If you're seeking an active canine companion, an adept hunting dog, or a loyal family pet, consider a setter breed. The Irish setter, Gordon setter, English setter, and Irish red and white setter are four outstanding dogs that thrive in the field and at home. Each of these setters shares an aptitude for hunting and a family-first disposition that makes them much-loved companions. However, each breed has its own unique traits as well.
Here are four setter dog breeds that might suit your lifestyle.
Setter Breed Characteristics
Setter breeds gained their name and notoriety as hunting dogs for their instinctive tendency to crouch, or "set," when they find their quarry. Typically, a setter will take a low stance with its body nearly touching the ground and its attention firmly fixed on the game. In the past, this position allowed hunters to cast a net over the game without being obstructed by the dog's body. Today, it's not as necessary with the use of firearms in hunting, but it remains a characteristic mark of setter breeds nonetheless.
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The Irish setter is a beautiful example of a setter dog breed. Easily identified by its rich mahogany coat with flowing locks and feathering, the red setter (as the breed is sometimes called) was originally developed in Ireland as a steady and capable birding dog.
These dogs have an innate ability to locate game birds and signal their presence to a hunting companion. From a young age, many Irish setters display a drive to please their owners, and they take to fieldwork quickly. Irish setters are known to be excellent family dogs and mellow housemates, as long as they get consistent training and exercise.
Height: 24 to 27 inches
Weight: 35 to 70 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Flat, silky, long, soft coat with deep chestnut red or mahogany coloring; feathering on the chest, belly, legs, tail, and ears; neck and tail outstretch to point in the direction of game
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The largest of the setter breeds, there is no mistaking the Gordon setter. With its large bone structure and distinctive black-and-tan coat, the Gordon stands out. This dog can trace its roots back to northern Scotland where Alexander the Fourth, Duke of Gordon developed a hunting dog capable of traversing the hilly Scottish countryside. The dog's large stature served it well in the inclement weather, and the breed was further optimized for stamina over speed.
The United Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 1872, calling it the black and tan setter. In 1924, the name changed to Gordon setter. The breed possesses a family-friendly disposition, but it does have a strong protective instinct. Early socialization and training are key to encourage a friendly and obedient nature.
Height: 23 to 27 inches
Weight: 45 to 80 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Medium to large build; shiny coat that is straight or wavy with feathering on the ears, chest, legs, and tail; coat is characteristically black with tan markings
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Smaller in stature than the Gordon and Irish setters, the English setter stands out for its freckled coat and pleasant demeanor. Its white base coat has either orange or black markings (referred to as "belton"), or it can be tricolor in appearance. Good looks and temperament aside, this breed has been developed to excel in setting and retrieving game birds.
The English setter is believed to have descended from a cross of pointer and spaniel breeds, though its exact origin is unknown. Today, English setters often show a strong desire to bond closely with their families, and they don't like being left alone for long periods. They also need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy.
Height: 25 to 27 inches
Weight: 65 to 80 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Athletic build; long ears; feathering on the legs; long, flat, silky, and a little wavy coat in various colors
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Irish Red and White Setter
Although the all-red Irish setter has more notoriety among the setter breeds, the Irish red and white setter (also referred to as the IRWS) actually was the first Irish-bred setter on the scene. Believed to have originated in Ireland in the 17th century, the bright coloring of the red and white setter stood out against the landscape and allowed hunters to easily track their dogs in pursuit of game birds.
Over time, the solid red setter was developed through selective breeding of the IRWS, eventually leading to a separate breed standard for the IRWS and Irish setter. Besides their coat colors being different, the IRWS is slightly smaller than the Irish setter. But they show just as much durability and athleticism as their setter cousins.
Height: 22 to 26 inches
Weight: 35 to 60 pounds
Physical Characteristics: Sturdy, athletic build; white coat with distinct red patches; feathering along the ears, legs, body, and tail
What is a setter dog?
What size are most setter dogs?
Mature English setters weigh from 56 to 65 pounds.
Are setters good family dogs?
Yes! They're laid back—perfect for kids—gentle, friendly, and smart.
Do setters shed?
Setters are moderate shedders.