English Setter Dog Breed Information & Pictures

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English Setters are one of the breeds that no one seems to recognize. An old breed, they are often mistaken for “long-haired Dalmatians,” much to the dismay of their owners. These gentle, fun-loving dogs were developed to hunt birds in England hundreds of years ago. Today many of them are still good bird dogs but they love children and make wonderful family pets.

The English Setter Dog Breed Standards & History

According to knowledgeable sources, the English Setter may be mentioned as early as The Canterbury Tales, written by Chaucer in the 14th century. The earliest of the Setter breeds, English Setters were referred to in the 1570s as an “improved spaniel.” They were thought to have been developed from continental pointing breeds, such as the old Spanish Pointer (extinct now) and land spaniels in Britain.

In early days, before guns were invented, English Setters hunted with the help of hawks or falcons. With this method, dogs finding the birds could bump them into flight. A hawk could be dispatched to capture a bird. Another way of hunting with Setters was to have the dogs find a covey of birds then creep along the ground, indicating to the hunter where the birds were. A gamekeeper could toss a net over the birds and the dog.

english setter dog breed

After the invention of guns for hunting, English Setters began to hunt with a more upright pose. In the 19th century, a sportsman named Edward Laverack spent decades developing the English Setter that we see today. A fellow sportsman named Purcell Llewellin, using some of Laverack’s dogs and others, created another line of English Setters which bear his name today.

In general, Mr. Llewellin’s dogs are known for their hunting prowess today. Mr. Laverack’s dogs are primarily registered with the AKC or other kennel clubs around the world. However, both kinds of dogs are English Setters. There are also several other strains of English Setters which have come down from the 19th and early 20th century which vary from very hunt-oriented to field trial in type.

Laverack wrote his thoughts and ideas about how English Setters should look and behave in a book called The Setter in 1872. His description has furnished the basic breed standard for English Setters in the UK, the United States, Canada, and other countries since that time with very few changes.

The English Setter breed standard calls for the following:

  • An elegant, substantial and symmetrical gun dog suggesting the ideal blend of strength, stamina, grace, and style. Flat-coated with feathering of good length. Gaiting freely and smoothly with long forward reach, strong rear drive and firm topline. Males decidedly masculine without coarseness. Females decidedly feminine without over-refinement…
  • Males typically stand about 25 inches tall at the shoulder; females are about 24 inches tall. Some males are a little taller. It’s not in the standard but males usually weigh between 65 and 75 pounds. Females weigh slightly less.
  • English Setters are known for their beautiful “brick on brick” head. This refers to a long, lean head with a well-defined “stop,” or the change between the nose and the forehead. The planes of the nose and the top of the head should have parallel lines, ideally.

English Setter Pictures

One of the most obvious differences today between Laverack dogs and Llewellin dogs is the amount of coat they carry. Laverack dogs are seen in show rings sporting long, elegant coats. Llewellin dogs, which often spend a lot of time in the field, usually have shorter coats with just a little feathering on their tails and legs. Laverack dogs are generally larger than Llewellins.

Whichever kind of English Setter interests you, they all have sweet temperaments and make good family dogs.

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English Setter Colors

English Setters are white dogs flecked with color. These are called “belton” markings. The following markings are possible:

  • Blue belton (white with black flecks)
  • Orange belton (white with orange flecks)
  • Tri-color (white with black and orange flecks)
  • Liver belton (white with liver – chocolate – flecks; liver beltons have less nose and eye pigment)
  • Lemon belton (white with yellow or pale orange flecks; lemon beltons have less nose and eye pigment)
  • Blue roan (dogs that have a predominance of black hairs mixed in their white coats)
  • Orange roan (dogs that have a predominance of orange hairs mixed in their white coats)
  • Other tri-colors (dogs can have tri-color markings that include liver or lemon but these tri-colors are relatively rare)

Many English Setters have ear patches or a patch over an eye. Some dogs also have body patches. Body patches are not very desirable for the show ring but they make no difference to the dog’s personality.

What to Expect When Caring For an English Setter

English Setters are considered to be medium-large dogs. They are gentle, smart, and affectionate. They are good with children and love to be with people. In fact, if you have an English Setter, you will probably never be able to visit the bathroom by yourself again. English Setters are known for following people all over the house.

On the down side, English Setters don’t make very good watch dogs. Your English Setter will bark at squirrels and rabbits in the yard but he will usually wag his tail at a stranger. These dogs really like people, even burglars. It would be hard to find a friendlier breed. One kind word and your English Setter is ready to welcome someone into the house.

Health

English Setters are generally healthy dogs. Many dogs live to be 12-14 years today. As a white-coated breed, English Setters do have to deal with deafness. Good breeders have been BAER-testing puppies for decades. A deaf puppy can still occasionally appear in a litter but most puppies today have normal hearing. If you are looking for a puppy, ask if the puppy has been BAER-tested and if it has normal hearing in both ears.

As with many large breeds, English Setters should be scanned for hip and elbow dysplasia. Most breeders use the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) registry but some also use the Penn-Hip registry. If you are getting a puppy, ask if the parents have been tested. Dogs do not received formal testing until they are about two years old when their bones and joints settle so puppies are too young to test. It’s important to inquire about the parents.

English Setters are also one of the breeds subject to autoimmune thyroiditis or hypothyroidism. Breeders now test for this condition before breeding dogs. Ask a breeder if the parents of the puppies have been tested. For dogs that are hypothyroid, this condition can be easily treated once it is identified.

Grooming

If you see English Setters on television you probably imagine their long coats require a lot of grooming. You would be correct. However, most family pets don’t need the extensive grooming and frequent baths that show dogs need. Even if you have an English Setter with a long coat, grooming doesn’t have to be taxing.

For English Setters as pets, it’s important to brush the coat thoroughly two or three times per week. The feathering, especially, needs to be brushed out. Otherwise, it can mat and tangle.

If you have a field-type English Setter with a shorter coat, brushing once per week is probably enough. Unless, of course, your dog has been hunting and picked up burrs. In that case, you need to attend to them right away. Consider using a jacket on your dog and/or something like Cowboy Magic on the feathering to discourage burrs from collecting in the feathers.

Most English Setters only need a bath about once per month. Use a good conditioner or detangler on their feathers at this time.

Make sure you trim your dog’s nails regularly. Your dog also needs his ears checked and his teeth brushed on a regular basis.

Exercise

Your English Setter loves to be cozy and curl up next to you. However, you can’t forget that he is, at heart, a large sporting dog. These dogs do enjoy running and playing outside. That’s especially true if they can entire you to play with them. The next best thing is if they have a dog buddy to play with.

English Setters do well if they have a fenced yard to play in. You can also take them for long walks. Ideally, your dog can have some time off leash in a place where it’s safe for him to run and exercise.

English Setters love to do things with their owners. Any time you can engage in activities with your dog such as water sports, hiking, or jogging, your dog will be happy. English Setters also make particularly good therapy dogs. They are very empathetic and love to meet people so spending a day reading to children or visiting a nursing home would be good exercise for an English Setter.

Training

English Setters have a reputation of having “selective hearing.” They sometimes only listen when they want to hear you. However, they are very intelligent and quite capable of learning anything you want to teach them. Sometimes you simply have to find the best way to motivate them.

English Setters have excelled in obedience, rally, agility, tracking, nose work, and nearly every other activity offered for fun or competition today.

These dogs can get bored if you keep repeating the same lesson after they have already learned it. When that happens, an English Setter can decide to flop down and take a nap in the middle of your lesson. They can learn quickly and then they are ready to move on to something else. If you make training fun and find good ways to motivate your dog, there is no limit to what English Setters can learn to do.

Nutrition

Most English Setters are able to eat good quality kibble made by good companies that meet WSAVA dog food standards. Many breeders recommend foods such as Purina ProPlan. Some like Purina ProPlan for Sensitive Stomachs. Royal Canin and Eukanuba are also popular brands with some breeders. (Current supply chain issues can affect foods for some breeders and dogs.)

In general, foods that include grains are recommended for English Setters unless your dog has a verified grain allergy. If your dog does have a food allergy, we urge you to talk to your veterinarian about the best food to feed your dog.

Common English Setter Mix Breeds

English Setters are not a very popular or common breed. Most people don’t recognize them when they see them. If you see one at a shelter, they are very often misidentified. For this reason, English Setter mix breeds are not very common. When they do occur, it is often the result of an accidental mating.

Here are some of the English Setter mix breeds we found online:

  • English Setter x Labrador Retriever: this litter was the accidental result of an English Setter and Labrador Retriever mating. The owner was trying to give them away. The puppies were all black like the Lab parent.
  • English Setter x Irish Setter: another accidental mating. This litter looked like typical Setters. Some puppies were red and some were black, taking after the black ticking of the English Setter.
  • English Setter x Border Collie: A dog found online. This puppy looked like a Border Collie. It was black and white with high ears.

Fun Facts about English Setters

  • An English Setter named Adonis was the first dog registered with the American Kennel Club in 1875.
  • The first winner of the first field trial in the United States, near Memphis in 1884, was an English Setter.
  • English Setter puppies are born solid white. They only start to get their color specks a few weeks later.
  • Only about 100 litters of AKC-registered English Setters are born in the United States each year, making them somewhat rare.
  • In other countries, such as France and Italy, English Setters are extremely popular.
  • Many famous people have owned English Setters. Clark Gable, Brigitte Bardot, John Steinbeck, FDR, Annie Oakley, and Bette Davis all had English Setters.

FAQ

Do English Setters Make Good Family Pets?

English Setters make wonderful family pets. They seem to have an intuitive understanding that makes them gentle with babies and toddlers. Although they do require daily exercise, they tend to be quieter in the home than most other big dogs. This can make them a good choice for many older people. For parents with active children, English Setters are great companions. They love to run and play. They will always be with your kids outdoors.

English Setters get along well with other dogs. If your English Setter is raised as a puppy with cats, he will recognize a cat as boss. Many English Setters can also adapt to kittens and cats that enter the home later if you make the introductions slowly.

Are English Setters Smart?

Yes, English Setters are smart. That doesn’t mean that they will always do what you want them to do. Like other dogs, they have to be trained. They will learn some things more quickly than others, depending on whether they like learning it or not.

If you want to train your English Setters (and it’s a good idea), we suggest that you look for a trainer that has some experience with Setters. They need positive reinforcement. Harsh methods will shut your dog down. Training will be impossible if you use these methods.

Is an English Setter a Hound?

No, English Setters are not hounds. All of the Setter breeds are part of the Sporting group. That includes the Irish Setter, the Gordon Setter, the Irish Red & White Setter, as well as the English Setter. They hunt various gamebirds by scenting the air.

Do English Setters like to cuddle?

Most English Setters are very cuddly. They love to be with people. They also love to be on the sofa next to you. And they love to be on your bed – with or without you. You could consider the English Setter to be a bed hog.

English Setters love affection. They want to be with people most of the time.

Do English Setters shed?

Yes, English Setters do shed. Whether your dog has a long coat or a short one, expect it to shed, especially in the spring and fall. Regular brushing helps to minimize the shed. Vacuuming helps keep the hair picked up off the floor and furniture.

Conclusion

English Setters are sweet, gentle, playful dogs that love to be with their people. Whether you are looking for a family pet or a good hunting companion, this is a breed that has a long history of bonding with humans. English Setters are never happy living outdoors, away from people. This is a dog that wants to be part of the family. If you have time for a dog that wants to be part of your family, this is a great breed.

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