white tail.

The Irish Red and White Setter is a “natural” breed, without the need to thin and strip the silky coat as is commonly done in the presentation of the other Setters. As noted by Robinson in another AKC Gazette breed column, “When entering the breed ring, you want your Irish Red and White Setter to look dazzling – clean and natural.

Written by

Dan Sayers started “in dogs” through a chance encounter with a Springer Spaniel in 1980. A student of dogs ever since, he’s shown Spaniels and Hounds in the conformation ring and breeds Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix. A dog lover with a passion for the creative arts, Dan has worked as a freelance writer, photographer and illustrator for many years. His feature articles and columns have appeared in Dogs in Review, Dog World and the AKC Gazette, and his design work has appeared in dozens of publications in North America and abroad. An interest in all things “dog” brought Dan to Best In Show Daily, where he gets to work with the most dynamic group of fanciers every day. He lives in Merchantville, New Jersey, with his partner, Rudy Raya, Irish Water Spaniel, Kurre, and the memory of Oscar, a once-in-a-lifetime Sussex Spaniel.
  • Deb Eldredge, D.V.M.
    Deb E July 28, 2013 at 8:44 AM

    I love these dogs & hope they retain their “natural” appearance & don’t go the way of the other exaggerated “show” Setters.

  • Wendy Bockman July 28, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    Thanks for the article on our wonderful breed. There is only one thing I wish you had left out because it is not part of our standard, it’s only an opinion, and that is the mention of the “ideal” being a dog that is 60% white. Doing so tends to lead judges to judge dogs based on the amount of red they have when that should not be the emphasis.

    • Dan Sayers
      Dan Sayers July 29, 2013 at 7:05 AM

      Thank you for writing, Wendy, and thanks for emphasizing that the preferred percentage of white mentioned is only one fancier’s opinion. Take care of your wonderfully natural Setters!

  • Keith Eldred July 30, 2013 at 3:17 PM

    I am the Editor of the IRWSAA newsletter the Forum. Would you mind if I posted a link to your website in our next newsletter. And, I echo Wendy’s remark about 60-40%. Perhaps you might edit the article to reflect that the numbers are just one person’s opinion.


    • kayla
      kayla July 31, 2013 at 8:37 AM

      Hi Keith,
      thank you for writing and being part of our audience. We’re happy to provide approval for electronic/print print or reprint rights. We ask that you maintain our copyrights, authorship and mastheads. If you would like a pdf, just let us know. All the best, Kayla

  • Ronny Blomme July 31, 2013 at 4:44 AM

    “From the side the head appears heavy in skull and light in the muzzle.

    The American text about the Red& White is very interesting but I do not agree with the sentence above as written by Brown. I’m sorry but that is not correct.
    There must be a balance between skull and muzzle, the skull should not look heavy compared to the muzzle, and the muzzle should not look light compared to the skull.
    Concerning the markings written by Mrs Brigden, this is only a guide, but I agree that a dog with 60% white will look nicer than the one with 90% or 20% white. However very important is that the white must be clear with no flecking or roaning !!!
    Everything about the Red & White is that the dog is mainly a working dog and must be judged fromt that point of view – which I always try to do – but of course nothing says it may not be good looking ! The Red & White is a very nice breed, unfortunately not always appreciated by other Setter fanciers and too often wrongly compared to his Red cousin. Although they are cousins, they are different breeds !
    R. Blomme, Belgium

  • Deb Eldredge, D.V.M.
    Deb E January 18, 2014 at 11:57 AM

    HUGE congratulations on this accomplishment – especially for an owner/handler & I LOVE the fact that this dog also has a JH so he does field work :)

  • cheryl January 20, 2014 at 6:41 AM

    It is not a opinion that our dogs are 60 percent white as the person who brought the breed back from the edge put it in the breed standard as a way to control the amount of red when he bred in the red setter to expand the gene pool the same way he culled puppies with ticking when he bred in the English setter.

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