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Bred for a combination of athleticism and endurance, the English Setter is a gundog of the Setter family which also includes the Red Setter, the Irish Setter and the distinctive black and tan Gordon Setter.
Evidence suggests that the first setters were developed in England as bird dog some 400 years ago. It is thought that the breed is a result of combining the Spanish Pointer, the English Springer Spaniel and the Large Water Spaniel. The resulting animal was one that was highly proficient as a pointer that excelled at hunting game in open country.
The modern English Setter owes its distinctive appearance to breeder Edward Laverack, who bred the dogs very carefully throughout the 19th Century. R. Purcell Llewellin also helped to develop the breed by using Laverack’s best examples and crossing them with other outstanding dogs of the Duke, Kate and Rhoebe lines. Llewellin’s dogs were thought to be of such high quality that they were even given their own strain status in 1902 in order to protect the Llewellin name. Today, Llewellin Setters can only be named as such if they can prove they have Duke-Rhoebe-Laverack and Kate bloodlines.
Following the first setter show in Newcastle in 1859, the popularity of the breed increased as more shows took place and the breed found its way across the Atlantic and quickly established itself as a favourite. Indeed, this first group of animals gave rise to the field-trial setter in the US. The breed has been one of the most successful according to the US Kennel Club, and was among the first pure-bred dogs to be accepted by the club in 1878.
Unfortunately in 2012 the English Setter was listed as a vulnerable native breed by the Kennel Club in the UK as only 234 puppies were registered. This may be because of a number of health problems that have contributed to the breed’s decline. In Italy however, the breed is well represented although numbers have been in decline over the past 10 years.
Average height to withers: 24”-27” (dogs) 23” – 26” (bitches)
Average weight: 25-36kg (dogs) 20-32kg (bitches)
A lean working gundog, the English Setter boasts a beautiful silky coat which feathers around the back of the legs, abdomen, underside, ears and chest. The skull is oval and the muzzle is long and square, with a well-defined stop.
The nose is usually black or brown in colour and has flared nostrils and the ears are set back and pendulous. The eyes are hazel and the chest is deep, while the tail begins on the topline and tapers to a point.
English Setters are accepted in a number of colourways including white with blue, brown, orange or lemon markings. Some examples, including the Llewellin Setter, can boast a tri-colour coat with white, blue and brown markings.
The English Setter is a fast yet quiet working dog with a very good nose and a coat that keeps him warm in cold weather and cooler when the temperature rises. The English Setter is known for being gentle, calm and excellent with children.
The English Setter is docile and relatively inactive in the house, however once outside they come alive and show their exuberant side. Owners that lack confidence with the English Setter may find themselves with a wilful animal. They can prove difficult to housetrain and require an early introduction to training and obedience or they may develop bad habits. The English Setter thrives with routine and discipline, although that discipline should be firm but never harsh as these dogs can be sensitive.
The English Setter needs lots of activity and enjoys playing with other dogs.
They love to roam and dig, so may not be the best choice for avid gardeners! They are energetic animals but the field variety of the English Setter has higher energy levels than the show dogs. They are prone to bouts of barking if they aren’t given enough mental or physical stimulation and do not take well to being left along for long periods. They also need a calm, confident and authoritative handler who will make sure they are kept in check.
There are a number of health issues that present in the English Setter. Most prevalent of these is hip and elbow dysplasia, where malformation of the joints means that the joints can dislocate easily causing pain and lameness. Sometimes this condition is so severe surgery is the only option. Twelve per cent of English Setters present with congenital deafness and they are also prone to thyroid problems, which mean that they can put on weight very easily, so care should be taken when planning your pet’s diet. Any dog that shows symptoms of a thyroid issue that is serious will probably need to be medicated.
There are certain cancers, particularly mast cell tumours, that are known to affect the breed, and food allergies are not uncommon. Female examples have also been known to suffer with phantom pregnancies.
This is not a breed that’s suited to apartment living and should be given the space to roam and play so a garden of some kind is essential. They need a long, brisk daily walk or jog and should always be made to walk or run to heel. If enough exercise is not forthcoming they will become restless and possibly destructive. They will also enjoy from some off-lead time in a secure area.
The coat will benefit from regular brushing and the occasional shampoo, although it’s important to check for tangles and burrs on a regular basis. Care should be taken to trim the nails and hair around the feet to keep them clean and free from foreign bodies.