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Gordon Setter

Nicole Cosgrove

June 18, 2021

The Gordon Setter is a medium to large purebred from the UK and was bred to hunt game bird. It has had other names such as the Black and Tan Setter, the Castle Gordon Setter or the Scottish Setter and is in the same family as the Irish Setter or English Setter, it is just less well known. In fact the Gordon Setter is the heaviest of the Setter dogs and has been used for hundreds of years by Scottish hunters. It is still used as such today but can also be kept as a great family dog. It does well in shows such as field trial competitions, conformation, obedience and agility.

The Gordon Setter at A Glance
Name Gordon Setter
Other names Gordon Castle Setters, Black and Tan Setter, Scottish Setter
Nicknames Gordon
Origin United Kingdom
Average size Medium to large
Average weight 45 to 80 pounds
Average height 23 to 27 inches
Life span 10 to 12 years
Coat type Thick, silky, long
Hypoallergenic No
Color Red, black and tan
Popularity Not very popular – ranked 109th by the AKC
Intelligence Quite intelligent – needs 15 to 25 repetitions to understand new commands
Tolerance to heat Good – can live in warm and hot climates just not too hot or extreme
Tolerance to cold Very good – can live where it is cold but not extreme cold
Shedding High – expect a lot of hair around the home
Drooling Moderate – can have some drool and slobber
Obesity Average – can gain weight if allowed to overeat
Grooming/brushing High maintenance – will require some commitment to keep it in good shape
Barking Occasional – some barking so a command to control may be needed
Exercise needs Very active – needs committed active owners as has high exercise needs each day
Trainability Moderately easy
Friendliness Good with socialization – not a naturally friendly dog to all
Good first dog Good but better with experienced owners
Good family pet Very good with socialization
Good with children Good but need socialization and helps if raised with them
Good with other dogs Moderate – socialization is essential as is supervision
Good with other pets Moderate to good – needs socialization
Good with strangers Good with socialization but tends to be wary
Good apartment dog Moderate – best in a home with a yard
Handles alone time well Low – does not like being left alone and can suffer from separation anxiety
Health issues Fairly healthy breed but some issues include joint dysplasia, eye problems, bloat and hypothyroidism
Medical expenses $485 a year for basic health care and pet insurance
Food expenses $265 a year for a good quality dry dog food and dog treats
Miscellaneous expenses $665 a year for miscellaneous items, grooming, toys, license and basic training
Average annual expenses $1415 as a starting figure
Cost to purchase $1,000
Rescue organizations Several including the Gordon Setter Club of America, Inc, the Gordon Setter Club of Michigan and the Gordon Setter Club of Canada – Rescue
Biting Statistics None reported

The Gordon Setter’s Beginnings

The Gordon Setter can find its ancestors, then called Black and Tan setting dogs, in Scotland in the early 1600s. It is in fact the only Scottish setting dog. Two hundred years later with the 4th Duke of Gordon keeping them, they were noticed by others finally for their great hunting skills. In praise of them it was written, “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.” They were used to hunt all kind of game birds but primarily partridge, woodcock and pheasant.

In their early days the dogs were tricolored, red and black and white but the Duke preferred the black and tan look and that became the more common look. He also bred them to be stronger and more powerful than setters of his day. This made it more suited to the Scottish rough terrain where strength over speed was preferable. When he died his son in the 1820s carried on looking after the kennels and breeding. A Black and Tan appeared in the first dog show in 1859 and took the setter section first prize.

In 1842 Danial Webster and George Blunt bought a breeding pair of Black and Tan Setters to the US. The AKC recognized the breed in 1892 and the Gordon Setter Club of America was started in 1924 and it was in the 1920s that its name was changed to Gordon Setter. During the time when filed trial competitions were growing in popularity there was a time when the Gordon Setter’s popularity waned, it was not as flashy as other setters or pointers. It was better as a one man shooting dog. In the UK too big changes were made to the role of gundogs. They were limited to just bring in dead or wounded game birds and pointers and setters popularity decreased while Lab retrievers increased.

New Lease on Life

After the Second World War these changes were made to happen even faster. Along with that came a change in farming which brought down the numbers of partridges. The number of large kennels for Gordons reduced but their numbers did spread to the rest of England so there was a more even distribution. While there were less dogs their numbers did not completely disappear and even today as well as being kept as companion dogs they are still used by hunters of bird. In the UK their quarry is ptarmigan, woodcock, partridge, pheasant, snipe, blackgame and grouse. Elsewhere it is sand grouse, francolin, quail, guinea fowl, sagehen and willow grouse. Basically any bird that does not fly at danger but in fact sits and tries to hide. It is ranked 109th by the AKC.

The Dog You See Today

This is a medium to large dog weighing 45 to 80 pounds and standing 23 to 27 inches tall. It is a slender dog but still heavy and powerful for a setter. It has a short tail it carries low in general but when it is excited it holds it higher. There is feathering on it as well as on the ears, legs and underbelly. The tail feathering changes in length from long at the base to shorter at the tip which creates a triangular look. Its topline slopes downwards towards the rear. Its dewclaws are removed in some places and its feet are catlike being round. Its coat is wavy or straight not curly and in good condition it is glossy, silky and shiny. Common colors are black with reds and black and tan, in fact it is the only setter breed to have a black and tan coat.

There can be markings over the eyes, muzzle, throat, paws and lower legs. Some small amount of white can happen on the chest. Some puppies can be born completely red but that is very rare. It is not accepted in show dogs. Gordon Setters have a large, chiseled and long head with a squared muzzle and a black broad nose. Its ears are long and hang flat and close to the head and are set low. Its eyes are oval shaped and brown in color.

The Inner Gordon Setter


The Gordon can be a great watchdog as it is alert and will bark to let you know if an intruder is trying to get into the home. It does also have some moderate protective instincts so is likely to act to defend you and its home. It does bark occasionally and some even vocalize to their owners, otherwise and is a devoted, loyal and even tempered dog. While it is a puppy you will have the usual rambunctiousness and playfulness but it does become more serious and thoughtful as it matures. However it still likes to play and be active and it can have its silly side. It is a good dog for new owners but is best with experienced owners.

Gordon Setters are very sensitive so do not like to be in homes where there is a lot of tension or raised voices. It will need to be a part of family activities but with strangers are more reserved though will remain polite not aggressive. It hates to be left alone for long periods and can suffer from separation anxiety. This means if you are working every day or out all day this is not the breed for you. It needs companionship and will act out being destructive, loud and hard to control if it is unhappy. This sweet dog is also smart, cheerful and affectionate but ready it does drool!

Living with a Gordon Setter

What will training look like?

Gordon Setters are moderately easy to train as long as you remain firm, consistent and the clear pack leader. Gradual results should be expected and keep in mind some can be more independent and stubborn than others. Make sure training sessions are short and interesting, not overly repetitive and boring. Establish at all times that you are in charge and that the rules you set are always followed. Use positive techniques like treats, encouragement and praise. Harsh scolding or punishments are not recommended. House breaking may take up to 6 months, keep the schedule consistent though and stick with it. Often people use crate training as part of their house training.

When it has grasped basic obedience training it is a good dog to move on to other training as it needs the mental stimulation. Start early, when you bring your puppy home even. It learns quickly and has developed less bad habits and is less stubborn when it is younger. This is also the key time to socialize your dog. Get it used to different animals, dogs, situations, places and sounds. Socialization is key to having a well rounded, confident and trustworthy dog. Gordons are known to have a long memory so once it has learned something it will remember it. On the flip side to this, if it learns a bad habit it is harder to break it of it.

How active is the Gordon Setter?

A Gordon Setter is a very active dog so it should only be in a home with owners who are also active and enjoy being active every day. It is not best for apartment living, it needs at least a big yard or even some land if possible for it to run around on and explore. It can go out in most weather conditions and will want to be engaged in activities with you as well as just going for a couple of good long walks a day. Play some doggy games with it, take it with you when you go jogging or hiking, take it to a dog park for off leash time if not being used as a hunting dog. If it does not get enough vigorous activity (at least 60 to 80 minutes a day) it will become unhappy, high strung, restless, destructive and hard to control. That is vigorous activity not a casual walking pace. Make sure any land or yard is well fenced, if it catches a scent it will go after it. Make sure you pay attention to giving it enough mental stimulation too.

Caring for the Gordon Setter

Grooming needs

Gordon Setters require a moderate amount of maintenance and grooming to keep them in good shape and looking healthy. It will need frequent trips to a professional groomer to have its coat trimmed. It sheds a moderate amount so be prepared to vacuum often and to have some loose hair around the home. Brush regularly, about two to three times a week should be enough to deal with tangles and mats, and to keep the loose hair down. The hair on its feet will need to be trimmed and it may need bathing more frequently than is normally recommended for most dogs. For that reason take the time to use a special shampoo because frequent bathing dries out the skin and coat. Make sure after a bath its ears are dried well to prevent fungal infections. Check them once a week for infection signs and clean them by wiping using a dog ear cleanser, never by inserting anything.

Other needs will include brushing its teeth two to three times a week to prevent tooth decay, bad breath and gum disease. Nail clipping will also need to be done if they get too long. Some dogs wear their nails down naturally with a higher level of activity but if your Gordon’s nails get too long get some proper dog nail clippers to deal with them, or have a professional take care of them, vet or groomer. Always do your homework before taking on any new grooming duty yourself. For example dog nails are not like ours, they have blood vessels and nerves in a lower section so care has to be taken or it will hurt your dog a lot and cause bleeding.

Feeding Time

This breed will on average require at least two meals totaling 2 to 3 cups of a good quality dry dog food. How much a dog needs can vary from one to another depending on its metabolism, level of activity, health, age and build.

How is the Gordon Setter with children and other animals?

Gordon Setters can be good with children when raised with them but socialization is very important too. Gordons can get jealous when others are getting attention other than them but with the right care are good play mates and can be affectionate and protective. Young children should be supervised as they can get knocked over, and they can also get a bit rough with their ear and tail pulling and such. Make sure you teach the children what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to stroking and playing with the dog.

With their high prey drive this breed tends to want to chase small animals not befriend them. In a home where it has been raised with them it can learn to be accepting but it can be aggressive with strange dogs, and with strange small animals outside they will go after them. The dog aggression is especially true of same sex dogs. Socialization is very important.

What Might Go Wrong?

Health Concerns

The Gordon Setter should live for 10 to 12 years on average but it does have a few health issues it can be prone to. These include bloat, eye problems, allergies, hypothyroidism and hip and elbow dysplasia.

Biting Statistics

When looking more closely at reports of dog attacks causing bodily harm in the US and Canada over the last 35 years, there is no mention of the Gordon Setter. It is true the chances of coming across an incident involving this breed in North America is less likely than in the UK, they are less common after all. However in general Gordons are not a dog to fear or be concerned about in terms of aggression towards people. It would take some extenuating circumstances in most cases to lead to anything. That being said it is possible, and no dog is 100% safe at all times. Things can startle it, or set it off, and dogs can have bad days just like us. Importantly as owners we need to make sure we get a dog we can truly take care of. One we can meet its needs in terms of attention and companionship, food and care, and of course socialization and training at least to a basic level.

Your Pup’s Price Tag

A Gordon Setter puppy is going to cost about $1000 for a pet quality dog from a good breeder. If you are dealing with a top breeder, one who often breeds show quality dogs that price is going to be in the several thousands and for either type you should be prepared to go on a waiting list, though for the latter that list is likely to be longer! Using a decent breeder though is something worth waiting for. Avoid puppy mills, pet stores or ads you might come across from backyard breeders. Some may just be ignorant, but many are deliberately cruel and mistreat the dogs, plus you never know the health background or whether it is from a stable line. Another potential place to look are rescues or shelters. It is true that less common breeds are not often found as purebreds in such places, but it can happen, or there may be a mix you fall in love with. These places tend to charge $50 to $400.

Once you have your puppy you should have some things at home ready for it such as a crate, carrier, collar and leash and such. These will cost about $240. A visit to a vet is also a must, it needs to have its shots up to date, be examined, be dewormed, micro chipped, have blood tests done and if old enough be neutered or spayed. These will cost something around $290.

Yearly or ongoing costs are another factor, you need to be able to take care of your dog. Feeding it on a good quality dog food and dog treats is going to cost about $265 a year. Check ups at a vet, basic health care like shots and flea and tick prevention and then pet insurance is going to be around $485 a year. Other costs like license, basic training, grooming, toys and miscellaneous items are about $665 a year. This gives an estimated yearly cost of about $1415.


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The Gordon Setter is a lovely looking dog, very devoted and loyal and affectionate towards its family. It does need a lot of attention though and is not for people who are out all day most days. It is also an active dog so needs to be with active owners. It makes a great family dog but is also a good hunting dog still for sitting birds. If you have other pets or dogs in the home though be sure to raise it with them, and give very good socialization as it tends to get jealous of them and does not get on well with them!

Featured Image credit: Everita Pane, Shutterstock

Nicole Cosgrove

Nicole is the proud mom of Baby, a Burmese cat and Rosa, a New Zealand Huntaway. A Canadian expat, Nicole now lives on a lush forest property with her Kiwi husband in New Zealand. She has a strong love for all animals of all shapes and sizes (and particularly loves a good interspecies friendship) and wants to share her animal knowledge and other experts' knowledge with pet lovers across the globe.

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