Gordon Setter

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gordon setter portrait
Get ready to embark on an adventure with the majestic Gordon Setter, where elegance meets enthusiasm in a symphony of black and tan! With their striking coats, noble presence, and a tail that wags with boundless joy, these regal canines have stolen the hearts of dog aficionados around the globe.

Join us in this comprehensive guide as we explore everything you need to know about this breed, including their appearance, temperament, ideal environment, grooming, exercise requirements, training tips, dietary needs, health concerns, history, and more.

Best For

The Gordon Setter is an ideal companion for active, outdoorsy individuals or families who enjoy spending time in nature. They may not be the best choice for first-time dog owners due to their high exercise needs and strong-willed personalities.


BREED GROUPSporting Group
HEIGHT23-27 inches
WEIGHT45-80 lbs
LIFESPAN12-13 years
gordon setter at a park
Photo: Carmelka/Getty Images


The Gordon Setter is a striking and elegant dog breed that boasts a strong, athletic build. This breed is the largest of the setter family, with males standing at 24 to 27 inches tall at the shoulder, and females measuring between 23 to 26 inches. Males typically weigh between 55 to 80 pounds, while females weigh around 45 to 70 pounds.

The body of a Gordon Setter is well-proportioned and muscular, with a deep chest and well-sprung ribs. They have a level topline and a slightly arched loin, which contributes to their powerful appearance. The tail of a Gordon Setter is straight and tapers to a fine point, usually carried horizontally or slightly raised when the dog is in motion.

The head is quite distinctive, with a broad, slightly domed skull and a well-defined stop. Their long, lean muzzle has a squared-off shape, with a large black nose that features wide, open nostrils.

Gordon Setters have expressive, dark brown eyes that are oval-shaped and set fairly wide apart, giving them an intelligent and alert expression. Their ears are set low on their head, hanging close to their cheeks, and are of moderate size, with a thin, silky texture.

One of the most notable features of the Gordon Setter is their beautiful, glossy coat. The coat is straight or slightly wavy, with long, silky feathering on the ears, chest, belly, legs, and tail. The hair is short and fine on the head, front of the legs, and tips of the ears.

The breed’s coat color is predominantly black, with rich tan markings on the muzzle, eyebrows, chest, legs, and vent. These tan markings can range from chestnut to mahogany in hue.

The Gordon Setter’s overall appearance exudes grace and strength, with a dignified and noble air. Their confident stance and expressive features reflect their keen intelligence and lively spirit. With their striking coat and well-balanced physique, the Gordon Setter is a truly eye-catching breed that leaves a lasting impression on all who encounter them.

gordon setter playing in the park
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The Gordon Setter is a versatile and adaptable breed, known for its affectionate, friendly, and loyal temperament. These dogs are deeply devoted to their families and form strong bonds with their human companions, making them excellent family pets. Their gentle and loving nature makes them particularly good with children, and they are generally amicable towards other dogs and pets in the household.

Gordon Setters are exceptionally intelligent, which can be both a blessing and a challenge. Their keen minds make them quick learners, but they can also become bored and mischievous if not provided with sufficient mental stimulation. Providing a variety of toys, puzzles, and interactive games can help keep their minds engaged and prevent unwanted behaviors.

One of the most endearing qualities of the Gordon Setter is their playful and energetic personality. They have a lively spirit and love to engage in fun activities with their families. This enthusiasm, coupled with their natural athleticism, makes them great companions for various dog sports such as agility, obedience, and tracking.

Despite their exuberance and zest for life, Gordon Setters also have a sensitive side. They can be quite intuitive and responsive to the emotions of their owners, making them wonderful emotional support animals. However, this sensitivity means that they do not respond well to harsh or negative training methods. Positive reinforcement, patience, and consistency are key when working with a Gordon Setter.

The breed is known for its alertness and watchfulness, making them excellent watchdogs. They will typically bark to alert their owners of any perceived threats or suspicious activity.

Although they are not considered aggressive, their protective instincts may prompt them to defend their family and territory if necessary. Early socialization is crucial in ensuring that the Gordon Setter develops into a well-rounded and confident adult dog.

Gordon Setters can be somewhat reserved or cautious around strangers, though they are not typically shy or fearful. Proper socialization from a young age can help them become more comfortable in new situations and around unfamiliar people. Introducing them to a variety of environments, people, and other animals will help them develop good social skills and adaptability.

One important aspect to consider is that they can be somewhat strong-willed and independent at times. This trait may make them more challenging for first-time dog owners or those who are not familiar with working breeds. Establishing clear boundaries and leadership is essential in order to maintain a harmonious relationship with your Gordon Setter.

gordon setter's face close up
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Ideal Environment

The ideal environment for a Gordon Setter is one that caters to their physical and mental needs, while providing ample opportunity for socialization and bonding with their family.

Ideal Owner

The ideal pet parent for a Gordon Setter is someone who is experienced with dog ownership, understands the breed’s unique temperament, and is committed to providing consistent training, socialization, and mental stimulation. These dogs require a dedicated and patient owner who is willing to invest time and effort in nurturing a strong bond and ensuring their overall happiness and well-being.

Other Pets

Gordon Setters are known for their sociable nature and can coexist peacefully with other pets in the household, including other dogs and even cats, provided that they are introduced and socialized properly from a young age.

Physical Environment

Gordon Setters thrive when they have access to spacious, securely fenced areas where they can run, play, and explore safely. While they can adapt to living in both rural and urban settings, it is important to ensure that they have adequate space for exercise and play.

A large, enclosed yard is highly desirable for this breed, as it allows them to expend their energy in a safe environment. Apartment living may not be the most suitable option for a Gordon Setter, unless the owner is committed to providing regular outdoor activities and exercise sessions.

Climate Adaptability

In terms of climate adaptability, the Gordon Setter has a moderate tolerance for both hot and cold weather. Their dense, double-layered coat provides some protection against the elements, but owners should still take precautions to ensure their comfort and safety in extreme temperatures.

During hot weather, it is crucial to provide ample shade, fresh water, and avoid exercising during the hottest parts of the day to prevent overheating. In cold climates, a Gordon Setter’s coat offers some insulation, but they should not be left outside for extended periods in freezing temperatures.

Providing them with a warm, dry shelter and monitoring them closely during outdoor activities in cold weather is essential for their well-being.

gordon setter relaxing at a park
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Grooming is an essential part of maintaining the health and well-being of a Gordon Setter. This breed has a beautiful, double-layered coat that requires regular care to keep it looking its best and prevent matting or tangling. Following a consistent grooming routine will not only help to maintain your dog’s appearance but also contribute to their overall health by preventing skin issues and other complications.

Coat Care

A Gordon Setter’s coat consists of a soft, dense undercoat and a longer, silky outer coat. The hair is straight or slightly wavy, with feathering on the ears, chest, belly, legs, and tail.

To keep their coat in optimal condition, it is recommended to brush your Gordon Setter at least two to three times a week using a slicker brush or pin brush. Regular brushing helps to remove loose hair, dirt, and debris, while also distributing natural oils throughout the coat and keeping it shiny and healthy.

When brushing, be sure to pay extra attention to the feathered areas, as these tend to be more prone to matting and tangling. If you encounter any mats, use a metal comb or a dematting tool to gently work them out, taking care not to pull or tug on the hair.

In addition to regular brushing, your Gordon Setter will require occasional trimming around the ears, feet, and tail to maintain a neat appearance and prevent excessive matting. A pair of grooming shears or thinning shears can be used for this purpose.

Bathing your Gordon Setter should be done every six to eight weeks, or as needed, depending on their lifestyle and activity level. Use a gentle, dog-specific shampoo to avoid irritating their skin, and be sure to rinse thoroughly to remove all soap residue. After bathing, towel dry your dog and use a hairdryer on a cool setting to dry their coat completely, as dampness can lead to skin issues.

Dental Care

Dental care is another important aspect of grooming for a Gordon Setter. Regular brushing of their teeth, ideally two to three times a week, can help prevent plaque buildup, tartar formation, and dental issues such as gum disease and bad breath. Use dog-specific toothpaste and a soft-bristled toothbrush designed for pets to make the process more comfortable and effective.

Nail Trimming

Nail care is an essential part of your Gordon Setter’s grooming routine. Their nails should be trimmed every three to four weeks, or when you hear them clicking on the floor. Overgrown nails can cause discomfort and lead to problems with their gait and overall mobility. Use a pair of dog nail clippers or a grinder, and be cautious not to cut too close to the quick, which can cause pain and bleeding.

Ear Care

Lastly, it’s important to regularly check your Gordon Setter’s ears for signs of infection, redness, or odor. Clean their ears using a dog-specific ear cleaner and cotton balls or pads, being careful not to insert anything deep into the ear canal.

gordon setter running among tall green grass
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The Gordon Setter is an active and energetic breed that requires regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental well-being. As a working breed with a strong hunting background, these dogs possess impressive stamina and endurance, making them ideal companions for individuals or families with an active lifestyle.

Exercise Amount & Types

To keep a Gordon Setter happy and healthy, they should receive at least one hour of exercise per day, ideally split into two sessions – one in the morning and another in the evening.

This exercise can include activities such as brisk walks, jogging, hiking, or playing fetch. Incorporating off-leash play in a securely fenced area is also beneficial, as it allows the dog to run freely and explore their surroundings at their own pace.

In addition to structured exercise, it is essential to provide your Gordon Setter with opportunities for mental stimulation. Interactive toys, puzzles, and games can help to challenge their minds and prevent boredom, which can lead to undesirable behaviors. Training sessions that focus on new skills or tricks can also serve as a form of mental exercise, keeping your dog’s mind sharp and engaged.

Dog Sports

Gordon Setters are highly intelligent and excel in various dog sports and competitions, which can provide additional mental and physical stimulation. They have a natural aptitude for activities such as agility, obedience, tracking, and field trials. Participating in these sports not only helps to keep your dog engaged and active but also strengthens the bond between you and your pet.

Exercise Precautions

It is important to note that while Gordon Setters are a high-energy breed, they should not be over-exercised during their growth and development stage, as this can put undue stress on their joints and bones. Puppies and young dogs should be allowed to exercise at their own pace, with the intensity and duration of activities gradually increased as they mature.

gordon setter standing on a green grass lawn
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Training a Gordon Setter can be a rewarding experience, as these dogs are intelligent, eager to please, and quick learners. However, they can also display a strong-willed and independent streak at times, which may present some challenges during the training process. It is essential for owners to approach training with patience, consistency, and a positive attitude in order to achieve the best results.

Gordon Setters respond well to positive reinforcement techniques, which involve rewarding desired behaviors with treats, praise, or play. This approach not only encourages your dog to repeat the behavior but also helps to build a strong bond between you and your pet. Avoid harsh or punitive training methods, as these can lead to fear, mistrust, and even aggression in some cases.

Early socialization and obedience training should begin as soon as you bring your Gordon Setter puppy home.

Exposing them to a variety of people, animals, and environments during their critical socialization period (between 3 and 14 weeks of age) will help them develop into well-adjusted, confident adult dogs. Enrolling your puppy in a reputable puppy kindergarten class can be an excellent way to kickstart their socialization and training journey.

Consistency is key when training a Gordon Setter, as they can quickly pick up on any inconsistencies in your expectations or commands. Establishing clear boundaries and rules from the outset will help prevent confusion and ensure that your dog understands what is expected of them.

As an intelligent breed, they can become bored easily, so it is important to keep training sessions engaging, challenging, and fun. Varying the activities and incorporating new skills or tricks can help maintain their interest and motivation.

Given their keen sense of smell and natural hunting instincts, Gordon Setters can excel in scent-based activities such as tracking or nose work. Introducing these types of activities into your training routine can provide additional mental stimulation and tap into their innate abilities.

gordon setter standing on a hill
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Diet & Nutrition 

A balanced and nutritious diet is essential for maintaining the overall health and well-being of a Gordon Setter.

What to Feed & How Much

When it comes to choosing the right food for your dog, it is important to select a high-quality product that meets the nutritional standards established by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO). Options such as dry kibble, wet food, or raw food can all be suitable choices, depending on your dog’s individual needs and preferences.

The amount of food required by a Gordon Setter will vary based on factors such as their age, weight, activity level, and metabolism.

As a general guideline, an adult Gordon Setter may consume 2 to 3 cups of high-quality dry kibble per day, divided into two meals. Puppies and younger dogs typically require more frequent feedings, with three to four smaller meals per day, gradually transitioning to two meals as they mature.

It is essential to monitor your Gordon Setter’s weight and body condition regularly, adjusting their food intake as needed to maintain an ideal weight. Overfeeding can lead to obesity, which can cause numerous health issues such as joint problems, heart disease, and diabetes. Consult your veterinarian for personalized recommendations on the appropriate diet and feeding schedule for your dog.


When it comes to treats, moderation is key. While treats can serve as a valuable training tool and a way to bond with your dog, they should be offered sparingly and should not exceed 10% of your dog’s daily caloric intake. Opt for healthy, low-calorie options such as lean meats, fruits, and vegetables, and avoid table scraps or foods that are high in fat, salt, or sugar.


Access to fresh water is crucial for your Gordon Setter’s health. Ensure that your dog has a clean, easily accessible water source available at all times, and remember to change the water frequently to keep it fresh.


The Gordon Setter is a generally healthy breed with a life expectancy of 12 to 13 years. However, like all dog breeds, they can be prone to certain health issues. Being aware of these potential problems and taking preventative measures can help ensure a long and healthy life for your dog.

Common health issues associated with the Gordon Setter include:

Hip Dysplasia: This is a genetic condition where the hip joint doesn’t develop properly, leading to arthritis and pain. Regular screening and responsible breeding practices can help reduce the prevalence of this condition in the breed.

Elbow Dysplasia: Similar to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is a developmental disorder that affects the elbow joint, causing pain and mobility issues. Early detection and treatment can help manage this condition.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): PRA is an inherited eye disease that eventually leads to blindness. Responsible breeders should screen for this condition and avoid breeding affected dogs.

Hypothyroidism: This is an endocrine disorder caused by an underactive thyroid gland, which can lead to symptoms such as weight gain, lethargy, and skin issues. Hypothyroidism can be managed with medication and regular monitoring by a veterinarian.

Gastric Torsion (Bloat): Gordon Setters, like other deep-chested breeds, are at risk of developing bloat, a life-threatening condition where the stomach fills with gas and twists on itself. Preventative measures include feeding smaller, more frequent meals and avoiding vigorous exercise immediately after eating.

To maintain your Gordon Setter’s overall health, a well-balanced diet is essential. Choose a high-quality dog food that meets AAFCO guidelines and is appropriate for your dog’s age, size, and activity level. Consult your veterinarian for personalized recommendations on diet and portion sizes.

Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial in detecting and addressing any health issues early on. In addition to routine examinations, ensure that your Gordon Setter stays up-to-date on vaccinations and receives regular preventative care, such as heartworm, flea, and tick treatments.

gordon setter against rocky background
Photo: Volha Maksimava/Getty Images


The Gordon Setter is a breed with a rich and fascinating history, dating back to the early 17th century in Scotland. Originally bred as a bird-hunting dog, the breed’s ancestors were known for their excellent scenting abilities and tireless work ethic. The Gordon Setter we know today is the result of centuries of selective breeding to develop a versatile, intelligent, and loyal companion.

The origins of the breed can be traced back to the Scottish Highlands, where they were used to hunt game birds such as grouse and pheasants.

The early setters had a variety of coat colors, including black and tan, red and white, and tricolor. It is believed that the modern Gordon Setter’s distinctive black and tan coat was influenced by the inclusion of bloodlines from other breeds, such as the Irish Setter and the now-extinct Black and Tan Setter.

The breed’s name is derived from Alexander Gordon, the 4th Duke of Gordon, who played a significant role in refining and popularizing the breed during the early 19th century.

The Duke established a kennel at his estate, Gordon Castle, where he focused on developing a larger, sturdier setter with a keen nose and exceptional stamina. His efforts resulted in a dog capable of working tirelessly in challenging terrain, making them highly sought-after by hunters and sportsmen.

While the breed’s popularity grew in Scotland and England throughout the 19th century, it was not until the mid-1800s that the first Gordon Setters were imported to the United States. In 1878, the American Kennel Club (AKC) officially recognized the breed, making it one of the earliest breeds to be registered by the organization.

Despite their impressive hunting abilities and striking appearance, the Gordon Setter never achieved the same level of popularity in the United States as their Irish and English Setter counterparts. However, the breed has maintained a dedicated following of enthusiasts who appreciate their unique qualities and continue to promote the breed in various dog sports, hunting trials, and conformation shows.

In popular culture, the Gordon Setter has made a few notable appearances, although they are not as widely recognized as some other breeds.

One example is the 1999 film “Message in a Bottle,” where a Gordon Setter named Jeb plays a supporting role alongside stars Kevin Costner and Robin Wright. Additionally, the breed has been featured in various artworks, including paintings by renowned British artist George Stubbs in the 18th century.

Today, the Gordon Setter is cherished for its versatility, intelligence, and loyal nature. While still used as a skilled hunting companion by some, many Gordon Setters enjoy life as beloved family pets and excel in a variety of dog sports, such as agility, obedience, tracking, and field trials.

Parent Club

The official parent club for the Gordon Setter in the United States is the Gordon Setter Club of America, Inc. (GSCA). Founded in 1924, the GSCA is dedicated to promoting and preserving the breed through education, responsible breeding practices, and various events.

The club serves as a valuable resource for Gordon Setter owners and enthusiasts, providing information on breed standards, health, training, and more. The GSCA’s website can be accessed here.

Breed Standard

A breed standard is a set of guidelines established by breed clubs or kennel organizations, defining the ideal appearance, temperament, and physical traits of a specific breed.

It serves as a reference for breeders, judges, and enthusiasts to evaluate and maintain a breed’s unique qualities. Covering aspects like size, appearance, and temperament, breed standards are used in dog shows and competitions to assess individual dogs against the ideal representation of their breed.

You can check the Gordon Setter’s breed standard set by the American Kennel Club (AKC) here.

gordon setter puppy
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When considering acquiring a Gordon Setter, it’s important to be prepared for the responsibility of owning this energetic and intelligent breed. Before bringing one home, ensure that you can provide adequate exercise, training, and socialization to meet their needs.

If you decide to purchase a puppy, choose a reputable breeder who follows responsible breeding practices and prioritizes the health and well-being of their dogs.

Alternatively, consider rescuing a Gordon Setter in need of a loving home. Rescuing can be a rewarding experience, providing a second chance for a deserving dog. The American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Gordon Setter Club of America, Inc. (GSCA) can assist you in finding rescue organizations and available dogs.


Are Gordon Setters good pets?

Yes, Gordon Setters can make excellent pets for the right family. They are intelligent, loyal, and affectionate dogs that thrive in an active household. However, they require regular exercise, mental stimulation, and consistent training to be happy and well-behaved companions.

Why might someone not want to get a Gordon Setter?

Gordon Setters may not be the best choice for those who cannot commit to providing the necessary exercise, training, and socialization. Their high energy levels and need for mental stimulation can be overwhelming for some owners. Additionally, their size and grooming requirements may not suit all households.

Are Gordon Setters a rare breed?

While not extremely rare, Gordon Setters are less common than other setter breeds like the Irish and English Setters. They have a dedicated following of enthusiasts but have never gained widespread popularity.

Do Gordon Setters like to cuddle?

Gordon Setters are known for their affectionate and loving nature. They tend to form strong bonds with their families and enjoy spending time with them, which may include cuddling. However, individual personalities and preferences can vary, so not all Gordon Setters may be equally cuddly.

How much exercise do Gordon Setters need?

Gordon Setters are an energetic breed that requires regular exercise to stay healthy and happy. Ideally, they should have at least one hour of physical activity per day, which may include walks, runs, or playtime in a securely fenced area.

Are Gordon Setters easy to train?

Gordon Setters are intelligent and eager to please, making them generally easy to train. However, they can sometimes display a stubborn streak, so patience and consistency are essential during the training process. Using positive reinforcement techniques and keeping training sessions engaging will yield the best results.

Do Gordon Setters get along with other pets?

Gordon Setters typically get along well with other dogs, particularly if they are socialized from a young age. Due to their hunting instincts, they may be inclined to chase smaller animals like cats or birds, but early socialization and training can help them coexist peacefully with other pets in the household.

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