Irish Setter

Table of Contents

irish setter portrait
Get ready to paint your world with a vibrant splash of fiery red and boundless energy as we dive into the captivating realm of the Irish Setter! With their lustrous, copper-colored coats and a spirit that's as lively as a leprechaun's dance, these four-legged charmers are guaranteed to steal your heart.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Irish Setter dog breed is perfect for active individuals and families who love spending time outdoors. These energetic dogs thrive in environments where they can exercise, play, and explore to their heart’s content.

Overview

OFFICIAL NAMEIrish Setter
OTHER NAMESRed Setter, Irish Red Setter
ORIGINIreland
BREED GROUPSporting Group
BREED SIZELarge
HEIGHT24-28 inches
WEIGHT55-75 lbs
LIFESPAN12-15 years
LIVING SPACELarge
SENSITIVITY TO COLD WEATHERModerate
SENSITIVITY TO WARM WEATHERModerate
GROOMING NEEDSModerate
EXERCISE NEEDSHigh
TRAINABILITYModerate
BARKING TENDENCYModerate
BITING TENDENCYLow
DROOLING TENDENCYLow
SHEDDING LEVELModerate
POPULARITY RANK71st
irish setter standing on grass
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Appearance

The Irish Setter is a strikingly beautiful dog breed that’s known for its distinctive, silky red coat and elegant appearance. Physically, these dogs are well-proportioned and possess an air of nobility that is hard to miss.

They are medium to large-sized dogs, with males typically standing between 26 to 28 inches tall at the shoulder and weighing approximately 65 to 75 pounds. Females are slightly smaller, measuring around 24 to 26 inches in height and weighing between 55 to 65 pounds.

One of the most noticeable features of the Irish Setter is their long, lean head, which tapers gracefully from the skull to the nose. The skull itself is oval-shaped when viewed from above, and the stop – the point where the skull meets the muzzle – is moderately defined.

The muzzle is fairly long and square, with a well-developed lower jaw that gives the breed a refined look. Their nose is either black or dark brown, and their nostrils are wide for enhanced scenting abilities.

The Irish Setter’s eyes are another captivating feature. They are medium-sized, almond-shaped, and set well apart, giving them an alert and intelligent expression. The eye color typically ranges from medium to dark brown, complementing their rich coat color.

Their ears are set level with their eyes and hang close to their head, reaching about halfway down their muzzle when pulled forward. The ears are moderately long, velvety to the touch, and have a slight fringe of hair on the edges.

The body of the Irish Setter is athletic and muscular, with a deep chest and well-sprung ribs that provide ample space for lung capacity – essential for a breed originally bred for hunting. Their back is strong and straight, with a slight arch over the loin area.

The tail is an extension of the topline and is carried straight or slightly curved upwards, but never curled over the back. It tapers to a fine point and is adorned with feathering, which adds to the breed’s elegance.

The crowning glory of the Irish Setter is undoubtedly its coat. The coat is short and fine on the head and front of the legs, while it is moderately long and silky on the body. The hair is either straight or slightly wavy, with feathering on the ears, chest, belly, back of the legs, and tail.

The iconic color of the Irish Setter is a rich chestnut red, which may sometimes have a small amount of white on the chest, throat, or toes.

Overall, the appearance of the Irish Setter is one of grace and athleticism, reflecting their energetic nature and storied history as a hunting companion. Their unique combination of physical characteristics and vibrant coat color sets them apart from other breeds and makes them a truly eye-catching canine.

irish setter standing near a lake
Photo: JackF/Getty Images

Temperament

The Irish Setter is renowned for its spirited, outgoing, and friendly temperament, making it a delightful companion for those who appreciate an engaging and affectionate canine friend. These dogs are known for their exuberance and enthusiasm, which is apparent in everything they do. With their zest for life and boundless energy, they bring a sense of joy to any household they join.

One of the most endearing traits of the Irish Setter is their sociable nature. They are amiable dogs that enjoy the company of people, often seeking out attention and affection from family members and even strangers. This makes them excellent companions for children as they are gentle, patient, and playful with their younger human friends.

However, due to their size and energy level, adult supervision is recommended during playtime to ensure the safety of both the child and the dog.

Irish Setters are also known for their intelligence, which makes them quick learners and eager to please their owners.

They respond well to positive reinforcement and can excel in various dog sports and activities, such as obedience, agility, tracking, and even therapy work. However, their intelligence also means they can become bored easily, so it’s essential to keep them mentally stimulated with interactive toys, puzzle games, and new challenges to prevent them from developing unwanted behaviors.

While the Irish Setter is generally good-natured, they can also have a sensitive side. They thrive on love and attention and can become anxious or unhappy if they feel neglected or left alone for long periods. It is crucial to provide them with a nurturing environment where they feel secure and loved to maintain their emotional well-being.

The breed’s friendly disposition extends to other animals as well. Irish Setters typically get along well with other dogs, and since they were bred as bird dogs, they tend to have a relatively low prey drive compared to other hunting breeds. This makes them more likely to coexist peacefully with smaller pets, such as cats, although early socialization is essential to ensure a harmonious relationship.

However, it’s worth noting that the Irish Setter’s amiable and trusting nature can sometimes lead them to be overly friendly with strangers, which means they may not make the best watchdogs. They may alert their owners to the presence of someone approaching the home but are more likely to greet an intruder with a wagging tail than a protective stance.

It’s also worth noting that some Irish Setters can exhibit a stubborn streak, which can present challenges during training. Consistency, patience, and positive reinforcement are key when working with this breed to maintain their focus and motivation. It is also essential to start socialization and training early in their life to help them develop into well-mannered and confident adults.

two irish setters sitting side by side on a sidewalk
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Ideal Environment

Ideal Owner

The ideal environment for an Irish Setter is one that caters to their energetic and social nature, providing ample opportunities for both physical exercise and mental stimulation. These dogs thrive in active households with pet parents who are willing to dedicate time and effort to engage them in various activities, ensuring their physical and emotional well-being.

This breed enjoys the company of other pets and generally gets along well with other dogs. Their relatively low prey drive makes them more likely to coexist peacefully with smaller animals like cats, provided they are properly socialized from an early age. Introducing them gradually and under supervision to other pets in the household will help ensure a harmonious relationship.

Physical Environment

Irish Setters can adapt well to different living situations, including urban apartments and suburban homes, as long as they have access to outdoor spaces for play and exercise.

A house with a securely fenced yard is a bonus, as it allows them to safely romp around and burn off excess energy. However, if a yard is not available, regular visits to dog parks or engaging in outdoor activities such as hiking or jogging will help keep them happy and healthy.

Climate Adaptability

In terms of climate adaptability, Irish Setters can manage in both cold and hot weather, but some precautions should be taken to ensure their comfort and safety. Their medium-length coat provides some insulation against the cold, but they are not suited to live outdoors in extreme temperatures.

During colder months, it’s essential to monitor them closely and limit their time outside, especially when temperatures drop below freezing. Providing them with a warm and cozy space indoors will help protect them from the harsh elements.

Conversely, in hot climates, Irish Setters can be prone to overheating due to their energy levels and enthusiasm for activity. You should be mindful of this and avoid exercising your Irish Setter during the hottest parts of the day. Instead, opt for early morning or evening walks when temperatures are cooler. It’s also crucial to provide them with plenty of fresh water and shade to prevent heatstroke.

irish setter walking on a leash in a park
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Grooming

The Irish Setter’s stunning coat and elegant appearance require regular grooming to keep them looking their best and to maintain their overall health. While their grooming needs are not overly demanding, a consistent routine is essential to prevent matting, tangling, and other issues that may arise from neglect.

Coat Care

One of the primary grooming tasks for an Irish Setter is brushing their coat. Their medium-length, silky hair is prone to tangles and mats, especially in the areas with feathering, such as the ears, chest, belly, back of the legs, and tail.

It is recommended to brush their coat at least two to three times per week using a slicker brush or a pin brush. This will help remove loose hair, prevent matting, and distribute the natural oils produced by their skin, giving their coat a healthy shine.

In addition to regular brushing, an Irish Setter’s coat may require occasional trimming to keep it neat and tidy. This can be done using thinning shears or scissors, focusing on areas where the hair tends to grow longer, such as around the ears, paws, and tail.

If you are not comfortable trimming your dog’s coat yourself, you may choose to enlist the help of a professional groomer every few months to keep their coat in top condition.

Bathing is another important aspect of an Irish Setter’s grooming routine. These dogs should be bathed every six to eight weeks, or more frequently if they get dirty from outdoor activities.

Use a gentle dog shampoo that is specifically formulated for their coat type to avoid stripping the natural oils from their skin. Be sure to rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of shampoo, as any residue can cause skin irritation.

Dental Care

Dental care is crucial for maintaining the overall health of your Irish Setter. Regularly brushing their teeth with dog-specific toothpaste can help prevent tartar buildup, gum disease, and bad breath.

Ideally, you should brush your dog’s teeth daily, or at least two to three times per week. Providing dental chews and toys can also help promote good oral hygiene.

Nail Trimming

Nail care is another essential aspect of grooming for an Irish Setter. Their nails should be trimmed every three to four weeks, depending on how quickly they grow. Long nails can cause discomfort and lead to problems with their gait and posture.

Use a pair of dog nail clippers or a grinder to trim the nails, being careful not to cut into the quick, which can be painful and cause bleeding. If you are unsure about trimming your dog’s nails yourself, a professional groomer or veterinarian can assist you.

Ear Care

Lastly, it’s important to check your Irish Setter’s ears regularly for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, or a foul odor. Clean their ears as needed with a gentle dog ear cleaner and a cotton ball or soft cloth, taking care not to insert anything deep into the ear canal. Regularly checking and cleaning their ears can help prevent ear infections and maintain their overall health.

irish setter running in an open field
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Exercise

The Irish Setter is an energetic and athletic breed that requires a significant amount of daily exercise to keep them physically fit and mentally stimulated. As a breed originally developed for hunting, they possess a natural drive for activity and exploration, which needs to be channeled through regular exercise and engagement.

Exercise Amount & Types

A minimum of one hour of daily exercise is recommended for Irish Setters, although they will happily participate in more if given the opportunity. This can include brisk walks, jogging, or off-leash playtime in a securely fenced area.

Keep in mind that their energy levels may vary depending on their age and individual disposition; younger dogs may require more exercise, while older dogs may need a more moderate approach.

In addition to walks and playtime, Irish Setters can benefit from participating in structured activities that tap into their natural instincts and intelligence. They excel in various dog sports, such as obedience, agility, flyball, and tracking, which not only provide physical exercise but also challenge their minds and strengthen the bond between them and their owners.

Dog Sports

Irish Setters are also excellent candidates for participation in dog competitions. Their grace, beauty, and athleticism make them stand out in show rings, while their intelligence and trainability can help them succeed in competitive obedience or other performance events.

Exercise Precautions

When exercising your Irish Setter, it’s essential to consider their safety and well-being. Always ensure they have access to fresh water during and after exercise, especially in hot weather, to prevent dehydration and overheating. Be mindful of the surfaces they are running or walking on, as rough or hot pavement can damage their paw pads.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that puppies and young dogs should not be over-exercised, as excessive activity can put strain on their developing joints and bones.

irish setter's face close up
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Training

Training is an essential aspect of raising a well-mannered and confident Irish Setter. As intelligent and eager-to-please dogs, they have the potential to excel in various training disciplines, provided they receive consistent guidance and positive reinforcement.

Irish Setters are generally considered to be highly trainable due to their intelligence and desire to please their owners. However, they can sometimes exhibit a stubborn or independent streak, which may present challenges during training sessions. To overcome this, it is crucial to establish yourself as a patient and consistent leader, using gentle but firm methods to guide them through each training task.

Positive reinforcement is the most effective approach when training an Irish Setter. This involves rewarding them with praise, treats, or playtime whenever they perform a desired behavior, reinforcing the idea that good behavior leads to positive outcomes. Avoid harsh training methods or punishment, as these can damage the bond between you and your dog and may even result in fear or aggression.

Socialization should begin early in your Irish Setter’s life to ensure they develop into well-adjusted and confident adults. Expose them to a variety of people, animals, sights, sounds, and environments from a young age, taking care to keep these experiences positive and enjoyable.

Proper socialization will help them learn to navigate new situations with ease and reduce the likelihood of anxiety or fear-based behaviors.

In addition to basic obedience training, Irish Setters can also excel in more advanced training disciplines, such as agility, tracking, or competitive obedience. These activities not only provide mental stimulation but also strengthen the bond between you and your dog, as you work together towards a common goal.

Keep in mind that Irish Setters are prone to boredom, which can lead to unwanted behaviors if they are not mentally engaged. To prevent this, vary your training sessions by introducing new commands or challenges regularly, and make sure to keep the sessions short and fun to maintain their interest and enthusiasm.

three irish setters lying down side by side on grass
Photo: Kurt Pas/Getty Images

Diet & Nutrition 

A balanced and nutritious diet is essential for maintaining the health and well-being of an Irish Setter. It is important to choose a high-quality dog food that meets their specific dietary needs and supports their active lifestyle.

What to Feed & How Much

Look for products that follow the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) guidelines, as these ensure that the food contains the necessary nutrients and proportions for your dog’s overall health.

There are various types of dog food available, including dry kibble, wet food, and raw food diets. Each type has its advantages and drawbacks, so it’s essential to choose the one that best suits your Irish Setter’s individual needs and preferences. When selecting dog food, consider factors such as the dog’s age, activity level, and any specific dietary requirements or sensitivities.

The amount of food you feed your Irish Setter will depend on their age, weight, and activity level. Puppies generally require more frequent meals, often three to four times a day, to support their rapid growth and development.

As they grow older and reach adulthood, they can transition to two meals per day. Be sure to consult the feeding guidelines provided on the dog food packaging or consult with your veterinarian to determine the appropriate portion size for your dog.

It’s essential to monitor your Irish Setter’s weight and body condition regularly, as obesity can lead to various health issues, such as joint problems and heart disease. Adjust their food intake accordingly if you notice any changes in their weight or body condition. Regular exercise will also help keep them in optimal shape.

Treats

Treats can be a valuable tool for training and rewarding good behavior but should be given sparingly to avoid overfeeding. Choose healthy, low-calorie options and account for the treats in your dog’s daily caloric intake to prevent weight gain.

Water

Water is an essential aspect of your Irish Setter’s diet and overall health. Ensure they always have access to clean, fresh water, particularly during and after exercise, to prevent dehydration. Be mindful of their water intake, as sudden changes can indicate potential health issues.

irish setter by the sea on a sunny day
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Health

Irish Setters are generally healthy dogs with a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years. However, like all breeds, they can be prone to certain health issues. Being aware of these potential problems and taking preventive measures can help ensure your Irish Setter leads a long and healthy life.

Some common health issues associated with the breed include:

Hip Dysplasia: This is a genetic condition in which the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to arthritis and joint pain. Regular veterinary check-ups and maintaining a healthy weight can help manage this condition.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): PRA is an eye disorder that causes gradual vision loss, eventually leading to blindness. Responsible breeding practices can help reduce the risk of this hereditary condition.

Hypothyroidism: This is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones, leading to weight gain, lethargy, and skin issues. A proper diet and medication prescribed by a veterinarian can help manage this condition.

Epilepsy: Irish Setters can be prone to seizures caused by epilepsy. Regular veterinary care and medication can help manage and control the frequency of seizures.

Bloat (Gastric Torsion): This is a life-threatening condition in which the stomach fills with air and twists on itself, cutting off blood circulation. Feeding smaller meals throughout the day and avoiding vigorous exercise immediately after eating can help reduce the risk of bloat.

A healthy diet, regular veterinary check-ups, and vaccinations are essential for maintaining your Irish Setter’s overall health. Provide a balanced and nutritious diet tailored to their specific needs, considering factors such as age, activity level, and any special dietary requirements.

Regular veterinary visits will help monitor their health, detect any potential issues early on, and ensure they receive the necessary vaccinations to protect them from various diseases.

irish setter catching a frisbee
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History

The Irish Setter, known for its striking red coat and graceful stature, has a rich history that dates back several centuries. Originating in Ireland, this breed was initially developed as a hunting companion, prized for its exceptional abilities in tracking and retrieving game birds.

The Irish Setter’s ancestry can be traced to a combination of various breeds, including the Irish Water Spaniel, English Setter, Gordon Setter, and possibly the Pointer.

In the early days, Irish Setters were not solely bred for their distinctive red coat. In fact, they were often found in a variety of colors, including red and white or even solid white. However, as the breed gained popularity, the solid red coat became increasingly desirable, and breeders began selectively breeding for this trait. By the 19th century, the iconic red coat had become the hallmark of the breed.

The Irish Setter’s hunting prowess and elegant appearance quickly caught the attention of dog enthusiasts beyond Ireland’s borders, and by the mid-1800s, the breed had made its way to the United States.

The breed’s popularity grew steadily, and in 1878, the Irish Setter was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). This marked the beginning of a long and illustrious history for the breed in the United States.

Throughout the years, the Irish Setter has been celebrated not only for its hunting abilities but also for its success in the show ring. The breed’s striking coat, graceful movement, and friendly demeanor have made it a favorite among dog show enthusiasts.

In addition to their success in conformation events, Irish Setters have also excelled in various performance events such as obedience, agility, and field trials, showcasing their intelligence and versatility.

The breed’s popularity in the United States reached its peak in the 1960s and 1970s, fueled in part by their presence in popular culture.

One notable example is the series of novels and films featuring “Big Red,” a courageous and loyal Irish Setter who captured the hearts of audiences worldwide. The breed’s popularity was further bolstered by the success of several high-profile show dogs, including the legendary Ch. Milson O’Boy, who became the first Irish Setter to win Best in Show at the prestigious Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in 1952.

In recent years, the breed’s prominence in popular culture has waned somewhat, but the Irish Setter remains a beloved companion for many dog enthusiasts. Their friendly and outgoing nature, combined with their striking appearance and athletic abilities, make them well-suited for a variety of roles, from hunting partners to family pets.

Parent Club

The Irish Setter Club of America (ISCA) is the official parent club for Irish Setters in the United States. Founded in 1945, the club is dedicated to promoting and preserving the breed through various activities, including conformation shows, performance events, and educational programs.

ISCA also provides resources and support to Irish Setter owners and enthusiasts. To learn more about the club and its activities, visit their website here.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed.

It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities. Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

You can check the Irish Setter’s breed standard set by the American Kennel Club (AKC) here.

irish setter puppy with its tongue out
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Acquiring

When considering acquiring an Irish Setter, it’s essential to prepare for the responsibility of owning this active and intelligent breed. Research the breed thoroughly to ensure it’s the right fit for your lifestyle and be prepared to provide regular exercise, training, and socialization.

Instead of purchasing a puppy from a breeder, consider rescuing an Irish Setter in need of a loving home. Many dogs are waiting for their forever families in rescue organizations and shelters. The American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Irish Setter Club of America (ISCA) can assist you in finding rescue groups and available dogs within your area.

Before bringing your new Irish Setter home, prepare a comfortable space for them with a bed, toys, and any necessary supplies. Remember that patience, love, and understanding will go a long way in helping your new companion adjust to their new home and become a cherished member of your family.

FAQs

Are Irish Setters good family dogs?

Yes, Irish Setters are excellent family dogs. They have a friendly, affectionate, and outgoing nature, which makes them great companions for children and adults alike. However, their high energy levels require regular exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy and well-behaved.

Are Irish Setters the same as Golden Retrievers?

No, Irish Setters and Golden Retrievers are two distinct breeds. While they share some similarities in temperament and their roles as hunting companions, they have different physical appearances, with Irish Setters having a striking red coat and a more slender build compared to the golden coat and stockier build of Golden Retrievers.

Do Irish Setters bark a lot?

Irish Setters are moderately vocal dogs. They may bark to alert their owners of strangers or unusual events, but they are not known to be excessive barkers. Proper training and socialization from an early age can help manage any unwanted barking behaviors.

How intelligent are Irish Setters?

Irish Setters are highly intelligent dogs. They learn quickly and excel in various training disciplines, such as obedience, agility, and field trials. Their intelligence also means they require mental stimulation to prevent boredom, which can lead to destructive behaviors.

How much exercise do Irish Setters need?

Irish Setters are an active and energetic breed that requires regular exercise to stay healthy and happy. They enjoy activities such as long walks, hiking, running, and playing fetch. Aim for at least one hour of physical activity each day to keep your Irish Setter in good shape.

Are Irish Setters prone to any health issues?

Like all breeds, Irish Setters can be susceptible to certain health issues, including hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), hypothyroidism, epilepsy, and bloat. Regular veterinary check-ups, a healthy diet, and appropriate exercise can help manage or prevent these conditions.

Do Irish Setters require a lot of grooming?

Irish Setters have a medium-length, silky coat that requires regular grooming to maintain its appearance and prevent matting. It’s recommended to brush their coat at least twice a week and trim the hair around their ears, feet, and tail as needed. Regular bathing and nail trimming are also essential for maintaining their overall hygiene and health.

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