An aristocratic gundog – the English Setter

Perhaps overshadowed by the more ebullient Irish Red Setter, and less physically imposing than the Gordon Setter from Scotland, the English Setter tends to give the impression of being a little reserved and aloof – although rather like the nation for which they are named, they can be extremely friendly once they get to know you!

It is said that the English Setter was produced by crossing the now extinct English Water Spaniel, the Springer Spaniel and the Spanish Pointer, with the breed itself being more than 400 years old. The English Setter started out as an all-round hunting dog, with the ability to point and flush game, as well as retrieve downed quarry. They are intelligent, and enjoy their work, so if you keep a setter as a pet, expect a lot of daily exercise, and don’t let them become bored. They can accept a role as a family pet, and are exceptionally loyal. The English Setter is classified in the ‘Sporting’ group by the American Kennel Club, and in the ‘Gundog’ group by the Kennel Club (UK).

Modern English Setters are becoming divided into two distinct ‘strains’, (the Laverack and the Llewellyn Setter) those used in the field, and those intended for the show ring. There are certain physical characteristics (longer, silkier coat, longer ears) which can mitigate an animal’s performance as a gundog. It may be that, just as there are distinct, recognised bloodlines amongst English Setters bred in the United States and the U.K., eventually, two distinct breed standards (and breed names) will be recognised.

English Setters shed their coat, but not excessively so. A daily brushing of their wavy, silky coat will ease this problem. They do suffer some health problems, amongst which are hip dysplasia, deafness, and thyroid problems, including hypothyroidism. As with all dogs that have pendulous ears, English Setters are subject to attacks of ear canker, and a close watch should be kept for dogs which persistently shake their heads.

Here we can see a splendid example of an English Setter, who I met at an air show. His coat is especially noteworthy, as it is of the type known as a ‘tricolour belton’. Setters with white coats and spots of colour are known as ‘beltons’, and the following combinations are known – white with orange, ‘orange belton’; white with liver, ‘liver belton’; white with black, ‘blue belton’; white with orange plus a lighter ‘lemon’ nose, ‘lemon belton’; and white with either liver or black plus tan flecks on nose, chest and legs is a ‘tricolour’. Confusing but colourful!

2 comments on “An aristocratic gundog – the English Setter”

  1. I love these gun dogs you’ve shown us and I had no idea there were so many breeds of them. I’ve learned much about living from the dogs my familiy has had. My last dog was a Cocker Spaniel. He reinforced one of teh many things dogs do well and that is to sit intead of stranding and lie down rather than sit — but throw calories away with abandon when it’s time to do something! Many folsk may think that this breed is a bit spastic with their wandering to and fro but the bevaviour is called “sectoring” and is an effiecient way to flush ground dwelling birds. I learned humility from learning that as I had thought the breed to be a bit deranged until that time 😉


    • Both the American and English Cocker Spaniel are fine dogs, although the ‘show cut’ on an American Cocker is a little too frilly for my taste! There are some more dogs to come on the blog, but I feel some serious aviation stuff and environmental/plant ‘posts’ coming on……………


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