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Get to Know the English Setter: Energetic, Enchanting -- and Endangered

How can this most English of breeds is endangered in its homeland?

 |  May 5th 2014  |   5 Contributions


Once the most popular breeds in America, the English Setter's numbers have decreased so much it was flagged in 2012 as one of five native British breeds in danger of extinction in its country of origin. Numbers there have increased slightly since then. With its flashy good looks, athletic physique, and jovial personality, the English Setter is like a buried treasure just awaiting rediscovery.

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English Setter in profile by Shutterstock

More interesting things about the English Setter

  • Before hunters had guns, dogs who spotted birds were bred to crouch so the hunters could throw a net over the birds without it getting snagged on the dog. These "setters" date at least back to the 14th century in the English moors.
  • Two breed founders, Edward Lavarack and Purcell Llewellin, concentrated on different aspects of the breed. Today's show-style English Setters descend from the Lavarack stock, and field style setters from the Llewellin stock.

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  • Field-style setters, sometimes called Llewellin Setters, are smaller, with less hair and a greater tendency to have patches, rather than flecks, of color. They also tend to carry their tails higher.
  • The very first dog of any breed registered with the AKC was an English Setter named Adonis, in 1878.
  • In the 1880s, the most popular AKC breed was the English Setter. It remained in the top 10 until the 1920s.
  • A Llewellin named Count Noble was referred to as the "$10,000 hunting dog" and was so famous that when he died in 1891 the New York Times ran an obituary. His stuffed body was on display in the Carnegie Museum of Natural History for more than a century and is now in the National Bird Dog Museum in Tennessee.
  • An English Setter called Daro won Best in Show at the Westminster dog show in 1938. Six have won the Sporting group there; the last was in 1982.

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English Setters come in a variety of colors. Setters run by Shutterstock

  • One of the most famous show dogs of all time was an English Setter from the 1950s called the Colonel, who was one of the first dogs of any breed to win more than 100 Bests in Show.
  • Some people may confuse the English Setter with the Brittany or Welsh Springer Spaniel, but the English Setter is much taller. It may also be confused with the Irish Red and White Setter, but the English Setter is finer boned, tends to have flecks of color and its spots may also come in black.

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Setter in snow by Shutterstock

  • The English Setter is predominantly white with flecks of color; ideally, patches of color are confined to the head and ears. This flecking pattern is called "belton" in the breed. Dogs can be orange belton (flecks of orange), blue belton (flecks of black), or tricolor (blue belton with tan o muzzle, over eyes and on legs), lemon belton or liver belton.
  • Owners include Grover Cleveland and John Steinbeck.
  • The English Setter is currently the 91st most popular AKC breed, holding fairly steady for the last decade.

Do you own an English Setter? Have you spent time with one? Let's hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you'd like us to write about, let us know that, too! 

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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron's Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier

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