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Thanks to centuries of selective breeding, we are blessed with different types setters, each with its own distinctive characteristics and personalities. 

But firstly, what exactly is a setter dog? A setter dog is basically a gun dog with a history of hunting birds such as quail, grouse and pheasant in in areas of rugged, stony terrains despite adverse weather conditions.

The term "setter" derives from these dogs' hunting style which consists of crouching low upon spotting birds at a certain distance.

Setter dogs therefore have a natural instinct to show interest in birds, a trait that has been often described as being "birdy."

Setters come in a variety of coat colors with a smooth and silky texture and are known for having long feathery tails.

The Primary "Job" of Setters

Before looking at the different types of setters, it's helpful to get a little more acquainted with what jobs these dogs exactly carried out.  

Because setter dogs specialized in hunting birds, they were often referred to as "bird dogs," on top of being referred to as "gun dogs."

As mentioned, the area of specialty of setters is bird hunting. In particular, setters are known for using a systematic hunting style. 

They are silent hunters using their powerful noses for detecting smells. Unlike hounds, who typically tracks smells keeping their head low to the ground, setter dogs will carry their heads up as they search for birds by analyzing scent molecules wafting in the air.

Rather than chasing the birds as many dogs would do by instinct upon spotting birds, setters will crouch low, a posture known as "setting." This posture came handy in the past when hunters would toss a net to trap the birds.

However, in Europe when the use of nets were replaced by guns, the versatile setter dogs still turned handy. These dogs would hunt by freezing so that the birds could be "flushed" out of dense bushes and then shot by the hunter.

Did you know? When setters catch the scent of a bird, they will wag their tails rhythmically. This tells the hunter that they have managed to track down game.

Vintage painting of three dogs, English Setter, Irish Red Setter and the Gordon Setter in autumn

Vintage painting of three dogs, English Setter, Irish Red Setter and the Gordon Setter in autumn

The Different Types of Setters 

The American Kennel Club lists setters under the sporting dog group. The term "sport" in this case, is meant to depict the trend of hunting as a form of entertainment for members of the nobility and elite classes, a trend that was particularly popular in England. 

 Because setter dogs specialized in hunting birds, they were often referred to as "bird dogs." There are several dog breeds that are considered to be setters. Following are the different types of setters. 

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The Irish Setter

The Irish setter is as Irish as it can be with its typical red or chestnut coat. It wasn't until the 19th century though that kennels started producing solid red setters.

Irish setters were selectively bred for bird setting and retrieving. Back in time, Irish hunters needed a dog who was fast working, equipped with a powerful sniffer and large enough to be seen from a distance. The Irish setter filled the gap with its known versatility.

Picture of an Irish setter. Notice the pretty chestnut coat. 

Picture of an Irish setter. Notice the pretty chestnut coat. 

The Irish Red and White Setter

This breed of dog as the name implies, originated in Ireland. It shares many similarities with the Irish setter, one main difference though is its coat which, as the name implies, has a base color that is white with solid red patches. 

The Irish red and white setter was originally bred to hunt birds such as the partridge, pheasant, woodcock or grouse which tend to hide rather than take flight. 

Despite being an old breed, the Irish red and white setter risked extinction at one point when the red setters became more popular. Thankfully, breeders took action to preserve the breed.

Irish Red And White Setter in Tallinn, Томасина, CC BY-SA 3.0

Irish Red And White Setter in Tallinn, ТомасинаCC BY-SA 3.0

The English Setter

The English setter is the oldest type of setter, perhaps dating back to the 14th century. As the other setters, the English setter was selectively bred to locate quarry on the moors and then set until the birds were dispatched. 

Edward Laverack played a major role in breeding these dogs and coined the term "belton" to depict the roan and ticked flecks of colors seen in the breed, The term derives from the city of Belton where Laverack often hunted.English setters come in a variety of colors.

 Accepted colors include color-orange belton, blue belton (which is white with black markings), tricolor (blue belton with tan on muzzle, over the eyes and on the legs), lemon belton and liver belton.

Picture of English setter 

Picture of English setter 

The Gordon Setter

The Gordon setters comes from Scotland where the breed was used at least from the 1600s. This breed's name derives from the Fourth Duke of Gordon who cared for many of these dogs at Gordon Castle. 

Gordon setters are the heaviest and slowest of the setters, and this trait became most pronounced when the breed first entered the show ring. 

Robert Chapman though worked on making this breed less ponderous. This breed though still remains slower than the other flashy setters.

The Gordon setter is characterized by a coat composed by black and tan markings, either of rich chestnut or mahogany color.

Picture of Gordon setter

Picture of Gordon setter

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