Gordon Setter

Also known as the Black-and-Tan Setter or the Scottish Setter, this northern breed was developed especially for hunting woodcock, pheasant and partridge. It owes its name to the Duke of Richmond and Gordon whose Banffshire kennels were famous for the breed.


Setters existed in Scotland from the early 1600s. The 4th Duke of Gordon is considered to be the first person to make a strong effort to stabilize the breed in its native land. He set about fixing the type that was ultimately to bear his name. He focused on developing a powerful, more stronger version of the ordinary setter, one that would be appropriate to the hard northern countryside and that would be prepared to work long hours under harsh conditions. In the process he had to forfeit some speed, but the added power of his breed more than compensated for this.

It is thought that, at some stage, the Duke must have introduced a little Collie blood into his breeding programme, because early examples of the Gordon Setter were observed to circle the game before setting at it, as if they were trying to ‘herd’ their quarry like a sheepdog. This tendency was eventually removed by selective breeding.

During the Victorian period, this breed reached its peak of popularity, but lost ground in the 20th century.

The Gordon’s coat, largely black but with tan extremities, is soft and silky. Its only weakness is that, being so dark, it is less conspicuous in the hunting field than that of the English Setter. Although it is usually assumed that it was the Duke himself who favoured the black-and-tan coloration, the truth is that his kennels contained Setters with several different coat patterns, including both black-and-white and red-and-white, and also tricolours. It seems that it was slightly later in the breed’s history that the coat colour became fixed as exclusively black-and-tan, probably in connection with the Gordon’s early success in the show-ring.


The devotion of the Gordon Setter to its owner and family is legendary. The Gordon, however, does not make a friend of every passing stranger or unwanted intruder. It is good with children if raised with them as part of the family and will be protective to them. These protective traits may make it aggressive with other dogs.


The males may weigh 55-80 pounds/25-36 kg, while the females are 45-70 pounds/20-31 kg. The Gordon Setters size, measured at the shoulder, should fall within 23-26 inches/58-66 cm for bitches and 24-27 inches/60-68 cm for males. The British Standard calls for males to be 26 inches/66 cm and bitches 24 1/2 inches/62 cm. A smooth, free movement with high head carriage is typical. The eyes should be dark although some very worthy specimens have paler ones. The neck should be long and strong, the back firm in topline and the tail carried out and waving. Its bone should be flat rather than round. The front legs should be straight with good feet, the hindquarters well angulated with good propelling power. The Gordon Setter is a handsome animal, at home, in the show ring or in the bird field.


All breeding stock should be X-rayed at two years for possible hip dysplasia. It should also be screened for progressive retinal atrophy. Epilepsy has occasionally occurred in the breed. Stock should be bought only from reputable breeders who screen on an ongoing basis for heritable diseases.

Special Care and Training

The Gordon Setter is a fairly large hunting dog, bred for that purpose for many years, so the new owner must provide it with space in which to grow up and a secure yard in which it may exercise. It also needs a loving family that it can protect and love in return. Obedience training will direct its energies into a learning situation and will serve it in good stead if the Gordon Setter is to continue training for the field or for bench shows. It does grow a fairly heavy coat which will require professional attention until the knack of keeping it groomed is learned by a member of the family.

Its ears need to be wiped out with a bit of cotton wrapped around the finger and dipped in baby oil on a weekly basis. Any odor noticed coming from the ear should be brought to the notice of a veterinarian. Nails should have just a bit taken off the tip and the teeth should be brushed on a weekly basis. A dry dog biscuit daily will help to keep the teeth clean but they still need to be brushed. Its long feathering should be combed and brushed weekly and it should be given a bath as necessary. If used for hunting, the Gordon Setter must be carefully groomed to remove anything that it may have picked up in the fields, including ticks.


The Gordon Setter thrives on companionship, which it needs in addition to training, care and comfortable quarters to call its own. This may be either a snug outdoor kennel and yard or its own place in the house, be it somewhere in the kitchen or a rug by the fire.

Gallery of Gordon Setter