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Golden Retriever

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Golden Retriever
A light-coated Golden
A light-coated Golden
Alternative names
Country of origin
United Kingdom
Common nicknames
Classification and breed standards
FCI: Group 8 Section 1 #111  
AKC: Sporting  
ANKC: Group 3 (Gundogs)  
CKC: Group 1 - Sporting Dogs  
KC (UK): Gundog  
NZKC: Gundog  
UKC: Gun Dog Breeds  
Not recognized by any major kennel club
This breed of dog is extinct

The Golden Retriever is a relatively modern and very popular breed of dog. It was developed as a retrieving dog to use while hunting wild fowl. Today it is one of the most common family dogs as it is easy to handle, very tolerant and does not require very much of the owners, other than regular exercise, food and veterinary check-ups. It is often affectionately known as a Golden, or Goldie. What makes the Golden unique is its pleasing personality. This breed gets along well with people and other dogs, however after the seclusion from dog life it may develop human qualities and then may not be fond of other dogs. It will bark when startled but other than that it makes a poor watchdog due to its friendly nature. It is also easily trained because of the natural drive to please the master. This is a dog who wants only to be with people and is happy in the presence of people without being annoying or demanding.


Color ranges from nearly blonde to this dark golden coat. Color ranges from nearly blonde to this dark golden coat.

The Golden Retriever reaches its full height at about one year of age, and its full weight at about two. While it matures physically at about two years' age, mentally it does not fully mature until three or older, and many owners comment that their dogs retain their puppyish nature for life.

This is a large breed which in appearance is similar in size, general shape, and color to the yellow Labrador Retriever, especially when young and for those Goldens with lighter coats. The most obvious difference is the Golden Retriever's luxuriant coat. To confuse the two breeds is a serious faux pas to a fancier of either, of course.


The 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 color up to a judge's discretion when competing in dog shows.


Most Goldens enjoy active entertainment, such as dog agility. Most Goldens enjoy active entertainment, such as dog agility.

Goldies are active and fun-loving but also exceptionally patient, as befits a dog bred to sit quietly for hours in a hunting blind. Other characteristics related to their hunting heritage is a size suited for scrambling in and out of boats and an inordinate love for cool water.

Like the Labrador Retriever, they are noted for their intelligence, their affection for people, and their tolerance of children. They are natural clowns, which characterizes them as great dogs to use in hospitals or retirement homes. Golden Retrievers make great pets for young children due to their nurturing instincts and gentle nature. The other side of this is that they require lots of companionship to be happy. They do well in obedience trials and make excellent guide dogs, however, like people, not all of these dogs are this way. While they might not do quite as well in field trials as Labrador Retrievers, they are excellent hunters that are famous for their outstanding scenting abilities. They are exceptionally eager to please their owners.

Golden Retriever female puppy. Golden Retriever female puppy.

Obviously, the Golden Retriever loves to retrieve. Retrieving a thrown stick, tennis ball, or frisbee can keep a Golden occupied and entertained for hours, particularly if there is also water involved.

Today's Golden Retrievers fall into two groups: show dogs and field dogs. The Goldens in the show group are generally bigger boned, longer, and heavier. The champagne color and long flowing coat are highly prized in the show ring. On the other hand, field Goldens tend to be smaller, longer legged, and be redder golden. These two strains derive from famous goldens from the 1960s. Gold Rush Charlie moved the show Goldens toward their present characteristics, while Holway Barty greatly affected the field group. Presently, many breeders are attempting to unite these two strains into the all-Purpose Golden Retriever.


The breed was originally developed in Scotland, at "Guichan", near Glen Afric, the highland estate of Sir Dudley Majoribanks (pronounced "Marchbanks"), later Lord Tweedmouth. For many years, there was controversy over which breeds were originally crossed; especially popular was a romantic story concerning the purchase of a whole troupe of Russian sheepdogs from a visiting circus. In 1952, the publication of Majoribanks' breeding records from 1835 to 1890 removed all doubt.

A patient Golden showing the breed's broad face and wide muzzle. A patient Golden showing the breed's broad face and wide muzzle.

The original cross was of a yellow-coloured dog, Nous, with a Tweed Water Spaniel bitch, Belle. The Tweed Water Spaniel is now extinct but was then common in the border country. Majoribanks had purchased Nous on 1865 from an unregistered litter of otherwise black wavy-coated Retriever pups. In 1868, this cross produced a litter that included four bitch pups. These four became the basis of a breeding program which included Red Setter, sandy-coloured Bloodhound, St. John's Water Dog of Newfoundland, Springer Spaniel, and two more wavy-coated black Retrievers. The bloodline was also inbred and selected for trueness to Majoribanks' idea of the ultimate hunting dog. This vision included a more vigorous and powerful dog than previous retrievers but that would still be exceptionally good with people and thus 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 Majoribanks' 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 Hon. Archie Majoribanks 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 AKC recognized the breed in 1932, and in 1938 the Golden Retriever Club of America was formed.

Rescue efforts

A Golden puppy chasing its tail. A Golden puppy chasing its tail.

The breed's prominence and prevalence has produced high demand for purebred Golden Retrievers. As an unfortunate consequence, many Goldens are abandoned each year by owners who can no longer care for them. These dogs, many of which are old or in need of medical support, arrive in animal shelters. Puppy mills, large-scale commercial breeding operations sometimes shut down for their notoriously poor conditions, are another source of orphan Golden Retrievers.

In response, many volunteer organizations work to rescue, care for, and adopt abandoned Golden Retrievers. These rescue groups usually accept dogs from owners and establish agreements with local animal shelters to ensure that dogs will be transferred to their care rather than euthanized. Once rescued, Golden Retrievers are placed in foster homes until a permanent home is found. It is common for rescue groups to screen prospective adopters to ensure that they are capable of providing a good home for the dog.

Golden retriever rescue groups have relied heavily on the world wide web to raise funds and advertise rescued goldens to adopters. In 1996, breed enthusiast and rescue pioneer Helen Redlus founded Golden Retrievers in Cyberspace, a website that sold merchandise to fund rescue operations. Many local groups continue in this tradition, and rescue organizations can be found in most regions of the United States and throughout the world.

Famous Golden Retrievers

  • Alex from Stroh Brewery Company ads
  • Air Bud
  • Brandon, companion of Punky Brewster
  • Shadow from the Homeward Bound movies
  • Liberty, pet of Gerald Ford
  • Duke, from Bush's Baked Beans commercials
  • Comet from Full House
  • Speedy from The Drew Carey Show

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