Irish Setter – an intelligent, affectionate dog with a knack for mischief

This is one beautiful dog! As many owners and Irish Setter enthusiasts will be more than happy to inform you, the Irish Setter is considered by many to be the most beautiful dog breed in the world. And with their long, silky red fur, intelligent expressions, and elegant gaits, it’s easy to believe that to be true.

As the name implies, the Irish Setter comes from Ireland. In the past, they have been known as Red Spaniels, or sometimes Modder Rhu which is Gaelic for “red dog.” Originally bred as gun dogs, Irish Setters are best known today for their beauty as well as their unique personalities. It’s never a dull moment with an Irish Setter. Their sweet, loving exteriors hide a definitive mischievous side, while their naturally outgoing natures make them friends wherever they go.


  • Originally bred as gun dogs
  • Known for their friendly, outgoing natures
  • President Richard Nixon owned an Irish Setter named King Timahoe
  • The most famous Irish Setter is a fictional character in author Jim Kjelgaard’s novel “Big Red”


It is thought that the Irish Setter is a result of breeding English and Gordon Setters as well as other spaniels and pointers together in the 1800s. This resulted in the beautiful, red-haired breed we know today as the Irish Setter.

This breed was used primarily for its ability to guide hunters towards gamebirds. Their incredibly well-developed sense of smell helped them to track the birds and, once the bird was located, the dog would “set” down on his stomach to indicate to hunters where the prey was.

The first Irish Setter was brought to the United States around 1875. They quickly became a breed popular for their looks as well as their abilities in the field. However, by 1940 the breed had begun to be best known for the show ring, which led enthusiasts to call for the Irish Setter to be restored as field dogs.

The Irish Setter’s popularity has increased intermittently throughout the decades, especially in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Today, Irish Setters enjoy their reputations as friendly and outgoing dogs that make wonderful family companions.

Appearance and Vital Stats

General Appearance

Irish Setter General Appearance

The Irish Setter is best known for its long, silky red fur and long, sleek stature. Irish Setters used for dog shows tend to be slightly heavier and bigger than their leaner, lighter field counterparts.

Dog Breed Group

Irish Setters are part of the sporting dog breed group. These are dogs that were bred to work closely alongside hunters, operating in a variety of terrains to help track and retrieve game. There are four types of dogs in this group: spaniels, retrievers, points, and, of course, setters.

All sporting dogs are highly active, and love being outside. Many of them are also natural swimmers. This includes the Irish Setter.


Male Irish Setters generally measure about 27 inches tall and weigh around 70 pounds. Female Irish Setters measure around 25 inches tall and weigh around 60 pounds.

Life Span

You can expect your healthy and well-cared-for Irish Setter to live up to 12 to 15 years old.

Coat and Colors

The Irish Setter has long, silky red fur. Their coats will be fine and straight, and generally longer on the ears, tail, legs, and chest. All the feathering you see on an Irish Setter will be as straight as possible, without any significant curling or waving.

Irish Setter Coat and Colors

Although these dogs are known for their rich, red fur, it’s not unusual to see white patches around the throat, chest, or by the dog’s toes. You may even see a small streak of white on the dog’s head. However, other colors anywhere else on the dog’s body are not considered AKC standard.

Irish Setters shed seasonally, and you can expect a large amount of fur to come off during shedding seasons. Otherwise, your Irish Setter will need to be brushed a couple of times a week to keep up with his regular shedding.


Irish Setters generally carry their tails straight or curing slightly upward towards the back. The tail is strong and thick at the base, tapering off to a point at the end. It is long enough to reach the dog’s hocks. The fur on the tail is long and feathered.


The Irish Setter’s ears are set low down on the dog’s head, and shouldn’t be above eye level. They are relatively thin, long, and fold over close to the dog’s head. The fur on the dog’s ears is longer than on other parts of the body.


There’s no doubting that the Irish Setter has a unique personality! They are deeply loving animals, and don’t feel any hesitation about showing affection. They’re also extremely outgoing dogs, and making new friends is a cinch for them.

At the same time, these dogs definitely have a mischievous side. They’re fun-loving animals, and if you can’t provide the fun for them then they’ll make their own! And that usually means getting into trouble, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re spending enough time playing and exercising with your Irish Setter.

Irish Setters are incredibly intelligent dogs, which has its pros and cons. Being so smart means that they can easily catch onto new concepts during training. However, their intelligence is exactly what drives their troublemaking side. When you’re training them, use a lot of positive reinforcement, and keep training sessions short and fun to make them effective for your Irish Setter.

Apartment Living

Unfortunately, if you live in an apartment then this breed may not be right for you. Irish Setters are highly active dogs and require a lot of daily exercise. Having space where they can run around is imperative for these pups.

These dogs also tend to be pretty vocal. So, although their friendly and outgoing dispositions would make it easy for them to get along with other people and animals in your apartment complex, your neighbors likely won’t appreciate all the barking coming from your unit.

Children and Other Pets

Irish Setters make fantastic family companions. They get along easily with kids and are wonderful playmates for older children. Just bear in mind that, because the Irish Setter is such an enthusiastic and large dog, it may not be a suitable breed for younger kids who can easily be knocked over.

Remember to teach your kids how to properly approach a dog, even one as friendly as the Irish Setter. Remind your children never to pull on the dog’s fur, tail, or ears, and not to approach the dog while he’s eating.

Irish Setters get along well with other dogs and even cats. However, smaller animals like rodents and birds may not be great companions for these dogs. This is because they have very strong prey drives, and might think your small pet is something for your Irish Setter to hunt.



You should feed your Irish Setter 2 to 3 cups of dry dog food every day. Make sure to choose a high-quality food to help keep your dog healthy. You should also split his food into two or three meals per day, to keep him feeling full.


The Irish Setter’s beautiful red coat requires a fair bit of grooming to keep it good-looking and free of matting and debris. Brush your dog’s fur at least twice a week. Bathing him once or twice a year will also help keep his coat healthy.

As with most breeds who have hanging ears, it’s important to keep your Irish Setter’s ears clean. Check your dog’s ears every week for any signs of infection, and use a cotton pad with a vet-recommended cleanser to wipe the inside.


Irish Setter Exercise

The Irish Setter is a highly active breed that will need an owner willing to get out and exercise with him. Your Irish Setter will require about an hour of exercise every day. Having a large, fenced-in yard is required for these dogs.

The Irish Setter’s high levels of intelligence mean that you’ll want to work his brain to prevent him from being destructive. Signing him up for dog sports like obedience, agility, or tracking are great ways to get both your Irish Setter’s mind and body moving.


Irish Setters are overall sturdy and healthy dogs. But like all breeds, they can be prone to certain ailments.

Hip Dysplasia

Many larger breeds like the Irish Setter are prone to this condition. It is a hereditary issue in which the bones that make up the dog’s hip joint don’t fit together properly. This causes the joint to grate and grind rather than gliding smoothly into place. Hip dysplasia can cause limping, arthritis, and eventual lameness in the leg. Your vet should check your dog for any signs of this condition during his check-ups.


Irish Setters may be prone to epilepsy, a condition that causes seizures. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including genetics, environmental triggers, diseases affecting the brain, or head injuries. Seizures can range from mild to severe.

This is a chronic condition that unfortunately does not have a cure. However, dogs with epilepsy can still live long and full lives when managed with medication and the right lifestyle choices.


This is a chronic condition in which the thyroid, a gland in the neck, does not produce enough of certain hormones. This may cause excessive weight gain, low energy levels, and changes to the fur and skin.

Irish Setters with hypothyroidism require daily medication to manage the condition. That said, your dog can still live a long and happy life as long as his hypothyroidism is being properly treated.

Similar Breeds

Gordon Setter

Gordon Setter

A large dog, Gordon Setters are similar in size to the Irish Setter. A male Gordon Setter measures 24 to 27 inches in height and the female 23 to 26 inches. Male Gordon Setters weigh around 55 to 80 pounds, while females weigh about 45 to 70 pounds. Their fur is black and tan, and their expressions display their confident and curious natures.

The Gordon Setter, like the Irish Setter, was bred in Ireland as a gun and hunting dog. They require a lot of physical activity to keep them healthy, strong, and to prevent any destructive or otherwise unwanted behavior. The Gordon Setter is an independent dog, and so while their intelligence means they are able to easily understand and grasp concepts quickly, it’ll be difficult to convince them to do anything they don’t want to do. Despite that, these are affectionate dogs who will become easily attached to their owners.

English Setter

English Setter

These dogs are recognizable by their spotted colorations and long, silky fur. They are similar to the Irish Setter in size. Male English Setters generally measure 25 to 27 inches tall and weigh around 65 to 80 pounds, while females measure 23 to 25 inches and weigh 45 to 55 pounds.

English Setters are cheerful dogs, who will easily put a smile on your face. They are smart pups who are eager to please their owners, making training easy. Like the Irish Setter, English Setters were bred as hunting dogs. They have a lot of energy and require consistent daily exercise to keep them healthy and out of trouble.

English Setters make great companions but will need to be supervised around other dogs and children.

Irish Red and White Setter

Irish Red and White Setter

Also hailing from Ireland, the Irish Red and White Setter is a large breed. They are slightly smaller than the Irish Setter. Males measure around 24.5 to 26 inches in height and weigh 60 to 70 pounds. Female Irish Red and White Setters measure 22.5 to 24 inches tall and weigh 45 to 55 pounds. As the name implies, these dogs have a red and white pattern to their long, silky fur.

The Irish Red and White Setter is a friendly dog with a lot of determination. He loves having a job to do, and with such high energy levels, you’ll want to make sure he gets one. This breed is great with other dogs and children and makes an amazing family companion. Although originally bred as hunting dogs, today the Irish Red and White Setter generally enjoys life as a loving and affectionate family member in homes around the world.