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Do Black Irish Setters Exist? Breed Facts & FAQ

Grant Piper

By Grant Piper

irish setter dog panting in the meadow

Some dogs can come in a variety of different colors. For example, the Irish Wolfhound has over a dozen officially recognized colors. But that is not the case for Irish Setters. Irish Setters have a very small color profile. Irish Setters only come in three official colors, and those colors do not include black, which means that purebred Irish Setters cannot be black. Officially recognized Irish Setters can only be shades of brown or red, with the potential for some white to be present. If you are interested in getting a black dog, then Irish Setters are not the dog for you.

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Can Irish Setters Be Black?

No. Irish Setters cannot be black. Irish Setters only come in three official colors, and they are all different shades of red. Since there are no black Irish Setters, that also means that there are also no gray or white Irish Setters either. Anyone advertising a black Irish Setter is either mistaken or being purposefully dishonest. Irish Setters can only appear black if they have had other dog breeds bred into them that provide genes for black fur.

It is possible that the Irish Setter gets confused with other breeds of setter, but it is unlikely. The only setter breed with naturally occurring black fur is the Gordon Setter. The Gordon Setter and the Irish Setter are different enough that it is very unlikely that they would be accidentally confused for one another. The more likely outcome is that a “purebred” Irish Setter with black fur is actually not purebred at all.

irish setter dog in the forest
Image Credit: DragoNika, Shutterstock

Official Irish Setter Colors

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC) and various other official kennels across the United States and Europe, Irish Setters only come in three official colors.

The three official colors for Irish Setters are:
  • Mahogany
  • Chestnut
  • Red

These colors are all variations of the color red. Black (or gray) is not an official color. In fact, many breeders insist that Irish Setters cannot physically be black. They do not carry the gene for black coats. Some Irish Setters can be brown, red, have white in their coats, be spotted, or speckled, but none of them are black.

What If You Come Across a Black Irish Setter?

If someone tells you that they own a black Irish Setter or are trying to breed one or sell one, you should immediately be skeptical. The only way to get a black Irish Setter is to breed in another dog that has a dominant gene for black fur and hope for the best. Some breeders have gotten very good about breeding in just enough of another breed to change the appearance of a dog ever so slightly. Some mixed breeds can be as much as 88% one breed and just 12% another breed. However, that 12% still matters when it comes to considering whether a dog is purebred or not.

Black Irish Setters likely have another breed, like Scottish Terrier or Labrador, in them to give them their color. Some breeders or owners might not be dishonest, they could simply be mistaken or misinformed. However, some breeders can be unscrupulous and advertise “rare” black Irish Setters that are actually just mixed breeds. Do not spend a lot of money on a black Irish Setter thinking you are getting something cool and unique because chances are you are buying a mixed breed that could have been purchased for much cheaper elsewhere.

Old Irish Setters

In the past, Irish Setters had more color variations than they do today. Old Irish Setters had more white and brindle color in them than their modern counterparts. Many of the color variations were bred out of Irish Setters in the 19th century with the goal of making the breed standard more uniform. After an extensive selective breeding push, nearly every Irish Setter is red today. (Irish Setters are also known as Irish Red Setters or Red Setters.) Still, even with additional color variations, the Irish Setter was never black or even gray. Even Old Irish Setters did not have black coats. That reinforces the fact that any Irish Setter that is black or has black in it cannot be a purebred Irish Setter.

Irish Red and White Setter
Image Credit By: Dinotopia, shutterstock

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Despite all of the evidence to the contrary, it is impossible to say that there isn’t at least one black Irish Setter out in the world. There are so many dogs and so many variations that there is a slim possibility that a black Irish Setter exists somewhere. Never say never. However, all of the breed standards, genetic information, and current examples of Irish Setters have no evidence of natural black coats. Do they exist? Maybe somewhere in very small numbers. If black Irish Setters exist, they are rare genetic anomalies. Are they common? Absolutely not. They are also not accepted as standard according to the breed standards set forth by the AKC.


Featured Image Credit: Reddogs, Shutterstock

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