Identify an Irish Setter

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How to Identify an Irish Setter

Irish Setters are a striking breed of dog most recognized for their deep red coat. While not common, the breed is gaining popularity, and as more people look for Irish Setters, being able to identify the breed becomes more important. This breed can be easily identified not only by its coat, but its slender head, lean body, and playful attitude.

Investigating the Physical Makeup of an Irish Setter

Identify an Irish Setter

1. Examine their coat.

The rich mahogany color present on both standard Irish Setters and Irish Red and White Setters is one clear indicator of the breed, but there are other defining features, as well. Irish Setters typically have a smooth, glossy coat that may feather around the ears and extremities.

  • The coat may stay shorter on the head and forelegs, and fringe more on the hindquarters.
  • Their coat is typically short and soft on the ears.
  • Irish Setters often shed.

2. Look at the head.

Irish Setters are descended from pointers as well as hunting hounds, and so have a long, lean head with a straight, streamlined muzzle. Generally, the head is going to be about twice as long as it is wide, with a pronounced, chiseled muzzle.

  • Irish Setters are also known for their large, floppy ears. Their ears are set back on their head, typically lower than the level of their eyes.
  • Additionally, Irish Setters are known for having a soft, affectionate look to their eyes. Their eyes are typically a medium brown, and neither deep-set nor do they bulge out from the head.

3. Pay attention to the shape of the body.

Irish Setters typically have long, lean bodies, with a back that is highest in the forward quarters and slopes gently back toward the tail. Their chests are slender, rather than rounded, and their hind legs are long and muscular, especially from the hip area to hock.

  • Front legs are strong but often straight, and their shoulders are slender rather than broad.
  • Their tails typically follow the line of their back rather than sitting higher or lower on the dog.

Differentiating Irish Setters from Other Sporting Dogs

Identify an Irish Setter

1. Examine the difference between setters.

There are three common setter breeds: Irish, English, and Gordon. They have similar body shapes and facial characteristics, but their coats are generally a different color.

  • Irish Setters generally have a rich mahogany coat, though some Irish Setters have a red and white coat. Those with red and white coats are sometimes called Irish Red and White Setters.
  • An English Setter will have black and white spotted fur, while a Gordon Setter will have black or black and brown fur.

2. Pay attention to their overall build.

Irish Setters are larger dogs, generally weighing around 65 to 75 lbs (29.5 to 34 kg) for a male, and 55 to 65 lbs (24.9 to 29.5 kg) for a female. Generally, Irish Setters stand a little over two feet (60.96 cm) tall, with the males typically slightly taller than the females.

  • Individual dogs may vary depending upon their living environment and genetic makeup. Some dogs may be taller, shorter, larger, or smaller, but are still Irish Setters.

3. Look into the dog's lineage.

Unlike some other sporting dogs and even other setters, the Irish Setter has two distinct groups within the breed. Irish Setters that have been used for show tend to be larger with a thicker coat than gun dog, which are smaller and more streamlined.

  • If possible, ask previous owners about the dog's parents to see if the dog is from showing or hunting families.
  • A dog DNA test can also help confirm whether your dog is purebred or not. Most tests simply require a small saliva sample to provide detailed breed information.

Getting to Know an Irish Setter’s Personality

Identify an Irish Setter

1. Expect high energy.

Irish Setters were bred as hunting dogs, and thus thrive on open spaces and lots of exercise. Expect an Irish Setter to have lots of energy that needs to be taken care of with easy access to the outdoors or frequent walks and play sessions.

  • An Irish Setter’s extra energy tends to lend itself to being playful. These dogs are often described as clownish, lively, and rollicking.
  • Due to their breeding, Irish Setters often have an inclination to hunt birds. Understand that some Irish Setters might become very excited or energetic when near birds due to their hunting instincts.

2. Get social with them.

Irish Setters tend to be very socially outgoing dogs. They may seek physical affection, but more often they will want to play when the opportunity presents itself. Irish Setters typically get along well with other dogs, too.

  • Some caution should be exercised when introducing Irish Setters to small dogs, as their hunting instincts may kick in.
  • Irish Setters are not typically aggressive with small children, but may not know their own strength when they try to initiate play with children smaller than them.

3. Look for intelligence with regular training.

Irish Setters are a smart breed, and train very well with the right people. Their playful nature means that they require consistency and regular practice, but the breed tends to pick up on lessons quickly and does not let them go.

  • Irish Setters are known for being particularly easy to housetrain, so training exercises may be best served by starting there before moving onto complicated commands.

4. Check their age.

Irish Setters tend to live fairly long lives for their size. Their lifespan generally averages around 11 to 15 years. If you’re working with an older dog, see if you can determine the age by asking the owners or previous caretakers.

  • While some Irish Setters can live for much longer, dogs of the Irish Setter’s size typically pass away before they reach their late teens or early twenties.


  • Dogs will vary depending upon individuals. An Irish Setter may be purebred and not display all of these physical characteristics or personality traits.
  • Look at photos online or in breed guide books to get a better sense of the breed’s overall appearance.