Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Hunting Dogs: Irish Setter

When I was growing up our family -- well, my Mom really -- had several Irish Setters. They were called...
 wait for it...

Yes, with all of our imaginative powers the first Setter was Red One and the second was Red Two. At least Red was an easy name to learn to spell and remember.

Red One was a short lived dog. He was with us just under a year before his tragic death. Red Two on the other hand lived a full life. For thirteen years he was a companion, playmate, guardian, and friend. He was born in Northern Ontario, then moved with us to Western Canada. We had a farm at the end of an eight mile gravel road so traffic wasn't a concern; Red got to run freely. When he was a senior he moved back to the States with my parents where he spent his retirement years napping in the sun.

Red was an old fashioned Irish Setter, the kind that still had big bones and some size. In fact, he was slightly over-sized, the biggest pup in his litter. His family came from dual lines with both bench and field champions in his family. He was always destined though to be a very handsome companion and beloved family member. Dad had quit hunting when we moved to the farm so the fact that Red was a natural bird dog was just an interesting fact. It was always fun though to watch Red point a bird, then flush it. He started pointing as a pup and made a great bird dog. We appreciated his talent even if we didn't use it for hunting purposes.

Red was a free spirit who loved to run the 1/2 mile down our property to the river that formed the southern boundary of our property line. He enjoyed chasing the birds along the river and seeking out dead salmon that sometimes washed up on the shore. Nothing pleased Red more than finding a nice rotting salmon to roll in. Rotting fish carcass was his favorite personal cologne.

He also enjoyed the coyotes who had a den near the edge of our property. In the evening you could sometimes hear Red running with the coyotes. They would howl and he would bark. At first we worried that something would happen to Red when he went near the coyotes. Then we had a chance to observe. Red was bigger than the coyotes and so fast it was unbelievable. Sometimes he would chase them. Sometimes he would play tag with a female. He thought it was all a game, albeit he had the sense to know it was a dangerous game; he never let them get too close.

 Red was Mom's heart dog - her special, once in a lifetime companion. Mom still loves Irish Setters with a preference for the old fashioned, larger Setters. She can't bring herself to own one now that she lives in town though. She felt that Red had the ideal life on the farm with over a hundred acres to run. Irish Setters do like to move. They can be kept in smaller spaces than a large farm though.

Irish Setters can make really lovely family dogs. They like people and other animals -- some do have some prey drive. Red was very tolerant of all other animals and was a great farm dog but some Setters don't do well with cats. They are often kept because of their beauty and fun loving nature but Irish Setters can still hunt too. They make good upland game bird dogs.

There are Irish Setters who need adopting too - check with Petfinder.com and Irish Setter rescue if you think this is a breed you might like to adopt.


  1. What a great story!

    I've never met an Irish Setter, though I do have a love for the breed both from appearance, and from the one named Shanty in the books "Karen" and "With Love From Karen", by Marie Killilea.

    1. Jen, I read those books too! So long ago though I can barely remember ... what a fun re-read that will be :-) Thanks for the reminder.

  • Have to say the thought of Red running with the coyotes made me cringe... but loved hearing about him. Beautiful dogs and beautiful photos! I've been lucky enough to have known some of these great dogs, though I've never owned one. Lovely!

    1. I agree Sue - very cringe worthy - Red was a stubborn dog who refused to be curbed in many things. Short of chaining him up there was no way of keeping him near the house. He could leap the fence around the front yard.

      There are many Red stories. Like the time we walked into the kitchen and found the otherwise polite boy standing with his back feet on a chair and his front feet on the table eating a birthday cake that had just been iced. Never did anything like that before or after but seemed to be in the mood for cake that day....

    2. My Irish Setter, Kate, took off one day, from our ranch house in Northern California, in the spring of the early 80's, and I went looking for her around noon. Hearing her barking, I followed the sound and soon found her cavorting around with one of the local coyotes. When I called to her, they both stopped, looked at me, and took off running, though neither was running toward me.

      That night, I heard her barking again, and with my Dad, followed the sound, again. We'd drive a bit, get out to listen, and drive some more. I finally found her 3 1/2 miles south of our place, in a fence corner, in a field, in the fog, barking her head off saying, "Come get me!" She was so glad to be found, and she never ran off with the coyotes again.

  • I have always loved Irish Setters. The first time I saw them was on tv in the movie, Where the Red Fern Grows. What a tear jerker, but I still love that movie! Thanks for sharing such a great story!

    1. Too much of a tear jerker for me - I'm a real baby when it comes to sad movies with dogs. We actually HAD to watch Ol' Yeller in elementary school :(

      I read where the Red Fern Grows...and promptly blocked it from my mind :) I'm such a wimp.

  • I loved reading the coyote story. Dogs with a lot of freedom to roam often end up with lots of smarts and good decision-making ability. And, oh yes, they do dangerous stuff too.

    1. Lol, sounds like people doesn't it - both amazing and dangerous comes out of freedom :-) Thanks for stopping in Pamela!

  • Hi Y'all,

    Thanks for stoppin' to visit me!

    Think Irish Setters are beautiful. Lucky for me, my Human sticks to us retriever breeds.

    Hope y'all have a great Memorial Day weekend!

    Y'all come back now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

    1. Always enjoy seeing what you and your human are up to Hawk - thanks for stopping in :-)

  • Is there a more beautiful dog?

    1. I know of a few dogs who would argue that Golden Retrievers are loveliest :-)

      I think an argument can be made though, that Irish Setters can hold their own in any contest of good looks...I think they are helped by the spirited attitude that accompanies their beauty.

    2. I've had Red for 17 years (yes, you've read right - 17 years) - old fashioned, just like on your pictures! Lived happily with us enjoying all funs that dogs like! And he was never "indoor" dog, but always running around freely all over you huge backyard (two acres). Still sad for not having him anymore but now have 7 months old Golden who I love as much as I loved my Red. And will be honest - Reds are prettier and lovelier and kind of "aristocrats" that always have new "trick" in their pocket that will make you laugh. They are so eager of doing funny things and you can't trick them into "fetch the ball" game for example!
      I think we can argue are the Gordon's lovelier than Reds but simply can't compare setters with any other breed ;)

    3. I agree - it is hard to compare an Irish Setter to any other breed :-) What great longevity your Red knew - 17 years is the longest I've heard a setter living - sounds like a good life.

  • Just purchased a 5 acre farm and plan to raise a few chickens and about half a dozen pigmy goats. We have a chance to purchase a male setter and would love to have him on our mini farm. Any thoughts or suggustions?
    Would a setter make a good farm dog for us? We already have a chuhauha and dachshund.

    1. Congratulations! You have some exciting times ahead of you.

      If this dog is already an adult then I would try exposing him to some farm animals and seeing how he responds. Some Setters have more prey drive than others.

      That said, most of the Setters I've known have spent time on farms or in rural areas and been fine. Each individual though, is just that...an individual. I think overall however, Setters are very good contenders for farm dogs. You may need to keep an eye on him though, to make sure he doesn't run off into the road. Good luck :)

  • That's a beautiful dog :)

  • Found the Blog during a search ,for a setter traing issue and loved the article and comments thus thought to add our "Red" story for other setter parents ....Our first Setter was also "Red" , i know not original but full pedigree was " Big Red of Carnmoore"so he was Red for just short of 16 years . He had a very unusual life, in that he was born on a farm in Middlesbrough England when my wife acquired him for me -at the time a young newly married couple travelling at SEA on a Passenger/ cargo liner , myself being a senior engineer officer, my wife could live aboard- travel and she managed to get the company to allow us to get a puppy in England to bring home to South Africa on our return voyage ...so he started his life on a ship !! only problem was the two week trip back to south Africa became some 14 months on the ship ...as i was requested to stay on for longer ; Can such a hound adapt ? well with their intelligence, Red taught himself to open cabin door handles/ Stand up and push just the right lift button that took him to the promenade deck ...some how always in time tor afternoon passenger high tea -where the moist delicate snacks were presented and with those setter eyes...what passengers could resist offering you know who a tit-bit!! he lived on the only best cuts of beef ( the galley staff were his best friend's , no flies on Red Setters when knowing a soft touch and who to cultivate !! and in those days there were "Sand Boxes every where on the decks "- for fire fighting , but each was Reds own personal "patch" , luckily we had 15 young trainee Cadet officers who did not mind doing "rounds" or walking Red extensively every day whist his owner had to work .
    Once settled ashore he won many championship dog shows in south Africa, and had so much fun chasing guinea fowl in our garden ( often catching the smaller ones ) then soft mouth carrying to us!! without a mark . Many other stories such as training him never to eat before being told Its "Paid For" and then one occasion going out for the night with friends and forgetting to give the to eat instruction, coming home to find him and floor covered in silver saliva..!!and full food bowl ..or him jumping the fence at home after i left that morning to hike-camp the mountains behind our property and Red arriving at my tent flap after midnight having tracked us through the bush and some rivers...with my wife out of her mind with worry the next morning when we both walked in together , so both Him ( the culprit ) and I got a lambasting !!! he passed on laying in the sun in our garden and we have had three other setters since ( all given Irish names ) and in two weeks at the age of 65 we are off on a 2400 Km road trip from our home in George South africa to Johannesburg to collect our next and possibly last Irish setter " Riley" just bred from prime imported English gun dog stock - so looking for notes on raising setter puppies , as memory not fresh any longer... when i came on your blog and the words " Reds are prettier and lovelier and kind of "aristocrats" that always have new "trick" in their pocket that will make you laugh.are the truest ever spoken >

    1. Congrats on Riley and your many happy years with the Irish. My mother has also ended up adopting another Setter, but since she's a girl she ended up with name Nuala (beauty).

      There's nothing like having a pup in the house to remind one how much they've forgotten about pups. Like the need for frequent trips outside until everyone knows a new routine; setting rules up front while those cute big eyes suggest they don't need rules; and not allowing behavior from the pup (climbing, jumping, sleeping in spots) that you don't want from the adult dog. I'm sure you'll find though, that the memories will come back of how to deal with things as the needs arise!