English Setter: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

An English Setter on a mountain

Francis Canker Photography / Getty Images

The English Setter was originally developed in the United Kingdom for its crouching, pointing and retrieving skills when accompanying hunters. Now they're also popular as companion dogs and are known for being affectionate, gentle and adaptable.

Breed Overview

Group: Sporting

Height: 25 to 27 inches (male); 23 to 25 inches (female)

Weight: 65 to 80 pounds (male); 45 to 55 pounds (female)

Coat: Flat, silky, medium-length single coat, with feathering on the ears, chest, legs and tail

Coat Color: White coat base with 'Belton' markings that can be flecks or intermingled roan; Belton colors are orange or black (referred to as blue) and can also be tricolored.

Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

Characteristics of the English Setter

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly  High
Pet-Friendly  High
Exercise Needs  High
Playfulness  High
Energy Level  Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence  High
Tendency to Bark  Low
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the English Setter

There are artworks featuring dogs closely resembling the modern-day English Setter from as far back as the 15th century. The breed is widely regarded as being one of the oldest of the gundog breeds.

They were initially called Setting Spaniels and they would range out in front of the hunter on open ground and would then freeze and crouch down (set), or point, when they found their quarry. Hunters originally used nets to trap the bird, but the gun then replaced these during the 18th century. They became popular with the nobility that owned large estates.

While their exact ancestry isn't known, it's thought they may have resulted through the crossing of Pointing and Spaniel breeds. They're known for being more gentle and slightly smaller than the Irish or Gordon Setter.

In the 19th century, Edward Laverack began breeding English Setters in earnest, and they were often crossed with those dogs belonging to R. Purcell Llewellin. The dogs were even sometimes referred to as Laverack or Llewellin Setters to reflect their lineage, and they provided the foundations of the breed we know today. There was a focus on an athletic physique, prominent feathering, a glossy coat and unique markings.

The Laverack line became known as being the show-type, and the Llewellin were developed for their field qualities.

In the 1870s, the first English Setter was imported to the United States, and the AKC recognized them in 1884.

In the 1930s one English Setter gained fame in the States. There's now a sculpture of 'Jim the Wonderdog' in a park in Missouri. It was alleged that he could predict the future and understand several languages. Sceptics, quite fairly, claimed he was just an intelligent dog that had been taught certain commands and was primed by his owner.

English Setters continue to be a popular choice amongst the hunting community, but they're now often desirable as companion dogs given their gentle countenance.

English Setter Care

Providing they get enough exercise, the English Setter can make a wonderful addition to a household.

They're a popular choice for families as they have an affectionate and mellow demeanor. These dogs usually love to spend time with their fellow housemates; two and four-legged. They're gentle with respectful children and usually enjoy the company of other dogs. With the right introductions, they can also live peaceably with cats.

Because they thrive in company, they're best suited to living in a household where they will have company for most of the day. You should still work on helping them to feel relaxed if they're left on their own for short periods to help prevent separation anxiety from developing.

As with every dog, you need to make sure your English Setter gets an appropriate amount of daily exercise. Although they're energetic and can make great hiking companions, they don't require as much exercise as some of the other gun dog breeds.

Their keen intelligence and athleticism mean they can also make great dog sports competitors, and they often excel in the likes of agility and, with their fantastic nose, scent work trials.

They're eager to please and respond very well to reward-based training methods. Their gentle temperament means they can be particularly sensitive to harsh treatment.

Some English Setters can have a high prey drive, given their hunting background. This may mean they have to remain on the leash in areas where there's too much temptation, or you'll have to work extra hard to achieve a rock-solid recall.

While they're soft-hearted, they do like to alert you to strangers, and you should work on rewarding quiet behavior to avoid alert barking getting out of control.

English Setters are moderate shedders, and they would benefit from a good weekly brush out to keep their coat in good condition and to prevent any tangles developing in their abundant feathering.

Four English Setter Puppies in a box
JaneFaizullin / Getty Images
A Blue Belton English Setter standing
JaneFaizullin / Getty Images
English Setter running in a meadow
Francis Canker Photography / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

English Setters are generally regarded as healthy, but, as with any breed, they're known for a few genetic health conditions. These include:

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia: This is when the joint forms abnormally, and it can cause mobility issues and pain. It's one of the most common genetic health conditions across all breeds and can range in its severity. In severe cases, surgery may be required to increase your dog's quality of life.

Hypothyroidism: This is when your dog suffers from an underactive thyroid, and their metabolism slows down. This can lead to a variety of symptoms, including weight gain, lethargy and problems with the skin and coat. It can't be cured, but with the right treatment, it can be managed successfully.

Allergies: Environmental and food allergies are more common in English Setters than in some breeds. Often a careful process of elimination will be required to try to establish the underlying cause. Changes in diet and medication can also be helpful, and it's important to consult with your vet to work out the best course of action if a problem is severe or persistent.

Congenital Deafness: Although not common, some English Setters can be born deaf in one or both ears. Deaf dogs can live full and enriching lives with a few simple adjustments to make things easier and safer for them around the home and when out on walks.

Diet and Nutrition

As with any dog, you should feed your English Setter a high-quality and properly portion-controlled food. As already mentioned, the breed can be more prone to developing allergies. If these are food-related, you may need to feed them a specific diet to ensure it doesn't trigger a reaction.

Pros
  • Gentle and affectionate

  • Energetic, but calm if given appropriate exercise

  • Intelligent and eager to please

Cons
  • Can sometimes alert bark

  • May have a high prey drive

  • Can be prone to separation anxiety

Where to Adopt or Buy an English Setter

If you're buying a puppy, to ensure that they're healthy, happy and well-socialized, you should always seek out a reputable breeder. By not doing this, you could be inadvertently supporting the unethical and often cruel puppy farming trade.

You want your pup to be raised in a home environment with their mother and other members of their litter. The breeder should have done health checks on the parents, and they shouldn't release the pups to their new homes until they're, at least, eight weeks old.

A good place to start your research for an English Setter would be through the English Setter Association of America.

Don't rule out adoption either. You would be giving a home to a dog in need, and it can be incredibly rewarding watching your rescue dog come out of their shell.

There are several Setter specific rescue organizations across the country, including Our English Setter Rescue, or you could make enquiries at your local rescue shelters.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you want to research other breeds with similar traits to the English Setter, then you could also look into the following breeds:

Before making a final decision, don't forget, there are hundreds of other wonderful dog breeds, and crosses too, that may slot in well to your home and lifestyle. By doing your research, you'll find one that'll be best suited to having a forever home with you.