Irish Setters are intelligent, gentle, and happy dogs. They make rugged hunting partners and affectionate family members—fitting perfectly into any active, outdoorsy lifestyle. Just be prepared to draw some attention because the Irish Setter's stunning red coat will turn heads wherever it goes.
Irish Setter History
The Irish Setter dates back to 18th-century Ireland. The breed name in Gaelic is "Madra Rua," which translates to "red dog."
Breeders created Irish Setters by mixing the Old Spanish Pointer, setting spaniels, and early Scottish setters. Though they're well-known for their solid red coats, early versions of the breed were white with red blotches, similar to the Irish Red and White Setter. In the early 1800s, the Earl of Enniskillen developed the rich, red coat that the breed is renowned for today.
Irish hunters bred these dogs to work swiftly on any terrain and in any climate. They're excellent at scent-hunting, pointing, and retrieving, and are especially well-suited for hunting on the wetlands.
The Irish Setter arrived in the United States in the early 19th century with Irish immigrants. And the American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1878. During the 1970s, the Irish Setter was one of the most popular breeds in America. Though Irish Setters aren't as commonplace in the States as they once were, sportsmen and pet owners alike still adore the breed.
Irish Setter Traits
The Irish Setter has a sturdy yet elegant build. Racy and athletic, these dogs look every bit the swift-moving hunters that they are.
Coat and Coloring
The Irish Setter has short, fine hair on the head and forelegs. The coat on all other parts of the body is moderate-length and flat. Long, silky feathering and fringe adorn the ears, legs, chest, belly, and tail.
The coat comes in a range of shades, from deep mahogany to rich chestnut. A small amount of white on the chest is possible. The breed's coat may also have lighter shading around the feathering.
Distinctive Physical Traits
The Irish Setter has a long, lean head that's emphasized by chiseling along the muzzle. Dark or medium brown, almond-shaped eyes give this breed a soft, alert expression. The ears hang close to the head and are so long that they nearly reach the nose. The tail is moderately long and tapers to a fine point.
Irish Setter Temperament
Irish Setters are a friendly, playful breed. They love to be around people and are great with kids. However, this breed is not for everyone. Due to their active, energetic nature, Irish Setters require a lot of exercise. For this reason, they aren't a great fit for inactive families or apartment living.
Firm but gentle training from an early age is important for Irish Setters. Because of their strong hunting instincts, Irish Setters will happily ignore their owners and follow a scent trail without adequate training to stay on task. Irish Setters are also slower to mature than other breeds, which means their boisterous, mischievous "puppy phase" will last well into their adult years.
This good-natured breed loves to be the center of attention. Though they're eager to please and adore their people, Irish Setters can also be independent or stubborn.
Irish Setter Care
To meet their nutritional needs, feed your Irish Setter a high-quality food that's appropriate for their life stage (e.g., puppy, adult, senior) and energy level.
Irish Setters are at a greater risk than other breeds to bloat (also known as twisted stomach). To help prevent bloat, break your dog's food up into several meals a day, and use a food bowl specially designed to slow their rate of eating. When timing meals, avoid feeding your pup immediately after any kind of vigorous activity and wait at least an hour after eating before allowing them to run or exercise.
These are just a few ways you can help prevent this life-threatening condition. A veterinarian is the best resource for other recommendations—including surgical options—for preventing bloat.
All dogs have the potential to become overweight, and it's easy to feed your pup too many calories without realizing it. Keep your Irish Setter at a healthy weight by monitoring their food intake and measuring out meals to avoid accidental overfeeding. Also, don't forget to count calories from treats in their daily totals. As a guideline, treats should make up no more than 10% of a dog's calories.
An Irish Setter's coat requires brushing at least twice a week with a soft-bristled brush or pin brush to keep it looking its best. Use a long-toothed comb as necessary to work out any tangles.
Because of their long ears, Irish Setters may be more susceptible to ear infections. So, check and clean your ears regularly to prevent infections. Also, maintaining good dental hygiene is essential for the overall long-term health of all dogs. In addition to professional dental cleanings, establish an at-home dental care routine that includes regular teeth brushing.
Irish Setters need more exercise than most dogs. So, be sure to provide yours with plenty of physical and mental challenges. Dog sports—such as field trials, hunting, agility, tracking, and competitive obedience—are fun ways to exercise their bodies and minds. Other ideas include long walks, jogging, hiking, or games of fetch in an enclosed yard.
The Irish Setter has the reputation of being a bit of an airhead and thus difficult to train. But the more likely cause of this perceived flightiness is owners using training techniques that don't motivate the breed. Irish Setters do best with short training sessions combined with plenty of exercise and playtime.
As mentioned before, Irish Setters can also be stubborn. But you can overcome these tendencies by using treats and favorite toys as rewards during training sessions.
Irish Setter Genetic Health Conditions
Rod-Cone Dysplasia 1
Rod-Cone Dysplasia 1 (rcd1) is an inherited eye disorder that results in blindness, and was identified in Irish Setters and Irish Red and White Setters.
Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy (Discovered in the Irish Setter)
Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy (GLD) is a disorder which results in degeneration of the nervous system. GLD is characterized by muscle weakness, tremors, and ataxia (uncoordinated movement). Signs of the disease also include behavioral changes, incoherence, blindness, and deficits in normal reflexes.
Knowing if your Irish Setter is a carrier or at-risk for these conditions can help you and your veterinarian plan for your pup’s lifelong care. With Wisdom Panel™ Premium, you can get results for over 200 genetic health tests.
Reviewed July 26, 2020 by Cindy Elston, DVM, MPH