Road Test: The English Setter
Developed as a hunting dog, from early French hunting dogs, in 18th century England by Sir Edward Laverack (hence the dog is still alternatively known as the Laverack setter) and another English breeder, Llewellin, the word setter comes from the almost “sitting” position the dog adopts when it discovers game. Renowned for its sweet temperament and gentle nature they make a very good family dog.
The first setters were developed in France in the 15th century from the Spanish pointer and the French pointer. They were a sporting breed from the outset and like so many gun dogs of the time were also used as family companions. The rudimentary breed found its way to England in the 18th century where its true developer, who was a very astute breeder, Sir Edmund Laverack was instrumental in establishing the type we now know. There are “field” and “show” types, the field types being smaller, lighter and more active.
A beautiful, slim and elegant dog, the English setter has a unique speckled coat. The speckling may vary and the markings can be of any size with the colours coming in white, with blue, lemon, orange or brown speckling, and some dogs can be tri coloured. They have a square muzzle, long head, and moderately long pendulous ears. Tail, ears, legs and underbelly are all heavily fringed. They have a deep narrow chest and grow to 58-70cm in height and weigh between 20-35kg. Expect to have them for 10-12 years.
A friendly, placid, gentle animal, English setters are excellent with children being mild mannered and sensitive. They love affection and crave the attention of their family, though can be willful and hard to housetrain so need early training but this needs to be done gently as they are easily dominated.
They are a reasonable watch dog and enjoy the company of other dogs so other household pets are not a problem. They are jumpers and tend to wander so a secure boundary fence is necessary whilst exercise is essential as they will become restless and nuisance barking can be a problem.
Digging can also be an issue for some families and some strains can be droolers due to the large lip folds, but nothing like boxers and mastiffs.
WHO SHOULD HAVE ONE:
Excellent with children, though less boisterous ones are preferred by the dog as they are so sensitive, they make great family pets. They are not good in apartments as they are inactive indoors and need exercise so be prepared to walk them regularly lest they become a nuisance and overweight. They are average shedders of hair and whilst being long haired they are considered a medium maintenance dog as regular brushing and combing is all that is necessary. In Perth’s climate, burrs and grass seeds can be a problem so the coat needs to be checked regularly, particularly the feet which need to be trimmed.
As they gain weight easily (having a large albeit slim frame), exercise is essential. They are prone to hip dysplasia (an hereditary, early degenerative arthritic condition affecting the hips joints), so care needs to be taken when selecting a puppy. Bloat is also an issue as it is with all deep chested dogs. This is a condition where the stomach fills with gas and can then twist on its axis constituting a surgical emergency. Care in limiting exercise after eating, and feeding small meals, is essential in controlling this problem. Von Willebrands disease (a clotting disorder) is reported, as is progressive retinal atrophy (an hereditary condition causing the gradual onset of blindness).
In Perth’s dry climate grass seeds (wild oat seeds) can cause problems in the coat, between the toes and in the ears so these areas should be checked every day in the dry season.
In summary, the English setter has been a very popular pet in Perth over the years. Less so currently as the relatively high maintenance areas of coat, ears and feet have tended to swing potential owners away and towards to the shorter coated breeds.
In general however the sweet, even temper of the English setter should make it a firm family favourite particularly with younger children and to my mind the breed comes highly recommended on this basis alone.