Irish Setter (Red Setter)
You may have heard that blondes have more fun, but Irish setters are here to shatter stereotypes. Rambunctious, intelligent, and loyal, these dashing redheads have a well-earned reputation for being marvelous family dogs.
What the Irish setter is not, however, is a dog well-suited to apartment living. Standing nearly 2 feet at the shoulder and blessed with a hunter's energy and stamina, the Irish setter needs plenty of space to roam. He'll benefit from frequent walks coupled with lots of supervised off-leash time. He's always up for a long run, refreshing swim, or lively game of fetch.
Irish setters generally straddle the line between medium- and large-sized dogs. Females typically weigh about 60 pounds, with males coming in 5–10 pounds heavier.
The Irish setter's coat is his most recognizable feature: a luscious shade of mahogany or deep chestnut. His hair is long and fine, usually feathering at the ends, with a thick undercoat in the colder months. That means Irish setters need frequent brushing to keep their hair clean and tangle-free. They are moderate shedders, especially in the spring when their undercoat starts to thin out.
Bread as gun dogs, Irish setters have athletic frames with deep chests, small waists, and slender hindquarters. Their eyes are almost always a deep brown, with rare varieties having black, reddish, or golden irises. Irish setters have long, slender snouts and large, shaggy-haired, pendant ears.
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You should never choose a dog based on looks alone, Irish setters included. These pups can be a handful for an unsuspecting owner; they're very intelligent dogs with an independent streak and propensity for mischief—especially if they're bored.
"Irish setters are best known for their rollicking temperament," says Deanna Cuchiaro, rescue coordinator at the Irish Setter Club of America (ISCA). "Be ready to have some fun, be active, and keep them busy."
Irish setters mature more slowly than other breeds—they actually develop faster physically than they do mentally, according to the ISCA. As a result, an Irish setter's temperament can be like that of a small, hyper toddler trapped in an adult's body.
And because Irish setters are so slow to mature, you could find yourself with a dog that's two, three, even four years old and still has all the energy and curiosity of a puppy. This makes them excellent playmates for children and active adults but, when combined with their size, may make them too much for households with very small kiddos. A rambunctious setter could accidentally knock a toddler down during playtime.
Overall, Irish setters are outgoing, social, and friendly. They form extremely strong bonds with their humans and tend to suffer from separation anxiety if left alone for more than a couple of hours.
If you have an active lifestyle, the Irish setter might be your perfect dog. As a breed that forms deep bonds, your Irish setter will love going everywhere you do, and his high energy level and endurance make him an excellent companion for runs (once he's old enough!). Some will even jog alongside you during bike rides.
Irish setters love having a job or task to complete: Tracking you on a run, carrying items in a pocketed dog vest, or playing fetch will all keep your setter's mind occupied and his body healthy and happy. Irish setters make excellent hunting companions, with a strong sense of smell and a natural desire to track and retrieve.
"They are bred to hunt all day," Cuchiaro says. "They need lots of room to run or someone who is going to take them on many daily adventures."
Even if you're not out running a 5K every weekend, an Irish setter will still fit in well with any household that has a fenced-in yard where he can run and at least an hour devoted to exercise every day. And while a fenced yard is a must, and Irish setters can't be left unattended for long periods of time, because their natural hunting instinct will often lead them to wandering off or going after smaller wildlife. Make sure to supervise him when he's outside—he'll want you out there spending time with him, too.
Irish setters are extremely social and do well in households with children and other dogs. Cuchiaro says living with cats might be problematic because of the setter's hunting instincts, but Irish setter puppies who are raised with cats (and taught that they're not something to chase) will get along with feline friends just fine.
An Irish setter's coat is the breed's hallmark. It's the most recognizable thing about them and their long, red, Fabio-like locks have helped establish the Irish setter as among the most beautiful breeds in the world. But all that beauty comes at a price.
That long, fine hair is going to collect burrs easily and, if left unattended, will mat quickly. Brushing at least three times a week will be a requirement, but Cuchiaro says daily brushing is best. Even with the upkeep, you should still get used to having hair around your house because shedding is a moderate concern for Irish setters, especially during the spring months when the dogs ditch some of that thick undercoat that serves them so well during the winter.
Here's the good news: Dirt will tend to fall right off, thanks to the natural oils produced by the water-wicking undercoat combined with the naturally fine nature of the Irish setter's topcoat. So unless your Irish setter gets especially muddy or goes for a dive in your trash can, baths are a rare necessity. For that classic Irish setter look, the dog's hair is kept short on the head, while being left longer on the neck and body. Regular nail trimming and teeth brushing are also a must.
Consistency and variety is key in training your Irish setter. He'll respond best to positive reinforcement, and a training schedule that avoids boring repetition will help keep him entertained and focused. Another tip: Keep your training sessions short and fun. "They are clowns and actually a lot of fun to train," Cuchiaro says. "They want to please. It's best to start them young to ensure the basics are down quickly." Once properly trained, the outgoing and social Irish setter makes an excellent therapy and companion dog.
Irish setters tend to be relatively long-lived dogs with average lifespans of 12–15 years. For most owners, the biggest health challenge will simply be making sure your Irish setter has his exercise needs met. Without enough activity, Irish setters can develop weight problems fairly easily, which can lead to other health issues.
- Gastric dilation, or bloat: Bloat is a life-threatening condition where the stomach expands and twists. Without quick intervention, bloat is fatal. Talk to your vet about recognizing the signs of bloat and whether a gastropexy procedure (where the stomach is tacked to the abdominal wall to prevent it from twisting) is recommended for your Irish setter.
- Hypothyroidism: Irish setters are one of the breeds most susceptible to hypothyroidism. The signs vary widely, but common side effects are weight gain, cold intolerance, excessive shedding, and lethargy.
- Epilepsy: This is a neurological disorder that can cause seizures.
Irish setters can also be at risk of osteochondritis dissecans, a condition where cartilage develops improperly in a dog's shoulder joint. This is common in large-breed puppies during growth spurts in the first year of life. Treatment varies by the condition's severity, from a few weeks of rest to surgery.
The term "setter" was first used to describe a breed of hunting dog in 1570, but the breed we know today as the Irish setter most likely came into being in the late 17th or early 18th century. Originally, the dogs came in a variety of colors and patterns, often red and white; the now-distinctive red coat is a result of selective breeding throughout the 19th century.
The first Irish setter brought to the U.S.—a dog named Elcho—was sold in 1875 to a Mr. Turner of St. Louis, where Elcho became a celebrated champion. The breed standard for the modern Irish setter, including a color standard of "mahogany or rich chestnut red with no black" was set in 1886 and remains largely unchanged to this day.
Today, when you bring home an Irish setter puppy you're in for "12–15 years of pure joy," Cuchiaro says. "If you aren't quite ready for a puppy, check into rescuing one. There are not many in rescue these days, due to so many breeders being responsible, but at times older dogs do end up needing a new home due to no fault of their own."
- Irish setters gained a boost in popularity after the release of the 1945 novel Big Red, which was in turn adapted into a 1962 film of the same name by Walt Disney. Around that same time, President Harry Truman—a long time lover of dogs—owned an Irish setter of his own called Mike.
- That wouldn't be the last time an Irish setter would grace the White House lawn, however, as President Richard Nixon was gifted an Irish setter named King Timahoe by his staff as a 56th birthday present, and Ronald Reagan had a setter called Peggy.
- Irish setters have also served as the (both fictional and real) companions to Mitt Romney, Sherlock Holmes, Alexander II of Russia, and the Finnish Air Force Squadron 24 in World War II.