Golden Retriever vs. Irish Setter: 7 Key Differences

Golden Retrievers and Irish Setters are two popular dog breeds known for their friendly temperaments and striking appearances. Both breeds make excellent family pets, but they have distinct characteristics that may make one more suitable for certain lifestyles than the other. This article aims to highlight the seven key differences between Golden Retrievers and Irish Setters to help potential dog owners make an informed decision.

Difference 1: Origin and History

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers originated in Scotland in the late 19th century. They were developed by crossing the now-extinct Yellow Retriever with the Tweed Water Spaniel, along with infusions of Bloodhound, Irish Setter, and other retrievers. The breed was primarily created for retrieving game during hunting, thanks to its excellent swimming abilities and gentle mouth grip. Golden Retrievers quickly gained popularity due to their friendly nature and versatility, making them excellent companions, therapy dogs, and service animals.

Irish Setter

Irish Setters have a rich history that dates back to the 18th century in Ireland. They were originally bred from a mix of Irish Water Spaniel, Irish Terrier, English Setter, and Gordon Setter. Irish Setters were primarily used for hunting and retrieving game birds. Known for their striking red coats and energetic personalities, Irish Setters became popular not only as hunting dogs but also as beloved family pets and show dogs.

Difference 2: Physical Appearance

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are medium to large-sized dogs, typically weighing between 55 to 75 pounds and standing about 21.5 to 24 inches tall at the shoulder. They have a dense, water-repellent double coat that ranges in color from light golden to dark golden. Their broad heads, friendly eyes, and strong, muscular bodies give them a sturdy and balanced appearance. Golden Retrievers have a characteristic feathering on their necks, legs, and tails.

Irish Setter

Irish Setters are slightly taller and leaner than Golden Retrievers, usually weighing between 60 to 70 pounds and standing 25 to 27 inches tall at the shoulder. They are renowned for their stunning, silky, mahogany red coats. Irish Setters have a more refined and elegant build, with long, flowing hair on their ears, chest, legs, and tail. Their expressive eyes and high-set ears contribute to their graceful and alert appearance.

Difference 3: Temperament and Personality

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are known for their friendly, tolerant, and outgoing nature. They are highly sociable and enjoy being around people and other animals. Golden Retrievers are also very patient and gentle, making them excellent companions for families with children. Their eager-to-please attitude and intelligence make them highly trainable and versatile in various roles, from family pets to service dogs.

Irish Setter

Irish Setters are energetic, affectionate, and spirited dogs. They are known for their playful and exuberant personalities. Irish Setters are very sociable and form strong bonds with their families. However, they can be more independent and sometimes stubborn compared to Golden Retrievers. Their high energy levels and playful nature make them well-suited for active families who enjoy outdoor activities.

Difference 4: Exercise Needs

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are an active breed that requires regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental health. They enjoy activities such as walking, running, swimming, and playing fetch. Ideally, Golden Retrievers should get at least an hour of exercise each day. Regular physical activity helps prevent obesity and behavioral issues in this breed.

Irish Setter

Irish Setters have high energy levels and require more vigorous exercise compared to Golden Retrievers. They thrive on activities that allow them to run and explore, such as jogging, hiking, and playing in large, open spaces. Irish Setters need at least 1 to 2 hours of exercise daily to keep them physically fit and mentally stimulated. Without adequate exercise, they may become bored and develop destructive behaviors.

Difference 5: Trainability

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are highly trainable and intelligent dogs. They respond well to positive reinforcement techniques and are eager to learn new commands and tricks. Their cooperative nature and desire to please make them excellent candidates for obedience training, agility, and various canine sports. Golden Retrievers excel in roles that require advanced training, such as therapy and service work.

Irish Setter

Irish Setters are intelligent but can be more challenging to train due to their independent streak. They require consistent, patient, and positive training methods. Early socialization and obedience training are crucial for Irish Setters to develop good manners and behaviors. While they may take longer to train compared to Golden Retrievers, they are capable learners and can excel in activities that engage their minds and bodies.

Difference 6: Health and Lifespan

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers have an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years. They are generally healthy dogs but are prone to certain health issues such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and certain types of cancer. Regular veterinary check-ups, a balanced diet, and maintaining a healthy weight can help manage these risks. Genetic testing and responsible breeding practices are essential to minimize the incidence of inherited health problems.

Irish Setter

Irish Setters have a slightly longer average lifespan of 12 to 15 years. They are also susceptible to some genetic health issues, including hip dysplasia, progressive retinal atrophy, and bloat (gastric torsion). Regular health screenings, a nutritious diet, and proper exercise can help maintain their overall health. Choosing a reputable breeder who conducts health tests on their breeding dogs is crucial to reducing the risk of hereditary conditions.

Difference 7: Grooming and Maintenance

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers require regular grooming to keep their coats healthy and free from mats. They should be brushed at least once a week, and more frequently during shedding seasons. Regular baths, ear cleaning, and nail trimming are also important parts of their grooming routine. Golden Retrievers tend to shed moderately year-round, with heavier shedding occurring in spring and fall.

Irish Setter

Irish Setters have high-maintenance coats that require frequent grooming to prevent tangles and mats. They should be brushed several times a week and bathed regularly to keep their silky coats in good condition. Like Golden Retrievers, Irish Setters also need regular ear cleaning and nail trimming. They shed moderately but may require more grooming attention to maintain their luxurious coat.


Golden Retrievers and Irish Setters are both wonderful breeds with their unique characteristics and needs. While Golden Retrievers are known for their friendly, adaptable nature and ease of training, Irish Setters bring an energetic and playful spirit to active families. Understanding the key differences between these breeds can help potential dog owners choose the right companion that fits their lifestyle and preferences.

Frequently Asked Questions About Golden Retriever vs. Irish Setter

Which breed is better for families?

Both breeds are great for families, but Golden Retrievers are often preferred for their gentle and patient nature, especially with young children.

Do Golden Retrievers or Irish Setters have more health issues?

Both breeds have their own set of health concerns, but Golden Retrievers are more prone to certain types of cancer. Regular vet check-ups and responsible breeding can help manage these risks.

Which breed is easier to train?

Golden Retrievers are generally easier to train due to their eagerness to please and cooperative nature, while Irish Setters may require more patience and consistent training.

Are Golden Retrievers or Irish Setters better for apartment living?

Golden Retrievers may adapt better to apartment living as long as they receive adequate exercise. Irish Setters require more space and may be better suited for homes with large yards.

Galen has been connecting quality Golden Retriever breeders with loving families since 2012 and is the founder of My Golden Retriever Puppies. He and his wife have four children and love spending time together, traveling (lived oversees for 4 years), enjoying the outdoors and connecting Golden families.