During the nineteenth century, there was an ongoing quest among the
British gentry for the perfect hunting dog. As a result, most of today's
retrievers and many other hunting dogs have their roots in these early
efforts. Many attempted this goal by acquiring and breeding good hunting
dogs, using outcrosses to other breeds in an effort to bring in other
desirable qualities. Sometimes this worked, more often it did not. That
the exact origins of several of the retriever breeds is unclear due
to the somewhat haphazard or occasionally secretive methods used at the
The origin of the Golden Retriever, in contrast, lies in the careful
work of one man, Sir Dudley Marjoribanks (later the first Lord
Tweedmouth) who also set out to breed a good hunting dog. A colorful
folk tale has him buying Russian circus dogs, reportedly 100+ lbs., 30
inches at the shoulder, pale blonde and extremely intelligent as the
foundation for his breed. This fanciful story even appears in the GRCA's
Yearbook as late as 1950. However, examination of his Stud Book,
covering the years from 1835 to 1890 and finally made publicly available
in 1952, records no such purchase but instead details a careful
line-breeding program unusual at that time and place for dogs.
In 1865, Lord Tweedmouth purchased a yellow retriever "Nous" from an
unregistered litter of otherwise black Wavy-Coated Retrievers. Nous was
later bred with "Belle", a Tweed Water Spaniel, and the resulting litter
produced four bitches that were instrumental to his breeding program.
One of them, "Cowslip," he bred back to for over twenty years. Over the
years, several outcrosses, to black Wavy Coated Retrievers, an Irish
Setter, and later a sandy-colored Bloodhound occurred as he sought to
improve and fix his new breed. The coat textures of the Goldens of this
time reportedly varied, as did the color, which ranged from fox red to
The Wavy-Coated Retrievers were the ancestors of today's Flat-Coat
Retriever and they in turn were developed from crossing setters with the
lesser St. John's Water Dog of Newfoundland. The Tweed Water Spaniel,
now extinct, came from early water dogs crossed with land or field
spaniels to develop Water Spaniels. These spaniels were developed in the
Tweed River area and were described by contemporaries as a small
liver-colored retriever ("liver" at the time signifying any shade from
yellow to brown).
The Kennel Club of England accepted the first Goldens for registration
in 1903. At the time, they were registered as "Flat Coats -- Golden". By
1904 the first Golden placement at a field trial was recorded. Among the
first shown in conformation were Culham Brass and Culham Copper. In
1911, they were recognized as a separate breed, at first called "Yellow
or Golden Retrievers," but within several years the "Yellow" was dropped
from their name.
The first Golden in Canada seems to have been brought over by Hon.
Archie Marjoribanks in 1881. The Canadian Kennel Club first recognized
the breed in 1927. In 1928, Mr. M.M. Armstrong of Winnipeg took an
interest in the breed and his Gilnockie kennel was started. At his
death, Gilhockie was transferred to Col. Samuel Magoffin's kennel in
Denver, Colorado, and from this he eventually imported his first Golden,
Am/Can CH Speedwell Pluto.
The Golden Retriever Club of Canada was formed in 1958 with the
original name of the Golden Retriever Club of Ontario. In 1960 it became
the Golden Retriever Club of Canada and to this day has grown steadily.
Goldens have been in the US since about 1890, with the earliest
recorded dog being Hon. Archie Marjoribanks's "Lady" in 1894. The first
AKC registered Golden was Robert Appleton's Lomberdale Blondin. But
there was no serious interest in them until about 1930 when Magoffin's
import, CH Speedwell Pluto, captured widespread interest. The Golden
Retriever was subsequently recognized by the AKC in 1932. At that time,
they were a rare breed.
In 1938, a group of Golden Retriever fanciers formed the Golden
Retriever Club of America (GRCA) which is today among the largest of the
parent breed clubs in the AKC, numbering over 5000 members.
Characteristics and Temperament
Dogs in general are pack-oriented animals. They need to interact with
their pack on a regular basis to be secure. Goldens in particular have
been bred through the years to make an excellent companion for people -
whether it is to sit quietly in a duck blind until it is time to
retrieve or as a service dog or in any other capacity. Because of this,
they, even more so than some other breeds, need to interact with their
people. Goldens are particularly forgiving dogs and will allow you to
make many mistakes while still wanting nothing more than to please and
be acknowledged for it with a scratch behind the ear. As a testament to
their desire to please, the first three dogs to obtain Obedience Trial
Championships were Golden Retrievers.
Because Goldens are such people-oriented dogs, it's important that they
live WITH their owners. A Golden relegated to the backyard while his
family is in the house is an unhappy Golden. It is imperative that your
Golden be regularly included in family activities. Once fully grown,
they are a robust dog and will enjoy many activities with you such as
walking, hiking, jogging, hunting, etc.
As is common with the retriever breeds, this is a breed slow to fully
mature both mentally and physically. At a year of age, they will have
their full height, but their full weight will be another year or two in
coming. Mentally, they remain puppies for a long time (up to two or
three years of age) and many retain a very playful and clownish
personality for most of their lives.
Because of their kindly and easy going nature, Goldens are a popular
breed. Many people, in hoping to cash in on this popularity, breed
Goldens without regard to their temperament or other good attributes.
You should be very selective in picking out a puppy from a breeder. Your
best sources for Goldens are from a breed rescue organization that
carefully screens its dogs, or from a reputable breeder who is dedicated
to the overall improvement of the breed. The choice you make now will be
one you live with for the next decade, so choose carefully.