English Setter

Ana Oliveira
Dr Ana Oliveira (DVM, University of Lisbon)
 
Photo of adult English Setter

English Setters are medium-sized gun dogs from the Setter family. They are known for their beautiful, silky coat, feathered tail, and coloured speckling, which give them an elegant and distinctive appearance. Highly energetic, the English Setter needs lots of activity and room to run and play, as they are, in essence, hunting dogs.

These are kind dogs with an easy-going attitude towards humans, from whom they crave companionship. Though strong-willed and somewhat stubborn, the English Setter is well-mannered, getting along well both with children and pets. They are intelligent dogs, excelling at agility and obedience contests, and they also make great therapy dogs.

About & History

English Setters have been known for more than 400 years, as “setter type” dogs have been portrayed in paintings and art work as early as the 15th century. They were first bred to silently scent game birds. Upon finding them, they would set low and freeze in a characteristic standing position, allowing the hunter to approach and throw a net over the birds or, later on, shoot them. They were named after this unique setting stance, being initially called “setting dogges”.

English Setters are thought to have been crossed with Spanish Setters, Water Spaniels, English Springer Setters, and Pointers. Around the 17th century, Setters became widespread in Britain and the development of the breed into more specific breeds, such as the English Setter, took place.

The foundation of the English Setter goes back to the 19th century and is linked to two breeders – Edward Laverack and R. Purcell Llewellin. Laverack carefully bred Setters, leading to the appearance of the show-type Setters. Llewellin, on the other hand, crossed Laverack’s dogs with other Setters to create the field-type Setter we know today. Llewellin’s main objective was to improve the Setter’s ability to scent, as well as its speed.

The first English Setter arriving in America was taken in 1874 and descended from the Laverack bloodline. The American Kennel Club recognised the breed in 1884. In the UK, this dog breed was quite popular during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s. As of 2015, however, English Setters were included in the Vulnerable Native Breeds list, due to the decline in numbers that was registered in the previous years.

There are two types of English Setters: the “bench” or “show” type, with a longer coat and slightly less active; and the “field” type, which is smaller, more job-oriented and thus more energetic. Besides hunting, English Setters perform well in obedience and agility tasks and they have also been successfully used as therapy dogs, due to their loving temperament.

Appearance

English Setter Large Photo

English Setters are medium-sized dogs and have straight, medium-length coat, with long, silky feathers on the back of their legs, under the belly, and on the tail. Their coat is white with coloured ticking. The colour patterns of their coat are known as belton markings (named after the Belton town, in England) and they come in different colours:

  • Black (blue belton)
  • Orange (orange belton)
  • Orange with a lighter nose (lemon belton)
  • Liver (liver belton)
  • Blue or liver with tan markings on the face, chest, and legs (tricolour)

English Setters carry their head high, as they were developed to scent airborne scents from birds. Their tail is long, as well as their ears, which are folded. Males weigh between 25 and 36 kg (55-80 lb), while females are slightly lighter, weighing between 20 and 30 kg (45-70 lb). Males are also taller than females (69 cm or 27 inches versus 61 cm or 24 inches).

Character & Temperament

English Setters are sweet and gentle. They are said to be the nicest breed from the Setter family, as they are very fond of people and get along well with children and pets. They are also friendly towards strangers, which does not make them a very good guard dog. They are, however, very alert and will bark to announce guests – just to happily greet them right after.

English Setters are extremely active dogs and are definitely suited for the active person, who will take them along for a run, a hike, a bike ride, or a hunt, as this was the main activity for which they were bred. They are demanding in terms of exercise, as they love running and playing outside, but when their energy is well-spent, they also know how to behave indoors. They are quiet and calm, as long as their energy needs have been met.

Due to its high stamina and drive, the English Setter may become destructive inside the house if not properly exercised. They also tend to bark, dig and jump, which is why fenced yards are a must. They are not aggressive and do not usually show possessive or territorial traits towards other dogs. They actually prefer having canine company, though they will also become friends with other furry pets, especially when they grow up together. They have a strong prey drive, directed towards birds, but since they were not bred to attack but simply to find prey, no major concerns usually exist.

Despite their affectionate temperament, the English Setter is also quite stubborn and has an independent manner that may make it hard to train. Potty training may be difficult, requiring lots of patience and consistency. Harsh treatment is not recommended because they are sensitive dogs with very good memory and they may resent punishments. Their good memory is an interesting characteristic of their personality but it also makes bad habits hard to correct.

English Setters are not suited to live in an apartment or to be left alone for long periods of time. They need stimuli, activity, and people around them most of the time. They are good family dogs and they will make an effort to please their owners, though they are not among the neediest dog breeds and they will not live to fulfil their owner’s every wish.

Trainability

Photo of English Setter puppy

Because English Setters are independent thinkers and strong-willed dogs, training may be challenging. They can be stubborn and resist to do what their owners want, simply refusing to take action. Therefore, a firm, consistent leader will have better results, always bearing in mind that positive reinforcement will work best. English Setters are sensitive to punishment or criticism, so food rewards and praise are always preferred.

Starting early as puppies and keeping regular and scheduled training sessions will help. Housetraining may also prove difficult and the same consistency and patience apply. Furthermore, an early socialization is paramount to the dog’s mental stability. By contacting and interacting with different people, animals, sounds, and sights, dogs become more easily adaptable to different situations and more well-rounded when reaching adulthood.

Health

English Setters typically have lifespans of 11 to 15 years. They are more prone to certain conditions, such as:

  • Congenital deafness – Congenital deafness is usually linked to the colour white in a dog’s coat. Because English Setters have white as their base coat colour, this problem may arise more frequently. A study performed in 2010 in 701 English Setters claimed that 12.4% of all tested dogs suffered from this condition. Bilateral (both ears) deafness is usually easy to diagnose, as puppies are unresponsive to noises, interacting with their littermates by visual cues or touch only.
  • Hip dysplasia – Hip dysplasia is a common cause of lameness in dogs, especially large dog breeds. It happens when the head of the femur bone and the socket joint do not attach properly, causing extra stress on the joint. The wear and tear of the joint leads to inflammation, which then develops into pain and lameness. The dog may refuse to run, use stairs, and, in more severe cases, even walk.
  • Elbow dysplasia – Elbow dysplasia is a condition in the dog’s elbow joint that is due to growth malformations. The two bones of the dog’s fore leg (radius and ulna) grow at different rates, which damages the cartilage in the elbow joint. Increased damage and pressure on the joint causes inflammation. Consequently, pain and lameness start to develop.
  • Hypothyroidism – Hypothyroidism in dogs is a clinical disease that is caused by a decreased production of the thyroxin hormone in the thyroid gland. As a result, dogs become lethargic, dull and weak, as the thyroid hormones are related to the dog’s metabolism. Diagnosis is achieved by performing blood tests and good treatment options are available and include the use of synthetic thyroxin hormone.
  • Allergies – English Setters may be prone to food or environmental allergies that cause skin conditions. Skin allergies usually translate into itchy and red skin that may develop into bacterial infection. Sensitivity to certain foods is usually diagnosed by removing each ingredient or food at a time and then reintroducing it in the dog’s diet to check whether the symptoms come back.

Exercise and Activity Levels

No doubt English Setters are active dogs that need daily sessions of extenuating exercise. Though the “show” type English Setter is less demanding, happily contenting with their long daily walk and occasional playtime, the “field” type Setter requires more activity on a daily basis. At least an hour of exercise per day is a must, which includes off-leash play, preferably in a fenced area. Dogs that are not exercised enough for their energy levels tend to put on weight, and may develop unwanted behaviours, such as barking, digging or destroying objects around the house.

Grooming

Keeping an English Setter looking good all the time requires daily brushing. They shed quite a bit and tangling is not rare. Using a bristle brush and a steel comb to remove tangled hairs is recommended. Besides their coat, their ears also require special attention, since they are long and droopy and may accumulate water and dirt. Dirty ears may be more prone to develop infections. Regularly cleaning their ears will help prevent this issue. Other grooming tasks to be performed by owners include nail trimming, teeth brushing, and an occasional bath when needed.

Famous English Setters

English Setters were popular dogs in the 1960s until the 1980s. Famous English Setters and famous English Setters’ owners include:

  • Mark, the dog of the American President Hoover. Mark was presented to the President in 1929 and was a national and international champion.
  • Bette Davis, the American actress owned an English Setter.
  • Brigitte Bardot, the famous French actress in the 1960s and 1970s, also owned an English Setter.
  • Clark Gable, the American actor, was portrayed in pictures with his English Setter.

Cross-Breeds

English Setters have been crossed with other Setters, such as the Irish and the Gordon Setter. Other known cross-breeds outside the Setter family are:

  • English Setter Collie – Cross between an English Setter and a Collie
  • English Setter x Border Collie – Cross between an English Setter and a Border Collie
  • English Setter x Labrador – Cross between an English Setter and a Labrador

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