During the nineteenth century, there was an
ongoing quest among the British gentry for the perfect hunting
dog. As a result, most of today's retrievers and many other
hunting dogs have their roots in these early efforts. Many attempted
this goal by acquiring and breeding good hunting dogs, using
outcrosses to other breeds in an effort to bring in other desirable
qualities. Sometimes this worked, more often it did not. That
the exact origins of several of the retriever breeds is unclear
is due to the somewhat haphazard or occasionally secretive methods
used at the time.
The origin of the Golden Retriever, in contrast, lies in the
careful work of one man, Sir Dudley Marjoribanks (later the
first Lord Tweedmouth) who also set out to breed a good hunting
dog. A colorful folk tale has him buying Russian circus dogs,
reportedly 100+ lbs., 30 inches at the shoulder, pale blonde
and extremely intelligent as the foundation for his breed. This
fanciful story even appears in the GRCA's Yearbook as late as
1950. However, examination of his Stud Book, covering the years
from 1835 to 1890 and finally made publicly available in 1952,
records no such purchase but instead details a careful line-breeding
program unusual at that time and place for dogs.
In 1865, Lord Tweedmouth purchased a yellow retriever "Nous"
from an unregistered litter of otherwise black Wavy-Coated
Retrievers. Nous was later bred with "Belle", a
Tweed Water Spaniel, and the resulting litter produced four
bitches that were instrumental to his breeding program. One
of them, "Cowslip," he bred back to for over twenty
years. Over the years, several outcrosses, to black Wavy Coated
Retrievers, an Irish Setter, and later a sandy-colored Bloodhound
occurred as he sought to improve and fix his new breed. The
coat textures of the Goldens of this time reportedly varied,
as did the color, which ranged from fox red to light cream.
The Wavy-Coated Retrievers were the ancestors of today's
Flat-Coat Retriever and they in turn were developed from crossing
setters with the lesser St. John's Water Dog of Newfoundland.
The Tweed Water Spaniel, now extinct, came from early water
dogs crossed with land or field spaniels to develop Water
Spaniels. These spaniels were developed in the Tweed River
area and were described by contemporaries as a small liver-colored
retriever ("liver" at the time signifying any shade
from yellow to brown).
The Kennel Club of England accepted the first Goldens for
registration in 1903. At the time, they were registered as
"Flat Coats -- Golden". By 1904 the first Golden
placement at a field trial was recorded. Among the first shown
in conformation were Culham Brass and Culham Copper. In 1911,
they were recognized as a separate breed, at first called
"Yellow or Golden Retrievers," but within several
years the "Yellow" was dropped from their name.
Characteristics and Temperament
Dogs in general are pack-oriented animals. They need to interact
with their pack on a regular basis to be secure. Goldens in
particular have been bred through the years to make an excellent
companion for people - whether it is to sit quietly in a duck
blind until it is time to retrieve or as a service dog or
in any other capacity. Because of this, they, even more so
than some other breeds, need to interact with their people.
Goldens are particularly forgiving dogs and will allow you
to make many mistakes while still wanting nothing more than
to please and be acknowledged for it with a scratch behind
the ear. As a testament to their desire to please, the first
three dogs to obtain Obedience Trial Championships were Golden
Because Goldens are such people-oriented dogs, it's important
that they live WITH their owners. A Golden relegated to the
backyard while his family is in the house is an unhappy Golden.
It is imperative that your Golden be regularly included in
family activities. Once fully grown, they are a robust dog
and will enjoy many activities with you such as walking, hiking,
jogging, hunting, etc.
As is common with the retriever breeds, this is a breed slow
to fully mature both mentally and physically. At a year of
age, they will have their full height, but their full weight
will be another year or two in coming. Mentally, they remain
puppies for a long time (up to two or three years of age)
and many retain a very playful and clownish personality for
most of their lives.
Because of their kindly and easy going nature, Goldens are
a popular breed. Many people, in hoping to cash in on this
popularity, breed Goldens without regard to their temperament
or other good attributes. You should be very selective in
picking out a puppy from a breeder. Your best sources for
Goldens are from a breed rescue organization that carefully
screens its dogs, or from a reputable breeder who is dedicated
to the overall improvement of the breed. The choice you make
now will be one you live with for the next decade, so choose