Posts Tagged ‘irish red and white setter’

For this Irish red and white setter.

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From The Complete English Shot (1907):

There has been a great deal of controversy upon how the dark-red colour arose. Mr. John King, who knew more of Irish setters than any other man known to the author, affirmed that red-and-white was the original colour, and the general opinion was that those of the last-named markings were the most easy to break. All the most setter-like Irish that have come before the author have had more or less white upon them, and as colour certainly denotes blood or origin, and the manner of hunting of the whole-red dogs is spaniel-like, it does not seem to be unlikely that the springer spaniel, the colour of a blood bay horse without a white hair spoken of by a Suffolk parson in the middle of the eighteenth century, may have had a good deal to do with the origin of the red Irish setter. At any rate, no other setters or spaniels of the colour can be traced in the early history of what was then the English spaniel, or the setter (pg. 164-165).

Red springer spaniels were once common. The red coloration no longer exists in the English springer, but the Welsh springer is red and white as a rule.

From my understanding, the original land spaniel of the British Isles was red and white.  The setters are believed to have arisen from this spaniel, but it just as likely that French index dogs, which are now known as the various breeds of epagneul, are at the base of these dogs.

I am not one of those who buys the commonly held assertion that spaniels are from Spain. It always said, but not one single piece of evidence is provided to back up the claim. Spaniel and epagneul look similar to the word for Spanish, which is  Espagnol and Español, but even if someone were to provide a true linguistic connection, it still would not prove that spaniels are Spanish. It could simply be that everyone believed spaniels were Spanish for so many generations that they got this name.

Whatever their origin, setters from the British Isles are related to land spaniels, but whether they are more closely related to the flushing land spaniels or the epagneul breeds of France is still not been fully explored. I lean more toward them being more closely related to the epagneul gun dogs, but no one has been able to sort this one out.

There were differences between solid red and red and white Irish setters for many years, but whether these differences result from the addition of red springer spaniel blood is also an assertion that hasn’t been proven. The spaniel in the cross wouldn’t have to be a solid red. Solid colors are dominant to particolors, even if the actual red color is a recessive. So it could have been a solid black or liver spaniel that introduced the solid color into the Irish red setter, and then through backcrossing, there was a selection for the recessive red color.

Teasdale-Buckell posits an interesting theory on the origins of the solid red setter, but it is not clear if the differences in the red and white and red breeds of setter is the result of introducing new blood or if it is the result of show breeding with the solid red dogs.

There are many theories about the origins of spaniels and setters. Some of them, like their supposed Spanish origin are quite dubious, while others are certainly possible– but not proof provided for such assertions is almost always wanting.

All that we know is that the original setter of Ireland was red and white, and the original British spaniel was also red and white. But how we came to have setters as distinct from flushing spaniels and why those setters in Ireland were red and white and then red are both questions that have not been fully answered.

But it is fun to speculate.

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This  1805 depiction appears in the Cynographia Britannica.

Black and tan setters are not necessarily Gordon setters, and red setters are not necessarily Irish. However, the red and white dog does fit with our understanding of the history of Irish setter in which red and whites were the original dog. But unlike the various Irish setter breeds, this dog is either a brown-skinned red or a rusty liver. I’m not willing to come down on either side because it’s hard to tell.

The white dog is most interesting.

It lacks the ticking or Belton markings one typically sees on modern English setters. It appears to almost solid white except for what appear to be some light lemon markings.

It is also a brown-skinned red and is quite similar to the red dog. Perhaps they are littermates.

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In addition to my post on the move to breed out the setter features in the show golden retriever in the 1930’s,  I’m going to show how easy it was to confuse goldens and setters.

Here are some old-fashion Irish red setters. The fact that the dog on the right has white marking does not make it an Irish red and white setter. The dog in the center has shorter ears and a slightly more substantial frame, but many of these dogs could pass for golden retrievers.

Of course, Irish setter were much more common that retrievers of that color, but these setters were often crossed with black flat-coats. The red to yellow color is recessive to the  black coloration, and it is very likely that black flat-coats that carried this recessive setter coloration were bred with retrievers derived from the Tweedmouth strain.

Breeding setters to flat-coats made the flat-coats faster and more agile. It also bred out the extremely wavy coats that existed within that breed (which is why they were called “wavy-coated retrievers.”) The goldens that would result as a byproduct of that improvement would look a lot like these Noranby dogs:

From my understanding, the Culham, Noranby, and Ingestre lines of golden were made up of a lot of lightly-built dogs that were of the dark color. I have seen a black and white photo of the first dual champion golden, Dual Ch. Balcombe Boy. This dog was a Culham dog, bred by Lewis Harcourt (1st Viscount Harcourt, the man who first coined the term “golden retriever.)  Balcombe Boy was of this type and very, very dark in color, what we would now call a mahogany (like this dog).

As noted in the earlier post, the field line dogs have tended to retain some of the setter’s features and coloration, as this dog clearly has.

Now, Irish setters have obviously moved in another direction, but in the working red setter registry, one can run across dogs that look like this dog.

The original Irish setter was red and white in color, and it has since been preserved (by a Presbyterian minister in Northern Ireland) in the breed called the Irish red and and white setter. This dog tends to have a broader skull than one sees in the red dog, and one also sees smaller ears and a somewhat heavier, more retriever-like frame.

If you look really carefully, one can see that Irish setters and golden retrievers do have a lot of features in common. Originally, they were very hard to tell apart.

Now, this is not to say that one can’t find photos and depictions of Tweedmouth strain goldens that are heavier in build. However, I can also find depictions of black wavy-coats that have that type of conformation. As the wavy-coat became the flat-coat, the really heavily build dogs were bred out of the bloodline, simply because they violated the “Power without lumber; raciness without weediness” axiom that made the flat-coat a superior working retriever. If one believes that we should breed for a heavier form in golden retrievers because one can find historical depictions of them, should we not also do the same with flat-coats?

I don’t think any flat-coat person would buy into it.

But in golden retrievers, this is a well-accepted virtue. In goldens this seems to be the main thought process:

Breed away from the setter and the flat-coat at all costs. Make the darker colors a fault within the breed, even though most of the early working gun dog talent in the breed were of these darker colors. The more the dogs resemble polar bears or Kodiak bears, the better.

But the lighter built dogs are more athletic and more efficient movers, so the working retriever people bred for this type.


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I think a good name for this video is “Big Red and White”– after Kjelgaard’s Big Red!

The red and white breed has more similar characteristics to retrievers than the modern red setter. However, the old-line Irish red setters were like this in conformation. The two “setter retriever” breeds got a  lot of their conformation from these dogs.

Yes, this dog is retrieving a raccoon dog, and she is also retrieving a common or Eurasian teal.

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From Havshexan (a very good channel).

These dogs are an Irish red and white setter, which is the original Irish setter that descends from the ancient red and white spaniels that were kept by the Celts in Gaul, and the lagotto Romagnolo, an Italian dog derived from the ancient European water dogs of the poodle type. This breed is better-known as a truffle hunter.

This particular dog really strongly resembles the rough water dogs of England, which George Stubbs painted as water spaniels.


Dogs of both types would contribute genes to the dogs that became the water spaniels and retrievers. Eventually, the water spaniels were absorbed into retrievers, except for the Irish water spaniel known around the River Shannon. That breed still exists as the Irish water spaniel. (The American water spaniel did not get absorbed either, but it was largely replaced by the retrievers after the Second World War.)

So these two dogs are cousins to the retrievers, even though they have rather different behavior from them. The setter can get birdy, while the water dog will enter water to retrieve with great enthusiasm. The setter gave some retrievers a tendency to point birds, which was further augmented in the Labrador through cross-breeding with pointers. The water dog gave the curlies their unique coats, brought in a bit of a tighter wave in the wavy-coats, and still pops up in some flat-coats, correctly appears in about half of the golden retrievers, and still appears on Labradors, especially when they are of an advanced age.

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Irish Red and White Setters are a rare breed of setter that closely resembles the old Irish setter. Originally, Irish setters were red and white, but those in different regions in Ireland having different amounts of red and white. Those that were predominantly red became popular among British sportsmen in other parts of the Isles.

The working strain of Irish setter developed in the US as the Red Setter includes dogs that have broader heads and white markings. These dogs are also lighter red in color. Some resemble small golden retrievers from a distance. However, white markings were not preferred in the show form of Irish setter, and Western European and Soviet/Russian lines of hunting Irish setter became solid red and very dark in color. Because of this selection for solid red in all of these lines of Irish setter, the “parti-coloured” setter nearly disappeared.

In Northern Ireland, a presbyterian minister named Noble Huston found some red and white setters in County Down. These would provide the foundation stock for this breed of setter. Some people mistake them for Brittanys (especially those from European lines or “French” Brittanys as they are called in the US, which can have black skin pigment) or Welsh Springers.  The only thing those breeds have is a common ancestry with the European land spaniels, which were common in France and Britan during the Middle Ages. The French developed spaniels that would freeze for game, while the British developed spaniels as flushing dogs. The French “setting spaniels” (the Brittany is only one of the several breeds of French setting spaniel) would later appear in the British Isles (becoming the setter breeds) and in Germany (creating the German longhair, the Large and small Munsterlanders, and the long-haired variety of Weimaraner).

The exact origin of the setters and land spaniels is up to conjecture. There is an old theory that spaniels are derived from Spanish stock. The word spaniel is a corruption of the word for Spain (Espanol) which appears in French as “Epagneul.” I don’t know whether this is true or not, but several references in history appear calling spaniels “Spanish dogs.” However, I don’t know a single breed from Spain that is a spaniel. I know of a spanish water dog that can be used as retriever. There is also the Spanish pointer, which is a heavy pointer,  similar to the Bracco Italiano and Spinone Italiano, that was crossed with foxhounds and setting spaniels to create the English pointers and perhaps the other pointers of Northern, Western, and Central Europe. But there are no Spanish spaniels.

My guess is that spaniels, setting spaniels, and setters descend from crosses between herding dogs and scent hounds or pointers. Herding dogs are easily handled, and often exhibit a modified stalking behavior, which is what setting or pointing behavior actually is. Hounds and pointers have good noses, and this mix would work to create this type of dog.

The truth is these breeds are actually quite old. Some sources take them back to the later days of the Roman Empire. It is impossible to know what created these breeds of gun dog, but we do know that their original purpose was to aid in falconry and greyhound coursing, which were big sports among the nobles in the Middle Ages. A flushing spaniel could send game birds into the air or send rabbits into the open to be dispatched by the falcon or greyhound. The French called them Oysel dogs. Later, when stocking game birds became a necessity on hunting preserves, a pointer or a setter/setting spaniel could be used to point out birds that could then be captured by throwing a net over them.

My guess is that that spaniels, setting spaniels, and setters have their origins in France. The Spanish dog in their ancestry that gave them their name could only be the Spanish pointer. A cross between a flushing spaniel and this pointer could produce some stock that could be at the base of setting spaniels and setters. However, the original setters and setting spaniels crouched in their pointing position (hence the name “setter,” a corruption of the word sitter). The only other breeds that crouch in a stalking behavior are herding dogs. Pointers stand erect when indicating and always have. Modern setters assume this position when “setting.” Thus, it is likely that herding breeds had some role in the development of the setters from the British isles (and this is widely known in the Gordon setter breed).

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