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Originally bred to hunt pheasant and quail, Gordon Setters are still fine hunting companions and field trial competitors. Canines of this dog breed also compete in obedience, conformation, and agility and are a terrific family and companion dog.
"Brains, beauty, and bird sense" is a phrase often applied to the Gordon Setter. If you've ever had the privilege of seeing the breed in the field, you understand why. In art, he's often depicted as scouring the moors for a pheasant or other bird, and in life he does the same, pretty as a picture with his long, soft, straight black and tan coat, feathered tail, and noble, dignified stance.
The Gordon is the largest of all Setters. He's an active, well-muscled dog capable of working but who would also remain a puppy for his entire life if he could. Gordons are known for maturing late and tend to remain young at heart. The breed is intelligent, gentle, and loyal.
Gordons need daily exercise and do best in a home with a large fenced yard where they can expend their energy. The Gordon is not a backyard dog by any means, however, and should not live away from his family. He's prone to separation anxiety and can become destructive when left alone for long periods.
Gordon Setters need a firm hand when it comes to training but not so firm that their sensitive spirit is damaged. Consistent, firm, fair training using the techniques of positive reinforcement will prevent them from becoming dominant, wilful and stubborn. The mental activity provided by training will help keep them occupied and out of trouble.
Some Gordons can be aggressive toward other dogs, but it's not a common trait in the breed, and they should never be vicious. Toward strangers Gordons can be aloof, preferring the attention of their own people. They'll tolerate attention from strangers but don't actively seek it. To avoid any aggression or fear regarding strangers, it's important to socialize your Gordon Setter — expose him to a variety of people, sights, sounds, and situations — in puppyhood. A properly socialized Gordon is alert and fearless, an excellent watchdog.
The Gordon Setter is a loving companion and steady protector of the children in his life. Gordons are generally patient with children and tolerate much of their teasing and treatment, although of course they shouldn't have to. It's always important to supervise interactions between children and dogs.
Known for their vocal skills, Gordons can be verbal in conveying their likes, dislikes, and other feelings. When they're provided with the attention and exercise they crave, they're loving, protective, and intensely devoted to their families.
- Adult Gordon Setters require one to two hours of daily exercise. This can be a game of fetch in a field or backyard, a run, or a couple of long walks.
- Gordon Setters do well with children and may be protective of the children in their family. In general, they make wonderful, caring companions for children and their whole family. It is important to remember that dogs and small children should never be left unsupervised, regardless of breed.
- Being an intelligent, hardworking breed, the Gordon Setter can become destructive if his needs for exercise and mental stimulation are not met. Boredom and extra energy are not a great mix to have, and the best way to avoid any destructiveness is through proper exercise and training.
- Gordon Setters are not backyard dogs. They are much happier when they are with their families and should not live away from them. They enjoy personal attention and family activities.
- Gordon Setters are generally rambunctious when they are young but usually become gentle and calm as they get older.
- Strong temperaments are well known in the breed and many owners have the feeling that they are "owned" and not owner. Gordons are independent and determined, qualities that can translate to stubbornness to some.
- Gordon Setters make excellent watchdogs and are wary of strangers. They may seem aloof to some but are loving toward their own family.
- Barking is not uncommon in the breed, and Gordons will bark to express their likes, dislikes, and other emotions, including whether they think you should have taken them with you when you left.
- Gordon Setters can suffer from separation anxiety and may become destructive when they do.
- Gordon Setters shed, and their coat requires more than minimal grooming. If you do not have the time needed to properly groom them, this may not be the breed for you.
- Although many Gordon Setters get along well with other animals, some may be aggressive toward other dogs. Socialization is important for all dogs and should be started as possible.
- Gordon Setters are not recommended for apartment living. Although they are generally quiet indoors, they need a large fenced yard to exercise in. They love to run so a fenced yard is a must.
- Although Gordon Setters are known for their stubbornness, they can be sensitive and easily cowed with abuse and neglect. Never treat your dog harshly but instead give him firm, fair, consistent training without the use of anger or physical force. If Gordon Setters aren't trained they may become destructive, wilful, and dominant.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from a backyard breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they're free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
Black and tan setting dogs were known in Scotland as early as 1620, but it was their presence in the kennels of the fourth Duke of Gordon 200 years later that brought them to prominence. The Castle Gordon Setters had first-class hunting skills and were beautiful as well. It was written of them: "They are not fast dogs, but they have good staying powers and can keep on steadily from morning until night. Their noses are first class and they seldom make a false point. When they stand, you may be sure there are birds."
The early Gordons also came in black and white, tricolor, and red, but the Duke was said to favor the dogs with black and tan coloring, and that's what has prevailed over the years. When the Duke died in 1827, his heir, the Duke of Richmond, carried on his kennels.
Between 1859 and 1874, England's Kennel Club listed 126 Black and Tan setters in its studbook. In June of 1859, at the first official dog show, a Black and Tan Setter by the name of Dandie, took first prize for setters, who could trace his pedigree back to the kennels of the Duke of Gordon. The breed officially took the name Gordon Setter in 1924.
The first Gordon Setters imported into the United States came from the kennel at Gordon Castle. The dogs, Rake and Rachel, were purchased by Daniel Webster and George Blunt in 1842. They were the foundation of the breed in the United States.
The American Kennel Club recognized the Gordon Setter in 1892, and the Gordon Setter Club of America, Inc. was formed in 1924. The club is still in existence today and boasts a membership of more than 1,000. Today the Gordon Setter ranks 88th among the 155 breeds and varieties registered by the AKC.
The Gordon Setter male stands 24 to 27 inches and weighs 55 to 80 pounds; females are 23 to 26 inches and 45 to 70 pounds.
The loyal Gordon Setter is intensely devoted to his family but wary of strangers, characteristics that make him an excellent watchdog. He's mannerly and eager to please, but like any dog he'll take advantage of lax leadership and can become dominant, wilfull, and stubborn if not provided with firm, fair, consistent training. A Gordon Setter expert once wrote of the breed that if he acts sorry for a misdeed, he's probably more sorry that he got caught than that he misbehaved. In the field or in any competitive situation, he's alert, fearless, intelligent, and capable. He's a personal hunting dog, in the sense that he works nearby rather than ranging far afield. Gordons aren't fast, but they have a lot of stamina.
Temperament is affected by a number of factors, including heredity, training, and socialization. Puppies with nice temperaments are curious and playful, willing to approach people and be held by them. Choose the middle-of-the-road puppy, not the one who's beating up his littermates or the one who's hiding in the corner. Always meet at least one of the parents — usually the mother is the one who's available — to ensure that they have nice temperaments that you're comfortable with. Meeting siblings or other relatives of the parents is also helpful for evaluating what a puppy will be like when he grows up.
Like every dog, Gordon Setters need early socialization — exposure to many different people, sights, sounds, and experiences — when they're young. Socialization helps ensure that your Gordon Setter puppy grows up to be a well-rounded dog. Enrolling him in a puppy kindergarten class is a great start. Inviting visitors over regularly, and taking him to busy parks, stores that allow dogs, and on leisurely strolls to meet neighbors will also help him polish his social skills.
It's not unusual for a Gordon puppy to go through a fear period sometime between 6 and 9 months of age. Without coddling him, maintain a calm demeanor so you can reassure him that whatever situation has spooked him is normal and nothing to be afraid of.
Gordons are generally healthy, but like all breeds of dogs, they're prone to certain diseases and conditions. Not all Gordons will get any or all of these diseases,
but it's important to be aware of them if you're buying or living with a Gordon.
- Hip Dysplasia: This is a heritable condition in which the thighbone doesn't fit snugly into the hip joint. Some dogs show pain and lameness on one or both rear legs, but you may not notice any signs of discomfort in a dog with hip dysplasia. As the dog ages, arthritis can develop. X-ray screening for hip dysplasia is done by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or the University of Pennsylvania Hip Improvement Program (PennHIP). Dogs with hip dysplasia should not be bred. If you're buying a puppy, ask the breeder for proof that the parents have been tested for hip dysplasia and are free of problems. Hip dysplasia is hereditary, but it can also be triggered by environmental factors, such as rapid growth from a high-calorie diet or injuries incurred from jumping or falling on slick floors.
- Elbow dysplasia: This is a heritable condition common to large-breed dogs. It's thought to be caused by different growth rates of the three bones that make up the dog's elbow, causing joint laxity. This can lead to painful lameness. Your vet may recommend surgery to correct the problem, weight management, or medication to control the pain.
- Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is an abnormally low level of the hormone produced by the thyroid gland. A mild sign of the disease may be infertility. More obvious signs include obesity, mental dullness, drooping of the eyelids, low energy levels, and irregular heat cycles. The dog's fur becomes coarse and brittle and begins to fall out, and the skin becomes tough and dark. Hypothyroidism can be treated with daily medication, which must continue throughout the dog's life. A dog receiving daily thyroid treatment can live a full and happy life.
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): This is a degenerative eye disorder that eventually causes blindness from the loss of photoreceptors at the back of the eye. PRA is detectable years before the dog shows any signs of blindness. Fortunately, dogs can use their other senses to compensate for blindness, and a blind dog can live a full and happy life. Just don't make it a habit to move the furniture around. Reputable breeders have their dogs' eyes certified annually by a veterinary ophthalmologist and do not breed dogs with this disease.
- Gastric Dilatation Volvulus (Bloat): Also called bloat or torsion, this is a life-threatening condition that affects large, deep-chested dogs, especially if they're fed one large meal a day, eat rapidly, drink large amounts of water rapidly, or exercise vigorously after eating. Bloat occurs when the stomach is distended with gas or air and then twists. The dog is unable to belch or vomit to rid himself of the excess air in his stomach, and blood flow to the heart is impeded. Blood pressure drops and the dog goes into shock. Without immediate medical attention, the dog can die. Suspect bloat if your dog has a distended abdomen, is drooling excessively, and retching without throwing up. He also may be restless, depressed, lethargic, and weak with a rapid heart rate. If you notice these symptoms, get your dog to the vet as soon as possible.
Gordon Setters need daily strenuous exercise, so they're good companions for joggers or runners. A good game of fetch in the backyard or a long walk will also contribute to their physical well being. Puppies are rambunctious and full of the devil. Let them play all they want in the backyard, but limit forced exercise such as road running or obedience jumps to avoid placing unnecessary strain on the still developing bones and joints. Avoid these types of workouts until the dog is 2 years old and introduce them gradually.
Gordon Setters are intelligent dogs who are easy to train, although they require firmness and consistency to prevent them from taking advantage of you. You must be able to provide leadership without using anger or physical force.
Housetraining is fairly easy with most Gordon Setters, although there are exceptions to every rule. Be consistent, keep the puppy on a schedule, and use a crate. Crate training not only aids in housetraining, it also keeps the puppy from chewing (a common habit of Gordon puppies) and provides a safe and quiet place for the dog to rest. The most important thing to remember is that housetraining is a long process. Your Gordon puppy may understand where he needs to do his business, but he may not have the bladder control to see it through until he's 4 months or older. If you will be gone for long periods of time for work or other activities, it's important to have someone who will let the puppy out for a pee break.
The silver lining to the Gordon's wild puppyhood is his quiet and sedate adulthood. He loves competition, however, and can excel in many dog sports. The Gordon can be a busy breed, but once you understand his drive and meet his needs, he can be a wonderful companion who's just as happy to lie beside you as he is hiking or hunting beside you.
Recommended daily amount: 2 to 3 cups of high-quality dry food a day, divided into two meals.
NOTE: How much your adult dog eats depends on his size, age, build, metabolism, and activity level. Dogs are individuals, just like people, and they don't all need the same amount of food. It almost goes without saying that a highly active dog will need more than a couch potato dog. The quality of dog food you buy also makes a difference — the better the dog food, the further it will go toward nourishing your dog and the less of it you'll need to shake into your dog's bowl.
Keep your Gordon in good shape by measuring his food and feeding him twice a day rather than leaving food out all the time. If you're unsure whether he's overweight. give him the eye test and the hands-on test. First, look down at him. You should be able to see a waist. Then place your hands on his back, thumbs along the spine, with the fingers spread downward. You should be able to feel but not see his ribs without having to press hard. If you can't, he needs less food and more exercise.
Coat, Color and Grooming
The Gordon Setter's attractive coat is soft and shiny, ranging from straight to slightly wavy. He has long hair on the ears, chest, belly, the back of the legs, and the tail. The tail is short, with feathering that grows in a triangular shape, becoming uniformly shorter toward the end of the tail.
He wears a classic black and tan coat, with the tan markings being a rich chestnut or mahogany on the sides and bottom of the muzzle, over the eyes, on the throat, two large spots on the chest, on the inside of the hind legs (although not so much that the black is eliminated), on the forelegs, and around the vent (the anal opening). The black and tan colors are clearly defined, never mixed together. A Gordon may have a white spot on the chest, the smaller the better.
Brush and comb your Gordon two or three times weekly to prevent mats and tangles. Trim the hair on the bottom of his feet and between the toes to prevent it from picking up debris in the summer and forming ice balls in winter.
Brushing will go a long way toward keep your Gordon's coat clean and shiny, but you can bathe him every one or two weeks if you want without drying out the coat. Just be sure to use a shampoo and conditioner formulated for dogs and rinse thoroughly.
All breeds with pendant, or hanging, ears tend to have issues with ear infections. Check your Gordon's ears weekly and wipe them out with a cotton ball moistened with a cleanser recommended by your veterinarian. Never stick cotton swabs or anything else into the ear canal or you might damage it. Your Gordon may have an ear infection if the inside of the ear smells bad, looks red or seems tender, or he frequently shakes his head or scratches at his ear.
Brush your Gordon's teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and the bacteria that lurk inside it. Daily brushing is even better if you want to prevent gum disease and bad breath.
Trim nails once or twice a month if your dog doesn't wear them down naturally. If you can hear them clicking on the floor, they're too long. Short, neatly trimmed nails keep the feet in good condition and prevent your legs from getting scratched when your Gordon enthusiastically jumps up to greet you.
Begin accustoming your Gordon to being brushed and examined when he's a puppy. Handle his paws frequently — dogs are touchy about their feet — and look inside his mouth and ears. Make grooming a positive experience filled with praise and rewards, and you'll lay the groundwork for easy veterinary exams and other handling when he's an adult.
As you groom, check for sores, rashes, or signs of infection such as redness, tenderness, or inflammation on the skin, in the ears, nose, mouth, and eyes, and on the feet. Eyes should be clear, with no redness or discharge. Your careful weekly exam will help you spot potential health problems early.
Children and other pets
Gordons are fond of and protective toward children. They'll put up with
a lot, and when they've had enough teasing or roughhousing, they'll walk
away. They may be a bit much for toddlers, though, being large enough to
accidentally knock them down.
Always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always
supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent
any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach