Perhaps overshadowed by the more ebullient Irish Red Setter, and less physically imposing than the Gordon Setter from Scotland, the English Setter tends to give the impression of being a little reserved and aloof – although rather like the nation for which they are named, they can be extremely friendly once they get to know you!
It is said that the English Setter was produced by crossing the now extinct English Water Spaniel, the Springer Spaniel and the Spanish Pointer, with the breed itself being more than 400 years old. The English Setter started out as an all-round hunting dog, with the ability to point and flush game, as well as retrieve downed quarry. They are intelligent, and enjoy their work, so if you keep a setter as a pet, expect a lot of daily exercise, and don’t let them become bored. They can accept a role as a family pet, and are exceptionally loyal. The English Setter is classified in the ‘Sporting’ group by the American Kennel Club, and in the ‘Gundog’ group by the Kennel Club (UK).
Modern English Setters are becoming divided into two distinct ‘strains’, (the Laverack and the Llewellyn Setter) those used in the field, and those intended for the show ring. There are certain physical characteristics (longer, silkier coat, longer ears) which can mitigate an animal’s performance as a gundog. It may be that, just as there are distinct, recognised bloodlines amongst English Setters bred in the United States and the U.K., eventually, two distinct breed standards (and breed names) will be recognised.
English Setters shed their coat, but not excessively so. A daily brushing of their wavy, silky coat will ease this problem. They do suffer some health problems, amongst which are hip dysplasia, deafness, and thyroid problems, including hypothyroidism. As with all dogs that have pendulous ears, English Setters are subject to attacks of ear canker, and a close watch should be kept for dogs which persistently shake their heads.
Here we can see a splendid example of an English Setter, who I met at an air show. His coat is especially noteworthy, as it is of the type known as a ‘tricolour belton’. Setters with white coats and spots of colour are known as ‘beltons’, and the following combinations are known – white with orange, ‘orange belton’; white with liver, ‘liver belton’; white with black, ‘blue belton’; white with orange plus a lighter ‘lemon’ nose, ‘lemon belton’; and white with either liver or black plus tan flecks on nose, chest and legs is a ‘tricolour’. Confusing but colourful!