The English Setter belongs to the Gun Dog Breed and was initially used for setting (pointing) game long before the invention of the Gun.
English Setters were bred in large kennels, up to 400 dogs bred specifically for the land they worked. They never entered general public ownership though were occasionally gifted to a local vicar.
Like all the gun dog breeds, in the late 1800s dogs started to be bred for the show ring.
Mr Laverack bred a more glamorous heavier built Dog, with a more even colour and configuration resulting in the Show Dog we see at Cruft's each year. With that exposure more Dogs entered the public domain. The Show Setter of today is a larger built dog with a more defined head, it may or may not be inclined to work, it is generally a relaxed docile companion who enjoys life and is easy to get along with. It's coat requires regular grooming and many are trimmed on a regular basis. It is prone to moments of playful madness which can be difficult if you are 'particular' about your home. They are excellent family pets.
Mr. Llewellin was interested in the working side, continuing generations of selective breeding.
The Working Dogs are referred to as Llewellins.
At the start of the First World War destruction notices were placed on all non essential animals, including the large kennels breeding the Working Dogs. Only the very best survived, primarily due to being sent to America or Australia.
Training a Working Dog requires skill, with so many men failing to return there were too few left to instantly rebuild the blood lines. The Second World War saw more destruction notices, the Working lines struggled during the post war years with a dedicated group keeping the breeding true. Llewellins have never fully recovered, but the highly selective breeding has produced Dogs of high quality which are in great demand around the world.
The Working type are usually smaller, tough resilient animals bred for their hardiness and ability to cover great distances, their coat a mix of fine top layer and thick undercoat needs little attention apart from the removal of general debris which they happen to bring home from the nearest hedgerow or from one of their AWOL expeditions. Their feet and tails do require constant checking.
Working English Setters are known throughout the world as the finest working dogs, highly desirable and their training is something of an art. Odd that so few British fail to recognise the Workers at all.
In the UK that knowledge and skill is held by a handful of dedicated specialists.
From breeding to working, to socialisation and to training they require experienced owners who understand not just the physicality of these incredible animals but the mentality too. What makes them tick. Make no mistake, a Worker is a companion Dog who will happily lay on the sofa, but he is only ever truly happy running free, and achieving that should be the ultimate goal of the owner.
For some Dogs there are times when domestic life combined with the lack of freedom causes immense distress and that is when behavioural problems become a serious issue.
Today, therefore, we have two distinct English Setters in the UK, they both come in the same colours and they are both called Setters but they are two completely different 'wee beasties'...
European Workers are Workers or Dual Purpose. There is a subtle difference and that difference will vary depending on where they are bred. The Dual Purpose is usually easier to settle, easier to train and has a more gentle nature and they can make excellent pets.
A Worker may look very similar to the untrained eye, but they are bred to work, many can and do find adjustment to domestic life difficult. Caution must be taken when considering a working dog, they may be unsuitable to be rehomed with small animals or children.
For all Setters the colours are mainly Blue Belton (black and white), Blue Belton and Tan (black, white and tan) and Orange Belton (orange and white) with occasionally Liver (brown and white) turning up, mostly in the working dogs. Liver in the Show type is rare, a genetic lack of pigment from the Blue resulting in the Liver colour and pale eyes.
In all colours, there is a range from almost pure white to almost solid black.