Gordon Setter: Dog Breed Information and Owner’s Guide

What is a Gordon Setter?

gordon setter

The Gordon Setter is the largest and heaviest representative from the breed of dogs known as setters, which were originally used to hunt game birds in Scotland. They were initially called the Gordon Castle Setter. All setters are considered part of the “gunboat” or “sporting” group used in hunting.

Dogs from the gunboat group specialize in retrieving live or wounded game. In the case of Gordon Setters, they were trained to retrieve game-birds such as quail and pheasants.

The origin of this remarkable dog can be traced back to 1620. The Fourth Duke of Gordon, Alexander Gordon, played a critical role in the development of this breed. He was responsible for opening a kennel at Gordon Castle in Scotland in the 1800s. 

The first dogs of this breed that came to the United States in 1842, all came from Gordon Castle. In 1892, “The American Kennel Club” renamed the breed to the current name today.

These handsome dogs have large, muscular, builds, and black and tan coats, hence they are also known as “black and tans”.  Although they are not known for their speed, their power and considerable stamina allowed them to handle the harsh climate and rough terrain of the Scottish Highlands.

They are equally known for their incredible sense of smell. During hunting parties, their sense of smell was considered very reliable.

They are loyal, affectionate, intelligent, confident, and highly energetic. As very active dogs, they are best suited for people who can provide them with sufficient amounts of daily exercise. 

This is a dog that needs to run each day. A lazy owner who is unable or unwilling to provide him the opportunity to expend energy is not the right person for this energetic breed.

Experts often point out that they can experience separation anxiety when they are away from their owners. Those prospective owners who are away from their home for many hours may want to consider another breed of dog. 

Gordon Setters can be destructive when they get anxious and start chewing on things. They may also bark excessively.

Male Gordon Setters can weigh up to 80 pounds, and stand up to 27 inches tall at the shoulders. They are known for maturing later than other breeds and are sometimes described as remaining ‘puppies at heart’ well into adulthood.


This is a large, muscular, physically impressive dog. They are often described as having a regal, noble, and dignified look. With their beautiful black coat, brown eyes, and short tail, they present a very striking image. They have long muzzles and a short tail.

Weight and Size

Males can weigh anywhere from 55-80 pounds. Females will usually weigh 45-70 pounds. Males have been known to grow up to 27 inches tall at the shoulders.

Common Colors

While early Gordons displayed different colors such as black and white and tricolor variations, Gordon Setters today are black and they have tan markings.


Their black coat is shiny and soft with medium length hair. It is sometimes described as “coal-black”. They shed year-round and can be rated moderate to high in their overall levels of shedding.

Personality and Temperament

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Behavior around other dogs

Although it isn’t common, Gordon Setters will occasionally exhibit aggression towards other dogs. Generally speaking, this isn’t considered a vicious breed. 

As with many dogs, it is best to socialize them early on with other dogs and animals, particularly if there are other pets in the family. They are dogs with a highly-developed sense of smell and who are instinctive hunters, they have a tendency to pick up animal scents and run after them.

Is a Gordon Setter a Good Family Dog?

Yes, this is generally considered a good family dog, although it may not be appropriate for those with young children. This isn’t due to temperament (although you should be careful with any large animal around children). The concern is that a small child may inadvertently get hurt by an excitable, large, Gordon Setter. 

They are usually very loyal, affectionate, and protective of children. As a very alert and loyal pet, they can also make great watchdogs. They have a tendency to be wary of new people and strangers. 

How to Train a Gordon Setter 

Gordon Setters are very intelligent and they are known to have excellent memories. There are remarkable accounts of them remembering the site of an older successful hunt.

In order to properly train this dog, you need to find the correct balance between being too strict and being too lenient with them. If the training lacks proper structure you will end up with a disobedient dog. If it is too rigid, it will become ineffectual and even counter-productive. 

A good regimen has to be fair and consistent. Some experts recommend professional training classes while they are still puppies to teach them basic obedience.

They can be very stubborn. You will need to make it very clear that you are the boss. If you fail to do so, you will become the owner of a large, intelligent, dog who thinks he’s in charge.

It is important to use positive reinforcement with Gordon Setters.  They are known as very sensitive animals and they will need to be encouraged. A rewards-based system can be very effective.

How To Care For a Gordon Setter 

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Exercise Requirements

Being highly energetic, Gordon Setters require plenty of exercises. Experts recommend at least 1-2 hours of intense daily exercise. 

As with other active dogs, owners can play fetch with them, go hiking, or go jogging. These are good bonding activities. As a breed born to run, they will need plenty of opportunities to do so. Many enjoy participating in dog sports that test obedience or agility.

Experts recommend that you don’t start running with them when they are still puppies. This is considered too early and it can have detrimental effects on their developing bodies. Running while they are still developing may lead to premature joint problems.

Note: As noted above, Gordon Setters have an excellent sense of smell, and they have a tendency to catch the scent of an animal and go on a chase. Owners should consider this whenever taking their dog out for a run. This can also present problems if your dog follows the scent of heavy traffic.

Grooming and Shedding

Gordon Setters are known as moderate to heavy shedders. Many experts place them in the high shedding category. They require a lot of maintenance. Experts recommend that you brush them 2-3 times a week (at the very least) to prevent their hair from matting or tangling. 

The hairs on the bottom of their paws and between their toes should be periodically trimmed.  They have a tendency to pick up dirt and debris when they are walking. Additionally, Gordon Setters should be properly dried off whenever you take them out for walks in the rain, in order to prevent skin infections.

As with their exercise requirements, this breed will need an owner who will groom him regularly. He will need to have his teeth regularly brushed and his nails periodically trimmed. Untrimmed nails are known to cause dogs pain and discomfort when they walk.

Grooming sessions are a great time to check your dog for any signs of infection, other ailments, or general medical conditions. Be sure to check for sore spots on the skin and coat, redness, inflammation, and redness, or other signs of discharge from the eyes, ears, and nostrils. 

Dogs with long, hanging, pendulous ears such as the Gordon Setter are often susceptible to ear infections. It is important to check their ears periodically for any signs of infection. 

It should also be noted that excessive wax build-up in the ears can also lead to ear infections. You will need to carefully clean their ears to prevent this from happening. Additional signs of an ear infection may manifest themselves with your dog scratching at his ears or vigorously shaking his head.

Many experts recommend monthly bathing for overall cleanliness. This is more than sufficient for ensuring his overall cleanliness. There is no danger that such a bathing regimen will dry out his coat.

Good grooming habits are best started when your dog is still a puppy. This will accustom him to the habit of being examined. It will also make trips to the vet much easier in the future.

Be sure to use positive reinforcement and rewards during grooming sessions to cultivate a positive experience. These sessions are a great tool for staying on top of your dog’s overall health.

What To Feed A Gordon Setter 

Like all dogs, they will benefit considerably from a proper diet which provides them with the necessary nutrients. Today there are many brands of quality dog food on the market. Two or three cups of dog food per day should be sufficient. Avoid feeding them human food. They will require sufficient fiber intake to regulate their digestive system.

As will be noted in the next section it is necessary to feed them smaller servings and to be careful that they don’t eat too fast.

They are said to grow very slowly. Sodium can be a problem for this breed and should be eliminated from their diet. A diet that is too rich in protein can also be dangerous for them. This is a large dog that needs to stay lean in order to remain healthy. 

Diligent owners will make sure not to overfeed them. When Gordon Setters grow too fast, it causes many health problems. Make sure that your dog has access to sufficient amounts of clean, clear water each day.

Known Health Problems

This is a relatively healthy breed. Yet there are some medical conditions you should be aware of: Some of the health concerns include: cataracts, dry eyes, Gastric Dilatation Volvulus, hypothyroidism, and Progressive Renal Atrophy (PRA). 

Fortunately, Gordon Setters are not susceptible to dysplasia that affects many other breeds. This does not mean they won’t get the disease. Gordon Terriers are also susceptible to certain types of cancer.

Hypothyroidism: Fortunately, hypothyroidism can be treated with proper medication. With the proper medical attention, your dog can lead a long healthy life. Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces extremely low levels of thyroid. Adverse effects of this condition include infertility, obesity, and low energy.

Gastric Dilatation Volvulus: Also known as “bloat”, this medical condition occurs when stomach torsions prevent the proper flow of blood to the heart. It is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. 

Medical experts believed that Gordon Terriers’ large chest makes him susceptible to this serious medical condition. Eating smaller portions may be helpful in preventing it, as will ensure that your dog eats slowly. 

Experts say that it is dangerous to exercise your dog 30 minutes before or after eating. It may be dangerous due to their predisposition to bloat.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This degenerative disease which affects the retina’s photoreceptors can eventually lead to blindness. From the initial onset of this disease until the time eventual blindness occurs can take 1-2 years. Unfortunately, there is no treatment for PRA at this time.

Some medical experts report that Gordon Setters may have a higher susceptibility to certain types of cancers. These include Lymphoma, Fibrosarcoma, and Hemangiosarcoma.

Gordon Setters are considered high risk for tooth problems. This isn’t just an issue of trying to prevent doggie breath. It is important to clean your dog’s teeth regularly to prevent tartar buildup which is detrimental to his teeth and gums. Tartar can ultimately lead to more serious problems and infections.

Note: A breed’s susceptibility to a disease or medical condition, does not mean that your dog will develop them. It simply means that these are common ailments for this breed. With sufficient exercise, diet, and maintenance, and appropriate medical care, Gordon Setters can live long, healthy lives. 

All dogs have predispositions to certain medical conditions. Overall, this is considered one of the healthier dogs.

Gordon Setter and Water

They are said to love swimming and are a great companion to have at the pool or the beach.

Buyer’s Guide

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How to Choose a Gordon Setter Puppy

So you’ve decided to get a Gordon Setter. How do you ensure that you will select the best puppy? Rather than merely grabbing the most energetic puppy that first runs to you as many suggest consider the following steps that experts recommend when selecting a puppy: 

Step #1: Collectively, observe the entire litter. See how they interact with one another as a group. Observe any aberrant behavior.

Step #2: Only afterward, should you observe each individual puppy when it is separated from the rest of the litter. 

A puppy’s temperament is important. A puppy with a good temperament will:

  • be affectionate
  • will enjoy being held 
  • Will be inquisitive; he will be curious and readily come to you

These are all good signs. 

Puppies should be carefully assessed for any signs or symptoms of physical problems. Carefully check that there are no signs of any medical conditions or ailments. Check for signs of infection, swelling, redness, soreness, or inflammation. 

Any discharges from the mucous membranes, eyes and ears may be indicative of infection. Additionally, you will need to carefully assess the puppy for sore or abraded skin, or bald patches. 

How Much Do Gordon Setters Cost?

Do you have a budget? Gordon Setters can be expensive. Conservative estimates claim that they can cost anywhere from $600 to $2000 from a reputable breeder. Some suggest that puppies from the most respected breeders can go as high as $8000. 

Getting one from an animal shelter is going to cost you considerably less than a breeder. At a shelter it will probably cost approximately $300, to cover the expense of maintenance prior to adoption.

Prospective owners should also consider the cost of feeding the dog throughout his many life stages. The needs of a puppy are very different from those of a full-grown dog.

Additional expenses to consider include future medical visits, vaccinations, and other treatments/procedures, accessories, pet insurance, toys, grooming. Talking about insurance, you could get reimbursed for every vet bill from now on!

Save massively on your pet’s medical costs whether it’s an illness, injury, or wellness expense that needs taking care of.

Read Related Topic: Toy Australian Shepherd: Dog Breed Information and Owner’s Guide

Things To Consider When Purchasing A Dog

  • If you purchase a Gordon Terrier from a breeder, you will want to ensure that he has a good professional reputation. Ask to see his references. A professional breeder will be happy to share such information with you.
  • You want to be certain that all procedures and protocol were followed, including all necessary genetic and medical tests. Ask to see documentation confirming that these tests occurred.
  • Inquire how long he’s been a professional breeder. Find out if he’s part of a reputable breeding club. If he is, find out which one and ask to see his registration.
  • Find out when you can take your dog home. Rarely, are you able to take the puppy home with you right away.
  • Consider getting an older dog:  Some experts suggest getting an older dog since many dogs won’t show their medical problems as a puppy. A healthy older dog might be a good choice.
  • A responsible breeder will be patient with you. He will gladly answer all of your questions and inquiries.
  • Serious breeders will offer a health guarantee for your puppy. This includes providing you with any available documentation of health clearances.  Find out what his policy is if your dog experiences serious genetic problems later on in life. 
  • A responsible breeder will ask YOU questions. He will want to make sure that he finds a good home for his dog. Don’t get upset or annoyed if you feel that you are being interviewed. It is a sign that he cares about his dogs.
  • Don’t buy a puppy from a pet store! Experts say that the likelihood of obtaining an unhealthy dog is much higher at such a facility. The same can be said for the many “backyard breeders” or puppy-mills out there.
  • Ask to visit the breeding facility. Make sure that it is clean and sanitary. A dirty or unhygienic facility is a bad sign. 
  • If applicable, ask to see the dog’s parents. 
  • Observe the whole litter.

Gordon Setter  vs Irish Setter

gordon setter

Gordon Setter Summary Table


  • Loyal and intelligent.
  • Relatively healthy.
  • Aesthetically beautiful.
  • Affectionate.
  • Great pet for active people, particularly those who enjoy running.
  • Live fairly long lives. Approximately 10-12 years.


  • May bark excessively.
  • Require 1-2 hours of daily exercise.
  • Known for moderate-heavy shedding. Not easy as far as maintenance.
  • Not hypoallergenic.
  • Long-eared dogs may be prone to infection.
  • May experience separation anxiety.
  • Require a lot of attention.
  • Be very careful with their diet and eating patterns.


Many people make the mistake of purchasing a certain breed of dog without really understanding what is required. They become enamored with a certain dog and fail to research properly to see if it is right for them. This is very unfortunate.

Different types of dogs have different needs. A good owner will want to know everything there is to know about a particular breed. Not every dog is appropriate for every person.

We have tried to present a balanced and detailed account of Gordon Setter. Hopefully, with the information we have provided you, you now have the capacity to make a better-informed decision to determine if this is the correct breed of dog for you.

The Gordon Setter with its beautiful and striking black and tan coat; large, muscular and power build, and abundant stamina are just a few of the positive things to love about this breed.

This breed exhibits many good traits. They are very loyal and protective of their owners. They are affectionate, intelligent, confident, and highly energetic. 

If you are an active person, you will have a lot of opportunities to bond with your dog. Gordon Setters require plenty of exercise. You can’t be lazy with this breed. If you aren’t an active person, this really isn’t a suitable dog for you. 

The same can be said if you work long hours away from home. Gordon Setters may experience separation anxiety when they are separated from their owners for long periods of time. When they are nervous they have a tendency to destroy things and chew on them.

They are very intelligent but they can be stubborn. They are also known to be sensitive. When training them, you need to show a firm but fair approach. You will need to show them consistency. It is essential to use a rewards-based system and show them lots of positive reinforcement in training.

They require a lot of maintenance. You will need to comb them at least 2-3 times a week. This is a breed that sheds a moderate to high amount of hair, but frequent brushing should lessen the amount of shedding. You will need to groom him frequently.

They are a fairly healthy breed of dog. Some medical conditions you should be aware of include cataracts, dry eyes, Gastric Dilatation Volvulus, hypothyroidism, and Progressive Renal Atrophy (PRA). They are also prone to certain types of cancers.

Is this a good pet for you and your family?

That depends on you. Are you willing to train him properly?  Are you committed to attending to his medical and maintenance needs? Can you provide him with the necessary daily exercise and attention? If you answered yes, then this is absolutely a great pet to own. 

It is up to you. If you are willing to commit to the responsibilities, this loving and loyal family pet will enrich your life for many years.



  • Question: If I choose to get a Gordon Setter as a pet, can I keep it outside in the yard?

Answer: No. This is a breed of dog that is very affectionate and loves interacting with people. It is not an appropriate dog to keep outside. He needs to be in the house interacting with you and your family.

  • Question: Is this a loving dog?

Answer: Absolutely. They are very affectionate and loving to their owners. They are considered good for children.

  • Question: What is a gunboat dog?

Answer: This is a dog that was used during the hunt to retrieve wounded or live gamebirds. 

  • Question: As a breed that was used for years as a hunting dog, will my dog run after animals?

Answer: As hunting dogs, they have a tendency to catch the scent of animals and chase after them.

  • Question: Will my dog bark a lot?

Answer:  Gordon Setters will bark a lot when they are bored, nervous, or encounter strange people.

  • Question:  Is this considered a healthy breed?

Answer:  All dogs are susceptible to some form of a medical condition. Gordon Setters are generally considered very healthy. Nevertheless, there are several medical conditions that are common to this breed, such as bloat, PRA, cataracts, and hypothyroidism.

  • Question: Is this a hypoallergenic breed?

Answer:  No. It is not a hypoallergenic dog. It is generally considered a moderate to heavy shedder  and it will cause problems for people with allergies.

  • Question:  Should I start taking my puppy with me for a morning run?

Answer: No. It is not recommended to start the heavy exercise with your puppy until at least 15 months. Some experts extend the waiting time and argue that such activity shouldn’t begin until they are two years of age. Puppies can injure their joints when they are still developing. This can lead to premature joint problems.

  • Question:  I rarely have time to exercise. Is this a good pet for me?

Answer: No, this is a highly energetic breed that requires a lot of daily exercise. If you enjoy high levels of activity, you will enjoy owning this dog.

  • Question: I live in an apartment and I work very long hours most days? Is this a good dog for me?

Answer: No. An absent owner may lead to your dog experiencing separation anxiety. Nor is an apartment ideal for this breed of highly energetic dogs. He is better suited for someone with a big yard.

  • Question: I want an obedient dog? Should I be harsh and rigid in training?

Answer: Absolutely not. This is a sensitive dog who requires firm but fair training, with a lot of positive reinforcement. Harsh training will be counter-productive.

  • Question: I understand that Gordon Setters are susceptible to Gastric Torsion? What is this?

Answer:  While this medical condition is still not fully understood by veterinarians, it is associated with dogs like Gordon Setters who possess big chests. 

Gastric or stomach torsion may lead to the prevention of blood to the heart. Some experts suggest serving smaller portions and ensuring that your dog eats slowly. This is a serious medical condition that is considered life-threatening, and it requires immediate medical attention.

  • Question: I’ve heard that I need to keep my Gordon Setter lean? Why?

Answer:  Excessive weight gain in this breed can lead to a plethora of medical conditions. It is important to make sure that your Gordon Setter eats the correct food and the right amounts of food to prevent serious medical conditions.

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