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Irish Setter Dog Breed Information: Facts, Traits, Pictures & More

Are you thinking an Irish Setter might be the perfect dog breed for your family? Find out all you need to know about this amazing breed, including puppy prices, nutrition needs, and more, before making your final decision!

Emma Braby Picture

Last Updated: June 8, 2021 | 15 min read

Irish Setter with Tongue Out

The Irish Setter is a gun dog from, you guessed it, Ireland. Setters are instantly recognizable with their luxurious flame-colored coats and overall elegance. While they aren’t the most popular breed, they are friendly, affectionate, and fun. This makes the Irish Setter an ideal companion for active families, with or without children.

Irish Setters also get along very well with other dogs and strangers, and they are adaptable to most surroundings. So, what’s not to like? Well, just like all dogs, this isn’t the perfect canine companion for everyone. They are well known to have higher energy levels and be a little needier than other breeds.

In this article, you’ll learn all about the Irish Setter, including their exercise needs, temperaments, to their ideal living arrangements. You’ll also find out what it takes to look after that beautiful coat. Let’s jump in and find out if this is the perfect dog breed for you and your family!

Breed Overview
    • weight iconWeight55-70 pounds
    • height iconHeight25-28 inches
    • lifespan iconLifespan12-15 years
    • color iconColorsRed, Chestnut, Mahogany
  • Child Friendliness
  • Canine Friendliness
  • Training Difficulty
  • Grooming Upkeep
  • Breed Health
  • Exercise Needs
  • Puppy Costs

History

Red Setter Up Close
The breed is well known for their skills as a hunting companion.

The Irish Setter, also commonly known as the Red Setter, is an aristocratic gun dog. Irish hunters wanted to create a gun dog who would cover the wide flat countryside of Emerald Island, where he specifically originates from. It is believed that English Setters, Spaniels, Pointers, and Gordon Setters were used in his creation. The first Red Setters were a mixture of white and red, but the 19th century saw a shift towards the preference of red.

He locates gamebirds using his keen sense of smell, and he ‘sets’ on his belly. He lowers his body and crouches to the ground to indicate to his master that he has found birds. Once his master had shot the quarry, he collects it for him. He is still a top choice for hunters, but his fun and gentle nature is now proving to be a big hit with families.

The first Irish Setter arrived in America in 1875. Between 1875 and 1948, 760 dogs became conformation champions, compared to just 5 in the field ring. Breed fanciers became concerned that more emphasis was put on his red coat over his ability to hunt. And when speaking to breeders, you’ll often find that they will say they breed conformation Setters or field Setters. And for those of you wondering, we’ll run you through the differences in the appearance section.

Famous Red Setters include King Timahoe, who was President Richard Nixon’s dog while in office. And the well-known novel by Jim Kjelgaard, ‘Big Red,’ focused on the relationship between a young boy called Danny and his new Irish Setter companion called Red. Eleven Irish Setters have won the Westminster Kennel Club’s Sporting Group competition, bringing them into the spotlight.

Temperament

Red Setter Laying Down
Irish Setters have an extremely easy-going attitude and absolutely love every one.

The Irish Setter is a fun-loving dog who always has a smile on his face. Even on the gloomiest of Mondays, this pup will be beaming! His contagious happy spirit is what captures the heart of breed enthusiasts. Feeling gloomy? He’ll give you a cuddle. Can’t be bothered to get out of bed? He’ll make it worth your while. And he’s great for the kids who always want to play with him.

Talking of children, this breed loves them! He makes an ideal canine companion for children of any age. Of course, you always need to supervise any dog with a child, but he will match their strength in play for the perfect partnership. Gentle and loving, he will nap by them when they snooze and play when they want to. His great nature makes him the ideal candidate for mixing him with other breeds, creating popular Irish Setter mixes.

He is slightly aloof with strangers who come into his territory, but only enough to bark and make you aware. Setters don’t have any guard dog genes, but they can make a great watchdog. He will warm up to visitors after a while. And if the regular delivery person shows him some love, he’ll wait by the gate for him most days with that gorgeous smile of his. Overall, he is a confident canine.

He is a sweet-natured dog who, some would say, has the whole package. He is very affectionate and loves nothing more than joining you on the sofa for a cuddle. This also leads to the next point of him being a sensitive dog. But you best be a dogs-on-the-sofa kinda family because he will not settle for the floor. He is a cuddle bug for sure.

Just like most other gun dogs, he craves the companionship of his master. This is what makes him such a trainable and effective partner. But he is also the same in the home. He hates to be left in his own company and will follow you everywhere. This makes him a needy dog, and sometimes sensitive doggo, who needs a lot of attention. Not all dog lovers like this trait. So you need to think about whether you are a clingy canine lover or an independent doggo type person.

Size & Appearance

Red Coated Dog Exercising in Snow
Red Setters are large dogs, but females will be a little smaller.

The Irish Setter is a large-sized dog, who weighs in at 60 to 70 pounds. According to their breed standard, females’ ideal weight is 60 pounds, and the perfect weight for males is 70 pounds. Females are expected to reach around 25 inches, from paw to shoulder. And males are projected to measure 27 inches. He is substantial but very elegant in his build.

This pup does not look like your typical hunting dog in the sense that he is very pretty. Many artists have described the breed as the most beautiful of all canines. He is longer than he is tall, and his topline is level. You can see the Spaniel in his domed head shape and long, low set ears. He has a long neck, a long tail, and a deep chest to assist in his elegant hunting.

There are two different looks in the Red Setter community. This was born as a result of early dogs being bred to confirmation, or breed standard, perfection. Rather than for their fielding ability. Many Irish fanciers were saddened by this and began concentrating on their ability rather than looks.

Those bred for conformation purposes will be close to the proportions set in the breed standard. This same process has happened for other breeds, like the Lab, which created bench and field versions. Dogs produced for hunting purposes tend to be much lighter and sleeker. If this is important to you, be sure to discuss it with your breeder.

Coat & Colors

Red Coated Male Dog Outdoors
The breed’s red coat is their most distinguishing feature.

The Irish Setter’s coat is his most recognizable and beautiful feature. It is moderate in length and flat and fine across his body. The hair on his head and forelegs is naturally short, and to the rear, it gets longer. The hair on his ears is feathered and silky, much like that of a Spaniels. And the fringe on his tail is moderately long and tapers. Ideally, the feathered hair should be as straight as possible, rather than waved or crimped. If you want to show your Irish, trim his coat to showcase his lean head and neck.

The breed has three color choices, which are simply different shades of rich red. These are chestnut, mahogany, and red. If they could talk, they would tell you that redheads definitely have more fun! Some dogs will have a splash of white on their chest, throat, or toes. Or a narrow central white streak on his head. Splashes of white are less common than 100% red. Some are born with black on their coat, but unfortunately, this is a disqualification in the show ring.

Many people think that the Irish, English, and Gordon Setters are the same Setter breed, but simply with different coat colors. But they are all separate breeds with their own histories and purposes. The ‘undesirable’ black color comes from the Gordon gene pool, and the white comes from the English gene pool. The color of his coat does not affect his personality in any way. It’s also a common misbelief that the Red Golden Retriever is actually a dog with more Irish Setter influence, which simply isn’t the case.

Exercise Requirements

Setter Outdoors in Snow
If you plan to adopt a Setter, make sure you have plenty of time dedicated to proper exercise.

The Irish Setter is a high-energy dog, which is expected given his hunting dog breed purpose. So, if you’re looking for a couch potato canine to join you, you need to look at another breed altogether. If you’re looking for an adventurous and energetic exercise partner, this pup could be the one! He needs at least an hour of exercise every day.

Without adequate exercise, this pup can become unhappy and very destructive. Miles apart from the fun-loving and good-natured dog he is usually. He will destroy your best furniture in minutes if you keep him locked up or lonely. So, if you want a harmonious relationship with this redhead, you need to be able to exercise him adequately. No excuses! And coming from Ireland, he isn’t afraid of rain or getting his hair wet.

It’s safe to say that this breed loves the countryside and is a big fan of woodland walkies. But if it’s with you, he is happy to do anything. From jogging to agility courses, flyball to frisbee, he is pretty good at everything he puts his paw to. Just make sure that as a pup, his exercise is not too impactive on his joints. Look for a mixture of different activities to take part in to prevent him from becoming bored. Why not take a look at the Irish Setter Club of America page, where they list hunting championships and other exciting events that you, and your Irish, can join.

He is an intelligent dog, and not only is his body active, so is his brain. This means you need to stimulate his mind both with interactive fun and solo play between exercise sessions. For interactive games, invest in balls and frisbees for him to fetch – he loves to fetch objects! And for solo play, invest in toys for intelligent dogs, such as treat dispensing puzzles, as well as chew toys.

Living Conditions

Red Coated Dog Sleeping on Couch
Irish Setters can survive in a variety of different living conditions.

His is suited to apartment living, but only if it is ground floor and has access to a yard. This breed needs access to the outdoors and fresh air to be happy. His high prey drive means his yard must be secured because he will chase after birds, cats, and cars. Although he is technically a large dog, he is not chunky like a Mastiff, so his home doesn’t have to be particularly large. He won’t realize he is missing until he really is!

The sweet-natured Irish Setter is suited to families with younger or older children. Or young couples and retired individuals. Just as long as they are there for him, he is quite adaptable to your family dynamics. He also loves other animals in the home. He can differentiate between your cat and the neighbors! Just no birds or chickens, please. He likes the company of other dogs as long as he is socialized well as a pup.

Training

Young Red Coated Dog Outside
The breed is well known for their ease of training and eagerness to please.

The Irish Setter is a very intelligent dog, and he is eager to please his master. This means that he is highly trainable. But, to make him as obedient as possible, start training early. Positive reinforcement training is the best way to teach this pup. As overly harsh methods will only make him shy away from you. Objects such as balls and frisbees are likely to motivate him the most.

Working with a reputable breeder can go a long way to ensuring your puppy is off to the best start regarding his training. They will socialize him from day one by ensuring that he stays with his littermates and mom. It is your job to continue his socialization when you get home. Mix him with as many new dogs and people as possible and different sights and sounds to build his confidence. As long as he is socialized well as a pup, he should grow into the polite pup we all know and love.

It’s common advice to crate train anxious pups. Even if he isn’t nervous as a puppy, he might grow into an anxious adult. So, be sure to invest in a crate made for more anxious pups before you get him home. Spend some time researching crate training, and he should take to it like a duck to water. Dogs naturally crave shelter, and comfy beds and blankets will make him less anxious when you have to leave him.

His high prey drive means that you really need to work on his recall. However, like all dogs with a high prey drive, he will often choose to follow the scent rather than your orders. He is trainable, and some Setter owners find that they can train their dog to come back on their orders. But most do not let their dogs off-leash. The choice is yours, but start off with a long training leash before trying it out for real!

Health

Healthy Irish Setter in Field
The breed has few genetic health conditions, and can easily live longer than 12 years if properly cared for.

The Irish Setter is a reasonably healthy dog breed. This is highlighted by his 12 to 15-year lifespan, which is great for a dog of his size. To ensure that he stays with you for this long, you need to do everything you can to keep him fit and healthy. This includes feeding him the best nutrition that you can afford and exercising him well. No matter how much he flutters his long lashes at you, he does need to go to the vest. So be sure to keep up to date with vet visits.

Like all purebred dogs, they are prone to certain health concerns more so than others. Although this doesn’t mean that they will not suffer from other conditions, the below conditions are important to read up on for all Irish moms and dads. Learn about the symptoms to look out for, and remember that early detection is crucial for his health.

Hip Dysplasia

This is a common concern in most large dog breeds. Breeders should breed dogs with good hip scores to lower the risk. Large dogs’ bones grow at a quicker rate than smaller dogs. And this rapid growth causes uneven bone development, causing additional wear, tear, and pain. If left untreated, it can result in arthritis. If your Irish is struggling with mobility in his rear legs, it’s time to see the vets.

Eye Conditions

The Irish Setter is prone to various eye concerns. The most common is progressive retinal atrophy, and this is the gradual deterioration of his retina. And left untreated, it can lead to total blindness. This can be picked up long before a dog’s eyesight is affected, which is why it is important to regularly visit your vets.

Hypothyroidism

This is caused by low hormone levels produced by the thyroid gland. It has several symptoms, such as lethargy, infertility, weight gain, mental dullness, and brittle hair. Although it is not curable, it can be treated with daily medication. Dogs with the condition should not be bred.

Epilepsy

This affects the Irish Setter breed and can cause mild through to severe seizures. It can be inherited, caused by brain injuries, infections, metabolic disorders, and sometimes an unknown cause. Shaking, staggering, hiding, or frantic running are signs that your Irish is experiencing a seizure, and he’ll need immediate veterinary attention. With the right management, dogs can lead normal lives.

Nutrition

Hungry Setter Dog Outdoors
High-quality nutrition is important for every breed, and Irish Setters are no different.

The Irish Setter will consume between two and three cups of kibble every day. This breed is known for having a sensitive stomach, so find a dog food that’s recommended specifically for Irish Setters. At maturity, these dogs will be large, so it’s important to feed him a kibble designed specifically for large breed dogs. This is especially important in puppyhood, as it helps to control his rapid bone growth thanks to specific nutrition.

Look for real meats, meat meals, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals as part of a well-balanced diet. Omega fatty acids are also crucial because they add a multitude of benefits for his health. From increased vitamin absorption to better cognitive function and joint support, they are essential. It’ll also nourish his skin and coat and help him to look his best.

He is a deep-chested breed, which means he is at higher risk of gastric torsion, commonly known as bloat. To reduce the chances of bloat, divide his daily food allowance into at least two meals a day. Avoid exercise immediately before or after eating, as this also increases the chance of his stomach twisting. It is a life-threatening disease that needs immediate treatment, so make sure that you learn about bloat and the associated symptoms to look out for.

Grooming

Long Haired Red Dog Getting Groomed
Expect to spend plenty of time grooming if you adopt this breed.

The Irish Setter’s moderately long coat takes a bit more effort than the average dog coat. Use a soft-bristle or pin brush to comb his long hair most days. Or at least three times a week. This will prevent matting and tangles, as well as remove dead hair and dirt. It’ll also keep him looking his best. He isn’t a particularly heavy shedder, but you will definitely want to brush him every day to manage his seasonal shedding.

Your Irish Setter will only need an occasional bath, with one every three months or so being required. Use a moisturizing doggy shampoo to keep his locks supple, shiny, and looking their fiery best. Do not wash him any more than this unless he rolls in muck because it will irritate his skin. As well as ruining his natural coat oils leaving his hair dull.

Dogs with long ears such as the Setter are prone to ear infections because they are a great spot for bacteria to do their thing. As you groom him, check his ears for signs of infection or odor. Wipe them out weekly with a cotton bud and an ear cleaning product. Brush his teeth twice weekly, too, using a doggy toothpaste to avoid periodontal diseases. Getting him used to every part of his grooming schedule from a young age will make everything much easier.

Breeders & Puppy Costs

Two Red Coated Puppies in Field
Expect to pay around $1,200 and up for a purebred puppy from a breeder.

The Irish Setter is an unusual dog breed who finds himself in the top 80 dog breeds in America. Depending on where you live, you may have to travel to find a good quality breeder. But a healthy and happy red is better than an unhealthy one, so it’s worth the extra effort. Good quality breeders will only breed healthy dogs, and they will socialize and raise their puppies with love.

Always meet a breeder and the pups before making any commitment, as well as seeing their health certificates. A great place to start your search for an Irish puppy is with the AKC’s Irish Setter breeder list. The average price of a purebred puppy is around $1,200 and up. If you find a puppy for much less than this price, be warned! They are likely to be an irresponsible breeder, or worse, part of a puppy mill.

You also need to remember the other costs associated with being a dog mom or dad. On top of the initial puppy price, you need to buy everything he needs, from bowls to beds, crates to collars, toys to treats, and everything else. Ongoing costs such as food, medical treatment, and insurance also come at a price too. So, please factor these into your decision-making process.

Rescues & Shelters

Senior Irish Setter Dog
If you are open to adoption, consider a rescue dog rather than a puppy.

You also have the option of adopting an Irish Setter from a rescue shelter. With so many dogs waiting for their forever homes, it should always be a consideration. Head out to your local rescue shelters and look for your Irish soulmate. Speak to the staff there who can talk you through the adoption process. Often the price of adopting a rescue dog is much lower than the price of a puppy from a breeder.

Alternatively, you can contact the Irish Setter Club of America. They list contact details for the volunteers working hard to rehome breed-specific rescue dogs across America. It outlines the adoption process step by step, so it couldn’t be easier! Other organizations, such as Save Your Setters, also have Setters listed and waiting for adoption.

As Family Pets

  • The Irish Setter is a sweet dog that’s affectionate with its family.
  • Setters are great with adults, children, and other family pets.
  • Irish Setters hate to be left alone and will become your second shadow.
  • He is very active and needs at least one hour of intense daily exercise.
  • He also needs lots of mental stimulation throughout the day.
  • Stimulation can be achieved through interactive playtime and solo toy play.
  • Setters are social pups and love a good afternoon at the dog park
  • With early training, he can be a very obedient dog.
  • They have a high prey drive and need a secured yard for their safety.
  • He is adaptable to his home space, but he needs a private yard to relax in.

Final Thoughts

The Irish Setter is an unusual dog breed, but one who is strikingly beautiful. It’s hard to see why he isn’t more popular than he is, but we think it’s his high exercise needs that might put some families off. As long as you can offer him the intense amount of activity that he needs and company throughout the day, he will make a wonderful family pet.

He is a sweet pup who is outgoing, fun, and a pleasure to be around. Hopefully, after reading this guide, we have given you all the answers to your Irish questions. Like many before you, bringing an Irish Setter into your life might be the best decision you’ll ever make. And he could also be your pot of red-gold at the end of the rainbow.

Leave a Comment

4 Comments

Danny Daniel

April 7, 2021 at 8:50 pm

We are with our fourth Irish Setter, two show setters, and two field setters. We prefer field setters simply because they are much easier to keep their coat in shape. Molly is now 8 1;2 years old and is our most beautiful of them all. Your article on setters is really good and very accurately describes the setter.

Great hunters and equally good lovers. Molly will alert us to anything that changes in our environment inside or out. Saved us one night when she was three when someone tried to break into our home. She jumped out of our bed barking as we had never heard. Intruders took off running. Our vote puts Irish Setters as the very best dogs ever.

Kelly Wilson

April 12, 2021 at 6:30 pm

Hi Danny! Thank you for taking the time to stop by and share your experience with our readers. My husband had a Setter growing up, and they are truly special dogs. I'm quite sure we will end up with another someday. I appreciate your reply and thanks for your feedback!

Terrie Matthes

May 3, 2021 at 8:39 pm

We had a wonderful senior Irish Setter that died. We have been looking for an Irish Setter rescue but can't find one. They are a wonderful, sweet breed and we miss our pal Russell.

Kelly Wilson

May 4, 2021 at 12:49 pm

Hi Terrie! I'm very sorry for your loss, it's always hard when a dog crosses over the rainbow bridge. Good luck in your search for a new canine companion!