Known for its intrinsic skill of “setting” when hunting for birds, the English Setter is a master of stealth and agility when out on the prowl. Although they are still used for hunting today, the English Setter has settled into a more traditional family companion role.
English Setters are incredibly loyal and have big hearts. Because of their hunting background, they have tons of energy and need plenty of space to run around. If you want a dog you can take on hikes and cuddle with at the end of the day, then an English Setter may be the dog for you! Let’s look at some of the English Setter’s physical characteristics, personality, dog breed history, and much more.
English Setter Characteristics (Physical)
The English Setter is a medium-sized sporting dog breed with an elegant stance to accompany its strength, agility, and grace. Setters have an overall balanced and well-proportioned body that helps with their hunting abilities.
The English Setter’s head is long and lean and in proportion to the rest of the body. The muzzle of this breed is long and square with a black or dark brown nose. The eyes are typically dark brown and maintain an intelligent and attentive expression. The Setter’s ears are set well back and low and are carried close to the head. The ears are a moderate length, rounded at the ends, and are covered with the Setter’s silky hair.
The neck and structure of the body are long, muscular, and lean. The fore-chest is well-developed and deep, but not so deep where it interferes with the movement of the forelegs. The legs are muscular and provide for a wide range of motion.
English Setter Dog Breed Size
This is a medium-sized breed, with male dogs standing at about 25 to 27 inches. Female dogs stand at about 23 to 25 inches. The Setter can range in weight, with males weighing from 65 to 80 pounds and females from 45 to 55 pounds.
English Setter Personality
The English Setter is known for its kind and gentle demeanor. As much as they love being active and playing outside, Setters also love to cuddle and be affectionate. English Setters tend to bark, usually when confronted with strangers. But when they realize that they are not a threat, they let their guard down and show their soft side.
English Setters are usually easy to train because of their desire to please their owners. Training any dog should be done when they are young so they can soak in all the appropriate behaviors before they are older and set in their ways.
Setters are natural hunters, so they are very curious, intelligent, and generally playful. They love being outdoors, going on walks, hiking, and any other outdoor activity you are willing to include them in.
With their hunting skills, Setters work well with people, but they can sometimes be independent thinkers. English Setters may steer off the path a bit and wander around when you are not looking. But as long as you train them well and are consistent with your expectations, they make for excellent hunting partners.
If you treat your English Setter with negative reinforcement or a slight bit harshly, they can develop a stubborn behavior. It is always best to treat your dog with patience and care, and demonstrating a calm and collected sense of authority. Keep training sessions short not to overwhelm your pup, and always end on a positive note.
English Setter Dog Breed Exercise
The English Setter is an extremely active breed and needs plenty of exercise to stay mentally happy and healthy. This could be anything from taking your dog on a long walk, a brisk run, or a play session in a large yard. For the most part, apartment living is not recommended for this breed. They love playing any game where they can run around, like chasing you while you ride a bike, or hunting down small birds.
Because the English Setter’s bones and joints don’t reach full maturity until two years of age, it is best not to overexert any physical activity to avoid injuries or bone problems that could develop when they are older. But once they have finally matured, English Setter’s are known to be incredibly swift and strong. As long as you maintain a fairly active lifestyle with plenty of exercise and outside time, your English Setter will be more than content.
Related: How Much Exercise Does a Dog Need Everyday? [All Breeds & Ages]
English Setter Training
English Setters are good-natured and extremely intelligent dogs. They are great companions and typically enjoy pleasing their owners. However, they can be a bit sensitive and take scolding a little too close to heart. So, when you are training your English Setter puppies, use positive reinforcement as much as possible and avoid punishment.
As puppies, English Setters are very curious and may have a knack for snatching up your valuables. Always keep your belongings and anything you don’t want your puppy getting into out of reach, and train them to respect your things, so they know who is in control of the house.
English Setters tend to bark at strangers when they first enter the home or when they hear random noises outside. Usually, once they sense that this new person is not a threat to their environment, they ease up and are their friendly selves again. If you want to avoid dog barking from persisting, make sure you train your Setter as a puppy, so they know when it is appropriate to bark.
English Setter Dog Breed History
The history of the English Setter breed dates back as far as 400 years ago in England. The Setter breed was most likely a cross between several hunting dogs, including pointers and spaniels. The modern English Setter that is similar to the one we know today was developed in the 19th century by Edward Laverack and R.L. Purcell Llewellin.
In 1825, Laverack purchased two dogs that would become the foundation of the English Setter breed. Laverack wanted to focus on breeding dogs that were gentle and companionable, most likely adding the Pointer and Irish Setter to the lines for their personalities.
Llewellin, on the other hand, wanted to generate a breed that performed well in the field. He started with similar dogs such as Laverack but crossed-bred them with Gordon Setters and others to improve their scenting and agility.
Both Laverack’s and Llewellin’s English Setters came to America in the late 1800s. Laverack’s line became the root foundation for the show Setters and Llewellin’s line for the field dogs.
Today, English Setters have a unique appearance with a sculpted head, athletic frame, and long feathery tails. The show dog line tends to be larger than the field dogs in order to be more inconspicuous when out hunting.
Generally, English Setters are a rare breed, ranking 98th among other breeds registered by the American Kennel Club. So, if you ever plan on adopting one of these magnificent breeds, be prepared to spend some time on a waiting list.
Common Health Problems Found in the English Setter Dog
As with any dog, some health problems may occur that you should be aware of. Although all these health conditions are not guaranteed to happen, it is always best to stay informed about the possibility. Here are some of the most common health problems an English Setter may experience.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
Hip and elbow dysplasia is a condition that affects the skeletal structure of certain dog breeds. Dysplasia can cause mobility issues and be extremely painful. If there is an issue with the hip, the ball and socket do not fit or develop properly, which leads to grinding of the bones instead of a smooth fluid motion.
Dysplasia is a common condition found in most larger breeds, but medium-sized dogs like the English Setter can also experience these bone problems. Typically, dysplasia is a genetic condition and ranges in severity across different breeds. In the most serious cases, it may require surgery to fix the situation and provide your dog with the fluid mobility it needs to live.
Hypothyroidism is a condition that occurs when a dog’s thyroid is overactive. When the thyroid is overactive, the body’s metabolism is elevated. This can lead to weight gain despite being hungry all the time. Dogs can also shed excessively, become lethargic, and develop high blood cholesterol.
For the most part, hypothyroidism is a heritable condition and should be taken seriously if you notice any symptoms. Take your Setter to the vet for an examination so they can prescribe thyroid medication or other remedies to keep your dog’s condition at bay.
Dogs can also get allergies just like their owners. Things such as a change in the weather, the environment, and food changes can cause allergic reactions among English Setters. To determine if your dog is experiencing an allergic reaction, try to figure out the underlying cause and if there is anything that has changed from their routine lately. Changes in diet or starting a new medication can help control a dog’s allergies. It is always important to check in with your vet first before making any significant changes to your dog’s routine.
This is not entirely common for English Setters, but it is not out of the ordinary for a dog to be born deaf in one or both ears. Although this can be an inconvenience at times, deaf dogs can still live a fulfilling life. Calling out their name may be a struggle, and they might have a hard time hearing their environment, but your dog can still have a happy and healthy life.
How to Care for an English Setter
The ideal living situation for an English Setter is a house with a large fenced yard. English Setters are full of energy and enjoy spending time outdoors, so having access to a yard or a nearby park where they can run off-leash is crucial. Generally, a fenced-in yard is preferred, so your Setter doesn’t run off while trying to chase a bird. However, English Setters do not mind being lazy and hanging out on the couch with you at the end of the day.
Although English Setters need plenty of exercise, it is recommended to ease into any extensive physical activity until they are about two years old once their bones have fully developed. Before this age, you should not let your puppy run or jump on hard surfaces, jump off of furniture, and don’t run on the hard floor where they can slide into a wall.
Before the age of two, you can keep your Setter in shape by playing with them with different toys or going on moderate walks. As they begin to get older, you can up the pace and length of your walks and introduce training or obedience classes into their schedule.
Once they are old enough, English Setters love spending time outdoors going on walks, hiking, running alongside you as you bike, and the occasional hunting. Although they can spend hours outside and be active, English Setters love to kick back and relax at the end of a long day.
The most important part about keeping an English Setter happy is that they can spend time with you. Over any activity, they enjoy being your companion. And when they are apart from you, your Setter may experience separation anxiety. With a bit of training and a comfortable environment, your Setter can stay in while you are away.
Nutrition and Feeding for an English Setter
For an English Setter puppy, you should feed them small amounts of food three times a day to keep up with their fast metabolism. After the dog is a year old, you can cut back to giving your dog two meals of high-quality food a day.
The amount of food you should feed your dog depends on their size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Some dogs are more active than others and burn off more food than others. Always use your best judgment when determining how to ratio your English Setter’s meals.
English Setters can be overeaters and are prone to obesity. To avoid this from happening, always monitor your English Setter’s food intake and regularly check their weight. Also, try to avoid giving your Setter any table scraps or too many treats. Dogs can get too used to human food and may neglect to eat their own food altogether.
Coat Color And Grooming
The English Setter has a rather elegant coat. The coat is flat and does not have any curls or woolliness. There is a feathering aspect to the English Setter’s hair on the ears, chest, belly, underside of the thighs, backs of legs, and tail. The fur is lightweight to allow for a swift and full range of motion.
The colors of the English Setter range from blue Belton, orange or lemon Belton, blue Belton and tan, and liver Belton. Belton refers to coats with spots of different colors. Belton was also the village where Edward Laverack went hunting with his dogs.
Grooming an English Setter’s coat is vital to keeping it sleek and healthy. Brushing at least three times a week should do the trick. Use a stiff bristle brush that can untangle any knots and remove any loose hairs.
Bathing every six weeks or so should suffice to keep your Setter smelling nice and clean. Anything more than this will potentially get rid of the natural oils on your dog’s skin to keep it from shining and staying healthy.
Since the English Setter has floppy ears, air circulation can sometimes be difficult, and your dog can suffer from ear infections. Regularly check your dog’s ears and clean them out with a cotton ball moistened with a cleaning solution. Avoid using stick cotton swabs or anything that can potentially damage the canal of the ear.
Brushing your Setter’s teeth about two or three times or week should be enough to remove any tartar buildup and prevent any dental problems. And keep your English Setter’s nails trim, so they don’t clack around on the hard floor.
Children And Other Pets
Generally, English Setter dogs love hanging out with the family and enjoy the presence of children. English Setters can be very mellow when interacting with children, as long as they have been trained well enough.
You should also train your Setter as a puppy to ensure that they know how to behave with small children; you should also teach your children how to treat your dog with respect. Sometimes children can play a little too rough with dogs, and they may not realize that they are more of a nuisance than a playmate. Teach your children to always be gentle with petting your dog, never pull their tail or any other unwanted gestures, and let them be if your Setter wants to be alone.
English Setters naturally do well with other dogs and animals. If you have a household with other pets, your Setter will get along with them and treat them like any other family member. The only animals that may need a bit more protection are birds. Setters usually consider birds prey. It is best to keep an eye on your Setter every time they come across your bird and make sure no funny business happens.
English Setter Dog Rescue Groups
If you are eager to adopt a wonderful English Setter, there are quite a few rescue groups you can turn to to help you out. The Above & Beyond English Setter Rescue is a fantastic organization based in Pine Grove, Pennsylvania. The A&B English Setter Rescue is dedicated to saving English Setter dogs from abandonment, abusive environments, and confinement to bring them to a more loving and caring home. Since 2004, the A&B English Setter Rescue has rescued over 1,500 dogs from all over the country.
The Magnolia Setter Rescue is a non-profit organization whose mission is to protect and promote the well-being of the English Setter breed. The Magnolia Setter Rescue was established in 1995 with the mission to provide “forever homes” to dogs who have been abandoned and neglected. Magnolia Setter Rescue primarily finds dogs located in the Southeast.
English Setter Dog Breed Organizations
The main English Setter breed organization to be recognized is the English Setter Association of America. Over 70 years old, the ESAA is dedicated to the responsible breeding and ownership of the English Setter breed in the United States. The organization understands the English Setter as a gentle, affectionate, and devoted dog that can bring light into any home.
The ESAA has plenty of resources for anyone interested in learning more about the English Setter on their website. They have a helpful breed FAQ to help answer any desired questions about the English Setter, health and genetic information regarding this breed, and resources on breeding. Memberships to the English Setter Association of America offer many perks such as a monthly newsletter, access to many events, and tons of merchandise.
More About the English Setter Dog Breed
If you need any other reason to love the English Setter, they also make great therapy dogs. With their gentle and affectionate personality, they bring a sense of peace and relaxation to anyone dealing with anxiety or other conditions.
Aside from being a perfect therapy pup, the English Setter also had some ties to the Hollywood lifestyle. American film actor, Clark Gable who starred in Gone With the Wind and many other notable titles, had an English Setter. Gable famously loved dogs and would always take photos and play with them whenever they were on set.