Larry Slawson received his Master's Degree from UNC Charlotte. He has 15+ years of experience with dogs and various pets.
Throughout the world, there exists only a handful of dog breeds that can be consistently described as affectionate, loving, confident, and bold. One of these dogs is the Gordon Setter. Originally developed in Great Britain during the 1600s for the purpose of bird-setting and retrieving, this breed continues to fulfill this role in the modern age and is a favorite of hunters and various sportsmen. This work examines the Gordon Setter and provides an in-depth analysis of the animal’s behavioral patterns, temperament, and general traits. This includes a discussion of the setter’s health concerns, grooming and exercise requirements, as well as water and nutritional needs. It is the author’s hope that a better understanding (and appreciation) of this remarkable breed will accompany readers following their completion of this work.
“Dogs have given us their absolute all. We are the center of their universe. We are the focus of their love and faith and trust. They serve us in return for scraps. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made. ”
— Roger A. Caras
- Common Name: Gordon Setter
- Binomial Name: Canis Lupus Familiaris
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Canidae
- Genus: Canis
- Species: Canis Lupus
- Subspecies: Canis Lupus Familiaris
- Other Name(s): Gordon Castle Setter; Black and Tan Setter; Gordon
History of the Gordon Setter
- Life Span: 10 to 12 years
- Group: Sporting
- Area of Origin: Great Britain (Scotland region)
- Date of Origin: 1600s
- Original Function: Bird Setting; Retrieving
- Family: Pointer; Setter; Gundog
The Gordon Setter is an older dog breed that originated from Great Britain (in the Scotland region). Originally developed in the 1600s for the purpose of bird-setting and retrieving, early breeders were able to successfully create this particular canine through the selective breeding of Black and Tan Collies, Bloodhounds, and Pointers. Alexander Gordon, the 4th Duke of Gordon, is often credited with establishing the Gordon Setter as a breed, as he sought an “all-around” hunting dog capable of accompanying him on various expeditions into the wild. The end result of his efforts was the Gordon Setter that we know and love today; a dog with a keen sense for hunting, retrieving, herding, and tracking.
In spite of its origins in the 1600s, the Gordon Setter wasn’t officially recognized as a breed until 1872. Originally dubbed the “Black and Tan Setter” by the British Kennel Club, the official classification of this dog as a “breed” paved the way for greater recognition and fame worldwide. By the late 1800s, the dog’s popularity even began to soar in the United States, prompting the American Kennel Club (AKC) to extend recognition to the breed. In an attempt to reconcile the Black and Tan Setter with its origins at Gordon Castle, however, the AKC changed the name of the breed to “Gordon Setter” in 1892. Nevertheless, it wasn’t until January 1924 that the Gordon Setter was officially registered with the AKC.
In regard to the Gordon Setter’s original function and purpose, this particular breed was first developed for the purpose of bird-setting and retrieving. In the modern era, the Gordon Setter continues to fulfill this role, and is a favorite of hunters, sportsmen, and various outdoorsmen due to its remarkable tracking and retrieving skills. Nevertheless, it is important to note that recent decades have witnessed a shift in the Gordon Setter’s role, as hunting has faced a rapid decline in popularity worldwide. As a result, the Gordon Setter has recently become a favorite of family-based environments due to its friendliness and companionship qualities. Experts believe this is a trend that will likely grow in the years that lie ahead.
Appearance and Characteristics
- Weight: 55 to 80 pounds (male); 45 to 70 pounds (female)
- Height: 24 to 27 inches (male); 23 to 26 inches (female)
The Gordon Setter is a relatively large breed known for their muscular and athletic appearance. In regard to their overall size, few dogs within this breed exceed 80 pounds, or 27 inches in total height (with males being slightly bigger than females). Bodies should also be well-proportioned, and showcase plenty of bone, and a “stylish” appearance. Deviations from these rules are considered major faults with this breed that should be evaluated by a qualified veterinarian.
Overall head on the Gordon Setter should take on a deep and rounded appearance that is at its widest mark between the ears. Muzzles should be relatively long (but not pointed), and be proportionate to the overall skull size. Likewise, jawlines should be well-defined, with strong teeth forming a scissor-like form. Completing the muzzle is a broad nose that is black in coloration.
Atop the Gordon Setter’s skull is a pair of ears that are set low on the head (level with the eyes). They are generally quite large and thin, and tend to be folded close to the head. Completing this region is a series of medium-sized eyes that are dark brown, and oval in their appearance. To date, one of the most recognized traits of the Gordon Setter is their beautiful eyes that give off both an intelligent and bright presence.
In regard to the forequarters, the Gordon Setter possesses a pair of shoulder blades that are “fine at the points,” and which form a 90-degree angle with the upper arm bone (akc.org). Front legs are relatively large and well-boned, and follow a straightened appearance when viewed from the front. Completing the forequarters is a pair of cat-like feet with close-knit and well-arched toes. The feet are highlighted by thick padding and heel cushions. Dewclaws may be removed (if desired).
The hindquarters on the Gordon Setter follow many of the same traits of the front. Both the stifle and hock joints should be well-bent, whereas the hind legs are straight, long, and muscular in their overall appearance. Completing the hindquarters is a pair of feet that are generally well-padded (as with the front), and covered in hair.
Tails on the Gordon Setter are relatively short, and rarely reach below the hock. As with many dogs within this group, the tail tends to be thickest at the root before tapering to a point. They are generally carried horizontally, and should never be docked. Approximate length of the tail varies, but is usually quite short.
Coat and Coloration
Coats on the Gordon Setter are both soft and straight, with a slight wave permissible. Hair tends to be longest along the ears, stomach, chest, legs and tail (where it follows a “feather-like” appearance). In other areas of the dog’s body, hair tends to be relatively short.
In regard to color, the Gordon Setter is renowned for their black and tan coloration. Black tends to dominate much of the coat, but is generally highlighted by chestnut or mahogany markings along the sides of the muzzle, eyes, throat, chest, legs, and vent. White spots are permissible, and are occasionally seen along the chest.
Is a Gordon Setter Right for My Home?
- Energy Level: 4/5
- Exercise Needs: 4/5
- Playfulness: 3/5
- Affection Towards Owners: 4/5
- Friendliness Towards Other Animals: 3/5
- Training Difficulty: 2/5
- Grooming Level: 3/5
Note: Scale of 1 to 5 (1=Lowest, 5=Highest)
The Gordon Setter is a hard-working and energetic breed renowned for their tireless spirit, devotion and loyalty to owners. Regularly described by experts as a “lively” breed, the Gordon Setter requires regular attention from their owner in the form of mental and physical training. When these basic needs are met, the Gordon Setter is a remarkable breed suitable for a wide array of individuals (including smaller children). Prospective owners should be aware, however, that this breed can be quite aggressive towards strange animals when not socialized at an early age. For this reason, great care should be taken when introducing a Gordon Setter to new pets for the first time. Failure to do so can result in unpleasant and uncomfortable experiences.
Is the Gordon Setter Good With Children?
Yes! The Gordon Setter is an incredibly affectionate and loving breed that does well with children of all ages. In fact, it isn’t uncommon for the Gordon Setter to become extremely protective of children in their family. They are also highly tolerant of roughhousing and “teasing” by smaller children, and will simply “walk away” when they’ve had enough (dogtime.com). In spite of this, this breed is usually not great with toddlers as their larger size can be enough to accidentally knock children over (particularly those who are just learning to walk).
As with all dogs, however, it is vital for potential owners to always supervise children when in the presence of any dog breed (including the Gordon Setter). This helps ensure that appropriate behaviors are being followed by both your dog and children toward one another, and will go a long way in preventing behaviors that lead to harmful situations.
In addition to supervising, parents should also teach their kids from an early age how to properly approach and touch dogs in the home. Biting, tail and ear pulling, as well as approaching a dog while they are eating (or sleeping) should always be discouraged.
How Smart and Intelligent is the Gordon Setter?
The Gordon Setter is a smart breed renowned for their intellect and learning capabilities. As of March 2021, this breed is ranked #34 amongst the world’s smartest dogs. This places the Gordon Setter side by side with the Samoyed, Bearded Collie, Cairn Terrier, and Kerry Blue Terrier in terms of its overall intelligence level (Coren, 182). As such, prospective owners can expect great things from their setter, as they are highly-capable of learning a wide array of tricks and commands in their lifetime. It is crucial to note, however, that the Gordon Setter can be an exceptionally stubborn breed that is difficult to train. This stubbornness should not be interpreted by owners as a “lack of intelligence.” It simply means that this particular breed requires specialized attention and patience on behalf of owners.
Brushing and Bathing
As a relatively long-haired breed, the Gordon Setter requires regular grooming to maintain their beautiful coat. Prospective owners can expect to brush their Gordon Setter approximately 2 to 3 times a week, using either a brush or comb to prevent matting. Regular brushing is crucial for this particular breed as it keeps the coat both soft and shiny in its overall appearance. It will also go a long way in preventing the buildup of debris, and help to prevent skin irritation or infection.
In regard to bathing, prospective owners should avoid regular baths whenever possible as this can lead to dry skin and dandruff for your pet. Generally speaking, most experts recommend a bath every 4 to 6 weeks for this reason. When bathing, be sure to use a dog-specific shampoo and conditioner as human-based products contain chemicals that can damage your Gordon Setter’s hair. If cost is no problem, professional grooming is also an option.
As with all breeds, owners should pay particular attention to their dog’s ears. This is particularly true for the Gordon Setter as they are a “droopy eared” breed. This type of ear is problematic for dogs, as they trap heat and moisture within the ear canal, resulting in an environment that is perfect for germs and bacteria to flourish. To remedy this issue, owners should plan to check their Gordon Setter’s ears daily for excessive earwax, dirt, and debris (such as the accumulation of hair). Prompt removal of these substances will go a long way in preventing sores and infection.
The following list details 5 specific signs (and symptoms) of ear problems with the Gordon Setter. If you notice these issues, contact your local veterinarian as soon as possible!
In addition to regular ear inspections, nails should be kept clean, short, and trimmed on a regular basis to prevent serious injuries to your Gordon Setter’s paws. This is a crucial aspect of grooming that should never be ignored as longer nails can result in foot and joint issues that are extremely painful to your pet. In extreme cases, nails can even grow downward, forming a curvature that causes them to grow into the foot’s padding over time. Even more troubling is the fact that longer nails tend to become snagged on various objects (or terrain) over time, resulting in painful tears that can bleed profusely and cause infection.
To prevent this issue from occurring, be sure to regularly trim and file your Gordon Setter’s nails to a rounded edge. This can be done at home, or by your local veterinarian (for individuals uncomfortable performing this task). Many professional groomers also offer this service; however, the fee for this is generally a lot higher than other options available.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, dental hygiene is also extremely important for the Gordon Setter. Unfortunately, this is an aspect of grooming that is often ignored by owners (despite its importance). According to dog experts, owners should brush their dog’s teeth on a daily basis (when possible) to prevent the onset of gingivitis and gum disease. To accomplish this, it is important that you purchase a dog-specific toothbrush (and toothpaste) that are designed for the intricate structure of your Gordon Setter’s mouth. After applying toothpaste, gently brush your dog’s teeth, paying particular attention to the gums. Using a circular motion, brush away all food-based debris that you come across.
Failure to comply with this basic grooming necessity will lead to the development of tartar buildup, tooth decay, cavities and bad breath; issues that are detrimental to the safety and well-being of your Gordon Setter.
Exercise and Training Requirements
How Much Exercise Does a Gordon Setter Require Daily?
As an extremely energetic breed (due to its origins as a hunting companion), the Gordon Setter requires strenuous exercise on a daily basis to live a happy and fulfilling lifestyle. In general, most experts agree that approximately 1 (or more) hour of exercise is sufficient for an adult Gordon Setter. This can include long walks, jogging, running, or off-leash activities (such as fetch and various games). Playtime in the backyard can also count towards these requirements. As a general rule, however, it is vital to note that puppies will require substantially less exercise during their first two years of life. If exercised too hard at an early age, Gordon Setter puppies can suffer from a variety of health issues affecting the bones and joints (a health issue that is common for this particular breed). Therefore, it is best to gradually introduce new activities to your puppy and to “build up” to more intense regimens as they age.
As with all dogs, it is vital to closely monitor your pet during routine activities, as warmer conditions and over-exertion can lead to dehydration quickly. Be sure to implement a number of rest breaks during exercise to allow your Gordon Setter time to catch their breath. Likewise, ensure your pet is receiving adequate water to prevent serious injury or harm.
Is the Gordon Setter Easy to Train?
In addition to basic exercise requirements, the Gordon Setter also requires a great deal of mental stimulation on a daily basis due to their sharp mind. As such, prospective owners should plan to devote substantial time towards training regimens that challenge their Gordon Setter daily. Failure to do so can result in the development of destructive behaviors in your pet (such as excessive jumping, chewing, and digging) as your Gordon Setter attempts to “entertain” themselves.
For successful training to occur, it is important to understand that this breed can be remarkably stubborn at times. They are also quite sensitive, and do not respond well to yelling, shouting, or aggressiveness on behalf of the owner. As a result, the Gordon Setter requires both a calm and consistent owner/trainer that is firm (not allowing the dog to take advantage of their kindness), yet also gentle. Nevertheless, if these two items are followed closely, most experts agree that the Gordon Setter is an easy-to-train breed.
In regard to training sessions, housetraining should begin during your Gordon Setter’s puppy stage of development to prevent bad behaviors from becoming habits over time. However, prospective owners will be pleased to know that this particular breed is relatively easy to housebreak if owners are consistent with the training. Obedience training should also be undertaken in their youth to ensure behavioral issues are corrected quickly. Likewise, socialization with other animals and humans will also go a long way in ensuring that your Gordon Setter is well-rounded and capable of coexisting peacefully with others in (and outside) the home.
As with most breeds, a high-quality dog food should always be the number one priority for your pet. These meals can be prepared by a manufacturer, or at home following the guidance and supervision of your dog’s veterinarian. And while it is certainly tempting to provide your Gordon Setter with table scraps or leftovers (for convenience and cost effectiveness), experts agree that human-based foods should always be excluded from your dog’s diet. This is due to the fact that human foods contain a variety of fatty substances, preservatives, and objects (such as bones) that are detrimental to your dog’s health and well-being. The following list details the 10 most toxic foods to your Gordon Setter. This list is in no way comprehensive. When in doubt about which substances are harmful to your pet, always consult with your veterinarian for guidance.
How Much Food Should a Gordon Setter Eat Per Day?
As with all dog breeds, feeding requirements vary significantly with every pet and depend greatly on your dog’s weight, energy level, and age. For this reason, owners should work actively with their veterinarian to establish a feeding cycle that fits their dog’s specific needs. Generally speaking, however, the Gordon Setter requires approximately cups 2 to 3 cups of dry dog food on a daily basis. This should, in turn, be divided into two separate meals of approximately 1 to 1.5 cups, respectively. More active dogs will require slightly more food each day (to replenish lost calories), whereas less-active animals will require only the minimum standards suggested above.
As with many dog breeds, it is important to note that the Gordon Setter is prone to overeating when proper dietary guidelines are not followed by the owner. As a result, it is generally recommended that owners avoid leaving food out all the time for their pet, as this breed lacks a sense of “self-control” when eating.
How Much Water Does a Gordon Setter Need Each Day?
Maintaining proper hydration is also extremely important for the Gordon Setter. Nearly 70-percent of a dog’s body is comprised of water (similar to humans). Therefore, owners should pay active attention to their dog’s water needs throughout the day as their requirements can change in response to both outside temperatures, metabolism, and their daily activity levels. As with most breeds, standard water requirements are usually determined by your dog’s weight. For every seven pounds of weight, a Gordon Setter should consume approximately 6 ounces of water per day. For example, a 77-pound dog would require 66 ounces of water in a day’s time (minimum).
As with food, more active dogs will require slightly more water (in the vicinity of 96.25 to 130 ounces per day), whereas less active animals will require only the minimum suggested intake described above. Likewise, hotter weather will warrant additional water throughout the day, whereas colder conditions will be far less taxing to your Gordon Setter’s hydration levels. If you are in doubt, always check with your veterinarian to ensure you a providing your pet with appropriate water amounts throughout the day.
What Type of Home is Good for a Gordon Setter?
Before adopting a Gordon Setter, potential owners should carefully consider a number of basic requirements that are specific to this breed. Deciding to adopt any pet is a major life decision that should never be taken lightly. In fact, one of the number one causes of pet abandonment (worldwide) stems from the fact that owners find themselves ill-equipped (or prepared) for the rigors of owning a dog or puppy. Listed below is a brief sketch of the Gordon Setter’s basic requirements and needs.
Due to their larger size (in the vicinity of 55 to 80 pounds for males), prospective owners should note that this particular breed is best-suited for more country and rural-based environments. As such, they are a perfect choice for farms and homes with large fenced-in yards that allow the Gordon Setter to actively play and enjoy life. And while it is true that the Gordon Setter can certainly prosper in urban-based dwellings (such as townhomes, condominiums, and apartments, this is generally not recommended as this breed requires strenuous exercise on a daily basis to life a happy and fulfilling life. While these basic needs can be met in city-based homes, providing exercise in these living situations requires a great deal of creativity (and effort) on behalf of the owner that can be problematic over the long-term.
As a final word of advice for individuals interested in adopting a Gordon Setter, it should be noted that this breed possesses a significant “wanderlust” potential. This is due to the dog’s origins as a hunting companion, and its innate desire to track potential prey. As a result, it is generally recommended that prospective owners maintain a large fenced-in area for their Gordon Setter to play in. Likewise, they should always be leashed when in public. Failure to heed this warning can result in chasing, which can be harmful to both your pet and other animals.
Is the Gordon Setter Good With Other Pets?
Yes and no. Generally speaking, the Gordon Setter does well with most pets in the home (including other dogs and cats). However, early socialization with other pets in the home is vital for successful relationships, and should be undertaken during your setter’s puppy stages of development (when they are still young and receptive to learning).
Due to the Gordon Setter’s origins as a hunting breed, it should be noted that this breed is not recommended for homes with smaller pets (such as cats, birds, hamsters, rats, rabbits, or gerbils). Likewise, the Gordon Setter is naturally wary of strange dogs and can become aggressive when not introduced properly. As a result, it is crucial that owners maintain separation between their Gordon Setter and strange animals. Failure to heed this warning can result in dangerous interactions that could prove fatal for smaller pets.
Is the Gordon Setter a Good Guard Dog?
No. Although the Gordon Setter is a relatively large breed that may appear intimidating to strangers, their friendly and aloof demeanor towards strangers makes them a poor choice for a guardianship role. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the Gordon Setter is a remarkably alert dog breed and will actively alert their owners to the slightest sound or disturbance near the home. For this reason, they make for an excellent watchdog. Owners seeking protection, however, will be far better-served by a more aggressive breed (such as the German Shepherd, Rottweiler, or Pitbull).
How to Select a Gordon Setter Puppy
As mentioned above, deciding to adopt a Gordon Setter is a major life-decision that should never be taken lightly. This also applies to the selection of puppies, as great care should be taken when adopting a new dog from a breeder. When examining litters, potential owners should evaluate Gordon Setter puppies with several things in mind. How social is the puppy you are interested in? Do they play well with their brothers and sisters? Do they actively sniff your hand when you reach out, or do they cower in fear? Likewise, is the puppy you are interested in overly-aggressive? Do they growl when you are near, or attempt to cover you in kisses? These are just a handful of basic questions that can help you select a Gordon Setter puppy. When possible, always try to select a puppy that maintains a personality that is in concert with your own. Moreover, ensure that no physical deformities appear to be present, such as unusual limps.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, always ask breeders for health clearances which help to prove that each puppy has been cleared for various health conditions. This includes a certificate from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF), along with certifications from the Orthopedic Foundation of America (OFA) or PennHip that states both of your puppy’s parents are free of eye, hip, and elbow deformities. Likewise, a DNA test stating that at least one parent is free of a hereditary eye disease known as “rcd4-PRA” is also important, as this is a particularly bad issue that is common amongst Gordon Setters. Not only does this ensure that you are getting a healthy puppy, but it also helps prove that the seller is a responsible breeder who cares for the health and safety of their animals.
How Much Does a Gordon Setter Cost?
Overall costs for a Gordon Setter vary significantly and depend heavily on the dog’s age, location, and availability (i.e. public demand at the time of purchase). In addition, the source of the dog is also critical for price determination, as private individuals, sellers, and breeders will charge additional money, whereas adoption sites will charge significantly less (if anything at all). As of March 2021, an individual can expect to pay approximately $600 to $800 for a Gordon Setter puppy. These figures represent only the average costs for a puppy, however, as superior pedigrees and breeders have been known to sell Gordon Setter puppies for as much as $4,000 for a single dog. Likewise, adoption sites may offer this breed for significantly less, with some Gordon Setter puppies being adopted for as little as $50 in recent years.
For those interested in older dogs, expect to pay slightly less with the average Gordon Setter going for approximately $400 to $500 (depending on age).
Recommended Medical Tests and Evaluations for the Gordon Setter:
- Hip and Elbow Evaluation
- Eye Exam
- Thyroid Function Test
Owners should actively work with a qualified veterinarian in their area to develop a nutritional and preventive-care plan for their Gordon Setter. Proper diet, nutrition, and early detection of health issues can go a long way in helping your dog achieve a happy and healthy life. For the most part, the Gordon Setter is a remarkably healthy breed with only a few major health issues. Hip and elbow dysplasia, in particular, remains one of the most common ailments that affect this particular breed. Likewise, thyroid issues and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) are major concerns as well. Proper screening during regular checkups, however, can help to catch these health issues at an early stage; thus, allowing treatment to begin before they progress too far.
With proper care, owners can expect their Gordon Setter to live between 10 to 12 years, although it is common for this breed to live several years beyond this.
Pros and Cons of the Gordon Setter
- Large breed that is sturdy, yet “elegant” and “graceful” in its overall appearance.
- Possesses one of the most beautiful coats in the canine realm.
- Makes for an excellent watchdog due to their alertness.
- Extremely loyal breed.
- Extremely friendly and affectionate.
- Good with children.
- Difficult to provide this particular breed with the exercise and playtime they crave on a daily basis.
- Prone to jumping excessively.
- Extremely stubborn at times.
- Prone to “separation anxiety” when left alone for long periods of time.
- Requires a great deal of grooming (i.e. brushing and combing) due to their luxurious coat.
In closing, the Gordon Setter is a remarkable animal renowned for its companionship and high-degree of energy. Although this particular breed is prone to a variety of bad behaviors (such as jumping), separation anxiety, and extreme stubbornness, owners will be hard-pressed to find another dog that is as loyal and devoted to family members. For these reasons, the Gordon Setter will likely remain a favorite of dog owners, families, and breeders for the foreseeable future. If you are in the market for a new pet, definitely consider the Gordon Setter as an option. You will not be disappointed!
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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Larry Slawson
Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on March 24, 2021:
As a jogger, I would love to have the Gordon Setter. But such is rarely available in my country. Thanks for the interesting informational read.
Liz Westwood from UK on March 24, 2021:
This is a useful and interesting fact file on the Gordon setter.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 24, 2021:
The Golden Setter is a beautiful dog. I have never owned one, but I always thought I would love one.
This is a very well-written article with a wealth of information, Larry. I can't imagine anyone having a question that you didn't answer as the article is so thorough.