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Norwich Bulletin - 9/19/2010

The English Setter

As their name suggests, the English Setter hails from England. Long before hunters had firearms, they used these special dogs and nets. The Setter would find the birds and then “set” which means he would drop down on his chest and front legs with his back legs still erect, indicating where the birds were.

The hunters would then fling a net over the area containing the birds and the dog. Then they would flush out the birds, which would be ensnared by the net and since the dog was in the “set” position, it made it easier for the hunter to get the dog out of the net. These dogs were prized as a good setter meant that the hunter would have enough food on the table for his family. It was said that the English Setter prevented many settlers from starving.

When hunters began to use guns in the 19th century, the setters learned to point from a standing position rather than crouching low. This allowed the hunter to easily see his dog from a greater distance, which is needed when using a gun.

The English setter is a breed that closely bonds to their people so much so, they like to steal things that have the family’s scent. But it’s generally okay because they have soft mouths, which means that your personal item will probably not get ruined. The English setter is expected to bring back birds to the hunter without damaging them. They also have what you would term soft temperaments. They are eager to please their people, which makes them easy to train. They are happy being anywhere you are, doing anything you are doing.

The English Setter is a large dog – about two feet tall at the shoulder – with a feathered coat that is typically clipped down if the dog is used for hunting. Otherwise you need to keep the feathers combed so they don’t matt. They are highly energetic as puppies but they do calm down to be well mannered and gentle house dogs as they grow up. You do need to exercise your dog though, if you don’t use them for hunting.

Ideally, a big fenced in yard, but a small one will also suffice if you spend time playing fetch or Frisbee with your canine. If you are in an apartment, seek out a dog park a couple of times a week and go on brisk walks in the park. Half an hour a day of vigorous exercise will make for a very happy dog.

If you don’t actually hunt, you can show them in field trials, agility or obedience. They love any kind of school. But remember, these are setters and not retrievers, so you may have a problem if you expect to get the ball back every time you throw it. Some English Setters have no desire to retrieve at all.

They are aristodogs – gentlemen and gentleladies – they are mannered and even quite forgiving of their owner’s inadequacies. But don’t think they are in any way cowards. If they are put into a conflict, they will not back down. Children and small animals are treated much gentler than anyone else.

This breed seems to know instinctively that children are different and need to be treated in a calm and nurturing way. They seem to be one of the few breeds that knows it is a large dog. This trait also makes them excellent therapy dogs.

On the down side? They have a squared lip which makes them messy drinkers. They do have some known health problems, including hip and/or elbow dysplasia, deafness and hypothyroidism. And I would recommend a more seditary person not get an English Setter, as they do require activity and a certain level of exercise.

You would not be doing your dog any favors if you took a dog with this type of personality and tried to make it a couch dog. So, always think before you pick a breed no matter how much you like the look of the dog – and always go to a respected and responsible breeder.

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