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Sally Anne Thompson, Animal Photography
The English Setter has a gorgeous white coat flecked with tan (orange belton) or black (blue belton). Others are tricolor, having black flecks on the coat and tan points on the muzzle and legs.
The English Setter is smaller than the Irish Setter and the Gordon Setter.
Lively and lovely, the English Setter is a medium-size pointing breed that originated in Britain. In the field, his job is to find and point game birds, and he is prized for his exceptional nose and good memory. For both hunters and pet owners, he stands out for his distinctive feathered coat and gentle nature. Of the three Setter breeds, he is the smallest, weighing between 35 to 80 pounds depending on whether he is bred for field or show ring.
Unlike some sporting breeds, there are few differences between English Setters bred for the field and those bred for the show ring. Field-bred dogs are slightly smaller and have less coat, but an English Setter bred for conformation may be capable of performing in the field. Both types make good companions.
The English Setter loves to run, but if given his daily quota of exercise, he is a calm, sweet housedog. The English Setter is friendly and mellow, and he can be a good choice for families with children. He also gets along well with other pets such as cats if he’s raised with them. English Setters are alert and will bark to let you know that someone is approaching the house.
Choose an English Setter if you are an active person who can give him the exercise he needs. A long walk or a half-hour run will do, or you can take him hiking or run him alongside your bicycle, safely leashed. He’s also a super competitor in dog sports such as agility, obedience, and rally and can be an excellent therapy dog.
English Setters need frequent combing to prevent or remove mats and tangles. A bath every six weeks or so doesn’t go amiss. In addition, trim the nails as needed, brush the teeth, and keep the ears clean and dry to prevent infections.
Last but not least, it should go without saying that a people-loving dog like the English Setter needs to live in the house with plenty of human companionship.
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Mentions of setting dogs date to the 14th century. Early English Setters are thought to have been developed by crossing Pointing and Spaniel breeds. They are some of the earliest types of hunting dogs and were in use long before guns were developed. They worked by finding birds and then crouching — or setting — to indicate the presence of birds. The hunter, who had spread out a large net, would startle the birds, causing them to fly into the net. After guns began to be used, the setter’s habit of crouching helped ensure that he wasn’t shot accidentally.
In the 19th century, two types of English Setters emerged -- the Laverack and Llewellin strains -- each taking on the name of the man who developed it. Edward Laverack carefully nurtured his own line of English Setters, creating beautiful dogs. R. Purcell Llewellin was fond of outcrosses, starting with Laverack-type dogs and then bringing in other strains to develop amazingly successful field-trial English Setters. The differences can still be seen to some extent today when comparing show English Setters to field English Setters. The field dogs are somewhat smaller.
The American Kennel Club recognized the English Setter in 1884. They are ranked 101st among the breeds registered by the AKC.
The English Setter is gentle, affectionate and friendly with family but can be slightly aloof with people he doesn’t know. Children in his family will find him to be highly tolerant, and parents really need to take steps to protect him from his own patience, ensuring that toddlers are supervised when they “pet” him so that they don't pull his hair, tail, or ears. For older, active children, he’s an endlessly energetic playmate.
He is best suited to a home with a large yard or one where he will have opportunities to hunt, but with a committed owner who can give him plenty of exercise, he is equally able to thrive in the city or a home with no yard. His alert nature makes him a good watchdog, but he’s not especially prone to barking.
Unless they are safely away from traffic, English Setters must always be exercised on leash or confined to a fenced yard. They are hunting dogs, after all, and will go in search of birds.
This is a dog who needs plenty of exercise. An hour a day is a good minimum for an adult English Setter. The English Setter will enjoy a half-hour walk or run twice a day, a strenuous hike, or running alongside a bicycle.
English Setters are smart, but they mature slowly and need gentle training with lots of positive reinforcement, never harsh corrections. Once they learn something, they don’t forget it, though. In the field, they range out from the hunter and make their own decisions, and that behavior can carry into the home. Work closely with a trainer to figure out the best ways to work with an English Setter’s learning style and abilities.
Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know about your lifestyle and personality. Whatever you want from an English Setter, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
All purebred dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit disease. Run from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed has no known problems, or who keeps puppies isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur.
English Setters have some health conditions that can be a concern. Hip and elbow dysplasia are most common. Other problems that may be seen are hypothyroidism, allergies, congenital deafness and lysosomal storage disease. Learn more from the English Setter Association of America.
Ask the breeder to show evidence that both of a puppy’s parents have hip and elbow clearances from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and OFA BAER (Brainstem Auditory Evoked Response) test results for hearing. A plus would be an OFA thyroid evaluation. You can check the website of the Canine Health Information Center to see if a breeder’s dogs have these certifications.
Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. A puppy may develop one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what are the most common causes of death.
Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping an English Setter at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.
The English Setter has a long coat with feathering on the ears, chest, belly, back of the legs, and tail. Plan on combing it out at least a couple of times a week or any time your dog has been in the field to remove tangles. A bath every two to three weeks will keep him clean. Unless you show your dog, you can always trim his coat for easier upkeep. English Setters shed moderately, but regular brushing will help keep loose hair from floating onto your floor, furniture, and clothing.
The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.
Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.
Finding a quality breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out as many problems as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.
Reputable breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with. They will come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you plan to provide. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps were taken to avoid them. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.
Look for more information about the English Setter and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the English Setter Association of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the ESAA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to obtain recommended health clearances on dogs before breeding them.
Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will clear. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.
Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include over availability, multiple litters on the premises, a choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated with reputable breeders.
Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies.
The cost of an English Setter puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show) and, ideally, working titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult English Setter might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
1. Use the Web
Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for an English Setter in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the English Setters available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.
Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
2. Reach Out to Local Experts
Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for an English Setter. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.
3. Talk to Breed Rescue
Most people who love English Setters love all English Setters. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The English Setter Association of America’s rescue retwork can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other English Setter rescues in your area.
The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a English Setter home with you to see what the experience is like.
4. Key Questions to Ask
You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:
What is his energy level?
How is he around other animals?
How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?
What is his personality like?
What is his age?
Is he housetrained?
Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?
Are there any known health issues?
Wherever you acquire your English Setter, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
Puppy or adult, take your English Setter to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.
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