Irish Setter Overview

Dog Breed:
Irish Setter
Breed Group:
Sporting group
Elegant, friendly, graceful, athletic, mischievous
25-27 inches
60-70 pounds
Life Span:
12-15 years
Coat Colors:
Chestnut, mahogany, red
Area of Origin:
Best For:
Active families with access to a large, securely fenced yard
Adult Food:
Best Dog Food for Irish Setters
Puppy Food:
Best Puppy Food for Irish Setters

Irish Setter Characteristics

Good for First-Time Owners
Good with Children
Easy to Train
Exercise Requirements
Ease of Grooming
Amount of Shedding
Amount of Drooling
Tendency to Bark

About The Irish Setter

  • Known for its characteristic red hair

  • Originally developed to be a bird dog

  • Very high energy


The distinctive red-haired beauty known as the Irish Setter is easily recognized worldwide for its elegance and grace. A breed that is renowned for its independent spirit and playful nature, the Irish Setter is a large breed dog that loves to have a good time. This dog type simply exudes happiness, bringing a ready smile to the face of its owners every day. 

The Irish Setter’s original purpose was to serve as a bird dog. To excel at this pursuit, the Setter was bred to have immense drive. A breed that is greatly driven by prey, the Setter requires secure containment to keep it from roaming on the hunt for birds or other types of game. 

Though an extremely friendly breed, the Irish Setter is not the perfect fit for every family. This dog type has energy to spare and will not thrive if given less than a full hour of vigorous activity each day. Not suited to apartment living, the Irish Setter needs access to a large fenced space where it can expend its reserves of energy. This is not a dog breed for those that prefer the sedentary lifestyle. 

The Irish Setter bonds deeply to its family and thrives when allowed to engage in active pursuits. When forced to spend time alone, this type of dog can succumb to separation anxiety and resort to destruction to amuse itself.  


Today, the Irish Setter is divided into two types of dogs which differ in appearance: the show dogs and the field dogs. The Irish Setter show dogs are built bigger and possess more bone than their working counterparts. They also bear a weightier coat. Both still reflect the established breed standard. 

The Irish Setter is a natural born athlete, excelling at such dog performance sports as obedience, Rally, tracking, and agility. They are also well-suited to work as therapy dogs. 

Fiercely intelligent, the Irish Setter is one dog that has a mind of its own. This breed has a spirit of adventure coursing through its veins, and this independence of spirit can often lead the dog into mischief. Because of this penchant towards stubbornness, the breed can be a challenge to train.

Irish Setter Breed History

  • Originated in Ireland

  • Original coat colour was red with white spots

  • Indicated the presence of game birds by “setting” on its stomach

This red-haired canine beauty hails from Ireland. The Irish Setter traces its origins to the 18th century and was likely developed through the strategic breeding of such dog types as the English Setter, spaniels, pointers, and Gordon Setters. 

Originally named red spaniels, the first Irish Setters bore coats of white and red as opposed to the solid flame-like hue we have become accustomed to today. Since the Irish Setter’s original coat was comprised of a red base littered with white spots, the breed was sometimes referred to as “shower of hail” dogs.

The development of the solid red coat of the Irish Setter has been attributed to Irish Earl of Enniskillen. To help encourage this trait, the Earl refused to allow dogs of any other coat colour to remain in his breeding program. 

In 1875, the first Irish Setter made its way to the United States. The dog’s name was Elcho, and he enjoyed great fame as both a show and working dog. In 1878, the breed achieved full recognition with the American Kennel Club. 

The breed remains immensely popular today with many Irish Setters being prominently featured in both books and movies. President Nixon was particularly fond of the breed and brought his cherished pet Big Red to join his family during his term as president at the White House. 

The Irish Setter’s strength as a bird dog lies in its ability to detect the presence of fowl through its powerful scent detection skills. To indicate a bird is near, the Setter would alert the hunter by “setting” on its stomach

The Irish Setter’s movement sets it apart from other breeds. Their sleek limbs were designed to effortlessly traverse challenging terrain. For this reason, a lithe body type was favoured. 

Irish Setter Size & Weight

  • Males stand 27” and weigh 70 pounds

  • Females stand 25” and weigh 60 pounds

  • Owners must be prepared for the costs associated with owning a large breed dog


The Irish is Setter is considered a large breed dog. Adult males stand 27” at the shoulder and weigh 70 pounds. In comparison, mature female Irish Setters are 25” and weigh a maximum of 60 pounds. 

Potential owners of this breed need to be aware of the additional costs involved in owning and caring for a dog of this size. Food costs will be substantially more expensive. However, purchasing and feeding a high-quality diet will maximize the value of the investment since the dog will need to eat less of it to feel satisfied. 

Other elevated costs owners can expect include more expensive medications, bedding, crates, and collars to accommodate the size of the average Irish Setter. 

Irish Setter Personality & Temperament

  • Social and friendly

  • High energy

  • Not suited to apartment living or a sedentary lifestyle


The Irish Setter was born with a spirit of adventure and is always game for having fun with its family and friends. The breed is known for its playfulness and enjoys the opportunity to engage in activities with those it loves most. Affectionate and good-natured, the Irish Setter is excellent company and welcomes companionship from family, other animals, and even strangers met on the street. 

Irish Setters are extremely social, making them poorly suited to work as guard dogs. They will protect those they love with a fierce loyalty but otherwise are known as lovers and not fighters. The breed will alert bark to announce the presence of unusual noises. 

Irish Setters make excellent companions for children though they are not recommended for households with very small kids due to the size of the breed. All interactions between children and dogs should be carefully supervised for the safety of both parties. Children should be taught to respect and handle the dog with gentleness and care. 

A breed that enjoys the company of other pets, the Irish Setter gets along well with both canines and felines. However, as a bird dog, it is best for the Irish Setter to not take up residence with a family that also has pets that fly. To successfully integrate an Irish Setter into a home with already established pets, it is best to do all initial greetings at a neutral location such as a public park. 

The Irish Setter is a highly active dog that truly needs room to roam. For this reason, the breed is not suited to apartment life or to a sedentary lifestyle. A home with a fully fenced, secure yard is best for the Irish Setter. 

This dog breed is not a fan of being left alone for lengthy periods of time and can become destructive due to frustration and anxiety. 

Though the Irish Setter’s coat type provides some protection from the elements, this dog breed favours moderate weather conditions and tolerates cold better than heat. 

Irish Setter Health & Grooming

  • Typically a very health breed

  • Moderate grooming requirements

  • A moderate shedder

The Irish Setter is a breed that enjoys both good health and excellent longevity. However, as with any breed, there are certain genetic conditions the breed can encounter. Through careful genetic screening of potential breeding pairs, reputable breeders can help eliminate the spread of inherited illnesses from one generation to the next. Among the diseases which can become problematic for Irish Setters are hip dysplasia, osteochondrosis dissecans, canine leukocyte, epilepsy, progressive retinal atrophy, hypertrophic osteodystrophy, gastric torsion (bloat), and panosteitis. 

The grooming requirements to maintain the Setter’s gorgeous red locks are moderate. To maintain good coat condition, the Irish Setter should be brushed at least twice weekly. A good pin brush is the recommended tool for the job. Prevention of matting and knots is key to keeping the coat in impeccable shape. 

Baths can be given on an as needed basis. The coat should be well-conditioned, blow-dried, and brushed after any time spent in water. 

Trim the Setter’s nails every couple of weeks to maintain excellent foot health. Regular dental care and ear cleaning are also vital components of any health and wellness strategy. 

The Irish Setter is not particularly prone to overeating. As a highly active breed, it is unlikely this dog will become overweight. However, it is still highly recommended that all food intake be measured and carefully monitored. 

The Irish Setter’s coat sheds only moderately

The breed does drool a little, but it is not generally a large problem for Setters. 

Irish Setter Training

  • Eager to please

  • Respond well to positive reinforcement training

  • Possess high prey drive


A breed that loves to please its people, the Irish Setter is an eager participant in training exercises. Though the Setter can be obstinate, they are relatively easy to train. The average Irish Setter can learn its basic obedience commands in as little as two weeks to a month. 

Irish Setters have energy to spare and benefit from having their minds and bodies kept productively engaged. Training can help with this. To maintain interest level, keep training sessions short and fun. Setters are a sensitive breed, so positive reinforcement training methods fortified by yummy treats and lots of praise are the most effective. 

Setters are excellent athletes and are quite skilled at such activities as hunting, agility, rally, tracking, flyball, and dock diving. 

The breed can be quite manipulative, so it is important to establish boundaries and remain consistent in all training to gain the dog’s respect. 

Since the Setter’s original purpose was that of a bird dog, it has a natural tendency to chase prey and to roam. Secure containment is an absolute must for this breed

Irish Setters are no more prone to nipping than any other breed; however, care must be taken to curtail this behaviour. Simply redirect any inappropriate mouthiness to a toy or bone. 

Irish Setter Exercise Requirements

  • Eager to please

  • Respond well to positive reinforcement training

  • Possess high prey drive


A typical sporting breed, the Irish Setter needs a minimum of one hour of vigorous activity daily to remain content. Setters excel at a number of activities but even a good walk at a brisk pace will do to keep this dog in tip top shape. 

Setters are exceptionally playful and enjoy such pursuits as a game of fetch, ball, or frisbee with its family. Dog performance sports also provide an outlet for energy and strengthen the bond between the dog and its owner. 

The Irish Setter is best suited to a home with a fenced yard and should dwell indoors with its family. 

Care must be taken when exercising Irish Setter puppies to prevent injury. It is better to engage in several short sessions of activity throughout the day than one long one. Rigorous activity should be avoided until the dog has finished its final growth phase at approximately 18 months of age. 

Running is to be avoided until the Irish Setter puppy is fully mature

Irish Setter Diet & Feeding

  • Puppies should eat puppy food

  • Adults should eat adult food

  • Serving sizes should be adjusted to reflect activity level


To ensure all of the necessary nutritional requirements are met, it is always wise to consult with a veterinarian for their advice regarding the correct food to feed an Irish Setter. In general, the breed does well on a high-quality diet that has been formulated to meet the dog’s specific age and activity requirements. 

Puppies should always eat a puppy food that has been specifically designed to meet the pup’s needs as it grows. Likewise, adults should eat a food that has been formulated for their age, activity level, and body condition. 

The correct amounts can be determined by using the serving size suggestions printed on the label. It may be necessary to adjust meal sizes to meet the activity level of the dog. The dog’s appetite and weight can serve as a helpful guide

You may also be interested in:

Irish Setter Rescue Groups


For more information about Irish Setters available for adoption in your area, we recommend consulting one of the following resources:


Irish Setter Rescue

Irish Setter Club of America, Inc.