Setter Gundogs: What You Need to Know

Setters are a type of gundog used for hunting game birds such as pheasant and grouse. There are four setter breeds in the UK; English, Irish, Irish Red and White and Gordon. Setters search for game by scent and do so methodically. When they encounter prey, they freeze rather than chase, and it is their distinctive stance, a sort of crouch or ‘set’ they have when they find the game which gives them the name ‘setter’.

Setter gundogs training with dog accessories

Why Setters?

Setters are born with an instinct to hunt, and breeders and trainers will go for puppies that have a distinct interest in birds. The setter breed combines beauty with brains; they move quickly and quietly, which has made them competent stealth hunters and are dedicated and enthusiastic about their work. Setters search for prey by air scenting, performing with their heads up in the air, rather than with their nose to the ground. Setters are widely used today for hunting and gun sport among other activities that involve air scenting.


The early setter breeds are believed to have been developed as far back as the 15th-century in the UK. Ancestors of the modern setter were probably bred from Spaniel stock. By the 17th-century, setters had become established and were widespread in Britain, although the evolution into the four breeds of setters came later. The modern English Setter, for example, first appeared in the 1800s, and breeds from certain lines became very popular. Working lines have become separate from show lines; show lines are usually considered to be heavier and larger.

For Irish Setters, also known as Red Setters, they followed a similar history to their English cousins. As early as 1845 however, setters in Ireland were predominantly red, or red and white. The preference for a solid-coloured dog affected the appearance of an Irish-bred setter.


Setters are considered to be a happy, playful and cheerful dog with a kind temperament, which makes them easy to train. They are active and energetic and also patient with children, which means they also make for good pets as well as working dogs. Setters are an intelligent breed, and a lot of time needs to be spent training them and keeping them active. Their long history as active working dogs indicates they require a significant amount of exercise and should be given plenty of opportunities to run around and taken on long walks. Fur Feather & Fin has a wide range of dog accessories available online that can make training setters and exercising them fun for both you and your dog.

Setter gundogs training with dog accessories


Most setters have long, smooth, silky coats that require maintenance. English Setters are of a medium size, with a flowing coat and tail, and their colouration has a ticked pattern, with a base of white and flecks of a contrasting colour. English Setters are particularly prone to deafness, with up 12% suffering to some extent from hearing impairments. Irish Setters have an easily recognisable red colour and medium length coats, with feathered legs and tails. They are medium in size, lean and generally considered to be a healthy breed.

Irish Red and White Setters are similar in appearance to the Irish Setter but are stockier. As their name implies, the Red and White Setter has a two-tone coat that is shorter with fringes on the legs and tails. This breed is one of the UK’s vulnerable breeds, with fewer puppies being registered each year.

Gordon Setters are one of the larger setter breeds and has a distinctive long, slightly wavy black and tan coat. They are heavyset and stocky compared to the leaner Irish and English setters. Many Gordon Setters are also considered to carry the recessive gene that causes retinal atrophy, with as many as 50% affected or carrying the gene.

Setter gundogs training with dog accessories


The different setter breeds will have slightly different requirements, but overall, setters need a decent amount of exercise every day as they are energetic and active dogs. Being intelligent dogs, they also require exercise that will make them think, as their brain needs to be in as good shape as their body. Setters also live a relatively long time, commonly reaching 12 to 15 years old. It is important their health is looked after, such as their ears, as having long floppy ears can cause problems for the dog if the ears aren’t regularly cleaned. The long coat of setters also needs maintenance, especially if they are working dogs. When out hunting for game in the field, their coats can become very dirty and tangled with sticks or leaves.

Take a look at our blog to see our other gundog guides about Spaniels, Labrador retrievers and German Shorthaired Pointers.

Image credit: Luis Sanchez, Richard Gunn

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