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The English Setter

The English Setter is an elegant bird dog and a loving companion. Setters have been around in England for over 400 years, but the modern English Setter was established in the 1800s. They were bred to be a proficient bird dogs that would easily identify game out in the field. To learn more about this amazing breed, check out the resources on this page.

Breed Overview

The English Setter is a medium-sized sporting dog of a sweet temper and show-stopping good looks. It is one of the AKC's four British setters created to work on the distinctly different terrains of England, Ireland, and Scotland. English Setters are elegant but solid dogs of beauty and charm. The word 'Belton,' unique to the breed, describes the speckled coat patterns of colors that sound good enough to eat: liver, lemon, and orange. Under the showy coat is a well-balanced hunter standing about 25 inches at the shoulder. A graceful neck proudly carries a long, oval-shaped head, and dark brown eyes convey a soft expression. The merry English Setter is known as the gentleman of the dog world but is game and boisterous at play. English Setters get on well with other dogs and people. 

Breed History

The English Setter’s history goes back some 400-500 years. Early authorities say the breed precedes the Pointer in development. Evidence in sportsmen’s writings suggests the English Setter was originally produced from crosses of the Spanish pointer, the large water spaniel, and the Springer Spaniel. The Setter was developed to lay down quietly, or “set,” when they located game birds. This style of hunting at the time would then require the hunter to cast a net in the area, sometimes covering the dog, and flush and harvest the ensnared birds. This low-lying method was ideal for net hunting as a standing dog on point would be much more easily tangled in the net. Any breed that “set” was branded a setter. Ultimately, the Setting Spaniel’s keen nose and superiority in finding birds made it the best choice in the selective breeding that developed dogs for this particular purpose. In the 18th century, firearms replaced the nets, and further selective breeding developed an upright point in Setters, the better to see the dog from a distance. The 19th century saw a divergence of Setters into different breeds, evolving based on their location and the terrain they hunted. Considerable credit for the development of the modern Setter goes to Edward Laverack of England, who, in 1825, obtained “Ponto” and “Old Moll,” products of a 35-year-old English Setter line. Another prominent figure in this breed’s development was R. LL. Purcell Llewellyn of Wales. Though he had bought his dogs from Laverack, Llewellyn focused on field performance, unlike Laverack, who is mostly associated with the show Setter. Once the breed was exported to America in the 19th century, C.N. Myers of Blue Bar Kennels in Pennsylvania played a major role in developing the English Setter in the states.

Breed Standard

The breed parent club creates and keeps the standard of every breed. For English Setter, that is the English Setter Association of America. 

General Appearance

An elegant, substantial, symmetrical gun dog suggests the ideal blend of strength, stamina, grace, and style. Flat-coated with feathering of good length. Gaiting freely and smoothly with long forward reach, strong rear drive, and firm topline. Males are decidedly masculine without coarseness. Females decidedly feminine without overrefinement. Overall appearance, balance, gait, and purpose should be emphasized more than any component part. Above all, extremes of anything distort type and must be faulted.


Size and proportion in harmony with the body. Long and lean with a well-defined stop. Head planes (top of muzzle, top of skull, and bottom of lower jaw) are parallel when viewed from the side. Skull--oval when viewed from above, of medium width, without coarseness, and slightly wider at the earset than at the brow. Moderately defined occipital protuberance. Length of skull from occiput to stop equal in length of muzzle. Muzzle-- long and square when viewed from the side, of good depth with flews squared and fairly pendant. Width in harmony with the width of the skull and equal at nose and stop. Level from the eyes to the tip of the nose. Nose--black or dark brown, fully pigmented. Nostrils wide apart and large. Foreface--skeletal structure under the eyes well chiseled with no suggestion of fullness. Cheeks present a smooth and clean-cut appearance. Teeth--close scissors bite preferred. Even a bite is acceptable. Eyes--dark brown; the darker, the better. Bright and spaced to give a mild and intelligent expression. Nearly round, fairly large, neither deep-set nor protruding. Eyelid rims are dark and fully pigmented. Lids fit tightly so that the haw is not exposed. Ears--set well back and low, even with or below eye level. When relaxed, carried close to the head. Of moderate length, slightly rounded at the ends, moderately thin leather, and covered with silky hair.

Neck and Body

Neck--long and graceful, muscular and lean. Arched at the crest and clean-cut, it joins the head at the base of the skull. Larger and more muscular toward the shoulders, with the base of the neck flowing smoothly into the shoulders. Not too throaty. Topline--in motion or standing, appears level or sloping slightly downward without sway or drop from withers to tail, forming a graceful outline of medium length. Forechest--well developed, point of sternum projecting slightly in front of the point of shoulder/upper arm joint. Chest--deep, but not so wide or round as to interfere with the action of the forelegs. Brisket deep enough to reach the level of the elbow. Ribs--long, springing gradually to the middle of the body, then tapering as they approach the end of the chest cavity. Back--straight and strong at its junction with loin. Loin--strong, moderate in length, slightly arched. Tuck up moderately. Hips--croup nearly flat. Hip bones wide apart, hips rounded and blending smoothly into hind legs. Tail--a smooth continuation of the topline. Tapering to a fine point with only sufficient length to reach the hock joint or slightly less. Carried straight and level with the back. Feathering straight and silky, hanging loosely in a fringe.


Shoulder--shoulder blade well laid back. The upper arm is equal in length to and forms a nearly right angle with the shoulder blade. Shoulders are fairly close together at the tips. Shoulder blades lie flat and meld smoothly with the contours of the body. Forelegs-- from front or side, forelegs straight and parallel. Elbows have no tendency to turn in or out when standing or gaiting. Arm flat and muscular. Bone is substantial but not coarse, and muscles are hard and devoid of flabbiness. Pasterns--short, strong, and nearly round, with the slope deviating very slightly forward from the perpendicular. Feet--face directly forward. Toes closely set, strong and well-arched. Pads well developed and tough. Dewclaws may be removed.


Wide, muscular thighs and well-developed lower thighs. The pelvis is equal in length and forms a nearly right angle with the upper thigh. In balance with forequarter assembly. Stifle well bent and strong. The lower thigh is only slightly longer than the upper thigh. Hock joint well bent and strong. Rear pastern is short, strong, nearly round, and perpendicular to the ground. Hind legs, when seen from the rear, are straight and parallel to each other. Hock joints have no tendency to turn in or out when standing or gaiting.


Flat without curl or wooliness. Feathering on ears, chest, abdomen, the underside of thighs, back of all legs, and on the tail of good length but not so excessive as to hide true lines and movement to affect the dog's appearance or function as a sporting dog.

Markings and Color

Markings--white ground color with an intermingling of darker hairs resulting in Belton markings varying in degree from clear distinct flecking to roan shading, but flecked all over preferred. Head and ear patches are acceptable, but heavy patches of color on the body are undesirable. Color--orange Belton, blue Belton (white with black markings), tricolor (blue Belton with tan on the muzzle, over the eyes, and on the legs), lemon Belton, liver Belton.

Movement and Carriage

An effortless, graceful movement demonstrating endurance while covering ground efficiently. Long forward reach, strong rear drive, and a lively tail, and a proud head carriage. The Head may be carried slightly lower when moving to allow for greater reach of forelegs. The back is strong, firm, and free of the roll. When moving at a trot, as speed increases, the legs tend to converge toward a line representing the center of gravity.


Dogs are about 25 inches; bitches are about 24 inches.


Gentle, affectionate, friendly, without shyness, fear, or viciousness.

Approved November 11, 1986

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More Information and Resouces About the English Setter

Here are more helpful resources when learning about this beautiful and elegant breed.

English Setter Association of America

The English letter association of America is the national club for the English Setter in the United States of America ESAA is the guardian of the breed and determines the official breed conformation standard.

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American Kennel Club

Founded in 1884, the not-for-profit AKC is the recognized and trusted expert in breed, health, and training information for all dogs. AKC actively advocates for responsible dog ownership and is dedicated to advancing dog sports.

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Orthopedic Foundation for Animals

Information about OFA-CHIC Health Testing Requirements

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Dog Breed Health 

A guide to genetic issues in dog breed. The Breed Information pages outline the needs of each type of dog so that you can choose one which will suit your lifestyle. The main genetic health problems for each breed are listed, as well as the health screening and testing available for the breed.

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English Setter Breed 101

ESAA Owner's Guide to Owning an English Setter!

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Grooming DVD

Whether you own a show dog or a family companion it is important to keep your English Setter in top condition.  Topics covered are equipment, toweling the dog, table bath, nail and ear care, grooming feet, hock, head, body and tail and also grooming information for the companion dog.

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Llewellin Setter – The Full History of the Richard Purcell Llewellin Legacy

Project Upland- Speak the words “Llewellin setter” and you are bound to be met with controversy. On one side are the devoted bird hunters who count themselves among the ranks of owners of a bloodline developed over 150 years ago, while others will say there is no difference between an English setter and a Llewellin.

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Pure Dog Talk- In a breed which most would consider “split” between shown and field, to the point Melissa describes them as two separate breeds, competing with a “Laverack” or show-type English Setter in Field Trials is an uphill battle as the dogs’ running and pointing style are radically different than those of it’s “Llewellin” cousins.

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Conformation Resources

These are conformation related resources to help prepare you and your English Setter for the show world.

Leading Edge Show Academy

Leading Edge Dog Show Academy is the world's first and leading institution for online dog show instruction. We are proud to offer classes on handling, training, and grooming for all breeds and skill levels. 

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Leading Edge Show Academy
English Setter 101

This course is an introduction to the basics of trimming all four of the setter breeds. You will learn the subtle differences between the English, Gordon, Irish and Irish Red & White Setters. From Clipper-work, to carding and raking you will learn skills that will be valuable to you no matter what your skill level. 

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How to Stack your Dog

Everything you need to know about getting started stacking your dog - a FREE step-by-step guide for absolute beginners! No previous knowledge needed.

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