English Setter

English Setter Dog Breed
John Walton
Written by John Walton

The English Setter makes a fantastic addition to an active family. The Setters were bred for bird hunting and are named after the crouching position they maintain once they locate the prey. Today, they are still avid hunters, loyal family members and sometimes serve as guide dogs due to their sweet and kind nature.

Breed characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsHigh

Dog breed group:Sporting dogs
Height:23-27 inches tall at the shoulders
Weight:45-80 lb
Life span:11-15 years

They are moderately easy to train for the right person, as they can be wilful and stubborn and refuse to obey if they perceive the human as meek. They are independent thinkers and need a vent for their physical energy as well as mental stimulation and do great in rally obedience, conformation shows, agility events, and make great partners for the avid hunters. Some of their favourite things are hikes, light jogs, running, playing, and digging. As active as they are outdoors, they are couch potatoes indoors, especially after their 3rd birthday. Therefore, they are prone to obesity and need to be encouraged to remain active and provided with a proper and balanced diet.

The English Setters get along with everything and everyone they meet, people, children, dogs, cats and other animals, with the exception of birds which they were bred to hunt. Even so, they will do OK in a home with a bird as long as they have been raised together.

Main Highlights
  • The breed is a fairly good choice for the novice owner as long as they familiarize themselves with the breed as the English Setters can be stubborn, but they are also patient, kind and sweet.
  • There are a few differences between the show dogs and field dogs. Show dogs are larger and have a fabulous coat, whereas the field dogs are more agile and have a more practical coat for hunting.
  • Harsh treatment or training should be avoided at all costs, other breeds tend to withdraw within themselves and become fearful. English Setters on the other hand become even more stubborn, wilful and refuse to obey commands.
  • The breed makes a good watchdog and usually don’t bark without a good reason unless they are bored or unhappy, in which case they might become nuisance barkers.
  • Can prove a bit harder to house train than most breeds. Crate training is a highly efficient tool with house training and is recommended with the English Setters.
  • The breed is prone to obesity due to their low activity levels indoors.
  • Due to the floppy ear shape, their ears need weekly attention as they are prone to ear infections.
  • They have been loved for centuries and are still celebrated among hunters for their excellent work ethic, quiet demeanour and great sense of smell.
  • Sometimes they are referred to as Laverack and Llewllin Setters after the two most famous breeders that have developed the breed to the modern English Setters we know today.
Breed History

The Setters were known in England for at least 400 years and were used extensively for hunting due to their unique ability of picking scent off the air, unlike other hunting breeds who usually pick scent off the ground. Another ability that made them famous among hunters and got them their name is their crouching position or pointing to where the prey is.

It is believed that the first Setter dog originated in France in the 1500’s, where they were developed from the French Pointer and the Spanish Pointer.

Edward Laverack first brought them to the United Kingdom in the 1800’s, which is why some English Setters are also sometimes called Laverack Setters — he developed the Setter we are familiar with today. Even more, many of the modern show dogs today are from the Laverack bloodlines.

In 1874 the breed was first introduced in the United States and today they rank 98th most popular breed according to the AKC, and are considered more rare than most breeds. It isn’t unusual to be put on a waiting list when looking for a pure breed English Setter.


The males measure at 25-27 inches tall at the shoulder, weighing at 65-80 lb. The females are slightly smaller measuring at 23-25 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh in at 45-55 lb.

The field English Setters tend to be slightly smaller and more agile than their show dogs cousins.

Personality and Character

The English Setter is a wonderful family companion, they are very friendly, sweet and kind and make a great addition to the active family. They love their people and love to be involved in the family’s daily activities. The breed becomes very frustrated if left alone for long periods of time and seem to like every single person they meet and are equally friendly to other dogs and cats.

That is the main reason they make a poor choice for a guard dog: they love everyone. They make a great watchdog as they don’t tend to bark for no reason unless they feel bored and unhappy, and then they can develop destructive behaviours such as excessive barking, digging and chewing.

The breed has a long memory, for better or for worse they remember it, making it hard to break bad habits. They have a strong independent streak and a mind of their own. They can be wilful and stubborn especially if they believe they are more assertive than the handler.

They need plenty of physical and mental stimulation and enjoy digging, hiking, playing, fetching and light jogs. Although Setters have great stamina outdoors, they tend to be couch potato indoors. However, despite their low indoor activity levels, they are not recommended for apartment dwellers. They need and deserve a fenced yard to run around and play.

The English Setters are a very intelligent breed and rank 37th out of 132 different breeds in Dr. Stanley Coren’s dog intelligence trials.

Health and Potential Problems

The breed is generally healthy and sturdy. However, irresponsible breeding has left them vulnerable to numerous health and temperament issues. Reputable breeders and shelters generally make sure the puppy or dog has received a clean bill of health from the vet prior to the purchase or adoption. So you should never purchase a dog or a puppy from a puppy mill, as these operations value financial gain over the dog or puppy’s physical and mental well-being.

Now, here are some of the main diseases that affect the breed:

  • Hip Dysplasia: A condition in which the thigh bone doesn’t fit properly into the hip joint and causes lameness and pain. It is usually treated with pain medication or surgery in severe cases.
  • Elbow Dysplasia: A common condition among dogs, caused by different growth rates of the bones making up the elbow. The condition may cause lameness and discomfort and is usually treated by medication and surgery in severe cases.
  • Hypothyroidism: A condition that is caused by the body’s inability to regulate and maintain proper levels of thyroid hormones. Symptoms may include obesity, skin conditions, hair loss and lethargy. The condition is usually treated with medication and dietary adjustments.
  • Deafness: In most cases there is no known cure but there are many tools and aids on the market to assist both the owner and the dog in adjusting to life with deafness or limited hearing, usually the dog requires plenty of time and patience. However, some forms of deafness can be treated with surgery or medication.
  • Allergies: A common condition among dogs and is usually managed with environmental adjustments, diet, as well as medication.
  • Cancer: a condition found in humans and dogs where the treatment depends on the kind of cancer. Some types are treated with surgery, some with chemotherapy and some call for a combination of both.

With proper diet, sufficient exercise and regular vet visit, your four legged friend will remain with you for many years.

Care Features

The breed requires plenty of physical exercise to be happy and fulfilled. Setters also need lots of mental stimulation to keep them on their toes. It is recommended to enrol them in agility, obedience and various different hunting events to provide them with the proper physical activity and mental stimulation, as well as deepen the bond between you.

As with every other breed they require early socialization. The process of introducing the puppy or dog to different people, children, various scenarios and environments should start as soon as possible. Puppy kindergarten is highly recommended for the proper mental development of your canine friend. It assists with a proper introduction to the world under professional guidance.

The English Setters are very intelligent and they can be taught to do anything. However, they do not respond to a handler they consider meek and tend to ignore their commands. They also don’t respond well to harsh training or treatment and can become even more stubborn, digging their heels in, as they say. They are not very eager to please despite their deep affection for humans, and instead need to understand the logic behind the command.

A calm and consistent handler with a natural air of authority can bring the best out of them during training using positive reinforcement in the form of treats and plenty of praise. The breed requires a handler than can set boundaries from early on and reinforce them consistently as well as provide them with plenty of structure. Training should be kept fresh and interesting as they bore easily and don’t like repeating the same thing over and over again. It is highly recommended to keep the training sessions short to not lose their attention mid-session.

Their stubborn streak also translates to some difficulty in house training. Crate training proves very efficient in that regard, as the dog considers the crate to be their den, they are less likely to soil it. As long as they are allowed consistent bathroom breaks in the same spot and time, followed by praise and treats, it tend to speed up the process of house training.

The crate also provides them with a special spot they can retire to when tired or needing space. The crate is considered as their safe haven away from everything when they need it. It will also prove efficient against the English Setter wrath when they are feeling bored and want to teach their owners a lesson for leaving them alone.

Another issue crate training is helpful with is separation anxiety, which the English Setter are prone to. It shows them in a loving and consistent manner that even though their human is gone, they will always come back, alleviating the dog’s stress and anxiety levels when left alone.

Feeding Schedule

The recommended amount for the English Setter is 2-3 cups of high-quality dog food a day, divided into 2 meals. However, keep in mind that each dog’s nutritional requirements are different and depend on their size, age and activity levels.

High-quality dog food without additives such as grain and other fillers goes a long way in providing your loyal companion with a healthy and shiny coat, healthy body and mind.

It is important to note that the English Setters are prone to obesity due to their low activity levels when they are inside. It’s important to encourage them to exercise and provide them with a well-balanced diet, fit for their needs.

Coat, Color and Grooming

The English Setters have a weather resistant coat that keeps them comfortable in both hot and cold climates. The coat is silky and flat with beautiful feathering on their stomach, thighs, chest, ears and tail. The common colours are orange belton, blue belton and tan, blue belton, lemon belton, and liver belton.

The term “belton” was first used by the English Setter’s first breeder, Edward Laverack, to describe his idea of the perfect flecking for the breed.

The breed is a medium shedder and needs to be brushed at least 3 times a week. The coat of the show dogs is slightly more luxurious then the coat of the field dogs.

Their ears also require weekly attention as most breeds with floppy ears. Due to the shape, it makes it easier for moisture and other debris to be trapped in the ear canal and cause ear infections.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The English Setters are very patient and gentle with children. They will put up with a lot but they shouldn’t need to. Children need to be taught respect and space. A large number of dogs and puppies are surrendered to shelters, put down or end up as strays yearly simply due to the fact that adults have not taught or reinforced proper handling etiquette between children and dogs. Play time between dogs and children should be supervised at all times, any ear or tail pulling should be discouraged immediately.

The breed enjoys the company of other dogs and generally gets along with cats and other animals. They are not quite as trustworthy when it comes to birds. Due to their breeding, they might perceive birds as prey.

The English Setter has a very sweet and kind nature and they are usually friendly with all people and animals, their temperament strongly depends on their breeding, handler, training techniques and environment.

English Setters are a versatile breed. They are stubborn, yet loving and kind. They are energetic outdoors and cuddly lap dogs indoors. They are talented hunters yet sweet and gentle with everybody they meet. They are the perfect blend of a working dog and a loyal family companion.

They get along with people, children and other animals. The only downside to falling in love with the breed is that they are considered more rare than most breeds and you are most likely to be put on a waiting list. For most reputable breeders, the waiting time is at least a year.

Whether you are looking for a jogging, hiking or a hunting companion, the English Setter is up for anything as long as they get to do it with their owner and then curl up by the fire after a long day of playing and running. The English Setter ticks off most of the boxes on the perfect breed list and are guaranteed to be a blessing and a source of joy for their family for many years to come.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.

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