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Get to Know the Irish Red and White Setter: The Original Irish Setter

Once the color red became in fashion at dog shows, the Irish Red and White Setter fell out of favor and nearly disappeared.

Caroline Coile  |  May 2nd 2016


“Why does your Irish Setter have white on him?”

“Because he’s an Irish Red and White Setter.”

“So what’s he mixed with?”

“Nothing. He’s the original.”

“Yeah, right …”

Although much less known — and virtually unknown in America until recent years — the Irish Red and White Setter actually predates its close and better known relative, the Irish Setter.

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Irish Red and White Setter and Irish Setter by Shutterstock.

More interesting things about the Irish Red and White Setter

  • Both breed’s histories can be traced to spaniel ancestors, many of which (if not most) were probably white with red markings. These dogs weren’t as fast as some hunters wanted, so in the 1700s they were bred to create larger and faster dogs that were better for covering greater areas. These became the breeds we now know as setters. Nobody knows their exact origins; early art shows the dogs crouching while hunters threw nets to catch the birds they had spotted.
  • Setter litters in Ireland contained both red and white as well as solid red puppies, and they were all considered the same breed.
  • The white coat was actually preferred for hunting, as it enabled the hunter to spot the dog at a distance.
  • During the early to mid 1800s, emphasis changed from breeding purely for hunting ability to including color preference, a practice spurred on by the onset of dog exhibitions. The solid red color became the fashion, and the red and white faded into the background by the early 1900s.
  • Nonetheless, they were still popular with hunters, and many came to America, where they were regularly seen in the field until around 1920.
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Irish Red and White Setter by Shutterstock.

  • The Red and White Setters were almost extinct after World War I, but the Reverend Noble Huston set out to revive them. He was followed by Mrs. Maureen Cuddy, whose female Judith Cunningham of Knockella is behind probably all Red and Whites today. In 1944, the Irish Red & White Setter Society was formed in London. Other breeders kept the breed going, but barely.
  • In the 1960s, the first Red and White Setters came to the United States, but only in the 1980s did a concerted effort begin to establish the breed in America. The Canadian Kennel Club recognized the Irish Red and White Setter in 1999, the AKC in 2009.
  • They are a member of the AKC Sporting group.
  • The breed is the 148th most popular AKC breed, down very slightly from 145th five years ago.
  • The Red and White is typically calmer than the Irish Setter. The dog is less extreme in looks, with heavier bone and less streamlined physique.
  • The Irish Red and White Setter naturally crouches when he finds a bird, holding his tail horizontally rather than high.
  • The dog weighs from about 50 to 75 pounds and stands from 22.5 to 26 inches.
  • The Irish Red and White Setter is always white with solid red patches. Flecking may appear only on the face and on the feet up to the elbow and hock.
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Irish Red and White Setter by Shutterstock.

  • The breed has competed at the Westminster dog show since 2010, but has yet to place in the Sporting group there.
  • In 1993, Ireland released a postage stamp depicting both the Irish Setter and the Irish Red and White Setter.
  • We don’t know of any celebrities who own a Red and White. But they would make a smart-looking hunting companion for some nobleman!