Irish Setter

Breed Group: Sporting

Temperament and Behavior

Irish Setters have a temperament best described as “rollicking.” They are clowinish and regal, mischievous and independent, intelligent and stubborn, anxious to please and yet determined to have their way, enthusiastically affectionate and demanding of attention. The Irish Setter is a happy, playful dog breed that loves attention and gets along well with everyone. Always looking for a playmate, they are among the best breeds with children, but their size and activity level may too much for toddlers. They are also very good with other pets. On the barky side, they make good watch dogs but don’t count on them for guard dog duty as they have never met a stranger they didn’t like. This outgoing, high-spirited breed needs large doses of affection and companionship; if left alone all day without human or pet companionship, they can express their boredom by barking or destructive behavior. An Irish Setter stays a puppy for a long time. The adolescent stage lasts 2-3 years during which they need lots exercise and consistent obedience training. Faster and with more endurance than other Setter breeds, they need room to stretch their long legs and run. Inside they are active dogs too, even when they get the exercise they need.

Physical Characteristics

Irish Setters are large, graceful, elegant dogs. They range in height from 25 to 27 inches tall with males weighing 65 to 75 pounds and females weighing 55 to 65 pounds. They are known for their long, silky, red coat that ranges from chestnut to mahogany, sometimes splashed with white on its chest and feet. Brush them at least once a week, more when shedding which is no more than the average dog. They do well in any temperature free of harsh extremes.

Trainer's Notes

Although Irish Setters are the most trainable of the Setter breeds, they can be stubborn and manipulative. Trainers must be firm, consistent, and patient. They respond well to positive training but easily distracted, especially when outside. They are sensitive and have long memories; once they learn something (positive or negative), they will remember it for a long time. Thus, bad habits may be difficult to break. It is important to train this breed firmly at an early age to prevent the development of bad habits and to teach good manners. His talents include hunting, tracking, retrieving, pointing, agility and competitive obedience. The Irish Setter’s happy temperament and responsiveness make it a great choice as a therapy dog and for a first-time dog owner.

Photo © by Lmbuga available under the GNUFDL
Irish Setter

Irish Setter


Irish Setters have a number of significant health concerns. First, they are fourth on the list of breeds most likely to suffer from Bloat. It is wiser to feed 2-3 small meals a day instead of one large meal. They also have a high incidence of PRA which results in blindness. About 1 in 10 dogs suffer from Hip Dysplasia and 4% have Elbow Dysplasia. Another 1 in 10 has Hypothyroidism. Less frequently seen are OCD, HOD, and Panosteitis, all relating to their skeleton and bone development. Less frequently seen is Epilepsy, Their average lifespan is 11-14 years.


The Irish Setter places 67th in the list of most popular dogs. According to the American Kennel Club, about 1,500 are registered each year.

Breed History

The Irish Setter was first bred in Ireland to meet the need of hunters seeking a fast-working, keen-nosed dog that could be seen a considerable distance away. Though no records of the original breeding exist, Irish Setters are believed to be crosses between spaniels, pointers, and other setters which produced a red and white setter that met the hunter's needs. The first kennels featuring all red dogs appeared about 1800. About 1862 a dog named Champion Palmerston was born with an elongated head and streamlined build. Believed to be too refined for hunting, his owner ordered him culled. Another dog fancier intervened and Champion Palmerston became a sensation in the show ring. He went on to sire so many offspring that most Irish Setters today can be traced back to him. The breed rose to be one of the most popular breeds in the U.S. during the 1970’s, but its popularity has since plummeted.

Additional Information

Well known Irish Setter owners include U.S. Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Franklin D. Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Harry S. Truman and entertainers Erma Bombeck, Jimmy Durante, Merv Griffin, and Olivia Newton-John. The National (US) Breed Group is the Irish Setter Club of America.

Is An Irish Setter THE BEST Dog For YOU?

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