The English Setter is a medium-size breed of dog. It is part of the Setter family, which includes the red Irish Setters, Irish Red and White Setters, and black-and-tan Gordon Setters. The mainly white body coat is of medium length with long silky fringes on the back of the legs, under the belly and on the tail. The coat features flecks of colour, and the different colour varieties are referred to as belton.
A gentle but at times strong-willed, mischievous gun dog, bred for a mix of endurance and athleticism, it is used to hunt for game such as quail, pheasant, and grouse. When working, the dog will hunt methodically seeking the airborne scent of its prey. It is sometimes referred to as the Laverack or Llewellin Setter as these were famous strains of the breed during the major development period in the 19th century. Those from hunting stock are generally of a finer build and with less coat than those bred for show exhibition.
Generally reasonably healthy, they have an average life span of 11 to 12 years. The Kennel Club advises UK breeders to screen for hip dysplasia.
The English Setter is a medium-sized dog which should have an elegant overall appearance. Its size can range from 24 inches (61 cm) for females up to 27 inches (69 cm) for males. The field or hunting type can be finer in build and construction than those from bench or show lines.The breed was designed to hunt game such as quail, pheasant, and grouse so should be able to cover a lot of ground when seeking the airborne scent of the birds, carrying its head high. The head should be slightly domed with a muzzle of good depth and show chiselling under the eyes, which should be dark in colour with a kind, gentle expression. The top of the ears (sometimes the ears are referred to as "leathers") are positioned in line with the eyes and lie in an elegant fold. It has a long muscular neck, well angled shoulders and a brisket of good depth. The body is of a moderate length proportionate to its height and it has strong powerful hindquarters. It carries its tail in line with its back and the tail should be long enough to reach the hock.
The main body coat is short to medium length, lies flat and has a silky texture. Long silky coat – usually called "feathering", forms fringes on the outside of the ears, neck, chest, down the back of the front legs, under the belly and on the back legs. The tail is also feathered with long coat. The body coat and feathering should be straight and flat but not profuse and never curly although a slight wave can be seen.
The bench or show type has a long, flowing coat that requires regular grooming. The field or hunting type has a shorter coat that requires less grooming.
The base colour of the coat is white with differing coloured ticking also called flecks or speckling. The various speckled coat colours when occurring in English Setters are referred to as belton; valid combinations are white with black (blue belton), white with orange flecks (orange belton), white with orange flecks and lighter nose (lemon belton), white with liver flecks (liver belton), or "tricolour" which is blue or liver belton with tan markings on the face, chest, and legs. The flecking should not form large patches on the body and the flecks should be distributed all over the body. The use of the word "belton" was first coined by Laverack, who developed the breed in the 19th-century, to describe his ideal for flecking and is also the name of a village in the extreme north of England. Puppies' coats may not have all the markings that they have as adults.
This breed's standard temperament is best described as a "Gentleman by Nature". However, it can also be strong-willed and mischievous, especially if coming from working/field breeding lines.English Setters are energetic, people-oriented dogs, that are well suited to families who can give them attention and activity,or to working with a hunter, where they have a job to do. They are active dogs that need plenty of exercise and up to two hours a day of exercise is recommended.Inside they tend to be lower energy and love to be couch potatoes and lap dogs; the breed is described as "intensely friendly," "good natured," and "adores visitors and is particularly happy with children."
They rank 37th in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, being of above average working/obedience intelligence. English Setters are very intelligent and can be trained to perform about any task another breed can do, with the exception of herding. However, they are not always easy to train, as their natural bird instinct tends to distract them in outdoor environments.Their temperament is considered to be gentle and as English Setters can be very sensitive to criticism, positive reinforcement training methods using treats and praise work best when undertaking basic training.
Dogs, both pedigree and cross breeds, can be affected with genetic problems. Those known to sometimes occur in English Setters can include congenital deafness, which was reported as affecting 12.4 percent of the 701 English Setters tested by the Louisiana State University in 2010. As at 2013, there has not been any detailed research on this condition undertaken in the UK; autoimmune thyroiditis, which was shown to affect 26.2 percent of 747 English Setters examined between January 1974 until December 2012 in an Orthopedic Foundation for Animals listing; canine hypothyroidism; elbow dysplasia; and allergies, which can include some sensitivity to certain food ingredients and also skin conditions, are known to occur.
In 2004, the UK Kennel Club established the Accredited Breeders Scheme, which was later called the Assured Breeders Scheme (ABS). The scheme received UKAS accreditation in April 2013. ABS members are required to adhere to additional criteria than those necessary for basic KC registration. Among the extra requirements is "Ensuring that the parents of each litter are readily identifiable by either Microchip, Tattoo or DNA profile." As at March 2013, breeders of English Setters who are members of the ABS must screen for hip dysplasia.
Some members of the breed may be affected by cancer and this was identified as the most common cause of death of English Setters in a survey undertaken by the Kennel Club; the age of death from this disease was mainly after reaching ten years of age. However, the survey had only received a small response rate.Life expectancy is between 11 and 12 years, though 13 to 15 years is not uncommon.
Setters hunt by ranging over large distances in a systematic, methodical manner, silently seeking game by scent. When prey is found by scenting the air, the dog will freeze rather than give chase. The dog will stop in a sort of crouch or "set" by freezing in a standing position upon finding their quarry and this distinctive stance is how the term “setter” evolved. Once the dog has indicated where the birds are by freezing on point, on command it would then slowly creep forward to disturb the birds into flight. Once the birds were in flight the hunter who had been following the dog would release hawks to capture the birds in the air. When netting superseded the use of hawks, setting dogs would still be used to indicate the whereabouts of the birds but the hunter would come up behind the dog and throw a net over the birds. In the mid-1600s, guns became more readily available and shooting game birds became a popular pastime of the landed gentry. The basic work of setters was still to find and point to the location of game birds but it also had to be steady to shot.
The scent of game birds is airborne so to pick up this scent the setter carries its head well up and should never follow foot scent. Most setters are born with a natural proclivity to hunting. Dogs that show excitement and interest in birds are described as being "birdy", and trainers look for puppies that show this particular trait. Training is usually done with quail as a first choice or domesticated pigeons.
Writing in 1876, Arnold Burges described the "pure-blooded English Setter" as "the best animal for American upland shooting" in his book The American Kennel and Sporting Field.