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Attitude and Aptitude

How much attitude should an English Setter have?

In a show dog, attitude is that special sparkle, the “look at me!” look. In performance dogs, it’s the fearless, want-to-try harder, let’s do it spirit.

English Setters are known as a mellow, laid back breed, patient with kids, and not too nervous. When people are looking for a calm companion, they often think of English Setters. May it ever be so. But within the range of dispositions appropriate to English Setters, there can be subsets of very lively or very quiet and many degrees in between. No self-respecting English Setter would be caught dead bouncing off walls constantly or being super-active nonstop. If that’s what you’re looking for, look at the breeds that have those traits naturally but not at English Setters.

If you’re interested in conformation or any form of performance activity, a dog with a dynamic, energetic, confident attitude is a huge asset, and every aspect of training is easier if you have such a dog. Indeed, a two-time ES National Specialty winner had Attah-Tud as her middle name. If you’re interested in a companion to share your private activities and your quiet moods, then maybe an easy going nature is more to your liking.

The breeder is the best guide to the essential nature of each puppy in a litter. A good breeder knows which puppy wants to be dominant, which adapts best to new places and new people, which is the first to wake up and the last to go to sleep, which always wants to cuddle, which likes to be off on its own. These personality traits are present at birth and remain as part of the puppy’s character throughout its life. If your breeder cannot give you detailed descriptions of the essential nature of each puppy in a litter with multiple examples of that puppy’s typical behavior, you might consider looking for a breeder who can do that.

Modifying a puppy’s essential nature through environment and training can only go so far. It’s much better to start with a puppy that has the disposition you want and work with that.

A Puppy Aptitude Test can provide a more formal insight into each puppy’s nature. Wendy and Jack Volhard, who have solid credentials and experience in understanding dogs, have designed one that is widely used. You can find more information about the Volhard test at .Some breeders routinely give this test; those who don’t might be willing to test a litter if you request it. Or, you can informally apply the test for your own reference when you visit the puppies.

If you are negotiating with a breeder long distance and don’t plan to visit the litter before having a puppy shipped to you sight unseen, you would be wise to check the US Department of Agriculture regulations for internet sales of pets to ensure you and the breeder are in compliance. If this is your situation, it is even more important to work with a breeder who has an in-depth relationship with the puppies he or she raises and can report crucial information about attitude in the parents, the entire pedigree, and each puppy to potential buyers.

Understanding and selecting the right attitude for your home can help you find a puppy that will be the best fit for your lifestyle and goals.

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