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Irish Setter Dog Breed Information

General Information:

Height: 25-27 inches
Weight: 60-70 pounds
Life Span: 11-15 years
Coloring: Chestnut Red or Mahogany. Black is not permitted although small amounts of white may be permitted.
Area of Origin: Ireland
Similar Breeds: Cocker Spaniel, English Setter, Golden Retriever, and Gordon Setter.

History and Origin:

The Irish Setter was first written about in 1616 and was further documented in the late 1700s. With the assistance of English Setters, Gordon Setters, Irish Terriers, Spaniels and Pointers the Irish Setter arose as a distinct breed that we know today.

These dogs were bred to have a solid red coat as was highly desired particularly by the upper class and their hunting abilities came second to none.

Other than their trademark appearance, they excel at delicately retrieving game birds without injury to the hunters. They were brought across to America in the 1800s and they became popular there particularly for their good looks.

It was because of these looks that two classes of Irish Setters arose, one for show and one for work. There are several dogs that will cross these lines however, most of the show dogs are pets only and never step a paw on a hunting course.

Personality and Temperament:

The Irish Setter is a tireless, exuberant dog that greets every new person in their lives with the enthusiasm of a long-lost best friend. These dogs act as a puppy long past their second and third years and may require significant reinforcement to remind them of proper behavior.

These dogs are very smart and as such need to have a job to do. They do not do well when left alone to their own devices for long periods of time as they will become bored, antsy and potentially destructive as they attempt to find ways to gain your attention. They must be properly exercised and be allowed to be part of the family as they so desperately need to be.

These dogs do well with older children and they are generally good with other dogs. They have a very gentle manner about them yet because they are very energetic, small children may be stepped on or pushed over, therefore making these dogs better suited to older children.

As they are hunting dogs, they generally get along well with other larger dogs yet some smaller dogs, cats and small animals may be seen as potential prey or as playmates and may be accidently injured in an overly eager Irish Setter’s bounding around.

Despite this, these dogs are incredibly docile and predictable making them well suited to therapy dog work and often visit retirement homes and children’s hospitals bringing their characteristic non-judging temperaments and eternally happy smiles to those who need it the most.

Exercise & Training:

The Irish Setter is incredibly intelligent and often grasps concepts and training material with little to no trouble. They do, however, occasionally play deaf and do not seem to grasp the idea of dangers to themselves and therefore must be kept on a leash to ensure they do not bound out onto the road without looking in their attempt to get you to throw the ball.

These dogs can run for hours and are often considered as a hyperactive dog, particularly if owners attempt to keep these dogs in apartments or small houses where the dog is not permitted the extensive exercise it requires. Once this has been reached, it is often difficult to rein the dog in and to get them to listen until they have been thoroughly exercised.

If someone is looking for an occasional hike with their dog yet a couch potato who is happy with a 20-30 minute walk a day, this is not the breed for them. These dogs require at least an hour a day and will happily continue for hours past that. These dogs require a good, hard run and plenty of time chasing a ball in a safe, controlled environment. If you are looking for a dog who is willing to join you in your morning and evening runs, this dog will certainly be up for that and will be looking forward to their next run as you are still cooling off.

As these dogs are so intelligent and have so much energy, it should come as no surprise that they can be stubborn at times. They will test their owners on occasion pretending to be deaf when told to “leave it,” developing a sudden limp when it has snowed outside and they do not want to go out and miraculously healing as you take your boots off, and just finding the little things to test their boundaries.

Socialization is important as well to ensure a well-rounded dog who is familiar with many situations and that fewer things will have to potential of spooking them.

Another important aspect of dealing with the Irish setter is to teach them about crate training while they are young. Most dogs will happily accept a crate without issue and will like having their own “den” to retreat to if something ends up being too much for them, be it children or noise. It is also a way to prevent a bored setter from chewing your furniture, barking at the squirrels in the yard or other unwanted behavior when you are out. This is not to be used all the time nor when you are at home to monitor their behavior.


Irish Setters require frequent brushing, at least every other day as their hair is quite long and can hide all sorts of unwanted debris that will cause mats which can be painful to remove. Their nails should be trimmed monthly and their teeth brushed at least once a week to prevent potential issues.

When brushing the dog’s teeth, make sure to check their ears as they can be prone to moisture build-up which can lead to infection.

Baths should be limited to every 4-6 months unless they have found something to roll in and they need it sooner. Make sure to use a dog shampoo as this breed is particularly sensitive to harsh chemicals.

Health and Wellness:

In all, the Pointer is a robust, healthy dog that has few health issues; however, with genetics being what they are, there are a few things the breed can carry. Other than allergies and skin cysts, it is important to ensure the parents of the dog you are looking at purchasing have been genetically screened for issues with a genetic factor. Some of the issues that can be associated with the Pointer are:

  • Bloat (Torsion/Gastric Dilation-Volvulus)
    • Bloat is a serious condition that kills many deep-chested dogs annually. There is no set reason for why it occurs or what causes it although gulping down food, swallowing air, or drinking excessively after eating combined with exercise seem to be serious concerns. Unfortunately, by the time bloat has been diagnosed, time is already racing against you. The best thing to do is to call the veterinarian on the way to their office where they will attempt to clear the blockage through fluids and steroids; however, this is rarely enough and emergency surgery is usually required.
  • Canine Leukocyte Adhesion Deficiency
    • A genetic issue which causes a series of auto-immune issues and is noticeable between 2-4 months of age. This is almost always fatal and most dogs end up euthanized before they turn 6-months old.
  • Epilepsy
    • A disease with a potential genetic factor which can cause full body seizures (grand mal) or misfiring in the brain with no outward symptoms (petit mal). There is unfortunately no cure yet with proper medication this is generally quite manageable.
  • Hip Dysplasia
    • A genetic condition which causes the hip joint to be malformed causing damage to the surrounding tissue and extreme pain. Hip replacements may be necessary for severe cases and medication ay alleviate some of the pain in milder cases. DNA testing is available to screen for this prior to breeding.
  • Hypothyroidism
    • A condition in which there is a lack of necessary thyroid hormones which causes a lack of energy, weight gain, and hair loss among other issues. Depending on the severity of the issue, your vet should be able to easily diagnose this and provide the correct medication to help regulate this. Unfortunately there is no cure.
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans
    • A disease where the cartilage around joints and bones has defective growths which cause soft tissue damage and severe pain for the dog. Depending on the severity, simple rest with anti-inflammatories may work but in more severe cases surgery is required.
  • Panosteitis
    • An inflammation in the marrow within the bone causing extreme pain. This does usually resolve itself with time, anti-inflammatory drugs and pain killers. Your veterinarian may have other ideas as well and it is important to contact them.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA)
    • A genetic condition which causes gradual blindness for which there is neither treatment nor cure. DNA tests can be taken by the parents prior to breeding to prevent the likelihood of this being passed on to any offspring.

It is incredibly important to ensure you feed a good quality food to your Irish Setter and to ensure they do not eat too quickly as they are susceptible to bloat. Ensuring your dog eats slowly and that their diet does not contain ingredients which easily ferment which cause gas. Corn, oatmeal, rice, soy and wheat are all common offenders. In addition, feeding smaller, more frequent meals can also reduce your dog’s risk as the food will be allowed less time for fermentation.

If the dog continues to attempt to eat their food quickly you can get special bowls designed to slow the dog down or feed them on a flat surface such as a plate or cookie sheet. You should also keep the dog calm and quiet after meals so they have time to digest their food before they have any form of exercise as this has been linked to increased cases of bloat.

Bloat does kill a large number of dogs every year with a staggering 25-33% of those dogs dying despite treatment. As the Irish Setter is the 4th most likely breed to be affected by bloat, this makes it incredibly important to do all you can do to avoid this potentially fatal affliction.

In all, purchasing your puppy from a reputable breeder who properly screens their dogs prior to breeding will significantly reduce the risk of genetic issues ensuring a long-lived companion. You should always ask to meet at least one of the parents of the dog and see the environment where the puppy was born and raised prior to adoption.

Adopting an adult from a breed-specific rescue is also a way to avoid a lot of the unknowns yet produces its own unique set of problems as you are rarely able to find all of the information on the dog and/or the treatment of the dog prior to you adopting it. Most of the dogs up for adoption have been screened for temperament issues and offer a lifetime of support to potential adopters.

Interesting Facts about the Irish Setter:

  1. Irish Setters often take years to grow out of the puppy stage, giving you a boisterous puppy for years to come.
  2. Big Red from the books by Jim Kjelgaard which was later turned into a film were based off of an Irish Setter.
  3. Irish Setters can be prone to separation anxiety as they bond very closely with their people and will greet your every return as though you were gone for months, even if it has only been 5 minutes.
  4. Harry Truman, Richard Nixon, Carl Wilson, and Mitt Romney are 4 famous people who have owned Irish Setters.

Organizations dedicated to the Irish Setter:

Breeds Similar to Irish Setter Dogs:

Breed Information Irish Setter

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