Dog Breed Review

Irish Setter




Before there were tasty chips and color photography, the Irish gave us a different brilliance. Meet the bright and spunky, Irish Setter. This large sporting group dog has been around for centuries.

From chasing birds to chasing tennis balls, the one constant truth about this breed is that they love running.

Oh, and they really love their people. And their people love them back. This is a breed that reigns in a different type of enthusiasm few breeds enjoy.

Is this the next dog of your dreams? What makes them such wonderful family additions?

Here is what you need to know about the Irish Setter.


While most breeds have questionable junctures as part of their history, the Irish Setter isn’t much different. In fact, there’s little knowledge when exactly the breed’s development first took place. However, most experts on the Irish Setter believe the 18th century is a good jumping point.

Moreover, Setters have been around in literature and painting since the 16th century. Land spaniels were very crucial instruments for hunters during that time. Although the Irish Setter’s lineage isn’t absolute, it is fair to speculate a combination of spaniels, pointers, Gordon and English Setters.

Yes, it is obvious that Ireland is the birthplace of the breed, and had much to do with the development, but you shouldn’t underscore what influence the United States had for preserving the breed.

That said, during the 18th and 19th century, the Irish Setter was mostly a field dog. A Setter’s job was to locate birds using their great sense of smell and tracking skill, and hold the bird’s position until hunters would arrive.

The Irish Setter was sent over to the United States during the 18th century. Around the 1870’s, the Setter was becoming quite the hit inside the dog show ring. In fact, between the 1870’s to nearly 1950, the breed won over 700 conformation titles.

Unfortunately, not much emphasis was put on breeding a working stock. This is where controversy centers around the breed and where the creation of the working Red Setter originates. The two types of Irish Setter fall under the same breed, at least, according to the AKC.

The Irish Setter would receive recognition by the American Kennel Club in 1887. In 1914, the United Kennel Club chose to grant the breed official recognition. Today, the Irish Setter is the 76th most popular breed among the AKC’s registry.

Today, the breed enjoys the bright lights as a show dog. The Irish Setter is also a therapy dog and a faithful companion dog.


The Irish Setter is a large breed, and according to the American Kennel Club, males should stand at 27 inches, while females should stand at 25 inches.

With regard to weight, a male should weigh in at 70 pounds, and females should weigh around 60 pounds. However, there are certain working Irish Setters that do weigh considerably less than the 70 pound ideal target.

Personality and Temperament

High energy and bit ditzy, the Irish Setter just loves to run and play fetch with their favorite people. This is a dog for the person with an outgoing and engaging lifestyle. Irish Setters will certainly wear you out without meaning to. The downfall, of course, you have to keep this dog moving and getting their exercise.

They love children and other dogs, but the one thing about the Irish Setter is that they may not be aware of their rough housing. With teenagers or older children, the Irish Setter is a wonderful choice. Other dogs will enjoy the companionship and love that the Setter gives.

Their personality really doesn’t say much for their elegant looks and impressive yet unique exterior. They are more sweet in their nature, that looks for love constantly and hates being alone. This is a breed that wants to be a part of the family. You’ll realize the Irish Setter will beg you to take them jogging or for their daily walks.

During training, the breed can be a little bit stubborn and stuck on their ways. Sometimes they bore a bit easy and may need some influence by way of snack. While others are certainly capable and intelligent enough to pick up on agility, obedience, tracking and other canine sports without problem. As a worker, they are tireless with great amounts of stamina.

Again, this isn’t a perfect fit for someone living in an apartment. There’s simply just not enough space for your Irish Setter to be happy. However, if you can open the yard, a fence area, and keep them on a leash, with enough space inside, this is a very fun and loving dog. All in all, you’ll have a hard time finding a dog with this amount of energy that you’ll love to be around.


According to the AKC and breeder clubs, this is a relatively healthy breed. If you get your Irish Setter from a reputable breeder, you can expect your dog to live between 12 to 15 years.

A reputable breeder is someone who can provide you with the proper health clearances and documentation. Always steer clear from puppy mills, who are looking to make a buck at the expense of a poor life. Additionally, you can enhance the chances of your Irish Setter maintaining good health by scheduling routine visits to the veterinarian.

A malformation of the hip joint, Hip Dysplasia, while it being a rather low occurrence in the breed, may be found with the Irish Setter. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals list the breed 96th on their survey at a 12 percent dysplastic rate, just barely squeaking by the Beauceron and Alaskan Malamute.

Abnormal growth of the elbow, Elbow Dysplasia, which is most common with the Chow Chow and Pug, is also another serious problem but low occurrence rate with the Setter.

Sticking with the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals’ survey, the organization ranks the breed 16th among all participating breeds with thyroid issues. Hypthyroidism is somewhat common with this breed, which is a hormonal deficiency affecting the thyroid gland, that results in hair loss, weight gain and poor coat quality.

Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy, which is a bone disease of the front limbs found mostly with fast growing and large breeds can have damaging and fatal effects. This will mostly occur with puppies between the ages of 4 and 8 months. Some signs to look out for are lameness and swelling around the front limbs of your dog.

Spondlyosis is an orthopedic condition of the vertebrae that affects older dogs. The condition can lead to a decrease in mobility for your dog, which may require some therapy and analgesics to treat.

Although testing is available for Progressive Retinal Atrophy, which reduces the chances of your dog inheriting PRA, it is still a condition to look out for. Progressive Retinal Atrophy is hereditary blindness that affects the photoreceptor cells. Siberian Huskies and Bull Mastiffs are mostly prone to PRA

Also, Gastric Dilatation Volvulus or Bloat is a rapidly life threatening condition in dogs. In fact, this is a condition that is mostly found with fast growing and large breeds. Great Danes, Dobermans, Weimaraners and Akita are also prone to Bloat. Bloat is a painful condition that leads to the stomach twisting and distending, putting pressure on the diaphragm, which leads to breathing issues and at times, death.

Finally, the Irish Setter may have issues with cancer, epilepsy, osteosarcoma, entropion, canine leukocyte adhesion deficiency. Some of these issues are rare, while others your dog may never obtain. Testing and good diet choices, as well as regular checkups will make a world of difference in discovering or avoiding these health complications.


If you want to keep good care of the Irish Setter, then grab a leash, grab a fence and a tennis ball, then get to work. This is a dog that requires plenty of space and plenty of exercise. Small spaces and apartment life wont work. You’ll want to devote at the least, 45 minutes a day to your Setter. This can mean throwing the tennis ball, fetch, or even a jog. Most of the time, a couple of long walks will suffice. That said, a dog that isn’t getting exercise, may become neurotic. A dog with boredom can be destructive. To avoid that, you’ll want to offer plenty of mental and physical stimulation.

If fishing isn’t your thing due to poor patience, then neither will training your Irish Setter. This is a dog that may test your patience quite a bit. Again, this is a breed that will make you earn their attention. Positive reinforcement and consistent training will help go a long way into maturing your dog.

With smaller pets and smaller children, you need to be mindful of their size and force. This is a breed that can do quite a bit of damage unintentionally. Rough play, either intentional or not, can result in a kid injuring themselves. Teach your children how to handle your Irish Setter. Conversely, you want to teach your Setter how to behave with children. They may exude a bit of prey drive due to their hunting days.

Trimming their nails once a month will help cut down on overgrowth. You can also prevent splitting and cracking, which can be painful for the dog. Not to mention, it can be painful on the eyes, when your floors or carpets are torn up. You’ll want to check their ears regularly for bacteria infection. Bathe as you believe necessary. Their coats do fine in hot or cold weather.

All in all, this is a dog that wants to be around its family. Long periods of time alone will not bode well for you and your family. Patience and commitment is what you need with a high energy breed like the Irish Setter.


Your Irish Setter may not need or eat 2 to 3 cups of high quality dry food per day. Moreover, each dog is unique and things like age, activity rate and metabolism can determine the volume of food your dog will eat.

Breaking up their meals into two or three meals will be beneficial for the dog in reducing their chances of getting Bloat. Bloat is a killer, and at the least, is painful.

Meat first ingredient in their food and you’ll want to stay away from filler. Avoid corn, wheat, soy product or formulas. Your best bet is a mixture of salmon and rice or beef, venison, chicken and turkey. Veggies and fruit are always nutritious for your dog and will help promote skin care and provide essential vitamins. Omega 3 and Omega 6 are great for helping with the Irish Setter’s coat and heart health.

If you have a moderate working dog between 60 and 70 pounds, then your dog will require roughly 2500 to 2800 calories per day. On the contrary, if you have a normal energy dog, your dog will only need 1500 to 1700 calories per day.

As always, you need to provide your dog with the most important nutrient of all, fresh drinking water.


In reality, you should brush your Irish Setter’s coat every other day. This helps reduce the amount of dead air from collecting as well as promotes a shiny and healthier coat. You can run a comb through the feathering portion of their coat to ensure no matting or tangling happens.

The Irish Setter should have a coat that has feathering on the ears. The head should have a silky look, short and fine in texture. The coat is longer and fine around the legs.

According to the American Kennel Club’s breed standard, the colors, red, chestnut, mahogany are all acceptable.

Fun Irish Setter Facts

  • The famous appearance that put the Irish Setter on the map, Walt Disney movie, “Big Red.” The movie stars a dog, of course, an Irish Setter that rebels against obedience and training but forms a bond with an orphan boy.
  • President Ronald Regan, Harry Truman, and candidate, Mitt Romney, all love them some Irish Setter as well.
  • One touching story, that made national headlines years ago, was the story of Governor Percival Baxter of Maine. Baxter had an Irish Setter of his own by the name of Garry. Garry went everywhere with his owner, Governor Baxter. From the state capitol to the governor’s house, Garry was always by his side and even a favorite with the children of Augusta. Unfortunately, Garry died, yet the governor would preserve the memory of Garry by half staffing the American flag at the state capitol building.

Closing Words

The Irish Setter will continue to be a favorite in the United States for many reasons. First, the breed is incredibly versatile and can serve many functions. Between their sheer athleticism and incredible stamina, the Setter makes a wonderful gun dog. And their elegance as well as their sweet nature will win more and more spectators ring side at any dog show.

For the right person, with the right set up, the Irish Setter is a wonderful companion, that is fun and enjoyable to be around. For a family with children, what more could a person ask for?

Photo via Flickr/Jan10

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