English Setter Or Irish Setter, What's The Difference In The Two Breeds?

Setters have always been firm favourites in the field and for good reason. They are reliable gundogs that enjoy the job they were bred to do, but they also make wonderful companions and family pets thanks to their trustworthy and kind, placid natures. If you are thinking about getting a dog and would like a setter, two breeds native to the UK are the English and Irish Setter and both are definitely worth considering because they make wonderful family pets.

English Setter origins

One of the oldest gundog breeds native to the UK, English Setters existed in the 14th Century. The breed was created by crossing various spaniels and were originally known as Setting Spaniels. They were bred to work over challenging terrains and conditions tracking down wild game for their masters and once they found their prey, the spaniels would "set", standing motionless while lifting a paw to show hunters where a bird lay. The hunters would then give their dogs a command to drive the birds into their nets.

By the late 18th Century, nets were no longer used when hunting wild birds and as such, these dogs were called Setters rather than "Setting Spaniels". Although nobles and the wealthy owned them, there are no records of where these spaniels first came from although there are those who think they were introduced to the British Isles and that they either came from Asia or Europe with returning soldiers.

By the 19th Century, Setters were recognised as a breed and wealthy owners referred to them using family names which meant there were many different names for the same working dogs.

Irish Setter origins

Irish Setters are another of the UK's oldest breeds having existed even before the English or the Gordon Setter. They hail from Ireland and were developed by using older breeds of spaniels, Scottish Setters as well as other varieties of spaniels. The goal was to breed a hunting dog with exceptional scenting abilities and the dogs we see today are very much the same as the setters that existed back in the day.

These elegant, noble dogs were highly prized in the hunting field even though they had a bit of a mischievous streak in them. By 1882, a breed club was established by the Earl of Enniskellen who spent his life improving the breed to produce good quality dogs that boasted a rich, solid red coat with other setters having black or white markings which is a throw-back to the colours seen in Red and White as well as Gordon Setters.

English Setter appearance

English Setters are extremely elegant, handsome dogs that can stand at anything from 65 to 69 cm at the withers with females being that much shorter than their male counterparts. Males weigh around 25 to 36 kg with females being slightly lighter weighing in at around 20 to 23 kg. They have a glamorous look about them, but they are strong dogs that boast a tremendous amount of stamina. They come in a variety of colours and have a slight wave in their coats which are long and silky to the touch. The accepted breed colours are as follows:

  • Black and white - blue belton
  • Orange and white - orange belton
  • Lemon and white - lemon belton
  • Liver and white - liver belton
  • Tricolour - blue belton with tan or liver belton and tan

Their coats are flecked rather than having heavy markings or patches

Irish Setter appearance

The Irish Setter is also a handsome, elegant dog that can stand at anything between 58 and 67 cm at the withers with females being slightly shorter so they are a little shorter than their English Setter counterparts. Males weigh around 27 to 32 kg with females being lighter which means that they are also that much lighter than English Setters. They are racy looking dogs with an athletic appearance and they have tremendously powerful hindquarters. Like their English Setter cousins, the Irish Setter is glamorous looking something that belies the fact they are hardy working dogs capable of staying the course for hours when asked.

They have beautiful, silky, long straight coats with lots of feathering on their ears, back of all four legs and on their undersides. Their coats are a deep, rich red which is their most recognised defining feature although some of them have white marks on their chests, chins, throats and toes as well as a star on their foreheads which is allowable under their KC breed standard.

English Setter temperament

English Setters always have a keen look in their eyes and are known to be very even-tempered in a home environment. Placid, calm and loyal, they are social dogs by nature and tend to get on with everyone. They are the perfect dog for first time owners providing they have the time needed to spend with their canine companion bearing in mind that English Setters need enough room to be able to express themselves as they should.

They are quite high energy dogs and being intelligent, it means not only do they need plenty of things to keep their minds occupied, but they also need the right amount of daily exercise to be truly happy, well-rounded characters.

Irish Setter temperament

Mischievous, intelligent and loyal, Irish Setters are also incredibly affectionate thanks to their kind and easy-going natures when in a home environment. They are considered as being one of the most “genuine” dogs in the world and thrive on human contact enjoying nothing more than to be included in everything that goes on in their environment. Irish Setters are known to have a real “zest” for life which they often show through the naughtier side of their natures.

They too are high energy, intelligent dogs and as such need as much mental stimulation and daily exercise to be truly happy, well-balanced dogs. They adore being around people and hate it when left on their own for too long. The other thing about these attractive setters is that they tend to be quite accident prone and excitable which is something that owners need to bear in mind when sharing a home with them. Some Irish Setters can be quite vocal which is a trait that needs to be gently nipped in the bud when dogs are still young before it turns into a real problem.

English Setter shedding

English Setters shed a moderate amount of hair all year round only more so in the spring and the autumn when their new coats start to grow through.

Irish Setter shedding

Irish Setters are also moderate shedders and like their English cousins, they tend to drop the most hair in the spring and autumn.

English Setter training

English Setter are intelligent dogs and in the right environment they respond well to training more especially positive reinforcement. Their education must start early so that dogs understand what is expected of them. They need to be taught the “recall” command from an early age to curb their instinct to take off after something they might have spotted in the distance when out on a walk. It takes time, patience and understanding to train an English Setter, but the effort is well worth it because you end up with a well-balanced, obedient dog that looks to you for direction.

Irish Setter training

Irish Setters are also intelligent and they learn things quickly. Their education must start early too with the “recall” command being one of the first things they are taught. They can be a little more of a challenge when it comes to training because of their “mischievous” streak. In short, it takes a lot of patience and time to train an Irish Setter and some dogs actually do very well taking part in canine sporting activities which they thoroughly enjoy.

Like other setters, they are sensitive by nature and therefore they do not answer well to harsh correction or heavy-handed training methods. They do respond well to positive reinforcement which always brings the best out of these dogs.

English Setter exercise

English Setters need the correct amount of daily exercise which should include lots of “off the lead” time as possible. Ideally, they need at least 2 hours a day combined with lots of mental stimulation.

Irish Setter exercise

Irish Setters also need a minimum of 2 hours exercise a day with lots of mental stimulation. They too need to be able to run free so they can really express themselves as they should, but this should only be done in areas where it is safe to let dogs off their leads.

English Setter children and pets

English Setters are known to good around children which includes toddlers which is just one of the reasons they have remained such a popular choice of family pet throughout the ages. They also get on with smaller animals and pets providing they have been well socialised from a young enough age and this includes the family cat.

Irish Setter children and pets

Irish Setters are also known to be reliable and well behaved around children. They enjoy playing interactive games with the kids. Providing they have been well socialised, they usually get on with other dogs and they will tolerate being around smaller animals and pets they have grown up with which includes the family cat. However, care should be taken when they are around any small animals they don’t already know.

English Setter health

English Setters suffer from a few breed-specific health issues which include the following:

  • Skin problems and ‘hot spots’
  • Blindness due to the deterioration of the retinas
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Hip dysplasia - DNA test available
  • Thyroid problems

Irish Setter health

Irish Setters suffer from a few hereditary health conditions which are as follows:

English Setter life expectancy

The average life span of an English Setter is between 9 to 15 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.

Irish Setter life expectancy

The average life span of an Irish Setter is between 10 and 15 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.


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