Irish Red and White Setter

Peter Richards
Peter Richards (BVSc, MRCVS, University of Bristol)
Photo of adult Irish Red and White Setter

The Irish Red and White Setter was the original Irish gundog, bred by the landed gentry to help out on hunts. For over a hundred years, the breed was the favoured gundog in Ireland. Their popularity didn’t last and the breed nearly went extinct as the solid red Irish Setter became the favourite. Luckily, the breed underwent a revival in the latter half of the 20th century. Although the population is still low, the breed has spread to countries outside of Ireland and breeding work is continuing to improve genetic diversity within the population.

Irish Red and White Setters are known for being exceptionally loyal and friendly. They get on well with other dogs, children and anyone or anything that will play with them or give them the social interaction they love. They are an exceptionally athletic breed that loves an outdoor lifestyle. If you’re looking for an enthusiastic hiking or jogging companion, then a Irish Red and White Setter would definitely be an option if you can find a breeder!

About & History

Setting dogs have been around for many centuries. Their purpose is to indicate where game birds are hiding. Once they have caught a scent, they will follow it to the brush where birds are hiding. Rather than immediately entering the brush and scaring the birds, the dog will indicate their location by freezing and pointing towards the birds. This would give the hunters time to prepare their hawks or guns before giving the command for the dog to enter and flush out the game. Land owners who enjoyed shooting began to adapt setting dogs to their particular environment and working conditions, resulting in the wide range of modern gun dogs.


The Irish Red and White Setter was developed in 18th century Ireland by land owners who required a working dog suited to the Irish climate and terrain. The result was the Irish Red and White Setter – a friendly and loyal gun dog with excellent scenting ability. They quickly became the working dog of choice among the landed gentry. Unfortunately, their popularity didn’t last. In the mid to late 19th century, some breeders began to produce solid red Setters, the first example of the now widely popular Irish Setter.


Over the next century, the Irish Setter outstripped their forebears as the favoured working dog and numbers of Irish Red and White Setters began to decline. The rise of the Irish Setter was so rapid that by 1875, the majority of the dogs at Dublin’s conformation show in the Irish Setter class were a solid red colour. Luckily for the Irish Red and White Setter, some breeders stuck with the original colouration – most notably the Rossmore family of County Monaghan who maintained a line of Irish Red and White Setter well into the 20th century.


The survival of the Irish Red and White Setter through the 20th century can be attributed to a few people. The Rev. Noble Huston, on his return from the Great War, dedicated himself to preserving the breed along with his cousin Dr. Elliot. They began to export the breed to other countries, such as England and the United States, in an effort to increase their popularity. Their work was carried on by a Mr. and Mrs. Cuddy who meticulously recorded the breed’s history and genealogy. They eventually formed the Irish Red and White Setter Society in 1944, which has been slowly increasing the number of Irish Red and White Setters over the last half century.

Since then, their popularity has grown, but they remain a rare breed. Although the numbers registered with the UK Kennel Club vary, they never surpass 300 in any one year. One particular concern is the lack of genetic diversity within the breed’s population. It’s thought that the breed’s revival was based on as few as 10 individual dogs. As a result, an outbreeding program using Irish Setters has been established to reduce the need for inbreeding to maintain the Irish Red and White Setter population.


Irish Red and White Setter Large Photo

The Irish Red and White Setter is a large breed with a height of 57 to 61cm for females and 62 to 66cm for males. They should weigh between 23 to 32kg. They are athletic dogs with a body shape suited to activity. They have long, muscular legs and a deep chest. They tend to have a heavier build than the Irish Setter but are still lean dogs with a distinct abdominal tuck. They have broad heads and ears that hang down their neck past the jawline.

Their coat is short and flat over most the head and body. There is extensive feathering with silky fur on the ears, abdomen, tail and backs of the legs. The feathering should be straight rather than curly. As their name would suggest, Irish Red and White Setters must be both red and white. The base colour is white with solid patches of dark red distributed over the head and body. Usually, the face, lower legs and feet are free from colouration but are allowed some flecks of red.

Character & Temperament

The Irish Red and White Setter is a friendly dog with a good temperament. They make good family pets, as they will seek out affection and attention from their owners. Irish Red and White Setters are an active breed so will settle best with owners who will fulfill their high exercise requirements. Many Irish Red and White Setters are still working dogs and will behave as such on walks. They love to roam around their surroundings looking for scents, ideally in woodland. Although they could adapt to an urban environment, they will need an outlet for scenting behaviour and plenty of activities to keep them occupied.

Irish Red and White Setters are calm dogs, and while they like to be around their owners, they can be left home alone so long as they have other dogs for company. They are known for being gentle dogs who enjoy playing with either children or other canine companions. They can even get on with other pets if they’re brought up with them, but be careful introducing a new cat to the family, as they are still not the most cat-friendly dogs. Although Irish Red and White Setters are generally an alert breed, they don’t make very good watchdogs. A stranger is more likely to be greeted with a wagging tail than barking.


Photo of Irish Red and White Setter puppy
Andrea Pokrzywinski /

Irish Red and White Setters are intelligent dogs and are fairly easy to train so long as you start early. If you leave training until they are 6 months old, the process will be much more difficult. Training sessions should be designed to cope with the energy and limited attention span of an Irish Red and White Setter puppy. Although training sessions with other puppies might be attractive, you will have better success with one-on-one training sessions to avoid the distraction of other dogs.

Irish Red and White Setters do not respond well to negative training or loud voices. Make sure you’re using plenty of positive reinforcement in your regime. As well as learning commands, an Irish Red and White Setter will quickly learn bad behaviours too. Make sure that undesirable mouthing or jumping up is dealt with in a consistent manner to avoid rewarding this type of behaviour.


Irish Red and White Setters are generally a healthy breed with an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years. Their limited genetic diversity has put them at a disadvantage so some hereditary diseases are present in the population. In the UK, most have been eliminated, but it’s still worth asking your breeder about them.

Canine Leucocyte Adhesion Deficiency (CLAD)

CLAD is a genetic disease affecting the immune system. It affects the dog’s ability to respond to infections. It’s usually apparent in young puppies as persistent, repeated infections with affected puppies suffering from growth problems. Most will die before one year old. Since 2008, the Kennel Club only registers dogs that are clear of the CLAD mutation.

von Willebrands Disease (vWD)

vWD is a genetic disease that affects blood clotting. Symptoms include persistent bleeding from wounds, small haemorrhages under the skin or in the gums (petechiae) or unexpected bruising. In extreme cases, small cuts can be fatal due to blood loss. As with CLAD, all UK Kennel Club registered Irish Red and White Setters are required to prove they are not carrying the genetic mutation.

Posterior Polar Cataract (PPC)

PPC is a hereditary cataract. A cataract is an opacity in the lens of the eye which gradually forms and worsens over time. Although the disease is not painful, cataracts can eventually lead to blindess. PPC have a variable age of onset, but tend to occur in older dogs.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Irish Red and White Setters are a very active breed requiring at least 2 hours of exercise a day. Their preferred activity is roaming around on long walks, sniffing as much as they can and enjoying the outdoors. They also enjoy playing games with their owners. Hide and seek type activities where they have to find things will be particularly enjoyed. Irish Red and White Setters need plenty of off the lead exercise to keep them happy. A quick walk around the park will not satisfy their exercise or mental stimulation requirements.


Irish Red and White Setters should be brushed a couple of times a week to keep their coat in good condition and remove and shedding hairs. Special attention should be paid to the feathering to prevent the formation of matts. In general, they don’t require trimming except for the hair on the footpads, which require some maintenance. Irish Red and White Setters shed moderately but do not undergo a seasonal moult.

Famous Irish Red and White Setters

Since the Irish Red and White Setter is a rare breed, there are no famous examples that we’ve found.


Although there are no official cross-breeds of Irish Red and White Setter, an outcross program with Irish Setters has been established by the Irish Kennel Club. This decision was not well received by all quarters, however, some breeders have taken part in the program to produce Irish Red and White Setter and Irish Setter crosses.

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