How to Exercise an (Irish, English, Gordon) Setter Dog

Table of Contents

Types of Setter Dog Breeds

The Setter dog breeds are an active hunting dog used to locate and indicate on the prey, usually birds. The name Setter is derived from how they indicate on a bird. When they locate a bird in the bush they will take a low crouched position to the ground focusing on the prey. This is known as setting. This enabled the hunter in the early days to throw a net over the quarry without the dog getting caught up.

There are four distinct breeds that make up the Setter group. They are the Irish Setter (also known as the Irish Red Setter), the English Setter, the Gordon Setter, and the Irish Red and White Setter.

The main differences between these four types of Setters is the coat color and their size and weight.

Irish Setter – their coat is a deep chestnut red or mahogany color. They weight between 35 to 70 pounds (16 to 32 kg approx.) and measure 24 to 27 inches (61 to 69 cm approx.) at the shoulder.

Gordon Setter – their coat is black and tan and they are generally larger and heavier than the other Setter breeds. They weigh between 45 to 80 pounds (20 to 36 kg approx.) and measure 23 to 27 inches (58 to 69 cm) at the shoulder.

English Setter – their coat is freckled being mainly white with orange or black markings, They may also be tri-color. They are smaller than both the Irish and the Gordon Setter weighting 65 to 80 pounds (29 to 36 kg approx.) and measure 25 to 27 inches (63 to 69 cm) at the shoulder.They are instinctively skilled at both indicating (setting) and retrieving game.

Irish Red and White Setter – their coat is mainly white with red markings. They actually predate the Irish Red Setter. The Red Setter was developed by selective breeding from the IRWS. They are smaller, but of a more sturdy build, than the Irish Red Setter. They measure 22 to 26 inches (56 to 66 cm approx.) at the shoulder and weigh 35 to 60 pounds (16 to 27 kg approx.)

All four of the Setter breeds are athletic and have good levels of stamina.

How much exercise does an Irish (Red and Red and White), English, Gordon Setter need

All four of these Setter dog breeds require around one to two hours of exercise and activity daily. They would not say no to even more. Being an active hunting breed they have a high level of stamina. They can hike for long distances over difficult terrain. The minimum should be at least a long brisk walk.

Failure to provide to their exercise needs can result in behavior problems and them being very unsettled and difficult to handle.

This recommended exercise quantity and ideas are for a healthy adult Setter. The exercise needs of a puppy are different as they are still growing. The wrong quantity and type of exercise can cause injury to a puppy with growing bones and joints. See below for exercise for a Setter puppy.

As a dog gets older they become less active and have lower energy levels. However, it is still important that they remain reasonably active to keep their joints and muscles mobile and to manage their weight. Read ” Dog exercise for a senior dog” to learn more.

Many dogs develop arthritis as they age. Exercise for them becomes a balancing act. It is important to keep their joints mobile and manage weight, but too much can make them sore. Read “How to exercise an arthritic dog” to learn more.

There are three main types of exercise and activity you must provide your Setter every day.

  • 1. Daily walk
  • 2. Purposeful Activity (see Setter exercise ideas below)
  • 3. Mental stimulation

Irish, English, Gordon Setter daily walking requirements

The daily walk is essential for a Setter not only to release some pent-up energy. The walk allows your Setter to stimulate the mind with the sights, sounds, and smells they come across. Remember, they are hunting and tracking dogs and need the opportunity to cater to this natural instinct.

The length of the walk is only limited by your time and energy as a Setter can go all day long. Ideally, the minimum should be 30 to 45 minutes daily but more would be better. This can be just once a day, or two walks a day would be better if your schedule allows.

They are ideal as a hiking companion. If you have access to the countryside, bush, or trails it is ideal to take them for long walks there.

Dogs also like routine, so try to schedule the walk for around the same time each day. Daily walks are much better than nothing all week and a big walk at the weekend.

If your Setter has good recall and comes on command, walks at the park, or out on trails off the leash is ideal. Alternatively, you can use a retractable leash or long lead to allow them more freedom while maintaining control. In general, Setters are obedient and usually have good recall if trained.

You can add extra resistance to the walk by using a weighted vest or dog backpack. It is recommended that no more than 10% of their body weight be added. This is more than sufficient to tire them and strengthen their muscles without overworking them. Other ways of increasing the resistance on the walk are to walk on sand or include uphill sections in the walk.

English, Gordon, Irish Setter Exercise Ideas

In addition to the daily walk, Setters also require other purposeful activity. Being a hunter’s dog purposeful activity is the type of activity that can stimulate their natural behaviors and provide them with a job.

Here are some suggestions for activities and exercise you can provide for your Setter dog breed.

Scenting and nose games

Being a dog that locates and indicates on game and prey, nose games are a great activity not only for exercise but mental enrichment and challenge. See here for 12 scenting and nose games for dogs for some ideas.

One of the best scenting games you can do with a Setter is to use a scenting dummy treated with a scent. Hide or throw the dummy into the bush and have your Setter locate and indicate on the dummy.

You can get scent training kits here at Amazon. We recommend Pete Rickard’s brand for its potent scent at an affordable price. There is a range of various scents available such as duck, pheasant, and rabbit.


Playing Fetch with your Setter is another fantastic way to burn pent-up energy. Setters are generally ball or toy crazy can play this for hundreds of throws.

Handheld ball launchers are an excellent way to exercise your Setter. Obviously, the further you can throw the ball the more your dog has to run.

They also make life easier for you as the long handle lets you pick up a ball without having to bend over to the ground. It also prevents you from having to touch a slobbery ball.

The best quality and well-known brand are the Chuckit.  These are also extremely inexpensive and well worth having. Check out the Chuckit ball thrower on Amazon.

A great alternative is to use an Automatic Ball Launcher so your dog can play Fetch by themselves. As the Setter is highly trainable as long as you focus their attention they learn to use this quickly. For more information check out “Automatic Ball Launchers for Dogs”

Frisbee Toss

Most dogs can chase and catch a ball. But a Frisbee requires a little bit more skill, coordination, and timing. Setters look spectacular playing this due to their agility. Roll the Frisbee on the ground towards your dog. They will instinctually want to grab it in his mouth.

Once you’ve accomplished this, try tossing it at a very low level first to your dog. If you feel like your dog is ready to go to the next level, toss the disc a little higher and further. Great energy burner and you may be amazed at your dog’s agility and acrobatic skill.

We recommend the Kong Flying Disc which is made from durable rubber making it more suitable for dogs. A normal plastic frisbee will probably get trashed fairly quickly by a dog.


Swimming is a great exercise for any dog as it burns energy and uses all the muscles groups, in particular, the front legs and shoulders. It is also a low impact activity so doesn’t put a strain on the joints and tendons. It is a good exercise for dogs recovering from injury. See “What is Canine Hydrotherapy” to learn more.

Most Setters are naturally attracted to swimming in general. However, every dog is an individual so some Pointers may not be so keen. Even if your Setter isn’t a keen swimmer they may learn to love it if introduced to the water in a non-threatening way. It is best to introduce to the water when they are young if possible.

The exercise benefits to a high energy athletic breed like the Setter breeds is well worth the effort. For more on swimming exercise for dogs see here.

Running, cycling or skating with your Setter

Setters make great running partners. Due to their high level of endurance, they are great for long runs and even keeping up with cyclists. Bred as hunting dogs, Setters are sure-footed and have good reaction time, making them just as good, if not better, on trails as on the road.

For Tips for running with your dog see here.

Play with other dogs

Provide the opportunity for your Setter to play with other dogs. This is not only great to burn energy and stimulate their mind, but teaches them important social skills. Most Setters are friendly with other dogs but if you are unsure you should supervise.

Tug of War

Tug of war is a great strength building game for all dogs.  Make them crouch and pull back to use extra energy. Ensure that this is a controlled game and they release when you want them to.

The purpose of strength-building exercises for dogs is not necessarily.  to build muscle bulk. Strong muscles provide protection for the joints and tendons helping to prevent potential injury.

Mental stimulation and enrichment for Setters

All dogs need an outlet for their minds. If they are not provided the opportunity to challenge their minds they will come up with their own ways to achieve this. This usually manifests itself in bad behavior such as excessive barking, digging, escaping and other destructive behaviors. Read “Mental stimulation and mind enrichment for dogs” to learn about the 6 types or categories of mind stimulation a mental enrichment and some great ideas to provide this.

Some ways to provide mental stimulation and enrichment include;

Scenting and nose games

As already mentioned above, scenting and nose games an excellent way to provide mental stimulation for your Setter catering to their natural prey locating instincts.

See 12 Scenting and Nose games for dogs for some game ideas.

Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys are ideal for dogs like Setters to challenge their minds and test their problem-solving skills. Due to their high intelligence, try to find puzzle toys that are a bit more challenging as they tend to work these out quite quickly. Check out “Top puzzle toys for dogs” for my top picks.

In addition to puzzle toys, Kongs for dogs are another great way to get your Setter to solve a problem and challenge the mind. Read “How to use a Kong for dogs“.

Chew Toys

Provide your Setter with good strong chew toys. Chewing is a great way to occupy them. In addition, chewing releases endorphins and helps to relax a dog. Many dogs hold stress in the jaw.

For more on the benefits of chewing and the best chew toys click here.


Learning is ideal for stimulating a dog’s mind. Teaching new commands and tricks is also excellent to provide mental enrichment. A popular game that involves learning is to teach them the names of their toys. Dogs can learn hundreds of words and names.

Food enrichment

Turn mealtimes into an opportunity for your Setter dog to get a mental challenge and enrichment. Instead of feeding them from a bowl, give them activities that require them to work for their food. To learn more about feeding enrichment for dogs see here.

Enrich their environment

Environmental enrichment is the process of making a dog’s living space more engaging and interesting. To learn more about environmental enrichment for dogs see here.

Gordon, Irish, English Setter puppy exercise

The exercise suggestions above relate to a healthy adult Setter. The exercise needs of a puppy are quite different. With puppies, their bones, muscle, and joints are still growing and developing.

Overly strenuous walks are not necessary and in fact, could possibly cause harm. Any activity that is high impact on the joints should also be avoided.

The best exercise for a young puppy is free play with age-appropriate toys.

Socializing with other puppies or friendly adult dogs is a great way to burn some of that puppy energy along with teaching them the social skills they need.

As your Setter puppy gets older you can take them for short informal walks allowing them to sniff and explore and get used to being on a leash. Puppies under three months probably haven’t had all their vaccinations so shouldn’t be walked in public. Check with your vet when it is alright to venture out to the park or street.

The general rule of thumb for walking a puppy is around 5 minutes for every month of age. So, for example for a 4-month-old puppy, a walk of 15 minutes to 20 minutes is enough. Monitor your Setter puppy on the walk for signs such as lagging behind, lying down, or panting. End the walk if they seem too tired.

Mental stimulation is important for puppies and can tire them just as much as physical activity. For more on mental stimulation for puppies see here.

For more on exercise for your Setter puppy read “How to exercise your puppy”

Over exercised dog symptoms

Setters can go hard and keep going, often not knowing when to stop. With any dog, it is possible to over-exercise them, especially in hot weather. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a dog that has overdone it. Read “Overexercised dog symptoms”  and “Dog exercise in hot weather” to learn more.

In conclusion – Irish, Gordon, English Setter Exercise

Setter breed dogs are high energy and have good levels of endurance. They are also very smart and need to have their mind occupied as well. It is crucial to provide adequate physical and mental exercise and activity to release pent-up energy and prevent boredom.

A minimum of 1 to 2 hours a day of exercise including purposeful activity plus providing mental stimulation is recommended. The cost of not doing so can be an unhappy and frustrated dog. This can lead to behavior issues such as barking, digging, escaping, and destructive behavior.

Let us know in the comments how much and ways you exercise your Setter.

Share this:

  • Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Can Dogs Eat Tofu?

How to Train an Emotional Support Dog: 8 Things to Teach Your ESA!