The English Setter is an elegant and mellow breed best known for its show-stopping beauty. The breed originated in England 400-500 years ago. Their job was to sniff out game birds and lay down quietly, or “set”, when they located one. There are four different setter breeds, but the English Setter was, and still is, prized for their keen sense of smell and superior ability to locate birds.
The modern English Setter is still used for hunting, in addition to being a successful show dog and wonderful companion dog. The English setter ranks number 94 out of 193 in the AKC most popular breeds.
Characteristics of the English Setter
Here we will go into more detail about the appearance and temperament of the English Setter.
The English Setter is an AKC certified medium-sized dog breed. Males are 25-27 inches in height and weigh 65-80 pounds. Females are 23-25 inches in height and weigh 45-55 pounds. They are a relatively long-lived breed with a lifespan of about 12 years.
Their spotted coat pattern is called “belton”, which is unique to the breed. Their dark eyes and long face give them a gentle expression. The base of their coat is white or tan with colored spots that can be black, brown, reddish, or yellow. Their coat is long and silky in texture, requiring frequent brushing with a dog brush to avoid tangles and mats. They shed regularly, which can be minimized by regular trimming of their coat and a bath every month or two. Check out or recommendations for dog vacuums to keep your furniture clean.
The English Setter is a true gentleman of the dog world with their friendly and polite temperament. They get along well with almost everybody, including humans, other pets and children. They are friendly with strangers and would not make a good guard dog. Because of their high level of sociability, they cannot be left alone for very long without developing destructive behavior. While they love their humans, other pets in the household can help minimize separation anxiety and boredom. English Setters can make great travel companions for longer car trips and they enjoy exploring outside on long walks and hikes.
Caring for a English Setter
To ensure you are providing your English Setter with everything it needs to live a long and happy life, it is essential to understand the quirks of the breed and what works best for them. Following are preliminary tips on health and training your English Setter so you know what to expect. However, remember that each dog is unique, even within a specific breed.
The English Setter should be fed a diet of high-quality dog food. It is important to purchase a dog food that is meant for the dog’s age and activity level to fulfil all their nutritional needs. Feeding them table scraps or excessive treats should be avoided, as it can lead to weight gain and related health problems. Even small increases in caloric intake can lead to weight gain over time, so consistency is key.
English Setters are extremely food motivated and are known to stick their nose in dishwashers and “surf” items off counters and tables. Know that their sensitive noses will detect any morsel left out!
The English Setter has high exercise needs, requiring plentiful daily exercise to maintain physical health and a happy temperament. These energetic athletes are well-suited for active, outdoorsy people. They enjoy daily runs or vigorous play sessions in securely fenced areas. High-impact activities on bones and joints such as stairs and jumping should be minimized until two years of age. As a young dog, their bones and joints are still developing and do not reach full strength until then. Investing in a high-quality leash and harness to minimize strain on both dog and human is recommended.
English Setters are relatively easy to train. They are eager to please their humans and have an impressive memory. However, this also leads them to form habits quickly that are often difficult to break. English Setters respond best to reward-based training and positive reinforcement. They will become fearful and nervous in response to aggressive or harsh commands, and any sort of negative-reinforcement is best avoided.
Especially as puppies, English Setters are curious and may wander after smells, so training is best started early and kept consistent. They will also poke their nose in everything in your home, so it is advisable to keep any breakable, edible or dangerous items far out of reach. Some English Setters can be more stubborn that others and resistant to following commands that they do not want to do. If properly trained, English Setters will grow to be manageable and well-behaved household companions.
English Setters are typically healthy dogs and fairly free of genetic issues. Elbow and hip dysplasia and deafness are the most common afflictions seen in the breed. Bloat, a life-threatening digestive condition where the stomach distends and expands, is also seen in the breed. The condition is not well understood, and owners should learn its symptoms and what to do if it does occur. The National Breed Club recommends certain tests for English Setters, including a hip evaluation, elbow evaluation, BAER test and thyroid evaluation.
The English Setter’s nails should be clipped monthly if not worn down naturally. Their ears should be checked weekly and any excess dirt or wax should be removed. Teeth should be brushed often with a dog-specific toothpaste.
Be sure to choose a dog from a responsible, certified breeder, preferably one who is a member of the English Setter Club of America. This club has a detailed code of ethics in breeding and will be able to provide owners with helpful information on heath and care for the breed. Careful selection of a puppy or adult dog will give you the highest chance of having a long-lived and healthy English Setter.