ALL DOG BREED PROFILES

Irish Setter

Irish Setter dog
John Walton
Written by John Walton

If you love the Irish Setter, you should know this is a very popular feeling. This breed actually ranks as the 68th most popular breed in the world thanks to their beautiful looks and friendly deposition. So, people everywhere feel that this cutie pie should be on their lap all they long.

Breed characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityHigh
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog breed group: Hunting dogs
Height: 23-28 inches tall at the shoulder
Weight: 60-75 lb.
Life span: 11-14 years

As the name suggests, this beautiful breed originated in Ireland where they were bred for hunting birds. As beautiful and charming as the Irish Setters are, the breed is not for everybody. Their charm, playfulness and friendliness might be tempting as the obvious choice for your new companion, but be aware that the breed requires quite a bit of work and plenty of exercise.

They need to be constantly active and they like to always have a job to do and always be on the move. They will do best in a very active home with a fenced yard. However, they might be OK with living in an apartment as long as their handler is very active and willing to involve them in plenty of physical and mental activities. Still, this is a bit of a stretch as apartment dwelling is not very recommended for this lively breed.

You should just keep in mind that without a vent for their energy and plenty of mental stimulation, the Irish Setter might become bored and destructive.

The Irish Setters do very well in a home with children as they are able to keep up with their energy levels and are very affectionate and gentle. They also get along with other dogs, cats and other family pets but might not do so well with the family bird. They were bred to hunt wild birds, remember?

These dongs don’t make good guard dogs as they are extremely friendly and love to be around people as well as meeting new individuals. They also don’t make a good backyard dog. Nothing upsets them more than to be apart from their humans for extended periods of time. In fact, they are one of the more prone breeds to develop separation anxiety. This is one of the reasons why crate training is highly recommended for this breed.

Main Highlights
  • They have a distinctive sense of smell and can pick up a scent off the air.
  • The Irish Setter is a very sensitive breed and is prone to separation anxiety.
  • Due to their affection for people and sensitivity, they are used extensively as therapy dogs in hospitals and schools.
  • They are very easily trained but have an extremely short attention span.
  • The show dogs are generally thicker and heavier than field dogs that are used for hunting.
  • The Irish Setters were bred for tracking and locating prey birds.
  • They are very friendly and not assertive, making them a poor choice for guard dogs.
Breed History

The Irish Setter originated in Ireland in the 18th century. They are the likely descendants of multiple breeds such as Gordon Setters, Pointers, English Setters and Spaniels. For the first years of their existence, they were called modder rhu in Gaelic, which means red dog. They were also referred to as Red Spaniels before their present name got adopted.

The main purpose of this breed was to locate the prey and freeze while holding a pointing position to let the hunter know where the bird is located. They were and are still known for their excellent sense of smell. For instance, an Irish Setter is able to pick up on the scent off the air. This is quite unlikely as most hunting dogs pick up the scent off the ground. The air smell is a unique feature which gained them popularity among Irish hunters.

The Irish Setters were introduced in the United States in 1875. They became very popular during the presidency of Richard Nixon who received an Irish Setter for his 56th birthday from a staff member of the White House. Harry Truman and Alexander II, Tsar of Russia, were also among the famous fans of the Irish Setters.

Today, the Irish Setters can be found in the field, helping hunters or in the show rinks. Field dogs are slightly smaller and agile and have a thinner coat.

The breed is also used as therapy dogs in schools and hospitals due to their gentle and sensitive disposition.

Size

The agile Irish Setter measures 23-28 inches tall at the shoulder, and weighs in at 60-75 lb with the females being usually smaller. Show dogs are typically heavier and larger than field dogs.

Personality and Character

There are two things that the Irish Setter requires for their lives to be happy and fulfilled:

  • The first one, is being around their families.
  • The second is being physically active.

The Irish Setter is probably the furthest breed from being a couch potato. They need to be kept busy and active, love jogging, running, jumping, swimming, playing, and fetching. They are always on the move, onto the next exciting thing. That’s why they need to be involved in plenty of physical activity and doggy sports.

Irish Setters will do well in agility and obedience classes as well as hunting and sporting events. They like to be here, there, and everywhere. We can actually say that a moving Irish Setter is a happy Irish Setter.

They love people and grow very attached to their families. Being left alone in the yard or the kennel makes them miserable as they are very prone to separation anxiety. Irish Setters are very friendly and will most likely make a poor guard dog, as they are not a very assertive breed.

This elegant breed has perhaps only one character flaw: an extremely short attention span. This can be dangerous for them as it will have them bolting down the street after a new scent as soon as you turn your back on them.

Health and Potential Problems

The Irish Setter is generally a healthy and sturdy breed. As with many other breeds, irresponsible breeding left them vulnerable to potential health and temperament problems. That’s why you need to make sure that you get your puppy or dog from a reputable shelter or a responsible breeder that understands and cares for the breeds well-being and temperament. Most reputable breeders and shelters will make sure the dog or puppy has received a clean bill of health from a vet.

The diseases that may affect this bundle of joy are:

  • Bloat- Without proper vet care, it is a potentially life threatening condition. It affects larger breeds and happens when the dog eats or drinks too fast or is excessively exercised right after a meal, trapping air or gas in the stomach. The dog’s inability to expel the air or gas makes the stomach twist on itself. Symptoms may be restlessness, weakness, excessive drooling, retching without vomiting.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy- An eye disorder that causes a slow deterioration of the retina. May result in blindness or loss of vision.
  • Hypothyroidism- A condition which occurs when the body is unable to regulate proper thyroid hormone levels. Symptoms may be weight gain, dry skin, and baldness. It is usually treated with medication.
  • Hip Dysplasia- A common issue among dogs, it occurs when the thigh bone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. May cause lameness and discomfort. Severe cases are usually corrected with surgery.
  • Epilepsy- Found in dogs as well as human. It’s a disorder that causes seizures. Unfortunately, there is no known cause or cure, and is usually treated with medication.
  • Entropion- An eye disorder that causes the eyelid to roll inward, sometimes injuring or irritating the eyeball. Severe cases can be surgically corrected.
  • Von Willbrand’s Disease- A disorder that is found in humans and dogs, and affects the clotting process. Symptoms may be blood in stool, bleeding gums and nosebleeds. There is no known cure but it can be managed.
  • Canine Leukocyte- A hereditary disorder that affects the white blood cells ability to fight infections. It can weaken the immune system and cause reoccurring infections.
  • Osteochondrosis Dissecans- a condition that is caused by an abnormal growth of the cartilage in the joints. It causes discomfort and stiffening of the joints.
  • Panosteitis- A disease that targets the bones. There is no known cure or treatment but is usually managed with pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medication.
  • Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy- It is a disorder that is thought to be caused by high levels of Calcium and protein in the dog’s diet. Symptoms may be appetite lose, swollen joints, fever and lameness. It is usually treated with antibiotics, steroids and pain medication.

This may seem like a lot of diseases but you shouldn’t worry. With a proper diet, plenty of exercise and regular visits to the vet, your loyal companion will remain by your side for years to come.

Care Features

The Irish Setter makes a wonderful addition for an active family and, if you can keep up with this lively beautiful breed, you’ve hit the jackpot for the perfect companion.

They are very friendly and devoted to their families and get unhappy if left by themselves for too long. Being locked in a kennel for more than necessary or left in the yard for extended periods of time will make the Irish Setter miserable, bored and destructive.

Crate training is highly recommended, to protect your belongings from the wrath of an unattended Irish Setter but also to provide a special space for them to retire when tired. Crate training is also highly effective in house training. It was also proven effective in dealing with separation anxiety, which the Irish Setters are prone to. By kennel training the puppy for a few hours while the owner is home, it proves to the puppy or the dog that the owner will be back every time, and they will not be abandoned.

The Irish Setters are fairly easy to train as they are very intelligent and eager to please. However, some Irish Setters are blessed with a stubborn streak and they require a firm and confident handler that can set clear boundaries and consistent reinforcement. If the Irish Setter finds the handler to be meek, they will take advantage of it and manipulate the owner to their own gain.

Training needs to be kept fresh and innovative as the Irish Setters get bored quickly and have a very short attention span. In order to keep their attention for long enough for them to learn anything the training needs to be exciting and interesting. They respond very well to positive reinforcement, treats, plenty of praise and games. Harsh training or treatment doesn’t sit very well with the Irish Setter as they are a highly sensitive breed.

As with any other breed, the Irish Setters need proper early socialization to grow up to their full potential. They need to be introduced to different people, children, animals and many different environments. Enrolling the puppy into puppy kindergarten is highly recommended as it can help your puppy learn and do many exciting new things while creating a bond between you.

It is very important for the Irish Setter to get plenty of exercise. They like having a task to do, and are happiest when they are on the move. They will do very well in agility and obedience, hunting and other sports. Sufficient exercise and mental stimulation will prevent them from becoming bored and taking it out on your possessions.

Feeding Schedule

Each dog’s nutritional needs are different and depend on their size, age and activity level. However, the average Irish Setter will benefit from 2-3 cups of high quality dog food, divided into 2 meals.

These dogs are more prone to bloat than other breeds and the condition occurs when the dog eats or drinks too fast. It also happens if the dog is exercised right after a meal, trapping gas or air in the stomach. If unable to expel the gas, the stomach can twist on itself and the condition may be lethal without fast vet intervention. Special dishes can be found at most pet stores to slow down the consumption of water or food, to prevent bloat.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The Irish Setter’s coat is one of their most remarkable features. It is silky and fairly long, the outer coat is fine and soft while the under coat is thicker during the winter. The coat feathers beautifully on the chest, legs, tail and ears.

The colour of the coat is truly magnificent and ranges from mahogany to a rich red. It is also common for them to have some white patches, although the solid red colour is more desirable among show dogs.

The upkeep on the coat is fairly extensive due to its length, and needs to be brushed a few times a week to keep it from tangling and developing mats. Due to the shape of the ears, they need to be cleaned and tended to more regularly to prevent reoccurring ear infections.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The Irish Setters are a perfect addition to families with children. They can match their energy level, and are very playful and affectionate. They tend to develop a very close bond with their families, and the child will most likely gain a four legged best friend for many years to come. Toddlers might find the Irish Setter a little overwhelming due to their bouncy and busy nature.

As with other breeds, playtime between dogs and children must be supervised by an adult at all times. Children must be taught respect and space when it comes to their four legged pal. Any ear or tail pulling must be discouraged immediately.

Other dogs, cats and family pets will find the Irish Setter quite the peaceful companion. They get along with most other critters, but they should not be left alone with a pet bird as they were bred to hunt birds and the prey instinct remains strong in the breed.

If you are a very physically active person and are looking for a jogging companion, or a hunting buddy, or a swimming partner the Irish Setter is the perfect dog for you. However, you will need a large fenced yard or you should live in the country and have plenty of space for the Irish Setter to run and play in.

The Irish Setters are extremely intelligent, sensitive and have a deep love for their families. They make a perfect companion for anyone as long as they have plenty of opportunities to vent their energy.

The breed retains their puppy looks and mannerism well into their teens. Also, they get along with everybody and anything and will bring much joy, laughter and unconditional love into your life. That is if you can keep up with this energetic ball of fur.

Children, other dogs, cats, and other pets will find a loyal and gentle companion in the Irish Setter.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

  • Paul

    I have an Irish Setter and he is definitely a crazy dog! Always trying to be adventurous and ready to play :). Now, I’m curious, are all Irish Setters like this or is mine just a bit more special?

    • John Walton

      It is a curious an really adventurous that’s why it really complements hunters and active pet parents. They are filled with energy and can keep up with your jogs or casual strolls.

  • Benjamin

    I want to get myself one of these beautiful dogs, but I am wondering about the exercise levels. Does the Irish Setter need daily exercise or would 2 – 3 times a week be enough?

    • John Walton

      As part of the Setter family, a daily exercise routine is a must with at least one who hour being allocated to exercise. They need this exercise level to make sure that their physical stimulation is met.

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