The Golden Retriever is a medium-sized breed of dog. They were historically developed as gundogs to retrieve shot waterfowl such as ducks and upland game birds during hunting and shooting parties. As such, they were bred to have a soft mouth to retrieve game undamaged and have an instinctive love of water. The golden retriever has a dense inner coat that provides it with adequate warmth. The outer coat is sleek and water repellent, and lies flat against the body. The official colour of the breed is the varying shades of gold that are most often seen.
The breed's intelligence and versatility suit the dogs well for a variety of roles including guide dog for the blind, hearing dog for deaf people, hunting dog, illegal drug detector, and search and rescue participant. Because of their loyal and gentle temperament, golden retrievers are also popular family pets.
Golden Retrievers possess a friendly, eager-to-please demeanour, and are the fourth most popular family dog breeds (by registration) in the United States, the fifth most popular in Australia, and the eighth most popular in the United Kingdom.
The Golden Retriever was first developed in Scotland at "Guisachan" near Glen Affric, the highland estate of Sir Dudley Marjoribanks later Baron Tweedmouth. For many years, there was controversy over which breeds were originally crossed. In 1952, the publication of Marjoribanks' breeding records from 1835 to 1890 dispelled the myth concerning the purchase of a whole troupe of Russian sheepdogs from a visiting circus.
Improvements in guns during the 1800s resulted in more fowl being downed during hunts at greater distances and over increasingly difficult terrain. This led to more birds being lost in the field. Because of this improvement in firearms, a need for a specialist retriever arose as training setter and pointer breeds in retrieval was found to be ineffective. Thus work began on the breeding of the dog to fill this much needed role.
The original cross was of a yellow-coloured Retriever, Nous, with a Tweed Water Spaniel female dog, Belle. The Tweed Water Spaniel is now extinct but was then common in the border country. Marjoribanks had purchased Nous in 1865 from an unregistered litter of otherwise black wavy-coated retriever pups. In 1868, this cross produced a litter that included four pups; these four became the basis of a breeding program which included the Irish Setter, the sandy-coloured Bloodhound, the St. John's Water Dog of Newfoundland, and two more wavy-coated black Retrievers. The bloodline was also inbred and selected for trueness to Marjoribanks' idea of the ultimate hunting dog. His vision included a more vigorous and powerful dog than previous retrievers, one that would still be gentle and trainable. Russian sheepdogs are not mentioned in these records, nor are any other working dog breeds. The ancestry of the Golden Retriever is all sporting dogs, in line with Marjoribanks' goals.
Golden Retrievers were first accepted for registration by The Kennel Club of England in 1903, as Flat Coats – Golden. They were first exhibited in 1908, and in 1911 were recognised as a breed described as Retriever (Golden and Yellow). In 1913, the Golden Retriever Club was founded. The breed name was officially changed to Golden Retriever in 1920.
The Honourable Archie Marjoribanks took a Golden Retriever to Canada in 1881, and registered Lady with the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1894. These are the first records of the breed in these two countries. The breed was first registered in Canada in 1927, and the Golden Retriever Club of Ontario, now the Golden Retriever Club of Canada, was formed in 1958. The co-founders of the GRCC were Cliff Drysdale, an Englishman who had brought over an English Golden and Jutta Baker, daughter in law of Louis Baker who owned Northland Kennels, possibly Canada's first kennel dedicated to Goldens. The AKC recognised the breed in 1925, and in 1938 the Golden Retriever Club of America was formed.
There are also organisations other than clubs dedicated to golden retrievers, such as breed specific adoption sites.
In July 2006, The Golden Retriever Club of Scotland organised a gathering of Golden Retriever enthusiasts at the ancestral home of Guisachan House. A photograph was taken by photographer Lynn Kipps to commemorate the occasion. It captures 188 Golden Retrievers and therefore holds the record for most Golden Retrievers captured in one image.
Coat and colour
As indicated by their name, their coat comes in light golden colours to dark golden colours. The coat and undercoat are dense and waterproof, and may be straight or moderately wavy. It usually lies flat against the belly. The American Kennel Club (AKC) standard states that the coat is a "rich, lustrous golden of various shades", disallowing coats that are extremely light or extremely dark. This leaves the outer ranges of coat colour up to a judge's discretion when competing in conformation shows. Therefore, "pure white" and "red" are unacceptable colours like black . The Kennel Club (UK) also permits cream as an acceptable coat colour. Judges may also disallow Goldens with pink noses, or those lacking pigment. The Golden's coat can also be of a mahogany colour, referred to as "redheads", although this is not accepted in the British show ring. As a Golden grows older, its coat can become darker or lighter, along with a noticeable whitening of the fur on and around the muzzle. Puppy coats are usually much lighter than their adult coats, but a puppy with a darker colouration at the tips of the ears may indicate a darker adult colour. A golden's coat should never be too long, as this may prove to be a disservice to them in the field, especially when retrieving game.
The temperament of the Golden Retriever is a hallmark of the breed and is described in the standard as "kindly, friendly and confident". They are not "one man dogs" and are generally equally amiable with both strangers and those familiar to them. Their trusting, gentle disposition therefore makes them a poor guard dog. Any form of unprovoked aggression or hostility towards either people, dogs or other animals, whether in the show ring or community, is completely unacceptable in a Golden Retriever and is not in keeping with the character of the breed and as such is considered a serious fault. Nor should a Golden Retriever be unduly timid or nervous. The typical Golden Retriever is calm, naturally intelligent and biddable, with an exceptional eagerness to please.
Golden Retrievers are also noted for their intelligence, it ranks fourth in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs following the Border Collie, Poodle, and German Shepherd Dog, being one of the brightest dogs ranked by obedience command trainability. These dogs are also renowned for their patience with children.
By the time they reach maturity however, Goldens will have become active and fun-loving animals with the exceptionally patient demeanour befitting a dog bred to sit quietly for hours in a hunting blind. Adult Golden Retrievers love to work, and have a keen ability to focus on a given task. They will seemingly work until they collapse, so care should be taken to avoid overworking them.
Other characteristics related to their hunting heritage are a size suited for scrambling in and out of boats and an inordinate love for water. Golden Retrievers are exceptionally trainable—due to their intelligence, athleticism and desire to please their handlers—and generally excel in obedience trials. They are also very competitive in agility and other performance events. Harsh training methods are unnecessary as Golden Retrievers often respond very well to positive and upbeat training styles.
Golden Retrievers are compatible with children and adults and are good with other dogs, cats and most livestock. Golden Retrievers are particularly valued for their high level of sociability towards people, calmness, and willingness to learn. Because of this, they are commonly used as guide dogs, mobility assistance dogs, and search and rescue dogs. They are friendly and tend to learn tricks easily.
They are also known to become excellent surrogate mothers to different species. Kittens and even tiger cubs from zoos are well taken care of by golden retrievers. In some cases, a retriever may produce milk for her adopted even though she may not have been pregnant or nursing recently.
The average life span for a Golden Retriever is 11 to 11½ years. Golden Retrievers are susceptible to specific ailments. A responsible breeder will proactively minimise the risk of illness by having the health of dogs in breeding pairs professionally assessed and selected on the basis of complementary traits.
Golden retrievers are known to have genetic disorders and other diseases. Hip dysplasia is common in the breed; when buying a puppy, the pedigree should be known and be examined by the OFA or by PennHIP for hip disease.
The Golden Retriever's eagerness to please has made them consistent, top performers in the obedience and agility rings. Plus with their excellent swimming ability they are great at dock jumping. Their natural retrieving ability also sees them excel in flyball and field trials.
The first three dogs ever to achieve the AKC Obedience Champion title were Golden Retrievers; the first of the three was a female named Ch. Moreland's Golden Tonka.
The breed is used in water rescue/lifesaving. It continues in that role today, along with the Leonberger, Newfoundland and Labrador Retriever dogs; they are used at the Italian School of Canine Lifeguard.