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English Setter in the backyard with a tennis ball.

Graceful, elegant gun dog or sweet and loving family companion? The English Setter is both! Sometimes called the “gentlemen of the dog world,” they’re an ideal combination of versatile hunting partner and gentle, affectionate pet. One look into those soulful eyes and you may be hooked for life.

Their Coat Coloring Is Distinctive

The English Setter’s silky white coat has unusual speckling, called belton, that’s a distinctive trait of the breed. They may be either orange belton (white with tan markings), blue belton (white with black markings), tricolor (blue belton with tan on muzzle, over the eyes, and on the legs), or the less common liver belton or lemon belton. Whatever color, they’re beautiful dogs.

Two English Setters side by side outdoors.
©otsphoto -

They’re One of Four Setter Breeds

The English Setter isn’t the only Setter breed that the AKC recognizes. There are four types of Setters: the English SetterIrish Red and White SetterIrish Setter, and the Gordon Setter. Despite partially sharing a name, these breeds are all distinctly different.

They’re Superb Hunters

If you don’t hunt, you’ll still need to give your English Setter lots of exercise. These are athletic dogs, always up for a hike or a run. In fact, they may get you up and off the couch.

The Breed is at Least 400 Years Old

Developed in Britain with the other Setter Breeds, the English Setter was developed over four centuries ago. Their popularity grew in Britain, and then eventually the United States, as the need for gun dogs rose.

They Are Gentle and Affectionate

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

Their Name Comes From Their Purpose

The English Setter traces its long history back to the 14th century. Medieval English Setters would crouch on the hunter’s front legs to indicate the presence of birds. This laying-down position was called “setting,” hence the name “Setter.”

They are the Subject of a 19th-Century Book

The modern English Setter was developed in great part due to a man named Edward Laverack. He bred together two English Setters, “Ponto” and “Old Moll,” part of a 35-year lineage. He later wrote a book, “The Setter,” all about the breed, published in 1872.

They Are the Smallest Setter Breed

Out of the four distinct Setter breeds, the English Setter is the smallest, considered a “medium” dog where the Irish, Gordon, and Irish Red and White Setters are considered “large” dogs.

The AKC First Recognized the English Setter in 1878

The English Setter was one of the nine original dog breeds recognized by the AKC in 1878. These are called the “charter breeds.”

The First Setter Show

The first-ever breed-specific show for the English Setter happened almost 20 years before they became AKC-recognized. This show took place in an English city called Newcastle upon Tyne in 1859.

Related article: English Setter History: The Making of One of the Oldest Gun Dog Breeds
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Selecting a Puppy

How do you know what breed is right for your family? How do you find a reputable breeder? What questions should you ask a breeder? Download this e-book for guidance on these questions and other important factors to consider when looking for a puppy.
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