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Irish Red and White Setter

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

Irish Red and White Setter portrait in field

The Irish Red and White Setter is a large purebred from Ireland and is almost the same in temperament and reason for breeding as the more popular and well known cousin, the Irish Setter. It is more commonly found in a working role rather than as a companion, but there is no real reason for that, it can make a great family dog with the right owners. It was originally bred to hunt gamebirds, in the UK that included birds like pheasant, partridge, woodcock and grouse and any bird that tries to hide rather than fly away when faces with a predator. Overseas those birds might be sand grouse, quail, sagehen or guinea fowl.

The Irish Red and White Setter at A Glance
Name Irish Red and White Setter
Other names Irish R&W Setter
Nicknames IRWS
Origin Ireland
Average size Large
Average weight 55 to 75 pounds
Average height 22 to 26 inches
Life span 10 to 13 years
Coat type Silky, fine, long
Hypoallergenic No
Color White, red
Popularity Not very popular – ranked 153rd by the AKC
Intelligence Quite intelligent – above average
Tolerance to heat Good – can handle some heat just nothing too hot or extreme
Tolerance to cold Very good – can handle cold but not extreme
Shedding Moderate – some hair will be around the home
Drooling Low – not prone to slobber or drool
Obesity Low – not prone to obesity
Grooming/brushing Moderate – regular brushing needed
Barking Occasional – will be some barking but not constant
Exercise needs Very active – will need plenty of opportunities for physical stimulation
Trainability Moderately easy to train for experienced owners
Friendliness Very good with socialization
Good first dog Good but best with experienced owners
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Very good with socialization
Good with other dogs Very good with socialization
Good with other pets Good with socialization can have high prey drive
Good with strangers Very good with socialization
Good apartment dog Low – needs a home with a yard
Handles alone time well Low – can suffer from separation anxiety
Health issues Somewhat healthy but there are several issues such as hip dysplasia, CLAD, PPC, eye problems
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $265 a year for dog treats and a good quality dry dog food
Miscellaneous expenses $245 a year for license, basic training, toys and miscellaneous items
Average annual expenses $995 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,000
Rescue organizations Several including Irish Setter Rescue and Adoption and Save our Setters, Inc
Biting Statistics None reported

The Irish Red and White Setter’s Beginnings

The Irish Red and White Setter was originally bred in the 1700s in Ireland to hunt birds. The job of any setter is to search by scent for gamebird, locate them and then freeze and set to show its hunter where the hiding birds are. There have been ‘setting dogges’ since Ancient Roman times. At first hunters would use hawks to catch the birds, then netting became more popular and then when they were invented guns were used and became a pastime of gentry. When guns were used the dogs had to be steady as the hunter took the shot right near them.

In the 1700s Irish Setters could be red, or red and white and they were both the same breed. In fact the much more common type was the red and white. However in the 1850s to 1880s the red version became the more favored dog. At Dublin’s conformation show in 1875 out of 66 Irish Setters, only about a third where red and white. Breeders were focused on producing only Red Setters, higher prices could be asked for the solid colored setters and so this actually led to the Red and White Setter almost becoming extinct.

New Lease on Life

Thankfully a small number of breeders in more remote areas of Ireland kept breeding the red and whites. One of those breeders was the Rossmore family from County Monaghan. They bred red and whites from the 17th century all the way through to modern days. There was a period of time when red and white setters were also called Rossmore Setters. Also a part of preserving the breed were owners such as Maurice Nugent O’Connor, Reverend Mahon of Castlegar, Miss Lidwell and Yelverton O’Keefe. These strains of dog were known to be excellent workers.

With the arrival of the 1920s further revival attempts were made and most Irish Red and White Setters of today can be traced back to here. The Irish Red and White Club was formed in 1944 and works towards renewing interest in the breed and to rebuild it. Further efforts were made by Noble Huston in the early 20th century and the Irish Kennel Club approached the Irish Red Setter Club in the 1970s to ask them to lead the revival. While numbers are steadily climbing it remains today a vulnerable breed. Then in 1981 the Irish Red and White Setter Field and Show Society was formed and national and even international recognition of the breed occurred. Today it is identified as a seperate breed to the Red Setter. The AKC recognized them in 2009 and it is currently ranked 153rd in popularity.

The Dog You See Today

The IRWS is a large dog weighing 55 to 75 pounds and standing 22 to 26 inches tall. It is a powerful and athletic dog, with a deep chest and long muscular neck that is somewhat arched. It has strong back legs, close knit feet that are feathered between the toes and a tail that tapers to a point, is feathered and carried level to the back or below it. It does not appear to be as racy as the Red Setter, it is heavier but is still balanced and in proportion. Its coat as its name indicates is red and white, though in fact it is a white dog with red patches. Its coat is long, fine, silky and straight or wavy. There is feathering around the chest, front legs, ears, neck, belly, chest and back legs as well as the tail.

The Red and White has a head that is broad but it is in proportion to the rest of its body. The skull is domed and its muzzle is squared and the jaw is strong. It has round eyes that are dark brown or hazel with a slight prominence but not as much as their cousins. Its ears are level with the eyes, set back on the head and lie close.

The Inner Irish Red and White Setter


Irish Red and White Setters are alert and can make good watchdogs, that will let you know if someone is breaking in. However in some cases because they are very friendly and social dogs it may greet strangers like new friends. It is an affectionate dog, very loyal, devoted and even tempered. It is also intelligent and has a lot of energy so needs to be in active homes. It is a sensitive breed and does better in homes that are not full of tension or raised voices. It needs to be a part of family life not excluded outside.

Being good natured and eager to please it is a good dog for new owners but experience would certainly help. It is a spirited dog that loves to play, get lots of attention and hang out with people. It does not like being left alone for long periods and can suffer from separation anxiety where it becomes vocal and destructive. However if you have other dogs you leave it with it will be fine if you are just gone say for working hours. If you do not use it to hunt with it needs plenty of stimulation or it will become high strung and difficult.

There are actually two kinds of Irish Red and White Setters, field lines and show lines. Field are bred for field trials and hunting and they tend to have shorter coats and be a little smaller. Show lines are bred for conformation shows. Both are energetic and need a lot of activity but the fields lines even more so. In terms of a difference in temperament it really does vary but how they are treated and how much mental and physical stimulation they get is a huge part of that.

Living with an Irish Red and White Setter

What will training look like?

The IRWS is moderately easy to train for people with experience. It is eager to please, it tends to listen to commands and it is intelligent. Start early before it has learned bad habits and has become more set in its ways. Keep the sessions interesting and short, as if it becomes bored it will lose interest and will stop complying. And at a young age it does easily become distracted. This is a working dog though and it is almost ingrained into to work hard and perform as asked. When compared to other gun dogs they make take a little longer for some owners, but they are reliable and dedicated when done. Be firm and consistent with it and be positive too, offer it treats and encouragement to motivate and reward it. Being sensitive it does not respond well to harshness and physical correction, it can cause it to become overly timid. It needs owners who are strong minded and authoritative not meek though, or it will try to dominate and training will be a lot harder. Start socialization early so that it grows into a confident dog and the best dog it can be. This means introducing it to different situations, places, sounds, people and animals at an early age.

How active is the Irish Red and White Setter?

Red and Whites really need to be in a home with people who are already active and love to be active. If it is not being kept as a hunting dog this a very active dog and it needs regular daily activity and mental stimulation too. Casual walks once a day are certainly not enough. Being high energy it needs a home with at least a large yard so an apartment is not something it will be suitable for. It will need too long vigorous walks, opportunities to run free safely off leash, play time with you and whatever else you can give it! It will happily come with you for a jog, a bike ride, a hike and so on. Being a hunting dog remember it has a prey drive and will likely try to go after small moving critters, especially birds, so keep it leashed when not somewhere safe.

Caring for the Irish Red and White Setter

Grooming needs

There are going to be a moderate amount of needs when it comes to grooming and maintenance. It sheds a moderate or average amount and then will have seasonal shedding that is heavier. This means you will have hair around the home, it will need vacuuming regularly and the coat should be brushed regularly too to help control it. This will also keep the coat healthy, free of burrs and tangles and in great condition. When in heat the females are likely to shed more heavily too. Give it a bath only when needed and make sure you use a proper dog shampoo. Otherwise you can affect the natural oils in it skin and cause skin problems. On the feet it may have wispy hair that needs trimming and hair behind the ears when it gets too thick should be thinned.

Other needs include checking its ears for signs of infection such as waxy build up, irritation, swelling or redness on a weekly basis. Clean them also weekly without inserting anything into the ear. Use a dog ear cleanser, cotton ball, or a warm damp cloth. Also keep its teeth in good condition by brushing at least two to three times a week. Its nails should be clipped if they grow too long. It may wear them down naturally with its high level of activity but if not use some proper dog nail clippers. Take care about where you cut, going too close to the quick of the nail can cause pain and bleeding. Have a professional vet or groomer show you if you need help.

Feeding Time

The Irish Red and White needs to eat around 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups of a good quality dry dog food a day, split into at least two meals. How much exactly it eats can vary from one dog to another depending on its age, size, level of activity, metabolism rate and health.

How is the Irish Red and White Setter with children and other animals?

IRWS are great dogs around children, they have the right temperament, being playful, energetic but are also gentle, affectionate and good natured. Make sure the children are taught how to play kindly without hurting them and how to touch them. Supervising the young children may be a good idea just because in its enthusiasm it could knock them over accidentally. With socialization it gets on well with other dogs too, and can be left together with one or more for company when you are out. Around other pets it can fine as long as there has been socialization as it does have a prey drive from its background of being a gundog. Care should especially be taken around pet birds, in fact they should be kept apart in case, or if you are a bird owner consider a breed of dog that does not hunt them!

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

Irish Red and White Setters have a life span of about 10 to 13 years. There are very few genetic issues with this breed and in general it is a healthy dog. A few things to look out for though are von Willebrand’s disease, hip dysplasia, eye problems including PPC and Canine Leucocyte Adhesion Deficiency also called CLAD.

Biting Statistics

In reports that date back 35 years from Canada and the US covering dog attacks that caused bodily harm on people, there is no mention of the Irish Red and White Setter. It is not a common breed in North America though so statistically it was unlikely to come up. However even if its numbers were higher it is not likely to be a dog named in such incidents as it does not have aggression issues, especially not towards people. It is true, though some dog owners would like to ignore it, that any dog can be triggered or have an off day or over react to something. Size and breed have no impact on the fact any dog could attack, it is just some are less likely to do so. Some things you as a responsible owner can do to help prevent something happening with your dog is to make sure it is well exercised and stimulated, fed and loved, given the companionship, socialization and training that it needs.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A puppy IRWS from a decent enough breeder is going to cost around $1000 and you will likely have to be put on a waiting list for it. From a top breeder of show dogs that waiting list will be longer and those prices will be double or even tripled. There are dogs in shelters and rescues that need new homes that you could consider, finding a purebred IRWS is unlikely but there may be mixes that have just as much love to offer you. Prices there are $50 to $400 and the initial medical needs are mostly taken care of. Never be drawn in to buying from an ignorant backyard breeder, pet stores or from puppy mill stocked places where they are awful to their animals and have no breeding standards at all. The less people bought from them, the more that would go out of business.

Once you have your dog and are ready to bring it home there are some things it will need. Initial items will cost around $240 and that will get you basics like a crate, collar and leash, bowls and bedding. You should take it to a vet straight away. There it will have a physical examination, have its shots updated, be dewormed then have some blood tests done, micro chip put in and be spayed or neutered when old enough. These will cost about $290.

There are also ongoing costs to properly look after your new best friend. Basic health care like flea and tick prevention, shots, check ups and pet insurance to cover anything else will cost about $485 a year. Feeding it will be around $265 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats. Other miscellaneous costs covering needs like basic training, license, miscellaneous items and toys come to somewhere in the region of $245 a year. This gives an annual estimated starting figure of $995.


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Irish Red and White Setters are vulnerable in the UK and Ireland and rare in North America so be sure this is the right dog for you, as there will be some delay before you can get one if it is. It needs active and committed owners too, especially if you are not keeping it as a hunting dog. It is a very loyal and devoted dog and makes a great family companion. Just watch it around birds and make sure you give it the early socialization and training it needs.

Featured Image Credit: Natalia Fedosova, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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