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Breed Spotlight: The Golden Retriever

Updated: Feb 28

Golden Retrievers by John Emms - 1898

Dudley Marjoribanks of Tweedmouth developed the Golden Retriever in the Scottish Highlands during the reign of Queen Victoria. For the 50 years between 1840 and 1890, Dudley kept scrupulous records of breedings towards the goal of developing the ideal gundog. He wanted a dog suited to his rainy climate and rugged terrain, so he crossed his 'Yellow Retriever' with the Tweed Water Spaniel (now extinct). Irish Setter and Bloodhound were also recorded as being in the mix. With a little more refinement after Dudley Marjoribanks' time, the Golden Retriever came forth as an enduring gift to dogkind from a hunt-happy aristocrat.        

The Golden was first seen at a British dog show in 1908, and good specimens of the breed began arriving in America - by way of Canada - at about the same time. Sport hunters appreciated the breed's utility, show fanciers were enthralled by their beauty, and all were impressed by the Golden's sweet and sensible temperament. The breed was immediately popular upon arriving in America, but the breed's popularity really took off in the 1970s - the era of President Gerald Ford and his beautiful Golden named Liberty.

A charming elderly fellow

They are serious workers at hunting and field work, as guides for the blind, and in search-and-rescue. They enjoy obedience training and competition and other competitive events such as Rally. Immeasurably happy when put to a task, when not at work they still have a generally palpable glee for life. The Golden Retriever is a sturdy, muscular dog of medium size, famous for the dense, lustrous coat of gold that gives the breed its name, though the coat can range from nearly white to a deep red. Goldens are outgoing, trustworthy, and eager-to-please family dogs, and relatively easy to train, mind you acquire a well-bred individual from a breeder who knows what they are doing. They take a joyous and playful approach to life and maintain this puppyish behavior into adulthood. These energetic, powerful gundogs enjoy outdoor play. For a breed built to retrieve waterfowl for hours on end, swimming and fetching are natural pastimes. Litters bred specifically for field work often contain more boisterous puppies, while a breeder focusing on conformation may have slightly more subdued puppies. This should be at the forefront of your considerations when shopping around for a breeder. Not all Goldens are created equally. If you want a calmer dog, you need to find a breeder who can match you with a calm puppy from a conformation-focused litter. If you want a hyper gundog, communicate that with the breeder as well to be sure the puppy you get is a good fit for your home.

Goldens are generally healthy dogs, and responsible breeders will screen their breeding stock for health conditions including elbow and hip dysplasia; eye conditions such as juvenile cataracts, pigmentary uveitis, and progressive retinal atrophy; and certain heart diseases, including subvalvular aortic stenosis. The Golden's ears should be checked weekly for signs of infection, and the teeth should be brushed often.

Recommended Health Tests From the National Breed Club:
  • Hip Evaluation

  • Neuronal Ceroid Lipofuscinosis 5 (Golden Retriever) (NCL, NCL5) - DNA Test

  • Elbow Evaluation

  • Cardiac Exam

  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation

The above health tests are easy to verify. Any breeder who health tests will be eager to show you proof of health testing, usually by sending you a link to the parent's profiles on the OFA website. Any breeder who gets cagey about health testing or says they did the tests but didn't send them in to OFA for certification is not on the up-and-up and should be avoided.

Goldens heavily shed their thick, water-repellant double coat once or twice a year, depending on the individuals. They also shed moderately on a continuous basis. Most of the time, thoroughly running a brush through the coat once or twice a week will remove most of the dead hair before it has a chance to fall all over the home. During times of heavy shedding, these brushing sessions turn into daily affairs. Baths help to loosen the dead hairs, but the dog must be completely dry before brushing begins. Otherwise, Goldens only need occasional baths to keep them clean. As with all breeds, the Golden's nails should be trimmed regularly.

Like most Sporting breeds, Goldens need plenty of daily exercise. A Golden who doesn't get enough exercise is likely to engage in undesirable behavior. Goldens make great companions on long runs and bike rides, although consultation with a vet is recommended before starting strenuous or high-impact activities that might cause stress to the dog's bones and joints. Many Goldens happily get their exercise on hunting trips or at field trials, as well as by participating in canine sports such as agility, obedience, and tracking.

As with all breeds, early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended. Gently exposing the puppy to a wide variety of people, places, and situations between the ages of seven weeks and four months will help the Golden develop into a well-adjusted, well-mannered adult. Puppy training classes serve as part of the socialization process and help the owner learn to recognize and correct any bad habits that may be developing. Obedience training strengthens the bond between dog and owner. A Golden wants to please his human. Golden Retrievers are outgoing, loyal, and eager, which makes them typically very easy to train. An exception to this rule can be Goldens that come from inexperienced or unethical breeders who do not know how (or in the case of the unethical breeder, doesn't care) to breed for proper temperament. This often results in a very hyper Golden that may be extremely difficult to get to focus. Yet another reason why it is best to seek out a reputable breeder.

A high-quality grain-inclusive dog food appropriate for the dog's age (puppy, adult, or senior) will have all the nutrients the breed needs. Some Goldens can become overweight, so watch your dog's calorie consumption and weight level. If you choose to give your dog treats, do so in moderation. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Give table scraps sparingly, if at all, especially avoiding cooked bones and foods with high fat content. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog's weight or diet.

A Word on Doodles

Ever increasing in popularity, the Goldendoodle (and a never-ending conveyor belt of new mixes containing Golden Retriever and/or Poodles) are quite literally everywhere, and they are accompanied by false claims to match the unrealistic expectations of would-be buyers. Claims include, but are certainly not limited to: these won't shed, these are hypoallergenic, these will be healthier than pure breed dogs, etc. I would be remise if I didn't address a few of these.

A Goldendoodle

A doodle of any variety is not a pure-bred dog. As such, they do not breed true. This means you can end up with a Goldendoodle that has thick wavy hair, or straight wiry hair, or one that sheds heavily, or one that sheds minimally, or one with a combination coat containing both curly and straight hair that both sheds and doesn't shed which leads to a tremendous amount of matting in the coat. It also means you could buy a mini-goldendoodle and it end up being 60 lbs. But what's worse is that almost all producers of doodles are guilty of one thing; they do not health test. This means preventable health issues, often deteriorative ones, are passed down to puppies and the puppy will grow up to suffer, and so will your wallet.

Furthermore, when considering health there is something called "outbreeding depression." This describes the phenomenon where two individuals that are too genetically diverse (yes, that is a thing) breed they can produce offspring that are genetically predisposed to illnesses that may not have even previously existed and a general decrease in health and fitness. This is part of the consideration of ethical dog breeders who breed purebred dogs. A common retort from Doodle breeders is "hybrid vigor" (actually called heterosis) but this is neither true nor applicable because breeding a poodle and a Golden Retriever is not hybridization, because they are not two different species. We see hybrid vigor in things like finch hybridization, though, when two different species of finch breed. Creating Goldendoodles for profit is not the same thing.

It is also worth noting that there is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog. Most people with dog allergies are allergic to canine saliva, not the coat. The second most common dog allergen is skin dander. Guess what...all dogs have skin, and all dogs have saliva. There are breeds that are easier on allergies than others, but since Goldendoodles don't breed true this is a risky option. Poodles are considered to be among the breeds that are easier on allergies, along with Afghan Hounds, Irish Water Spaniels, Chinese Crested Powder Puffs (they are the coated variety of the hairless Chinese Crested), and the Lagotto Romagnolo, just to name a few. This isn't to say that a Golden Retriever mix or Poodle mix isn't the right choice for you and your family, but if that is what you decide to get I urge you to not support any breeder who is not health testing their breeding stock (none of us should be supporting breeding without health testing), and since there are so many Poodle mixes in shelters now that is probably a great place to start. And if you would like to rescue a Golden Retriever, we have the link to a wonderful rescue down below in the resources!

Golden Retrievers are a fantastic breed in the right home. Put lots of research into not only the breed but any potential breeders. If you opt to purchase a puppy, go into knowing that most ethical Golden Retriever breeders will charge between $2,000 - $5,000 for a puppy. This is due to the large financial burden that is health testing, showing, and breeding the correct way.



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