This large, muscular gundog's outstanding attribute is his rich, chestnut to mahogany coloured coat. It is a silky, flat coat with feathering at the legs, ears and on the tail. Balanced and elegant, the breed strides out with his head held high. The average adult male dog stands at 65cm and weighs 30.5kg; adult females are around 61cm and weigh 26kg.
Irish Setter dogs are the oldest of the setter group, preceding Gordon and English Setters. It is believed the breed developed from old spaniels, setting spaniels and a Scottish setter. It was in 1882 that the Irish Red Setter Club was formed in Dublin, prompted by the breeding programme of The Earl of Enniskillen, who developed the signature solid red coat. In the 1940s the breed was nearly decimated by the eye disease progressive retinal atrophy, better known as PRA. Due to the development of a DNA test to identify carriers, the breed has recovered and the incidence of PRA has dropped dramatically.
The well-bred, well-socialised and well-trained Irish Setter dog is extraordinarily sweet and makes an affectionate family pet. Early exposure to cats and careful supervision is essential if they are to share a home with a feline. Being terribly friendly, this is not a good guard dog, though he will announce the presence of a visitor. The Irish Setter remains quite playful throughout his life - one of his more endearing traits.
As with many breeds the Irish Setter dog can suffer from various hereditary eye disorders, and hip dysplasia (a condition that can lead to mobility problems). Eye testing and hip scoring of dogs prior to breeding is therefore important. They can also be prone to gastrointestinal disorders.
The Irish Setter was bred to hunt birds and is very active and needs a lot of exercise – two-plus hours daily for an adult. Being a hunter, although an easily distracted one, he will follow scents all over if not trained to come back to his owner.
Large breed dogs, as well as having large appetites, benefit from a different balance of nutrients including minerals and vitamins compared to smaller-breed dogs. Irish Setters are prone to bloating and stomach problems; smaller, more frequent meals can help minimise this risk.
The Irish Setter dog's crowning glory is, of course, the coat. Daily brushing is essential to keep the feathers from tangling. Occasionally, the owner will need to trim between the pads and behind the ears to prevent mats. A professional groomer may be needed for extensive trimming once in a while. However, for show, the coat needs a great deal of careful attention in order for the dog to be competitive. One essential grooming chore that cannot be ignored is careful and regular cleaning of the ears. As they are drop ears, very little air circulation is able to get inside the ear and thus it is a breeding ground for bacteria, making ear infections common.