Gordon setters are high-energy, joyful dogs that are loyal to their family and always down for a romp in the park. Though they are relatively rare in the U.S., these dogs are well-loved by those who are lucky enough to meet them. Gordons are great with kids and, really, the whole family—and the perfect companion for nearly every outdoor activity.
You'll recognize Gordons best for their big presence, both in personality and in figure. They can hit 80 pounds and come complete with a glistening black coat with distinctive brown "eyebrows." They'll need lots of attention to get their energy out and keep their fur free of tangles, but you'll be rewarded for your work with tail wags and wet doggy kisses.
The first thing you'll notice about a Gordon setter is his sleek black coat. A well-groomed Gordon setter will almost glisten in the sun, and his distinctive tan markings round out his handsome looks. You'll also find tan markings above a Gordon's soulful brown eyes, giving even more personality to these pups.
While some Gordons have a slightly wavy coat, all tend to have longer hair around their ears, legs, chest, tails, and bellies that requires fairly frequent trims to keep them comfortable. You'll also notice their heads, which are distinctive and chiseled but contain their sweet and sometimes pensive expressions. When they look up at you, though, their sagging and fluffy ears almost spring out like pigtails.
As far as build goes, Gordon setters can be summed up in one word: sturdy. These hard-working pups are dependable and sporty, and that is plain to see in their body type. While Gordon setter females and males range in size, with males reaching up to 80 pounds, all Gordons show off the well-muscled physique of their ancestors who were hard at work in Scotland.
Gordon setters are probably known best for their loveable temperaments. They are often described as happy, sweet, and joyful, and once you spend a little time with them, you'll see why. This pup is often in a great mood and her positivity is infectious.
The breed's energy level may also rub off on you. Gordon setter dogs are perfect for owners who want a lively companion on all their athletic pursuits. The Gordon setter, simply put, is no couch potato. Whether you're hiking, hunting, or just want to take a stroll around the neighborhood, your Gordon setter will just want to be by your side. Their favorite forms of exercise are games and high-energy runs, and you can even give them a spin on the agility course.
After all their energy is out, Gordon setters will be happy to cuddle up next to you at night. They only bark a moderate amount, but you will hear some happy grunts and grumbles from them every once in a while, too, just to keep you on your toes.
Because they're such loyal dogs, they don't often like to be left alone. So if you keep them inside for long stretches without much attention or exercise, beware—they could get bored and start chewing or develop other behaviors associated with separation anxiety. But because they're eager to please and highly intelligent, if you give them lots of attention they'll be happy and relatively easy to train.
These pups have lots of energy; they love to be outside and show off their agility. This makes them best for those who have a fenced-in yard and easy access to wide-open spaces like parks and trails (while on a lead, of course).
"[This breed] needs to be in an environment where an active dog like a Gordon can get adequate attention and exercise—this need could be met with walks and play, but it needs to be regular exercise," says Leslie Sinn, DVM, DACVB, CPDT-KA, a veterinary behaviorist at Behavior Solutions and member of the Daily Paws Advisory Board.
And all of this attention will be paid back to you tenfold—Gordons have lots of love to go around. She makes an excellent family dog and her devotion extends to the entire crew, especially if she's well-socialized as a puppy. Gordon setters can be great companions for children, other dogs, and even cats as long as they get a proper introduction and are raised alongside them.
One look at your Gordon's coat, and you can probably guess that it will need a bit of upkeep. While they aren't exactly high-maintenance dogs, they will need a bit more grooming than your average pup. Keep a brush handy for pampering sessions, which should be at least weekly. Brushing and combing your Gordon regularly will keep her sleek coat looking fresh and free of any matting or knots.
Gordon setter dogs tend to have coats that are on the longer side, especially around their ears, legs, chest, tails, and bellies, and knowing how to groom a Gordon setter means paying special attention to these spots. Give those nails a trim, too—you'll be glad you did when your pup is happily bounding around the yard.
Again, Gordon setters need lots of exercise to keep calm and happy. A short walk will probably not cut it, so be sure you're ready for lots of runs, Frisbee sessions in the park, and training games to work their minds, too.
Sinn says Gordon setters are as easy to train as any other dog, though because of their roots as a hunting dog, you may have to pay special attention to their tendency to run and chase something that catches their eye. Because of this, these pups might be best for experienced dog owners who have lots of patience for training. And while some may be more independent-minded, they want to please their owner first and foremost. With lots of positive reinforcement, a Gordon setter will be your furever friend!
Gordons are a pretty healthy breed, living around 12–13 years on average. However, like all dogs, you'll want to be on the lookout for specific health conditions that may affect them at some point in their life.
According to the Gordon Setter Club of America (GSCA), one of the biggest things you'll want to look out for as a Gordon owner is bloat, also called gastric dilation volvulus (GDV). This condition typically springs up in middle-aged to older dogs, and it definitely warrants your close attention.
Keep a close eye on your Gordon setter after her evening meal where signs of bloat like drooling, weakness, panting, discomfort, and whining can spring up. Larger dogs like Gordons are particularly vulnerable to bloat, and factors like eating one large meal in the evening is thought to trigger bloating. Talk to your veterinarian about how you can counteract this life-threatening condition.
Gordons are also susceptible to a fatal neurological disease, according to the breed club, commonly referred to as DUNGd. This is a fatal condition that affects Gordon setter puppies and was first reported in the 1990s.
Larger dogs including Gordon setters are also prone to elbow and hip dysplasia, a condition where the joint doesn't develop properly and becomes loose. If left untreated, this can lead to osteoarthritis. The breed club also recommends screening your Gordon setter for progressive retinal atrophy, a condition in which the retina slowly deteriorates, causing blindness.
Gordon setters trace their roots back to Scotland and have been around since the 1500s or early 1600s, according to the GSCA. They were bred to hunt birds such as quail and pheasant, and you can see their hunting history in their athletic build and tenacious nature today.
These pups originally went by a more literal name—black and tan setters—but were renamed for the fourth Duke of Gordon, who bred them in the 19th century. By the beginning of the 20th century, most Gordon setters had a very cool claim to fame, as they could link their ancestry back to the kennels at the Duke's castle.
This breed arrived in the U.S. in the 1840s, when a New Yorker named George Blunt bought two Gordon setters, named Rake and Rachael, and brought them across the pond. The American Kennel Club recognized Gordon setters in 1878.
- Rachael, one of the first two Gordon setters in the U.S., was given to Daniel Webster who served as Secretary of State under President William Henry Harrison, John Tyler, and Millard Fillmore.
- Gordon setters are the heaviest and largest of their setter cousins the English setter, the Irish setter, and the Irish red and white setter.