The largest or at least the heaviest of the Setter breeds, the Gordon Setter is a handsome black and tan dog. Gordons as we know them today were developed in Scotland in the 18th century. Gordon Setters are loyal and affectionate. They make good family dogs. Since they are big sporting dogs they do require plenty of daily exercise.
The Gordon Setter Dog Breed Standards & History
Setter-like dogs were probably developed from spaniels and pointer crosses in Britain dating back to the 14th century. Many of the breeds that likely contributed to these crosses, such as the old Spanish Pointer and others, have disappeared over the centuries.
Setters were recognized as a distinct kind of dog by the 16th century. John Caius describes them in the first book about dogs in the British Isles, Of English Dogges, published in English in 1576. The dogs he describes were mostly white with red spots or ticking. He mentions some new dogs that were being brought from France that had black markings.
Over the next 200 years or so, numerous different kinds of Setters were developed in the British Isles. They came in many different colors. There were solid black Setters, white Setters, tri-color Setters, and some with spots. Various sportsmen were known by the dogs they bred and the colors they usually kept in their kennels for hunting. At this time there was also a great deal of interbreeding among these kennels. There were no “English,” “Irish,” or other Setters. Only different kennels existed. There was a melting pot of Setters at that time.
In the 18th century, the Duke of Gordon in Scotland became known for breeding black and tan Setters (many of his dogs were black, tan, and white). Other breeders who bred similar dogs were Mr. Coke of Norfolk, Lord Lovat, and the Marquis of Anglesey.
The dogs that became known as Gordon Setters were especially well-adapted to hunting for red grouse and ptarmigan on the moors in Scotland and the north of England. They were also good in the stubble field of the south of England. When imported to the United States, Gordons proved equally effective in similar terrain.
In appearance, Gordon Setters resemble the other Setters though they have heavier bone. The AKC breed standard calls for Gordons to have the following look:
The Gordon Setter is a good-sized, sturdily built, black and tan dog, well muscled, with plenty of bone and substance, but active, upstanding and stylish, appearing capable of doing a full day’s work in the field. He has a strong, rather short back, with well sprung ribs and a short tail. The head is fairly heavy and finely chiseled. His bearing is intelligent, noble, and dignified, showing no signs of shyness or viciousness. Clear colors and straight or slightly waved coat are correct. He suggests strength and stamina rather than extreme speed. Symmetry and quality are most essential. A dog well balanced in all points is preferable to one with outstanding good qualities and defects. A smooth, free movement, with high head carriage, is typical.
“Short tail” does not mean docked or bobbed. It simply means that it isn’t excessively long.
Gordons are big, sturdy dogs. Males stand between 24-27 inches tall at the should. Females stand 23-26 inches tall. Males weigh 55-80 pounds. Females weigh 45 to 70 pounds. As the standard points out, the weight to height ratio makes the dogs appear heavier than other Setters.
The head is deep with plenty of brain room. The Gordon Setter Club of America (GSCA) has long had a motto referring to their dogs as possessing “Beauty, Brains, and Bird sense.”
Gordon Setter Pictures
Gordon Setters are beautiful black and tan dogs. Even though the coat is predominantly black, it is soft and shining. The coat can be straight/flat or slightly wavy. Their eyes are dark brown and bright. They are active dogs so many of their photos show them at play or in the field.
Gordon Setter Colors
Gordon Setters only come in one color: black with tan markings. The tan markings appear in their feathering, between their toes, over their eyes, on the chest, under the tail, on the throat, and on the sides of the muzzle.
A white spot on the chest is allowed but it should be very small.
The tan color can be a rich chestnut or a mahogany color. (Possibly a hat tip to the days when Setters were interbred with the dogs that would become Irish Setters.)
Tan hair is never mixed in with the black coat.
What to Expect When Caring For a Gordon Setter
Adult Gordon Setters tend to be a little calmer or more dignified than the other Setter breeds. As puppies they are just as rambunctious as any puppy but they do settle down. Some people say that it takes Gordon Setters up to three years to fully grow up so your Gordon could behave like a puppy for a long time.
All Gordons are sweet, gentle dogs with the people they love. They make good family dogs especially for active families.
Gordons do require plenty of regular exercise each day. They are large sporting dogs and they need to run. They will do well in a fenced yard.
Gordons are alert, confident dogs. They tend to be a little more territorial than the Irish or English Setter. A Gordon Setter will not welcome strangers quite as happily as the other Setters. They are a little more cautious, waiting for you to set the tone.
Gordon Setters are fearless, willing, intelligent, and very capable dogs. However, like other Setters, they sometimes have selective hearing. They are quite trainable but sometimes choose not to listen.
As with many large breeds, hip and elbow dysplasia can occur in Gordon Setters. The Gordon Setter Club of America (GSCA) recommends that dogs be tested https://www.ofa.org/recommended-tests?breed=GSE for these conditions prior to breeding. If you are getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the hip and elbow status of the parents.
GSCA also recommends that Gordon Setters be seen by a board-certified American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) veterinarian prior to breeding. Dogs should also have a DNA test for rcd4 Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) prior to breeding. PRA is an eye disease.
Bloat is unpredictable. The causes are unknown. It affects many kinds of dogs. Dogs with deep, narrow chests seem to be most at risk. Dogs that have relatives who have had bloat are at higher risk.
There are no tests for bloat and no definite ways to prevent it. You may never experience it with your dog. There are theories about how to prevent bloat but most of them are questionable. There are a couple of things you can do that seem to help:
- Feed your dog several small meals per day instead of one large meal;
- Encourage your dog to eat slowly instead of wolfing his food down. Using slow feeder bowls can help.
- Try to reduce stress or feed your dog separately if he gets nervous at meal times.
Otherwise, researchers are still looking for ways to prevent bloat.
Gordon Setters are not especially difficult to groom but they do need regular attention to their coats. You should brush your dog a couple of times per week. Pay special attention to your Gordon Setter’s feathering. If it’s left unattended it can develop mats and tangles.
Most dogs can be bathed about once per month unless they get into something stinky or sticky. Then you need to bathe right away to take care of the problem.
You can use a good conditioner or detangler after the bath to help prevent tangles in the feathering.
If you hunt with your Gordon Setter, his coat may pick up burrs or stickers. You might consider using an orange jacket to protect his stomach and coat. The orange will also make him easier to see in some fields. Products such as Cowboy Magic or a good lubricant will also help prevent your dog’s feathers from picking up so many stickers.
Your Gordon also needs to have his nails trimmed regularly. Don’t forget to check his ears and brush his teeth on a regular basis.
As with other Setters, Gordons love to run and play. They are good sports and really enjoy doing just about anything with you. Your dog will love hiking, taking walks, swimming, biking beside you, and anything else you want to do outside.
Gordon Setters are known for their stamina so it can take a long time for your Gordon to get tired!
Gordon Setters also have fun going places with you. They are nearly always well-behaved dogs so your Gordon will probably be welcomed when you drive through a McDonald’s or a bank window. Gordons also enjoy being therapy dogs. They are sensitive, empathetic dogs so they like to visit children at schools and seniors at nursing homes.
Gordon Setters like to please you. They are also very intelligent dogs. They can learn anything you want to teach them. However, you do need to keep them interested in training.
They aren’t quite as selective about their hearing as the Irish and English Setters but Gordons can be a little stubborn at times. While Irish and English Setters can pretend not to hear you, the Gordon may just look at you and say, “No” occasionally.
Bullying and harsh methods won’t work with a Gordon. You will need to find ways to get your dog interested in training and keep it fun.
Gordons can and do excel in rally, agility, tracking, nose work, and obedience but you have to motivate them.
Most Gordon Setters are able to eat good quality kibble made by good companies that meet WSAVA dog food standards. Many breeders recommend foods such as Purina ProPlan. Some like Purina ProPlan for Sensitive Stomachs. Royal Canin and Eukanuba are also popular brands with some breeders. (Current supply chain issues can affect foods for some breeders and dogs.)
In general, foods that include grains are recommended for Gordon Setters unless your dog has a verified grain allergy. If your dog does have a food allergy, we urge you to talk to your veterinarian about the best food to feed your dog.
Common Gordon Setter Mix Breeds
Gordon Setters are considered a Vulnerable Native Breed in Great Britain today. Fewer than 300 Gordon Setters are registered per year there. In the United States, the numbers are also low.
There are not very many people breeding Gordon Setters in the United States or Canada. It’s rare to find any Gordon Setter mix breeds.
We did find the following mixes online:
- Gordon Setter x Chesapeake Bay Retriever: This is a cross of two rare breeds. The dog is black with the wavy coat of a Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
- Gordon Setter x Labrador Retriever: This cross also produced a black dog. This dog is said to be very energetic.
- Gordon Setter x Poodle: This dog is also black. The dog is about 70 pounds, low shedding, good with kids.
- Gordon Setters x Shetland Sheepdog: This dog is black and tan. It resembles a sheepdog with high ears and a high tail, but larger.
Fun Facts about Gordon Setters
- Daniel Webster (Secretary of State from 1841-43 and 1850-52), along with his friend George Blunt, are credited with bringing the first Gordon Setters to the U.S. in 1842. The dogs were named Rake and Rachael. They came from the kennels of the Duke of Gordon. Rake and Rachael became the foundation for the Gordon Setter in America.
- Several famous people have owned Gordon Setters. Ed McMahon, Diane Sawyer, and Tom Selleck have all had Gordons.
- Gordon Setters were one of the original nine breeds that started the American Kennel Club in the 1870s. The AKC originally called the breed the “Gordon Castle Setter.”
- Occasionally, normal Gordon Setter parents can produce a litter of red puppies. This is a genetic throwback to the early crossbreeding in the breed. It’s rare but it does sometimes occur.
- The Duke of Gordon, credited with developing today’s Gordon Setter, hunted on his estate with hawks. It’s possible that his Gordon Setters also hunted with hawks in the late 18th-early 19th century, as Setters were originally bred to hunt.
Do Gordon Setters Make Good Family Pets?
Gordon Setters make excellent family pets. They are gentle, sweet dogs, especially with children. They are very loyal. They often bond with one special person in the family though they love the whole family.
Gordons are very affectionate and they like to be close to people. This is not a breed that you can keep outdoors all the time. They are too sensitive.
Gordons also get along well with other pets especially other dogs. If you have a cat it’s usually a good idea to introduce a puppy into your home so he won’t be tempted to bother the cat. If you have rabbits or small caged pets, take care to train your Gordon not to bother them. Your Gordon could be tempted to chase them if he gets a chance.
Are Gordon Setters Smart?
Gordon Setters are very smart dogs. They are also good with basic obedience training. Some dogs will learn faster than others.
On the other hand, Gordon Setters can be stubborn at times. They do tend to have an independent streak. They do well if you can show them that something is in their best interest.
Find positive ways to motivate your Gordon and training should go well.
Do Gordon Setters like to cuddle?
Yes, most Gordon Setters are good at cuddling. They are affectionate and love to be with people. Like the other Setters, Gordons often like to be touching you in some way, even if they are lying on the floor.. You can expect to have a Gordon Setter’s paw or head on your foot. Some Gordon Setters even think they are lap dogs at 80 pounds.
Is a Gordon Setter a Hound?
No, Gordon Setters are not hounds. All of the Setter breeds are part of the Sporting group. That includes the Irish Setter, the English Setter, the Irish Red & White Setter, as well as the Gordon Setter. They hunt various gamebirds by scenting the air.
Do Gordon Setters shed?
Yes, Gordon Setters do shed. They don’t have a very heavy coat but it will shed, especially in the spring and fall. Regular brushing will help prevent the hair from piling up in your home.
Gordon Setters are gentle, loving, loyal dogs. They are intelligent and devoted to their families. They are also active. If you plan to get a Gordon Setter, make sure you have room for one or you can provide regular outdoor exercise. These dogs have lots of stamina so they need quite a bit of daily exercise. While they are very smart they can be a little stubborn at times so be patient during training. Find positive ways to motivate your Gordon Setter.
Author & Pet Expert
Carlotta Cooper is a vice president of the Sportsmen’s and Animal Owners’ Voting Alliance (SAOVA) and an AKC Legislative Liaison. She writes for multiple pet blogs and she’s a breed columnist for the AKC Gazette. She’s also a contributing editor for the weekly dog show magazine Dog News. She is the author of several books about dogs and other animals.