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Key Breed Facts
Intelligence / Trainability
Children and Other Pets
Caring for a Gordon Setter
Average Cost to keep/care for a Gordon Setter
Breed Specific Buying Advice
Gordon Setters have been around for a long time, but they were only brought to people's attention by the fourth Duke of Gordon in the 1800s. These handsome, proud working dogs boast being the largest of all the setters. They are active dogs by nature and adore being kept busy with the added bonus of them keeping a lot of their puppy characteristics throughout their lives which makes sharing a home with a Gordon Setter a real joy.
Not only are they extremely handsome dogs, but they are intelligent, and they remain extremely loyal to their families enjoying nothing more than being part of a family and in a home environment which are just some of the reasons why the Gordon Setter was at one time such a popular dog. However, their numbers have dwindled over recent time and today these elegant dogs have been placed on The Kennel Club’s list of vulnerable native breeds and anyone wanting to share a home with a Gordon Setter would need to register their interest with breeders for the pleasure of doing so.
There are records of “black and tan setting dogs” being in Scotland that date as far as back as the 1600's. However, it’s thought the Duke of Gordon brought the breed to everyone's attention around 200 years later when he introduced them into his kennels. According to his records, The Duke noted they were not “fast dogs”, but they were extremely hardy with wonderful “staying powers” which meant they could work from morning till the sun went down at night with no trouble at all. He also noted they were extremely good scent dogs and seldom did they make a “false point”. If a Gordon Setter stood still, you could be sure a bird lay exactly where these dogs were standing.
With this said, it was at the beginning of the 18th Century that “Black and Tan Setters” were popular in Midland County Kennels which is quite some time before the Duke of Gordon became interested in the breed in the 19th Century. He got his setters from Thomas William Coke the Earl of Leicester and they were classed by the Kennel Club as being “Black and Tan Setters”. Around 50 years later, the breed was renamed “Gordon Setter” without a reason ever having been given for the change.
Gordon Setters continued to be developed throughout the early part of the 1900’s and this was to produce the dogs we see today, being stronger, healthier and more robust. The breed however, fell on hard times and numbers fell dangerously low, but thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of breeders, the Gordon Setter was saved from vanishing altogether. At the end of the Second World War, breed numbers began to rise again which continued right up to the 1970’s.
The early Gordon Setters were black and white although they could also be tricoloured, or their coats could have a reddish hue to them. But the Duke's preferred colour was black and tan. When the Duke passed away in 1827, his son continued the tradition of having Gordon Setters in his kennels and it was the “black and tan” dogs that prevailed. Today Gordon Setters are recognised by all the major kennel clubs around the world. With this said, they have been placed on The Kennel Clubs vulnerable native breed list because very few puppies are registered with them annually.
Interesting facts about the breed
Height at the withers: Males 61 - 69 cm, Females 58 - 66 cm
Average weight: Males 25 - 36 kg, Females 20 - 32 kg
The Gordon Setter is a very proud and handsome dog with males being larger than their female counterparts, but both have wonderful, glossy coats which is one of the breed's beautiful traits. Their heads are deeper than they are broad with dogs boasting a broad muzzle and slightly domed skulls which is wider between a dog's ears. They have very well-defined stops and their muzzles are quite long with dogs having nicely defined lips. Noses are broad, large and black in colour with wide open nostrils.
They are eyes are a dark brown with dogs always boasting a keen, kind and intelligent expression in them. Ears are moderate in size and thin being set low on a dog's head and lying flat to their heads. The Gordon Setter has a strong jaw with a perfect scissor bite where their upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones.
Their necks are long and lean with dogs carrying them arched which adds to a Gordon's proud and noble look. Shoulders are long and sloping with dogs having straight and strong front legs. Their body is moderately long with a nice level topline and deep brisket with well sprung ribs being. Loins are wide and a little arched.
Their hindquarters are broad and well-muscled with dogs having strong back legs and oval shaped feet with well-arched toes with lots of hair between them. Feet are nicely padded, and their heels are well cushioned. Dogs hold their tails either straight or very slightly arched in the shape of a scimitar. Their tails are thicker at the base but tapers to a fine point at the tip. The feathering starts near the root of the tail but gets shorter as it reaches the tip.
When it comes to their coat, the Gordon Setter boast a luxurious one with the hair on their heads, the front of their legs and tips of their ears being fine to the touch and short whereas on the rest of the body the hair is moderately longer, lying flat and close. Gordons have feathering on the upper parts of their ears which is long and silky. On the backs of their legs, the feathering is long and fine with dogs having fringes on their bellies that can extend right up to their chests and throats. The accepted breed colours for Kennel Club registration are as follows:
It is worth noting that the accepted breed colours for Kennel Club registration can differ from those set out in the breed standard which are as follows:
When a Gordon Setter moves, they do so at a steady, free-moving action showing a lot of drive from behind.
The Kennel Club frowns on any exaggerations or departures from the breed standard and would judge the faults on how much they affect a dog's overall health and wellbeing as well as their ability to perform.
Males should have both testicles fully descended into their scrotums and it is worth noting that a dog can be a little lighter or heavier as well as slightly taller or shorter than set out in the Kennel Club breed standard which is only given as a guideline.
Gordon Setters are renowned for being intensely loyal dogs. They become devoted to their owners and their families. However, they can be a little wary of people they don't know which is one characteristic that makes them very good watchdogs, always quick to let their owners know when they are strangers around. They are also known for being the sort of dog that is always eager to please which makes them easy to train.
However, they do need consistency in their training which has to always be fair or a Gordon Setter may start to show a more dominant side to their nature. They are sensitive dogs by nature and therefore do not answer well to any sort of harsh correction or training methods. They do answer well to positive reinforcement and are never happier than when they know their place in the “pack” and who to look to for guidance and direction. They are very courageous and boast a tremendous amount of stamina. As such they are an ideal choice for people who lead active, outdoor lives and not such a good choice for anyone who leads a more sedentary and quiet life.
If puppies are well socialised from an early age, Gordon Setters usually end up being playful, curious, happy and always willing to please the people they are devoted to. One thing to bear in mind is that Gordon Setters when young, go through a period that can only be described as a time of “fear and anxiety”. This usually happens when they are around 6 to 9 months old and it's important not to pamper them too much during this time, but rather to remain calm, always reassuring a dog that everything is okay and there is nothing scary which could hurt them.
With this said, the Gordon Setter is a good choice for the first-time owner because they are intelligent and always eager to please which makes them quick learners. However, this means they are quick to pick up bad habits too which owners must keep in mind when training a Gordon Setter.
Gordon Setters are a good choice for first time dog owners providing they have the time to dedicate an intelligent, energetic dog and one that needs lots of daily exercise. They also need enough space to express themselves and benefit from being able to roam around a secure, well-fenced back garden whenever possible to really let off steam.
Gordon Setters are social by nature and even though they have working and hunting dogs in their lineage, they do not have a very high prey drive. However, this is not to say that a dog would not give chase to a smaller animal when the mood takes them, and this includes squirrels and the cat from next door.
Gordon Setters have a very playful side to their natures and love to entertain and be entertained. They are known to be a little mischievous when the mood takes them and being so clever they quickly learn what pleases an owner.
Gordon Setters are better suited to people who have secure back gardens a dog can safely roam in and as such they are not a good choice for anyone living in an apartment.
Gordon Setters form strong ties with their families and dogs are never very happy when they find themselves left on their own for longer periods of time. They are better suited to people who either work from home or in households where one person stays at home when everyone else is out, so they are never alone for any length of time which could see a dog suffering from separation anxiety. This can lead to them being destructive around the home which is a dog's way of relieving any stress they are feeling and a way to keep themselves entertained which could include barking incessantly to get attention.
Some Gordon Setters like the sound of their own voices a little too much which is something that needs to be gently nipped in the bud when a dog is still young being careful not to frighten them, bearing in mind they are ultra-sensitive dogs by nature. Others will only bark when there are strangers about or when something they don't like is going on in their surroundings.
Most Gordon Setters love swimming and will take to the water whenever they can more especially when the weather is hot. However, if anyone who owns a dog that does not like water should never force them to go in because it would just end up scaring them. With this said, care should always be taken when walking a Gordon Setter off the lead anywhere near more dangerous watercourses just in case a dog decides to leap in and then needs rescuing because they cannot get out of the water on their own. It is also extremely important to thoroughly dry off a dog’s coat to prevent moisture from being trapped in their coats which could lead to a skin allergy flaring up.
Gordon Setters are natural watchdogs and are known to be the best of all “setters” when it comes to protecting an owner’s property. With this said, rarely would a Gordon Setter show any sort of aggression, preferring to stand their ground and bark as a way of alerting an owner to something.
Gordon Setters are intelligent, but they do tend to have a mind of their own and therefore they are known to be independent thinkers by nature. This must be taken into account when training a young dog which has to start early. These dogs need to be handled with a firm, gentle and always fair hand to get the best results. It's also a good idea to get Gordon Setters involved in some sort of "hunting" activity which is a great way of satisfying their natural instincts. Activities like scent training and obedience as well as field trials are a great choice of activities that will keep them happy.
Like all puppies, Gordon Setter puppies are incredibly cute, and it is all too easy to spoil them when they first arrive in their new homes. However, as soon as a puppy is nicely settled, owners must start out as they mean to go on which means laying down rules and boundaries, so a puppy understands what is expected of them. It also helps establish a pecking order and who is alpha dog in a household. The first commands a puppy should be taught are as follows:
Gordon Setters are known to be great around children of all ages, although they can get a little over protective of them which means any interaction between the kids and dogs need to be supervised by an adult to make sure playtime stays calm and not too boisterous which is especially true when children have friends over to play.
They generally get on well with other dogs and other family pets especially if they have been well socialised from a young age or they have grown up together in a household. With this said, a Gordon Setter might just take objection to certain dogs which means care needs to be taken when out on a walk in a public place. Care must be taken when a Gordon Setter is around any smaller animals and pets just in case they see them as prey.
For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.
The average life expectancy of a Gordon Setter is between 10 and 12 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.
Like so many other breeds, the Gordon Setter is known to suffer from a few hereditary health issues which are worth knowing about if you are planning share your home with one of these active and good-looking dogs. The conditions that seem to affect the breed the most include the following:
Gordon Setter puppies would have been given their initial vaccinations before being sold, but it is up to their new owners to make sure they have their follow-up shots in a timely manner with the vaccination schedule for puppies being as follows:
There has been a lot of discussion about the need for dogs to have boosters. As such, it's best to talk to a vet before making a final decision on whether a dog should continue to have annual vaccinations which are known as boosters.
A lot of vets these days recommend waiting until dogs are slightly older before spaying and neutering them which means they are more mature before undergoing the procedures. As such they advise neutering males and spaying females when they are between the ages of 6 to 9 months old and sometimes even when a dog is 12 months old.
Other vets recommend spaying and neutering dogs when they are 6 months old, but never any earlier unless for medical reasons. With this said, many breeds are different, and it is always advisable to discuss things with a vet and then follow their advice on when a dog should be spayed or neutered.
Like other breeds, Gordon Setters can gain weight after they have been spayed or neutered and it's important to keep an eye on a dog's waistline just in case they do. If a dog starts to put on weight, it's important to adjust their daily calorie intake and to up the amount of exercise they are given. Older dogs too are more prone to gaining weight and again it's essential they be fed and exercised accordingly because obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years. The reason being that it puts a lot of extra strain on a dog's internal organs including the heart which could prove fatal.
Some Gordon Setters are prone to suffering from allergies and it's important for a dog to see a vet sooner rather than later if one flares up. Allergies can be notoriously hard to clear up and finding the triggers can be challenging. With this said, a vet would be able to make a dog with an allergy more comfortable while they try to find out the triggers which could include the following:
All responsible Gordon Setter breeders would ensure that their stud dogs are tested for known hereditary and congenital health issues known to affect the breed by using the following schemes:
Apart from the standard breeding restrictions that are in place for all Kennel Club recognised, there are no other breed specific breeding restrictions for the Gordon Setter.
It is mandatory for all Kennel Club Assured Breeders to use the following tests on their dogs and all other breeders are strongly advised to follow suit:
The Kennel Club also strongly recommends that all breeders use the following test on stud dogs:
As with any other breed, Gordon Setters need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition. They also need to be given regular daily exercise to ensure they remain fit and healthy. On top of this, dogs need to be fed good quality food that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives.
Gordon Setter puppies are boisterous and full of life which means it's essential for homes and gardens to be puppy-proofed well in advance of their arrival. A responsible breeder would have well socialised their puppies which always leads to more outgoing, confident and friendly dogs right from the word go. With this said, any puppy is going to feel vulnerable when they leave their mother and littermates which must be taken into account. The longer a puppy can remain with their mother, the better although it should never be for too long either.
It's best to pick a puppy up when people are going to be around for the first week or so which is the time needed for a puppy to settle in. Puppy-proofing the home and garden means putting away any tools and other implements that a boisterous puppy might injure themselves on. Electric wires and cables must be put out of their reach because puppies love chewing on things. Toxic plants should be removed from flowerbeds and the home too.
Puppies need to sleep a lot to grow and develop as they should which means setting up a quiet area that's not too out of the way means they can retreat to it when they want to nap and it's important not to disturb them when they are sleeping. It's also a good idea to keep "playtime" nice and calm inside the house and to have a more active "playtime" outside in the garden which means puppies quickly learn to be less boisterous when they are inside.
The documentation a breeder provides for a puppy must have all the details of their worming date and the product used as well as the information relating to their microchip. It is essential for puppies to be wormed again keeping to a schedule which is as follows:
There are certain items that new owners need to already have in the home prior to bringing a new puppy home. It's often a good idea to restrict how much space a puppy plays in more especially when you can't keep an eye on what they get up to bearing in mind that puppies are often quite boisterous which means investing in puppy gates or a large enough playpen that allows a puppy the room to express themselves while keeping them safe too. The items needed are therefore, as follows:
All puppies are sensitive to noise including Gordon Setter puppies, bearing in mind they are sensitive by nature. It's important to keep the noise levels down when a new puppy arrives in the home. TVs and music should not be played too loud which could end up stressing a small puppy out making them withdrawn, timid and shy.
As previously mentioned, Gordon Setter puppies would have been given their first vaccinations by the breeders, but they must have their follow up shots which is up to their new owners to organise. The vaccination schedule for puppies is as follows:
When it comes to boosters, it's best to discuss these with a vet because there is a lot of debate about whether a dog really needs them after a certain time. However, if a dog ever needed to go into kennels, their vaccinations would need to be fully up to date.
Older Gordon Setters need lots of special care because as they reach their golden years, they are more at risk of developing certain health concerns. Physically, a dog's muzzle may start to go grey, but there will be other noticeable changes too which includes the following:
Living with a Gordon Setter in their golden years means taking on a few more responsibilities, but these are easily managed and should include looking at their diet, the amount of exercise they are given, how often their dog beds need changing and keeping an eye on the condition of their teeth.
Older Gordon need to be fed a good quality diet that meets their needs at this stage of their lives all the while keeping a close eye on a dog's weight. A rough feeding guide for older dogs is as follows bearing in mind they should be fed highly digestible food that does not contain any additives:
Older Gordon Setters don't need to be given the same amount of daily exercise as a younger dog, but they still need the right amount of physical activity to maintain muscle tone and to prevent a dog from putting on too much weight. All dogs need access to fresh clean water and this is especially true of older dogs when they reach their golden years because they are more at risk of developing kidney disorders.
Gordon Setters are high maintenance on the grooming front thanks to their gorgeous glossy coats which need to be brushed every day to keep things tangle-free. Special attention should be paid to a dog's featherings because these can grow rather long. It's also important for a Gordon Setter's coat to be thoroughly dried after they have been out for a walk in wet weather to prevent any skin issues or dogs catching a chill.
They tend to shed all year round, but like other breeds more so during the Spring and then again in the Autumn when more frequent brushing would be necessary to keep on top of things. It's also important to check a dog's ears on a regular basis and to clean them when necessary. If too much wax builds up in a dog's ears, it can lead to a painful infection which can be hard to clear up. In short, prevention is often easier than cure when it comes to ear infections.
The Gordon Setter is a high energy dog and they are very smart with it. As such they need to be given a ton of mental stimulation and physical exercise every day to keep them happy and healthy. A minimum of 2 hour's daily exercise is essential for these dogs or boredom might set in which can dogs developing some unwanted behavioural issues which includes being destructive around the home.
A shorter walk in the morning would be fine, but a longer more interesting one in the afternoon is a must. These dogs also like to be able to roam around a back garden as often as possible, so they can really let off steam. However, the fencing must be extremely secure to keep a Gordon Setter in because if they find a weakness in the fence, they will soon escape out and get into all sorts of trouble.
With this said, Gordon Setter puppies should not be given too much exercise because their joints and bones are still growing and too much pressure on them could result in causing a dog a few problems later in their lives. They should not be allowed to jump up or off furniture nor should they be allowed to run up and down the stairs because this puts too much pressure on their still growing joints and limbs.
Gordon Setters grow very slowly which means they cannot be fed like other dogs of their type. If you get a puppy from a breeder, they would give you a feeding schedule and it's important to stick to the same routine, feeding the same puppy food to avoid any tummy upsets. You can change a puppy's diet, but this needs to be done very gradually always making sure they don't develop any digestive upsets and if they do, it's best to put them back on their original diet and to discuss things with the vet before attempting to change it again.
Older dogs are not known to be fussy or finicky eaters, but this does not mean you can feed them a lower quality diet. It's best to feed a mature dog twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the evening, making sure it's good quality food that meets all their nutritional requirements. It's also important that dogs be given the right amount of exercise, so they burn off any excess calories or they might gain too much weight which can lead to all sorts of health issues. Obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years so it's important to keep an eye on their waistline from the word go.
Because Gordon Setters are prone to suffer from bloat, it is important that they be fed twice a day instead of giving them just one larger meal a day. It's also a good idea to invest in a stand to place their feed bowl which makes it easier for these large dogs to eat comfortably without having to stretch their necks down low to reach their food. You should never exercise a Gordon Setter just before or just after they have eaten either because this puts them more a risk of suffering from bloat.
Puppies need to be fed a highly nutritious, good quality diet for them to develop and grow as they should. As a rough guide, a Gordon Setter puppy can be fed the following amounts every day making sure their meals are evenly spread out throughout the day and it's best to feed them 3 or 4 times a day:
Once a puppy is 15 months old they can be fed adult dog food.
Once fully mature, an adult Gordon Setter should be fed a good quality diet to ensure their continued good health. As a rough guide, an adult Gordon Setter can be fed the following amounts every day:
If you are looking to buy a Gordon Setter, you may have to go on a waiting list because not many puppies are registered with The Kennel Club every year. You would need to pay anything from £600 to over £900 for a well-bred pedigree puppy. The cost of insuring a male 3-year-old Gordon Setter in northern England would be £27.98 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £66.56 a month (quote as of March 2018). When insurance companies calculate a pet's premium, they factor in several things which includes where you live in the UK and a dog's age and whether they have been neutered or spayed.
When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality food whether wet or dry, to feed your dog throughout their lives making sure it suits the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £50 - £60 a month. On top of all of this, you would need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with a Gordon and this includes their initial vaccinations, their annual boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying your dog when the time is right and their yearly health checks, all of which quickly adds up to over a £1000 a year.
As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for a Gordon Setter would be between £80 to £130 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your dog, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a healthy, well-bred Kennel Club registered pedigree Gordon Setter puppy.
When visiting and buying any puppy or dog, there are many important things to consider and questions to ask of the breeder/seller. You can read our generic puppy/dog advice here which includes making sure you see the puppy with its mother and to verify that the dog has been wormed and microchipped.
Well-bred Gordon Setter puppies can be hard to find and all too often prospective owners need to go on a waiting list. Puppies can command a lot of money and as such, with Gordon Setters there is specific advice, questions and protocols to follow when buying a puppy which are as follows:
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