Known for their rollicking, fun-loving nature and their beautiful auburn coats, Irish Setters as we know them today have been popular for over 100 years. The breed is, indeed, one of the breeds that originated in Ireland. Happy-go-lucky, active, and affectionate, Irish Setters make excellent family pets.
The Irish Setter Dog Breed Standards & History
Irish Setters were developed as a gundog in Ireland in the 18th century. They were likely developed from Setters that were already being bred and used in other parts of Britain, making them the youngest of the Setter breeds. Those dogs were described as white with red spots and/or patches. (Though some dogs in Britain, imported from France, had black spots/patches.)
The Irish Setters used for hunting at that time were associated with the upper classes and landed gentry. Some of the families involved with developing the breed included the de Freyne family of French Park which began keeping detailed stud records in 1793; Lord Clancarty, Lord Dillon, and the Marquis of Waterford.
In the early days of the breed, Irish Setters were generally white and red dogs. It was only later that the all-red coat became popular. This is often attributed to the success of the great red dog named Palmerston in dog shows in Britain in the 1860s. After his striking success, there was great demand for solid red dogs. Dogs that had red and white coats almost died out.
(The Irish Red & White Setter was later established and formed as a separate breed in the 20th century.)
Today Irish Setters are expected to be solid red. The breed standard allows for a small snip of white on the chest, throat or toes, or even a centered streak of white on the head is allowed. This is a throwback to the days when the breed was partly white.
The standard specifically mentions that dogs may not have any black in their coats. This probably seems odd unless you realize that in the early days of Setters there was much crossbreeding among English, Irish, and Gordon Setters. At times it is possible to find puppies and dogs that seem to have a stray black hair in their otherwise mahogany coats.
The AKC breed standard for the Irish Setters describes the dogs in this way:
The Irish Setter is an active, aristocratic bird dog, rich red in color, substantial yet elegant in build. Standing over two feet tall at the shoulder, the dog has a straight, fine, glossy coat, longer on ears, chest, tail and back of legs. Afield, the Irish Setter is a swift-moving hunter; at home, a sweet natured, trainable companion. At their best, the lines of the Irish Setter so satisfy in overall balance that artists have termed it the most beautiful of all dogs. The correct specimen always exhibits balance, whether standing or in motion. Each part of the dog flows and fits smoothly into its neighboring parts without calling attention to itself.
Male Irish Setters stand about 27 inches tall at the withers and weigh about 70 pounds (or a little more). Females are about 25 inches tall at the withers and weigh about 60 pounds.
Along with AKC Irish Setters there are also Irish Setters used for hunting and field work. These dogs are usually smaller and carry less coat. They can be registered with various registries such as the Field Dog Stud Book (FDSB).
There are also Red Setter field trial dogs in the United States. These dogs were developed in the mid-20th century in the U.S. They are smaller that Irish Setters, with less coat. They are red or chestnut and other have some white on them. They are bred specifically for hunting and field trials. They were created by crossbreeding Irish Setter hunting dogs with English Setter field dogs and Pointers.
Irish Setter Pictures
There is never a shortage of photos of Irish Setters. Considered one of the most beautiful of all breeds of dogs, people love to take pictures of these Setters no matter what they are doing.
Irish Setter Colors
Irish Setters are generally red in color. This red can be different shades, however. The AKC recognizes the following colors for registration:
- Chestnut: Chestnut is a lighter shade of red
- Mahogany: Mahogany is a darker shade of red
- Red: Red is the middle color for most Irish Setters
Believe it or not, you really can tell the difference in these shades when you look at different Irish Setters.
You can also indicate if your dog has any white markings.
What to Expect When Caring For an Irish Setter
Irish Setters are large dogs. They are the tallest of the Setter breeds though not the heaviest. (Gordon Setters have bigger bone and are considered the heaviest of the Setters.) People usually consider Irish Setters to be the raciest and sleekest among the Setter breeds.
Irish Setters are very active dogs. If you get an Irish Setter you should make sure that you can meet this breed’s exercise requirements. They have lots of exuberant energy and they love to run. If they don’t get enough exercise, they can and will be destructive in your home. Good fences are necessary if you have an Irish Setter.
Irish Setters are usually very healthy dogs. As with other large breeds, it’s important to make sure you get a puppy or dog from a breeder that does testing for good hips. Puppies are too young for this testing so it’s important to make sure the parents of the puppy have been tested. Good hips in the parents can help avoid problems such as hip dysplasia.
The Irish Setter Club of America (ISCA) also recommends testing for autoimmune thyroiditis. Again, this is something that puppies are too young to test so inquire about the test status of the parents.
ISCA also recommends that the parents be tested for Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), a serious eye disease.
Most Irish Setters are fairly easy to groom. Even if your dog has a long coat, it only takes basic brushing and combing to keep it looking nice. The coat is normally fine and flat. Dogs that have been spayed/neutered can have “spay” coat. This kind of coat may have some fuzzy hair that needs a little more stripping or trimming to look nice.
Most people brush their Irish Setter a couple of times per week. Make sure you comb out the feathering. Bathe your dog about once per month unless he gets into something smelly or sticky. You can use a good conditioner or detangler on the feathers after the bath.
If your dog is out in the field, it’s a good idea for him to wear a jacket so he won’t pick up burrs. You can also use a product such as Cowboy Magic or a lubricant to help prevent picking up stickers in his coat.
All dogs need to have their nails trimmed regularly. Your dog also needs to have his ears checked and his teeth brushed on a regular basis.
Irish Setters do enjoy comfort, like other dogs. However, these dogs will rest well only after they have had a good run or plenty of outdoor fun.
Irish Setters have a reputation for loving to roam and this reputation is somewhat true. If your dog gets loose, you may have a hard time catching him. Irish Setters tend to think everything is a party. If your dog gets out, he’s likely to go from house to house trying to meet every dog. He could run for miles before you catch up with him.
Since they are smart dogs, you might think Irish Setters are easy to train. Not so fast. Irish Setters can have a mind of their own. That’s not to say that you can’t train an Irish Setter. You can. But you have to make training fun for them.
Don’t try to use harsh or bullying tactics on this breed. They will tune you out and never listen to you. Don’t repeat lessons that they have already learned. If your Irish Setter gets bored, he won’t pay attention.
You have to make training a game. As long as your dog is having fun, he will be willing to learn. Keep the lessons short.
If you make things fun and hold your dog’s attention, your Irish Setter can learn anything. They can excel in obedience (really!), rally, agility, tracking, nose work, as well as field work. They also have a good memory so if you screw up, they will remember that, too. They will also remember where you hide the treats.
Most Irish Setters are able to eat good quality kibble made by good companies that meet WSAVA dog food standards. Many breeders recommend foods such as Purina ProPlan. Some like Purina ProPlan for Sensitive Stomachs. Royal Canin and Eukanuba are also popular brands with some breeders. (Current supply chain issues can affect foods for some breeders and dogs.)
In general, foods that include grains are recommended for Irish Setters unless your dog has a verified grain allergy. If your dog does have a food allergy, we urge you to talk to your veterinarian about the best food to feed your dog.
There was a single family of related Irish Setters in the UK in the 1990s that had so-called “celiac disease” discussed in a scientific paper. This case has been discussed and repeated ad nauseum online. This condition (gluten-sensitive enteropathy) is not common in Irish Setters.
Common Irish Setter Mix Breeds
Irish Setters are well-known but because of their large size and exercise requirements, they are not one of the most popular breeds in the United States right now. There are not a lot of people breeding them or their mixes.
We did find a few Irish Setter mix breeds online. These are actual mixes, not just dogs that could possibly be created.
- Irish Doodles: This is a cross between an Irish Setter and a Poodle. It’s a little scary to think of the combined intelligence of the devilish smarts of the Irish Setter and the super brain of the Poodle. Crossing with a Poodle may reduce shedding in some dogs.
- Golden Irish: The Irish Setter x Golden Retriever cross is a big dog with lots of energy. These can be beautiful dogs. However, they can also be very fixated on playing and retrieving.
- Irish Lab Setter: A cross between an Irish Setter and a Labrador Retriever, these dogs are often either red or black. They can have a medium-long coat. They are often very smart. In personality, they may take after either parent.
Fun Facts about Irish Setters
- In 1870, an Irish Setter named Elcho was brought to the United States by Charles H. Turner. The dog became the first Irish Setter to win a championship in the U.S. He sired 197 puppies and helped establish the breed in the U.S.
- In Ireland today, a bus company uses an Irish Setter as its logo and mascot. The company is Bus Eireann (Irish Bus).
- More than one American president has owned Irish Setters in the White House. Harry Truman had an Irish Setter named Mike. Ronald Reagan had an Irish named Peggy. And Richard Nixon had the famous King Timahoe.
- Big Red, the Disney film, is about an Irish Setter. The movie is based on the book by author Jim Kjelgaard. The gorgeous Irish Setter in the movie becomes friends with a French-Canadian boy who understands his independent spirit.
- In the 19th century, famous English Setter breeders Edward Laverack and Purcell Llewellin are believed to have used some Irish Setters in their breeding programs because of the field success and looks of the Irish dogs.
Do Irish Setters Make Good Family Pets?
Yes, Irish Setters make very good family pets. They like children and they get along well with most other pets. Care should be taken if you have small pets such as rabbits, hamsters, and other caged pets. Irish Setters will chase small animals unless they are taught not to bother them. If you have cats, it’s best if you bring an Irish Setter into the home as a puppy so he can learn to leave the cats alone. Irish Setters do require plenty of daily exercise so they are best suited for active families.
Are Irish Setters Smart?
Yes, Irish Setters are very smart. However, they do not always obey. They are also good at planning their shenanigans. For example, an Irish Setter is perfectly capable of making a noise in another room to make you get out of bed. Once you are out of bed, your Irish is happy to get in your bed and take your warm spot. The more time you spend with your Irish Setter, the closer you can bond. They love to be with people. Training is easier if you have a close connection with your dog.
Is an Irish Setter a Hound?
No, Irish Setters are not hounds. All of the Setter breeds are part of the Sporting group. That includes the Irish Setter, the Gordon Setter, the Irish Red & White Setter, and the English Setter. They hunt various gamebirds by scenting the air.
Do Irish Setters like to cuddle?
Yes, Irish Setters do like to cuddle. They are affectionate dogs. They love to be with people. This is not a breed that should be left outdoors. They want to be part of the family. They also love to entertain you. Life is a party for most Irish Setters. They find the fun in everything.
Do Irish Setters shed?
Yes, Irish Setters do shed. Their coat isn’t as heavy as some breeds but you can still expect shedding in the spring and fall. Regular brushing will help reduce the shedding.
Irish Setters have a wonderful, happy personality. Contrary to what you might have heard, these are very intelligent dogs even though they don’t always listen to you. The keys to training your Irish Setter are finding ways to motivate them and keep their interest. Irish Setters are loving and affectionate. They make wonderful family dogs, especially for active families.
Author & Pet Expert
Carlotta Cooper is a vice president of the Sportsmen’s and Animal Owners’ Voting Alliance (SAOVA) and an AKC Legislative Liaison. She writes for multiple pet blogs and she’s a breed columnist for the AKC Gazette. She’s also a contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine Dog News. She is the author of several books about dogs and other animals.