'Bird Dogs' of the Canine World

The Setters

The American Kennel Club (AKC) lists Sporting Dogs as one of its groups.

The sporting dogs are further divided into pointer, retriever, spaniel and setter types. These breeds were developed to accompany hunters and to flush, find and retrieve either ground fowl or water fowl for their masters. Running and fetching is an innate skill in these active dogs. They like nothing better than a day's hunting and make wonderful companions. Many of these breeds still participate in field activities.

Setters were designed to 'set' game by crouching low near the birds. The hunters would then walk up and throw a net over both the bird and the dog. With the introduction of firearms, setters became gundogs that stayed upright to point, flush and hunt birds.

All sporting breeds require plenty of invigorating exercise. It has been said that a tired setter is a happy setter and that is close to being the truth. Setters are eager to please but won't be happy unless they are regularly exercised. If there is no opportunity for them to be used for the work they were bred for, their preference would probably be for activities that utilise their remarkable instincts for hunting, flushing and retrieving game. They are alert and active dogs, generally suitable for a family.

There are three or four types of setters, depending on your point of view. All are 'bird dogs'. Setters have long lean bodies and long flowing hair (feathering) on the legs, tail and breast.

The Irish Setter and Irish Red and White Setter were once one and the same but the breeds are now quite separate. The other two setters are the English and the Gordon.

Irish SetterCredit: Wikimedia - Author: Luis Miguel Bugallo Sánchez

The Irish Setter is well known for its beautiful rich mahogany coat, although some are lighter in colour. It has an elegance and enthusiasm which makes it a great show dog, hunter and pet. The Irish setter began as a mix of breeds and was originally both red and white. The red became more popular with a reputation of being better in the field and the red and white gradually died out. Both breeds have their fans who are fiercely loyal to their preferences.

The Irish setter is a tall dog although not excessively weighty. Males measure around 27 inches at the withers and may weigh about 70 pounds. The females are a little shorter and lighter. These dogs retain their playfulness into adulthood and can be too rough for very small children. They have a very equable temperament and lack the aggression to be a good guard dog.

Irish setters are fastidious dogs and easily house-trained. The rich, glossy coat comes at a price however and they will need regular brushing several times a week to prevent the coat from matting. The feathering is long and silky on the ears and backs of the legs with a fringe of hair on the belly, brisket and chest. The hair should be straight with no tendency to curl or wave. Irish setters can be afflicted with progressive retinal atrophy, hip dysplasia and gastric torsion.

Irish Red and White SetterCredit: Wikimedia - Author Pleple2000

The Irish Red and White Setter is rare even in its native land.

Differences between the two breeds:

  • The red-and-white has a slightly shorter coat and requires less grooming. A slight wave is permissible.
  • The red-and-white is not quite as tall.
  • The head is dome-shaped and lacks the well-defined occiput (rear point of skull) of the Irish Setter.
  • The topline should be level but not sloping as in the Irish.

The American Kennel Club recognised the Red and White Setter in 2009 and encourages judging from a working viewpoint as the breed is intended primarily for the field.

The base colour is white with solid red patches. There should be no areas of roan or mottling. Flecking is allowed around the face and feet up to the elbow and hock.

The red-and-white is subject to the same diseases as his red cousin, partly because of the small gene pool. He may also suffer from cataracts, Von Willebrand's disease (a blood disorder), thyroid disorders and canine leukocyte adhesion deficiency. This breed is not so subject to gastric torsion or bloat.

Gordon SetterCredit: Wikimedia

The Gordon Setter is the heaviest of the setter breeds. He is sturdy and muscular, more given to strength and endurance than to speed. The black and tan coat is distinctive and makes the dog easily seen in snow-covered country. Its home country is Scotland. It was recognised by the American Kennel Club as early as 1884. He is intelligent and capable of thinking for himself so may appear stubborn at times. He is about the same height as the Irish Setter but is heavier with males weighing up to 80 pounds and females 70 pounds. He should be approximately as long as he is high, measured from chest to back of thigh and from the ground to the withers. He has good bone and substance.

The coat is soft and straight or slightly waved. There is feathering on the ears, under the stomach, on the chest, back of the legs and tail. For showing, the tan markings are precisely indicated in the Standard of Perfection. The black coat should have no tan hairs mixed in. Dogs that are mostly tan, red or buff are ineligible for showing.

English SetterCredit: Wikimedia

The English setter is one of the oldest of the gundog breeds with a history of over 400 years. He excels in obedience and agility as well as in the show ring and field. The breed was admitted to the AKC's standards of perfection in 1884. He is a graceful and elegant dog with a white coat which has speckled or 'belton' markings. These are darker hairs intermingled with the white and can be orange, blue (white with black markings), lemon, liver and tricolour (blue belton with tan points). He is gentle and affectionate, not suited to kennel or yard living. He is elegant and symmetrical, blending grace, endurance and strength in a beautifully feathered body. He needs regular brushing and clipping to avoid matting.

Setters have an effortless, long-reaching stride with strong impulsion from the rear. Males measure about 25 inches in height and females are very slightly shorter.

Setters can be easily distracted as they love to flush birds or give chase to what they perceive as prey but are great family dogs provided they are given plenty of exercise and made to feel part of the family. They are not suited to an existence in yards or kennels.