Irish Setters were originally bred as ace hunting dogs in their namesake country, and today they continue to be popular sporting dogs. They also make excellent family dogs, beloved for their infectious joyfulness and friendly temperament. This breed will greet everyone as a long-lost friend. Irish Setters are best suited to families who have the energy and time to keep them busy; this breed gets into mischief when bored. They require a lot of daily exercise to keep them healthy and manage their rambunctiousness. It's important to keep them on leash and in a well-secured backyard, because this adventuresome dog will set off in search of excitement if given the chance.
Irish Setters are also called Red Setters and Irish Red Setters. Early in their history, they were called Modder Rhu (Red Dog), in Gaelic.
The Irish Setter's silky coat is medium length over most of their body, but is short and fine on their head and the front of their forelegs. They have luxurious feathering on their ears, belly, chest, tail, back of the forelegs, and rear thighs. The coat color is a deep chestnut red or mahogany, and may have small white markings on the chest, toes, head or neck.
Average Height: 22.5-26 inches
Male: approximately 70 pounds
Female: approximately 60 pounds
Breed Standard & History
Irish Setters have an athletic, but refined build. Their noble profile is enhanced by the sheen on their rich red coat. The breed is a fast and focused hunter in the field, where they move with grace and a sense of purpose. Irish Setters are smart dogs who love having work to do at the side of their owners. They are loving and exuberant at home, and will play for as long as their people are willing.
Developed in Ireland in the 1700s, the Irish Setter is likely a combination of English setters, spaniels, Gordon Setters, and pointers, among other breeds. Originally, they were a mix of red and white, but were eventually bred to favor the solid mahogany color after several Irish aristocrats made it popular.
Irish Setters were imported to the US in the late 1800s, where they quickly became a star in the show ring and were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1878. Their show success was so great that Field and Stream called for greater focus on the Irish Setter's sporting dog roots. Today, you can find smaller Irish Setters bred specifically for the field.
The breed gained widespread popularity in the 1970s, when President Richard Nixon's Irish Setter, King Timahoe, roamed the White House, and an Irish Setter was featured in a book and movie called Big Red.
AKC Breed Category
Irish Setters are joyful, loving dogs whose passion in life is spending time with their families.
Are Irish Setters Good with Kids? Yes. It's 'the more the merrier' for Irish Setters, so they love having kids to play with. They should be watched closely when playing with young kids so they don't knock the children over in their exuberance.
(Note: Every dog has a unique personality and distinct life experiences that affect his disposition. As a rule, adults should always supervise playdates between kids and their four-legged friends.)
Are Irish Setters Good with Other Pets? The Irish Setter's friendliness extends to any cats or other dogs they live with, as well as dogs down at the dog park.
Irish Setters are not generally protective; they welcome everyone into their territory with wagging tails.
Are Irish Setters Good Guard Dogs? Irish Setters consider everyone a friend, so they don't make effective guard dogs. They also don't tend to bark excessively, unless they develop nuisance barking due to boredom and separation anxiety.
Irish Setters are very energetic and are active and playful through most of the day.
- They need a lot of exercise.
- They benefit from a large, securely fenced yard where they can run and play.
- Prone to separation anxiety.
- They can be stubborn.
- Need to be kept busy or they can get into mischief.
- Don't adapt well to being left alone.
Irish Setters should live indoors close to their families, which is their favorite place to be. Their coats need regular brushing to keep shedding fur under control. Whenever you are home, they will follow you around to keep you company.
Irish Setters benefit from having a large yard where they can run around and play, though they shouldn't be left alone outside for long. They are inquisitive and will try to find a way out to explore. Beyond the yard, they should be taken for long walks, hikes, runs, or days in the field.
Irish Setters need an hour or more of vigorous exercise each day. Several play sessions, agility training, or hunting will meet their exercise requirements.
This sporting breed has the stamina to spend the entire day in the field.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: Healthy, grown Irish Setters are excellent running partners. They will run by your side or trot alongside your bicycle for five miles and more.
- Hiking Miles: Irish Setters make amiable companions on hikes of eight miles and more. They don't enjoy the cold, so winter hikes are out.
Generally, this breed requires about 2 to 3 cups of good quality dry dog food each day, given over the course of two feedings. This will vary, however, based upon your Irish Setter's activity level and age. Talk to your veterinarian about the optimal diet and quantity of food for your Irish Setter.
Irish Setters can spend an hour or two alone, but they are prone to separation anxiety and destructive behaviors when time alone goes much beyond that. It is best to crate train your Irish setter, so they have a comforting place to rest while you are out. If you work outside the house, enroll your Irish Setter in a doggy daycare so he is not alone for the day.
Health and Grooming
The Irish Setter's glossy coat needs daily brushing to keep it healthy and free from matting. With frequent brushing, they need a bath only every month or two, using a quality dog shampoo, followed by drying with an absorbent dog towel. The Irish Setter's pendant ears should be checked weekly for signs of infection, including redness and an unpleasant odor. Wash their ears gently with a dog-friendly cleanser to prevent dirt build-up that can cause infections. Brush your Irish Setter's teeth several times a week, and trim their nails every month or so to prevent cracking.
Common Health Issues
A number of breed-specific health conditions may affect the Irish Setter, including:
- Panosteitis, a temporary, painful lameness
- Osteochondritis dissecans, a condition in which joint cartilage grows improperly
- Hip dysplasia
- Canine leukocyte, an inherited immune system illness found in the breed
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Gastric torsion
You can minimize serious health concerns in an Irish Setter by purchasing from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
Irish Setters are eager students who will learn the beginner and advanced training quickly, especially when the lessons are changed up frequently and fun, because they can get bored easily. This breed is a little sensitive and responds best to patience and positive reinforcement.
Agility training and dog sports are good outlets for the smart and rambunctious Irish Setter. They love the opportunity to show off their skills and relish spending time outdoors with their people.
Sporting Dog Training
Irish Setters were bred as hunting dogs and excel at field training.
Here are a few commonly asked questions about Irish Setters.
No. Irish Setters shed and, as a result, leave pet dander in your home. Dander is the cause of most pet-related allergies. Frequent grooming can help minimize dander, but will not get rid of it completely.
In the early years of the breed, Irish Setters were admired as hunting dogs with a keen sense of smell, and sharp eyes and pointing ability. However, when they became popular as show dogs, many hunters felt their field skills were being bred out of them. After Field & Stream called attention to the issue in the 1940s, many breeders focused on returning the breed to its hunting roots. Today, this means anyone interested in an Irish Setter gun dog should go to a specialized breeder.
Irish Setters were bred to hunt waterfowl, among other game, so they are good swimmers and usually enjoy the water. Like all dogs, they should be watched over when swimming.