Gordon Setter

  • Gordon Setter Dog Breed

    Mary Bloom

  • Gordon Setter Dog Breed

    Mary Bloom

  • Gordon Setter dog

    Nick Ridley, Animal Photography

  • Gordon Setter Dog Breed

    Mary Bloom

  • Gordon Setter dog

    Tetsu Yamazaki, Animal Photography

  • Breed Group: Sporting
  • Height: 23 to 27 inches at the shoulder
  • Weight: 45 to 80 pounds
  • Life Span: 10 to 12 years

The Gordon Setter’s best qualities are said to be beauty, brains, and birdiness. He has a silky black coat set off with tan markings and requires grooming about three times a week.

Breed Characteristics

Adaptability 5 stars Dog Friendly 2 stars Shedding Level 3 stars
Affection Level 5 stars Exercise Needs 5 stars Social Needs 3 stars
Apartment Friendly 1 star Health & Grooming 4 stars Stranger Friendly 2 stars
Barking Tendencies 3 stars Health Issues 3 stars Territorial 3 stars
Cat Friendly 3 stars Intelligence 5 stars Trainability 5 stars
Child Friendly 5 stars Playfulness 5 stars Watchdog Ability 5 stars

Did You Know?

Developed by the Dukes of Gordon, the black and tan dogs were originally known as Gordon Castle Setters.

This Scottish breed has been established since the 17th century and takes his name from Gordon Castle, where he was developed by the fourth Duke of Gordon. Dressed in sophisticated black and tan, the Gordon Setter is the heaviest and most muscular of the three Setter breeds. In the field, his job is to find and point gamebirds, working at a slow, methodical pace. Hunters appreciate his intelligence and scenting ability, but his good qualities aren’t limited to the field. The Gordon also makes an excellent companion dog, if you can give him the daily exercise he needs.

The Gordon Setter is loving and mild-mannered, but that doesn’t mean he’s not active. Choose a Gordon if you are an active person who can give him the exercise he needs. A long walk or a half-hour run will do, or you can take him hiking or run him alongside your bicycle. He also enjoys participating in dog sports such as agility, obedience, rally, and tracking.

The gentle and protective Gordon can be a good choice for families with children. He’s tolerant toward toddlers and energetic enough to play catch for hours on end. He also gets along well with other pets such as cats if he’s raised with them. Gordon Setters are alert and will bark to let you know that someone is approaching. They are reserved toward strangers, preferring to save their affection for their families.

The Gordon is smart and easy to train with positive reinforcement techniques. Be patient and gentle, and he’ll respond eagerly. He’s not necessarily a barker, but he is vocal, expressing himself with mumbling and grumbling to tell you about his day, what he thinks of his meals, and when it’s a good time to take him for a walk.

There are some differences between Gordon Setters bred for the field and those bred for the show ring, but the chasm is not as wide as it is in other sporting breeds. The breed has a weight range of 45 to 80 pounds, with field-bred dogs falling on the smaller end of the scale. Both types make good companions.

The Gordon’s thick, longish coat needs frequent combing to prevent or remove mats and tangles. A bath every six weeks or so doesn’t go amiss. In addition, trim the nails as needed, brush the teeth, and keep the ears clean and dry to prevent infections.

Last but not least, it should go without saying that a people-loving dog like the Gordon Setter needs to live in the house. He'll grow despondent relegated to the backyard with little or no human interaction.

Other Quick Facts

  • The Gordon is the largest of the three setter breeds.
  • The Gordon dresses to the nines in a silky black coat with rich mahogany markings and feathering on the legs and tail.
  • The Gordon is an uncommon breed. You may have a wait of a year or more before a puppy is available.
Next: History ›

The History of Gordon Setters

The Gordon is a Scottish breed who takes his name from the Dukes of Gordon. It was the fourth Duke who began to develop the black and tan setting dogs that were common in the area. At the time, they were known as Gordon Castle Setters and were renowned for their pointing ability, ease of training, and great stamina. When he took over the kennels in 1835, the sixth Duke worked on maintaining the dogs’ field ability and standardizing their appearance.

Gordons were imported by Americans George Blunt and Daniel Webster in 1842, and the dogs were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1884, making them one of the original AKC breeds. Today the Gordon appeals to a special subset of hunters and dog lovers who appreciate him for his noble good looks, scenting ability, and mild manners. He ranks 98th among the breeds registered by the AKC.

‹ Previous: Overview

Gordon Setter Temperament and Personality

Gordons are attentive and lively with agreeable dispositions. They are loyal to their family and wary of strangers, both characteristics that make them excellent watchdogs. If you introduce your Gordon to someone, he’ll accept their attention but isn’t likely to seek it out. A Gordon should never be shy or aggressive toward people, but he may be aggressive toward other dogs. He can learn to get along with cats if he is raised with them, but he may view outdoor animals as prey.

With children, the Gordon is a good friend, especially if he is raised with them. If a Gordon doesn’t like the way a child is playing with him, he’s apt to just walk away. A young Gordon may be too rambunctious for a toddler, though.

The Gordon should be calm and quiet in the house, that is, until he sees you pulling out your shotgun for hunting or the leash for a walk. He has a high activity level and a daily walk or run of at least an hour (which can be broken up into two or three outings) will meet his exercise needs. He’s best suited to a country home where he can practice his hunting skills. If you don’t hunt, try him out in agility, dock diving, obedience, rally, or tracking. 

In the field, the Gordon is cooperative, with strong drive and good scenting ability. He must generally be taught to retrieve but is capable of tracking wounded birds and bringing in dead game on land and from water. He often ranges out when he’s hunting but is usually good about checking back in.

This is an intelligent dog who is moderately trainable. He responds best to patient, gentle handling.

Start training your puppy the day you bring him home. Even at eight weeks old, he is capable of soaking up everything you can teach him. Don’t wait until he is 6 months old to begin training or you will have a more headstrong dog to deal with. If possible, get him into puppy kindergarten class by the time he is 10 to 12 weeks old, and socialize, socialize, socialize. However, be aware that many puppy training classes require certain vaccines (like kennel cough) to be up to date, and many veterinarians recommend limited exposure to other dogs and public places until puppy vaccines (including rabies, distemper and parvovirus) have been completed. In lieu of formal training, you can begin training your puppy at home and socializing him among family and friends until puppy vaccines are completed.

Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know your lifestyle and personality. If you plan to hunt or compete with your dog, research lines carefully to make sure the puppy’s parents have the type of hunting ability you’re looking for. Whatever you want from a Gordon, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.

‹ Previous: History
Next: Health ›

What You Need to Know About Gordon Setter Health

All dogs have the potential to develop genetic health problems, just as all people have the potential to inherit disease. Run from any breeder who does not offer a health guarantee on puppies, who tells you that the breed has no known problems, or who keeps puppies isolated from the main part of the household for health reasons. A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur.

Gordon Setters can be affected by certain health problems.The most common orthopedic conditions are hip and elbow dysplasia. An eye disease called progressive retinal atrophy is a potential concern. Hypothyroidism may affect the Gordon. It is a common hormonal disease in dogs in which the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroxin. Cancers such as fibrosarcoma are also seen in the breed.

Not all of these conditions are detectable in a growing puppy, and it is impossible to predict whether an animal will be free of these maladies, which is why you must find a reputable breeder who is committed to breeding the healthiest animals possible.  They should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for common defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.

The Gordon Setter Club of America participates in the Canine Health Information Center, a health database. Before individual Gordons can be issued a CHIC number, breeders must submit hip and elbow evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and eye test results from the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). PennHip certification of hips is also accepted.

Breeders must agree to have all test results -- positive or negative -- published in the CHIC database. A dog doesn't need to receive good, or even passing, scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease. But, all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents. If the breeder tells you tests aren't necessary because they've never had problems in her lines, the dogs have been "vet checked," or offers any other excuses for skimping on the genetic testing of their dogs, walk away immediately.

Careful breeders screen their breeding dogs for genetic disease and breed only the healthiest and best-looking specimens, but sometimes Mother Nature has other ideas. A puppy can develop one of these diseases despite good breeding practices. Advances in veterinary medicine mean that in most cases the dogs can still live a good life. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and typical causes of death.

Be aware that Gordon Setters are among the breeds likely to bloat, a condition in which the stomach expands with air. This can become the more serious condition, gastric torsion, if the stomach twists on itself, cutting off blood flow. Gastric torsion strikes suddenly, and a dog who was fine one minute can be dead a few hours later. Watch for symptoms like restlessness and pacing, drooling, pale gums and lip licking, inability to purge, and signs of pain. Gastric torsion requires immediate veterinary surgery, and most dogs that have bloated once will bloat again. That means it’s wise to opt for the procedure known as "stomach tacking," which will keep the stomach from twisting in the future. This procedure can also be done as a preventive measure.

Remember that after you’ve taken a new puppy into your home, you have the power to protect him from one of the most common health problems: obesity. Keeping a Gordon Setter at an appropriate weight is one of the easiest ways to extend his life. Make the most of your preventive abilities to help ensure a healthier dog for life.

‹ Previous: Personality
Next: Grooming ›

The Basics of Gordon Setter Grooming

The Gordon has a long, thick coat with feathering on the ears, legs, belly, and tail. Depending on the type of terrain your Gordon is out in every day, you will probably need to brush and comb him one to three days a week to prevent or remove tangles and mats, remove dead hair, and distribute skin oils. In addition to brushing, you’ll need to trim the hair on the bottom of his feet and between his toes.

That’s just the basics. Look here for more details on how to keep your Gordon looking like the stylish setter that he is. If you want to give him a clip for the summer, look here for advice.

The Gordon Setter sheds moderately. The more often you brush him, the less hair you will find on your floor, furniture, and clothing.

Gordons love swimming and playing in water. Be sure to keep the ears clean and dry to prevent bacterial or yeast infections from taking hold.

The rest is basic care. Trim the nails as needed, usually every few weeks. Brush the teeth frequently for good overall health and fresh breath.

‹ Previous: Health
Next: Finding ›

Finding a Gordon Setter

Whether you want to go with a breeder or get your dog from a shelter or rescue, here are some things to keep in mind.

Choosing a Gordon Setter Breeder

Finding a quality breeder is the key to finding the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right puppy, and will have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out as many problems as possible. He or she is more interested in placing pups in the right homes than making big bucks.

Reputable breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances, and what the dogs are like to live with. They will come right back at you with questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you plan to provide. A good breeder can tell you about the history of the breed, explain why one puppy is considered pet quality while another is not, and discuss what health problems affect the breed and the steps were taken to avoid them. A breeder should want to be a resource for you throughout your dog’s life.

Look for more information about the Gordon and start your search for a good breeder at the website of the Gordon Setter Club of America. Choose a breeder who has agreed to abide by the GSCA’s code of ethics, which prohibits the sale of puppies to or through pet stores and calls for the breeder to take back a dog at any time in its life if the owner can’t keep it.

Avoid breeders who only seem interested in how quickly they can unload a puppy on you and whether your credit card will clear. Breeders who offer puppies at one price “with papers” and at a lower price “without papers” are unethical. You should also bear in mind that buying a puppy from websites that offer to ship your dog to you immediately can be a risky venture, as it leaves you no recourse if what you get isn’t exactly what you expected. Put at least as much effort into researching your puppy as you would into choosing a new car or expensive appliance. It will save you money in the long run.

Lots of reputable breeders have websites, so how can you tell who’s good and who’s not? Red flags include over-availability, multiple litters on the premises, a choice of any puppy, and the ability to pay online with a credit card. Those things are convenient, but they are almost never associated  with reputable breeders.

Whether you’re planning to get your new best friend from a breeder, a pet store, or another source, don’t forget that old adage “let the buyer beware”. Disreputable breeders and facilities that deal with puppy mills can be hard to distinguish from reliable operations. There’s no 100% guaranteed way to make sure you’ll never purchase a sick puppy, but researching the breed (so you know what to expect), checking out the facility (to identify unhealthy conditions or sick animals), and asking the right questions can reduce the chances of heading into a disastrous situation. And don’t forget to ask your veterinarian, who can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy puppies. 

The cost of a Gordon puppy varies depending on the breeder’s locale, whether the pup is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. The puppy you buy should have been raised in a clean home environment, from parents with health clearances and conformation (show), and, ideally, field titles to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies should be temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.

Before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Gordon might better suit your needs and lifestyle. Puppies are loads of fun, but they require a lot of time and effort. An adult may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive, and demanding than a puppy. With an adult, you know more about what you’re getting in terms of personality and health and you can find adults through breeders or shelters. If you are interested in acquiring an older dog through breeders, ask them about purchasing a retired show dog or if they know of an adult dog who needs a new home. If you want to adopt a dog, read the advice below on how to do that.

Adopting a Dog From a Gordon Setter Rescue or Shelter

There are many great options available if you want to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.

1. Use the Web

Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com can have you searching for a Gordon in your area in no time flat. The site allows you to be very specific in your requests (housetraining status, for example) or very general (all the Gordon Setters available on Petfinder across the country). AnimalShelter can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Also some local newspapers have “pets looking for homes” sections you can review.

Social media is another great way to find a dog. Post on your Facebook page that you are looking for a specific breed so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.

2. Reach Out to Local Experts

Start talking with all the pet pros in your area about your desire for a Gordon. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. When someone has to make the tough decision to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations.

3. Talk to Breed Rescue

Most people who love Gordons love all Gordons. That’s why breed clubs have rescue organizations devoted to taking care of homeless dogs. The Gordon Setter Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. You can also search online for other Gordon rescues in your area.

The great thing about breed rescue groups is that they tend to be very upfront about any health conditions the dogs may have and are a valuable resource for advice. They also often offer fostering opportunities so, with training, you could bring a Gordon home with you to see what the experience is like.

4. Key Questions to Ask

You now know the things to discuss with a breeder, but there are also questions you should discuss with shelter or rescue group staff or volunteers before you bring home a dog. These include:

What is his energy level?

How is he around other animals?

How does he respond to shelter workers, visitors and children?

What is his personality like?

What is his age?

Is he housetrained?

Has he ever bitten or hurt anyone that they know of?

Are there any known health issues?

Wherever you acquire your Gordon Setter, make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. Petfinder offers an Adopters Bill of Rights that helps you understand what you can consider normal and appropriate when you get a dog from a shelter. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Puppy or adult, take your Gordon to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues.

‹ Previous: Grooming

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