Breed Profile: The Irish Setter
August 04, 2014
Not long ago, bird hunters viewed the traditional Irish setter with disdain. They were called "Irish airheads" — and worse — by sportsmen convinced that show dog fanciers had bred all the brains and hunting instincts out of what had once been a glorious breed in the field. And in truth, a fair amount of this derision was deserved.
Many Irish setters were easily excited and even more easily distracted, which added to the breed's scatterbrained reputation. If you wanted an Irish setter, it was said, you had to choose between a beautiful dog that was the target of ridicule or one that could hunt up a storm but was far removed from the breed standard.
Not all of the blame lay with the whims of fashion in the show ring, however. A far more significant factor was the rise in popularity of the breed in the early 1960s. "Irish setters became very popular after the 1962 release of the Walt Disney movie. All of a sudden thousands of people wanted their own Big Red," recalls Wendy Czarnecki who, with her husband Matt, has had two dual champion (field and show) setters in addition to several that achieved champion-with-a-hunt-test-title status.
"Then when Richard Nixon was elected president and his King Timahoe was seen romping on the White House lawn and loping among the dunes on San Clemente, the dam burst," Czarnecki continued. "The ensuing flood carried the breed to third place on the AKC's list of popular dogs by the 1970s. The demand seemed inexhaustible and indiscriminate breeding became common.
"Dogs of inferior mental stability and physical soundness were bred and people who never should have owned Irish setters fell prey to that glorious red coat and high spirits. Eventually, the bottom fell out of the Irish puppy market and that, perhaps, was the breed's salvation. When no one wanted to buy their pups any longer the opportunists quickly abandoned the breed, leaving it in the hands of the responsible breeders."
It took quite a while for the breed to recover from the curse of fashion and popularity, but much has changed in the last 30 years as a dedicated — some might say foolhardy — group of people have said "There's no reason why an Irish setter can't be the beautiful animal the standard describes and still stand out in the field."
Start A Revolution
The result has been several dual-champion Irish in the past 15 years and a significant number that have achieved champion/master hunter status along with a lot of dogs with either a senior or junior hunter title. I was fortunate enough to be judging hunt tests for pointing breeds at the beginning of this revolution.
It was one of the real pleasures of judging when an Irish that met the breed standard and could do a nice job in the field came to the line. The ones with good conformation and solid bird sense simply flowed through the field, painting a gorgeous picture as they searched for birds.
This resurgence led to hunters no longer having to choose between a "pretty" or "birdy" Irish setter. If you do the research and are patient, you can have both. That's not to say an Irish setter is the dog for everyone. If you think a gun dog should live in a kennel, this breed is not for you.
"Irish setters like to be part of the family," says Cassie Allen, who has owned two dual champs and another field champion that has earned points in the show ring. "They do best when they are included in the home and treated as your hunting partner, not as some four-footed tool.
"They are best suited to hunters looking for a companion in the house and field. They adapt quite quickly to their surroundings. I can take one of my field-trial dogs out on foot and they adjust their range to my pace. If I hunt them in the woods, they work much closer to me than in an open field. A lot depends on how you train. I've had hunters use my dogs for everything from turkey hunting to retrieving waterfowl."
Jeannie Wagner, who has bred, owned and handled several Irish that have either achieved dual champion status or are champions with a hunt-test title, offers a similar opinion. "Irish setters are family dogs and they love children," she says. "But while they love everyone, they are very loyal to their owners and prefer working for them. Because of this, you don't see many Irish on a professional trainer's string.
Cassie Allen's FC Mythodical Russell Hail Gandalf also has points in the show ring.
Fiona is owned by Cassie Allen.
This is Cassie Allen's Dual Champion — BISS ('œBest in Specialty Show') American/Canadian Dual Champion AFTCH (Canadian amateur field champion) Highfeather Raise '˜N' A Ruckus Can FDX Am MH CD VCX.