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Gordon Setter


The Gordon Setter, in olden times praised as the "black and fallow setting dog" and sometimes called the Black-and-Tan Setter (or less commonly the black-white-and-tan setter), the Scottish Setter, the Castle Gordon Setter or simply the Gordon, is the heaviest of the setter breeds and has been popular among Scottish hunters for centuries. It is the only setter developed in Scotland, and was bred primarily to hunt woodcock, pheasant and partridge. The breed was accepted into the American Kennel Club in 1884 and fully recognized as a member of the Sporting Group in 1892.

Gordon Setters are allowed considerable range in size under the AKC standard, because hunters from different parts of the country prefer their dogs to be of a size best-suited to local terrain. Adult males should stand 25 to 27 inches at the withers and weigh between 55 and 80 pounds; females should be 23 to 26 inches in height and weigh between 45 and 70 pounds. Their silky coat is black with deep mahogany or rich chestnut markings and well-feathered legs. It may be straight or wavy, but never curly, and only needs an occasional brushing to keep it shiny and soft. Their pendulous ears should be cleaned regularly to prevent infection and accumulation of foreign matter. These large dogs have a tendency to drool. They also tend to be great talkers, with an amusing "vocabulary" of vocalizations.

History & Health


The origin of the Gordon Setter dates back to at least the early 1600s. The breed came into prominence in the early 19th century in the kennels of Alexander, the Fourth Duke of Gordon, in Banffshire, Scotland, whose name now adorns the breed. He concentrated on creating a stronger, slightly smaller but more powerful version of the typical setter of his day – one more suited to the rugged terrain in northern Scotland. He sacrificed speed for strength, purposefully.

Two direct descendants of the Duke's kennels, Rake and Rachel, were imported to the United States in 1842 by Mr. George Blunt, who was mesmerized by their beauty and exceptional hunting skills. Rachel and Rake are considered the foundation Gordon Setters in America. Other Gordons were imported from Great Britain and Scandinavia to help perfect the American "type." As field trial competitions became increasingly popular, the Gordon became less fashionable for a time, as it habitually works "close to the gun," without the flashiness and speed of some other breeds, particularly the English Setter, Irish Setter and Pointers. However, it remains among the most capable and sought-after one-person shooting dog of any breed.
The Gordon Setter Club of America, which was organized in 1924, makes no distinction between show and field type in its breed standard, unlike many other hunting breeds. Many Gordon Setters achieve dual championships in both conformation and field trials. Gordons also excel in obedience, agility and other performance endeavors. Today's Gordon Setter differs very little from its ancestors and retains its keen intellect, excellent memory and characteristic eagerness to work for a loving owner. The modern motto for this breed is "beauty, brains, and bird sense."


The average life span of the Gordon Setter is 10 to 12 years. Breed health concerns may include allergies, bloat (gastric dilatation and volvulus), cataracts, combined entropion - ectropion ("diamond eye"), hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism and progressive retinal atrophy.

Temperament & Personality


The Gordon Setter is a calm and even-tempered dog who usually looks as if he is deep in thought. Despite their serious nature, they are definitely playful and as puppies can be clumsy and rambunctious. Like their setter cousins, the Gordon requires a lot of outdoor activity to remain happy and healthy, and are well suited for people with active lifestyles. Gordons will want to be included in all family activities. Though reserved around strangers they can be trusted to be polite and well-mannered with guests once their puppy bounciness has worn off.

Activity Requirements

This hunting breed requires lots of vigorous activity in order to maintain health and happiness. Gordons aren't simply content to be left alone to their own devices in a yard, either. They need to engage in activities where they are side by side with the people they love. They are useful hunting dogs who can track, point, and retrieve on both land and water. If owners aren't hunters, they should be active and outdoorsy. Gordons enjoy hiking, jogging, swimming and can keep up with bikers. Yard activities should include playing games of fetch, or hiding toys and treats for the Gordon to track and find.
These are not apartment or city dogs. The Gordon is a country dog who is best suited for homes with fenced in yards. Farms are too open, and calling a Gordon home if he's caught a scent can be futile.


Gordons have a mind of their own and do not like to be bossed around. Training can be difficult and takes a strong, steady leader. Sessions should be conducted with an abundance of positive reinforcement and very little harsh discipline. Though establishing leadership can be a challenge, Gordons actually pick up on tasks quickly and have excellent memories. Once basic obedience is mastered and the Gordon Setter knows his place in the family hierarchy, he should be graduated on to advanced obedience or agility training to keep his mind active.
Housebreaking takes anywhere from four to six months with a Gordon Setter. They do not like to be told what to do or when to do it, so this process can be quite drawn out. Crate training is the best method for housebreaking a Gordon.

Behavioral Traits

Gordons have a tendency toward jealousy and prefer not to share the attention and affection of their family with other household pets. They also have strong desire to chase smaller animals, so it's best that they be kept as the only family pet, unless they are raised alongside another dog from puppyhood.
Naturally standoffish toward strangers, it is very important to socialize Gordon Setters early and often so that their reserved nature doesn't get out of hand. Overly timid and shy Gordons can be hard to live with.
Separation Anxiety can develop quickly if a Gordon is left alone for long periods of time. They need companionship and are not well suited for people who work long hours. Destructiveness is the most common way anxiety shows itself, and can be combated with plentiful exercise and lots of quality time spent with people.

Breed Standard

General Appearance
The Gordon Setter is a good-sized, sturdily built, black and tan dog, well muscled, with plenty of bone and substance, but active, upstanding and stylish, appearing capable of doing a full day's work in the field. He has a strong, rather short back, with well sprung ribs and a short tail. The head is fairly heavy and finely chiseled. His bearing is intelligent, noble, and dignified, showing no signs of shyness or viciousness. Clear colors and straight or slightly waved coat are correct. He suggests strength and stamina rather than extreme speed. Symmetry and quality are most essential. A dog well balanced in all points is preferable to one with outstanding good qualities and defects. A smooth, free movement, with high head carriage, is typical.

Size, Proportion, Substance
Size--Shoulder height for males, 24 to 27 inches; females, 23 to 26 inches. Weight for males, 55 to 80 pounds; females, 45 to 70 pounds. Animals that appear to be over or under the prescribed weight limits are to be judged on the basis of conformation and condition. Extremely thin or fat dogs are discouraged on the basis that under or overweight hampers the true working ability of the Gordon Setter. The weight-to-height ratio makes him heavier than other Setters. Proportion The distance from the forechest to the back of the thigh is approximately equal the height from the ground to the withers. The Gordon Setter has plenty of bone and substance.

Head deep, rather than broad, with plenty of brain room. Eyes of fair size, neither too deep-set nor too bulging, dark brown, bright and wise. The shape is oval rather than round. The lids are tight. Ears set low on the head approximately on line with the eyes, fairly large and thin, well folded and carried close to the head. Skull nicely rounded, good-sized, broadest between the ears. Below and above the eyes is lean and the cheeks as narrow as the leanness of the head allows. The head should have a clearly indicated stop. Muzzle fairly long and not pointed, either as seen from above or from the side. The flews are not pendulous. The muzzle is the same length as the skull from occiput to stop and the top of the muzzle is parallel to the line of the skull extended. Nose broad, with open nostrils and black in color. The lip line from the nose to the flews shows a sharp, well-defined, square contour. Teeth strong and white, meeting in front in a scissors bite, with the upper incisors slightly forward of the lower incisors. A level bite is not a fault. Pitted teeth from distemper or allied infections are not penalized.

Neck, Topline, Body
Neck long, lean, arched to the head, and without throatiness. Topline moderately sloping. Body short from shoulder to hips. Chest deep and not too broad in front; the ribs well sprung, leaving plenty of lung room. The chest reaches to the elbows. A pronounced forechest is in evidence. Loins short and broad and not arched. Croup nearly flat, with only a slight slope to the tailhead. Tail short and not reaching below the hocks, carried horizontal or nearly so, not docked, thick at the root and finishing in a fine point. The placement of the tail is important for correct carriage. When the angle of the tail bends too sharply at the first coccygeal bone, the tail will be carried too gaily or will droop. The tail placement is judged in relationship to the structure of the croup.

Shoulders fine at the points, and laying well back. The tops of the shoulder blades are close together. When viewed from behind, the neck appears to fit into the shoulders in smooth, flat lines that gradually widen from neck to shoulder. The angle formed by the shoulder blade and upper arm bone is approximately 90 degrees when the dog is standing so that the foreleg is perpendicular to the ground. Forelegs big-boned, straight and not bowed, with elbows free and not turned in or out. Pasterns are strong, short and nearly vertical with a slight spring. Dewclaws may be removed. Feet catlike in shape, formed by close-knit, well arched toes with plenty of hair between; with full toe pads and deep heel cushions. Feet are not turned in or out.

The hind legs from hip to hock are long, flat and muscular; from hock to heel, short and strong. The stifle and hock joints are well bent and not turned either in or out. When the dog is standing with the rear pastern perpendicular to the ground, the thighbone hangs downward parallel to an imaginary line drawn upward from the hock. Feet as in front.

Soft and shining, straight or slightly waved, but not curly, with long hair on ears, under stomach and on chest, on back of the fore and hind legs, and on the tail. The feather which starts near the root of the tail is slightly waved or straight, having a triangular appearance, growing shorter uniformly toward the end.

Color and Markings
Black with tan markings, either of rich chestnut or mahogany color. Black pencilling is allowed on the toes. The borderline between black and tan colors is clearly defined. There are not any tan hairs mixed in the black. The tan markings are located as follows: (1) Two clear spots over the eyes and not over three-quarters of an inch in diameter; (2) On the sides of the muzzle. The tan does not reach to the top of the muzzle, but resembles a stripe around the end of the muzzle from one side to the other; (3) On the throat; (4) Two large clear spots on the chest; (5) On the inside of the hind legs showing down the front of the stifle and broadening out to the outside of the hind legs from the hock to the toes. It must not completely eliminate the black on the back of the hind legs; (6) On the forelegs from the carpus, or a little above, downward to the toes; (7) Around the vent; (8) A white spot on the chest is allowed, but the smaller the better. Predominantly tan, red or buff dogs which do not have the typical pattern of markings of a Gordon Setter are ineligible for showing and undesirable for breeding. Predominantly tan, red or buff dogs are ineligible for showing and undesirable for breeding.

A bold, strong, driving free-swinging gait. The head is carried up and the tail "flags" constantly while the dog is in motion. When viewed from the front the forefeet move up and down in straight lines so that the shoulder, elbow and pastern joints are approximately in line. When viewed from the rear the hock, stifle and hip joints are approximately in line. Thus the dog moves in a straight pattern forward without throwing the feet in or out. When viewed from the side the forefeet are seen to lift up and reach forward to compensate for the driving hindquarters. The hindquarters reach well forward and stretch far back, enabling the stride to be long and the drive powerful. The overall appearance of the moving dog is one of smooth-flowing, well balanced rhythm, in which the action is pleasing to the eye, effortless, economical and harmonious.

The Gordon Setter is alert, gay, interested, and confident. He is fearless and willing, intelligent and capable. He is loyal and affectionate, and strong-minded enough to stand the rigors of training.

Predominantly tan, red or buff dogs.

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Sources: American Kennel Club


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