Irish Setters are elegant, aristocratic bird dogs with rollicking personalities. The American Kennel Club Irish Setter standard describes the breed as follows:
“At their best, the lines of the Irish Setter so satisfy in overall balance that artists have termed it the most beautiful of all dogs. The correct specimen always exhibits balance, whether standing or in motion. Each part of the dog flows and fits smoothly into its neighboring parts without calling attention to itself.”
All the wonderful attributes of Irish Setters are the result of hundreds of years of selection by breeders who have balanced four critical elements to create the breed we know today.
Physical structure—Principles of engineering and physics apply just as much to building a sound dog as they do to building any man-made structure. The length of bones, the angles at which they fit together, how they interact with muscles and ligaments…all determine overall balance and efficiency of gait, whether a dog may be prone to certain injuries, and overall stamina. Physical structure directly effects whether a dog can perform the function for which it was bred—in this case upland bird hunting. Like an elite marathon runner, the well-built dog moves effortlessly and without tire; this cannot happen without sound underlying structure.The description of Irish Setter movement in the United Kennel Club is as follows:
“At a trot the gait is big, lively, efficient and graceful, with a high head. The hindquarters drive smoothly with great power. The forelegs reach well ahead as if to pull the ground.“
Temperament—A sound mind is as important as a sound body for the successful working dog. Whether in the field, performance event, show ring, or the backyard a dog’s mental characteristics directly impact the job a dog does, how well he does it, and his willingness to work with his human companion. Irish Setters are described as energetic, friendly, intelligent, rollicking, outgoing, and stable. All traits that indicate a breed that should work in partnership with people and enjoy their company, and characteristics that are important to the breed’s original purpose of a close working personal hunting dog.
Health—A personal hunting dog may possess instinct, aptitude, trainability, and good structure, but if he is not healthy he will not be working in the fields very long. The time invested to breed and train a good working dog is all for naught if he cannot walk due to hip dysplasia, cannot see, etc. Good breeders and hunters took the health of their dogs very seriously; they wanted their companions to have long careers with them. Health directly related to longevity of performance and the ability to fulfill the function for which the breed was bred. Good breeders today take health equally seriously for the same reasons.
Breed Type—This term refers to the entire package of characteristics and traits that make the Irish Setter distinct and recognizable from any other breed. If you saw a silhouette of a dog standing or moving at a distance and immediately knew what breed it was, that is a dog with breed type. Many characteristics contribute to breed type: red hair, soft expression, head and tail carriage, topline, length of neck, body proportion, temperament. The Standard for the breed discusses all the features that make the Irish Setter distinct from other breeds.