Irish setters, descended from the slightly smaller and now slightly less familiar English setter, are a large, loving, boisterous breed. As the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners explains, dogs with spaniel and terrier in their ancestry are a favored pick for use as hearing dogs. This just so happens to be the case with Irish setters.
While a few other large breeds, including golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, and German shepherds, are more often seen as guide and other service dogs, Irish setters are increasingly being trained for assistance work. There are plenty of good reasons for this.
Read about these reasons below to gain some insights into whether this breed might be an appropriate one for you to partner with. Of course, whether an Irish setter is right for you depends on numerous considerations, including what sort of assistance you need, how much daily physical activity you can provide, how much indoor and outdoor space you have at home, what type of personality traits you want in a dog, and more.
Why Irish Setters Make Good Assistance Dogs
They are born-and-bred hunting dogs, which means Irish setters are intelligent, highly trainable, endlessly loyal and obedient, and eager to please, plus they have plenty of agility, speed, energy, and stamina. Mentally, they benefit greatly from being trained to perform specific tasks and they take pride in carrying them out. They also appreciate feeling included in whatever’s going on.
Irish setters have the size and strength to fetch and carry sizable items, lead and support people, and otherwise execute physically demanding work that smaller dogs cannot.
Furthermore, this is a breed that bonds strongly with one person yet gets along well with everyone else in the home—including children and pets. It’s also generally welcoming to strangers. Because this is not a protective breed known for “watchdog” traits, the affable and accepting Irish setter does well in public surrounded by unknown people, remaining focused and calm.
Irish Setter Physical Characteristics
Elegant, large, energetic dogs, Irish setters have a good balance of enthusiasm outdoors and appropriate indoor behavior (provided they get enough daily exercise). They need to burn off energy every day, and prefer to do so at high speeds with plenty of space to move around.
Irish setters stand about 27 inches tall and weigh 65 or more pounds when fully grown. Capped at each end by a long muzzle and a long, tapered tail, these dogs are noted for the graceful lines of their frames. Their coats are flat, straight, and consist of moderately long hairs. Coloring ranges from chestnut to a deep, rich mahogany.
Irish Setter Temperament
This breed is loyal and loving, with a puppy-like playfulness even in adulthood. However, they are able to remain on good behavior inside and in public, as long as they are getting an adequate outlet for their energy at other times. Irish setters strongly desire to be around people and a part of activities. They get along well with everyone, known and unknown, and are well regarded for their ability to form relationships with children.
Irish Setter Care and Health
If you’re considering taking on an Irish setter as an assistance dog, it’s recommended that you have a roomy dwelling and a somewhat spacious outdoor space; this is not a breed suited to being cooped up in an apartment or with little access to the outside world. You should be able to provide (either on your own or with help from someone else) a daily vigorous workout for your Irish setter, ideally lasting at least one hour.
Their coats are relatively low maintenance, usually just needing a brushing once or twice per week and an occasional trim. Baths aren’t needed often, but assistance dogs may need them more frequently than pets if they get dirty in the course of performing their tasks.
With proactive veterinary care, maintenance of a healthy weight, a nutritious diet, and lots of exercise, Irish setters can live 14 or 15 years. As with other big breeds, arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other joint problems may become a concern with aging. Irish setters are also at increased risk for eye problems, allergic skin conditions, and epilepsy.
Learn more about what to consider when choosing a service dog breed and about which breeds are most commonly trained for assistance work. Also, if you’re new to living with a dog, familiarize yourself with some of the basics of canine grooming.