The English Setter is an elegant and athletic dog with the ability to run tirelessly at a good pace. Their trot is ground covering and effortless, with the head held proudly and a lively tail. The coat is flat, with feathering on the ears, underside, backs of legs, underside of thighs, and tail. Their markings are distinctive, consisting of flecks of color, sometimes with patches, on a white background. The Laveracks tend to be larger, carry more feathering, often have deeper muzzle, and usually hold their tails nearly level when on point. The Llewellins tend to be smaller, faster, with less coat and often larger patches of color. They tend to hold their tails straight up when on point.
Even before the advent of the shotgun, when birds were often caught with a net, dogs were trained to crouch when they pointed game. These “setters” were the forerunners of today’s setters. The English Setter is the oldest known of this group, perhaps dating back to the fourteenth century. They were developed to locate game on the moors and then to freeze until the game was dispatched. The English Setter’s ancestors probably included the Spanish Pointer, Springer Spaniel, and large Water Spaniel.
The cultivation of the English Setter through concerted pure breeding was undertaken by Edward Laverack beginning around 1825 and continuing for over 35 years. These dogs formed the basis of all English Setters today. Incidentally, the term belton was coined by Laverack to describe the roan or ticked flecks of color and comes from the town of Belton, where Laverack hunted. The other most influential breeder, Purcell Llewellin, obtained his foundation stock from Laverack but based his breeding on field ability alone. Llewellin crossed his Laveracks with unrelated English Setters to produce such outstanding field dogs that many were imported to America. The Laverack and Llewellin setters diverged, with the Laverack providing the foundation for the show setters and the Llewellin forming the foundation for the field setters. Both types have enjoyed steady popularity in America.
Bred to cover a lot of area when hunting, the English Setter is a lively dog that loves to hunt and run. This is especially true of dogs from field lines. If not given sufficient exercise, they can be overly lively inside, but with daily exertion, they are calm and tractable housedogs. Those from conformation lines are particularly laid back and gentle and excel with children and less active adults. This is an amiable, easygoing breed that typically gets along well with children, strangers, and other dogs.
The English Setter needs a lot of exercise every day, requiring at least an hour of hard exertion. The long coat needs regular brushing every two or three days. The white coat may be difficult to keep gleaming in some areas. Some clipping and trimming every month or two is advisable for optimal good looks.