A Gordon Setter is a large breed of dog, a member of the setter family that also includes both the better-known Irish Setter and the English Setter. Setter breeds are classified as members of either the Sporting or Gundog Group depending on the national kennel club or council. The original purpose of the breed was to hunt gamebirds. Their quarry in the United Kingdom, may be partridge or grouse, pheasant, ptarmigan, blackgame, snipe or woodcock: whilst overseas bird dogs are worked on quail, willow grouse, sand grouse, guinea fowl, sagehen, francolin and any other bird that will sit to a dog – that is to say, will attempt to avoid a potential predator by concealment rather than by taking to the wing at the first sign of danger. It is this combination of a bird that will sit fast in front of a dog that will remain on point that makes bird dog work possible.
Gordon setters, also known as “black and tans,” have a coal-black coat with distinctive markings of a rich chestnut or mahogany colour on their paws and lower legs, vents, throat, and muzzles; one spot above each eye; and two spots on their chest. A small amount of white is allowed on the chest. Although uncommon, red Gordons are occasionally born to normal-coloured parents, the result of expression of a recessive red gene. Predominantly tan, red, or buff dogs are ineligible for showing. A Gordon’s coat is straight or slightly waved (but not curly), long and silky, with chest, stomach, ear, leg, and tail feathering. According to the AKC breed standard, “the bearing is intelligent, noble, and dignified.” They are the heaviest of the setter breeds, with males reaching 27 inches at the withers and up to 80 pounds in weight.
The AKC describes the Gordon Setter temperament as “alert, interested, and confident. He is fearless and willing, intelligent, and capable. He is loyal and affectionate, and strong-minded enough to stand the rigors of training.” Gordons are intensely loyal to their owners; thrive in an attentive, loving environment; and are good family dogs. Puppies and adult dogs can be quite boisterous, and although they are patient by nature, may not be suitable for households with very young children. Gordons are sensitive and empathic, eager to learn, and need firm but gentle handling. Early socialisation and obedience training is important. They are known as great talkers. The breed is one of the slowest to mature, not hitting prime until three years of age or more, and will show puppy-like characteristics well into their older years.
Gordons were bred to run, and require 60 to 80 minutes of vigorous exercise daily. Young dogs should not be over-exercised or begin agility training until they are at least 18 months old, to avoid joint problems later in life. Because of their hunting instincts, Gordons should not be allowed to roam freely if unsupervised, as they are apt to wander into a potentially dangerous traffic situation while following a scent.
Although not as prone to hip dysplasia as many of the larger breeds, Gordons can suffer from the condition. Other health issues can include hypothyroidism, gastric torsion (bloat) and eye diseases such as progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), and cataracts. Life expectancy for the breed is generally about 10 to 12 years.
At the beginning of 2009, a report was issued to all of the Breed Clubs in the UK concerning cases of late onset PRA in Gordon Setters.
On March 14, 2011, Animal Health Trust (AHT) made a DNA test available. The mutation is termed rcd4 (for rod-cone degeneration 4) to distinguish it from other, previously described forms of rod-cone degeneration. It is recessive, and 19 out of the 21 Gordons in their study who had clinical signs of PRA were homozygous for this mutation, indicating it is the major cause of PRA in the breed.
As many as 50% of Gordon Setters may be carriers.