What To Know About Gordon Setters

Medically Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on July 07, 2022
7 min read

Gordon setters are confident dogs in the sporting group. They were bred to be fantastic hunting companions, but they're just as comfortable sitting on the couch with you as they are running around in a field. 

These dogs can be an affectionate addition to any home but will prefer families that are active in the outdoors. Keep this in mind before bringing one home. 

Gordon setter size. Gordon setters are a medium-to-large-sized breed. Males are often slightly larger than females. 

Males are an average of 24 to 27 inches tall at their shoulders. Females range from 23 to 26 inches. Healthy males weigh anywhere from 55 to 80 pounds and females from 45 to 70 pounds. Make sure to talk to your veterinarian if you're concerned that your dog is too far underweight or overweight

Body shape. Gordon setters are well-muscled dogs with a lot of bone. They're built for a full day of fieldwork with short, strong backs and well-sprung ribs. 

Other Gordon setter traits include broad, chiseled heads that are rather heavy. Their ears are set low on their skulls. They're thin, large, and fold close to the head. 

These dogs have long muzzles that are about the same length as their skulls. 

They have short tails that are carried horizontally to the ground. You shouldn't dock your dog's tail. Doing so isn't recommended by the breed standard or most veterinarians. 

Lifespan. The Gordon setter lifespan is normal for their size. They live an average of 12 to 13 years. This means that you should plan for over a decade of life with your pet, particularly if you bring one home as a puppy. 

Coat. Gordon setters have medium-length double coats that are soft and straight. They flare out at the ears, belly, legs, chest, and tail. 

These coats come in three different color patterns: 

  • Black and tan
  • Red
  • Tan

Eyes. Their eyes should be oval in shape and dark brown in color. 

Personality. Gordon setters are confident, highly affectionate dogs. They love spending time outdoors, especially with their families. 

They're very alert and attentive to their surroundings, which makes them great watchdogs. 

The overall Gordon setter temperament is happy and enthusiastic. They're loyal dogs but also have a mind of their own. They're easily controlled when well-trained.  

Grooming. Gordon setters have moderate grooming requirements. You should thoroughly brush your dog's coat at least once a week to prevent matting. You should also clip the long extensions of hair near their feet and ears to keep them as clean as possible. 

Your dog will need a bath about once a month. You should also trim their nails regularly. You can either do these things yourself or find a good groomer. Just make sure to keep an eye on their skin and talk to your veterinarian if you notice that they have dandruff or dry patches.

You should also brush their teeth on a daily basis to prevent dental disease. 

Feeding. You will need to feed your Gordon setter carefully in order to keep them healthy. You shouldn't use any foods with a protein content that's greater than 26%, or they might grow too quickly. Their dietary fiber needs to be at least 4% in order to keep their stool firm.

You should find a high-quality food that your dog likes and stick to it. Bear in mind that puppies have different nutritional needs than adult dogs, and nutritional needs may continue to change as a dog ages. 

Keep in mind that making your own food is a challenging pursuit. You need to consult your veterinarian before attempting it. 

Also, make sure that you know what human foods are safe for your dog to eat before feeding them anything from your kitchen. 

Make sure that your dog has clean water available at all times. 

Exercise and Mental Stimulation. Gordon setters were bred to work long days in the field with their human companions. They need daily exercise like long walks, runs, and bike rides. 

They can exercise themselves in a yard but would much rather work out with their humans. Activities with you will also contribute to their mental stimulation. They need mental engagement, so make sure that you play with them and change their activities on a regular basis. 

Make sure, though, to never exercise this breed one hour before or after you feed them. This can lead to potentially life-threatening health complications. 

Veterinary visits, medications, and immunizations. Your veterinarian is the best person to determine which vaccinations your pet specifically needs, but all dogs need a core set.

This includes vaccinations for:

You should also discuss other, non-core vaccinations with your veterinarian. 

Heartworm medication is recommended year-round in all parts of the U.S. Dosages for flea and tick medications are based on your dog's weight and applied as needed. Oral and skin-based applications are available from your veterinarian or other distributors.

Many of these medications can be effective against a variety of pests and parasites, so talk to your veterinarian to figure out the best one for you. 

Although Gordon setters can be very healthy dogs, there are a number of health problems that you should watch out for if you choose to bring one home. Common Gordon setter health issues include: 

  • Gastric torsion or bloatThis occurs when there is twisting in your dog's gastrointestinal tract — specifically in the stomach. Your dog's stomach fills up (bloats) with gas, food, or liquid, and then, it may twist (a complication called gastric dilation volvulus), creating an often sudden and life-threatening situation. Signs include an enlarged abdomen, retching, and drooling. It's typically treated with emergency surgery. 
  • Eye problems. There are many different conditions that can impact your pets' eyes including cataracts, dry eye, and progressive retinal atrophy (PRA). With PRA, your dog will eventually go blind. You may start to notice them struggling to see at first, particularly at dusk and dawn. At present, there isn't a treatment for this condition. Your vet should perform annual eye exams, though, to look for any signs of deterioration. 
  • Juvenile cellulitisWith this condition, your puppy could have swelling and inflammation in their face and lymph nodes. The condition should clear up with medications as long as it's treated quickly. 
  • Orthopedic issues. Examples include hip and elbow dysplasia. Dysplasia occurs when the ball and socket of your dog's joints don’t fit or develop properly as they grow. Instead of sliding smoothly, the bones grind against each other, wearing down and eventually making it difficult for your dog to move. Your veterinarian can evaluate joints and see how likely they are to cause problems throughout your dog's life. 
  • Heart diseaseHeart murmurs can be an early sign of heart disease in your pet. With early detection and the proper medications, though, your dog can live for years after their diagnosis. You should have your veterinarian check them regularly to catch heart conditions early.
  • Kidney disease. You should have your dog tested annually to look for any problems with their kidney function. Early detection can make treatment easier. A special diet will likely play a role in your dog's treatment plan if they're diagnosed with kidney problems. 
  • Idiopathic epilepsyThis is a condition where your dog can have unexplained seizures. Try to keep your dog from injuring themself if they start to have a seizure and get them to the veterinarian as soon as possible. 
  • Thyroid problems. A common problem is hypothyroidism, a condition where your dog's body can't make enough thyroid hormone. Signs can include dry skin, hair loss, and behavioral problems. Your veterinarian should screen for this condition on an annual basis after your pet reaches four years of age. Treatment usually takes the form of a pill to replace the hormones.

Before bringing a Gordon setter home, you should keep in mind that they're only moderately good with young children and other dogs. The AKC rates them a three out of five for both traits.

They can also be messy dogs that drool more than the average breed. They shed a moderate amount and aren't prone to excessive barking, but they will bark whenever they feel alarmed or detect a disturbance.  

Gordon setters are part of a large family of dogs that also includes English and Irish setters. They originated in the 1620s, and they've been used as hunting dogs for the past 200 years. 

Setters were specifically bred to hunt the type of bird that hides from predators instead of flying away. These dogs locate their targets and then lay down in the field. This allows their human companion to cast a large net over the field and trap birds underneath. The dogs can also become trapped but are bred and trained to handle it well. 

Throughout the 19th century, the different types of setters diversified to adapt to specific terrains. Gordon setters are particularly well adapted to the difficult, craggy landscapes in Scotland. The breed was perfected by a man named Alexander Gordon who had his own kennel for “Black and Tan setters”. 

He used English setter stock and crossed a number of different breeds to create the Gordon setter. Other breeds that may have been used include: 

  • Black and Tan Collies
  • Bloodhounds
  • Black Pointers
  • Solid-black setters

Gordon setters were first brought to the U.S. in 1842 by a New York City breeder named George Blunt. The original American pair were named Rake and Rachael. 

They were called the Black and Tan setter when they were first added to the British Kennel Club in 1872. The AKC recognized the breed in 1884, and the British club followed suit in 1924.