There are two distinct types of English Setter.
The original field/hunting type (sometimes called the “Llewellin Setter”) is smaller, with a broader, natural-looking head and much less hair. These dogs have strong hunting instincts and need vigorous exercise.
The “bench” or “show” type of English Setter is quite tall, with a long narrow head and a profusion of silky hair that needs plenty of brushing and trimming. These dogs are more laid-back than field lines and are content with long daily walks and occasional running and fetching games.
Whatever their type, English Setters tend to be the mildest-mannered of the three setter breeds (English, Irish, and Gordon).
They are very sociable dogs who must not be left alone all day without the company of people or other pets, else destructiveness may result.
English Setters have an obstinate streak that takes the form of resistance rather than wild disobedience. If pushed too hard, they’ll simply brace their legs and refuse to walk. You must be persistent, but never heavy-handed.
English Setters have long memories, which means that once they learn something (whether right or wrong), they remember it. On the negative side, this means bad habits can be difficult to break.
If you want a dog who…
Keep in mind that the inheritance of temperament is less predictable than the inheritance of physical traits such as size or shedding. Temperament and behavior are also shaped by raising and training.
- You can avoid some negative traits by choosing an ADULT dog from an animal shelter or rescue group. With an adult dog, you can easily see what you’re getting, and plenty of adult English Setters have already proven themselves not to have negative characteristics.
- If you want a puppy, you can avoid some negative traits by choosing the right breeder and the right puppy. Unfortunately, you usually can’t tell whether a puppy has inherited temperament or health problems until he grows up.
- Finally, you can avoid some negative traits by training your English Setter to respect you and by following the 11-step care program in my book, 11 Things You Must Do Right To Keep Your Dog Healthy and Happy.
More traits and characteristics of the English Setter
If I was considering an English Setter, I would be most concerned about…
- Providing enough exercise. English Setters bred for the show ring are content with long daily walks and occasional running and fetching games to vent their energy. English Setters bred for hunting are much more athletic and need more vigorous exercise. Without enough exercise, English Setters become rambunctious and bored, which they usually express by destructive chewing, especially when young or adolescent.
- Separation anxiety. More than most other breeds, English Setters need a great deal of companionship and do not like being left alone for more than a few hours. They tend to express their unhappiness through destructive chewing and barking. If you work all day, this is not the breed for you.
- Stubbornness. English Setters are sweet-natured but have a strong stubborn streak. You must show them, through absolute consistency, that you mean what you say. Read more about English Setter Training.
- Grooming. Coat care is a big responsibility in the English Setter. To keep the silky coat free of mats and tangles, English Setters require regular brushing and combing, and also clipping and trimming every few months. English Setters from show lines typically have more profuse coats that need much more extensive grooming than English Setters from field lines.
- Shedding. English Setters shed a lot, so be prepared for dog hair on your clothing and furniture, and regular vacuuming.