Golden Retriever vs. Irish Setter: 15 Differences To Help You Choose

Wondering if a Golden Retriever or Irish Setter would be a better fit for you?

Both breeds have excellent qualities that make them great companions, but there are a few key differences that will help you choose which breed is best for you!

Golden Retrievers and Irish setters are both sporting dogs that average about 60 pounds for females and 70 pounds for males. 

The Golden Retriever is the 4th most popular breed and the Irish Setter is 77th on the AKC’s 2020 most popular breeds chart.

Two key differences between Irish Setters and Golden Retrievers are their energy and size.  Irish Setters are a little taller and lankier than Golden Retrievers and have a little more energy.

But when it comes down to it, all dogs are individuals, and meeting a dog’s parents can help you determine if the dog is going to be a good fit, as lots of puppies end up with characteristics that their parents have. 

Below we will cover typical traits for each breed that will aid in your decision. 

First, we’ll go through an overview of each breed and then we will talk about how they compare on some important aspects of dog ownership, including:

  • Energy levels
  • Shedding
  • Trainability
  • How good they are with kids
  • How good they are with other dogs and other animals
  • And much more

Let’s get started!

golden retriever vs irish setter

Golden Retriever Overview

Golden Retrievers are playful and loving with a lot of energy.

They have long, beautiful, double coats, stand a little shorter than two feet tall, and have fluffy tails that are pretty much always wagging with excitement! 

They were originally bred in Scotland over 150 years ago to retrieve gunned-down birds.

While they are still used as hunting dogs today, you more frequently find them walking hospitals as therapy dogs or helping individuals as service dogs.

They’re smart and do best with lots of training, but it’s hard to beat a Golden Retriever if you’re looking for a family dog.

Irish Setter Overview

The Irish Setter is a majestic dog with a beautiful red coat.

They’re energetic, sweet-tempered, and highly spirited, making them great for active people wanting an active companion.

Irish Setters stand a few inches taller than Goldens at an average of 27 inches for males and 25 inches for females.

Like Golden Retrievers, they were originally bred as hunting dogs, and their bold attitudes and boundless stamina still make them a great choice for this activity today.

They’re athletic, loving, and make great family pets for those that can manage their energy and keep them entertained.

Alright, now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of how these two dogs compare!

Energy Level

Golden Retrievers:

Golden retrievers have plenty of energy and need about an hour or two of exercise per day.

Walks, games of fetch and tug, trips to the park, and training will help get them the exercise they need.

Irish Setters:

Irish Setters are also highly active dogs that will require plenty of exercise every day. 

They love to be around their humans, though, and things like long walks, games, and canine sports that allow them to interact with their owners are great choices. 

Though both breeds are from hunting descent, Irish Setters tend to be used more as hunting dogs today and that high energy background usually means they are up for a bit more in the exercise department. 


If you have an active lifestyle, both Golden Retrievers and Irish Setters will fit into your home nicely.

And although both breeds have lots of energy, Irish Setters typically have slightly more.

Are They Good For Families & Children?

golden retrievers good with kids

Golden Retrievers:

Golden Retrievers are great family dogs as they tend to be patient and loving with children.

They love and need socialization and being a part of your family with give your Golden no greater joy. 

Irish Setters:

Irish Setters also make wonderful family dogs.

They are eager to please and love bonding and spending time with their humans. 

Irish Setters do well with children, just keep in mind that since they have lots of energy they may accidentally knock over little ones!


If you have a family, an Irish Setter or Golden Retriever would make a great choice.

They’ll love spending time with you and will bring endless joy to everyone.

While both breeds have lots of energy, are large, and sometimes forget their size, Irish Setters have a bit more energy and may be more likely to knock kids down. 


Golden Retrievers:

Golden Retrievers are highly intelligent dogs.

They are quick to learn and eager to please, making them a great choice for first-time dog owners that are new to training.

They respond well to positive, reward-based training

Irish Setters:

Irish Setters are also smart dogs that want to please their owners.

This makes them excellent students who will quickly master new tricks and commands.


Golden Retrievers and Irish Setters are both intelligent dogs who want to please their humans, so they are both fairly easy to train.

Using positive, reward-based training is the best way to train these breeds.


irish setter vs golden retriever

Golden Retrievers:

Golden Retrievers have a sweet, loyal, loving, goofy temperament.

This is what makes them great family dogs.

Irish Setters:

Like Goldens, Irish Setters are playful and loving dogs.  

They are kind and loyal, good around kids, and a great adventure buddy for those who love to be outside. 


Both breeds are good-natured and it’s hard to find a better dog for a companion than either of these breeds.

Coat & Shedding

Golden Retrievers:

Golden Retrievers have a soft, flowy coat that ranges in color from cream to gold, to red.

It’s a double coat (a dense undercoat and a flowy top coat) that grows in fully when they’re about a year and a half old.

Their coats require frequent brushing and they shed a lot, especially in the spring and fall.

Irish Setters :

Irish Setters also have a soft, silky, double coat that is easily identifiable by its bold chestnut, mahogany, or red shade. 

Because of how long it is, Irish Setters can be prone to getting twigs stuck and tangled knots in their coat.

Regular brushing is a must to keep your dog looking sleek and shiny.


Both breeds shed, but Goldens tend to release even more hair than Setters.

Irish Setters and Golden Retrievers both have beautiful, long, soft coats, so you will love petting and snuggling with either one! 

And speaking of coats, let’s talk grooming…

Related article:


Golden Retrievers:

Because of their double coat, golden retrievers require brushing every 1-3 days.

This will help with the shedding, get rid of dead fur and skin, and prevent matting.

They also require regular bathing, teeth cleaning, ear cleaning, and nail trimming just like any other dog.

Irish Setters:

Like Golden Retrievers, Irish setters need to be brushed a few times per week.

That said, if your dog is a hunting dog or spends lots of time outside and in the woods, they may need more frequent brushing to prevent matting or any objects from getting stuck in their coat.

And like all other dogs, Irish Setters require regular bathing, teeth cleaning, ear cleaning, and nail trimming.


Both dogs have long coats that will require regular maintenance, but Goldens have a slightly thicker coat that will shed more and may need to be brushed more.

(Read more about golden retriever grooming here.)


irish setter vs golden retriever size

Golden Retrievers:

According to the AKC, below are the breed standards for Golden Retrievers.

Males: 23-24 inches tall, 65-75 pounds

Females: 21.5-22.5 inches tall, 55-65 pounds

Irish Setters:

According to the AKC, below are the breed standards for Irish Setters.

Males: 27 inches tall, 70 pounds

Females: 25 inches tall, 60 pounds


Both breeds are similar in weight, though Irish Setters are longer and slightly leaner in profile.

Life Expectancy

Golden Retrievers:

Golden Retrievers’ average lifespan is 10-12 years (according to the AKC)

Irish Setters:

Irish Setters’ average lifespan is 12-15 years (according to the AKC)


Irish Setters have a longer lifespan than Goldens.

Golden Retriever & Irish Setter Health Problems

Golden Retrievers:

According to PetMD, some common Golden Retriever health problems include:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Sub-aortic stenosis (SAS)
  • Eye disorders
  • Mast cell tumors
  • Seizures
  • Lymphoma
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Skin problems

Irish Setters:

According to PetMD, some common Irish Setter health problems include:

  • Panosteitis
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Megaesophagus
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Hypertrophic Osteodystrophy
  • Epilepsy
  • Gastric Torsion
  • Canine hip dysplasia
  • Progressive retinal atrophy


As with most breeds, both Irish Setters and Golden Retrievers come with several common potential illnesses.

Search for a reputable breeder that can help you select the best puppy for your needs.

Are They Good With Other Dogs?

golden retriever vs irish setter good with dogs

Golden Retrievers:

Their good-naturedness doesn’t end with people.

Golden retrievers are great with other dogs.

We did a study and found that 31.6% of golden retriever owners currently have more than one dog, and 57% of those people have a golden plus another breed.

(See the full results of the Golden Retriever study here.)

Irish Setter:

Just like Goldens, Irish Setters are good playmates with other dogs because of their even temper and kind spirit.


If you have or want a home with multiple dogs, Irish Setters and Goldens are great candidates to be one (or more!) of those dogs.

Are Golden Retrievers Or Irish Setters Good With Cats?

Golden Retrievers:

With a proper introduction and training, Golden Retrievers can make good (or at least tolerable) housemates for cats.

We did a study and found that 25% of golden retriever owners also own a cat.

Irish Setters:

Irish Setters can be good with cats, especially those they have been raised with. 

Proper introductions are key to creating a peaceful household. 

Some Irish Setters can be a bit too playful and rambunctious for cats (and kids), so keep that in mind when selecting your dog. 


Both Golden Retrievers and Irish Setters can be great housemates for cats.

Just be sure to take proper steps when introducing your animals and training them, and keep an eye out to make sure neither one is becoming uncomfortable. 

Do They Bark A Lot?

Golden Retrievers:

According to this chart from, Golden Retrievers bark a moderate amount (three stars on a five-star scale).

Irish Setters:

According to this chart from, Irish Setters bark a little bit more (four stars on a five-star scale).


Neither Golden Retrievers nor Irish Setters are intense barkers, but Golden Retrievers tend to bark a little less.


Golden Retrievers:

Golden Retriever puppies typically cost between $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the breeder and location.

Irish Setters:

The average cost for an Irish Setter puppy is between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on AKC registration, breeder, and location. 


Both breeds have pretty wide ranges in price, although Golden Retriever puppies may be a little more expensive.

Note: both breeds will likely cost around $2,000 per year of owning them, so don’t let this slight difference in price upfront sway you in either direction.

Related article:


Golden Retrievers:

According to Dr. Stanley Coren’s book, The Intelligence of DogsGolden Retrievers are the fourth smartest dog breed.

Irish Setters:

According to the same book, Irish Setters are the 45th smartest dog breed.


Both breeds are smart, but Golden Retrievers are a little smarter.

Behavior Problems

Golden Retrievers:

Goldens are high-energy dogs that were bred to work and carry things with their mouths.

If they aren’t sufficiently exercised, they can get bored and find themselves in trouble.

Here are some common golden retriever behavior problems:

  • Jumping on people
  • Pulling on the leash
  • Destructive chewing
  • Demand barking/demanding attention
  • Digging

Irish Setters:

As another high-energy breed, it would not do well to let your Irish Setter sit at home all day.

This can lead to destructive behaviors and unhappiness in your dog. 

Be sure you are prepared to give your Irish Setter the exercise they need every day.


Both breeds can be on the naughty side if they aren’t raised in a home that understands their needs.

Here are some tips to prevent and handle bad behavior:

  • Make sure their play, sleep, and social needs are met
  • Keep them mentally and physically stimulated
  • Redirect them to do something you want them to do
  • Stop accidentally reinforcing bad behavior

See the full article about handling and preventing bad behavior here.

Final Conclusion

golden retriever or irish setter

If you’re looking for a new best friend, both Golden retrievers and Irish Setters are some of the best dogs for the job.

They are both loving, people-pleasing dogs that get along with everyone from kids to other dogs to cats.

They’re fairly easy to train and aren’t too high maintenance.

Irish Setters tend to live longer and have a little more energy, but both dogs are loyal and family-oriented breeds.

So the big question is this…

What are the most important qualities in a dog for you?

Let us know what you think down in the comments!

See other breed comparisons here:

To learn more about whether or not a Golden Retriever is right for you, take the Golden Retriever Quiz!

And if you’ve decided on getting a Golden Retriever, check out this article on how to raise a golden retriever puppy.

P.S. Getting a Golden Retriever puppy? Check out the Golden Retriever Puppy Handbook.

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