Irish, or Red, Setters are elegant-looking dog breeds. With their red hair, strong build, and long furnishings, you could easily assume this canine is the aristocrat of the dog world.
But don’t be deceived…
He may be gorgeous and graceful, but true to his red hair, this breed is a fireball. He’s goofy, crazy, and is a puppy at heart.
The Irish Setter can make the perfect dog for the right home.
He’s a silly pup that thrives on companionship, exercise, and activity. He’s not a dog to sit around looking pretty. He wants to be out, prancing around, getting dirty, and being the center of attention.
The Irish Setter originated in (surprise, surprise) Ireland during the 18th century.
This stunning redhead is the youngest of of the setter breeds and likely descended from the English Setter.
Originally a bird hunting dog, the Irish Setter was easy to spot in the field due to his red color.
But he wasn’t always a solid red dog.
The breed started out as red and white in color. And while this color pattern still exists today, the all-red coat became the famous marker of the breed.
The Irish Setter was first imported to the United States in 1875 and was recognized by the AKC in 1878. The breed hit peak popularity during the 1960’s and 70’s. This was due to the breed’s presence in the White House during the Nixon administration and to media featuring an Irish Setter named Big Red.
Are Irish Setters Good Family Dogs?
Yes! Irish Setters are excellent family dogs in the right home environment.
They make fantastic companions for older, active children. But they can be a bit too large and rambunctious for toddlers.
So keep that in mind if you have little ones.
The breed is also very active and energetic.
They will need to live with someone who is willing to give them a fair amount of exercise and training.
And lastly, Irish Setters are extremely social.
They will not do well if left alone for long periods of time. So only get one if somebody can be home at least most of the day.
If you do have a home befitting to an Irish Setter and you properly care for him, he’ll make a fantastic pet.
As with all dogs, the Irish Setter has a few basic needs that you’ll have to provide for, including nutrition, grooming, exercise, training, and health.
Irish Setters need a balanced diet of proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to stay healthy. You should feed them twice daily on a schedule. Don’t leave food out for your dog all the time as this doesn’t allow you to watch how much he is eating.
The amount of food this breed needs is determined by activity level, metabolism, age, and overall health.
As a general rule of thumb, an adult Irish Setter should eat between 2 to 3 cups of high-quality dog food, divided into two meals, daily.
For further reference on feeding, check out the guide listed on your dog’s food bag. You may also want to talk to your veterinarian about exactly how much your individual dog should be eating.
Again, several factors affect feeding amounts, but these tips should give you a good starting point.
Keep an eye on your dog to make sure he’s not too thin or too heavy-set. Then adjust as needed.
The Irish Setter requires a moderate amount of grooming.
He’ll need to be brushed at least two to three times a week to keep his coat shiny and free of tangles. And a trim every few months will also be in order to keep him looking his best.
The breed has a double coat and sheds moderately throughout the year, except during spring and fall when you can expect heavy molting. Your Irish Setter’s coat will need extra brushing during these times to keep all that fur in check.
In addition to frequent brushing and the occasional bath, you’ll need to do a few more things to ensure your Irish Setter stays healthy.
Because of their floppy ears, Irish Setters are more prone to ear infections. Check his ears weekly for signs of irritation or redness, and be sure to get any issues taken care of.
Besides that, brush the teeth at least once a week to keep your dog healthy. And trim your dog’s nails when needed.
As a member of the Sporting Group, the Irish Setter will need a lot of exercise.
At least 1-2 hours of daily activity, to be exact.
But don’t worry. There are a lot of ways to give your pup the exercise he needs.
For one, Irish Setters love to run.
So if you’re a jogger or a cyclist, then this may be the dog for you. The breed would run by your side forever if he could.
If you’re not much into running yourself, try to take your Irish Setter to an enclosed dog park every so often. The breed typically gets along well with other canines, and he’ll love having a huge area to run around in with his doggy friends.
You can also content your Irish Setter with a long walk or hike.
The breed loves adventures, and he wouldn’t complain at having a chance to explore some new terrain with you.
Other fun activities for you and your Irish Setter include playing a game of fetch or taking a trip out to the lake for a good swim.
If you’re into hunting, then your Irish Setter is obviously the perfect hunting partner.
Or you may like to look into other canine sports, such as obedience, tracking, or agility. The breed excels in all of these areas.
There’s all sorts of fun ways to keep your Irish Setter active and happy, and all of them can provide great bonding experiences for you both! So be creative and provide your Irish Setter with lots of fun activities!
When it comes to trainability, Irish Setters are about average.
They are intelligent and are probably the most willing to please of the setter breeds. But even still, your Irish Setter won’t always choose to listen to you. If there’s something more interesting to investigate, he’ll be off.
You’ll need to be patient and consistent when training this breed. Keep sessions fun and interesting by using positive reinforcement techniques. That is, use treats, praise, and affection to reward your dog for proper behavior.
Never treat your Irish Setter harshly.
The breed is physically and emotionally sensitive and has a long memory. So he won’t easily forget forceful handling.
The same goes for what he learns:
Once you’ve taught your Irish Setter something, he will never forget it.
This can be good or bad, so make sure you’re teaching him the right lessons from the beginning!
As with most dogs, proper socialization is important.
Make sure to expose your Irish Setter to lots of different people, animals, and situations. Otherwise you could end up with a shy or aggressive dog.
Irish Setter Health Issues
Irish Setters have a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years and are generally healthy.
Even so, the breed is prone to certain health issues. Irish Setters are more prone to the following conditions and/or diseases:
- Hip dysplasia
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Chronic allergies
- Ear infections
- Bone cancer
- Hypertrophic osteodystrophy
- Osteochondritis Dissecans
- Canine Leukocyte
Things to Know About Irish Setters
1. Not Apartment-Friendly
Unfortunately, if you live in an apartment, the Irish Setter is probably not for you.
This is a breed that does best with a yard. They do need lots of exercise, after all.
If you must live in an apartment with an Irish Setter, you’ll need to plan on some serious daily exercise. Be sure that you’re up for a daily jog or bike ride with your dog.
But all in all, having a large yard is best for this breed.
2. Not An Outdoor Dog
Even though the Irish Setter needs to have a yard, this breed is not meant to live outdoors.
If you’re considering getting one, you need to understand that he’ll need to be an indoor dog.
Sure, the Irish Setter is mid-sized.
And yes, he needs a lot of exercise.
But the Irish Setter is a complete people dog.
He thrives on being a part of the family and loves being the center of attention. He would not do well having to live outside on his own all the time.
3. Prone to Separation Anxiety
Not only should you open your house up to your Irish Setter, but you should also be prepared to be home a good portion of the day.
The breed tends to suffer from separation anxiety if left alone too long.
While manageable, separation anxiety is never fun for you or your pup. A stressed dog can become destructive and may bark excessively.
So make sure someone can be around a lot of the time before bringing home an Irish Setter.
And if you do need to leave him home alone for more than a few hours at a time, be sure to properly exercise him first. Pent-up energy can make destructive tendencies worse in anxious dogs.
4. The Social Butterfly
Dealing with separation anxiety isn’t much fun. But on the flip side, a dog so desperate for constant companionship is a dog that makes for a great companion!
As I said before, the Irish Setter is a people dog. He loves, loves, loves his family and everybody else, too! The breed is very good-natured and outgoing with new people. This is especially true if he is properly socialized from puppyhood.
So if you want a dog that’s friendly and accepting of new people, this breed is definitely one to consider.
5. An Alert Dog
Because he is so eager to love everyone he sees, the Irish Setter does not make a good guard dog.
(Unless you want your burglar to be welcomed with a waggin’ tail, that is!)
But despite his lack of guarding skills, the breed makes for a good watchdog. He may not be the type to jump in and defend your home and family with his life, but he’ll definitely alert you to newcomers.
So expect some barking when visitors come to your door.
6. Forever Young
At the beginning of this article, I told you that the Irish Setter is a puppy at heart. You may not have thought much of it, but I meant it literally. Very literally.
Compared to other dog breeds, the Irish Setter is slow to mature.
While most dogs are fully grown at 1 year of age, the Irish Setter may not reach full maturity until after 2 years. And some individuals may remain somewhat puppy-like their entire lives. This means you’re likely to end up with a physically full-grown dog that still has lots of puppy energy.
Perhaps this is one reason why the breed does so well with children. The Irish Setter spends so much time as a “child” himself that he can relate!
Either way, his long path to adulthood is something to consider.
If you love the puppy stage, this may just be the right dog, since you’ll get an extension on puppyhood. But if you can’t wait until the day your dog is officially an adult, you might want to look at some other breeds.
7. Mr. Inquisitive
Irish Setters are inquisitive (and mischievous!) by nature.
They love exploring and tend to get into anything they can find or reach.
This is what makes training them a bit more difficult. It’s not that they don’t want to listen to you. It’s just that that weird sight/smell/sound coming from the other room is MUCH more interesting!
The breed isn’t dumb, though!
If you can manage to maintain their interest, they actually learn rather quickly.
8. Easy to House Train
Though the Irish Setter can be a bit of a handful when it comes to obedience training, they do excel in one important area:
If you do get an Irish Setter, you don’t have to dread the housebreaking battle.
Unlike some dogs, this breed is generally easy to house train. Just be sure to give him sufficient access to the great outdoors he calls his toilet.
9. Great With Other Pets
The Irish Setter is usually great with other pets.
They get along well with dogs and even with cats. This is especially true if the Irish Setter has been raised with them.
So if you have a multi-dog or dog/cat household, an Irish Setter is a good candidate to add to the mix.
10. Except Birds
If you have a little tweety bird, though, I would recommend steering clear of the Irish Setter.
He’s usually friendly with most people and animals. But this breed is likely to see your pet parrot as something to prey upon.
Irish Setters were bred to hunt birds, after all.
11. What Are My Color Options?
This may seem like a very “duh” type of a question, but it’s still important to address.
Irish Setters only come in red.
They can range in hue from mahogany to chestnut, but they are always red. Still, it isn’t uncommon to find ones that have a tiny amount of white on their chest, throat, head, or toes.
But they’ll only ever have a tiny amount of white. Irish Setters that are a pretty fair mix of red and white are actually a separate breed, called the Irish Red and White Setter.
Some people confuse Irish Setters with Irish Red and White Setters, lumping them all into one category. Both are very closely related, with the solid red breed stemming from the red and white dog. But both are still recognized as distinct breeds by the AKC.
12. Two Varieties
And if it couldn’t get any more confusing, under the umbrella of solid red Irish Setters are two different varieties:
- Show dogs
- Field dogs
Show Irish Setters are obviously ones that compete in dog shows, while field Irish Setters are used for hunting.
Both of these can be registered as Irish Setters with the AKC. But there are still some physical differences. Irish Setters used as show dogs are generally larger and have thicker fur, while hunting dogs are smaller and sleeker.
13. The President’s Dog
Ready for a fun fact?
The Irish Setter may never have been a dog of royalty, but the breed has definitely been popular with a few U.S. presidents.
In fact, we know of three U.S. presidents that owned the breed during their time in office:
- The first was Harry Truman with his Irish Setter, Mike.
- Then Ronald Reagan with Peggy.
- And finally (and most famously) Richard Nixon with his Irish Setter, King Timahoe, or Tim for short.
Is an Irish Setter Right for You?
Truth be told, only you can answer that. But I can tell you that they make one heck of a good dog for the right family!
Just take some time to consider your living situation and lifestyle.
If you want a dog that mixes elegant with fun-loving, affectionate, and goofy, then this might be the breed for you!
But remember that he needs lots of companionship, exercise, and room to run. He also loves to be loved, so make sure you’ve got a lot of that to give!