The golden retriever is a relatively young breed. It originated in Scotland during the late 1800s where it was developed by a British aristocrat, Lord Tweedmouth. Since hunting provided both sport and sustenance on Scottish estates, Tweedmouth and other British lords sought to develop effective hunting dogs for upland game. However, because the original breeders were gentlemen, they demanded more than just practicality in their dogs. They also sought to create handsome animals who were a pleasure to watch work. The result was the golden retriever, a breed with both hunting skill and beauty.
The foundation of the golden retriever was the now-extinct Tweed water spaniel. Over the years, crosses were made to numerous other breeds, most of which differ significantly from the dogs we know today by the same names:
- red setters,
- black wavy-coated retrievers
- Labrador retrievers
- Newfoundland or St. John’s dogs, and
From these combinations came the goldens exception scenting ability, strong prey drive and affable temperaments. By the early 1900s, the golden retriever had developed into a superb hunting retriever. In addition to its hunting traits, the goldens most distinguishing features were its luxurious golden coat and sweet disposition.
Today’s golden retrievers are descendents of these companion hunters. Specifically, they are non-slip retrievers, dogs who walk quietly at heel or sit patiently in a blind until released on command to retrieve fallen game, on land or in the water. They are also used to search out game for walking hunters. This purpose requires a dog of above average intelligence and trainability with moderate physical attributes.
First and foremost, non-slip retrievers like goldens need to be biddable dogs, willing to take direction from their handlers. They must have natural intelligence and keen noses to efficiently find hidden or fallen game. While they must be strongly driven to find and retrieve game animals, they also need soft mouths (to carry and deliver them gently) so the game is fit to eat. Finally, golden retrievers need to be confident, friendly dogs that can work well in groups of hunters and dogs.
However, coupled with these exceptional mental characteristics, the golden retriever also must be a dog of moderate physical attributes. Hunting small game in cool/cold weather and water requires a dog between 60 and 70 pounds, with the strength and athletic ability to pursue game through rough cover while not being too heavy or large to work all day or accompany the hunter into blinds and boats. It needs a moderate energy level–enough to work all day in the field while remaining within range of the hunters’ guns. Finally, it must have a wash ‘n wear coat that enables it and the hunter to focus on hunting. This means the coat cannot attract burrs and briers, and must shed dirt and water easily.
Although today goldens are proclaimed by some to be the “perfect” family pet, we do not support this belief. Although the historical characteristics that made goldens into the breed that we enjoy today also made them pleasant companions, this was during a time when dogs were given land to run on, plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. Correct goldens need all of these things in their lives and should not be content to spend their days alone in an apartment, house or backyard with little to do and no one to do it with.