The first written reference of a Setter appears in 1570. By the early 18th century a dog called the setter (probably derived from spaniel, pointer, and possibly a hound breed) had come into existence, and Ireland had its own variety. Irish Setters are one of four distinct setter breeds, and were bred for finding and pointing upland game birds in open places.
Upland birds were often located on rolling terrain with thick vegetation, and hunting for them was done on foot. Before firearms, setting dogs would locate birds and then crouch or “set.” The human hunter would throw a net over the bush to capture the birds within. As hunters changed their methods and began using guns, setters kept their job of locating birds. A hunter needed a close partnership with his dog, and setters worked within walking distance (15 feet) of their human companions. Setters continue to this day to be working gundogs.
It is generally accepted that early setters were originally white dogs with large red patches, and through the 1800s, selective breeding produced the solid red dogs we know today. There is an alternative theory that the solid red setter was actually in existence prior to the red and white setter, and that the solid red setter may be the older form.
The first Irish Setters in the Americas were imported from Ireland into the United States in 1875. One of these imports (Ch. Elcho) became the first Irish Setter to earn an American Kennel Club bench championship in 1875. These early dogs were much prized for their hunting ability and were also popular in the breed ring. Most of today’s American setters can trace their lineage back to a few influential early imports. While many Irish Setter owners of today choose to not hunt with their dogs, many Irish Setters retain their strong hunting instincts and working ability.
The American Kennel Club breed standard calls for a substantial, balanced dog, with a “rollicking personality.” Described by artists as the most beautiful of all dogs, these energetic, aristocratic bird dogs are meant to work closely with people. Setters are good natured, and have playful personalities. They are intelligent, and are both clowns and tricksters.