Gordon Setters

Gordon Setters are a Scottish breed and the largest of the “Setter” family. This black and tan Setter originated in the kennels of the Scottish nobleman Alexander Gordon (the Duke of Gordon 1743-1827) and were bred for hunting quail and pheasants. To this day they remain one of the most loyal and finest hunting dogs but are now more known for their most endearing trait of devotion to you as your companion and a family friendly dog. The term “Gordon Setter” was officially recognized as a breed in 1873.

Gentle, lovable, affectionate and engaging, these canines are committed to your household and make excellent watch dogs. They are extremely intelligent social animal with expressive eyes and have plenty of energy. They require a minimum of 1 hour of exercise a day, grow to between 23 to 27 inches (58 – 69cm) and weigh on average between 45 to 70 pounds (20 – 32 Kg).

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Black and tan setting dogs were known in Scotland as early as 1620, but it was their presence in the kennels of the fourth Duke of Gordon 200 years later that brought them to prominence. The Castle Gordon Setters had first-class hunting skills and were beautiful as well. It was written of them: “They are not fast dogs, but they have good staying powers and can keep on steadily from morning until night. Their noses are first class and they seldom make a false point. When they stand, you may be sure there are birds.”

The early Gordons also came in black and white, tricolor, and red, but the Duke was said to favor the dogs with black and tan coloring, and that’s what has prevailed over the years. When the Duke died in 1827, his heir, the Duke of Richmond, carried on his kennels.

Between 1859 and 1874, England’s Kennel Club listed 126 Black and Tan setters in its studbook. In June of 1859, at the first official dog show, a Black and Tan Setter by the name of Dandie, took first prize for setters, who could trace his pedigree back to the kennels of the Duke of Gordon. The breed officially took the name Gordon Setter in 1924.

The first Gordon Setters imported into the United States came from the kennel at Gordon Castle. The dogs, Rake and Rachel, were purchased by Daniel Webster and George Blunt in 1842. They were the foundation of the breed in the United States. The American Kennel Club recognized the Gordon Setter in 1892, and the Gordon Setter Club of America, Inc., was formed in 1924. The club is still in existence today and boasts a membership of more than 1,000. Today the Gordon Setter ranks 88th among the 155 breeds and varieties registered by the AKC.

Gordon Setter Characteristics


Gordons are generally healthy, but like all breeds of dogs, they’re prone to certain diseases and conditions. Not all Gordons will get any or all of these diseases, but it’s important to be aware of them if you’re buying or living with a Gordon.

Hip Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn’t fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP). Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. If you’re buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems. Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it can also be triggered by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors.

Elbow dysplasia: This is a heritable condition common to large-breed dogs. It’s thought to be caused by different growth rates of the three bones that make up the dog’s elbow, causing joint laxity. This can lead to painful lameness. Your vet may recommend surgery to correct the problem, weight management, or medication to control the pain.

Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is an abnormally low level of the hormone produced by the thyroid gland. A mild sign of the disease may be infertility. More obvious signs include obesity, mental dullness, drooping of the eyelids, low energy levels, and irregular heat cycles. The dog’s fur becomes coarse and brittle and begins to fall out, and the skin becomes tough and dark. Hypothyroidism can be treated with daily medication, which must continue throughout the dog’s life. A dog receiving daily thyroid treatment can live a full and happy life.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This is a degenerative eye disorder that eventually causes blindness from the loss of photoreceptors at the back of the eye. PRA is detectable years before the dog shows any signs of blindness. Fortunately, dogs can use their other senses to compensate for blindness, and a blind dog can live a full and happy life. Just don’t make it a habit to move the furniture around. Reputable breeders have their dogs’ eyes certified annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist and do not breed dogs with this disease.

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat): Also called bloat or torsion, this is a life-threatening condition that affects large, deep-chested dogs, especially if they’re fed one large meal a day, eat rapidly, drink large amounts of water rapidly, or exercise vigorously after eating. Bloat occurs when the stomach is distended with gas or air and then twists. The dog is unable to belch or vomit to rid himself of the excess air in his stomach, and blood flow to the heart is impeded. Blood pressure drops and the dog goes into shock. Without immediate medical attention, the dog can die. Suspect bloat if your dog has a distended abdomen, is drooling excessively, and retching without throwing up. He also may be restless, depressed, lethargic, and weak with a rapid heart rate. If you notice these symptoms, get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Care & Feeding

Gordon Setters need daily strenuous exercise, so they’re good companions for joggers or runners. A good game of fetch in the backyard or a long walk will also contribute to their physical well being. Puppies are rambunctious and full of the devil. Let them play all they want in the backyard, but limit forced exercise such as road running or obedience jumps to avoid placing unnecessary strain on the still developing bones and joints. Avoid these types of workouts until the dog is 2 years old and introduce them gradually.

Gordon Setters are intelligent dogs who are easy to train, although they require firmness and consistency to prevent them from taking advantage of you. You must be able to provide leadership without using anger or physical force.

Housetraining is fairly easy with most Gordon Setters, although there are exceptions to every rule. Be consistent, keep the puppy on a schedule, and use a crate. Crate training not only aids in housetraining, it also keeps the puppy from chewing (a common habit of Gordon puppies) and provides a safe and quiet place for the dog to rest. The most important thing to remember is that housetraining is a long process. Your Gordon puppy may understand where he needs to do his business, but he may not have the bladder control to see it through until he’s 4 months or older. If you will be gone for long periods of time for work or other activities, it’s important to have someone who will let the puppy out for a pee break.

The silver lining to the Gordon’s wild puppyhood is his quiet and sedate adulthood. He loves competition, however, and can excel in many dog sports. The Gordon can be a busy breed, but once you understand his drive and meet his needs, he can be a wonderful companion who’s just as happy to lie beside you as he is hiking or hunting beside you.

Recommended daily amount: 2 to 3 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.

NOTE: How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don’t all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you’ll need to shake into your dog’s bowl.

Keep your Gordon in good shape by measuring his food and feeding him twice a day rather than leaving food out all the time. If you’re unsure whether he’s overweight, give him the eye test and the hands-on test. First, look down at him. You should be able to see a waist. Then place your hands on his back, thumbs along the spine, with the fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs without having to press hard. If you can’t, he needs less food and more exercise.