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Are Irish Setters Smart? Canine Intelligence Facts & FAQ

Kit Copson

By Kit Copson

irish setter dog jumping on its owner

Irish Setters are famous for their stunning good looks and sweet natures, but these red treasures from the Emerald Isle have the whole package: brains and beauty. Irish Setters are intelligent, athletic, and hardworking, and these traits have been inherited from their gundog ancestors.

Read on to learn more about the Irish Setter’s intelligence and what this means for you as a dog parent.

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Irish Setters on the Intelligence Ranking

In his 1994 book, The Intelligence of Dogs, canine psychology professor Stanley Coren ranked around 130 dog breeds in order of intelligence1. It’s important to note that Coren’s rankings are based solely on working and obedience intelligence, or how trainable a dog is.

Coren acknowledges multiple types of dog intelligence, which are instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence, and working and obedience intelligence. Instinctive intelligence refers to how well a dog carries out the tasks the breed was originally developed for (like guardianship, herding, pointing, retrieving, etc.), while adaptive intelligence refers to how well the dog problem-solves.

The ranking consists of six categories and 79 ranks, with breeds of the same intelligence sharing ranks. So, where do Irish Setters rank? They’re ranked at number 35, together with Cairn Terriers and Kerry Blue Terriers, which places them in the “Above Average Working Dogs” category. Dogs in this category typically obey commands the first time 70% or more of the time and learn new commands after 15 to 25 repetitions.

Red Irish Setter puppy at a dog show
Image Credit: Glikiri, Shutterstock

Which Dog Breed Is the Smartest?

Border Collies, Poodles, and German Shepherds top the list in ranks one, two, and three respectively, which places them in the “Brightest Dogs” category. Bulldogs, Basenjis, and Afghan Hounds are at the bottom of the list in ranks 77, 78, and 79.

It comes as no surprise that the Border Collie takes the top spot. These dogs have an unshakeable work ethic, bags of energy, and learn commands at the speed of light. Nevertheless, consistent training is just as important for Border Collies as it is for other dogs, and it helps keep their sharp minds stimulated.

As for dogs near the bottom of the list, they should not be assumed to be unintelligent. For example, despite the Afghan Hound’s reputation for being not very bright, this is far from the case. Afghan Hounds would be best described as independent, self-assured, and prone to a hint of stubbornness if you push them too far, which might make them trickier to train. Being more challenging to train doesn’t equate to low intelligence.

Are Irish Setters Trainable?

Yes, very. Irish Setters were developed to work closely with humans to hunt gamebirds. In this capacity, they were valued for their efficiency, ability to move quickly but gracefully, and eager-to-please personalities.

Today’s Irish Setters are similar to their ancestors in that they’re often very devoted dogs that love spending time with their favorite people—traits that contribute to their trainability. What’s more, training gives this intelligent dog a chance to work off some of their tireless energy and enjoy some mental stimulation.

Irish Setters thrive when training sessions are consistent and positive. They learn quickly, so sessions need to be exciting to prevent them from getting bored, which can lead to a touch of mischief on their part. Stock up on what motivates your Irish Setter (treats, toys, play, praise, etc.) and use this to reward them.

If your Irish Setter makes mistakes, be patient. They’re very sensitive dogs and shouting at them will damage your bond. Instead, be firm but positive and upbeat during sessions with a “try again later” attitude to slip-ups.

Are Irish Setters Good Family Dogs?

Any dog that has been socialized and trained well can make a good family dog, but Irish Setters are said to be wonderful family members that thrive on being around their loved ones. They’re also known for being sweet with kids and amiable with other dogs.

Of course, this depends on socialization, but the general consensus is that you can expect a loving, playful, and cheerful family companion that gets on well with everybody. Irish Setters are also fond of befriending new people as well as interacting with the people closest to them.

Portrait of cute blonde girl playing with Irish Setter dog on floor in cozy home interior
Image Credit: SeventyFour, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

To sum up, Irish Setters are very smart dogs with personalities as vibrant as their coats. If you’re weighing up whether or not to bring an Irish Setter home, bear in mind that these dogs do best with active families that will ensure they get plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. If you don’t want a pooch that’s very “go-go-go!”, perhaps consider a dog with lower energy levels.

Featured Image Credit: AlexandrinaZ, Shutterstock

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