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Frequently Asked Questions

How much exercise does an Irish Setter need?

Like most sporting breeds, Irish Setters have a lot of energy. They are athletic, have good noses, and want to explore the world. Many people choose not to use their Irish Setters to hunt, but their energy remains and needs to find an appropriate outlet.

Humans are built to walk, Irish Setters are built to run. 20 minutes free running in an enclosed area twice a day will go a long way to make sure your dog burns off their energy outside so they can come in and relax in the house. Many people who complain about their dog’s behavior are not exercising their dog sufficiently.

How much exercise does an Irish Setter need?

Like most sporting breeds, Irish Setters have a lot of energy. They are athletic, have good noses, and want to explore the world. Many people choose not to use their Irish Setters to hunt, but their energy remains and needs to find an appropriate outlet.

Humans are built to walk, Irish Setters are built to run. 20 minutes free running in an enclosed area twice a day will go a long way to make sure your dog burns off their energy outside so they can come in and relax in the house. Many people who complain about their dog’s behavior are not exercising their dog sufficiently.

Do I need a fenced yard?

Fencing your yard is a good step towards keeping your dog safe. Car accidents are a common cause of death for young Irish Setters. A fence reduces the likelihood that your dog will follow its nose out into a street and into trouble. In addition to keeping your dog in your yard, fences keep many things (stray dogs, other animals) out. Fenced yards also allow a dog to freely run and exercise, and is a convenience for owners. Having to put your dog on a leash every time it needs to go outside is cumbersome compared to being able to open the back door.

How big does a fenced area have to be?

A fenced yard should accommodate gaiting or running, but it does not have to be large. Most suburban lots (~1/4 acre lot, with house and yard) can accommodate a nice fenced area that is suitable for a setter to have a run (70′ by 60′ is a good example of an average suburban yard size). Of course, the larger area that is fenced the more room a dog has to run and many owners find that preferable if their area can accommodate.

How high should my fence be?

A fence should be high enough so that your dog can not jump over it. Some setters have been known to clear a four foot fence with ease. We generally suggest 6 feet. Remember if you live in an area that gets snow, the height of the fence could be reduced in winter.

Do electric fences work for Irish Setters?

Electric fences work for some individuals, but not all setters. There is no way to predict which individuals will respect the border of an electric fence. An electric fence is more of a training tool than a physical border. 

Some setters are willing to take the shock to follow their noses after birds, squirrels, game, etc. or just to have a good run. Once a dog is outside the border of an electric fence, the current can act as a deterrent to re-entering the fenced area. Some dogs frightened by the shock actively run away from it, others try to attack whatever they believe is the source of the pain.

An electric fence does not keep anything else from entering your yard (people, kids, coyotes, other game, or other dogs which can be aggressive or have diseases such as worms, brucellosis etc.). Keeping your dog safe from external threats is an equally good reason for a physical fence.

What about dog parks?

Dog parks can work for some people, but they have drawbacks. First other owners are not necessarily dog savvy; they may have dogs that are untrained, undisciplined, and may be unable to recognize signs of trouble between dogs and not know how to intervene to prevent conflict or break it up. Dog parks may be visited by animals whose owners do not pay the same level of attention to parasite (like worms and fleas) control and potentially serious diseases (like brucellosis). The conscientious owner is at the mercy of the crowd, with consequences for the well trained properly maintained individuals.

Perhaps more important is whether good intentions–like taking the dog to the dog park rain or shine every day for a 30 minute run–will be realized. Many folks start off dedicated, but find the routine of going to a dog park difficult to prioritize and maintain especially as life keeps happening. And taking multiple dogs to a dog park is a very different dynamic than taking one.

What does a pedigree mean?

Understanding pedigrees can inform breeders about characteristics (structure, breed type, temperament, and health) that were present in past individuals, and help them get a more complete picture of ancestors and overall family history. They also breeders an indication of heritable traits that are expressed from generation to generation. 

Heritable traits include structural elements (front angulation for example), coat color and texture, eye color and shape, all elements that you can see about your dog (and that are described in the breed standard). Heritable traits also include health, temperament, and the underlying genes that are responsible for all you see and don’t see. Pedigrees are one tool breeders use to help them predict what traits to anticipate may be present in puppies if two individuals are bred. The assumption is that the phenotype you see is correlated and the result of inherited instructions the dog carries within its genetic code (genotype).

How do I read a pedigree?

A pedigree is your dog’s family tree, and is “read” from left to right. The most recent generation is the name farthest to the left (P1).

Titles in a pedigree indicate what attributes/aptitude past generations of breeders have invested into ancestors. Titles give an indication of a dog’s attributes–whether it be physical structure as in conformation, trainability as in obedience, or aptitude in the field. They are also a sign of a breeder’s commitment to participate in events and have their dogs compared with others.

Is line-breeding bad?

All breeds are the result of careful selection of traits through line breeding. Line breeding attempts to concentrate the genes of a specific ancestor or ancestors. Line breeding can cause both the expression of beneficial and detrimental genes; line breeding cannot change or create undesirable genes. 

Line breeding is a valuable tool; it has neither a good nor bad connotation. A breeder may use line breeding to eliminate health problems through careful selection. Breeders can increase the likelihood that desirable health and structural qualities (hips) are improved through the generations. If you can reliably predict it, you can produce it (beneficial traits) or work around it (deleterious traits).

What is inbreeding?

Inbreeding is another term breeders use to describe a method of concentrating genes to try and amplify traits and increase predictability those traits will be expressed in the next generation. The difference between line breeding and inbreeding is a matter of degree. Inbreeding generally means the individuals being bred are more closely related. Inbreeding does not have a positive or negative connotation.

What do those titles mean? Why are titles important?

Titles measure a dog’s attributes–whether it be physical structure as in conformation, trainability as in obedience, or aptitude in the field. They are also a sign of a breeder’s commitment to participate in events and have their dogs compared with others.

AKC and UKC Conformation titles and field champion titles appear before the dog’s registered name. The United Kennel Club also places obedience titles in front of the dog’s registered name. Titles that appear after a dog’s name are generally AKC performance titles; obedience, rally, agility, hunt tests, tracking, etc. The Irish Setter Club of America (ISCA) also has several special designations that are placed after a dog’s registered name. 

Is a puppy or older dog right for me?

When you get a puppy, you are getting the raw material; you train it to be the dog you expect. Puppies are cute and fun, but they do demand time and commitment. Even if you have owned an Irish Setter or other dogs before, it can be hard to remember how many things your new puppy needs to learn. Your well-behaved older dog once needed to be taught the same things. Every puppy is different, some learn quickly, some are more persistent and will test your patience, and some training techniques that worked well with your older dog might not work at all for your new puppy.

Are any of your retired show dogs available for rescue?

Occasionally we may have a retired show dog available or a young puppy available for placement. The advantage of getting an older dog from a breeder is that you still get the benefit of knowing your dog’s history (health, relatives, temperament, how it was raised) and you have a lifetime resource if you have questions about your dog and the breed.

Our retired show dogs are not rescues. They are the result of carefully planned breedings. They are house dogs, have been socialized with people and other dogs, are housebroken and crate trained, have been leash trained and trained to other basic commands, and often have had (and passed) all health testing required for the breed, have been vaccinated and received veterinary care, and come from a long lineage of dogs whose history is known. Adults we place may have achieved AKC championship and other titles. None of this is generally true for a rescue dog.

Who do I contact for an Irish setter rescue?

Great Lakes Irish Setter Rescue is Wisconsin’s only legitimate Irish Setter rescue program (contact Margie Hohman). Other area Irish Setter Rescue groups include Illinois Bird Dog Rescue and Save Our Setters. The Irish Setter Club of America also coordinates a rescue program.

There are legitimate reasons that dogs end up in rescue, such as a health change or the death of the owner. Others end up in rescue because of owner life changes that are not the fault of the dog.

What to ask if you are interested in a rescue

Many members of the public are unaware that “rescue” has become a marketing term and a big money business. For-profit rescues have sprung up; they make profits from having a high volume supply of low cost dogs with unknown health/socialization/previous placement history, which are brought in from other states or countries. High volume producers start breeding “rescue” puppies as a successful marketing strategy. Some international producers are now deliberately breeding and supplying animals for the American rescue market. Reports of dogs–especially more saleable purebred dogs–being stolen and shipped out of state to be sold as rescues are on the rise. Even local humane societies that used to carefully screen prospective owners are now also importing high volumes of animals–because they don’t have enough local animals–and holding events that promote impulsive adoptions by anyone interested in an individual animal. 

Prospective owners should check out any rescue group or animal shelter as thoroughly as any breeder. Here are some questions we recommend you ask:

  • Have you checked for a microchip, other forms of permanent identification, or dog licenses?
  • How have you checked to make sure this dog was not reported missing, stolen, lost? 
  • How have you searched to locate, contact and either reunite the dog with their owner or confirm the owner does not want their dog returned.
  • Is this dog local? Was this dog transported here from another state or country? Where is it from?
  • Has this dog been tested for and cleared for parasites and diseases–including parvo, rabies, and brucellosis that can be transmitted to other dogs and people?
  • If this dog was sick or exposed to sick animals, what quarantine and disease control protocols were followed? Will this animal be tested and cleared for disease before it is placed? 
  • Has this dog been placed before? How many times? Some animals are being placed and returned multiple times. This is an indication that the rescue is either not doing a good job matching the dog with new owners or that the dog has issues that many people are unprepared to handle.
  • Is there any history of biting?
  • How have you evaluated and documented basic behavioral information (is the dog housebroken, reactions to temperament tests, observed triggers of anxiety, aggression, or fear etc).
  • Has there been any evaluation and documentation of how the dog behaves with other dogs, kids, men, older adults, cats etc.
  • How have you evaluated and documented basic health information (any eye conditions, hearing, heart conditions, dysplasia or other joint conditions, diabetic etc.?).

What goes into the price of a puppy? Do you make money?

No. Rarely do we break even.

We have significant investment before deciding whether a bitch will be bred, including:

  • Finishing a conformation title (training classes, entry fees, travel expenses, etc.)
  • Finishing obedience or performance titles (training classes, entry fees, travel expenses)
  • Cost of maintaining the bitch (quality food, routine veterinary care)
  • Heath testing (Hips/elbows, thyroid, PRA, CERF)

Sometimes we may make the above investment in a bitch or dog, and they may never produce a litter.

Costs directly associated with a given litter–keep in mind not all breeding attempts are successful–include:

  • Pre-breeding screenings, brucellosis testing, standard blood panels
  • Progesterone testing to determine optimal breeding timing (as many as 5 to 10 tests)
  • Stud fee (range between $1800 to $2500, or puppy back to stud owner)
  • Travel to the stud or semen shipping costs, any insemination costs
  • For frozen semen breedings, stud fee, shipping, specialized insemination costs
  • Ultrasound to confirm pregnancy
  • X-ray for more accurate puppy count
  • Potential additional veterinary costs associated with delivery (like a c-section) and post delivery (for dam or puppies)
  • Dew claw removal
  • Costs associated with raising a litter, quality food, alfalfa pellets for potty box
  • Puppy vaccinations
  • Veterinary exams for each puppy in the litter at 8 weeks of age
  • AKC litter registration and individual AKC puppy registration fees

We have significant investment in whelping equipment and puppy rearing supplies. Some of these materials can be used across several litters, some need restocking every time. And the labor of feeding, cleaning, socializing, grooming puppies as well as the mental work of screening homes we assume for free.

The purchase price of a puppy is but a fraction of the actual costs and time taken to produce a well-socialized and well-bred Irish Setter.

When do you recommend spaying or neutering?

There is a growing body of veterinary research and literature linking early spay/neuter with growth pattern alterations, predisposition to certain athletic injuries, and health issues that may result later in life. 

We recommend that puppy owners wait to spay or neuter until the dog is at least 18 months old. Irish setters are a slow maturing breed and hormones play an important role in development and maturation. Spaying or neutering when a dog has reached full maturity gives the dog all of the benefit of hormones during growth. Reproductive veterinarians can also do an ovary sparing spay or vasectomy, which renders the dog infertile, but maintains hormones. Delaying a spay/neuter assumes that pet owners are conscientious, and monitor their dogs.

What grooming do Irish Setters need?

Irish Setter hair is similar in texture to human hair and requires combing/brushing a least once a week to remain tangle free. Setters do not have the quantity of undercoat of some other breeds (like Goldens), nor the constant shedding of many short coated breeds (like a Labrador).

Setters groomed in the “show” style have the tops of the ear, under ear, and necks clipped with an electric clipper. Fine blending of clipper lines is done with a thinning shears. Dead coat is pulled out of the back with a stripping comb. Excess hair is trimmed on the feet and foot pads, and nails are trimmed.

Grooming is not difficult, and owners can easily learn to groom their own dogs (hey, mistakes grow back). About 45 minutes every two weeks is enough to keep a setter looking well groomed.

Can Irish Setters hunt?

Some Irish Setters have better noses than others, but most will naturally point birds. Like many sporting dogs, hunting interest is not confined to only birds. Chipmunks, squirrels, mice, snakes, and other creatures that can be sniffed out are of interest.

Many setters pass hunting and tracking tests. Some of our dogs have worked in the field or passed hunt tests. Often it is the owner’s interest that determines whether the dog will be used in the field. Show and field lines of Irish Setters produce excellent hunting dogs.

Are Irish Setters hyper or dumb?

Irish Setters are intelligent, creative, and can be pranksters. Most setters owners have some entertaining stories about their dog’s antics and cleverness. They will test you to see if you really mean what you say. Once they have fully experimented and know your expectations, they respect the boundaries you have set. They do learn quickly, and retain what they learn, and often make wonderful obedience dogs.

For example, if an Irish Setter attempts to board your sofa from the right side and you tell he/she “off”, they will try to board from the left side. After all, it might be ok from the other direction. They will try the sofa the next day to see if “off” means everyday. They will try when you are out of the room to see if “off” means always. They are persistent experimenters, and if you fail to make corrections consistently you will be sitting on the floor looking up at your dog. They understand perfectly well; it’s a game to discover who’s training who.

Are Irish Setters good with kids?

Irish setters are good family dogs and generally play with and like children. Like kids, setters enjoy toys and games, and their personalities are not unlike happy four year old human children. Even rambunctious puppies are generally gentle. They are playful, although not always aware of their size and can knock kids down. Little people with food will be asked to share, and sticky hands and faces will be washed with a tongue.

However, all children must be taught how to interact with dogs. While setters are tolerant and see kids as an extension of their family unit, there is no dog that will endure roughness, poking, hair pulling, kicking, biting, cornering or other abuse in perpetuity.

Do Irish Setters get along with other dogs?

Irish Setters are a sociable breed. Most setters seem to enjoy the company of other dogs, and many people have more than one setter. Occasionally there may be other setters or dogs that an individual does not like. We humans don’t like everyone we meet, and it seems natural that dogs have their preferences too.

Do Irish setters get along with cats?

Many puppies who are raised with cats get along fine (the cat is in charge). Older dogs may get used to cats, but this takes a lot of time and patience on the owner’s part. Many older dogs have to learn that the cat is not a furry toy or animal they can prey upon.