Search Menu
English Setters together outdoors.
©otsphoto -

Four Setter breeds, the English Setter, Irish Red and White Setter, Irish Setter, and the Gordon Setter, combine beauty, brains, and bird sense. These breeds of the Sporting Group double as loyal, affectionate family companions and talented field canines.

These stylish sporting dogs silently locate birds that live mainly on the ground, such as quail, pheasant, and grouse. To alert the hunter, Setters lift their heads and point their exceptional noses skyward to pick up a whiff of wildfowl as they go airborne, rather than running after them.

Known as “gundogs,” the name “setter” comes from the distinctive way this group of dogs crouches or “set” when they find birds. In this position, the setter lowers its body nearly to the ground and stares intently at the bird. Before hunters used firearms, they threw a net over their quarry to trap it. The dog’s low position gave the hunter an unobstructed view of their prize.

English Setters snuggling together with their heads.
Lina Christa/Shutterstock

Once hunters began using firearms, they trained Setters to stand to indicate bird sightings. Today, when Setters pick up an avian scent and encounter prey, they remain motionless. Then, they lift a paw and point their noses in that direction. The dog’s body language alerts the hunter that a bird is near. If a Setter shows interest in birds and acts excited around them, people refer to the dog as “birdy.” Hunters value this attribute, and when they select puppies, they look for this trait.

Early Setters originated around the 15th century in the United Kingdom. Today’s Setters ooze animated personalities and need plenty of daily exercise. These intelligent breeds, with their long, lustrous, silky coats and feathering, turn heads wherever they go.

The American Kennel Club currently recognizes four British Setters as part of the Sporting Group. Each dog has unique traits with subtle differences in their heads and bodies. As a home or a hunting companion, which breed touches your heart?

English Setter

With a history of 400 years, the English Setter was originally bred by English gentlemen from crosses of spaniel and pointer breeds to create bird-hunting dogs. Before the advent of firearms, the English Setter would scent out, crouch, and sit quietly when game birds appeared. With strength and stamina, this breed can work in different terrains in England, Ireland, and Scotland.

English Setter standing stacked in the grass outdoors.
CaptureLight/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

The English Setter is a medium-sized breed, standing about 25 to 27 inches for males and 23 to 25 inches for females, when measured at the shoulder. This breed has a sweet, charming, and fun-loving personality. Its eye-catching, speckled coat consists of a white ground color with the intermingling of darker hairs in what is uniquely described as “Belton” markings in blue, blue Belton, and tan (tri-color) liver, lemon, and orange.

With its long, graceful neck and soft expression, the English Setter has a friendly and merry disposition. Friendly to everyone it meets, this breed loves a good game, needs daily exercise, and is eager to please come training time.

Gordon Setter

Alexander Gordon, 4th Duke of Gordon, was a Scottish aristocrat who bred Black and Tan Setters near Fochabers, a village in Moray, Scotland. He produced rugged bird dogs capable of hunting in the rocky Scottish Highlands. The exact date is unknown.

In 1892, the American Kennel Club changed its name from the Gordon Castle Setter to Gordon Setter. While the exact date of the breed’s development is unknown, Setters are known to have existed in the 1500s or early 1600s. The Gordon Setter’s ancestors possibly date back to 1620.

Gordon Setter standing in a forest in the fall.
©annatronova -

George Blunt brought the first pair of Gordons—Rake and Rachael, to New York in 1842. Rachael went to live with Daniel Webster.

The heaviest of the Setters are 55 to 80 pounds for males and 45 to 70 pounds for females. Gordon males stand 24 to 27 inches tall, while females stand 23 to 26 inches tall when measured at the shoulder. The attractive medium-length double black coat with tan markings sports featherings on its ears, belly, legs, chest, and tail.

Bold, confident, and serious in the field, the Gordon Setter is affectionate and loyal at home. This high-energy breed requires daily physical and mental stimulation but is always ready for a challenge. Eager to compete in dog sports, the Gordon trains easily and bonds closely to its family.

Irish Red and White Setter

Since the 1600s, the Irish Red and White Setter appeared in Ireland to hunt gamebirds. But by the end of the 19th century, the breed had nearly become extinct. Dedicated breeders led by Irish clergyman Noble Huston attempted to revive the breed in the 1920s.

Irish Red and White Setter standing on the bank in fall.
©Field Dog Imagery

A courageous, determined, working and field dog in Ireland, the Irish Red and White was fully recognized by the American Kennel Club in 2009. With an aristocratic and athletic appearance, males stand 24.5 to 26 inches tall and females stand 22.5 to 24 inches tall when measured at the shoulder. Medium-sized, this breed is somewhat shorter and stockier than the Irish Setter.

The Irish Red and White’s medium-length double silky coat is pure white with red patches. This color pattern enables the hunter to locate their dog at a distance. The breed’s rollicking, friendly, and high-spirited nature is a perfect match for an owner who also values canine affection and sociability.

Irish Setter

Irish huntsmen bred sleek Red Setters in the 1800s to run swiftly through the expansive, flat Irish countryside to locate and point upland game birds. The breed was possibly developed from an English Setter-Spaniel Pointer-Gordon Setter mix. Their earliest ancestors were red and white. A tireless and energetic worker, the Irish Setter capably manages wet and dry terrain.

Irish Setter standing in profile outdoors. Photo credit: ©Aler -
©Aler -

The Irish Setter rose to popularity in the 18th century, and was brought to the United States in the early 19th century. The Irish Setter is an energetic and efficient sporting dog, with males standing 27 inches tall and females standing 25 inches tall when measured at the shoulder.

The breed’s flowing, brilliant coat, wither mahogany or chestnut, and rollicking temperament distinguish the Irish Setter and attract admirers in the field and at home. A lovable personality has made this breed a favorite to owners for over 200 years.