What to Know About English Setters

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on April 28, 2022
6 min read

The English Setter is a strong-willed, affectionate, and wonderful dog that you can share your living space with. These dogs love to give and receive affection and are good with families that have children and other pets. The English Setter breed is sturdy and athletic but generally has a graceful and stylish appearance. It has a characteristic long, feathery, and silky coat that is unique to the breed.

English Setters are a medium-short breed. Adult males can grow up to 25 inches in height and weigh 65 to 80 pounds. Females are slightly shorter, measuring about 23 inches at the shoulder and weighing about 45 to 75 pounds. With their graceful gait, English Setters demonstrate courage, endurance, and beauty. They enjoy activities like Frisbee, chasing, agility, and hunting — activities that are ideal for an athletic dog.

These dogs have long, lean, and muscular necks that carry their heads gracefully. Their heads are slightly domed, a feature that gives them an oval shape, with a long and square muzzle about an inch below the eyes. English Setters have round brown eyes and a black or brown nose that is well structured, with broad nostrils. Their ears are laid back on their heads, with a fringe of hair around them. The mainly white body coat of English Setters may contain flecks of color called Belton that occur in shades of blue, orange, lemon, or chestnut. 

Many English Setters have flat and feathery coats that appear silky but are not abundant. They do shed moderately, so it's good to have grooming tools in the house. Regular brushing will help keep loose hair off furniture and floors. The dogs also have a straight, long tail that is heavily feathered and levels with their back.

The English Setter’s temperament is gentle, eager, strong-willed, and playful. This makes these dogs suited for families that can offer them attention and love. They are sociable and enjoy being around people and other dogs. English Setters are very intelligent and easy to train. They are natural-born hunters, are very energetic, and require regular physical activity like daily walks, hiking, and jogging to channel their energy. The English Setter breed has an average lifespan of 12 years. 

Like all dogs, English Setters require care and attention to keep them healthy and safe. Care for English Setters entails:

Grooming. English Setters are moderate shedders, and they require regular brushing. Cleaning their long coat can be challenging, but using a fine-toothed comb or a slicker brush makes it easier. Weekly brushing helps keep their coats healthy and prevent tangles and mats from forming. In addition, trimming the hair around the pads on your dog’s feet allows them to walk comfortably on all surfaces.

Exercise. Exercising for about 30 minutes or more daily will help your dog stay active and alert. But puppies and young dogs don't need vigorous exercise because their bones may not be fully developed. This breed enjoys hiking and has exceptional skills in bird hunting. Outdoor activities make for great forms of exercise for English Setters.

Training. English setters are intelligent and eager. You should begin training them as early as possible. Maintain a routine with short but regular training sessions throughout the day. You’ll need to start by training them with simple commands like "sit" and "stand." Rewarding your dog with treats and praise when they get the commands right is a great way to train them.

Feeding. Your pet’s diet should contain appropriate nutrients but be low on calories. English Setters can easily pile on pounds, so you need to keep an eye on your dog’s daily intake to prevent obesity. You can feed puppies three times a day, but remove one meal when they get a year older. Make sure to always provide your dog enough clean water. 

English Setters are generally healthy dogs — but, like many dog breeds, they are prone to hip dysplasia, parvo, and other diseases. Regular veterinary checkups, even when your dog appears healthy, go a long way toward maintaining your dog’s lifelong health and happiness. During routine checkups, the veterinarian will review your pet’s medical history and ask if you've noticed any change in your pet’s behavior.

Infections. Like every other dog breed, English Setters are susceptible to bacterial and viral infections. Most of these infections are preventable through vaccinations. They include:

  • Parvovirus: This virus affects your dog's gastrointestinal tract. It's passed through direct dog-to-dog contact or contact with contaminated stool, items, or people. Ask your vet about getting your dog vaccinated to prevent infection.
  • Rabies: This is a deadly virus that can be passed from the saliva of infected animals to people. This disease is vaccine-preventable.
  • Distemper: This is a highly contagious viral disease that affects domestic dogs and other animals. It's possible for infected dogs to shed the virus for months. Mothers can also pass this virus on to their puppies through the placenta. If your dog has this condition, they'll develop a watery or puslike discharge from their eyes. Then they'll develop a fever, followed by nasal discharge, vomiting, reduced appetite, coughing, and lack of energy. Puppies and dogs can get infected by breathing droplets from the sneezing or coughing of an infected dog or wild animal. Distemper can also be spread by sharing food, water bowls, and toys. Vaccination is vital for preventing canine distemper. 

Hip dysplasia. Canine hip dysplasia is a common condition that affects the bones of many dog breeds. It causes the hip joint not to develop properly, and as a result, the ball and the socket of the hip joint don't fit. Symptoms of canine hip dysplasia include:

  • Unusual gait
  • Stiffness
  • Difficulty moving
  • Lethargy
  • Limping
  • Loss of thigh mass, also known as muscle atrophy
  • Pain

Dogs with hip dysplasia can live healthy and happy lives once the condition is treated either through surgery or through lifestyle changes.

Dental disease. A huge percentage of dogs are affected by periodontal diseases, English Setters included. Bacteria can accumulate in your dog’s teeth to form a calcified plaque that progresses to infection of the gums and roots of the teeth. You can prevent tooth deformities by regularly cleaning your dog’s teeth.

Obesity. English Setters are also at risk of being overweight. This is a serious health condition that can cause joint problems, heart disease, and back pain. Ask your vet to help you choose a healthy diet for your dog. 

Congenital deafness. While some dogs are born deaf, some may develop hearing loss through trauma, infection, or blockage of the ear canal. Fortunately, loss of hearing can often be recovered, and dogs with permanent deafness can be trained to understand hand signals rather than verbal commands.

Allergies. Allergic reactions in dogs can be triggered by pollen, insect proteins, mold spores, medication, and dust mites, among other allergens. Consult your veterinarian on what medication to use to manage allergies in your English Setter.

English Setters are gentle and social dogs. They're capable of forming strong bonds with families and are great around children and other pets in your home. These dogs are strong-willed and make good athletic dogs. They love to seek attention and bark at just about anything. English Setters are alert and protective of their families. Training classes for puppies are important to prevent unruly behavior in the future. Some Setters do drool occasionally — but drooling can also be caused by a serious condition. Consult a veterinarian for a diagnosis if your dog drools excessively.

The English Setter dog, initially known as the Setting Spaniel, was originally used by bird hunters in the 18th century. This breed is believed to have been developed by crossing the Spanish Pointer, Water Spaniel, and Springer Spaniel breeds. These dogs were popular among the wealthy due to their strong, sturdy appearance and their long, silky coats. English Setters were among the first dogs to be accepted as purebreds when the American Kennel Club was established in 1878. The American Kennel Club recognized the English Setter in 1884.

Although English Setters were originally bred as hunting dogs for bird hunting, they are now often used as companion dogs owing to their gentle and people-loving nature. These dogs can live well in most homes as long as they're well taken care of. Be sure to stay in close contact with your vet if you're a dog owner to stay updated on your pet’s health.