The Golden Retriever is a perennial Top Ten popularity breed for many reasons. The normally calm demeanor, active but gentle nature and eager to please attitude combine with intelligence and trainability. They are friendly, reliable and trustworthy.
What this means to the average owner – you need to actively TRAIN them. They are eager to learn and seek to be busy. They need mental stimulation – toys, games, activities – to keep from being bored and destructive. They want to please and learn new tasks.
It is said that the Golden Retriever traces his heritage to Scotland. A yellow puppy from a litter of black wavy coated retrievers was used as payment of a debt, and ended up in the hands of Lord Chichester Marjoribanks, who took the pup to Scotland where he maintained a kennel of hunting dogs. Searching to create an outstanding dog suited to the Scottish climate, ground and game, he later bred the yellow pup to a Tweed Water Spaniel, a breed that no longer exists except for as a trace of the Golden Retriever. These offspring were bred with Tweed Water Spaniels and a red setter, but it was mostly the golden pups kept. Marjoribanks was a breeder with a vision, and these initial pups, born in the late 1860s, appear much as the Golden Retriever does today.
Working ability was of great practical importance, much like the other Scottish breeds of dogs. There was little room or funds for “free-loaders” – dogs had to pay their way. In the early 1900s the dogs made their way to shows as a “Retriever – wavy or flat coated, any other color” but in 1920 officially named Golden Retriever. In 1932 the AKC recognized the breed here in the U.S.
Currently by the standard males are 23-24 inches with females slightly smaller, with dogs 65-75 pounds and females 55-65. Those interested in showing may find the physical standard at http://www.akc.org/breeds/golden_retriever/ – and it bears noting that many dogs are used for more than showing.
Like several other large breeds the Golden Retriever is subject to some hereditary diseases. Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, hereditary cataracts, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), eyelid problems, a heart disease known as subvavular aortic stenosis, thyroid disorders, seizure disorders and other health issues which affect all breeds. Many of these hereditary disorders can be found by testing, and animals that show signs of these diseases should not be used for breeding. Unfortunately, many lower priced puppies do not have breeders who test for these disorders so often you don’t know what you are truly getting. While the breed can easily live to over 10 years old, one statistic reports just over 60% of older goldens being affected by cancer – something that bears watching in your older dogs.
Select your puppy with longevity in mind. This is a breed that can have 8-10, sometimes 12 puppies – and a dozen growing little mouths is a lot of time to raise them properly.
Regular grooming is essential for this breed. Their distinctive coat is for outdoor activities but regular brushing is needed. Also, some Goldens get matts in the fine hairs especially near their flanks, on the chest and behind the elbow. Trimming these out before they get down close to the skin makes for a happier dog. Regular grooming keeps the burrs and other material out of the coat also. Nail trimming and dental care is needed, as with any dog.
Many naturally love water also. As with some other retrievers, take care that the dog does not become overweight, which can lead to other health problems. For a larger breed they don’t eat as much as some people expect, and can easily become overweight, which shortens their life.
The selection for intelligence and function has developed a dog that today suits many needs in a wide variety of activities. From a beautiful and energetic show dog to a calm service dog, a hunter, a K-9, search and rescue, dog freestyle, agility, flyball, tracking and many other activities the Golden is a breed that seeks to perform and please.
While as a K-9 they aren’t likely to have the drive to take down a criminal, their use is for other important tasks. Their nose, developed for hunting, can still be used in the field today hunting and retrieving birds. Goldens are also highly visible for searching for lost people.
An example of what these amazing dogs can do is displayed in dogs like “Austin,” a Golden Retriever inducted into the Texas Animal Hall of Fame as well as honored with the US Search and Rescue Dog of the Year from the AKC. A group of hunters found Austin, lost in the woods near Houston, and the pup was turned over to a breed rescue then trained as a hearing and service dog. His life took another turn when he became a cop. Certified in advance tracking, area and evidence search, cadaver search and air operations, Austin can search for lost people, can calmly helicopter in and with his handler dangle off the edge of a cliff.
Golden Retrievers have been on the front lines of disasters such as the Oklahoma City bombing, the World Trade Center attacks, hurricane Katrina as well as many other natural and man-made disasters around the world.
Golden Retrievers have served as heroes of other kinds too. Their work with autistic people, as service dogs with a wide range of duties and as guide dogs are but a few ways they help people. Searching for drugs, explosives and other illegal things makes use of the breed’s intelligence and discernment.
Probably the most recognized celebrity of the breed is “Duke”, the mischievous opportunist seeking to sell the secret recipe for Bush’s beans on television commercials. “Liberty” was a White House dog, as President Gerald Ford’s dog. “Victory” was another presidential dog, beingowned by Ronald Reagan. Christopher Reeves had a Golden as an assistance dog.
Among the celebrity ties in the breed is Oprah, Dean Koontz, Jim Belushi, Mary Chapin-Carpenter, Tom Cruise, Billy Ray Cyrus, Neil Diamond, Ron Howard, Paul Newman, Conan O’Brien, Joe Pesci, Jane Seymour, Martha Stewart and Alan Thicke are but a few celebrities with Golden Retrievers.
Equally, the list of Golden Retriever heroes is long. Many have saved people from fires. A 15 year old Golden saved the life of a three week old baby by alerting his owners something was wrong with the child. The AKC awarded this hero with special honors – sadly, less than a year later Bullet lost his life to cancer. Goldens have also saved their owners from bears, choking, snakes, carbon monoxide, cancer, coyotes, drowning and freezing. One sniffed the owner’s brain tumor while another alerted to a heart attack.
These are all expressions of the loyalty from the breed and help explain why so many people love this breed. Ranking fourth nationally in 2007, they were first in Honolulu. They rank second in Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Buffalo, Charlotte, Cleveland, Columbus, Denver, Minnepolis-St. Paul, Portland, Raleigh, Seattle and St. Louis. They were also listed third in Dallas, Des Moines, Little Rock, Nashville, Philadelphia, Pittsburg, San Diego and San Francisco (tied).
The Golden Retreiver is truly a people’s dog. A dog of many hats but with the same dedication, loyalty and willingness to please as a hundred years ago, they are a breed for a wide range of living situations providing the owners understand the breed, provide training and exercise and treasure the dog. Treasure him not as a human, which demeans him and takes away those special things dogs can do that we can’t, but as a creature who seems to understand we are flawed and worships us anyway.