Golden Irish

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Golden Irish
Mike Willis /

The Golden Irish is a hybrid dog: a mix between a Golden Retriever parent and an Irish Setter. This treasure of a dog is also known by the name of the Golden Setter. With both parents derived from working stock, it is no surprise their offspring is active and needs plenty of exercise. Another feature inherited from both parents is an outstanding temperament, which makes for great family-friendly companions.

However, the Golden Irish is not best suited to the first time dog owner. Whilst they are loving and affectionate, they can have a stubborn streak and, in the wrong hands, could become prone to bad behaviour. However, with an experienced owner who gives them plenty of exercise, the Golden Irish is a head-turning canine companion, willing and able to take part in canine-centred sports, such as agility or Canicross.

About & History

As with most hybrid dogs, their story really belongs to that of the purebred parent breeds, in this case, the Golden Retriever and the Irish Setter.

The Golden Retriever

Development of the Golden Retriever as a breed is credited to the Scottish Lord Tweedmouth. He worked diligently between about 1835 and 1890 to develop a golden dog that was talented at retrieving waterfowl.

He achieved this by selecting for golden puppies from litters produced by matings between the now extinct Tweed Water Spaniels, Flat Coated Retrievers, and Irish Setters. Officially recognised by the Kennel Club in 1911, at that time, they were described as 'yellow' or 'golden', and it was in the 1920 that the 'golden' moniker was officially adopted.

The Irish Setter

There are no prizes for guessing the country of origin of the Irish Setter! Indeed, they have their origins in the 18th century, and a blend of English spaniels and setters, along with the Gordon Setter. Those first representatives of the breed tended to have a mixed coat colour of red sprinkled with white. It is the Earl of Enniskillen who was credited with favouring the solid red coat and promoting its development.

In 1875, the first Irish Setter was imported into the United States to great acclaim. This was the beginning of an American infatuation with this distinctive red-haired dog breed. However, this lead to a diversification within the breed between working and pet dogs. This caused some alarm amongst purists who were concerned the heavier working type dog would become extinct.

Some breeders then concentrated on perpetuating the working dog, which is why in the current day, there are two distinct types of Red Setter: the working dog and the show dog.


Golden Irish Large Photo
Tammy Wilson /

As a hybrid dog, the principles of genetic inheritance mean there will be variation in the appearance of the puppies. Whilst some of the litter will be a true mix of the parent breeds, others will lean more heavily towards one parent or the other.

Those pups that are a true mingling of Golden Retriever and Irish Setter will be a large dog with a slightly finer bone structure than the Golden Retriever. They will have a good length nose, and drop ears that hang past their cheek. Characteristically, their chest is deep, with a slightly tucked up waistline. They should have a long straight tail well-endowed with feathering. The coat is long and fine, and does require regular attention to keep it in good order. The coat should be a solid colour, most commonly red, gold, yellow, chocolate, or brown.

Character & Temperament

Both the Golden Retriever and Irish Setter have outstanding personalities, with a reputation for being intelligent, loyal, loving, and intuitive to their owner’s moods. However, like all dogs, the adult’s character is in part determined to their experiences in early life. Good socialisation is essential for the dog to grow into a well-adjusted confident adult.

Whilst Golden Retrievers are playful but generally level-headed individuals, the Irish Setter can be prone to being highly strung and sometimes anxious. This means a Golden Irish has the potential to develop problems, such as separation anxiety, but this can be ameliorated by good early socialisation and the use of reward-based training to build their confidence.


“Highly trainable but with a tendency to stubbornness” is the short-hand version of the Golden Irish’s aptitude for obedience. They respond well to reward-based training as they love the mental challenge. However, they can be stubborn at times, meaning the owner has to work extra hard to motivate the dog so that they are keen to participate in training sessions.


Whilst there is plentiful data on the health problems of purebred dogs, the same is not true to hybrids. However, when both parent breeds have an overlap in health issues, or one a condition is particularly common, this raises the chance of it popping up in the pups.

Hip Dysplasia

Poor hip shape can be caused by a number of different factors – one of which is an inherited tendency to dysplasia. This means the dog has poorly shaped hips where the joint rubs and becomes inflamed. As time progresses this inflammation leads to bone remodelling and further discomfort when the dog moves around.

Mild hip dysplasia can be treated with pain-killing medications, but the severest cases require joint replacement surgery to be pain free. However, responsible breeders now screen their dogs ahead of breeding, and only use those with good hips to produce the next generation. Therefore, prospective owners should always quiz the breeder about the hip health of their dogs.


Deep chested breeds – the Golden Irish included – are prone to a condition called gastric dilation and volvulus (GDV) or bloat. This occurs when the stomach flips over on itself, sealing gas inside that causes a dangerous ballooning of the stomach.

This condition requires emergency surgery to reposition the stomach and release the excess case or the dog would go into shock and die. Owners of deep-chested breeds are well-advised to become familiar with the risk factors that contribute to bloat and avoid them.


Also known as ‘growing pains’, this condition causes marked pain in the long bones of actively growing dogs. Happily, the condition can be managed with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and will resolve completely once the dog’s bones are mature and no longer growing.


Active dog breeds need plenty of exercise and often have good appetites to equip them to take in enough calories. But if the dog doesn’t get enough exercise, their love of food works against them and they are prone to weight gain.

The wise owner learns how to body score their dog, so as to monitor the amount of fat over their ribs. If the ribs become difficult to feel, then the dog’s daily food allowance should be reduced, until the bones become easier to feel.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Think ‘Golden Irish’ and think ‘high energy’. Both parents are working breeds that require plenty of exercise and the Golden Irish is no exception. Quite simply, they are a dog well-suited to spending all day retrieving in the hunting field. This translates into a dog that needs two, one hour walks a day, preferably off-the-lead and participating in games of ball or chase.

Not to provide enough exercise (and therefore mental stimulation) can heighten any underlying anxiety issues, and lead to bad behaviour, including chewing or destructiveness.


That gorgeous long silky coat looks fabulous but doesn’t happen by magic. It requires considerable commitment from the owner to keep it knot free, smooth, and glossy. The fineness of the hair means it tangles easily, whilst all that lovely feathering is a magnet for twigs and burrs. Thus the dog requires brushing daily in order to prevent matts developing.

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