The English Setter is a sporting breed native to England. There are currently two major varieties of English Setter, Field and Bench, and several major lines. However, all varieties and lines are still considered the same breed, and may freely interbreed. Field lines are known for their success as working gundogs, while Bench lines are known for their beautiful coats. Both varieties are frequently used as companion animals. The English Setter is closely related to the other two recognized Setter breeds, the Gordon Setter of Scotland and the Irish Setter of Ireland, but is known for being somewhat softer tempered and smaller in size. This breed is also sometimes known as the Laverack Setter, or sometimes simply as the Setter.
The English Setter is a very old breed, and was created in an era before organized records were kept of dog breeding. As a result, much of this breed’s history has been lost in time, and much of what is claimed is little more than myth or speculation. However, some of the English Setter’s history can be traced on what records do exist. It is generally accepted that the English Setter is at least 400 years old, and that it was developed in England.
It is widely accepted that the Setters are members of the Spaniel family, and are in fact the direct descendants of Spaniels. The Spaniels family is very old, and these were perhaps the first of all gun dogs. Very little is known about the true origin of these dogs. The name Spaniel entered the English language from French. The original term was Chiens de l’Epagnuel, which means, “Dogs of the Spaniard.” This name would suggest that Spaniels originally came from the country of Spain. This was the traditional explanation for the ancestry of these dogs, although there is essentially no evidence for it other than the name. This theory is made somewhat unlikely by the fact that the modern nation of Spain did not unify as such until the late 1400’s, a time after which some Spaniel breeds are thought to have existed. The word Epagnuel may also signify the Roman province of Hispania, which covered much of modern-day Spain and Portugal. It is equally possible that these dogs were named for this province.
In more recent years, some dog experts have suggested that Spaniels actually have a Celtic origin, and that the Welsh Springer Spaniel is very close the to original Spaniel type. This theory is bolstered by the fact that most Spaniel breeds are native to regions which once had a large Celtic presence, France and the British Isles. It is quite possible that both theories are equally correct, as in pre-Roman times much of Hispania was populated by a people closely related to Celts, the Celtiberians. Perhaps the Celtiberians were especially fond of Spaniel-type dogs, and gave them the name of their homeland. More recently, it has been suggested that Spaniels may be of Middle Eastern origin, and were descended from dogs brought back to Europe by crusaders and pilgrims. This theory also holds some merit; the coats of Spaniels do closely resemble those of some Salukis. Salukis are sighthounds which have long been the preferred dogs of many Islamic rulers. As most of Spain was ruled by Islamic Conquerors for much of the Middle Ages, it is quite possible that Salukis were brought there at an early age. Perhaps this is where the French first encountered these dogs, and mistakenly assumed they were native.
However and wherever Spaniels first came from, by the end of the Renaissance they had spread across Western Europe. Many distinct varieties of Spaniels were developed, each specializing in a different type of terrain or different species of game. It is believed that Spaniels were first divided into Land Spaniels and Water Spaniels, each of which hunted in a different environment. Several other Spaniels were developed from the Land Spaniel. One of these became known as the Setting Spaniel, because of the unique method which it hunted by. Most Spaniels hunted by flushing game from cover, allowing their masters to shoot it from the air. The Setting Spaniel hunted by locating prey and then moving into a distinctive crouching position known as a set. The Setting Spaniel was then possibly bred with other hunting dogs to increase its size. Although this transformation was not recorded at the time, several later authors attested to it. In the greatly important renowned 1859 work The Dog in Health and Disease, the English writer Stonehenge wrote that Setters were first descended from Spaniels. In 1872’s The Setter, Laverack, one of the most important English Setter breeders of all time, described the English Setter as, “An improved Spaniel.” The Dog, another classic piece of British canine literature written by the Reverend Pierce in 1872, claimed that, “A Setting Spaniel was the first Setter.” Although many of these sources believed that the Setting Spaniel was crossed with other hunting dogs to increase their size and improve their hunting abilities, there is little agreement on which breeds were used. The most commonly mentioned breed is the Spanish Pointer, but the Bloodhound, the extinct Talbot Hound, and even such breeds as the Rough Collie are sometimes suggested.
While it is uncertain exactly when the first Setter was bred, they begin to appear in literature and paintings around four hundred years ago. At this point, guns were still not commonly used in bird hunting. Rather, hunters would catch birds located by the Setter with nets. For several centuries these dogs were bred almost entirely for working ability, although temperament and appearance were almost certainly given some consideration. Because the highest premium was paid to working ability Setters were initially quite variable in appearance. At one point, Setters came in all colors, and also came in a variety of sizes. Their coats were also considerably shorter, although still relatively long. In the 1600’s and 1700’s, Foxhound breeders began to standardize the appearance of their packs, as well as to keep studbooks. By the 1800’s, there was a desire to standardize the appearance of many different English breeds.
An English sportsman by the name of Mr. Edward Laverack (1800 to 1877) is believed to have been the first to start this process with the English Setter. Laverack is largely responsible for the modern day appearance of this breed, although his dogs were much closer in appearance to the Field variety than the Bench variety. Because of his many contributions to the breed, the English Setter is sometimes known as the Laverack Setter. Another Englishman, Mr. R. Purcell Llewellin (1840 to 1925) decided to further Mr. Laverack’s work. Llewellin took the best of Laverack’s dogs and crossed them with a male named Duke. Llewellin’s setters were regarded as being of extremely high quality, and formed a line which has been maintained to the present day. Dogs of Llewellin’s line were among the first English Setters to be imported to America. As a result, it has become customary in this country to refer to all working line English Setters as Llewellin Setters, although it is only technically accurate to call dogs of Llewellin’s line by that name. Other breeders were inspired by Laverack and Llewellin, and began to standardize their dogs based on those lines.
The English Setter Was first shown at a dog show held at Newcastle Upon Tyne in 1859. Laverack’s dogs were especially popular in these early shows due to their beauty. As the breed began to be shown more and more across Britain, it began to skyrocket in popularity in that country. It is unknown exactly when the first English Setters arrived in America, but a great many were imported in the closing decades of the 19th Century as the breed rose in popularity in Britain. For a number of decades, the English Setter became one of the most popular working gun dogs in America. American hunters especially favored dogs of Llewellin’s line. English Setter fanciers were quite influential in the foundation of the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the breed was one of the very first to be registered with that organization in 1884. This breed has a long history with American sportsmen, and was also among the first breed’s to be registered with the United Kennel Club (UKC) when that club broke off from the AKC in the early 1900’s. The English Setter Association of America (ESAA) was founded to promote and protect the English Setter breed, and is currently the official parent club of the AKC.
Although dog shows greatly increased the popularity of the English Setter breed, they also led to the development of dogs that were less well suited to being working gun dogs. For many decades, show lines of English Setters, also known as Bench English Setters have been almost entirely different than hunting lines of English Setters, also known as Field English Setters. Bench dogs have substantially longer coats and also have less hunting drive and ability. Field English Setters have shorter coats, but have a greater working drive and ability. While both varieties make excellent companion animals, it may be much easier for most families to keep a Bench line dog, as they have somewhat lower exercise requirements.
Within the Field variety, there are a number of distinct lines. Llewellin’s line has been maintained by a number of breeders to this day, and there are other distinct lines as well. The differences between the two major American kennel clubs can be seen in their representations of the English Setter. The AKC, which is regarded as putting a premium on conformation, depicts a Bench English Setter on its official standard for the breed. The UKC, which is regarded as putting a premium on working ability, depicts a Field English Setter on its official standard. Breeders of each variety tend to greatly that variety, and very few have anything good to say about the other. As a result, they very rarely cross the two types. There are also very few dual champions (dogs with both conformation and performance titles) However, everyone agrees that that both Bench and Field English Setters are still the same breed, and a dog could have a Bench parent and a Field parent and still be considered a purebred.
Over time, the English Setter’s popularity as a working gundog has decreased in favor of other breeds, especially the Brittany. This breed is regarded as a comparatively slow hunter, and thus less well-suited to some field trials. Additionally, this dog tends to work much closer to its owner and covers a smaller area than many gundog breeds. However, in recent years the breed has seen a renewal in popularity as a working gundog. As America becomes more urbanized, there are smaller and smaller areas in which to hunt, making a dog that works better over smaller areas more desirable. However, this breed has become relatively rare in America. The English Setter makes a loyal and devoted family companion, and is known for being excellent with children. However, the coat care and exercise requirements of this breed mean that it is not an ideal choice for every family. In 2010, the English Setter ranked 101st out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations.
The English Setter is the least commonly registered of the three Setter breeds, and it has been for a number of years. Its relative rank continues to drop as more and more breeds are registered with the AKC, although its actual population is quite stable. Many English Setter fanciers are quite happy with their dog being somewhat less common, as it has allowed breeders of both Field and Bench English Setters to maintain stricter control over the quality of their dogs. A relatively high percentage of English Setters remain working dogs compared to most other modern American breeds. A small number of English Setters have also performed well in obedience and agility competitions. However, more and more families are discovering that this breed makes an excellent family companion and are keeping this breed solely as companion animals.
The English Setter is generally similar to the other Setter breeds, although it is somewhat smaller and of a different color. Although smaller than other Setters, this is still a large breed. The two varieties are quite different in appearance, and are actually considerably more different than many dogs which are considered separate breeds. There is substantial variation in size between Bench and Field lines, with Field lines being considerably smaller. The ideal height for a male Bench Setter is 25 inches at the shoulder, and the ideal height for a female Bench Setter is 24 inches at the shoulder. Bench Setters typically weigh between 60 and 80 pounds. There are no standards specific to the Field Setters, but most are roughly 25% smaller than the average Bench Setter, weighing between 45 and 60 pounds. Both varieties are quite heavily muscled and athletic. This is a sturdily-built breed, although not one that would be described as thick. Bench Setters are typically more heavily built than the relatively lithe Field Setter. The tail of the English Setter is always kept natural, but is relatively short. This tail tapers towards the end. The tail should always be straight, without any curve, but it may be held at a slightly raised angle.
The faces of the two varieties of English Setter are somewhat different. Bench lines look more refined, especially the females. Field lines look more athletic. Both varieties of English Setter have a long, oval head. This muzzle is well-defined from the head, but slightly more so in Bench lines. The muzzle of the English Setter is relatively long and wide, giving the dog more area for scent receptors. Bench Setters have a squarish muzzle that ends in flat stop, while Field lines have a more snipish muzzle. Both varieties have dark eyes which give off a gentle and relaxed expression. Most English Setters have either black or liver noses, although lighter coat colors tend to have more lightly colored noses. The ears of this breed are of moderate size, and set level with the eyes. These ears droop down close to the head.
One of the most instantly recognizable features of the English Setter, and what primarily distinguishes the breed from the other two Setters, is its coat. The coat of both varieties should be flat, without any curl. This breed’s hair should be neither soft nor wooly. Both varieties have fairly long hair, although that of the Bench variety is substantially longer. This breed is well-feathered on the ears, chest, belly, underside of the thighs, the backs of the legs, and the tail. Although both types are well-feathered, the Bench Line has longer feathering, to the point of having a flowing coat.
The English Setter comes in a variety of colors, but it is primarily known for Belton markings. Belton markings are unique to the English Setter. These are very small patches of color, which are almost like polka dots. The most similar markings are the ticking found on some Coonhounds and the spots of the Dalmatian, although neither is quite the same. Some patches will be tightly clustered which gives off the appearance of a large patch of color, this is considered less desirable. Belton dogs frequently have ears that are solid in color. The base color of Belton dogs (the coat color that does not have the markings) is almost always white. Acceptable colors of Belton include orange Belton, blue Belton (black markings), lemon Belton, and liver Belton. Tricolor dogs are also acceptable; these dogs are blue Belton with tan markings on the muzzle, over the eyes, and on the legs. The UKC also accepts dogs which are solid white and solid black, although these colors are quite rare and almost exclusively found in Field Lines.
The two varieties of English Setter are somewhat variable in terms of temperament, but mainly in the area of energy and working drive. All English Setters are very people oriented dogs. This is a breed that wants to be around people all of the time. There is nothing that an English Setter wants more than to be next to its owners. This breed is a definite cuddler, and many believe that they are lap dogs. This can be problematic as this is a breed that is somewhat likely to, “be underfoot,” and get in the way of someone moving around the house. This breed is also very prone to severe separation anxiety and should not be left alone for long periods of time. English Setters tend to be the friendliest of all Setters. While this breed certainly prefers the company of those it knows well, most English Setters are quite eager to meet new people, almost all of whom it considers to be potential friends. When properly socialized almost all English Setters will be quite friendly, but some are extremely friendly. Training is key with this breed, because they are very likely to become inappropriate greeters, jumping up on guests and licking them profusely.
The English Setter makes an excellent watchdog, who will alert you to the approach of a stranger. However, this breed would not make an especially good guard dog as they are more likely to welcome a stranger than display aggression towards them. English Setters are known for being excellent family dogs. This breed is known for being especially gentle with and tolerant of children. Most English Setters are actually very fond of children, who give them the attention and the playtime which they so desire. English Setters under the age of three may not be the ideal dog around very young children, but only due to the fact that they may be a little bit too exuberant and may bowl over a small child completely accidentally. Families which are willing to provide this dog with the exercise and coat care needs which it requires will be rewarded with an exceptional companion.
Most English Setters have relatively few issues with other dogs. This is not a breed known for having dominance, territorial, or possessiveness issues. In fact, most English Setters greatly prefer to share their lives with at least one other dog, and the more the merrier. This breed especially likes having a doggy companion with a similar energy level, such as another English Setter. Although proper socialization is important and it is always best to use caution when introducing two dogs to each other, English Setters tend to be very polite and friendly with strange dogs. Some English Setters, especially Field lines, may not be the ideal housemates for very low-energy dogs, who they may harass in an attempt to play. English Setters are better than average with non-canine pets. This is a hunting breed which has some prey drive. However, the English Setter was bred to locate birds and alert their owner to their presence, never to attack them directly. As is the case with all dogs, English Setters may pursue and attack animals that they have not been socialized with. However, once socialized, this breed tends to be gentle and good-natured with non-canine pets such as rabbits and cats. It would not be ideal to leave this breed unsupervised with very small pets which it may injure in an attempt to play. Some English Setters may harass cats in an attempt to play, which most felines do not enjoy.
English Setters are very trainable dogs, but often present training difficulties. This breed is quite intelligent, and can learn most tasks that the average owner would ask of it. This breed also learns relatively quickly. English Setters have competed well in obedience and agility competitions. This breed does learn to hunt very quickly, and sportsmen will have few difficulties in making this breed a fine hunting companion, especially from dogs from Field lines. However, while English Setters are mostly willing to please, this is definitely not a breed that lives to fulfill its master’s every wish. If you are accustomed to working with Labrador Retrievers or similar breeds, training an English Setter will almost surely frustrate you.
This breed is known for being quite stubborn. Sometimes an English Setter decides that it’s not going to do something for whatever reason, and that’s pretty much it. Some dogs are so rigid that no amount of coaxing will convince them to do something which they have decided they are not going to do. Many English Setters also decide that they cannot complete a task well enough to please their owners, and determine that they would rather just not do it at all than risk disappointment. English Setters are more than intelligent to figure out exactly what they can and cannot get away with, and tend to live their lives accordingly. However, this breed is definitely not extremely willful, which deliberately disobeys. This is a dog that may refuse to do something, but probably won’t do the opposite thing. English Setters tend to be very sensitive and harsh training methods such as yelling usually have the opposite effect. Any training regimen for an English Setter should involve a heavy amount of treats and positive reinforcement. This is also a breed which only obeys those it respects. If you are not the alpha dog, do not expect an English Setter to obey you. Owners must be in charge at all times.
In terms of temperament, the primary difference between Bench and Field Setters is with regards to their energy levels and exercise requirements. Both varieties are high energy dogs, which need a great deal of exercise. Field setters are just more energetic and need more energy. This breed is capable of working hard for long hours, and is just as capable of playing hard for long hours. A Bench Setter needs a very long daily walk at the very least, and preferably a good deal of time to run around in a secure area. Field Setters probably need a long job at the very least, and several hours to run around in an enclosed area. It would be nearly impossible to keep an English Setter without a yard, and the larger the better. Active families will probably not be run ragged meeting the needs of a Bench Setter, but a Field Setter will exercise even the greatest athlete into the ground. It is absolutely paramount that an English Setter has its exercise needs met, because this breed almost certainly will develop behavioral issues otherwise. This breed is very likely to become extremely destructive and hyper excitable, as well as possible nervous and an excessive barker as well. English Setters were bred to be working dogs, and most enjoy having a job such as running through an agility course. However, most dogs, especially those from Bench lines, will be fine with unstructured play. Once an English Setter has been provided with an outlet for its energy, this breed tends to be very relaxed indoors. Most English Setters are actually couch potatoes in the house, and love to lie on the sofa and watch television.
English Setters do not make excellent kennel dogs, and greatly prefer to be kept in the house with their families. This breed also has a slight tendency to become an excessive barker. Dogs which are not given enough stimulation and exercise may become vocal, and may result in noise complaints. This is one reason that it is definitely not ideal to keep this breed outside at night for long periods.
Potential English Setter owners need to be aware that this breed has a tendency to drool. While very few English Setters are massive droolers such as a Mastiff, most will occasionally drool. You will get a little bit of drool on your clothes, furniture, and guests from time to time with an English Setter. While this problem is pretty minor, if the thought of drool absolutely disgusts or embarrasses you or a member of your family, the English Setter is probably not the ideal breed for you.
English Setters have fairly high coat care requirements, especially Bench Setters. This breed needs to have its coat groomed and brushed quite thoroughly on a daily basis. Otherwise painful mats and tangles will develop. This breed also needs to have its coat trimmed quite regularly. While it is possible for owners to do this at home, most choose to have it done professionally. Most Bench Setters will need a trimming every six weeks or so, while Field Setters will need it done considerably less frequently. This is also a breed which needs to be bathed on a regular basis. English Setters are also heavy shedders. If you get an English Setter, you will have to spend a substantial amount of time removing dog hair from your carpets, furniture, and clothes. Since this breed has long, white hair, it is especially noticeable. If you or a member of your family are allergy sufferers or simply cannot stand the thought of cleaning up dog hair, this is definitely not the ideal breed for you.
Owners must pay special attention to the English Setter’s ears. The drooping ears of the English Setter can collect dirt, grime, and other debris. This debris can get trapped and may cause irritations and even infections. To prevent this, owners need to clean the ears of their dogs on a regular basis.
The English Setter is regarded as being a generally healthy breed. Breeders of both Bench and Field English Setters are dedicated to breeding the healthiest possible dogs, and to detecting and eliminating possible health defects from the breed. This breed is also relatively long lived for a breed of this size. English Setters have a life expectancy of between 10 and 12 years, but commonly live to between 13 and 15 with proper diets and medical care. This does not mean that English Setters are immune to genetically inherited conditions, but it does mean that they tend to suffer from less serious ones and at lower rates.
One problem that is of particular concern to English Setters is deafness. Deafness is a common problem in white dogs and white cats. English Setters suffer from both unilateral (deaf in one ear) and bilateral (deaf in both ears) deafness. Although it has long been easy to determine whether a dog is bilaterally deaf, it is much more difficult to determine if a dog is only deaf in one ear. Recent studies have concluded that as many as 10% of all English Setters may be either unilaterally or bilaterally deaf. Recently, tests have been developed for both forms of deafness. Although unilaterally deaf dogs are in all other ways normal, breeders are working to eliminate them from breeding lines to prevent the further spread of the condition.
It is always advisable to get your pets tested by either the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and/or the Canine Eye Registration Foundation, particularly if you intend to breed. The OFA and CERF test for various genetically inherited disorders such as blindness and hip dysplasia that may impact either your dog or its descendants.
A full list of health problems known to afflict the English Setter would have to include: