In its very beginnings, the English Setter was not actually used for hunting at all. In the seventeenth century it was used for falconry, or the art of hunting with birds, that was all the rage. Royals such as Louis the XVIII, aristocrats and other members of the upper class would set up in open fields with their falcons and English Setters. Upon signaling the Setters to flush the field of gamebirds, a falcon would then swoop down and take its quarry right out of the air. Royals were known to keep great falconries and kennels during that time. Eventually, the Setter's ability for flushing game was noted as an ideal way to drive game into nets. After the use of firearms became widespread for hunting, the English Setter became known as one of the best gundogs in existence.
Used as a status symbol, it was illegal for any common man to own an English Setter in the early seventeenth century. Nobles felt this was the best way to keep the dog from becoming of weak stock. In fact, any hunting for the common man was banned altogether.
When they were first commonly used for flushing game into nets, the English Setter was taught to lie down when pointing game. However, this led to a problem as hunters began using firearms. Many found that they would have to breed their Setters to stand in a typical pointer fashion if they wanted to keep their hunting companions from accidentally getting shot.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt owned at least seven dogs while in the White House, one of whom was an English Setter named Winks. Though companion animals were not widely in use in the 1930's, Winks was a great help to the president who was stricken with polio at the age of thirty nine. Winks' mellow temperament and watchful eye served to keep the president company while working in the office.
Not only does the Setter category consist of the three different breeds of the Gordon, English and Irish varieties, each also has its own line. While Gordon Setter comes in the Belmor, Melrose, Shome and Springset lines, the Irish Setter comes in the American, British, Smyth and Wendover lines. The English Setter consists of the Llewellin, Lavarack and the Ryman. The little known Newfoundland Setter is a combination of the Irish, Gordon and English Setter.
Many wonder what it is exactly that makes the difference between the Setter and Pointer breeds. Because they are now both trained to stand and point, the best way to tell the difference between the two is in their coats. While Pointers have a shorter coat that lies close to the body, Setter have longer coats that need a certain amount of grooming.