Irish Setter

PetMD Editorial
By PetMD Editorial
Published: March 16, 2009

The Irish Setter is a member of the Sporting Group. Its distinctive and eye-catching deep red mahogany coat and full, silky hair makes the Setter a favorite with the well-heeled set. Add in the Setter's unbound enthusiasm, superior hunting skills and happy disposition, few can match this breed as an ideal companion pet.

Physical Characteristics

The Irish Setter is the result of combining the best traits from several breeds, including the English Setter, the Pointer, the Irish Terrier and the Irish Water Spaniel. Although it began as a red and white breed, the Irish Setter soon came to be favored in deep red. The Setter possesses a moderate, two-layered straight coat that lies close to the body, with longer hair on the ears, chest, belly, legs and tail. The Setter stands from 25 to 27 inches tall at the withers, and is slightly longer than it is tall. The body should be in perfect proportion all around, with a long neck that is accentuated when the Setter is standing at attention, with a graceful, proud composure.

Personality and Temperament

The Irish Setter is enthusiastic, energetic, and athletic. It requires daily exercise, preferably in wide open enclosed spaces, such as a park. It is active and friendly towards children, other animals, and people. In fact, the Irish Setter hates to be alone and is most well behaved when surrounded by humans.

An intelligent dog, the Irish Setter needs tasks to set its mind on so as not to be bored. You may find your Setter getting into trouble if it is forced to look for ways to occupy its mind. This breed is an affable, happy one, with a pleasing personality. Therefore, it is too pleasing to be an effective guard dog. On the other hand, it is excellent at greeting new friends into the home -- neither excessively shy nor aggressive.


Irish Setters require regular brushing to prevent matting of the coat; even more so in the winter, when the under coat is thicker. Even without a show standard trim, this breed looks its best when it is given an occasional trimming. A thorough round of exercise for at least an hour a day is a must for this breed. Irish Setters cannot bear cold climates, preferring temperate weather.


An Irish Setter normally has a 12 to 14 year lifespan. Some of its minor health problems include panosteitis, hypothyroidism, megaesophagus, osteosarcoma, and Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy (HOD). Hemophilia A, Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD), and epilepsy can be occasionally seen in them. A DNA for PRA, thyroid, hip, eye, and cardiac test is advisable for them. CHD, PRA, and gastric torsion are some of this breed’s major health problems.

History and Background

Bred as field hunting dogs in Ireland, the Irish Setter took to pointing with great talent and enthusiasm. With a naturally strong olfactory sense, the Setter is able to sniff out marks (birds) from distances, track the location, and then silently freeze in place so the hunter can follow and bag the prey.

The first of the rich red setters took notice of dog enthusiasts around the 19th century. Although they were being bred in multiple color combinations, the deep red coloring took precedence, and breeders selected those of ideal coloring for further breeding. These came to be identified as Irish Red Setters. The Red Setters were brought into the United States around the middle of the 19th century, and accepted into the American kennel Club (AKC) in 1878.

Over the years the breed gained in popularity, eventually becoming one of the most popular breeds in the 1970s. As hunters, the Irish Setter makes for an excellent companion, but is considered more popular today as a pet. In fact, the Irish Setter is currently at number 67 in the AKC's dog registry.

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