It is had to imagine a better temperament in a dog than the typical personality of the Irish Setter. They are an outstanding companion dog for several reasons, not the least of what has been a concentrated effort by breeders to keep the stable, friendly and outgoing temperament of the breed as a priority with breeding programs. The breed standard for the Irish Setter specifically notes that the dog should not exhibit any signs of aggression or timidity while in the ring.
The typical Irish Setter is going to be a very fun loving and outgoing dog, given to moments of spontaneous running and playing all throughout their lives. While they are considered to be high spirited, a well trained and well exercised Irish Setter is not a high strung dog nor are they a breed that is prone to rambunctious behavior once they get into their adult years. Poorly exercised Irish Setters or those that are not provided enough routine attention and obedience work can be very challenging to work with as they are an energetic breed that needs to have routine outside time as well as training.
The Irish Setter is not a good match for small spaces, however with the right commitment by the owner they can successfully live in the city. Ideally they need to have intensive exercise times that should be distributed throughout the day. Since they love to fetch, retrieving and games that include having the dog bring items back can be a wonderful way to combine training and exercise into one activity. The Irish Setter can become almost obsessive about some activities, especially retrieval, so it is important to have a variety of options for exercise as well as to teach the "enough" command.
The vast majority of all Irish Setters are very friendly dogs that are not dog aggressive or highly protective of their property. While most dogs will bark when somebody approaches, it is more in terms of a greeting rather than a protective or defensive type of bark. Being territorial, possessive or aggressive is not natural for a well bred, trained and socialized Irish Setters. Families or individuals looking for an effective guard dog or even an outstanding watchdog may want to consider another breed rather than the Irish Setter.
Some Irish Setters may have a tendency to be rather submissive and very sensitive to any type of corrective punishment or training methods. These dogs are not a breed that needs to have any type of heavy handed or negatively based training programs used. All will respond to their owners praise and attention very effectively, provided they have bonded with the owner and have been properly treated. Abused or neglected Irish Setters may be very submissive all their lives, with issues such as timidity, submissive urination and separation anxieties developing over time.
As a breed that was specifically developed to work with hunters on foot, the Irish Setter has a natural love of roaming and exploring. For this reason they do need to be kept within a large, secure fence. If an Irish Setter gets out they will follow their nose and roam, often very significant distances. They are also not typically good around traffic as they will dart out among cars to chase other animals or even just in play. Keeping the dogs secured in a yard or on a leash when out of the yard is an important consideration for the dog's safety.
For individuals or families that want an outdoor dog, the Irish Setter may appear to be a great breed. While they are capable of living outdoors in most climates, they are not suited by temperament to be isolated from their owners. They crave human attention and may become destructive or difficult to manage when they don't have regular contact with their owners and family. Ideally an Irish Setter does best with time outside during the day if the family is away from home, then lots of time with an active, outdoorsy family when people are present.
As a companion pet to other dogs or pets in the house the Irish Setter is typically a very good match. Raising the setter with kittens or another dog is the best option to ensure a safe interaction between the dog and the other pets. Most Irish Setter puppies raised with kittens will be friends with cats for life, while a few may still chase cats that they are not familiar with. Some Irish Setters may have a higher prey drive, especially those from field lines, and may not be suitable for homes with very small rodent type animals. Dogs in the family are rarely an issue with the Irish Setter, but like any breed some are more likely to be aggressive than others. Typically intact males are going to be the most prone to aggression with other intact males when females in estrus are present. Always, as with any dog, keep males apart or spay and neuter all dogs in the family to prevent this from becoming an issue.
The gentle, calm yet dignified manner of the Irish Setter, combined with the playfulness of the breed makes this dog a great therapy animal. They are often used in schools, hospitals and nursing homes to bring attention and love to patients and clients that need someone to talk to. With the naturally friendly personality and the beauty of these dogs the use of the breed as therapy animals is not difficult to understand. Many times the patients and clients help to groom or walk the dog, helping with physical and rehabilitation programs in ways that humans simply cannot.
Another common non-traditional use for the Irish Setter is as an assistance dog. They can be trained to alert in times of emergency, push panic buttons and even to retrieve the phone if the owner is unable to move to the phone. Since they do require routine, daily grooming they may not be as suitable as some of the shorter coated breeds for people with significant physical disabilities, however crosses with Irish Setters and other suitable breeds can be a great option.