The Irish Setter by most authorities is conceded to be the purest bred member of the bird dog family. This is singular, in view of the fact that very little is known about his origin, and while he is frequently alluded to by writers of a century or more ago, they have failed to tell what kind of a dog he was either in color or form. In all probability he was a red-and-white dog; a smart, active animal, full of courage, tireless energy, inclined to be headstrong, and with a nose quite as good as any other dog used for a similar purpose. The American Irish Setter of forty years ago was of this stamp, a favorite among sportsmen, and a successful competitor at the early field trials. In those days there was no particular craze for coat or coloring, and no criticism was aimed at dogs of a light red color or those with white markings, so long as they were courageous and capable workmen in the field. With the advent of dog shows came a demand in the standards for a dark red, mahogany-colored coat. A yellowish coat was not tolerated, and bench-show judges looked with disfavor upon dogs with white markings, no matter how useful they might be in other respects. As a result fanciers bred largely for color. Workmanlike qualities were forgotten, and although they succeeded in getting beautiful dark, rich, solid red dogs, it was at the expense of their utilitarian qualities, and the Irish Setter, once a reckless daredevil, frequently headstrong and difficult dog to break, became so timid that many of them would not stand training.
That the Irish Setter is a beautiful dog no one will deny, but if he is to regain his former laurels as a field dog, the demand for a certain color and shade of coat must be forgotten, and dogs must be bred largely on account of their field merits alone.
The chief points to look for in the selection of Irish Setter puppies at from two to four months old and after are almost identical with those of the English Setter, with color added, which should, of course, be a deep red.
The following is the published description and standard of points of the Irish Red Setter Club: HEAD.-Should be long and lean. The skull oval (from ear to ear), having plenty of brain room, and with well-defined occipital protuberance. Brows raised, showing stop. The muzzle moderately deep and fairly square at end. From the stop to the point of the nose should be long, the nostrils wide, and the jaws of nearly equal length, flews not to be pendulous. The color of the nose dark mahogany or dark walnut, and that of the eyes (which ought not to be too large), rich hazel or brown. The ears to he of moderate size, fine in texture, set on low, well back, and hanging in a neat fold close to head.
NECK.-Should be moderately long, very muscular, but not too thick, slightly arched, free from all tendency to throatiness.
BODY.-Should be long. Shoulders fine at the points, deep and sloping well back. The chest as deep as possible, rather narrow in front. The ribs well sprung, leaving plenty of lung room. Loins muscular and slightly arched. The hindquarters wide and powerful.
LEGS AND FEET.-The hindlegs from hip to hock should be long and muscular; from hock to heel, short and strong. The stifle and hock joints well bent, and not inclined either in or out. The forelegs should be straight and sinewy, having plenty of bone, with elbows free, well let down, and, like the hocks, not inclined either in or out. The feet small, very firm; toes strong, close together, and arched.
TAIL.-Should be of moderate length, set on rather low; strong at root and tapering to a fine point; to be carried as nearly as possible on a level with or below the back.
COAT.-On the head, front of legs, and tips of ears should be short and fine; but on all other parts of the body and legs it ought to be of moderate length, flat, and as free as possible from curl or waves.
FEATHERING.-The feather on the upper portion of the ears should be long and silky; on the back of the fore and hind legs long and fine; a fair amount of hair on the belly, forming a nice fringe, which may extend on chest and throat. Feet to be well feathered between toes. Tail to have a nice fringe of moderately long hair, decreasing in length as it approaches the point. All feathering to be as straight and flat as possible.
COLOR AND MARKINGS.-The color should be a rich golden chestnut, with no trace whatever of black; white on chest, throat, or toes, or a small star on the forehead, or a narrow streak or blaze on the nose or face not to disqualify.
VALUE OF POINTS.-Head, 10; eyes, 6; ears, 4; neck, 4; body, 20; hind legs and feet, 10; fore legs and feet, 10; tail, 4; coat and feather, 10; color, 8; size, style, and general appearance, 14; Total, 100.