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Nick Ridley, Animal Photography
The Irish Setter is a rowdy and rollicking redhead with energy to spare. At his best, he is sweet and trainable, but he is sometimes stubborn. Expect him to retain his puppy-like vigor until he is at least three years old.
The 1962 Disney movie “Big Red” gave the breed’s popularity a big boost, as did the White House presence of King Timahoe, President Richard Nixon’s Irish Setter.
This charming Irish redhead is known for its carefree personality and rocket-launcher energy. “Tireless” and “enthusiastic” are the two words frequently used to describe the breed. The Irish Setter loves to run, but given an ample daily quota of exercise, he's a calm, fun-loving companion. The Irish Setter can be a good choice for families with older children, but he’s probably too rambunctious to be set loose with toddlers. He also gets along well with other pets such as cats if he’s raised with them. Irish Setters are alert and will loudly and excitedly announce when someone is approaching.
Choose an Irish Setter if you are an active person who can give him the exercise he needs. A long walk or run of an hour or so will do, or you can take him hiking or run him alongside your bicycle. (Hold off on the jogging and bicycling until he reaches physical maturity at two years of age so that his skeletal development isn’t impaired, and clear any exercise program with your vet.) He’s also a super competitor in dog sports such as agility, obedience, and rally and can be an excellent therapy dog. Be warned: if you don’t give him an outlet for his energy, he will become frustrated. A frustrated Irish Setter is a destructive Irish Setter.
As with so many sporting breeds, there are differences between Irish Setters bred for the field and those bred for the show ring. Field-bred dogs are smaller with a lighter coat and have much more hunting instinct than their show-ring siblings, but both types make good companions.
Last but not least, it should go without saying that a people-loving dog like the Irish Setter needs to live in the house.
The Irish Setter didn’t start out solid red. The first written records of the breed -- which date to the mid-17th century -- refer to a red and white setting dog. Paintings from a century before that show similar dogs. Dogs that may be in the Irish Setter’s ancestry include English Setters, Spaniels, Pointers, and Gordon Setters.
Red and white dogs were favorites with hunters because they were easy to see in the field. Solid-red dogs existed, too — in 1812 the Earl of Inniskillen was breeding them — but when dog shows came along in the mid-to late 19th century, dark, solid-red dogs became the fashion. In the United States, the striking dogs were originally known as Irish Red Setters to differentiate them from the red and white variety.
The American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1878. The Irish Setter currently ranks 77th among the dogs registered by the AKC.
The Irish Setter has a flamboyant personality to match his flame-colored coat. He loves being the center of attention and is joyful and boisterous in everything he does. This is a mischievous, good-humored dog who has a rep for being stubborn. He definitely likes to have his own way. With family members he’s affectionate, although he may be too rambunctious for young children. His alert nature makes him an excellent watchdog, and while not aggressive, he can be protective if the situation calls for it.
Don’t think that a sedate walk around the block — even if it’s a long block — will satisfy the Irish Setter’s needs. This is a big-running dog, and he needs a safe place where he can go full out. Take him jogging or running with you, take him to an enclosed dog park or other area away from traffic, or get a device that will allow him to run alongside your bicycle. (Hold off on the jogging and bicycling until he reaches physical maturity at two years of age so that his skeletal development isn’t impaired, and clear any exercise program with your vet.)
These dogs are a blast to live with, but they take a long time to mature. Living with an Irish Setter who still has a puppy mentality when he is five years old can be trying. He retains his love of life well into old age, and some never gain a responsible nature. On the plus side, he housetrains quickly if he is given plenty of opportunities go out on a consistent schedule.
The Irish is very smart, and he’s an independent thinker. Training him calls for a large dose of patience and a great sense of humor. He has a reputation as an airhead, but given a patient, gentle trainer, he is willing and eager to learn. That said, he may stubbornly resist if what you’re asking doesn’t seem like much fun. It can take some doing to persuade him. Nonetheless, he’s responsive to firm, consistent, loving training, especially if it involves rewards of play, praise, or treats. Once he learns something, he has it down cold, so be sure he learns right the first time. For best results, begin training early, keep it interesting, and don’t assume you can stop after a single obedience class.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and some veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from an Irish Setter, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit disease. Run from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed has no known problems, or who keeps puppies isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur.
In Irish Setters, health problems can include progressive retinal atrophy, hip dysplasia, hypertrophic osteodystrophy, and hypothyroidism. Irish Setters can also be prone to epilepsy and osteosarcoma (bone cancer). Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it can be hard to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder and insist on seeing independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for these defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
The Irish Setter Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Irish Setters can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit hip and thyroid evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and an Optigen DNA test for progressive retinal atrophy or an evaluation from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) or the Irish Setter Genetic Registry.
Breeders must agree to have all test results -- positive or negative -- published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
If the breeder tells you she doesn't need to do those tests because she's never had problems in her lines, her dogs have been vet checked, or offers any other excuses for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. A puppy can develop one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Not every Irish Setter visit to the vet is for a genetic problem. Irish Setters are more likely than many breeds to bloat, a condition in which the stomach distends with gas and can twist on itself (called gastric torsion), cutting off blood flow. Bloat and torsion strikes very suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums, lip licking, trying unsuccessfully to vomit, and signs of pain. Bloat requires immediate veterinary intervention, and surgery is necessary in many cases. Unfortunately, dogs that have bloated can bloat again. So most veterinarians offer a procedure known as "stomach tacking," which anchors the stomach to the body wall to help keep it from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping an Irish Setter at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
This Irish redhead has a coat that’s moderately long on the body and short and fine on the head and front legs, with long, silky feathering on the ears, the backs of the legs, the chest, the belly, and the tail.
The coat needs brushing and combing two or three times a week to prevent or remove mats and tangles. A bath every two to four weeks or so doesn’t go amiss. Tips on grooming and the best tools to use are available from this Irish Setter breeder.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every week or two. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good overall health and fresh breath. Keep the long, hanging ears clean and dry to help prevent bacterial or yeast infections from developing.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a quality breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out as many problems as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Reputable breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with. They will come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you plan to provide. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps were taken to avoid them. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the Irish Setter and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Irish Setter Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the ISCA’s principles of integrity, which prohibit the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and call for the breeder to sell puppies only with a written contract.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will clear. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include over availability, multiple litters on the premises, a choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of an Irish Setter puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Irish Setter might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort before they grow up. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy.
With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for an Irish Setter in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Irish Setters available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for an Irish Setter. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love Irish Setters love all Irish Setters. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Irish Setter Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Irish Setter rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring an Irish Setter home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors, and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your Irish Setter, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your Irish Setter to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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