Frequently Asked Questions
These FAQs have been approved by the Officers and Board of Directors of the English Setter Association of America and are the property of the ESAA.
What is an English Setter?
The English Setter is an intensely friendly and good-natured breed of dog whose mellow temperament makes it an excellent family pet.
The English Setter is one of the oldest breeds of gun dog, with a history that traces back to the 14th century. It was developed over hundreds of years from spaniel stock. It was originally called a Setting Spaniel, used for finding and “setting” birds. Before the use of firearms became widespread (19th century), hunters used nets to ensnare game birds. They would spread a large net over a wide area, including the dog. When the hunter made a loud noise to cause the birds to fly, they would be caught in the net and easily harvested. The Setting Spaniel, and later the Setter, crouched down on its front legs as though bowing to indicate the presence and location of birds. This unique stance, which facilitated the use of the net, is where the Setter got its name. Later, when guns began to be used in hunting, a more upright, pointing stance was bred into the Setter so he could be more easily seen (and not accidentally shot!).
Today, Setters use a variety of stances to indicate the presence and location of birds, including standing still and leaning forward intensely, setting, or pointing.
The modern English Setter owes its appearance to Mr. Edward Laverack (1800-1877), who developed his own strain of the breed by careful inbreeding during the 19th century in England and to another Brit, Mr. R. Purcell Llewellin (1840-1925), who based his strain upon Laverack’s and developed the working Setter. Today, you still hear the term Llewellin Setter, but this is not a separate breed. Instead, it is often used as an alternate name for a field-bred English Setter.
The English Setter is a medium-sized dog with long, silky white coat flecked either with tan (called orange belton) or black (blue belton) or white with black flecks and tan points on the muzzle, forelegs and hind legs (tri color). Liver and lemon flecking are also possible, but rare.
What’s the difference between English Setters and the other Setters?
The other two breeds of Setters–Irish (the red ones that originated in Ireland) and Gordon (the black and tan ones that originated in Scotland)–are similar to English Setters in many ways, yet there are subtle differences among them. Irish Setters are described in their breed standard as “rollicking,” Gordon Setters (in their standard) as “alert,” and English Setters (in their standard) as “gentle.”
In general, Irish Setters are tall and usually refined in build, Gordons are the heaviest of the three Setters, and English Setters are the smallest of the three. The English Setter is known as the moderate Setter. This applies to physical build as well as temperament.
How big will an English Setter grow?
As in most breeds, males (known as dogs) are bigger than females (known as bitches). Typically, bitches stand 23-25 inches at the withers (shoulders) and weigh between 45 and 55 pounds fully grown. Fully grown dogs stand 25 to 27 inches at the withers and weigh 65 to 80 pounds. Field-bred Setters are a little smaller and carry less coat than Setters from show stock.
Does an English Setter need much exercise?
For health and happiness, an English Setter does need regular exercise. The ideal situation would be daily vigorous half-hour runs in large, safe, empty fields; the fields would need to be fenced, or the dog would need to be very reliable in coming when called (this usually takes many years of training). Because most people do not have access to acres of fenced field, they have to adapt their dog’s exercise to their situation, especially in urban or suburban settings. Some people drive their Setters to wilderness areas for runs, ride bicycles with their dogs next to them on leash, jog with their dogs on leash, or use a long, retractable leash (flexi-leash) to walk their dog in a park or neighborhood area. If you enjoy hiking in the outdoors, an English Setter will fit right into your lifestyle. Many people find that having an active English Setter inspires them to get more exercise than they normally would, thus benefiting human as well as canine health.
Because the skeletons of puppies are not completely calcified until they are 2 years old, puppies and young dogs should be exercised with care. A good breeder can provide guidance about the proper way to safely exercise an English Setter puppy.
Even though they are energetic dogs when outdoors, English Setters adapt very well to being in the house and usually settle right down for a nice snooze after their run or walk.
Are my living quarters suitable for an English Setter?
English Setters do not make good kennel dogs. As a breed, they love being with people and are happiest if kept in the house in the company of their family. Most breeders look for a situation where their puppy will be a house dog with a fenced yard. Like many bird dogs, English Setters range away from home looking for game and other kinds of fun unless confined. Tying a dog with a chain or rope is never a good idea because the dog cannot escape if threatened by predators, fire, or the like, and tying a dog can make it aggressive. A fence is the best kind of confinement. However, people living in apartments with no yard or people with unfenced yards can have English Setters very successfully if they take precautions. When there is no fenced yard, the dog should always be taken outside on a leash to prevent tragic accidents with cars and to keep the dogs from being lost or annoying the neighbors.
How do English Setters mix with children?
English Setters are one of the most suitable breeds to have around children. The mellow temperament and loving nature of English Setters mean they do very well with children. If the temperament is anything other than outgoing, sweet, and mellow, it is not correct for the breed. One would not hesitate to leave an English Setter alone with a baby. Toddlers, with their sudden movements and propensity to pull ears and tails and poke eyes, need some instruction and supervision from parents if they are to mix successfully with any dog. In fact, parents need to be concerned for the dog’s welfare rather than the child’s when putting toddlers and English Setters together, because many English Setters are so tolerant, they will allow children to inflict pain on them. Because both are still learning the rules of civilization, toddlers and puppies do not mix well unless there is a great deal of adult supervision. If you have toddlers, you should probably get an adult dog rather than a puppy. Many ES breeders prefer to place puppies in homes where the children are older and more responsible-age 6 or more.
What is it like to live with a dog with a long coat?
Most English Setter fanciers love the look of the breed’s beautiful coat so much that they don’t mind caring for it. Adult English Setters grow long feathering on tail, forelegs, chest, hindlegs , and stomach. If groomed regularly, the coat is stunning; if neglected, it forms mats and knots and can cause the dog problems. Regular bathing (at least weekly for show dogs, about every six weeks for others) and brushing (daily is ideal but weekly will do) are musts.
The dog will also have to be trimmed regularly. Will you learn to do this yourself, or will you choose to take the dog to a professional groomer about every six weeks?
Do English Setters have genetic problems?
All breeds have some genetic problems. Fortunately, English Setters have relatively few, but you should be aware of the following:
Canine Hip Dysplasia. This is an inherited abnormality of the hip joint that can lead to arthritic problems later in life. Responsible breeders x-ray the hips of their breeding stock and evaluate their suitability for breeding. The current average for hip dysplasia in English Setters is about 24% affected, and the percentage is decreasing, due to responsible breeding practices. This disease is very complex and not well understood. There is no way to guarantee that you will not get a puppy with hip dysplasia, but you can maximize your chances for good hips by looking for lots of good hips in the pedigree. Ask the breeder to explain the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHip registries to you and to tell you which dogs in the pedigree have had their hips certified as showing no evidence of dysplasia by one or both of these organizations or by a reliable and experienced local veterinarian. Nutrition and exercise also play a role in the expression of the trait. Affected dogs that are allowed to get too heavy or that do not get enough exercise may stand an increased chance of developing a disabling case of hip dysplasia.
Elbow Dysplasia. English Setters also can develop elbow dysplasia. This is an inherited abnormality of the elbow joint that can cause lameness of the forelimbs. X-rays are the way to confirm a diagnosis.
Other. English Setters have been susceptible to other health problems that the buyer need be aware. These problems, while not affecting a large percentage of the breed, are nonetheless present. These include canine hypothyroidism, a thyroid deficiency that is easily controlled through medication and diet. Allergies to pollen, flea bites, and molds are also known to affect English Setters. As in any allergic patient, medication and proper environmental control can keep the dog healthy and normal in all respects. Recently, the research of Canine congenital deafness has been joined by English Setter Breeders. Preliminary data suggests that approximately 10% of the breed may be deaf in both ears (bilateral deafness) or deaf in one ear (unilateral deafness). The positive diagnosis is confirmed by the Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response (BAER) test, which can be easily performed after the puppies are 5 weeks of age. While unilateral deafness is not preferred by breeders of show and field trial Setters, a unilateral dog will be normal in all other respects. However, unilaterally deaf dogs should not be bred, as they will pass on the defect.
Other than the previously mentioned issues, English Setters are a strong and sturdy animal.
What activities can I do with an English Setter?
Anything you want.
Obedience. Though English Setters are not known as an “obedience breed,” some have racked up impressive scores in the upper 190s (out of a perfect 200) at obedience trials. So far, there has been one English Setter Obedience Trial Champion (OTCh) in the history of the breed and several others have achieved the highest obedience title-the Utility Dog (UD). Just keep in mind that the hunting style bred into English Setters over many centuries governs their approach to most types of learning. That hunting style is to range far from the hunter, making independent decisions in the field. Therefore, tuning into a handler’s every move and waiting for directions is foreign to an English Setter’s modus operandi. An obedience trainer must be clever and resourceful in teaching obedience skills to ES. Also, an English Setter’s soft disposition means that harsh corrections are counter-productive in the training process.
Hunting, on the other hand, comes naturally to most ES. If you want to field trial your dog, you may want to select a field-bred dog. These dogs are smaller and wider ranging than show-bred dogs and can cover the enormous amounts of ground with high speed required in field trialing. If you want a good personal gun dog that you can follow on foot (rather than needing a horse), then most any English Setter will fill this need. Recently, there have been several dual (field and show) champions finished in English Setters, and some breeders are purposely developing dogs with dual potential.
Conformation. If you want to show your English Setter at dog shows, you will need help from an instructor or your breeder to learn how to groom your dog for the show ring and to present your dog skillfully, or you can hire a professional handler to do these things for you. Once a show dog has satisfied the AKC requirements, he will henceforth be known as a champion.
Therapy. English Setters make excellent therapy dogs, if you would like to bring cheer to hospital patients and rest home residents.
Agility. Like almost all breeds, English Setters love agility. They are athletic and coordinated and do very well at this sport.
Etc. The fact is, the more you do with your English Setter, the more developed his or her mind will become, and the more you two will become a team. Your relationship with your dog will be more fruitful and fulfilling to both of you if you take him or her to classes for socialization and get him or her out into the world as much as possible. A dog that is left at home all the time does not develop its full potential as much as a dog that is allowed to have many varied experiences in which it can meet other dogs and lots of people.
Is an English Setter a good watch dog?
English Setters sound the alarm by barking when someone comes to the door or when a stranger walks into the yard. If the owner tells them that the person is OK, they usually stop barking and accept the stranger as a friend. This barking at strangers is often enough to deter intruders from approaching your premises. If a criminal were threatening or menacing an English Setter’s family, the English Setter would, no doubt, leap to their protection.
Should I get a male or a female?
This depends on your personal circumstances and what you want in the personality of an English Setter. In this breed, males are usually mellow, get along well with other dogs (including males of other breeds), and love to be babied. Females are also mellow but are more likely to test an owner to see how much they can get away with.
Should I get a puppy or an adult?
Though English Setters are mellow as adults, they are very active and into everything as puppies. English Setter puppies are really, really cute, but if you don’t have time to devote to training and socialization, you owe it to your pet to get an adult dog instead. If you have toddlers, an adult is probably more suitable for you until your children are older.
What is a normal lifespan for English Setters?
Normally, an English Setter who is given proper care, nutrition, and exercise lives to about 12 years of age. With luck, they can go to age 14 or 15. An English Setter’s prime is about age 4 to 7. If they have enjoyed good health, they don’t start slowing down due to the effects of aging until about age 9.
What about neutering?
Unless the breeder requests that a male or female be kept intact for a specific reason (to be shown to a championship or used in a well-planned breeding program), it is a good idea to neuter your English Setter, whether it is a male or a female no sooner than one year. Breeding dogs is a complex activity, and placement of puppies is a huge responsibility. Breeding should not be undertaken by anyone except an expert–someone who is dedicating his or her life to the betterment of the breed. Your female or male will not be frustrated if they are not allowed to breed. If you like puppies, it is far cheaper and easier to buy one than to breed a litter.
Where can I get more information about English Setters?
There are a number of fine books and pamphlets available through Internet booksellers and pet centers that provide information about English Setters. Two recent books are The Essence of Setters by Marsha Hall Brown. This book presents a comprehensive examination of the origins, history, development and breed characteristics of the four setters…English, Irish, Gordon and Red & White. The second book is The History of English Setter Show Dogs in America by Craig S. Sparkes. This book chronicles the greatest English Setter show dogs from the early 1900’s through 2002. Both books are published by Doral Publishing, Inc. (www.doralpub.com), a leading dog book publisher.
One book that has been in print for more than 40 years and has been updated through three revisions is The New Complete English Setter, by Davis Tuck and revised by Elsworth Howell and Judy Graef. This book can still be found in most bookstores and at book booths at local dog shows.
For information on breeders in your area, you can contact the Secretary of the English Setter Association of America (ESAA), Dawn Ronyak, at 17842 W. Club Vista Dr., Surprise, AZ 85374, 623-556-4712. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to join ESAA, you can contact your breeder or the membership chairman, Sandy Miller, at 127 Glenwood Road, Rossford, OH 43460, 419-666-3312. Email: email@example.com. If you join ESAA, you will receive a monthly newsletter with information about conformation, obedience, hunting, therapy, and other English Setter activities, and you will have access to other English Setter fanciers throughout the country.
You can also contact one of the regional English Setter clubs (see English Setter points of contact at the end of this article).
Where can I buy an English Setter?
From time to time, English Setters need to be re-homed because of an owner’s death or hardship. These dogs are placed in temporary foster homes by English Setter Rescue until a new permanent home can be found. Other English Setters who are lost, neglected, or abused are also taken in by English Setter Rescue. After any health problems are tended to, the animals’ temperaments are evaluated, and those who will make good, loving pets are made available for adoption. If you would like to provide a home for one of these dogs, contact English Setter Rescue.
English Setters are not plentiful. They are about 70th (out of about 140 breeds) in numbers of registrations with the American Kennel Club each year. Only a few ES litters are born per month all across America. This is fortunate for the breed because greater popularity might lead to opportunists and profiteers using unsuitable animals for breeding stock. For the person seeking an English Setter, however, the small numbers make the quest a bit more difficult. If you have an ES breeder living near you, you are one of the lucky ones. If not, you will probably need to import your puppy from a few states away. Be patient! You want to be sure to find the right puppy for your family. Chances are, you won’t be able to find an English Setter on a whim. Instead, you may have a fairly long search and perhaps a long wait, but it’s worth it to become one of the elite who own an English Setter, a breed that is delightful to live with and that turns heads wherever it goes. If you contact the ESAA secretary, she will give you a list of breeders in your area, or you can contact a regional club near you. The ESAA Newsletter carries a list of litters each month. Start by calling breeders until you find one you feel comfortable with, and then get on that breeder’s waiting list until he or she has a puppy for you. In the meantime, if you do find a puppy, be sure to let the breeder know so he or she won’t reserve a puppy for you and perhaps pass up other good homes.
A reputable breeder will always ask lots of questions about you, your family, your home, your reasons for wanting an English Setter, etc. The breeder will be attempting to ensure that you have a suitable environment for a puppy that he or she has carefully bred. The dog’s welfare is central to these inquiries. If you’re not prepared to answer some personal questions, then you would probably not be the right person for a well-bred English Setter.
A reputable breeder will be prepared to show you the mother of the puppies and other adults in the breeding program so that you can get a fair prediction of the temperament and appearance of the puppies when they grow up. Good breeders will also be willing to talk openly about health issues in the breed and describe the precautions they have taken to try to ensure that puppies produced by them do not have genetic problems. Of course, genetic problems are very difficult to breed out (if it were easy, they would have disappeared long ago), and even the most careful breeder can get an unexpected and unpleasant surprise. A good breeder will have a plan to deal with genetic problems when they do crop up. Sometimes this involves replacing a puppy or refunding part of the purchase price.
English Setters, like most breeds, offer unconditional love. They ask for so little-loving care, kindness, and some of your time-and they give so much in return. If you gain 50 pounds or suffer a demotion at work, your English Setter doesn’t care. He or she will love you with all of his heart, no matter what.
What should I do if I can no longer keep my English Setter?
If you’re having trouble training or living with your English Setter, contact your breeder, a regional club, or a breeder near you. Sometimes, the problems you are having can be solved by consulting a person familiar with the breed. At times, despite the owner’s advance research and the breeder’s careful screening, a placement does not work out. The breed may not be what the owner was looking for after all, or the owner’s circumstances can change so drastically that it is no longer possible for him to keep his English Setter. If this happens to you, do not take your English Setter to an animal shelter. Your first step should be to call your breeder and see if he or she can take the dog back or help you with re-homing. All reputable breeders want to be informed when a dog they have placed will not be staying in its original home. If you are unable to reach your breeder, then contact English Setter Rescue. If you must give up your dog to Rescue, it is best if you give them plenty of notice so they can have time to help you find a good home before you must surrender your dog. You will probably also want to make a donation to Rescue to replenish the funds they will use in assisting you to place your dog.