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The Irish Setter

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

Irish Setter

The Irish Setter is a large purebred from Ireland who today does well in various areas including hunting, tracking, agility, pointing, competitive obedience and retrieving. In Irish it is called the Sotar rua which translates to red setter. It was bred to be a gundog originally but is also a great companion for active homes and is used very successfully as a therapy dog in children’s hospitals, retirement homes and hospices.

Here is the Irish Setter at a Glance
Name Irish Setter
Other Names Red Setter, Irish Red Setter, Sotar Rua
Nicknames None
Origin Ireland
Average size Large
Average weight 52 to 70 pounds
Average height 22 to 26 inches
Life span 12 to 14 years
Coat type Fine, medium to long
Hypoallergenic No
Color Red, red and white
Popularity Somewhat popular – ranked 72nd by the AKC
Intelligence Above average
Tolerance to heat Good – can handle warm and fairly hot weather but nothing too hot or extreme
Tolerance to cold Very good – can handle cold weather not extreme
Shedding Average to above average – expect loose hair around the home
Drooling Moderate – can be some when it has been active but only a little
Obesity Average – not prone to gaining weight but if overfed and under exercised it is possible
Grooming/brushing Moderate care needed – brush daily
Barking Rare – not a dog to worry about for noise level
Exercise needs Very energetic – daily exercise is essential
Trainability Moderately easy
Friendliness Excellent – very social dog
Good first dog Good but best with experienced owners
Good family pet Excellent with socialization
Good with children Excellent with socialization
Good with other dogs Excellent with socialization
Good with other pets Good but needs socialization as have a high prey drive
Good with strangers Excellent with socialization
Good apartment dog Low – too boisterous and needs a yard
Handles alone time well Low – can suffer from separation anxiety
Health issues Not very healthy breed – many issues including hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, CAD and Epilepsy
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $270 a year for treats and good quality dry dog food
Miscellaneous expenses $445 a year for license, grooming, training, toys and miscellaneous costs
Average annual expense $1200 a year as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $875
Biting Statistics None reported

The Irish Setter’s Beginnings

The Irish Setter was bred in Ireland in the 17th or 18th century and in its development is the Irish Water Spaniel, Gordon Setter, Irish Terrier, Pointer and English Setter. At the time it would have been shorter than today’s dog and was red and white. It was bred this way to be better at what it was bred for, and that was to be a gundog, a dog that went out with hunters and acted as a pointer and retriever, to use its body to show the hunters where the birds were that they had shot down. It was bred to have speed so it could move quickly from downed prey to human and back again. It was developed to be effective in wet and dry land and to have a lot of endurance.

It was later in its development, in the 19th century that it became more known for having a coat that was red all over and that just came down to breeders’ preference. There were many respected Irish breeders at the time developing their own lines including Lord Dillon, Lord Clancarty, the de Freyene family and the Marquis of Waterford. In 1886 the first breed standard was drawn up and agreed upon by the Irish Red Setter Club. The standard used today in most countries is not very different to the original one.

New Lease on Life

It came to the US in the 1800s and was called the Irish Red Setter at first. In the late 19th century it was popular in dog show rings but tended to be the red version. There were other colors at the time but these were not preferred so as in Ireland and the UK breeders veered towards all red dogs. In 1878 it was recognized by the AKC.

By the 1940s though the working version of the breed was disappearing. Breeders from all around began to work on the problem including importing in dogs from overseas. The National Red Setter Field Trial Club was started to encourage breeding work dogs and to test them. There is some argument between the Field Dog Stud book, the AKC and the Field Trial Club about registration. In the US there are two types now, a larger heavier show dog and the sleeker and lighter field dog.

With the movie and books in the 1960s and 1970s starring Big Red an Irish Setter the breed became popular. Today it is commonly used as a therapy dog with great success. It is ranked 72nd by the AKC.

The Dog You See Today

Irish Setters are a large dog weighing 52 to 70 pounds and standing 22 to 26 inches tall. It has a long head that is lean and a rounded or domed head. It has a deep muzzle and a black or brown nose with wide nostrils. The almond shaped eyes are medium sized and set a little wide apart. Usual colors are medium to dark brown. The low set ears are triangular shaped and they hang down close.

Its body is longer than it is tall by just a little and it has a deep chest. It has a fine, medium length silky coat that is red or red and white. When it is younger it can have a silvery grey color behind the legs and ears but that grows out as it grows up. On its face and front of the legs the hair is shorter. On the back of the legs, ears, belly and chest there is long feathering. Its legs are straight and its feet have arched toes and are small. Irish Setters have a long tail that is thicker at the base and then thins to a point. Show dogs are heavier then field dogs and larger and have a thicker coat.

The Inner Irish Setter


This is an energetic and lively breed, with an independent side. It is alert and will let you know if someone is breaking in by barking but for the most part it is not likely to try to drive them off. It is a social, friendly dog and loves to play, have fun and be active and busy. For it to be happy and not out of control and high strung it will need lot of activity and mental stimulation. It is okay for first time owners but best with experienced ones.

It is also a very affectionate dog and will want a lot of attention from you. It can be impulsive and strong minded which is why experience helps. It does not like to be left alone for long periods and will suffer from separation anxiety which can lead to destructive behavior. It is above average in intelligence and has a mischievous side. In fact it tends to be puppy like even when physically full grown for a while.

Living with an Irish Setter

What will training look like?

The Irish Setter is moderately easy to train so it will take some attention and time but the progress will happen and it won’t be slow and painful! It can be willful so you will need to be firm with it and consistency is very important too. It can get easily distracted so start off where there are less distractions. It is eager to please and with a positive approach using treats, praise, rewards and encouragement it will get results.

Include in the training responding to recall as otherwise when it is off leash the Irish Setter is good at pretending it does not hear you. While how dominant this breed is varies from one dog to another it still requires clear rules and a firm owner. Avoid being too repetitive as it will get bored and start to act out.

Make sure that your dog starts socialization as early as possible so that it is more confident, can be the best dog it can and is one you can trust when you are out with it, or when you have visitors. In terms of house training usually this is easy as long as you keep it on a schedule at first and use a crate. Make sure too that as a puppy you do not let it jump up at people as it will retain this bad habit when it gets bigger.

How active is the Irish Setter?

This is a very active dog so it is not suitable for apartment living and it needs a big yard or even some land to play on. It should be taken for a couple of long walks at least a day, and should also get time at a dog park on a regular basis where it can run off leash, socialize and play games with you. It needs to be with owners who are active themselves and are committed to being active with their dog. It would be happy to go swimming, hiking, running along as you cycle, jogging and so on. If it does not have enough mental and physical stimulation it becomes hyperactive, high strung, hard to control, restless and destructive. At least an hour a day if not a bit more.

Caring for the Irish Setter

Grooming needs

This is a moderate shedding breed so expect it to shed daily and to leave loose hair around the home, on your furnishings and your clothes. You will need to vacuum often and brushing its coat daily will help reduce what gets left around, it will also remove debris and burrs and help prevent tangles in the longer sections. To avoid drying out the skin only bathe and shampoo when it really needs it. In between you have the option of doing a dry shampoo clean. You will also need to take it to a groomers every few months to have the coat trimmed, and have the nails clipped if they are not worn down.

Other needs are brushing its teeth at least two to three times a week and then checking and cleaning its ears with an ear cleansing solution and cotton swab once a week. Do not insert anything into the ears. Dogs with ears that hang down are a lot more prone to infections so make sure they are dried after swimming and bath time. If you want to cut its nails yourself do not cut too low down, it will hurt the dog and cause bleeding.

Feeding Time

It will likely need somewhere between 2 to 3 cups of a good quality dry dog food a day, split into at least two meals to avoid problems with bloat. How much each dog needs can vary depending on its size, age, health, level of activity and metabolism rate.

How is the Irish Setter with children and other animals?

This is a great energetic and fun playmate for your children but it can be boisterous so the young ones should still be supervised. Make sure too that you teach the children how to touch and play nicely. It is good with other dogs too especially with socialization and it enjoys making new friends and having buddies to play with. With other pets how the Irish Setter is can vary. It comes from a hunting birds background so it is probably not a good dog to have if you keep birds. Some are fine with cats and other small pets and some are less so, socialization and being raised with them will help.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

Irish Setters live for 12 to 14 years on average but it is not a very healthy breed so be prepared for some health issues along the way. These could include issues like hypothyroidism, eye problems, joint dysplasia, allergies, epilepsy, ear infections, HOD, cancer, bloat, Von Willebrand’s, CLAD, panosteitis, celiac disease and OCD.

Biting Statistics

The Irish Setter is not named in any incident reported in the US or Canada over the last 34 years that involved a dog attacking causing bodily harm on a person. This does not mean it is not possible or even that it has not happened elsewhere in the world! Any dog is capable of becoming aggressive or snapping given certain conditions. To lessen those chances though there are somethings you can do as a responsible owner. Make sure you get a dog you can care for and give the affection, attention and stimulation it needs. Make sure it is socialized and trained too.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

An Irish Setter puppy will cost around $875 depending where you are, that would be for a pet standard from a good breeder. For something show quality from a top breeder you will be paying anything from a couple of thousand up to several thousands of dollars. A shelter or rescue dog will be more like $50 to $400 and will have some medical needs taken care of but is likely to be an adult not a puppy. Avoid buying from ads, pet shops or other kinds of backyard breeders or puppy mill type places.

Initial costs will be both medical and non-medical in nature. There will be items you will need for it when it comes home like a crate, collar and leash, bowls, bedding and such for about $200. Medical concerns will include having a physical exam by a vet, deworming, blood tests, vaccinations, micro chipping and spaying or neutering. These will be around $300.

Food will be an annual cost and including treats should amount to around $270 a year if you use a good quality dry dog food. Medical basics like shots, tick and flea prevention, check ups and pet insurance comes to about $485 a year. Miscellaneous items, toys, license, basic training and grooming are going to cost about $445 a year. This gives an annual cost of around $1200 or more.


Looking for a Irish Setter Puppy Name? Let select one from our list!

The Irish Setter is a very active, attractive, good natured but very energetic and mischievous dog. It makes a great family dog or companion for those who are active too, and is best with people who have some experience just because of its willful side. It will not be happy being left alone for long periods or being ignored. They can be high strung, poorly behaved and destructive when not raised well and socialized. It will also need daily grooming and there will be an average amount of shedding.

Popular Irish Setter Mixes

Golden Irish
Golden Retriever ,Irish Setter Mix
General Information
Size Large
Height 22 to 26 inches
Weight 60 to 75 pounds
Life span 10 to 15 years
Touchiness Fairly sensitive
Barking Rare
Activity Very Active
Breed Traits

Great family dog
Easy to train



Irish Doodle
Irish Setter and Poodle Mix
General Information
Size Medium to Large
Height 22 to 26 inches
Weight 30 to 70 pounds
Life span 12 to 15 years
Touchiness Moderate
Barking Occasionally
Activity Moderately active
Breed Traits

Great family dog



Featured Image Credit: PamStork, Pixabay
Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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