Types of Setter Dogs

Written by Dana Mayor
Updated: September 24, 2022
© WiP-Studio/Shutterstock.com
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Key Points

  • Setters have one thing in common: their lovely disposition and their love of the great outdoors.
  • There are four main sub categories of these friendly canines: the Gordon Setter, the English Setter, the Irish Setter, and the Irish Red and White Setter.
  • None of these breeds are suited to apartment living and one of them, the English, is prone to obesity.

Setters are types of dogs that hunters use to hunt birds that live mostly on the ground such as quail, which is why they’re also called bird dogs. The dogs don’t catch the birds themselves, but their sense of smell leads them to the quarry. Once they detect it, they go into a crouch and freeze. The crouch is also called a “set,” and this is where the setter gets its name. Types of setters dogs are large in size and intelligent. They have lustrous, silky coats with lots of feathering, lively and playful personalities, and bright, expressive eyes. Even when they’re not out in the field, they make wonderful family pets but need lots of room to exercise and must have their daily walk. So far, there are four recognized breeds of setters. Here are some facts about them:

1. Gordon Setter

Types of Setter dogs - Gordon Setter
Gordon setter dog running with a tennis ball in the mouth. This type of setter dog has been around since the 1600s.

©Gunnar Rathbun/Shutterstock.com

Named for the Scottish nobleman Alexander Gordon, this black and tan bird dog has been around since the 1600s. Descended from collies and bloodhounds developed on Duke Gordon’s estate, this beautiful dog is the only setter whose origins are in Scotland. A dog of good size, it stands 24.5 to 26 inches high at the shoulder and weighs between 56 and 65 pounds. It has a silky and glossy coat of uncommon beauty with well-feathered legs and tail. It has a long muzzle and dark brown eyes, and its tan markings are found on both sides of its muzzle, its “eyebrows” and on the dog’s throat, chest, legs, and vent. The tan can actually be mahogany or deep chestnut.

Like all types of setters dogs, the sweet-natured Gordon setter needs lots of exercise and is too big and lively for an apartment. Because it likes to roam around, it needs a space that’s fenced in to keep it from roaming too widely.

Despite the luxuriousness of its coat, the Gordon setter only needs regular grooming and for the owner to make sure to smooth out tangles and remove burrs if the dog spends lots of time in the weeds. A typical litter is made up of six to eight puppies. Curiously, Gordon setter puppies seem to take a longer time to mature than other setter puppies and can be a bit clumsy before they reach adulthood. The dog lives between 10 and 12 years.

Read this for more on the Gordon setter.

2. English Setter

Types of Setter dogs - English Setter
English Setter dog playing in a meadow. English setter is a type of setter dog that is good at retrieving and pointing.

©iStock.com/Michel VIARD

This beautiful bird dog with its silken, wavy, mottled coat was developed in Great Britain in the 1800s. Besides the feathering found on setter breeds, it has a deep chest, a lean, medium-length body, and small but compact feet. When the dog stands up, its feathered tail forms a straight line with its back, and its ears end in soft tips. Other facts about this laid-back and loving dog are that it stands between 24 and 27.5 inches high at the shoulder and weighs between 56 and 66 pounds. It also tends to become obese, so it should not be overfed. Females sometimes suffer from false pregnancies.

Like the Gordon setter, the English setter is not good for apartment living and needs lots of exercise as well as walks, and its beautiful coat is easy to take care of if it is combed and brushed regularly. The colors of the coat can be white with brown, lemon, orange, and blue mottles. Some dogs have coats of more than one color, and the mottling can be light or heavy. Besides being an excellent setter, the English setter is also good at retrieving and pointing. It’s also a fairly good watchdog.

When the female really becomes pregnant she’ll give birth to around six puppies. The dog lives between 10 and 12 years.

For more information about the English setter, read this.

3. Irish Setter

Types of Setter Dogs - Irish Setter
Irish red setter on a background of mountains and rivers on a Sunny day. This type of setter dog is a hardy dog that will hunt in all sorts of weather.

©Kseniia Kolesnikova/Shutterstock.com

Also called the red setter, this rather goofy dog is famous for its lavish, rich mahogany or chestnut red coat. It has a long, squarish muzzle and a distinct stop, which is the place between the eyes where the skull meets the nasal bone. Though the coat is lush over most of the dog’s body, it is short on the head and the front of the legs. The forelegs are straight and strong with small feet and arched toes, and the chest is deep but narrow. The well-feathered tail is low set on the body. Some puppies have a bit of gray behind their legs and ears, but this goes away as they mature. Adults are allowed to have a spot of white on their chest.

The dog originated in Ireland in the 1700s and is probably descended from the Gordon setter as well as the Irish water spaniel. It is about the same size as other setters as it stands 25 to 27 inches high at the shoulder and weighs between 60 and 70 pounds. It joins other setters in its need for activity and love of children and family life. If it’s used in hunting, the Irish setter is a hardy dog that will hunt in all sorts of weather.

The Irish setter is not an apartment dog but needs a large yard. It is the dog to own if you want your pooch to accompany you on a jog or a bike ride.

As the English setter is prone to obesity, the Irish setter is prone to bloat. Bloat happens when so much gas builds up in the dog’s stomach that it cuts off blood flow. To avoid this, it is best to feed the Irish setter a few little meals throughout the day instead of one large one.

One of the happier facts about the Irish setter is that it lives a bit longer than other setters. This dog can live between 11 to 15 years. They also have large-sized litters, and a bitch can deliver eight to over 12 puppies at a time. The beautiful coat needs to be brushed and combed daily, but other than that it does not need extensive grooming unless it’s really dirty and matted.

Go here for more information on the Irish setter.

4. Irish Red and White Setter

Types of Setter Dogs - Irish Red and White Setter
Irish red and white setter walking in the field. This type of setter dog is known for its power and athleticism.


This dog descends from the same ancestor as the Irish setter. Indeed, it was thought of as the Irish setter and was much more widespread than the setter with the solid red coat. But by the Victorian era, the red setter became popular to the point that the Irish red and white setter almost went extinct. Because of this, Irish red and white setters can trace their pedigree only as far back as the 1920s.

The Irish red and white setter is known for its power and athleticism and is a more heavyset dog than the Irish setter. Its back, neck, and hindquarters are well-muscled, and it has a strong jaw, deep chest, and ribs that are well-sprung. It has feathering on its tail, the backs of its front legs, and even between its toes. The coat has a fine texture and is allowed to be wavy but not curly. It is white with red patches, and some flecking is allowed around the face, the feet, and the lower parts of the legs. The dog stands between 23 and 27 inches high at the shoulder and weighs 60 to 70 pounds. The silky coat only needs to be brushed and combed daily.

Despite its robust build, the red and white setter is affectionate and wonderful with children. Because it is such a lively dog, it needs both mental and physical stimulation to be happy and, as is the case with other setters, is not an apartment dog. Like the Irish setter, it is long-lived for a large dog and lives between 11 and 15 years. It gives birth to 6 to 12 puppies per litter.

List of Setter dogs:

  • Gordon Setter
  • English Setter
  • Irish Setter
  • Irish Red and White Setter

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About the Author

I love good books and the occasional cartoon. I am also endlessly intrigued with the beauty of nature and find hummingbirds, puppies, and marine wildlife to be the most magical creatures of all.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What type of dog is a setter?

A setter is a type of gun dog or bird dog that sets, or sits, and freezes when it senses a game bird nearby. They are big dogs and exceptionally beautiful, with coats that are silky, shiny and feathered.

Are setters a type of spaniel?

Types of setters dogs are not spaniels, but some are descended from breeds of spaniels called “setting spaniels.”

What is the job of a setter dog?

The job of a setter is to find a game bird such as a partridge or a quail. These birds tend to hide in the vegetation and are hard for a human hunter to find. However, the setter can find the bird with its keen sense of smell. When it does, it freezes in the direction of the quarry.

Do setters shed?

Setters do shed, but they tend to be average shedders, and their coats are easy to care for.

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