The Gordon Setter, a member of the Sporting Group, was developed from spaniel types to work alongside sportsmen as hunting dogs. They are intelligent, but may be difficult to train as they have a stubborn streak. They need a firm, yet gentle, owner who will provide early and continued training—without letting the Gordon make the rules. They're well suited to a family with an active lifestyle. Running, hiking, hunting, and dog sports are great ways to burn the Gordon's energy, but he's perfectly happy to sit by your feet when the day is done. Though rambunctious as puppies, Gordons tend to grow into laid-back adults who are up for an adventure if it's on the table, but aren't against the idea of a quiet day in.
Gordon Setters are also called Gordons, and were previously called Black and Tan Setters.
The Gordon Setter has a shiny, straight, or slightly wavy medium-length coat with longer hair at the legs, ears, stomach, chest, and tail. The coat is black with tan markings.
Average Height: 23-27 inches
Male: 55-80 pounds
Female: 45-70 pounds
Breed Standard & History
Gordon Setters are sturdy, muscular dogs. The dog lacks neither substance nor style and should offer the appearance of a capable field companion. The head is deep, with wise, dark brown eyes and low-set, pendulous ears. The skull should appear rounded, with a long muzzle. The soft and shiny coat may be straight or waved, in black and tan. A small amount of white on the chest is allowed. The gait is bold and energetic, with the head carried up and tail flagging while in motion. An alert, interested, and confident dog, the Gordon is fearless, intelligent, and trainable. – AKC Breed Standard
Developed in Scotland in the 17th century, the Gordon Setter was originally called the Black and Tan Setter. The breed is likely the result of mixing land spaniel-type dogs with hounds and pointers, though the exact development is unknown.
The 4th Duke of Gordon is credited for major development of the breed at Castle Gordon. It is said he preferred the black and tan coloring, though records hint that the early Gordon had come in tricolor and red. The development of the breed focused on hunting skills, but also put a premium on appearance.
The breed came to the United States in 1842 when two Gordon Setters were imported from Gordon Castle. The AKC recognized the breed as the Black and Tan Setter in 1892, and the name was officially changed to Gordon Setter in 1924.
AKC Breed Category
Intelligent and energetic Gordon Setters can be mischievous, but when given enough exercise—and plenty of training—they are affectionate, devoted dogs who do well as hunting companions, as a family pet, or both. Often puppy-like straight through adulthood, Gordons love any chance to play.
Are Gordon Setters Good with Kids? Gordon Setters are generally good with children of all ages, and usually put up with quite a bit of commotion without complaint. As puppies, they are energetic and bouncy, so small children may be knocked over. Supervision is always necessary when any dog and child are playing, however well you know the dog.
Are Gordon Setters Good with Other Pets? Other dogs and cats make fine companions for most Gordon Setters, but small animals and birds may not be a suitable match due to the Gordon's prey drive.
Loyal, alert Gordon Setters will offer an alarm bark to let you know if someone is approaching, but are often friendly to aloof with strangers once they've been welcomed into the home. They are too friendly to be guard dogs, but they may make good watchdogs.
High-energy Gordon Setters need plenty of opportunities to run and play..
- High prey drive
- Can be stubborn
- May be destructive without enough exercise or attention
- Needs a consistent, yet gentle, owner who will not allow willful behaviors
- Not ideal for apartment living
- Prone to separation anxiety
- Needs an experienced owner and may not be an ideal first dog
Gordons love to relax indoors with their family on the sofa or in their favorite dog bed, as long as they’ve had enough exercise and time to play outdoors. High-energy puppies tend to grow into calm adults who know how to kick back—as long as they have the opportunity to burn off excess energy. They don’t make ideal apartment dogs as they need plenty of time outdoors in fenced areas.
Time outdoors—with family—is some of the Gordon’s favorite. They should not be left outside unsupervised as they may let their sense of smell take over, and they are likely to wander. They’re not suitable as outdoor-only dogs, as they desire plenty of attention from their human pack.
It is important to give your Gordon Setter an hour to an hour and a half of vigorous exercise each day. Dog sports, jogging, and the chance to run off-leash—in a fenced area—are some of the Gordon’s favorite activities.
The Gordon Setter is a sporting breed with plenty of stamina. He will still be ready for a game of fetch after a day on the trail or in the field.
Activity distance rating
- Running Miles: Gordon Setters were bred for endurance, and though they’re not the speediest dogs, full grown, well-conditioned Gordons are happy to run for five or more miles.
- Hiking Miles: Gordon Setters possess the stamina to accompany you on hikes of eight miles and more.
Gordon Setters usually need about 2 to 3 cups of good quality dry dog food each day, split into two meals. This is based on average activity level and weight. They may suffer from gastric torsion, or bloat. Raising the food bowl and limiting activity for an hour after eating can help prevent this dangerous condition.
Gordon Setters do not tend to guard their food more than any other breed, but children should never be allowed to touch or remove food while any dog is eating.
With plenty of attention and exercise, a Gordon may be able to spend a couple of hours home alone—but this people-oriented breed is prone to separation anxiety. Crate training, hiring a dog walker, or sending your Gordon to doggy daycare can help prevent destructive behaviors and separation anxiety.
Health and Grooming
Daily brushing and baths every week or two will keep the Gordon Setter’s long, silky coat mat-free and healthy. Gordons used in the field are likely to pick up burrs, dirt, and debris, and may require extra grooming. Trimming with clippers is not recommended as it can alter the coat’s texture and protectiveness. Drop-eared dogs are more prone to ear infection, so frequent checks and cleaning may be necessary. Trimming nails regularly will help prevent painful splitting, cracking, or a broken nail.
Common Health Issues
The Gordon Setter may have some breed-specific health concerns, including:
- Hip and elbow dysplasia
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Cerebellar abiotrophy
- Gastric torsion (bloat)
You can minimize serious health concerns in a Gordon Setter by purchasing him from a reputable breeder who engages in responsible breeding practices, and through screening for common diseases and conditions.
Though intelligent and able to learn basic obedience without much effort, Gordon Setters get bored with too much repetition. They are usually people-pleasers, but can be stubborn and mischievous, or choose not to listen at inopportune times. Gordons need an experienced owner who uses positive reinforcement methods—and who has patience and a sense of humor.
Agility training and dog sports can help the Gordon Setter burn energy and get the mental stimulation he needs. He is happier and easier to manage when given plenty of time to work and play.
Sporting Dog Training
Birdiness, a keen nose, and plenty of stamina make the Gordon Setter a good candidate for hunting dog training. This sporting breed often excels at tracking, pointing, and retrieving. They're built for stamina rather than speed, and don't balk at a full day in the field. Some may be more far-ranging, while others will hunt closer by. A field-bred, rather than bench-bred, Gordon can make an admirable hunting companion. They also perform well in field and hunting trials.
‘Setter’ refers to the hunting style of this gundog type. A Setter follows the scent of gamebirds and will hold its head high to catch the scent in the air, rather than on the ground. When the dog finds a bird, the dog will then set—or crouch—in front of the bird. The bird will stay in place in an attempt to avoid detection, which gives the hunters the opportunity to dispatch the quarry.
A field bred Setter line prioritizes hunting ability over looks. Dogs from field bloodlines may be smaller, leaner, and have features that don’t match the breed standard. Some breeders of field bred Setters may begin to train dogs for hunting before sending them home with their new owners. Bench bred dogs may have less hunting ability, as the goal is to produce puppies with an appearance as close to breed standard as possible. Though breed standard includes ‘capable of doing a full day’s work in the field,’ appearance and substance often outweigh the dog’s hunting ability in the show ring.