Setter dog breeds are hard to overlook if you’re in the market for an active and affectionate pup with a sweet and loyal nature that makes for an utterly devoted companion. Outstanding hunters and incredibly people-focused, these dogs do wonderfully with sporty and outdoorsy individuals and families.
Split into four distinct categories - English, Irish, Gordon and Irish Red and White - the setter dog breeds may all look different, but with the exception of a few minor areas where they diverge, their temperaments are remarkably similar. Lovable and lively, they adore children and adults and are a true joy to have in the home.
You’ll want plenty of the best dog toys on hand if you plan to adopt one of these pups though as they require a lot of mental and physical stimulation each day in order to keep them happy and healthy. A minimum of one hour of vigorous exercise is recommended, but the more the better - remember, these are hunting dogs, so their energy levels are infinite.
We’d also advise investing in a good dog brush as all of the setter breeds are moderate shedders who need to be groomed daily, or every other day, to keep their long, silky coats from becoming tangled.
You’ll want a good dose of patience with these sweet-natured pups too, as although eager to please, they can be stubborn, so training them can take some time.
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1. Irish Setter
A rowdy and rollicking redhead with bags of energy and an outgoing personality, the delightful Irish Setter has a captivatingly mischievous and inquisitive nature that makes them an absolute joy to have as part of the family.
Moving swiftly but with bucket loads of grace, these sweet-tempered and enthusiastic dogs make wonderful play companions for children and are equally good with adults.
Outgoing and affectionate, Irish Setters also get along beautifully with other dogs and while they have quite the rambunctious and full-on personality, they are extremely eager to please and will respond very well to training methods that are positive and consistent.
Standing more than two feet tall, they have long, powerful legs that help them to move quickly and because of their high energy levels and love of being active, they require a minimum of one hour of vigorous activity daily to help them stay mentally and physically healthy.
Originally developed as a bird dog, the Irish Setter has a strong prey drive and loves exploring new places. They do best in homes where they have somebody present with them all the time as they do tend to suffer from separation anxiety when left alone for long periods.
2. English Setter
Named for their love of crouching down low (also known as ‘setting’) so that they can spot prey hiding in the under bush, the English Setter is a mellow and merry dog with an affectionate nature that they love showering all over their humans.
As you’d expect from this breed, their energy levels are high and they need a lot of exercise, so they’re a great choice for active individuals or families and those who have a decent sized backyard for them to run around in and play.
Known for being “the moderate setter”, the English Setter is a little less exuberant than the Irish Setter and is less standoffish around strangers than the Gordon Setter. Overall, they tend to be incredibly caring and sociable dogs who will get on with just about anyone - be they of the human or fur variety.
Mild mannered and sensitive for the most part, where the English Setter becomes slightly more challenging is simply in their rather wilful nature. They can certainly be stubborn, but, like with the Irish Setter, they respond very well to kind but firm training.
Lovable and lively, the English Setter makes a devoted family companion, but just be aware that they can be nuisance barkers and they have a passion for digging, so you’ll want to discourage these habits from a young age to ensure they don’t become an issue.
3. Gordon Setter
A substantial dog originally bred in the Highlands of Scotland to hunt pheasant and quail, the Gordon Setter are the largest of all the Setter breeds, with males standing at around 27 inches and weighing close to 80 pounds.
With their glistening black coat that sports tan markings, this majestic and handsome dog is something to behold and their deep brown eyes make them look both worldly and wise.
Confident and bold, the Gordon Setter seems to have it all - brains, beauty and a whole lot of bird sense - but this active and muscular pup does come with a few drawbacks, notably their aloofness towards anyone outside of their family and their tendency to sometimes be aggressive with other dogs.
That being said, these things are nothing that can’t be sorted out with early socialization. While all the training in the world is unlikely to make them warm up to strangers anytime soon, what it will do is help them to understand that new people, sights and sounds don’t pose a threat to them or those they love.
The Gordon Setter is an incredible companion dog - just because they don’t like strangers, don’t let this put you off getting one. They are fierce protectors of any children in their care and they tend to be very patient with their playful antics. They also adore their family as a whole and are loving and intensely devoted to them.
4. Irish Red and White Setter
Courageous and spirited, the Irish Red and White Setter is fun-loving, friendly and has a face that manages to look both keen and kind. With a strong zest for life and a love of play, they make wonderful companions for children and loyal and affectionate family members overall.
The Irish Red and White Setter almost became extinct as breeders chose to focus solely on the red Irish Setter, but thankfully, this pup and its stunning coat were saved by a few breeders who saw their beauty, and they have since gone on to be considered a separate breed from their Irish cousins.
As you’d expect from this kind of athletic dog, their energy levels are through the roof, so a minimum of one hour (the more the better) is required to keep this pup happy and healthy. A true sporting dog, the Irish Red and White Setter will thrive living with an active, sporty and outdoorsy individual or family.
While they have the same high levels of intelligence as other Setters, they also possess the same stubborn and wilful streak that does mean you’ll need to train them with plenty of patience and consistency.
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Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.