Dog Breed Review

Gordon Setter




The largest of all setters and arguably the most handsome, the Gordon Setter is the one and only gun dog out of Scotland. This high energy, large size breed has a nose for the trail. In fact, it goes without saying, “beauty, brains, and bird-sense,” perfectly sums up this breed in three words or less.

From the Duke of Gordon’s to television legend, Ed McMahon —Gordon Setters seem to find themselves among the wealthy to-do.

Perhaps it’s their unique hanging coat or their keen and sweet disposition.

Before you let their looks and stardom fool you, this breed is a serious trailblazer. A prolific hunter. Bird quarry’s worst nightmare. 

But is the breed right for you? Here is what you need to know about the Gordon Setter.


It appears that wealthy and ruling men do love them some Gordon Setter. Where does the breed come from? How did the dog end up in the hands of Daniel Webster?

Gordon Setters originate from Scotland, and as the original and only gun dog, they were bred for specific bird game hunting. Hunters had a need for a breed of dog that could survive the harsh conditions then. Stamina was another requirement.

There are a few theories floating around as to this breed’s lineage. Many believe over 200 years ago, that a Colly (Collie) and Bloodhound were used in creating the Gordon Setter. The other possibility others speculate with is a black setter, a pointer and Bloodhound. There is no full proof, so it is hard saying not knowing. That said, the Gordon Setter is a classic setting dog. 

Although the invention of guns had diminishing effects on the breed’s “setting” responsibility, Gordon Setters did become favorites with the royal class of Scotland during the 18th century. It was this timeframe that made the Gordon Setter the dog we know today. Thanks to devotion and awe from the Fourth Duke of Gordon, which the breed owes its name to, the Gordon Setter became a favorite in Europe during the 18th and 19th century.

Things began to take off for the breed in the 1800’s, even after the deaths of 4th and 5th Dukes of Gordon. During that time, the breed went by their description, which was Black and Tan Setters. In fact, the breed wouldn’t officially be the Gordon Setter in the U.K until 1924 thanks to the Kennel Club.

Imports of Gordon Setters began emerging in the United States in the mid-1800’s. Furthermore, the first import went to a New York breeder, who sold one of his imports to fame senator, Daniel Webster.

In 1884, the American Kennel Club would form and by then the Gordon Setter was well on its way to recognition. In 1879, Bang became the first to make an official stud book in the United States. Not too long after that, in 1892, the breed would gain recognition with the American Kennel Club. During that time, the breed went by Gordon Castle Setter but would lose the “castle” and settle on Gordon Setter in 1892. A year before, the breed’s club would form, the Gordon Setter in America and a standard was written.

The 20th century wasn’t as exciting as the breed would enjoy moderate popularity. Today, according to the American Kennel Club, the Gordon Setter is the 104th most popular breed. 


As the largest setter in the family,  a male should stand between 24 to 27 inches. A female Gordon should stand between 23-36 inches.

With regards to weight, a male can range between 55 to 80 pounds, where a female fluctuates between 45 to 70 pounds.

Personality and Temperament

Don’t let that hanging coat fool you, they aren’t fierce like a bear, but they are a big cuddle bug. This is a breed that is all about their family and demands interaction and devotion. That means, you can’t leave the Gordon Setter alone to its own devices. Gordon Setters crave affection and close contact with their master. 

They do like to vocalize and garner their people’s attention. There isn’t much the breed won’t play with around the house either. One of the knocks on the Gordon Setter, if you want to call it that, is that they take longer to develop maturity. Essentially, you may find yourself stuck with a five or six year mentality. In turn, they do like to express their feelings and what they are feeling by vocalizing and contact.

As athletes and competitors, the Gordon Setter is eager to please and a delight to train. They’ll listen and obey commands without much problem. It does help owning a bit of experience with a touch of independent to them. With that in mind, this is a dog that should have something to do, a role, a job. The Gordon is best with an active family.

Furthermore, if you have the energy, and you want a dog that will greet you at the door, and will excite at the sight of you, this hard working breed, which has the talent to be a wonderful bird dog, is a great fit. They should do fine with younger children and smaller animals. Of course, that has more to do with upbringing and training.


There’s no reason to believe that your Gordon Setter won’t live a long and fulfilling life. In fact, if you buy from a reputable breeder, you should be able to get 12 to 13 years of a life expectancy. The Gordon Setter should see a veterinarian regularly to maintain that good health.

Considerably, this is a healthy breed. Moreover, they are prone to certain issues that seem to linger with the larger breeds.

Bloat or Gastric Torsion is a serious and fatal concern. There are things you can do to prevent the chances of the dog acquiring Bloat. First, you can feed them accordingly. Second, you can break up the meals into two or three meals. And lastly, you can exercise the Gordon Setter about thirty minutes prior or before they eat. Bloat is an excess of air or gas, that stays bottled up. Moreover, the air distends the stomach causing a great deal of pain and at times death.

Hip Dysplasia is a common orthopedic nightmare to contend with for breeds. The malformation of the hip joint can causing rubbing and agitation for the dog. Lameness and discomfort are signs and symptoms. Out of over 6,500 evaluations from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals Survey, the Gordon Setter ranks 47th. This puts them in the company of Affenpinschers, Golden Retrievers, with a 19.2% dysplastic rate. Bulldogs and Pugs suffer the worst fate of Hip Dysplasia.

The breed ranks in the same survey at 30th for Elbow Dysplasia. Out of the 1077 evaluations, the breed did  score a 14.1% dysplastic rate. That puts them in the company of the Tibetan Mastiff and Glen of Imaal Terrier. Conversely, the Pug and Chow Chow suffer the worst fate with regards to this complication in the elbow joint.

Sebaceous Cysts, which is a common problem involving the appearance of a small lump showing up under the skin. This isn’t thought to have many serious ramifications other than being visually unappealing. 

Cerebellar Degeneration, which is a congenital autosomal recessive disorder, that results in a gradual loss of coordination between the Gordon Setter’s age of six months to four years.

A genetic retinal disease found in many dogs, Progressive Retinal Atrophy can be seen in this breed. PRA causes the photoreceptor cells to deteriorate in time and die leading to blindness.

Finally, the UK Health Survey found that most of the issues this breed suffers from are a barrage of tumors like: skin tumor, bladder tumor, oral mouth tumor, old age and unknown reasons for death.

Always make sure you have your breeder provide you the proper documents and health clearances to avoid certain issues unnecessary.


Thus far, you already know that this breed is active and needs a job. There aren’t a ton of health issues but the breed definitely comes with a little bit of upkeep and maintenance. That said, if you are more of a couch potato, the Gordon Setter isn’t going to be the right fit. Neither will they work for apartment dwellers unless you get them outside regularly. This is a breed that needs to get out and do what it does best. They need to explore and put their nose down. They need to track that scent and keep their minds busy.

Exercise is important for the Gordon Setter. About 45 minutes to an hour per day should suffice their energy requirements. You can be a runner, jogger, trail walker, or a beach-goer, and this is a breed that will follow gladly. They will suffer boredom easily, and since the breed has a touch of puppy fever well into their middle ages, you need to provide plenty of physical and mental stimulation.

Early socialization and training is a helpful must. This will help your Gordon Setter around other dogs and smaller children. The more you introduce pets, dogs and children to your Gordon Setter, the better the chance of success you’ll have. Some supervision will be necessary around smaller children and animals the size of prey like mice and  birds.

Leash and fences are a vital thing to have for this breed as their hunting instincts may kick into gear. Trim their nails regularly, brush teeth on occasion and bathe them monthly to avoid malodorous coat odor. 


While most breeders and owners find success with 2-3 cups of top quality dry kibble per day, it will come down to your dog’s needs specifically. For instance, how much your Gordon Setter eats depends on their age, activity rate and metabolism.

Yet, most Gordon Setters are big fans of food and love to gulp it down. This is where Bloat comes into the mix. You’ll want to break up those meals twice daily. Whatever you settle on for a daily amount, apply that twice to their routine.

Moreover, the Gordon Setter may require a protein diet less than 26 percent of protein value. A fiber content value of 4 percent  or over may be necessary as well due to certain health issues. It’s always best to consult a veterinarian about diet.

The breed should do fine with a meat first, animal based diet and get along well with chicken, turkey, beef, and venison. 

Fruits and veggies along with omega 3 and omega 6 will help build stronger joints, improve coat health and strengthen the heart.

Finally, you should always provide your Gordon Setter with fresh drinking water. This, of course, is the most crucial nutrient of all for an active dog.


You may find it surprising to know that the Gordon Setter isn’t that bad to groom. Although, the coat fur that hangs down below the belly will need some regular grooming. You should brush at least weekly or once a week to avoid matting.

The Gordon Setter should have a straight or slightly wavy coat. It should feel soft and present a glossy shine.

Also, the coat color  acceptable by breed standard and the AKC is the famous black and tan.

Fun Gordon Setter Facts

  • The Kennel Club recognized the Gordon Setter in 1872 and the UKC gave recognition in 1949.
  • Gordon Setters are said to have wonderful memories, which helps them find dogs and grasp information easier than other setters or breeds. This also plays into their advantage as show dogs.
  • The Gordon Setter is the only Setter to have black and tan markings on their face.
  • Famous television star, Ed McMahon had a Gordon Setter.
  • Their original name was Gordon Castle Setter.
  • Many historians believe the breed traces back to the early 1600’s.
  • Gordon Setters rank 49th most intelligent breed ranking them among the Aussie Terrier and the American Staffordshire Terrier. This breed can obey commands 70 percent of the time.

Closing Words

Graceful and beautiful. Smart and reliable. These are the words that most Gordon Setter owners will say about their dogs.

From strutting their stuff in the Duke Kingdom to their mad dash in the fields with their humans, the Gordon Setter is a talent that is largely overlooked but can never be totally ignored.


More Dogs