Most of us are familiar with the highly distinctive auburn coated Red Setter, but did you know that there are a total of four different Setter breeds recognised within the UK? Setters were traditionally used as gundogs, mainly for hunting prey on the wing such as grouse, pheasants and quail, and while all four of the Setter dog breeds are similar in historical usage and at first glance, appearance, the conformation and colouring of the dogs varies between breeds.
The English Setter is an elegant medium-sized dog with a flowing coat and tail, with the colouration of the coat appearing to have a ”ticked” pattern with a base of white and flecks of a contrasting colour. They can range from 24-27” tall at the withers, and should be lean and fit with fine but strong legs. The English Setter breed is particularly prone to congenital deafness, with up to 12% of English Setters suffering to some extent from impaired hearing.
The Gordon Setter is one of the larger Setters, and has a distinctive black and tan coat that is long and slightly wavy. They can reach up to 27” in height, and are the most heavyset and stocky dog of the Setter breeds, reaching up to around 80lb in weight. Many Gordon Setter dogs are considered to be carriers for the recessive gene that causes progressive retinal atrophy or PRA, with as many as 50% of Gordon Setters thought to be either affected by the condition or carrying the gene for the condition.
The highly distinctive auburn coated Red Setter or Irish Setter is the most readily recognisable Setter breed. They have medium length silky coats with feathered legs and tails, and are arguably one of the most striking and handsome breeds of dog! They are medium sized and lean, with an adult height of 25-27” tall and weight of between 50 and 70lb. The Red Setter is generally regarded to be a very robust and healthy dog breed, with no significantly frequently occurring breed-specific health problems.
The Irish Red and White Setter is very similar in appearance to the Red Setter, although the Irish Red and White Setter should be rather more stocky and less lean. The Red and White Setter has a two-tone coat, as the name implies, which should be short with longer fringes on the legs, tail and other points. The Irish Red and White Setter is classed as one of the UK’s vulnerable native dog breeds, with less than 300 puppies of the breed being born and registered with the UK Kennel Club each year.
All of the four Setter breeds were bred for use as gundogs and hunting dogs, assisting with gun sport in the field and working in the pursuit of various different types of game birds. They move quickly and almost silently, making them competent stealth hunters, and are committed and enthusiastic about their searches. Setters search for their prey by means of air scenting, and the Setter should perform their searches with their heads up, scenting the air, rather than with their heads down sniffing the ground as is the style of ground-scenting dogs.
Once a Setter finds a prey bird, they freeze in place, allowing their handlers to spot the location of their quarry without further disturbing it. This process is in fact how the Setter got its name; from the way it appears to “set” itself into a distinctive crouch or stance upon spotting its prey. When the handler approaches, they will then signal to the dog, which will move to flush the bird out in front of the guns.
The vast majority of Setters are born with a natural inclination and enthusiasm for hunting, and Setters are still widely used today for hunting and gun sport, as well as for other sports and activities that involve air scenting, pursuit and the thrill of the chase.
The Setter is generally considered to be a happy, playful and cheerful dog with a kind temperament and philosophical view on life! They are active and energetic, but not considered to be highly strung, and are patient with children and nervous people. They are also intelligent, and require some time and consideration to be spent on keeping their active minds engaged and entertained. Due to their long and distinguished history as very active working dogs, they do require a significant amount of exercise as well, and should be allowed plenty of opportunity to stretch their legs and run around.
Setters of all types can make for excellent pets for people of all ages, including families with children. They live happily within domestic environments and are generally eminently trainable, compliant and eager to please. However, in order to consider owing a Setter, you must be prepared to be able to dedicate a significant amount of time each day to their exercise and entertainment, and make provision for plenty of long walks and bouts of energetic play. The Setter that is not walked or stimulated enough will soon become bored and unhappy, and may become destructive or begin acting out in order to garner attention and to get their needs met.
Setters are relatively long lived dogs, commonly reaching 12 years of age and often over 15. It is important to make sure that you have the means and commitment to take care of any dog you might be considering buying for the entire duration of their lives before making a purchase.