In the early 19th century, gundog enthusiasts began combining various Old and New World breeds in an effort to create a dog that could reliably find and bring back dead and wounded game.

Pointers and Setters of the day were often trained to retrieve, although their true inclination was to wander far afield. Likewise, Spaniels preferred flushing game, although they too could be trained to return birds to hand.

By 1840, a medium-sized, intelligent retriever was desired that possessed a good nose and a soft mouth. Various breeds were mixed together in an effort to create specialist hunters with a willingness to work and an eagerness to please.

Crosses were made at this time between the St. John’s Dog and various Setters, Spaniels and Water Spaniels. The Collie and Bloodhound may also figure into the original experiment.

Performance was the only consideration for these early breedings. As a result, coat color and texture were initially of little consequence. In time, however, specific qualities were sought after by influential breeders of the day.

The birthplace of the Golden Retriever is said to be the estate of Lord Tweedmouth at Inverness-Shire in Scotland. Kennel records indicate that in 1868, a litter of four yellow puppies was born to a Tweed Water Spaniel bitch named Belle out of a yellow retriever named Nous.

Nous is recorded as having been bred by the Earl of Chichester, from an otherwise all-black litter.

Lord Tweedmouth’s kennel records indicate that the Golden, as the breed is affectionately known, owes its existence to a systematic line breeding of yellow dogs.

By the turn of the last century, yellow, or Golden, Retrievers had become popular in much of England. The breed was first exhibited at the Crystal Palace show in 1908 as “Flat-coats, Golden.”

In 1913, fanciers including Lord Harcourt and Mrs. W. M. Charlesworth formed the Golden Retriever Club (of England).

The Golden Retriever first crossed the Atlantic in the 1890s. A bitch named Lady was taken to Canada by Lord Tweedmouth’s son, the Hon. Archie Marjoribanks, on a visit to see his sister, the Marchioness of Aberdeen, wife of the then governor-general of Canada.

By 1931, the breed was being exported to Canada as well as to the U.S., France, Belgium, Holland, Argentina, Uruguay and Kenya.

The first Golden was registered with the AKC in 1925, and in 1938 the Golden Retriever Club of America was founded. The breed quickly became a popular hunting companion in this country, and proved to be a handsome and formidable addition to the Sporting Group at conformation shows.

Owing to the breed’s beauty, intelligence, working ability and willingness to please, the Golden Retriever has become one of the most popular breeds worldwide. A useful and affable companion, the Golden makes an ideal hunting partner, as well as a dependable guide, assistance, obedience, performance, search and rescue, and show dog.

The popularity of the Golden Retriever is evidenced by its total registrations. In 2011, the breed rankedfourth of the 173 AKC-recognized breeds.

The Golden Retriever is a favorite of dog fanciers worldwide. Photo by Dan Sayers.

Good as Gold

The hallmark of the Golden Retriever is its coat with the gorgeous golden glow. The dense, water-repellent double coat of the breed is as useful as it is beautiful, providing exceptional protection for this hard-working, multi-functional gundog.

According to the AKC breed standard, the Golden possesses a good undercoat, with an outercoat that is “firm and resilient, neither coarse nor silky, lying close to the body.” It may be straight or wavy.

On the head, front of legs and feet, the coat is short and even. Feathering on the back of the forelegs and underbody is moderate, with heavier feathering on the front of the neck, back of the thighs and the underside of the tail.

“Excessive length, open coats, and limp, soft coats are very undesirable,” according to the standard. Although the feet may be trimmed and stray hairs “neatened,” the Golden’s coat is to remain natural – without scissoring or sculpting.

The breed’s signature color is described as rich and lustrous. It can range from light to dark shades of gold, however, extremes in either direction are undesirable. The feathering may be lighter than the rest of the coat.

Although a few white hairs are permitted on the chest – and on the face of older dogs – any white markings are to be penalized in the show ring. Likewise, “Any noticeable area of black or other off-color hair is a serious fault,” according to the standard.

Golden Retriever puppies generally darken a bit over time, achieving their mature color by age 2 or 3.

Personality Plus

It is easy to appreciate the universal appeal of the Golden Retriever. The breed’s handsomeness is matched only by its good nature.

The breed is the poster child for happy dogs everywhere.

Goldens make ideal family companions. They’re dependable with children and trusting of strangers. The breed’s friendly, reliable and trustworthy nature means it is never difficult with other dogs or people, in normal situations. In the breed ring, quarrelsome, timid or nervous behavior from this people-pleasing breed is to be penalized.

A Kindly Expression

As a natural goodwill ambassador, the Golden Retriever looks out at the world with a friendly face.

Balance and proportion of the head and muzzle set the stage for the Golden’s welcoming and gentle look. Set deeply and well apart, the breed’s eyes present a kindly expression through their dark brown color and dark, close-fitting eye rims.

Perhaps because expression is so important in the Golden Retriever, the breed standard is clear in its position on abnormalities of the eyes. “Slant eyes and narrow, triangular eyes detract from correct expression and are to be faulted. No white or haw visible when looking straight ahead. Dogs showing evidence of functional abnormality of eyelids or eyelashes (such as, but not limited to, trichiasis, entropion, ectropion or distichiasis) are to be excused from the ring.”

The breed’s kind and gentle expression and its happy and trusting personality are meant to be in perfect harmony. What you see is definitely what you get with a Golden.

Size Matters

The Golden Retriever is primarily a hunting dog, so there’s much more to the breed than a gorgeous coat and a gregarious nature.

As expected of a dog developed to work for its supper, the Golden is built for business. “A symmetrical, powerful, active dog, sound and well put together, not clumsy nor long in the leg” is how the General Appearance section of the standard describes the breed.

To support its role as a powerful and active retriever, size matters with the Golden. Dogs are to be 23 to 24 inches at the withers, with bitches 21.5 to 22.5 inches. Any dog or bitch measuring 1 inch above or below these ranges is to be disqualified from the conformation ring.

The standard instructs exhibitors to present the breed in “hard working condition,” and places greater emphasis on “overall appearance, balance, gait and purpose” above any single feature.

With so much to merit the breed, is it any wonder that the personable and purposeful Golden Retriever is so warmly embraced by hunters and homemakers everywhere?

“The Complete Golden Retriever” by Gertrude Fischer was a source for the historical information in the article.