We don’t know how many dogs the AKC has registered by now, but one dog had to be the first, and it was a dog named, “Adonis.” In 1875, Adonis became the holder of the AKC registration number “1.” Adonis was an English Setter.
Nine years later, the first ever recorded field trial in the United States was near Memphis, Tennessee. Its winner? An English Setter. As it happens, it was the English Setter Association of America that held the first ever AKC licensed field trial, this occurring in 1924.
There are but four AKC setters, and each has a crouching “set,” the word “setter” thought to have come from “setting dogges,” an ancient term used to describe dogs that had the characteristic “set.” Back in 1576 when we were teenagers, Dr Johannes Caius wrote, “There is also at this date among us a new kind of dogge brought out of France, and they bee speckled all over with white and black, which mingled colours incline to a marble blew.” Cynologists believe this is likely an early description of the English Setter’s blue belton color.
Setters are often hunted in braces (a pair) or in threes, and and like Pointers, it’s important for these dogs to “honor” the point of the dog that scents and points the bird first. Detecting birds – or scenting – is done in the air, not nose-to-ground, and it is done while the dog is “quartering” (or zig-zagging) in front of a hunter.
The late Jay Kitchener liked to recall dog show judge, Elliot Weiss’ analogy of setters to bicycles: English Setters are moderate and balanced like a an old-fashioned bicycle, Irish setters are lean and racy like a Tour de France racing bike, and Gordon setters are heavier and sturdier like a mountain bike. This was because of the terrain for which each breed was bred to hunt in its respective country. The English Setter was bred to hunt the relatively level fields and open woods of England, the Irish Setter and the Irish Red and White Setter (the older of the two setters from Ireland), were bred to hunt the bogs and lowlands of Ireland, and the Gordon Setter was developed to hunt the rugged mountains and heavy cover of the Scottish highlands.
English Setter in oil by Joseph H. Sulkowski is found here.