The first strains of setters were developed in France in 1500, obtained from the Spanish pointer and the French pointer.
These early setters were called "Setting Spaniels," named after the way they would crouch down after finding the pray to allow the hunter to throw a net over it.
In the early 1800s they were brought to Great Britain where a breeder named Sir Edward Laverack developed them into the English Setter we know today using early French hunting dogs. He bred out the trait of crouching down more to an almost sitting stance, so the dogs would be easier seen by the hunters who now had guns.
The English Setter is often called the Laverack Setter. The word "setter" comes from the way the dogs appear to almost be sitting down when they discover game. Laverack's dogs are the foundation stock for many of today's top show dogs.
The Llewellin Setter was bred out of English Setter lines by an English breeder named Llewellin.
The English Setter's talents include hunting, tracking, retrieving, pointing, watchdog and agility.
The tradition of "setting" dogs began with a single type of Spanish Spaniel at some point in the 1300s (according to written records of the time.) The Spanish Spaniel would track birds through the undergrowth, find them, and then lie down in a "pointing" position, allowing the hunter to throw a large net over the area (including the dog itself!) in order to trap flushed birds on their attempt to escape.
However, as useful as a net is for hunting purposes, a rifled gun is more useful still--and the old Spaniel "pointers" were becoming quickly obsolete as gun hunting became more common in the early 19th century. Thanks to the efforts of two gentleman breeders--Laverack and Llewellyn, who lend their names to the two variants of the general English Setter--the modern upright setter was created through selective breeding.
The Laverack Setter was created more for attractiveness and genetic purity, making the Laverack variant of the English Setter breed more common in show rings, while the Llewellyn Setter was created more for simple hunting efficiency and power, making the Llewellyn variant of the English Setter more common in the open country, staring down a fat grouse and waiting for his master to arrive with the rifle and the reward.
The English Setter was bred for elegance. The dogs are lean, with powerful chests sloping back to the smooth, tense lines of legs and feet, the ready tail, and the powerful muscles. An extra splash of feathering on the Setter's smooth coat and a distinctive "belton" bi-colored (or tri-colored coat) just adds an extra touch of visibility and an extra touch of class to these already aristocratic, sleek, and intelligent dogs.
Dog breeders for years have known this & the Setter's habitual prey knows it as well. The Setter's hunting method entirely depends on its visibility and its powerful bearing--the Setter was bred to stalk its prey through heavy undergrowth, to mesmerize it with its "hypnotic" eyes and elegant appearance, and then to make itself visible to its master so that the hunt could be successful. Thus the Setter has been bred for intelligence as well as elegance, making the dog both beautiful and capable of acting independently in order to achieve its goals
The English Setter is an energetic, outdoorsy dog whose greatest joy is simply to expend its energy. Any Setter owner will need to have a large, fenced yard (or other adequate outdoor space) and the willingness to spend hours every day walking, jogging with, and otherwise exercising the English Setter.
Enough exercise outdoors will help to keep the Setter calm and relaxed indoors--which is good, since the Setter's native companionableness make it an ideal indoor pet (if you can keep up with the grooming.)
This native companionableness may seem surprising, considering the Setter's independent hunting style. But the Setter is one of the more friendly and needy dogs out there when it comes to human beings.
English Setters can't be left alone for too long without becoming destructive, and any withdrawal of affection--including harsh language--can seriously upset the English Setter. If affection is given, though, the English Setter can be a funny, energetic, and engagingcompanion, noted for its "clownish" demeanor.
Setters are extremely good with children.
These Setters are not quite so good with other animals, and old hunting instincts can sometimes take over. It's important to train your Setter early in order to socialize it to other household pets, and to help make your Setter more manageable during outdoor exercise.
The English Setter's outdoor, active lifestyle alone would make regular grooming of the breed a good idea--the fact that the English Setter couples that active lifestyle with a feathery coat that's highly prone to tangles, burrs, and matting makes regular grooming of the breed vital.
The Setter should be combed and brushed daily, with special attention paid to the feathery portions of the dog's coat near the legs and tail. This daily grooming ritual isn't just for vanity's sake--many of the skin problems common to English Setters are actually caused by outdoor debris (burrs, leaves, or dry brush) working its way up through the dog's fur and close to its actual skin. Once the debris is trapped against the dog's skin, it begins to irritate your English Setter and possibly to cause damage to his or her coat. So daily brushing doesn't just make your dog look good, but it actually keeps him or her healthy for a long time--which is good for everyone, not simply your dog's pride.
Shampooing and bathing should be done at least twice a week--more frequently if you plan to show or breed your dog. The feathery bits of fur around the dog's feet also need regular grooming in order to keep the feet free of any infections--which can happen easily due to the feathery fur picking up bits of debris from the outdoors which then works its way between the toes. The Setter's toenails should also be clipped regularly--whenever you give your Setter his or her regular bath, the toenails and the feet should be handled as well.
One important health consideration when grooming your Setter is to keep an eye out for fleas, mites, ticks, or other external parasites. Because of the Setter's outdoor lifestyle and feathery coat, parasites can be easily picked up--and can sometimes be hard to detect until it's too late. These parasites aren't merely a nuisance, but also cause significant damage to your dog's coat, sometimes drying it out or even patching it in places. So any good grooming session will involve a careful search for mites and fleas, focusing again on these feathery areas and around the dog's head near the ears-a classic "breeding ground" for parasites. Ears and other parasite areas should be checked about once a week, ideally during the dog's regular bath.
English Setters are extremely active dogs, and regular, vigorous exercise is required in order to keep them happy and healthy. The bare minimum for exercising your English Setter is two or three half-hour walks or runs per day, preferably with some running or other energetic play involved.
Setters should be exercised off the leash if possible. Setters have an abundance of energy and will want to let it out as quickly as possible--which, if you're not careful, could involve them dragging you along after every squirrel or bird they see in the yard. A fenced yard is ideal for this kind of exercise, especially if you can keep it reasonably free of interloping animals (although your Setter will likely do this for you.) Outdoor hikes or camping trips are also ideal for an English Setter--the location is usually remote enough to keep the Setter from being a nuisance, while the outdoor environment (and its fresh smells and sensations) are enough to keep the Setter happy and well-exercised.
If you don't have a large fenced yard or if your living situation is densely-populated enough to make it unreasonable to exercise your Setter off the leash, then you'll have to get more creative. Setter owners have been known to jog with their Setters (once the dogs are well-trained enough to "heel" instinctively), to take their setters to less-well-traveled parks, or even to ride a bicycle with their Setter on the leash just ahead, keeping pace effortlessly. For this kind of urban or suburban exercise, it's a very good idea to buy a flexible leash for your Setter so that he can set his own pace without your hampering him (or him pulling you along in his furious wake), and adequate training is a must in order to ensure good behavior when dealing with other people or animals.
One caveat to these recommendations: the skeleton of any dog remains partially unformed until the dog is about two years old. For smaller dogs, this is less of an issue, but for larger, energetic dogs, great care must be taken to prevent early overexertion from causing significant bone or joint problems in later life (hip and elbow dysplasia being the most common problems.) As a rule, you should only exercise your Setter puppy for half-hour bursts until two years of age. Getting advice from a veterinarian or veteran Setter owner would also be helpful in order to figure out the best possible exercise routine for a growing dog.
To understand the problems in training an English Setter, it's necessary to understand the English Setter's genetic instincts. The English Setter was bred to track small animals through the fields, to stalk them silently, to stare them down, and then simply to sit and wait for the master to arrive. In other words, the English Setter's instincts make it into an autonomous partner in the hunt--a dog who can operate independently, performing his job so that the human can perform his job and both can profit. The English Setter's instincts do not make it into a passive recipient of commands.
But unless you're using your English Setter for hunting, you really do need to train your dog--any urban exercising, indoor living, or other social situations demand that you have a well-behaved, non-destructive, and socially-adapted Setter. So "to train or not to train" is not really the question; it's an obligation. What the prospective trainer needs to understand, though, is that training an English Setter can often be an onerous obligation indeed.
Training should begin early and should focus, early on, on adapting the English Setter to both housebreaking rules and to other household animals. The English Setter, who spends most of his or her time outside, does not take easily to housebreaking, and you should expect to spend several months of training in this area alone. Other animals and children should also be introduced to the Setter early on, since the Setter's natural hunting instincts can easily take over with animals he or she meets in later life--although the Setter isn't violent as a rule, even when hunting, you probably don't want your dog sneaking around and mesmerizing your cat on a regular basis.
Physical commands (heel, sit) and the like should be phased in once the basic areas of housebreaking and socialization are brought in. Physical commands should also be introduced slowly--since the Setter's skeleton is still developing during the early years of his or her life, too-strenuous physical activity early on can lead to serious problems with joints or bones in later years.
Above all: trainers should make sure to use positive methods of reward and motivation when training this breed, not negative methods--even including harsh tones of voice. The Setter is an extremely sensitive breed, and harsh tones of voice from a Setter's master will usually cause the dog to regress into instinctual behavior--which, as we've said, is not the most useful behavior in the world for training purposes.
Health ProblemsThe English Setter can be affected by a number of Health Problems, including:
hip dysplasia (common in larger breeds of dog; avoid strenuous Exercise early in life and see a veterinarian regularly)
Congenital Deafness (puppies can be tested for this at about five weeks of age)
In addition, all members of the breed are susceptible to certain cancers and skin diseases. Most of these ailments are genetic, and selecting an English Setter puppy carefully from reliable breeders (or another reliable source) will sharply minimize the risk for your dog.