The English Setter is a medium to large breed classified under the gundog/setter group with a clean outline and an elegant appearance. It is an active breed with a keen sense of smell. At home, the English Setter is one of the friendliest dogs. Physically, it has a long and reasonably lean head with a well defined stop. The square muzzle is moderately deep, accentuated by not too pendulous lips. It can either have a black or liver nose, depending on the coat colour. The expressive eyes ranges in colour from hazel to dark brown. The ears are set low on the head and flat to the cheeks, having a velvety tip with the upper ear adorned with fine silky hair. The jaws and teeth form a regular and complete scissor bite. The long muscular and lean neck is slightly arched at crest which is typical of setters. It has very muscular and straight forearms, well-muscled hind legs, well bent stifles and a body with widely sprung ribs that gives the breed a large breathing room during field work. The tail of the English Setter is almost in line with the back, medium length and neither curly nor ropy. It is slightly curved and adorned with bright, soft, and silky featherings.
The English Setter has a long and silky coat. The hair from the back of the head to the ears is slightly wavy but not curly. The back of the legs, underbelly and the tail have long silky fringes. The coat features flecked colours, otherwise known as belton (white combined with either black, orange, lemon, or liver) or tricolour (blue belton and tan or liver belton and tan).
The average size of dogs is between 65-69cms at withers while females stand between 61-65cms at withers.
The earliest bird setting dogs known in England appeared more than four hundred years ago and were used to set or point upland game birds. These early setter-types were also depicted in 15th century artworks and are thought to be crosses of the Spanish Pointer, Water Spaniel and the English Springer Spaniel. Dr. John Caius, an English physician wrote in 1576 about dogs from France that greatly resembles an ancestor of the blue belton English Setter. However, the modern English Setter that we know of today owes its appearance to a man named Edward Laverack, who, in the 19th century began breeding his own line of English Setters for use specifically in bird hunting in the field. Over 50 years, Laverack maintained his strain of Setters and became well-known throughout England as “Laverack Setters”. A man named R.L. Purcell Llewellin was attracted to the Laverack Setters that he purchased some of the best stock and outcrossed them with his own line of setters (Duke, Rhoebe and Kate) and thus began the line of working dogs we now know as “Llewellin Setters”.
In a nutshell, the English Setter is described as a “gentleman by nature”. It is an affectionate, alert, cheerful, friendly, gentle, intelligent, outgoing and social breed. However, there are some Setters that are more obstinate and naughty, especially those from the working lines. These original field/working types are sometimes called Llewellin Setters and they have very strong hunting instincts. In general, an English Setter is a wonderful family companion that thrives on attention, energetic activities and most especially hunting work. This sociable animal will not do well being left alone for long periods of time because it will develop destructive behaviours and may bark persistently.
Training the English Setter is on the moderate side. In Stanly Coren’s “The Intelligence of Dogs”, the Setter ranks above average in working/obedience intelligence. It is an intelligent breed that can be trained in just about any task or command, except herding which it doesn’t have an instinct for, not even a single drop in its blood. Basic training must start as early as possible using positive reinforcement techniques such as treats and praise work. An English Setter destined as a house pet needs early socialisation, particularly if it came from the working lines.
To keep the silky coat of the English Setter looking wonderful and healthy, regular brushing is required to keep the coat free of mats. Clipping and trimming the coat every few months also helps minimize tangling and matting. Show-type English Setters have more profuse coats that require more attention than those coming from the working lines. This breed sheds all year round and is not an ideal dog for people suffering with allergies.
The average life span of the English Setter is 12 years but there are dogs that lived up to 15 years.. Like most dogs, whether purebred or otherwise, the English Setter is also known to be affected with inherited diseases such as congenital deafness. The breed is also affected by autoimmune thyroiditis, canine hypothyroidism, elbow dysplasia, and allergies. Some English Setters may be affected by certain forms of cancer.
The English Setter is an active breed and needs plenty of exercise. Up to two hours of daily walks or jog along the sidewalk or running alongside a bike are ideal exercise routines. Inside the house, the Setter tends to have lower energy and can be seen sleeping on the couch or on the floor. It will do best in a house with a large yard or in a countryside home where it can do its job hunting birds in the open countryside.
The English Setter is one of the friendliest dog breeds, good-natured and particularly wonderful with children. It is a playful breed and will do well with other dogs and animals, particularly those it grew up with. However, it is a bird dog by nature and it’s strong “bird-as-game” instinct may kick in anytime and may try to subdue or kill any avian inside the house.