Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte. He has 15+ years of experience with dogs and various pets.
Throughout the world, there exists only a handful of dog breeds that can be consistently described as energetic, friendly, and affectionate towards owners. One of these dogs is the English Setter. Although originally bred for the purpose of bird setting and retrieving in the 1300s, this breed is now favored for its companionship qualities in the home; making it an ideal choice for family-based living environments. This work examines the English Setter and provides an in-depth analysis of the animal’s behavioral patterns, temperament, and general traits. This includes a discussion of the dog’s health concerns, grooming and exercise requirements, as well as water and nutritional needs. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of this remarkable breed will accompany readers following their completion of this work.
“The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself too.”
— Samuel Butler
- Common Name: English Setter
- Binomial Name: Canis Lupus Familiaris
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Canidae
- Genus: Canis
- Species: Canis Lupus
- Subspecies: Canis Lupus Familiaris
- Other Name(s): N/A
History of the English Setter
- Life Span: 10 to 12 years
- Group: Sporting
- Area of Origin: England
- Date of Origin: 1300s
- Original Function: Bird Setting; Retrieving
- Family: Setter; Gundog; Pointer
Little is known about the origins of the English Setter. As with most setters, however, it is believed that their primary line of heritage was established by breeders nearly 400 years ago in England (as their name implies). Crossing a variety of spaniels and pointers through selective breeding practices, breeders were able to successfully create a line of dogs that were relatively gentle, intelligent, and highly-attuned to retrieving small game.
It wasn’t until the Nineteenth Century that the modern-day English Setter (that we know and love today) was first established. An Englishman and Welshman by the names of Edward Laverack and R.L. Purcell Llewellin, respectively, sought to develop a new line of setters that were extremely gentle and companionable toward owners. After purchasing two dogs from a man by the name of Reverend A. Harrison (named “Ponto” and “Old Moll”), Laverack began to selectively cross the dogs with a variety of pointers and Irish Setters.
Although his initial efforts were successful to a degree, the new dogs performed poorly in field trials; thus, prompting Llewellin to improve upon Laverack’s breeding process. Llewellin accomplished this by crossing Laverack’s dogs with a variety of Gordon Setters (along with a number of unknown hunting breeds). In doing so, he was able to greatly improve the dog’s scenting ability, agility, and speed.
Both of the English Setters developed by Laverack and Llewellin became a major hit in England, and were eventually brought to the United States in the late 1800s. Despite poor field trial performance, Laverack’s line “became the foundation for the show setters of today,” whereas Llewellin’s line became the standard for field-based dogs (dogtime.com). Through the efforts of C.N. Myers, the breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1878.
The original function of the English Setter was to silently track game through scent. Rather than chasing potential prey, however, early breeders sought to develop a dog that would “freeze” in place (via crouching or “setting”). This would, in turn, provide its hunting companion with the location of potential game. On command, a well-trained English Setter would then slowly creep forward to disturb the prey into flight; thus, providing the hunter with an opportunity to shoot or catch these birds or small mammals.
In the modern era, the English Setter continues to be a popular choice for hunters due to their natural proclivity for tracking and hunting. As the popularity of hunting continues to decline, however, so has the dog’s primary function in the home. As a friendly and affectionate breed, the English Setter’s primary role in modern-day homes is to provide companionship to its owner. For this reason, it is a popular choice for family-based environments.
Appearance and Characteristics
- Weight: 60 to 80 pounds (male); 50 to 55 pounds (female)
- Height: 25 inches (male); 24 inches (female)
The English Setter is a medium-sized breed known for their athletic and well-muscled appearance. They are a highly symmetrical breed with a flattened coat that is “feathery” in its overall look. The English Setter is also quite graceful in its overall style and grace, displaying an almost “elegant” pose to onlookers.
In regard to their overall size, few dogs within this breed exceed 80 pounds, or 25 inches in total height. Deviations from these rules are considered major faults that should be evaluated by a qualified veterinarian.
Overall head on the English Setter should take on a long and lean appearance, with a well-defined stop. Viewed from above, the head takes on an oval shape, whereas the top of the skull and lower jaw run parallel to one another. Accentuating the skull is a long and square-like muzzle that is relatively wide with good depth. Muzzles should be completely level from the eyes to the nose (which is generally black or dark brown in coloration). Completing this region is a series of large and well-rounded eyes that are typically dark brown, along with a pair of relaxed ears that sit close to the head and which take on a “leathery” appearance.
In regard to the forequarters, the English Setter possesses a pair of laid-back shoulders that form a right angle with the dog’s upper arms. Forelegs are both strong and straight, running parallel to one another when viewed from the front. Completing the forequarters is a pair of front-facing feet with closely set toes that are well-arched. Feet are usually well-padded (allowing the dog to traverse extremely difficult terrain with ease). Dewclaws are common, but can be removed if desired.
The hindquarters on the English Setter follow many of the same traits of the front. The rear area should be well-muscled, with the pelvis forming a right angle with the upper thigh region. Likewise, the stifle and hock joint should be well-bent and strong in their overall appearance. As with the front, hind legs should be straight and run parallel to one another when viewed from behind. Feet are the same as the front, and should be well-padded, with arched toes and dewclaws.
Tails on the English Setter generally form a smooth continuation of the topline, and taper to a fine point (akc.org). Generally speaking, tails are carried relatively straight and run completely level with the back. They are also quite “feathery” in appearance.
Coat and Coloration
Coats on the English Setter are usually flat without any sort of curling. According to American Kennel Club (AKC) standards, light feathering is common on this breed, particularly around the ears, stomach, chest, lower thighs, tail, and backside of their legs. Overall fur length varies, however, with the feathered regions being far longer than the flatter areas.
In regard to color, the English Setter is renowned for its “white-ground” coloration that is spotted by darker hairs. These darker spots should (ideally) take on a “flecked” appearance over the dog, with large patches of dark coloration considered a major fault. Nevertheless, while “white-ground” remains the most prominent color with this breed, orange, blue, lemon, liver, and tricolor (blue, tan, and white) are also quite common as well.
Is the English Setter Right for My Home?
- Energy Level: 4/5
- Exercise Needs: 4/5
- Playfulness: 3/5
- Affection Towards Owners: 4/5
- Friendliness Towards Other Animals: 4/5
- Training Difficulty: 2/5
- Grooming Level: 3/5
Note: Scale of 1 to 5 (1=Lowest, 5=Highest)
The English Setter is a highly energetic breed renowned for their tireless nature. As a dog originally bred for hunting and running (long distances), owners will quickly discover that physical exercise is a must for the English Setter. Often described as an easygoing dog, English Setters are also remarkably friendly towards others (particularly children), and are known to get along well with most strangers (including other pets and animals). Although the English Setter is best suited for the outdoors, the breed makes for an excellent housedog if daily exercise routines are followed closely.
Potential owners should note that the English Setter can be extremely stubborn (to a fault), displaying an extremely independent mind due to their natural intelligence. They are also a highly-sensitive breed that can develop bad behaviors when treated too harshly by owners.
Is the English Setter Good With Children?
Yes! As an extremely tolerant and mellow breed, the English Setter is well-suited for families with children (of all ages). This is an extremely loving breed that is renowned for their affectionate qualities and steadfast devotion to family members. In spite of this, it is vital that dogs and children are always supervised when in the presence of one another. This is especially true for families with smaller kids (toddlers), as younger children can become too rough, resulting in ear (or tail) pulling, or inappropriate handling. This can lead to the development of harmful habits that are detrimental to your dog’s well-being.
To help alleviate these concerns, parents should actively teach their children (from an early age) how to properly handle and approach the English Setter, with a focus on avoiding dogs that are eating or sleeping.
How Smart and Intelligent is the English Setter?
The English Setter is an incredibly smart breed that is capable of learning a wide array of tricks and commands throughout their lifetime. As of 2021, the breed is currently ranked #37 amongst the world’s smartest dogs. This places the English Setter side by side with the Pharaoh Hound, Clumber Spaniel, Norwich Terrier, and Affenpinscher in terms of its overall intelligence level (Coren, 182). As a sensitive and stubborn breed, however, it is important to note that the English Setter requires steady (and gentle) training for maximum results.
Brushing and Bathing
As a long-haired breed, the English Setter requires regular grooming to prevent matting and tangles from forming in their beautiful coat. Prospective owners should plan to brush their English Setter at least three times a week, using a stiff-bristle brush. This device will not only help keep your pet’s coat shiny and smooth, but will also help keep your dog’s skin healthy as it gently removes dry skin and dirt. Likewise, a steel comb should also be used during brushing cycles as this device can gently break up tangles and mats in your English Setter’s coat. For superior results, plan to bathe your English Setter once every six weeks.
As with all dog breeds, owners should pay particular attention to their English Setter’s ears, nails, and dental hygiene. Ears should be checked daily for dirt and debris (such as excessive earwax or hair). Maintaining hygienic ears is especially important for the English Setter as they are a “droopy ear” breed. Canines with this ear type are far more likely to develop infections in this region, as their ears trap more heat and moisture, resulting in and environment that is conducive to rapid bacteria growth. As such, prompt removal of foreign substances will go a long way in preventing sores and infection for your English Setter.
The following chart outlines five signs and symptoms of ear problems with your English Setter:
In addition to ear health, nails should be kept clean, short, and trimmed on a regular basis in order to prevent serious injury to your dog’s feet. Failure to heed this warning “can cause your dog’s feet to splay,” or result in bone and joint problems over time (DeVito, 234). They can also result in painful tears to the nail, which often occurs when one of the nails becomes snagged on objects (or rough terrain) over time. As a result, prospective owners should examine their English Setter’s feet on a weekly basis, ensuring the nails are kept short and trimmed. Trimming and filing can be done at home, by a professional groomer, or by your local veterinarian (depending on your personal preference).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, dental hygiene is also extremely important for the English Setter. Unfortunately, it is also an aspect of grooming that is often overlooked by owners. According to most experts, owners should plan to brush their English Setter’s teeth daily (ideally). To accomplish this, a number of dog-specific toothbrushes and toothpastes are available at your local store. When brushing, gently brush near the gum line, and ensure that food particles and debris are being removed. Also use this time to inspect your English Setter’s mouth for swollen gums, chipped teeth, or cuts. If spotted, be sure to contact your dog’s veterinarian right away (as these can cause serious issues for your pet if not taken care of promptly).
Failure to follow these basic guidelines can have serious consequences for your English Setter’s health. This includes tooth decay, cavities, broken teeth, gingivitis, and bad breath to name only a few. Nevertheless, prompt removal of tartar buildup, plaque, and food-based debris will go a long way in preventing long-term (and painful) dental issues for your English Setter over time.
Exercise and Training Needs
How Much Exercise Should an English Setter Receive Each Day?
As a hunting breed, the English Setter requires a great deal of exercise on a daily basis. It is important to note that this aspect applies to both puppies and adults. From the time they are fully weaned, English Setter puppies should receive approximately 15 to 20 minutes of playtime (twice a day). This can include running and playing with various toys.
As your English Setter reaches approximately 4 to 6 months in age, daily half-mile walks (along with playtime in an enclosed yard) are usually enough to meet your puppy’s exercise needs. Continue to follow this course at the 6-month mark as well, adding approximately 40 minutes of playtime (in addition to your basic walks).
At approximately 1 year of age, owners can increase their walking/jogging distance to approximately a mile (no more than this), and incorporate various playtime activities into your exercise routine in order to keep things “fun.” At all stages of your English Setter’s development, ensure that you provide your dog with plenty of breaks, along with cool water to keep them from dehydrating or becoming too hot. Also, it is crucial that you keep a close eye on your English Setter during exercise sessions, and ensure that you are not “pushing” them beyond their capabilities. Like humans, each and every dog is different, and possesses their own talents, and capabilities.
How Difficult is the English Setter to Train?
As a smart and intelligent breed, prospective owners will be pleased to know that the English Setter is a highly-trainable dog capable of learning a wide array of tricks and commands throughout their lifetime. However, due to their stubborn and sensitive nature, successful training will require a great deal of calmness and patience from owners. Shouting and harsh punishments should always be avoided with the English Setter as these actions will almost certainly lead to negative behaviors and results. For this reason, playful, calm, patient, and empathetic owners are the best match for this particular breed.
As with most dog breeds, the English Setter is most receptive to training at its puppy stages of development. Puppies are generally quite curious and active (by nature), and will be more apt to learning new tricks and commands from their owner. For best results, obedience training should also be undertaken as soon as possible to prevent the development of bad behaviors. Likewise, housetraining should be pursued quickly, as the English Setter is notoriously difficult to housebreak.
For all training sessions, reward-based incentives are one of the best motivators for the English Setter. Likewise, it is crucial that prospective owners try to keep training as “fun” as possible for your pet in order to achieve positive results. With patience and determination, owners can see tremendous results with their English Setter in a relatively short amount of time.
As with most breeds, a high-quality dog food should always be the number one priority for your pet. These meals can be prepared by a manufacturer, or at home following the guidance and supervision of your dog’s veterinarian. And while it is tempting to provide your English Setter with table scraps due to their convenience and cost effectiveness, nearly all dog experts agree that human-based foods should be avoided at all costs. This is due to the fact that many human foods contain harmful fats, preservatives, and substances (such as bones) that are detrimental to your English Setter’s health. The following list details the 10 most toxic foods to your dog. This list is in no way comprehensive. When in doubt about which substances are harmful to your pet, always consult your veterinarian.
How Much Food Should an English Setter Eat Per Day?
As with all dog breeds, feeding requirements vary significantly with every pet and depend greatly on your dog’s weight, energy level, and age. For this reason, owners should work actively with their veterinarian to establish a feeding cycle that fits their dog’s specific needs. Generally speaking, however, the English Setter requires approximately 2 to 3 cups of dry dog food on a daily basis. This serving size represents a daily requirement that should be divided into two separate meals of approximately 1 to 1.5 cups each. More active dogs will require slightly more food each day (to recover lost calories), whereas less-active animals will require only the minimum standards listed above. As stated previously, these guidelines should always be discussed at length with your veterinarian to ensure that your English Setter is receiving adequate sustenance on a daily basis.
How Much Water Does an English Setter Require Daily?
Maintaining proper hydration is also extremely important for the English Setter. Nearly 70-percent of a dog’s body is comprised of water (similar to humans). Therefore, owners should pay active attention to their English Setter’s water needs throughout the day as their requirements can change in response to both outside temperatures and their daily activity levels. As with most breeds, standard water requirements are usually determined by your dog’s weight. For every seven pounds of weight, an English Setter should consume approximately 6 ounces of water per day. For example, a 77-pound dog would require 66 ounces of water in a day’s time.
As with food, more active dogs will require slightly more water (in the vicinity of 90 to 100 ounces per day), whereas less active animals will require only the minimum suggested intake mentioned above. Likewise, hotter weather will warrant additional water throughout the day, whereas colder conditions will be far less taxing to your English Setter’s hydration levels. If you are in doubt, it is best to always check with your veterinarian first. This helps to ensure you are providing your English Setter with appropriate water amounts throughout the day.
What Type of Home is Good for an English Setter?
Before deciding to adopt an English Setter, potential owners should consider a number of basic factors. Adoption of a new pet is a major life decision that should never be taken lightly. In fact, spur-of-the-moment decisions are one of the leading causes of pet abandonment in the world as many owners find themselves ill-equipped (or prepared) for a new puppy in the home. To facilitate the decision-making process, the following details some basic necessities for the English Setter that should be taken into consideration before adoption occurs.
Due to their larger size, prospective owners should note that this particular breed is best-suited for more rural environments with wide-open space to run and play. As such, they are a perfect choice for farms and homes in the country where they can receive their basic exercise needs with relative ease. And while it is true that the English Setter can certainly prosper in more urban-based dwellings (such as townhomes, apartments, and condominiums, this is generally not recommended as owners will be forced to come up with creative ways for their English Setter to exercise and play in a confined space that is not practical.
As a final word of advice for individuals interested in adopting an English Setter, it should be noted that this particular breed has a strong “chase” and “wanderlust” potential. This is due, in part, to the dog’s natural hunting and tracking instincts. As such, activities outside should be done on a leash to prevent running off, or chasing of other animals. Likewise, yards should always be properly fenced to prevent similar behaviors from occurring.
Is the English Setter Good With Other Pets?
Yes and no. In order to appropriately answer this question, it is vital that prospective owners understand that the English Setter was originally bred to be a hunting companion. As a result, they possess a natural instinct to chase or “track” other animals; an inclination that is often extremely difficult to break. This is particularly true for homes with birds, as the English Setter views this particular animal as “prey.” And while it is true that some owners have been successful in teaching their English Setter to avoid this natural tendency, these results should NOT be expected from all dogs within this breed.
In spite of this concern, many owners report that the English Setter does well with other dogs in the home, and even do well with cats (if they are raised with them and socialized properly at a young age). As with birds, however, smaller animals such as rabbits, hamsters, and guinea pigs should be kept away from this particular breed at all costs. Failure to heed this warning can result in disastrous consequences for smaller pets.
Is the English Setter a Good Guard Dog?
Yes and no. As a highly alert and inquisitive breed, the English Setter makes for an excellent watchdog and will alert owners to the slightest sound or disturbance near their home. In regard to a guardianship role, however, the dog’s laid-back personality and sweet nature prevents it from being an effective guard dog in most situations. And while the English Setter has certainly been known to protect their family members from harm (sometimes aggressively when faced with intruders), owners looking for a guard dog will probably be better-served by a more aggressive breed (such as the Doberman Pinscher or Rottweiler).
How to Select an English Setter Puppy
As mentioned above, the decision to adopt an English Setter is a major life-decision that should never be taken lightly. This also applies to the selection of puppies, as great care should be taken when adopting a new dog from a breeder. When examining litters, potential owners should evaluate English Setter puppies with several things in mind. For starters, how sociable is the puppy you are interested in? Is the puppy shy or timid? Or do they readily approach when you move your hand close? How does the puppy play with their siblings? Are they aggressive, or quieter and more submissive? Do they appear healthy in their overall appearance? Each of these questions can help you (as an individual) figure out potential “red flags” that warrant further investigation. They can also provide you with vital insight into your potential puppy’s personality; an aspect that should fit your own personality as close as possible.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, always ask breeders for health clearances which help prove that each puppy has been cleared for various health conditions. Does the breeder possess a certificate from the CERF (Canine Eye Registry Foundation) certifying that both parents are free of eye diseases? Do similar certificates exist referencing the health of each parent’s hips, thyroid function, and hearing ability? Each of these are crucial elements of puppy selection, as specific health issues can be passed on from parent to puppy. Moreover, certificates and clearances help to prove that the seller is a responsible breeder who cares for the health, safety, and well-being of their animals.
How Much Does an English Setter Puppy Cost?
Overall costs for an English Setter vary significantly and depend heavily on the dog’s age, location, and availability (i.e. public demand at the time of purchase). In addition, the source of the dog is also critical for price determination, as private individuals, sellers, and breeders will charge additional money, whereas adoption sites will charge significantly less (if anything at all). As of March 2021, an individual can expect to pay approximately $800 to $1,400 for an English Setter puppy (on average). On the lower end, some English Setters are occasionally listed for approximately $600, whereas reputable dog breeders have been known to charge upwards of $6,000 for a single puppy.
For those interested in older dogs, expect to pay slightly less with the average English Setter going for approximately $750 or less.
Recommended Medical Tests and Evaluations for the English Setter:
- Hearing Evaluation
- Hip and Elbow Evaluation
- Eye Exam
- Thyroid Function Test
Owners should actively work with a qualified veterinarian in their area to develop a nutritional and preventive-care plan for their English Setter. Proper diet, nutrition, and early detection of health issues can go a long way in helping your dog achieve a happy and healthy life.
Although the English Setter is a remarkably healthy breed (for the most part), this particular breed is known to suffer from a variety of health issues. This includes hip and elbow dysplasia which causes pain in your dog’s joints over time. Likewise, the English Setter is known to suffer from deafness as they age. Treatment options exist for both of these conditions, but require prompt attention from a veterinarian. With proper care, owners can expect their English Setter to live between 10 to 12 years, although it is common for this breed to live several years beyond this.
Pros and Cons of the English Setter
- Larger breed that has a distinct “elegance” and “grace” to their overall appearance.
- Possesses one of the most beautiful coats in the canine world.
- Extremely gentle breed that does well in family-based environments.
- Peaceful with other pets and animals, with the exception of birds and rodents.
- Highly energetic breed that requires a great deal of exercise on a daily basis.
- Prone to excessive jumping (a trait that is difficult to break).
- Can be extremely stubborn (to a fault).
- Prone to “separation anxiety” when left alone for long periods of time.
- Difficult to housebreak.
- Requires a great deal of grooming (i.e. brushing and combing) to maintain its luxurious coat.
In closing, the English Setter is a remarkable dog breed renowned for its devotion and amiable demeanor. Although this particular breed can be difficult to train, and possesses a “mind of its own” (due to its innate stubbornness), individuals will be hard-pressed to find another dog that is as laid back, caring, and even-tempered as the English Setter. For these reasons, the English Setter will likely remain a favorite of dog owners and breeders for the foreseeable future.
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Larry Slawson
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on March 09, 2021:
Omg, I love them dogs. They are so lovely.
Ann Carr from SW England on March 09, 2021:
Beautiful, beautiful dogs! I like the photo of one being silly! They remind me of Springer Spaniels but are more elegant.
You've included lots of detail and advice which is always crucial when considering a dog. So many dogs with long floppy ears seem to have trouble with infections in them but overall this one is such a great contender for a family dog - as long as you have plenty of room or plenty of energy to walk with them often!