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Golden retriever adult and puppy

The essentials

  • Originally they were hunting dogs — In the challenging terrain of the Scottish Highlands, hunters needed retriever dogs that could easily traverse rocky ground and marshy bogs. The golden retriever perfectly fit the bill.
  • They quickly rose to prominence and prestige — Over 100 years of golden retriever history, the breed was formally recognized, won the field trial award, and became the third most popular dog breed overall.
  • These dogs have jobs — Golden retrievers are made to work, and many breeders and trainers task these intelligent and compassionate creatures with caring for all manner of people, from those with blindness to those with chronic anxiety disorders.

1850s-1860s: From the Scottish moors to your front door

The golden retriever, a classic symbol of canine companionship and compassion, hails from the misty lochs and rolling hills of late 1800s Scotland. This noble breed began its steady climb to popularity when Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks (pronounced “Marchbanks”), the first Baron of Tweedmouth, mated Belle, a tweed water spaniel, with Nous, an unusually yellow wavy-coated retriever in 1868 at Guisachan Estate.

Both of Nous’ parents had been the more customary and desirable black coloration, but Lord Tweedmouth, who is said to have picked up the dog from a local cobbler, valued the unique hue and set to the breeding program. The offspring of this mating was four puppies, Crocus, Cowslip, Ada, and Primrose, the first golden retrievers, a perfect blend of dutiful hunting dogs and charming companions, a true dual-purpose dog.

Golden retriever puppies

With a breed this popular, plenty of stories and myths are bound to circulate, and the golden retriever has several folk tales surrounding its origins. A popular rumor was that the breeder got his hands on some impressive Russian circus dogs and that they are the source of so much of the golden’s excellent genes. However, the humble Nous, with his unconventional yellow coat, is the true ancestor. And, this is perhaps the better story in the end.

Majoribanks and this dog that would have been normally rejected because of his coat together proved that one of the greatest breeds can have unexpected origins.

Golden retriever swimming

Tweed water spaniel

Sadly, this breed that was instrumental in the creation of the beloved golden retriever is now extinct. In its time, the tweed water spaniel was an agile breed associated with fishermen and others who worked by the water. Liver-colored and very similar to the Irish water spaniel, this breed provided the genes the golden retriever needed to be a competent hunting dog on both land and water.

The Scottish Highlands were a massively popular spot for the gentry’s hunting expeditions. As the effective range of firearms improved, retriever dogs were necessary to help bring in the hunter’s quarry.

While many existing breeds like Labrador retrievers were excellent hunting companions, the soggy marshes of Scotland were a challenge to more conventional hunting dogs. The tweed water spaniel and its natural affinity for the water was the perfect addition to the new breed Majoribanks sought to solve this soggy problem. With the blood of retrievers and water dogs combined, the golden retriever made for the ideal Scottish hunting dog.

Golden retriever at a lake

Early 1900s: Golden retrievers rise to prominence 

A few decades after the first golden retriever pups were born, the breed finally began to receive some official recognition. Before 1908, all golden retrievers were simply considered yellow variants of flat-coated retrievers. However, after a golden won one of the field trials, a challenging hunting grounds course, and examples began to show up in dog shows, the breed began to rocket into popularity.

Soon, the English Golden Retriever Club was founded. Winifred Charlesworth, an early enthusiast of the breed, was instrumental in the development of the club alongside fellow enthusiasts and also in the eventual kennel club recognition of the breed. She also wrote up the official breed standard, which remains mostly unchanged.

Goldens made the swim across the pond to North America and found near-instant success and popularity. The American Kennel Club formally recognized the breed in 1925, and when the organization began naming the AKC Obedience Champion in 1977, the golden won the first three awards.

Moving beyond the fields and shows

As the breed earned more and more notoriety, the golden retriever began to find itself in more households in North America and the United Kingdom. Families grew to love the breed’s loving affection and unshakable loyalty. Today, the golden retriever dog is the third most popular breed, proving that Majoribanks was really onto something with that golden puppy all those years ago.

While golden retrievers are used less and less for hunting, many still have important jobs. Because of their friendly disposition, loyalty, and excellent response to obedience training, the golden retriever is one of the most popular breeds for service dogs as well.

👉 Golden retrievers provided comfort to first responders in Surfside, Florida, when a condominium complex collapsed.

These dogs can perform tasks such as guiding, alerting, comforting, and, of course, retrieving. People with blindness, mobility issues, anxiety disorders, and other conditions have turned to the golden retriever for reliable support, further solidifying the near-universal love for this breed.

Golden retriever at the beach
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