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Get to Know the Gordon Setter: The Hunter of the Scottish Moors

The Gordon Setter is one of the largest and rarest setters; he got his name in the 1700s by being the favored setter at Gordon Castle.

Caroline Coile  |  May 23rd 2016


The Gordon Setter is both rugged and aristocratic, like a royal heir who divides his time between hunting in the moors and lounging by the castle hearth — even if nowadays he’s more likely hunting a ball at the park and lounging on your sofa in front of the air conditioner.

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Gordon Setter by Shutterstock.

More interesting things about the Gordon Setter

  • The Gordon Setter may be confused with the Irish Setter, English Setter, or Irish Red and White Setter, but the Gordon is always black and tan. It is also the largest of the setters and carries the most coat.
  • Setters probably arose from land spaniels in Europe. Black and tan setters existed in Scotland at least by the 1600s.
  • The dogs were developed to air-scent birds (mostly grouse) on the Scottish moors, which were heavily covered in heather.
  • Alexander Gordon, the fourth Duke of Gordon, kept many of these dogs at his Gordon Castle, so in the 1700s the breed became known as the Gordon Castle Setter. At the time, most of them were black, tan, and white.
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Gordon Setter by Shutterstock.

  • After the fourth Duke’s death, the Duke of Richmond continued to breed the dogs. Although there were black and tan dogs (purported to be the Duke of Gordon’s favorite) when the Duke of Richmond inherited them, by the time the kennels closed in 1907, the dogs were all black, tan, and white.
  • American statesman Daniel Webster and George Blunt brought the first Gordon Setters, which they bought from the Duke’s kennels, to America in 1842. These dogs, named Rake and Rachael, founded the breed in America.
  • Benjamin Franklin also imported a black, tan, and white setter, but there’s no evidence this was a Gordon Setter as some have claimed.
  • In 1859, the Gordon Setter was shown at the first dog show ever held, which took place in Britain. The first prize among the 36 Setters was awarded to a Black and Tan Setter named Dandie, whose grandsire was bred by the Duke of Gordon.
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Gordon Setter by Shutterstock.

  • The breed’s name was the Black and Tan Setter for some time, and then it was changed to the Gordon Setter when the English Kennel Club registered them in 1924.
  • Gordon Setters are the heaviest and slowest working of the setter breeds. Nonetheless, their job is to range far away from the hunter, locating game independently and then indicating it to the hunter. The breed is a favorite among hunters demanding a one-man shooting dog, though it generally lacks the flash and speed of the other setter breeds.
  • They are energetic and enthusiastic, with plenty of stamina. They are the most protective of the setters.
  • They weigh from 45 to 80 pounds.
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Gordon Setter by Shutterstock.

  • Gordon Setters have been shown at the Westminster Dog Show since 1877. They have won the Sporting group there six times, most recently in 1999, though none has won Best in Show.
  • The Gordon Setter is the 105th most-popular American Kennel Club breed, a ranking it has hovered around for the past several years.
  • Gordon Setter owners include novelist Sir Walter Scott and statesman and orator Daniel Webster.