Information about the English Setter

The English Setter is a breed of dog. It is part of the Setter family, which includes red Irish Setters, Irish Red and White Setters, and black-and-tan Gordon Setters. It is a gun dog, bred for a mix of endurance and athleticism.

The coat is flat with light feathering of long length or short length depending on the type. The bench or show type has a long, flowing coat that requires regular grooming. The field or hunting type has a shorter coat that requires less grooming.

The various speckled coat colours when occurring in English Setters are referred to as belton; valid combinations are white with black (blue belton), white with orange flecks (orange belton)), white with orange flecks and lighter nose (lemon belton), white with liver flecks (liver belton), or “Tricolor” which is blue or liver belton with tan markings on the face, chest, and legs.

This breed’s standard temperament is best described as a “Gentleman by Nature”. However, it can also be strong-willed and mischievous. English Setters are energetic, people-oriented dogs, that are well suited to families who can give them attention and activity, or to working with a hunter, where they have a job to do. They are active dogs outside that need plenty of exercise in a good sized fenced-in yard. Inside they tend to be lower energy and love to be couch potatoes and lap dogs that love to cuddle. Many are good around children.

They rank 37th in Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs, being of above average working/obedience intelligence. English Setters are very intelligent and can be trained to perform about any task another breed can do, with the exception of herding. However, they are not always easy to train, as their natural bird instinct tends to distract them in outdoor environments. Their temperament is considered a soft one. Therefore they are very sensitive to criticism, and could be unwilling to repeat a behaviour out of fear to disappoint the trainer. Positive reinforcement training methods therefore work best for English Setters.

Setters have few genetic problems but some problems occasionally occur. Canine hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, congenital deafness (affecting 12.4% of the specimens of the breed), canine hypothyroidism, and autoimmune thyroiditis (affects 27.4% of specimens) are some of the more well-known ailments that can affect this dog. A specific form of cancer is also common in older members of the breed. Some lines are prone to allergies including food allergies. Life expectancy is between 10 to 12 years, though with proper medical care 13 to 15 years is not out of the question.

The English Setter was originally bred to set or point upland game birds. From the best available information, it appears that the English Setter was a trained bird dog in England more than 400 years ago. There is evidence that the English Setter originated in crosses of the Spanish Pointer, large Water Spaniel, and Springer Spaniel, which combined to produce an excellent bird dog with a high degree of proficiency in finding and pointing game in open country. The modern English Setter owes its appearance to Mr. Edward Laverack (1800-1877), who developed his own strain of the breed by careful breeding during the 19th century in England and to another Englishman, Mr. R. Purcell Llewellin (1840-1925), based his strain using Laverack’s best dogs and outcrossed them with the Duke, Rhoebe and later Duke’s littermate Kate bloodlines with the best results. Today, you still hear the term Llewellin Setter; in 1902 the Llewellin Setter was given separate strain status in FDSB to put a stop to misuse of the Llewellin name. Only dogs whose pedigrees showed the Duke-Rhoebe-Laverack and Kate bloodlines were allowed to be named a Llewellin Setter and in 1996 the International Progressive Dog Breeders’ Alliance and registry gave them FULL New Breed recognition for the first time. Field-bred English Setters are often mistakenly referred to as “Llewellin”. However, only pure bred Llewellin Setters may be registered as Llewellin Setters.

With time, Laverack bred successfully to produce beautiful representatives of the breed. The first show for English Setters was held in 1859 at Newcastle upon Tyne. The breed’s popularity soared across England as shows became more and more widespread. Not long after, the first English Setters were brought to North America, including those that began the now-famous Llewellin strain recorded in the writing of Dr. William A Burette. From this group of dogs came the foundation of the field-trial setter in America, “Count Noble”, who is currently mounted in the Carnegie Museum at Pittsburgh. At present, the English is one of the most popular and elegant sporting breeds, often grouped with its cousins, the Irish and Gordon Setters.

The field type & show type English Setter look very different, even though they are the same breed. Field type setters are often smaller and are seen with less feathering and usually more distinctive spotting than show type setters. Both traits are beneficial in the field: less feathering makes getting burrs out of their coat easier and the spotting makes them easier to see in the field. For this reason, in the English Setter breed, compared to other breeds, there are very few Dual Champions (dogs that have completed their show & field championship titles).

English Setters have been among the premier breeds since the formation of the American Kennel Club. Along with eight other Sporting breeds, they were among the first pure breeds accepted by the Club in 1878. In fact, the very first dog registered with the AKC was an English Setter named Adonis.