AKC Dog Breeds: Irish Setter

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Sporting Group
Height: 24-28 inches   Weight: 55-75 pounds  Color: reddish browns from chestnut to mahogany

One of the most distinctive Sporting breeds, the mahogany red Irish Setter is an active, aristocratic bird dog. Originally bred to be red and white, the solid red color appeared in Ireland the 19th century and became a mark of quality and superior sporting ability. Over two feet tall at the shoulder, the Irish is known for his style, powerful movement and clown-like personality. The Irish Setter became popular in the 18th century throughout Ireland and the British Isles. Developed from a mix of Irish Water Spaniel, Irish Terrier, English Setter, Spaniel, Pointer, and a dash of Gordon Setter, the breed was originally used to "set" game, crouching low near the birds so that the hunters could walk up and throw a net over bird and dog. When firearms were introduced, the Irish adapted into a gun dog that pointed, flushed and hunted in an upright stance. An effective field sports dog and family pet, the Irish Setter was registered with the AKC in 1878.

General Appearance

The Irish Setter's profusely feathered silky coat comes in rich shades of chestnut to mahogany, sometimes with splashes of white on the chest and feet. Black is not allowed. Some young dogs have silvery-gray hair behind the ears and legs, but these may disappear as the dog matures. Its coat is long and silky except for the head, where it is short and fine. Even the feet should be well covered with hair. The Setter's ears are triangular, thin, soft to the touch, long and low set, and the legs are long and muscular. The dog is slightly longer than tall. The length of the muzzle should be equal to half of the length of the entire head. The nasal canal is straight and the nose is black or brown. The jaws have a close fitting dental arch. The stop is greatly accentuated and the eyes are chestnut or dark hazel.  The chest is rather narrow and the thorax is deep and streamlined. The tail is carried horizontally and is fringed.

A spirited, energetic, and friendly breed, the Irish Setter is a great choice of dog for a family pet. These dogs have plenty of love and affection to give to the right owner, and are entertaining, amusing, and very sociable. These active dogs are eager to please, willing, and enthusiastic, but they do thrive on the attention of their owners and if neglected can become bored and very destructive. Some Irish Setters can be willful and strong minded, but these dogs are intelligent and eager to learn, making them well suited to those with little or no experience in dog ownership, as well as for the more experienced. The Irish Setter gets along well with children, but his large size and boundless energy may prove a problem around smaller children in the household. They will also get along well with other pets, although early socialization is recommended where other animals and pets are concerned. This is a sociable breed, and the Irish Setter will be friendly around strangers too, which makes him ineffective as a watchdog, although he will bark to announce visitors. The Irish Setter needs plenty of exercise, and is not suited to owners that don't have the time or space to provide physical stimulation.


The Irish Setter has a flat, thick and smooth coat that requires some daily care but not excessive care. The field lines that have the shorter coat require less care than the longer coats of the show lines. Both types of Irish Setters have natural oils in their coats that make them water-resistant and help the coat stay free from dirt and debris. Washing or bathing the Irish Setter breed should only be done when absolutely necessary to avoid stripping these oils from the coat.

Health Problems and Life Expectancy

The life expectancy of the Irish Setter is around 12-15 years, and there are a number of health problems to look out for with this breed, which includes thyroid problems, bloat, epilepsy, PRA, and HD. The Irish Setter may also have skin allergies so watch for any signs of licking, chewing or pulling of the hair on the body. These patches, known as "hot spots" can cause serious skin infections as well as hair loss in patches on the body, but early detection and treatment can minimize any damage that may occur.

Activity Level

The Irish Setter requires regular exercise. Three walks per day are recommended as this dog has the tendency to become restless. This breed is not for apartment life and does best with a medium to large sized yard, or great for the country environment. Being very active, they can become somewhat destructive if left alone for long periods. One of the benefits of the Irish Setter breed is that with a large, fenced yard they will self-exercise very well. They do much better with a companion dog that is also fairly active and will engage in play and romps during the day.


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Irish Setter dog featured on dog encyclopedia
Irish Setter profile on dog encyclopedia