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Labrador Retriever vs. Irish Setter: Breed Differences & Similarities

Can't decide between the Irish Setter and the Labrador Retriever for your next family companion? These two breeds share many similarities, including their size, temperament, and some other traits. But they also have some distinct differences. Let's take a look at which dog breed is better suited for your lifestyle.

Emma Braby Picture

Last Updated: May 15, 2021 | 11 min read

Labrador Retriever vs Irish Setter

The Labrador Retriever and the Irish Setter are both drop-dead gorgeous in their own way. So, whether you are deciding which lucky pooch to invite into your home. Or you’re just here for some cute canine culture. You’ve come to the right place!

In this guide, we will walk through everything you need to know about each of these dog breeds, including their differences and similarities. A glimpse into the future will tell you these guys are more similar than different.

But there are also a few key differences that set them apart. These differences might make one breed better suited to you and your family over the other. Interested in finding out whether we’ll match you with a redhead Setter or a yellow/black/chocolate Lab? Let’s find out!

Breed Comparison

Labrador Retriever

  • Height 21.5-24.5 Inches
  • Weight 55-80 Pounds
  • Tempermanet Friendly, Active, Outgoing
  • Energy High
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 10-12 Years
  • Price $1,000 and Up

Irish Setter

  • Height 25-27 Inches
  • Weight 60-70 Pounds
  • Temperament Active, Outgoing, Sweet-Natured
  • Energy Very High
  • Health Above Average
  • Lifespan 12-15 Years
  • Price $1,200 and Up

Breed History

Taking a look at the history of each breed is an important part of the research process into whether you have chosen the right breed. Understanding why a dog breed was created can often tell you what type of family they need to live with. Both of these guys have a history with hunting, so let’s take a closer look.

Labrador

Brown Dogs by the Water
The Labrador was originally bred to help fishermen in Newfoundland, Canada.

The Labrador Retriever dates back to the 1700s, and he originates from Newfoundland, Canada. He descends from the now-extinct St John’s water dog, with potential Newfoundland blood in him. He was created to assist fishermen and hunters with their catch and quarry on the water. This is why most Labs love water and ducks!

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the Labrador has been America’s favorite dog breed for three decades now! His popularity has also led to many other Lab mixed breeds. Because of the breed longevity, there are also now two distinct versions of the breed.

Labs have also starred in many famous films, such as Old Yeller and Homeward Bound. He’s not just a Hollywood superstar – he has found a lot of success in other canine professions, including assistance, search and rescue, and therapy, to name a few.

Irish Setter

Mahogany Dogs in a Forest
Irish Setters were bred for hunting birds in their homeland of Ireland.

The Irish Setter hails from Ireland, or the Emerald Island as some people call it. He is an aristocratic gun dog created to assist his master effortlessly in hunting the wide and flat countryside. He has English Setter, Spaniel, Pointer, and Gordon Setter blood in him. Setters are called as such because when they locate birds with their sharp sense of smell, they ‘set’ on their belly to indicate their master where the birds are.

He is several centuries old, but the 19th century saw a preference for red dogs. This is why Irish Setters are also referred to as Red Setters, and now always red in color.

He is much rarer than the Lab, and he usually finds himself ranked between the 70th and 80th most popular dog breed. Former President Nixon was a fan of Reds and had his own named King Timahoe. King Timahoe famously stole a lick of the President’s frosted birthday cake on camera – sneaky!

Appearance

Handsome Dogs Standing in Sunlight
These two breeds differ in appearance through color, coat texture, and overall stature.

Both dog breeds are quite easy to tell apart. Their most distinctive feature is their coat, which is the biggest giveaway between the two breeds.

Labradors have the choice of three coat colors, black, brown, and yellow. While some breed purists will argue that Red coated Labradors aren’t truly purebred, these uniquely coated pups have become more accepted in recent years. Silver Labradors have slowly become more accepted as a coat color as well.

The Irish Red Setter also has three official coat colors, which are all different shades of red, chestnut, mahogany, and red. And it’s not just the color that gives them away, their coat texture, length, and overall appearance are different too. The Lab has a short to medium-length coat that is thick, straight, and rather coarse in texture.

The Setter’s coat has different lengths. Along his back and face, his hair is naturally short. The hair covering his ears, underbelly, legs, and tail is medium to long in length. Here it is silky smooth and wavy in texture, much like that of a Spaniel.

Both breeds are large-sized dogs, and that’s really where their similarities lie when it comes to their appearance. The Setter weighs between 60 and 70 pounds, whereas Labs weigh more than Setters (or less!) at 55 to 80 pounds.

The Irish Setter is taller than the Lab by several inches on average. Because of his long legs, the Setter appears to be much more athletic than a stocky Lab.

Overall, the Lab is a square and robust-looking dog. Some people feel Setters are much more elegant in appearance. Usually, the differences in their appearance make many families choose between the two when thinking about their next pooch. Some families seek a graceful and unique pup, and some want a traditional stockier pooch. The choice is yours!

Temperament

Happy Dogs With Their Tongues Out
Both breeds offer incredible companionship for humans.

Their temperament is where these two breeds are most similar. This is why many dog lovers leave it to their appearance when trying to decide between the two breeds. They are both members of the AKC’s sporting dog group. Their history of working closely with their master has meant they have developed an affinity for human company. They both adore human companionship and love to snuggle with their family.

If we had to choose which pooch is more dependent on human companionship, we would have to side with the Setter. The Setter hates to spend time alone, so he needs a family who can spend most of their time with him. Compared to the Lab, who is happy to spend a few hours alone while you pop out to complete a few chores. So, your family’s work schedule might dictate which breed you choose.

Crate training is a must for the sometimes anxious Irish Setter. We also recommend crate training your Labrador with an appropriate-sized dog crate, and you may find it just a little easier with this breed vs. the Setter.

Their sporting status means they both have tons of energy, which means they need an outlet. And what better way to burn energy than to play games with your pooch? Both the Lab and the Setter are always up for playing games, meaning kids love them both! Their sporting energy means they both need to live with an active family.

The Labrador is the most outgoing of the two breeds and quick to make friends thanks to his confident nature. Who wouldn’t be self-confident knowing you’ve been the top dog for three decades?! The Setter is also friendly and sociable, but he can be a little reserved at first. Not in an aloof way, but in a less-in-your-face and sweeter kinda way. Overall, they are both well-balanced dog breeds that make awesome family pets.

Exercise

Dogs Running in the Forest
These breeds have fairly high energy levels, so it takes about 60 minutes of daily activity to burn it off.

As sporting dog breeds, both dogs have plenty of energy. Both need at least 60 minutes of intense exercise a day to be physically satisfied. Again, if we had to choose a more active pooch, we’d pick the Setter. But really, there’s not much in it! We only say this because the Lab loves flopping on the sofa for an afternoon snooze.

They are also both extremely intelligent, meaning they need to take part in a variety of exercise activities. Otherwise, they’ll quickly become bored and mischievous. The Setter will be a huge fan of chasing objects, and the Lab is bound to love a dip in the nearest pool or lake.

This means that dog toy choices are essential. If you plan to take your Lab to the lake, look for some Labrador-proof dog toys that will float. For the setter, finding a thrashing toy that mimics live prey (they are hunting dogs) will keep them occupied for hours.

Training

Solemn Dogs Sitting Outdoors
Labradors are the better option for first-time dog owners as the Irish tends to be more stubborn when it comes to training.

Their sporting nature means they are clearly smart enough to learn commands. According to the famous ‘Intelligence of Dogs’ research, they are both intelligent dog breeds. The Lab is ranked the 7th most intelligent, and the Setter is ranked as the 53rd. So, what makes the Setter seemingly less intelligent? It’s his sometimes stubborn personality. Plus, his high prey drive means he might follow his nose more than your voice.

This can make training the Irish Setter more tricky than the ever-obedient Lab. If you’re a first-time dog owner, you might have an easier ride with the Labrador. But remember, every dog is different, and it’s all down to the effort put into training. Both breeds need early training if you want them to flourish into well-balanced pooches. You will need to put a lot of effort into recall training with the Setter to overcome that talented nose of his.

Both dog breeds respond well to positive reinforcement training. The sweet-natured Setter might become sulky if you shout at them too much. Find what motivates your pooch, and use this to your advantage. Labs are likely to be motivated by yummy treats, just don’t overdo it because Labs will overindulge if you let them. Compared to the Setter, who is likely to be motivated by toys to fetch.

Like all dogs, socializing these two is a must. Mixing them with as many dogs, animals, humans, and different environments as you possibly can build their confidence. Spending time at your local doggy park is a great way to mix them with both dogs and humans. Plus, they will both love the exercise and the time spent with you.

Health

Senior Dogs With Graying Faces
Irish Setters have a longer lifespan than Labs by about three years.

Both dog breeds are generally healthy. But overall, the Irish Setter enjoys better health. The Lab is expected to enjoy an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years. Compared to the Setter, who has an average lifespan of 12 to 15 years. Like all dog breeds, they both have their own set of health concerns. Let’s look at what you should be looking out for as a Lab or Setter parent

The Labrador is inclined to hip and elbow dysplasia, and it is one of the most common conditions found in large dog breeds. It is generally caused by genetic inheritance and/or fast skeletal development.

Eye conditions are another common health concern of most dogs. With cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) being the most common in Labs. Exercise-induced collapse is another health concern found in the Lab population. It should be tested for with a DNA test.

The Setter is also predisposed to hip dysplasia. Hypothyroidism is the second most common health concern found in Setters. This is where the thyroid does not produce the correct amount of hormones, causing subsequent health concerns. This could include weight gain, mental dullness, and hair loss. Like the Lab, the Irish Setters should also be tested for PRA.

Nutrition

Dogs Eating From Dog Bowls
Specially formulated kibble for large-breed dogs is recommended for both breeds.

Both dog breeds are energetic large-sized dogs who need the right fuel to keep them happy and healthy. When they are young, both breeds need dog food specifically designed for large breed puppies. They will both consume between two to four cups of food a day, meaning their monthly food bill is the same. If you have a working Lab or Setter, expect them to eat more.

The Labrador is the greediest of the two, and he will eat everything in sight. So if you’re about to welcome a Lab into your home, you’ll want cupboard locks for sure. He also is prone to obesity, so choosing the right kibble for your Lab is important, as well as keeping an eye on how much he eats. He needs well-balanced, nutrient-dense, and high-quality food to keep him going.

The Irish Setter typically has higher energy than the Lab and needs to rebuild its hardworking muscle mass with proper nutrition. A healthy balance of carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and plenty of protein should be included. Omega fatty acids are also a plus to keep his coat shiny and healthy.

They are both deep-chested breeds meaning they are more likely to suffer from gastric torsion. This is a life-threatening condition where the stomach twists and basically causes fatal shock. It is important to know what symptoms to look out for and what to do next. The best way to avoid this is to feed smaller meals throughout the day and never feed your Lab or Irish right after any activity.

Grooming

Bath Time for Two Dogs
Every two months or so is enough time to go between baths for these pooches.

Both dog breeds have intense grooming regimes, but for different reasons. The Irish Setter has a relatively thin coat that doesn’t shed much, not more than the average dog anyway. But his long and wavy hair makes his coat a prime target for hair matting and tangling. The Setter needs daily grooming with a soft-bristle or pin brush to keep him looking his best.

The Labrador, with his thick double-coat, is a heavy shedder. He needs brushing two to three times a week throughout the year. But when the shedding seasons arrive, you’ll need to up the brushing-anti to every day if you want to manage it. Your sofa and carpet will always glisten with its yellow/black/chocolate locks. So, be sure to decorate accordingly! A de-shedding tool will be your saving grace for when he blows his coat.

All of their other grooming aspects are similar. They need a twice-weekly dental cleaning and monthly nail clipping. Bathe them once every two months or so, but never more than once a month. Always use a gentle doggy shampoo to take care of their skin.

Overall, whichever breed you choose, they both require time and effort to keep them looking and feeling their best. These pretty pups will undoubtedly love to be spoiled at the groomers!

Puppy Prices

Cute Puppies Playing
Since the Irish Setter is rarer than the Lab, they tend to be the more expensive of the two breeds.

The average puppy price of the Labrador Retriever is lower than the Irish Setter. This is mainly because the Setter is rarer. This also means you’ll need to think about traveling far to find a reputable Irish breeder, depending on where you live.

The starting price of a Lab puppy is $1,000 compared to the starting price of $1,200 for an Irish. If you want to work with a popular breeder or seek a pup from a champion bloodline, you can expect to pay much more.

It’s important to only work with reputable and responsible breeders. As purebred pups, a great place to start your search is with AKC registered breeders. Never work with a breeder who doesn’t put the health of their puppies first. Puppy mills will lure you in with lower puppy prices, but you’ll only spend more in the long run because of vet bills. The ongoing lifetime cost of both breeds, based on their similarities, is parallel.

Final Thoughts

Both of these two pups are very similar dogs in their personality. Their sporting histories mean they love the company of humans. This makes them sweet and affectionate pups who love snuggling, as well as bringing lots of fun and energy to the family table. Overall, they are both well-balanced dog breeds who both make fantastic family pets.

Their main differences lie in their appearance. Some owners prefer the unique red hues and gracefulness of the Irish Setter. Whereas some like the traditional square and strong look of the Labrador. Another main difference is their trainability. And while they are both trainable, the Labrador is typically easier to train. Meaning first-time dog owners might be better suited to the Lab.

Like all dogs, it’s important to meet both of their needs. So, after reading our guide, the question is, were you matched with the redhead? Or were you tempted by the yellow/black/chocolate-haired pups? Whatever the result, you can be sure you’ll find a loyal and loving companion in either of these two family-friendly breeds.

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