Has an English Setter made it to the top of your list as your next family dog? Let’s look at all the information you need to decide whether they are the right pet for you. From their merry, sweet nature and high exercise needs to their heightened sensitivity and intense grooming requirements, we’ll cover it all and more.
The breed is known as the gentleman (or gentle lady!) of the canine world. Why? Because they are professional and capable hunters with an air of elegance and grace rolled into one package. They are sweet, fun, and family-friendly. But they do have their quirks to know before welcoming one into your home. They aren’t suitable for every family.
You might also be surprised to know that there are two types of English Setters. One is a star in the hunting field, and the other wins top prizes for its beauty in the show ring. This is useful to know when picking a Setter puppy. So, let’s learn whether this breed is your cup of tea.
English Setters are a relatively old dog breed that comes from across the pond in England. Their history dates back almost five centuries. Evidence suggests they are a cross of the Spanish Pointer, the large water spaniel, and the Springer Spaniel. We can credit the breed we know and love today to Englishman Edward Laverack and Welshman Purcell Llewellin.
Laverack purchased two dogs, “Ponto” and “Old Moll,” from a local man. These two pups resulted from 35 years of finetuning the English Setter breed and formed the foundation for all Setters. Laverack focused on the breed’s beauty, nurturing characteristics that conform to the breed standard. Llewellin purchased two puppies from Laverack but concentrated his efforts on breeding lines for their hunting capabilities. They effectively created two lines of English Setters.
The English is one of four British Setters recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Their original hunting party trick is to lie low or “set” when they have discovered birds. This allows their master to cast a net on the area without the dog becoming too tied up. After the introduction of guns into the hunting world, Setters were taught to stand and point instead.
Both types of Setters traveled to America in the late 19th century. Blue Bar Kennels in Pennsylvania worked to establish the breed in this country. These pups are much rarer in America than they are in Britain. According to the AKC, Setters are consistently ranked between the 90th and 100th most popular dog breed in America out of 200 breeds.
Their hunting background supplies a high prey drive, particularly for feathered animals. Their working history gives them lots of energy to burn, which is excellent for families looking for an active sidekick.
They are also super sweet and affectionate and are suckers for a cuddle with their favorite humans. They are merry and happy-go-lucky dogs who are happy to go with the flow. An all-breed canine handler once said, “as a breed to share one’s life and living space with, no other breed gives me more pleasure than the English Setter.” This peaceful nature makes them calm and well-balanced in the home, too, an unusual combo for most working field dogs.
They are very sensitive dogs who don’t like to be left alone for too long. Used to working alongside their humans for most of the day and being relatively clingy, you can expect them to stick to you like glue. They also don’t like to hear arguments, accept too much change, and feel down when something is not right in the family home.
Setters make excellent watchdogs for the family home, and they alert their humans to incoming visitors. They’ll also entertain themselves spending hours chasing the neighbor’s cats and visiting birds too. They don’t have a booming bark, but it can become tiresome if not trained out of them.
Although they are initially suspicious of new people, they immediately warm up to them once introduced. Easily won over by a belly rub, they don’t make model guard dogs. But this is ideal for busy families with regular visitors and friends coming over looking for a friendly Fido.
Size and Appearance
This is a large dog breed. Like most other dog breeds, the males are usually larger than their female counterparts. Those bred for their looks, sometimes referred to as Laverack-type Setters, tend to be larger than their siblings bred for the field. These guys are known as Llewellin-type Setters and are usually shorter and more muscular.
Described as elegant, substantial, and symmetrical-looking gun dogs, Setters are the ideal blend of strength, stamina, grace, and style. Their head is long and lean, and their ears are low-hanging. Their round eyes are always dark in color. Their topline drops slightly towards the back end, giving them a streamlined appearance.
The English Setter breed standard outlines what a perfect pooch should look like. And this is particularly important if you want to present your pup in the show ring. If, however, you are looking for a family pet, these guidelines are not all that relevant because it doesn’t affect their personality in any way.
Coat and Colors
They have a double coat that helps to regulate their body temperature in the cold winters and warm summers. The Setter’s hair is long and silky to the touch and always flat and straight in the body. They have feathering on their ears, chest, abdomen, legs, and tail. Laverack-type Setters usually have a thicker coat with extra feathering.
A Setter’s coat color can be orange belton, blue belton (white with black markings), tricolor (blue belton with tan on the muzzle, over the eyes, and on the legs), lemon belton, or liver belton. The word “belton” is unique to the breed, and it takes its name after a town where Laverack supposedly liked to hunt his dogs. Essentially, it describes a white coat with darker colored hairs mingled throughout.
Many people assume that they don’t need as much exercise as Spaniels or Pointers because they are pretty dogs. But they do. Expect to exercise your Setter for a minimum of one hour every day, but they could go for more than that if you have the time and energy to offer it.
They love to run, chase, and sniff, so be sure to take them places where they can do this. Their recall is unreliable due to their high prey instinct, so we don’t recommend letting them off-leash in public areas. Keep their exercise routines varied with new places and adventures when you can. In areas where you cannot let them off-leash, use a long training leash to give them some room to run.
If you want to try your English Setter in the world of dog sports, you might consider agility training. You might also find area events that showcase your dog’s hunting abilities, and burn off lots of energy. Alternatively, this friendly pooch enjoys trips to the local doggy park to burn some steam with new four-legged friends.
Once exercised thoroughly, these dogs don’t need too much mental stimulation during the day. Just enough to keep them out of trouble. Interactive toys such as tug-of-war ropes and balls to chase in the yard provide fun, bonding time for you both. And exciting brain games such as treat-dispensing puzzle toys keep this clever gun dog challenged. Squeaky toys are sure to be a big hit with their high prey drive.
There are a few things that they specifically ask for in a home.
Firstly, they need access to a private yard. These English gentlemen are outdoorsy pups who appreciate access to fresh air and smells. But, you must secure the yard because you cannot trust them to stay at home. So, if you have a first-floor apartment or a house with an escape-proof yard, you’ve ticked the first box.
Secondly, they need a family who can spend most of their time with them. Families who work long hours away from home or constantly travel dog-free in their spare time are not suited to this sensitive soul. These guys crave constant companionship and need to feel part of the human pack to be happy.
And thirdly, they really shouldn’t be expected to live with smaller creatures who might tickle their high prey tastebuds, especially the feathered kind. Thankfully, they make up for this sometimes tricky trait by being well-balanced and calm dogs in the home. They are also respectful of other dogs and welcoming of visitors but can be tentative towards young children.
English Setters are eager-to-please intelligent dogs, making them relatively simple to train and ideal for first-time owners looking to start their love affair with the gun dog world. But they still need to be trained and socialized to transform into well-behaved dogs.
Setters respond well to positive reinforcement training, and a praise and yummy treat go a long way. Objects that they can chase, or squeaky toys, are also sure to motivate them. Shouting or harsh training causes these guys to become shy at best.
By mixing them with other dogs, people, and new experiences, you can ensure that they can deal with the big wide world. In the case of English Setters, it also builds their confidence and allows them to live a carefree life when they are older. Puppy training classes and doggy parks are fantastic for socialization.
Crate training is another recommended aspect for this breed because they are sensitive pups prone to separation anxiety. With the proper training, you can lower stress in dogs and give them their own shelter that all dogs naturally crave. Ensure that you choose the right-sized crate and begin the training when you bring them home for a smoother ride.
There are two additional training recommendations for English Setters. As they’ll spend most of their time on their leash, the first is leash training them. Invest in a harness that gives you better control for when they get overexcited by the birds. The second is to teach them the “quiet command.” Setters have a reputation for being vocal dogs, and it’ll save on countless headaches in the future if you teach them this command as a pup.
They are a relatively healthy dog breed with no major health worries. But like all purebred dogs, they are predisposed to certain diseases and conditions. And although they are not common, you need to be aware of them and their symptoms.
Hip & Elbow Dysplasia
Like many large dogs breeds, an English Setter risks developing hip and elbow dysplasia. This can be heightened by inheriting poor hips from their parents, but it can also occur due to rapid growth as a pup. Joint dysplasia in the hips and elbows can prevent normal mobility and cause painful arthritis. Symptoms include abnormal movement, stiffness, and pain.
The most common eye concern found in the Setter bloodline is ectropion, which is the drooping of the eyelids. This gives them sad-looking eyes, but it also exposes them to bacteria and contaminants. And also keratoconjunctivitis sicca, which is also commonly known as dry eye. This occurs when the duct does not produce enough tears, causing sore, itchy eyes and increased infections. As soon as you notice a change in your dog’s eyes, get them to the vet immediately to prevent further problems and vision loss.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the body does not produce nearly enough thyroid hormone for the body to function normally. Symptoms include weight gain, lethargy, hair loss, behavioral changes, and more. It can also lead to secondary health problems such as epilepsy, eye conditions, and obesity. Once diagnosed, you can easily manage it with a daily hormone supplement.
They have a higher rate of deafness in the gene pool than most other dog breeds. They can be unilaterally or bilaterally deaf (one or both ears), creating challenges for dogs and owners. Responsible breeders should submit their dogs for BAER testing, so be sure to ask for proof of these certificates. More often than not, deafness cannot be cured.
The average Setter eats approximately two to three cups of food every day. If you have a large Setter who hunts for hours on end, they need a higher amount or more. And if you have an older, more miniature Setter, they are likely to need less. Always follow the food package instructions to achieve the best amount for your dog.
As large dogs are more susceptible to hip and elbow dysplasia than most, it is essential to feed your Setter food that meets the nutritional needs of large dog breeds. They contain additional nutrients and an optimized calcium and phosphorus ratio that help to stabilize rapid growth. Because dogs complete most of their growing in the first year, this is especially important during the developmental puppy stage.
The English Setter has a deep chest, making them more susceptible to is gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). GDV is commonly known as bloat, and it occurs when the stomach twists and fills with gas. It is a life-threatening condition that needs immediate veterinary attention. To limit the risk, split the daily food allowance across two meals and do not feed them immediately before or after exercise.
English Setters have a long and silky coat that needs brushing several times a week to keep it looking its best. Especially if they are out getting dirty on their adventures most days, plus, it’ll keep your pretty pooch feeling as glam as Setters should be.
The best brush for a Setter is a soft bristle brush. A long-toothed metal comb to help prevent matting. You’ll also need to regularly trim the hair around the face, feet, and other highly feathered areas to keep them looking neat. Bathe your Setter once every four to six weeks with a doggy shampoo. A conditioning product made with natural ingredients assists with managing the matting.
The Setter is an average shedder, but you’ll notice it less if you groom them regularly. Another grooming ritual to take on is regular teeth brushing. Proper dental cleaning keeps periodontal diseases at bay. And be sure to keep your Setters nails short to avoid any pain when exercising. Getting them accustomed to their higher than average grooming requirements as a puppy makes things easier as an adult.
Breeders and Puppy Costs
It’s worth traveling the extra distance to find a responsible breeder. Otherwise, you risk working with an irresponsible one, or even worse, a puppy mill. When picking a breeder, research them before making any commitment.
A great place to start your breeder research is on the AKC’s English Setter breeders page. The average price for a well-bred puppy typically falls between $800 and $1,500. The price depends on several factors, including the pups’ pedigree, how much experience the breeder has, and the breeder’s location. If you are seeking a puppy from an award-winning bloodline, either for show or for hunts, you should expect to pay more than this.
An irresponsible breeder might try to lure you in with a lower price. But be warned, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. These breeders do not care for their pups as they should, often skipping medical screenings, care, and not socializing them. Frequently, people spend much more money in the long run on medical bills and behavioral training if they opt for a lower priced puppy.
If you are looking for a particular type of Setter (Laverack or Llywellin), mention this to the breeder. Some may advertise which type they offer, and some may not. If you are looking for a family pet rather than a hunter, you are better suited to the calmer temperament of the Laverack-type Setter.
You also need to consider the additional costs of buying a pup on top of the initial puppy price. You’ll need to escape-proof your yard, invest in everything they need, and ensure that they have all their puppy treatments and screenings. Plus, they have ongoing costs such as food, insurance, and lots of squeaky toys.
Rescues and Shelters
Why not consider adopting a Setter instead? It is usually cheaper to adopt than buying a puppy from a breeder, too, costing, on average, several hundred dollars. Although the English Setter is a rare breed, many people take this dog on, not realizing just how intense they can be. Meaning there are always Setters needing a new home.
Visiting your local rescue shelters is a great way to start your adoption journey. Speak to the staff and ask if there are any Setters available for adoption. If you cannot see one, they might be able to direct you to one in a nearby shelter. Alternatively, the English Setter Association of America lists breed-specific shelters throughout the country. So be sure to get in contact with your nearest center.
As Family Pets
In general, this breed is:
- A large dog that needs to live with a family who can spend most of their time together since they hate to be left alone for long.
- Known as gun dogs who have lots of energy, requiring at least one hour of intense exercise every day.
- Plenty of fun too, and always at hand to play with the family.
- Well-balanced dogs in the home who aren’t too in your face or boisterous.
- Prone to a high prey drive. So you should never trust them off-leash in open spaces.
- Super sweet and very affectionate with their favorite humans. They love cuddle time on the sofa.
- Friendly and gets along well with children of all ages and other dogs too when well socialized.
- Eager to please and relatively easy to train, making them ideal for first-time dog owners.
- In need of a home with a secure private yard.
- Communicative and tends to bark a lot, making them brilliant watchdogs. But it’s advised to work on your quiet command.
The English Setter is an adorably sweet pup who can make anyone smile, even those that aren’t too keen on dogs. They are a brilliant mixture of energy and fun outside and calmness and affection inside your home. They are friendly with everyone they meet, alert you to visitors, and are generally polite with other doggos.
These dogs have a few specific requirements, though. So it’s crucial to learn more before you welcome them into your home. The most important considerations are not leaving them at home alone for too long, meeting their exercise needs, and being gentle with them. If so, you’ll receive the best companion around in return.