It is believed that setters evolved from various crosses of spaniels and for several centuries they were known as “setting spaniels”. The English setter as we know it today was largely developed during the 19th century by a Mr Laverack and Mr Llewellin. Over the last 100 years the strains that these 2 gentlemen favoured have diverged, generally speaking the “Laverack setters” are the type we see in the show ring today and the “Llewelyn setters ” are of a lighter build and have been selected not for their looks but for their working ability.
English setters are “bird dogs” – their instinct is, by using scent, to hunt and find game birds. When the dog scents a bird he will point or “sett” it - a well trained dog will only flush out the birds on his handlers command. Setters are not expected to retrieve.
The English Setter is a medium sized dog who is immensely friendly and good natured because of this the breed makes a good family dog – this is certainly true but it must be remembered that as youngsters, setters can be very boisterous, full of mischief and can easily knock over smaller children or elderly relatives.
They are a very attractive breed with their elegant outline and long silky coat. They come in a variety of colours - mainly a white background with flecking. Grey (called blue belton) or tan (called orange belton) or tricolour – an animal with blue flecks over most of his body but tan flecks on his lower legs & feet, eyebrows and muzzle. However it must be appreciated that this type of coat necessitates regular grooming and to look his best, a certain amount of trimming to keep him neat and tidy.
English setters have a reputation of being beautiful but brainless! This is certainly not the case – they are an intelligent breed but have their own agenda and can be difficult to train. This is particularly relevant to off lead activities. They are a galloping breed of dog and need plenty of exercise. Even the show bred strain retain their instinct to hunt and range ahead and once on a scent can be difficult to recall. Consequently prospective owners must be sure that they have access to suitable areas for walks – woods and fields well away from the dangers of roads and livestock. English Setters are not really a breed suitable to be exercised in city parks. However comprehensive early training pays dividends with this breed and although your setter may not come back immediately when you blow your recall whistle an adequate level of obedience can usually be achieved.
Overall English Setters are a healthy breed. There can be some problems with Hip Dysplasia but all breeding stock are now screened before mating to help reduce the incidence of this. To date this is the only health issue in English Setters that requires routine testing.
The main health issue with this breed is it’s predisposition to atopic (allergic) skin conditions. This can range from just a mild seasonal itchiness to year round irritation. Just as the incidence of eczema and hay fever has increased in the humans, skin conditions have increased in much of the canine population.
Hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels in the bloodstream) is also becoming more prevalent in dogs and many English Setters are affected. Luckily this is an easy, and relatively cheap, condition to control.
White coated dogs are more prone to deafness and there are some cases of this in English Setters. Some dogs are only deaf in one ear and generally this is only discovered if the animal is having a routine hearing test – often done by the breeder before the puppy is sold. Some pups are deaf in both ears – always check a puppy can hear before purchase.