Guide to the Irish Setter's Personality, Traits, and Health

Updated January 11, 2022
Purebred Irish setter relaxing on sofa at home

Are you thinking about getting an Irish Setter? If you are looking for an enthusiastic, friendly dog who loves being around people, this breed may be the perfect choice for you. Irish Setters are not well-suited to serve as watchdogs, but they do make energetic family pets and good bird dogs.

Origin and History of the Breed

This distinctive member of the Sporting Dog group has long been the pride of Ireland. It is a mixture of several types of setter and spaniels mixed with pointer. The breed was first imported to the United States in 1875 and was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) shortly after in 1878. Setters were originally bred to provide assistance to bird hunters. Today, they are still just as popular as bird dogs as they are as family pets.

Irish Setter dog sitting in a flower field


The Irish Setter is sometimes referred to as the "Red Setter" (not to be confused with the Irish Red and White Setter), which is fitting, given their beautiful coat color. These friendly dogs have equally vibrant personalities.


Setters tend to weigh between 60 and 70 pounds when full grown and reach a shoulder height of approximately 24 inches. They have lean, strong bodies with a deep chest and frame that slopes slightly downward from the shoulders to the back. These dogs have low, pendulous ears, a long snout, and a feathered tail.

The rich, solid mahogany coat of the Irish Setter is easily the breed's most recognizable feature. Their coloring can range from red to a deep chestnut shade. Occasionally, individuals will have a small patch of white fur on their chest. Their silky coat is medium-length and primarily straight, although it does tend to have a bit of wave to it, especially around the ears.


The Irish Setter is well known for having high energy and an exuberant, friendly personality. Setters are always looking for someone to have a good time with, and they are not all that particular about who. Unlike many other breeds, these dogs do not tend to be wary of strangers. Because of this, they don't make good guard dogs. They do, however, get along well with children and other pets.

Exercise Requirements

Unless you give these dogs plenty of space and activity, all that pent-up energy will be funneled into other, less desirable behaviors. If you're into physical activity and you're looking for a canine companion to share it with, the Irish Setter may be the right breed for you. However, if you simply want a quiet companion to share your evening with after a day at the office, this breed isn't right for you.

Irish Setter Carrying Ball In Mouth While Running On Field

Setters require at least one to two hours of exercise each day. Expect to take your dog for daily walks, runs, or hikes, and allow them to run off-leash to burn off any extra energy. However, be mindful of not over-exercising these dogs due to their risk of hip dysplasia.


Irish Setters may be excitable dogs, but that doesn't mean they can't be trained. You will need to exercise great patience and consistency to enjoy success with basic training such as house breaking, but it can be accomplished. The sooner you start training your dog, the better. Most Setters don't begin to settle down even slightly until 2 to 3 years of age, so early training is a must.

Woman training Irish setter dog

Every Irish Setter should be taken through obedience training. This is essential to gain and maintain some control over your pet, and training should then be reinforced positively on an ongoing basis. Agility training is a great activity for Irish Setters and their owners to get involved with. This kind of training shows this breed off at its best. Irish Setters can also be trained to serve as pointers in the bird hunting field; after all, this is what the breed was originally created to do.

Health Concerns

There are some health issues that have a tendency to affect this breed.

  • Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA): Am inherited degenerative disease of the eye that leads to blindness as early as 18 months of age. There is currently no known treatment for PRA.
  • Canine leucocyte adhesion deficiency (CLAD): A congenital canine immune disorder that affects the blood's ability to clot.
  • Canine hip dysplasia: A degenerative disease of the hip joint ball and socket that is very uncomfortable and leads to lameness.
  • Hypertrophic osteodystrophy (HOD): A bone development condition that affects fast-growing, large breeds.
  • Bloat (also referred to as a gastric torsion or gastric dilatation-volvulus): A painful twisting of the stomach that cuts off the blood supply, trapping gas and stomach contents. Deep chested dogs like the Irish Setter are at higher risk for this condition, and it is fatal without surgery.
  • Hypothyroidism: A reduced production of thyroid hormone.


With proper care, an Irish Setter can be expected to live between 12 and 15 years.

Cute old Irish Setter lying in the grass


Irish Setters shed year-round and require a moderate amount of grooming. A twice-weekly brushing, especially around the fringe areas and foot feathering, and a monthly bath will do in most cases, unless you take your dog into the fields. Then, more frequent brushing and careful checks for grass awns within the fur will be necessary. Because of their large size, many owners opt to take this breed to the groomer instead of attempting bathing their dog on their own.

Fun Facts About the Breed

  • The Irish Setter breed has had the most group placements and most consecutive group placements in the Sporting Group competition of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
  • The book Big Red by Jim Kjelgaard, adapted into a movie by Disney in 1962, featured Red, an Irish Setter.
  • Due to their sweet nature, this breed can make excellent therapy dogs.
  • Several Irish Setters have served as First Dogs in the White House, including King Timahoe, who belonged to Richard Nixon, and Harry Truman's Setter, Mike.

How to Buy or Adopt an Irish Setter

If you want a puppy, you'll need to locate a reputable breeder. You can expect to pay between $700 and $1,200 for a well-bred pup with a health guarantee. The AKC Marketplace provides a directory of breeders, as does the Irish Setter Club of America, Inc. (ISCA). They also have a list of documents (including recommended genetic testing) any breeder should provide you with upon purchase of an Irish Setter puppy. You can use these resources to ensure the breeder you choose has completed appropriate screenings.

Irish setter puppies sleeping in a basket

There are also rescue Setters available for adoption. The ISCA has a rescue group dedicated to placing Irish Setters in need of a home. Their coordinators can help determine if an available dog would be a good fit for you based on their needs and temperament.

Is an Irish Setter Right for You?

Are you ready to bring an Irish Setter into your home? Take their energetic nature, friendly personality, and grooming needs into account when making this decision. If you can dedicate the necessary time to this spirited dog, the Irish Setter might just be the right fit for you.

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Guide to the Irish Setter's Personality, Traits, and Health