- Breed group — Sporting group (American Kennel Club)
- Height — 23-27 inches
- Weight — 45 to 80 pounds
- Coat length & texture — Flat, silky, medium-length coat, with feathering on the ears, chest, belly, legs, and tail
- Coat color — White base with intermingled blue, orange, or lemon “belton” markings speckled all over the body
- Exercise needs —High
- Intelligence — High
- Barking — Only when necessary
- Life span — 10-12 years
- Temperament — Graceful, friendly, mellow, and playful
- Hypoallergenic — No
- Origin — England
English setter fun facts
- The English setter is widely regarded as one of the oldest gundog breeds, or dogs that were originally bred to help their owners hunt game. Artwork depicting English setter-type dogs dates back all the way back to the 15th century.
- The name “setter” refers to the almost-seated position the dog assumes when they zero in on game. This differs from the behavior of other “pointer” and “springer” hunting breeds.
- These dogs are notorious for their digging and jumping abilities. If you plan on letting your English setter out in the yard, make sure you have a tall fence.
English setter temperament and characteristics
The English setter is an elegant, sweet-natured medium-sized dog that’s sometimes referred to as the “gentleman of the dog world.” Originally bred for the hunt, they are lively, playful, and sociable dogs that love spending time with people and other pups. They have a territorial streak that makes them protective around strangers, but they calm down fairly quickly after being introduced. The breed’s long history working at a distance from hunters has made them highly intelligent dogs that love independent decision-making, but isolated English setters can be prone to separation anxiety if they’re left alone or banished to the backyard.
English setters are also known to be generally great with kids big and small. However, make sure you teach your kids how to properly, gently interact with animals before letting them play. This is a mellow, tolerant breed that will put up with a lot, but that doesn’t mean they should have to. If you’re looking for an active, friendly, showstoppingly beautiful watchdog to join your family, the English setter might just be the breed for you.
Common English setter health problems
The English setter is a generally healthy dog breed, but like all breeds, they are predisposed to a few genetic health problems. Owners should watch for signs of:
- Hip dysplasia. This genetic condition causes the hip’s ball-and-socket joint to form improperly, preventing the thigh bone from fitting in place. Symptoms include pain, discomfort, mobility issues, and in extreme cases, lameness in one or both hind legs.
- Elbow dysplasia . A common genetic condition in larger breeds, elbow dysplasia occurs when the three bones that make up the elbow grow at different rates, or the elbow joint is blunted or malformed. When the joint is unable to align correctly, it results in painful arthritis and/or lameness.
- Hypothyroidism . This condition is characterized by abnormally low hormone production in the thyroid gland. An underactive thyroid causes a dog’s metabolism to slow down, resulting in symptoms like mental dullness, low energy levels, drooping eyelids, irregular heat cycles, obesity, and infertility. Affected dogs can also experience problems with their skin and coat.
- Deafness. It’s not particularly common, but some English setters can be born deaf in one or both ears. Dogs with hearing loss require extra patience, time and understanding, but with a few simple adjustments many can live full and enriching lives.
👉 Never buy a puppy of any breed from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests their dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases.
Cost of caring for an English setter
Treatment costs will vary depending on your English setter’s particular needs. Surgical correction for orthopedic conditions like hip and elbow dysplasia can run anywhere from $1,500 to $4,000 per side, including the cost of post-op care and medications. Treatment for hypothyroidism must continue throughout a dog’s life, but the associated costs are relatively inexpensive, with initial tests running between $50 to $150 and monthly medications some $20 to $50 a month after that.
While some cases of deafness and hearing loss can be treated with medication, most cases are incurable. Products like vibrating collars exist to make life easier for deaf dogs, and many only cost around $40 to $60. You can cut down on all your English setter’s medical costs with a good health insurance plan. Owners who sign their pets up early tend to get the most benefits from their pet insurance policies. Alternatively, you might consider opening a pet savings account to start saving for any unexpected medical costs that might pop up in the future.
History of the English setter
The English setter has been used as a hunting dog for hundreds of years. While their exact ancestry isn’t known, they’re thought to have descended from a mix of several different pointing and spaniel breeds. In 18th-century England, these dogs were referred to as “setting spaniels”. They would fan out in front of the hunter on open ground in search of game, freezing and crouching down, or “setting,” whenever they found some.
The breed gained popularity around this time thanks to Sir Edward Laverack and R. Purcell Llewellin, two breeders who are credited with developing specialized hunting strains, or field lines, of the English setter. “Laverack setters” were bred to be gentle, compassionate, and excel in the show ring, while the “Llewellin setter” was bred more for ability in the field. Both types of English setter were imported to America in the 1870s, increasing their international appeal. The English setter was among the first nine breeds officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in their founding year of 1884.
Today, English setters are considered rare among dog breeds, ranking 98th overall in popularity by the AKC. Their intelligence and keen instincts continue to make them a popular choice in the hunting community, though their sweet, playful nature also makes them great family companions.
Caring for your English setter
Caring for a new puppy of any breed can be overwhelming — and English setters are higher maintenance than most. On top of tending to their regular exercise, grooming, and dietary needs, you’ll need to make your first trip to the vet and schedule your dog’s vaccinations. Then come the necessary steps of puppy-proofing your home and preparing for teething. And while no one likes to think about losing their new dog, FidoAlert provides a free Fido ID and tag so you’re prepared just in case.
The English setter is an athletic dog that needs enough exercise and mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy. They do best in homes with large, fenced-off yards that give them lots of space to run around. If you don’t have a yard, you can get their energy out by riding a bike alongside them on the leash, running with them, or taking them for a long walk or hike. Setters don’t require as much exercise as other gun dog breeds, and they’re more than happy to cuddle up on the couch at the end of the day as long as they get a good workout in. English setters also make great candidates for active dog sports like agility and flyball.
Be extremely careful when exercising an English setter puppy. Dogs’ bones and joints often don’t reach full strength until they’re two years old, so it’s usually best to avoid high-intensity activity with young dogs. You should also keep puppies from jumping on and off furniture and other hard surfaces so they avoid hurting themselves. Setter puppies will do well with two 15-to-20-minute playtime sessions in the mornings and evenings. You can start including them in more intense activities when they reach a year of age, and increase their exercise time to an hour a day, usually divided into two periods of 30 minutes each.
As with other setter breeds, the long, beautiful coats of English setters don’t keep themselves clean. English setters need to be brushed at least once a week (though a few times a week or daily is better) with a soft bristle brush to keep their skin and coat in good condition. Owners should also invest in a long-toothed metal dog comb to gently work through any knots, mats, or tangles that may be developing in their feathering. Unattended tangles and mats are uncomfortable for your dog and can eventually lead to skin problems.
Give your setter a bath every four to six weeks to keep them smelling fresh and clean, and trim stray hair in the areas around their face and feet to maintain a neat appearance. Brush your setter’s teeth at least two to three times a week to remove plaque buildup, and give them regular nail trimmings if their nails don’t wear down naturally. Since setters’ floppy ears block air circulation, you’ll also need to give them weekly ear inspections and cleanings to prevent infections. To do this, wet a cotton ball with a cleaning solution recommended by your veterinarian, then use it to gently wipe out the part of the ear you can see.
Diet and nutrition
English setter puppies should be fed small amounts three times a day. Once they’re a year old, two meals a day should be enough. While adult English setters generally do well with two to three cups of high-quality dry food a day, they are known to gain weight and become obese rather easily. Keep a constant eye on their diet, and don’t be afraid to cut down their food by about 5% to help them maintain a healthy weight. Just be careful not to cut more than 10% of their daily food, as this can result in nutritional deficiencies. Since your pet’s specific dietary needs will depend on factors including their age, metabolism, and activity level, you should always consult a vet for the most accurate food portioning information.
Training your English setter
English setters are sensitive dogs that take punishment to heart. Setters that are treated too harshly have been known to become stubborn and stop listening to commands. They respond best to short, mentally stimulating training sessions that are packed with positive reinforcement. Hold off on yelling loudly and withdrawing attention, and don’t hesitate to heap on the praise whenever your setter does something right.
The English setter’s hunting background gives the breed an extremely high prey drive, which can get them into trouble in places where there’s too much temptation to “hunt.” You can help curb their antics by training them early for things like the recall cue. Try not to leave tempting food items up on the kitchen counter, either, since the English setter loves to counter surf, and their nose will always lead them to food that’s been left out.
Setter puppies can be difficult to potty train at first, but you can help them get the hang of it by starting training early and keeping sessions consistent.
Breeds similar to the English setter
Not quite sure that an English setter is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:
- Irish setter. This energetic gun dog breed is quick, elegant, and beloved for their flashy red coat. Like the English setter, the Irish setter also makes a great family dog.
- Pointer. Another medium-sized sporting breed, the pointer has a long hunting history that’s rivaled only by the English setter’s. Pointers are ultra-energetic and do best when they’re given a couple hours of daily exercise.
- English springer spaniel. The smart, sweet-faced English springer spaniel was made for long hunting trips in the field. Springer spaniels are highly trainable and love spending time with their families, but they hate being neglected.
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Frequently asked questions
Is the English setter a good family dog?
Yes! When trained and socialized from an early age, the English setter is a gentle, affectionate dog that’s known for being especially good with kids.
Do English setters bark a lot?
English setters aren’t explicitly known as barkers, though they will bark to alert their family when a stranger is approaching. An English setter suffering from separation anxiety might also bark a lot if they’re left home alone for long periods of time.
Are English setters hard to train?
English setters aren’t especially hard to train, but they do have a high prey drive that can get them into trouble if they aren’t properly trained and socialized from an early age. They respond well to reward-based training methods, so be sure to give them ample praise, play, and treats in your training sessions.
Are English setters rare?
Yes. English setters are generally considered a rare breed, ranking 98th among other breeds registered by the American Kennel Club.
How often do English setters shed?
English setters shed moderately, but weekly brushing can help keep loose hair off your furniture and floors.