Gordon Setter Information


Gordon Setter History
by Esther Joseph
The Gordon Setter is a unique dog and as such has certain characteristics, which are unique to the breed. One of the most important features of the Gordon is its distinctive build. A Gordon that looks like a black and tan Irish or English Setter is not built correctly and is not typical of the breed.

One must remember that the Gordon Setter is an air scenting breed, he was developed over a long period for the sole purpose of setting game birds (mostly Grouse) on the heavy heather covered Scottish moors.

It is said that the Setter was evolved from the old “Setting Spaniel” and its main function was to work. These were the days before “Dog Shows”! At that time Setters came in all colours there were some preferences for one colour over another but as early as the 17th century “black and fallow” dogs are mentioned Alexander, the fourth Duke of Gordon (1743-1827), established his famous kennel of wonderful working setters at Gordon Castle near Fochabers not far from the River Spey in UK. It seems certain that these setters were black, white and tan, black and white, and black and tan. The Duke was believed to prefer the Gordons that were black and tan. If this is so he would have encouraged the breeding of this colour in preference to the others. It’s a known fact that there were black and tan setters at Gordon Castle as early as 1825.

History has it that the Duke would not shoot over his setters until they were 5 years old, as they were very wild when they were young and slow in maturing. Most breeders and Gordon owners would say the Gordon Setter has remained unchanged in this respect today.

Alexander the 4th Duke died in 1827 and George the 5th Duke (and the last Duke of Gordon) in 1836. During these 9 years the kennel was reduced. Dogs were probably given to various friends and possibly many went to the Duke’s keepers. At the dispersal sale at Tattersalls in July 1836 only eleven setters were sold (maybe the rest of his kennel) of these eleven setters only one (Duke a 5 years old male) was black and tan. Five were black and white, one black, one black white and tan, one red and white and two black and white 4 months old pups.
On the death of the 5th Duke Of Gordon in 1836 the title became extinct and the estate was passed on to his nephew the 5th Duke of Richmond. In 1875 the sixth Duke was created “the Duke of Richmond and Gordon. It is interesting to note at the Tattersalls sale, the Duke of Richmond purchased “Juno” for 34 guineas and it is generally accepted that he got together a strong kennel of working Gordon Setters.

In spite of conflicting report, the weight of evidence suggests that after the kennel was revived by the Duke of Richmond the principal colour was still black, white and tan with a few black and tans, but the latter seems to have died out gradually at the Castle. This is confirmed by the fact that when the kennel was finally closed in 1907, Mr. Isaac Sharpe of the ‘Stylish’ gundog kennels bought all the remaining setters and these were all black, white and tan.
In short the first part of the Black and Tan or the Gordon Setter history goes back some two and half centuries and the Duke of Gordon developed its working ability making it famous. As the Rev Pearce wrote (under the pseudonym of ‘A Breeder of Great Experience’ in the original edition of Stonehenge’s book 1867) ‘The origin of the breed is not well-known. The late Duke of Gordon, at any rate, brought it up to its present excellence. However, no less important than the development of the breed by the Duke of Gordon has been its establishment and perfecting during the latter half of the nineteenth century and after.

In the first Stud Book of the Kennel Club (English) covering the years 1859-1874 there were 126 Black & Tan setters listed but it was not until 1st January 1924 that the Kennel Club accepted the name of GORDON SETTER as a registered breed. It should be noted that up to 1958 it was necessary to get a working certificate to become a champion but from that date the Kennel Club agreed to a title of Show Champion (Sh. Ch.) for dogs that were not working stock.
The first official dog show, organized by John Shorthose and William Pape, was held in the Town Hall at Newcastle-on-Tyne 28-29 June 1859. It was exclusively for Pointers and Setters of which respectively 23 and 36 were exhibited, and the first prize for Setters was awarded to Mr. Jobling’s Black and Tan Setter, ‘Dandie’ (No 1) whose grandsire is said to have been bred by the Duke of Gordon. In the November following, a second show was held in Birmingham for Sporting Dogs of various kinds, and this was won by another Black and Tan Setter, Mr. Burdett’s ‘Brougham’ (No2)


The Gordon Setter is not that unlike other Setters other than being somewhat thicker set. His coat colour is always Black with Tan markings – He comes in no other colours.


The Gordon Setter as a puppy can be a little clumsy, in rather an endearing way, but as he grows up he becomes a very loyal and obedient dog; sweet-tempered, devoted and excellent with children; intelligent and always willing to please his family. He does need lots of physical and mental exercise to keep him fit and happy. However, unless properly trained, he can be a bit of a monkey if deciding to follow a scent which might be of interest to him when calling him back may fall on deaf ears!


Identification of Mutation for Progressive Retinal Atrophy in the Gordon Setter;
All breeding stock should be DNA tested for PRA rcd4 before breeding.

A mutation responsible for the development of Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) in the Gordon Setter has been identified by geneticists working in the Kennel Club Genetics Centre at the Animal Health Trust.
PRA is a well-recognised inherited condition that many breeds of dog are predisposed to. The condition is characterised by bilateral degeneration of the retina which causes progressive vision loss that culminates in total blindness. There is no treatment for PRA.
Owners report that their affected dogs develop night blindness in the first instance, which is indicative of a rod-cone degeneration, so we have termed this mutation rcd4 (for rod-cone degeneration 4) to distinguish it from other, previously described, forms of rod-cone degeneration.
The mutation is recessive and 19 out of the 21 Gordon Setters in our study that had clinical signs of PRA were homozygous (carried two copies) for this mutation, indicating it is the major cause of PRA in the breed. Two dogs in our study had PRA but did not carry the rcd4 mutation, indicating there might be another, genetically distinct, rarer form of PRA segregating in this breed. Source – ‘The British Gordon Stter Club’.