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Irish setter close up in the snow

Breed overview

  • Breed group — Sporting Group (American Kennel Club)
  • Height — 25 to 27 inches
  • Weight — 60 to 70 pounds
  • Coat length & texture — Long, silky soft double coat
  • Coat color — Red, chestnut, or mahogany coats, typically solid but sometimes with white markings on the chest or feet. Fur color doesn’t change from puppyhood, but fur texture may
  • Exercise needs — Active
  • Intelligence — High
  • Barking — Often
  • Life span — 12 to 15 years
  • Temperament — Playful, affectionate, and stubborn
  • Hypoallergenic — No
  • Origin — Ireland

Irish setter fun facts 

👉 Coming up with a pet name can be fun but tricky. Search no further! According to PetScreening’s 2024 database, the majority of our users name their male Irish Setters Murphy and Milo. Meanwhile, most of our users with female Irish Setters love Lucy, then Penny.

  • Irish setters were bred to assist bird hunters in Ireland back in the 1800s. The dogs would indicate to hunters that they found prey by “setting” themselves low to the ground, which is how they got their name.
  • The Irish setter is said to be a combination of pointers, spaniels, English setters, and Gordon setters. While early ancestors were red and white, today’s Irish setters tend to have solid coats, and the ‘Irish Red and White setter’ is recognized as a separate breed by the American Kennel Club.
  • The dogs are independent thinkers, but this also means they can be stubborn. Even though the breed is intelligent, an Irish setter may resist training they don’t consider fun. It’s best to train Irish setters while they’re young and require less physical and mental stimulation.
Irish setter walking in the grass

Irish setter temperament and characteristics 

The Irish setter breed loves to be the center of attention. While playful, the dogs are also a bit oblivious to their own strength and size, so it’s best to be careful around toddlers. Because Irish setters were bred to hunt, caution should also be exercised around smaller pets. They have a very loud bark, and oftentimes try to join in on human conversations. The breed has a lot of energy and benefits from fun activities both indoors and outdoors.

Common Irish setter health problems 

Even though Irish setters are generally healthy, the breed is also susceptible to several health conditions. Here are some medical concerns to be aware of before if you are considering taking home an Irish setter:

  1. Hip dysplasia. The most common health condition that Irish setters experience is hip dysplasia, a hereditary condition that causes the joint between the head of the dog’s femur bone and their hip socket to be unstable. If left untreated, this can lead to arthritis once the Irish setter gets older.
  2. Gastric dilatation volvulus (GDV). Like most deep-chested dogs, the Irish setter breed is prone to gastric dilatation volvulus, a common form of canine bloat. The condition occurs when gases build up in the dog’s stomach during digestion, which can cause the stomach to rotate and limit blood flow.
  3. Hypothyroidism Irish setter owners should be on the lookout for hypothyroidism, a thyroid problem that can be detected in some annual blood panels. Symptoms include weight gain, lethargy, and thinning hair.
  4. Epilepsy. Mild to severe seizures are mostly onset between ages 1 to 6 for Irish setter dogs with epilepsy. If older, it can lead to other conditions like toxin exposure and cancer for the dog. Though scary, there is medication available to help manage epilepsy.
  5. Progressive retinal atrophy. Irish setters should have their eyes checked every year to rule out progressive retinal atrophy, a condition that can lead to gradual vision loss and even blindness for the breed.

Cost of caring for an Irish setter

As with any breed, people with Irish setters should consider enrolling in health insurance the day they bring their dog home to lower out-of-pocket costs. Having a pet savings account is another way to protect your red coat friend in an emergency situation. Veterinary care differs greatly, so knowing the typical costs associated with different treatments for the breed can help you plan ahead. While expenses will be different from dog to dog, you can expect to spend between $1,000 to $2,000 dollars a year caring for an Irish setter.

Irish setter puppy in the leaves

History of the Irish setter

Dating back to the early 1800s, the Irish setter breed is said to have been developed from mixing pointers, spaniels, English setters, and Gordon setters. The dog was originally red and white, but now the Irish red and white setter is now considered a separate breed. Breeders initially developed the dog to help hunters in Ireland suss out birds by “setting” down near their hiding spots. With the advent of rifles, Irish setters found new work as gundogs, a purpose the field lines of the breed still serves to many hunters today.

It wasn’t long before the Irish setter began spreading across the world. In 1878, the breed was one of the first nine dog breeds to be officially recognized in the United States by the American Kennel Club, alongside the English setter, Gordon setter, Clumber spaniel, Sussex Spaniel, Irish water spaniel, cocker spaniel, and Chesapeake Bay retriever. With their stunning red coat, it’s no surprise that the dog show community took notice of this popular dog breed, and Irish setters began placing in conformation competitions.

Caring for your Irish setter

As with any breed, the Irish setter will need a lot of care and attention. Before bringing one home, consider puppy-proofing your home, choosing a good vet near you, and making sure this new addition to your family is up-to-date on vaccines. If you plan to purchase a puppy, make sure you do research to find a trustworthy and reputable breeder. You’ll be spending outdoor time with your Irish setter every day to tire them out, and FidoAlert can get you a free Fido ID and tag in case they wander off.


Irish setters have a lot of energy and could require as much as an hour of exercise and mental stimulation a day. This can be done in the form of long walks, dog parks and beaches, hikes, indoor playtime, and training. A spacious home with a yard is ideal for tossing tennis balls or frisbees for your frisky pup to fetch. But, smaller units will work for the dog if they’re getting out enough. The dogs crave a lot of attention and make this known with famously loud, boisterous barks when they have a lot of energy. Irish setters are also great candidates for dog agility sports, particularly hunting field trials because of their origin as bird dogs. Dog sports training can be useful in satiating the breed’s energy needs and may even make them a star one day!

Irish setter in the snow


Irish setters are perhaps best known for their long, beautiful red coat. Like other long fur breeds, they require extensive grooming. Expect to brush your dog 2 to 3 times a week to keep their hair from matting. Bathing requirements are not as frequent as you might expect. Unless an Irish setter has been rolling around in the mud, they can be washed once every other month with a high quality shampoo. Their nails should be trimmed once a month, their ears should be checked once a day, and their teeth should be brushed twice a week to avoid plaque build up.

Diet and nutrition

As with most dogs, you’ll want to consult your vet and consider their age and size when calculating how much to feed an Irish setter. Generally, the breed will eat  2 to 3 cups of dog food a day. Since the dogs are prone to bloating, you may want to consider using puzzle feeders and slow feed bowls to slow down their eating and reduce the amount of air they swallow. Limiting exercise before and after eating is also recommended for breeds that experience bloating.

Training your Irish setter

Irish setters are highly intelligent, which for most breeds would indicate they are easy to train. However, Irish setters are considered independent thinkers, and therefore stubborn when it comes to training sessions they don’t deem fun. Owners can use this playfulness to their advantage by focusing on training tactics that use positive reinforcement and rewards for good behavior. Once an Irish setter learns something, it can be difficult for them to unlearn it, so it’s best to put in the work of training and socializing the breed when they’re puppies and not as strong-willed. Dog sports training is also recommended for the Irish setter breed, especially in agility and hunting events.

Irish setter puppy outside

Breeds similar to the Irish setter

Not quite sure that an Irish setter  is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:

  1. Australian cattle dog. Although they look a lot different, Australian cattle dogs are similar in a lot of ways to Irish setters. Both are high-energy, double-coated, and very intelligent.
  2. Labrador retriever. This Sporting Group dog was bred to assist a different kind of hunter than the Irish setter: fishermen. This energetic breed are excellent swimmers and make great companions for active owners.
  3. Cocker spaniel. Looking for a smaller breed? Cocker spaniels are incredibly playful with long, silky fur. They’re like the fun-sized version of the Irish setter!

Frequently asked questions

Are Irish setters good family dogs?

The Irish setter is a good dog for families with older children. Those with younger kids should be cautious, as the breed oftentimes doesn’t recognize their own strength and can knock toddlers over. Because they have a ton of energy, active families make a good fit for the dog.

Do Irish setters bark a lot?

Irish setters have a very loud bark and are said to try to join in on human conversations with their own version of talking. Proper exercise, mental stimulation, and obedience training can help reduce the dog’s barking.

Are Irish setters hard to train?

Even though Irish setters are smart, they are also highly stubborn and get bored easily with activities they don’t consider fun. Owners will need to be patient with their dog and find reward-based methods that make training feel like play.

Are Irish setters intelligent?

Irish setters are considered highly intelligent and independent thinkers. Their independence can be beneficial in that they can likely be left alone for long hours without developing separation anxiety.