Setters & You

Is An English Setter Right For You?

In the right home, an English Setter (ES) can be a wonderful addition to the family. There are several characteristics of the breed that make them just right for some adopters and a big challenge for others. An English Setters engaging personality comes from their high energy levels, natural hunting instincts and their sociability. If you are not already familiar with this breed, please read the information below and watch the videos to help you decide if an English Setter is right for you and your family.

Here is Benny showing how important a securely fenced yard is for a Setter to get  much need exercise.

Here is Benny showing how important a securely fenced yard is for a Setter to get  much need exercise.

English Setters are high energy dogs.

Many English Setters retain an almost puppy-like level of energy throughout their lives. They require physical and mental exercise to help keep this energy at a manageable level. A family with an active lifestyle geared toward activities that would include the dog is ideal. Access to areas with plenty of room for running, such as a fenced home property, is essential. One daily 30 minute walk is not sufficient for a young or an adult Setter. Devoting necessary time to fulfill both a Setter’s exercise requirements and satisfy his or her need for human companionship is very important.

ES are very inquisitive and can be quite inventive when entertaining themselves. Most will ‘self-exercise’ in a yard by running and running to let off their pent up energy. Others will learn to toss and play with a toy all by themselves. Unfortunately, an ES will resort to many other things they consider fun and we consider destructive (such as chewing inappropriate things and digging) if they are left alone too long. An English Setter should not be left in a backyard by themselves when no one is home. Their hunting instincts and athletic ability make them quite adept at escape and once an ES has learned escape skills they will continue to use them whenever they can.

An English Setter is not a breed for a family of “couch-potatoes”, or for an inexperienced dog owner. If you are certain you want an ES and you are not active or dog-experienced, please consider one of our wonderful senior Setters. Even a senior ES needs daily exercise, but a fenced yard for self-exercising and daily walks may suffice.

Benny showing off how he exercises in the house.

Remy enjoys running the yard and tossing a toy by himself.

English Setters have natural hunting instincts.

ES have a natural prey drive, though the level can vary across the breed. This does not mean they are unhappy in a non-hunting home. In fact, many ES in rescue have failed as hunting dogs, and were rejected by their original owners for this reason. It does, however, mean that they need other avenues to direct their natural tendencies to explore their surroundings. ES get bored very easily if not given proper exercise opportunities or they are not given an interesting yard or walks to explore the sights and smells around them.

Because of their prey drive, English Setters are often a threat to cats and other small furry or feathered pets. If an ES grows up in a household with small pets, they can come to accept them as part of their pack. And sometimes an adult ES can be trained to peacefully accept cats and other small creatures as a part of their pack and share a home space, but this cannot be known with certainty in advance. For this reason, caution should always be used when bringing an ES into your home environment with any other small pet companions that could be mistaken as prey. If you bring in an ES and determine they cannot be trusted with cats, birds, etc., you will need to be able to keep them separate for the safety of the smaller animal. In particular, do not make the mistake of assuming that a savvy cat with claws will be able to hold their own with an ES – this is not always the case and the results can be tragic.

Because of their high prey drive, most English Setters cannot be counted on to be reliable off-leash. Many ES will ignore commands if there are natural distractions that are too tempting to them at that moment. Setters should never be let off leash in an unfenced area until the owner has 100 percent certainty that their dog will come when called and the owner is in a safe area in case he or she is wrong. ES and his/her owner will both benefit from obedience and other types of training.

ES do not have a natural recall and if there is an open door, gate or a way out, they are opportunistic and WILL take off running. This may be especially challenging in homes where there are children that tend to leave doors or gates open. ES may not come back and they are at great risk of being hit by a car or injured when on the run because they go so far very fast.

A 10-year old English Setter named Lucy was “self-exercising”. Her 3+ hour activity is compressed into 4 minutes. This older Setter still has amazing endurance and the activity level to match younger dogs of other breeds.  

Here are Rhett and Willy meeting for the first time, and then quickly settling into a game of chase. English Setters need room to run off their energy on a daily basis.  

English Setters love to be around people.

ES are very people oriented and love to please. They thrive upon human interaction and need this to be truly happy. They do best if allowed to live as a part of the family unit as a housedog, and not left in a yard or kennel unattended.

This need for human companionship can sometimes reach the point of what we call “Velcro dog” behavior (following your every step around the house, for example). Also, many Setters experience stress and anxiety when left alone. Since some separation from their human companions is unavoidable, some English Setters do better if they have another canine companion.

To many ES owners the most wonderful trait of an ES is their devotion to their family. They truly can become a man or woman’s best friend. While English Setters are generally great with kids, care must be exercised around small children. A Setter’s eagerness and playfulness could at times lead to unintentional injuries. English Setters are one of the more sensitive breeds and will give warning signs if they are feeling fearful or feel threatened. These signals may not be easily read by children and could result in a nip or correction bite. Proper introduction of children to any dog, regardless of breed, supervising small children when they are around dogs, and teaching children appropriate behavior around dogs is essential.

With the right training and support, ES can do well in obedience, K9 nose work, agility trials, Search and Rescue (SAR), and as human patient therapy dogs.

This video shows Setters watching to make sure that no squirrels come down the trees! 

Here is one of our volunteers with his resident and foster Setters (all are rescues). Many adopters find that one Setter is simply not enough!  

In Summary

For the right person or family who can give a Setter a lot of togetherness, a secure environment and daily exercise, a Setter is a wonderful addition to an active and loving family.