Choosing an Irish Setter

Choosing an Irish Setter

Breed details and history of Irish Setters.Breed details and history of Irish Setters.
Breed details and history of Irish Setters.Breed details and history of Irish Setters.

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The dignified and aristocratic appearance of the Irish setter was first seen in Ireland in the 19th century. Ever since then, the breed has been a popular showpiece. Though originally used as a hunting dog, the Irish setter now spends his days doting over the family and children under his care.

History and Origin

The majority of dogs in society have been developed for a particular purpose. Many have evolved to assist their owners in certain aspects of hunting. The Irish setter is no exception.

The Irish setter is thought to have descended from English setters, spaniels and pointers. The breed may also have a little Gordon setter blood.

The primary purpose of the Irish setter was to assist their owners in bird hunting. The dog would point to a bird and hold still until the hunter threw a net over the dog and quarry. Eventually, the dog was bred more for appearance and a beautiful coat. As time went on, other dog breeds became better equipped and proved more popular as hunters. Subsequently, the Irish setter became more of a house pet than hunter.

Appearance and Size

The Irish setter is a regal and dignified dog. Their long legs, long neck and narrow head make the breed a stunning display of sophistication. The chest is deep and the dog is slender and lean. The most significant aspect of the Irish setter is the hair coat.

The early Irish setters were white with red patches. Gradually, the solid red color became more common and by the 1870s, the controversy over the color was done: red won. The Irish setter’s coat is long and deep red to mahogany with flowing feathers on the legs, tail and ears.

The adult Irish setter stands 25 to 27 inches at the shoulder and weighs up to 60 to 70 pounds.


Although energetic and playful, the Irish setter can also be gentle. As a setter, this breed needs plenty of exercise and enjoys the companionship of people.

Home and Family Relations

The Irish setter is a sensitive dog and does best in families that shower him with love and affection. The breed is known to be devoted and protective, especially around children. Young boisterous Irish setters may be too active and rambunctious for very small children.

The breed needs exercise, which can be difficult to provide in an apartment or city environment. Irish setters tend to do best when taken on daily jogs to release pent up energy.


The Irish setter tends to be slow to train but once a task is learned, they rarely need refresher courses. This breed tends toward nervousness and does not respond well to shouts or negative reinforcement. Only positive reinforcement training techniques should be used.

Special Concerns

The Irish setter does not enjoy being left alone or confined. Without consistent companionship, the dog may develop behavior problems. If not properly socialized early in life, Irish setters may develop an aggressive temperament.

The hair coat of the Irish setter is beautiful but requires lots of brushing and care to prevent mats and tangles.

Common Diseases and Disorders

In general, the Irish Setter is a healthy dog with few medical concerns. However, the following diseases or disorders have been reported:

  • Gastric torsion (bloat) is a life-threatening sudden illness associated with the stomach filling with air and twisting.
  • Osetosarcoma is a malignant cancer of the bones.
  • Acral lick dermatitis is often considered a behavior problem of excessively licking one part of the body, resulting in inflammation.
  • Melanoma is a tumor arising from melanocytes, which are the cells that produce pigment.
  • Epilepsy is a seizure disorder, which develops between the ages of 2 to 5 years.
  • Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid gland does not function adequately. Without enough thyroid hormone, illness can occur.
  • Congenital Idiopathic Megaesophagus is a dilatation of the esophagus caused by decreased contraction of the muscles, causing food regurgitation.The Irish setter is also prone to ear infections, allergic skin disease, melanoma and cervical disk disease.

    In addition, although these occur infrequently, the following disorders have also been reported:

  • Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the hip joint that results in pain, lameness and arthritis.
  • Hypertrophic osteodystropy (HOD) is a bone disease that results in significant inflammation and pain.
  • Entropion is a problem with the eyelid that causes inward rolling. Lashes on the edge of the eyelid irritate the surface of the eyeball.
  • Panosteitis is an inflammation of the long bones during growth. It results in pain and lameness until the dog matures.
  • Pyometra is an infection of the uterus.
  • Degenerative myelopathy is a progressive degenerative disease of the spinal cord that slowly results in weakness and eventually inability to use the rear legs.
  • Insulinoma is a malignant tumor of the pancreas that secretes excessive amounts of insulin leading to hypoglycemia.
  • Laryngeal paralysis is a dysfunction of the larynx, or voicebox causing respiratory distress. Most common is the acquired idiopathic form.

    Life Span

    The average life span of the Irish setter is 14 to 16 years.

    We realize that each dog is unique and may display other characteristics. This profile provides generally accepted breed information only.


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