Very early in the short history of this blog, I posted this video.
I think it’s worth looking at again. The golden retriever is changing before our very eyes, and in my humble opinion, not for the better.
The golden retriever began as a strain and color variety of the wavy-coated and later flat-coated retriever.
The first champion in the breed was Noranby Campfire:
And to get an idea of what color these dogs were, here was the original range:
(The second dog from the right is Ch. Noranby Diana, who also placed in field trials. She is also my avatar on the comments, just in case you were wondering.)
After a nearly century of showing, this is the type we get in the European show ring:
These dogs have lots of bone and are more sedate and docile. They tend to be healthier and longer lived than other strains of golden, but they typically lack true retrieving instinct. They are not bad pet dogs, provided one avoids those European lines that have some aggression issues.
American show lines of golden have evolved very differently.
They have lots of bone, but they also have lots of feathering. Feathering and heavy bone are antithetical to functional conformation to a retriever. The dogs can do the work if they have the instinct, but they are not built for efficient movement. Aggression issues exist in these lines, but their biggest problem is that feathering.
The show ring has essentially turned the golden retriever into the reddish colored Newfoundland. It’s not that Newfoundlands can’t swim and retrieve. That is the original purpose, and they still can be used for that today.
However, they are next to useless as retrievers. And yes, Newfoundland dogs, not just the St. John’s water dog, were used as retrievers. In fact, both types of Newfoundland are at the base of retrievers, and the addition of this blood was a great leap forward in the development of retriever.
The problem is that Newfoundland dogs as they exist now are not as efficient movers in the water or on the land as the modern strains of retriever. Now the Newfoundlands are stronger dogs and can haul greater weights in the water. But they are not fast dogs– not in the least.
That’s why you never see a Newfoundland doing retrieving work. In the nineteenth century, these dogs were very commonly used as retrievers.
As retrievers began to develop, there was a deep disdain for heavily built retrievers:
“The worst cross the author ever made was with Zelstone. Although not a large dog, he was said to be a pure bred Newfoundland. He was a flat-coated retriever Champion, and may have been himself a good worker ; but he ruined the working qualities of the descendants of Jenny above mentioned, and brought the author’s strain of them to an end. Consequently, it is suggested that the Newfoundland is the type to breed out of the flat coats.“
George T. Teasdale Buckell, The Complete English Shot (1907). He was writing about flat-coats. At the time, this breed included golden retrievers, which were referred to as “Lord Tweedmouth’s strain.”
The early retriever breeders liked some of the Newfoundland’s traits, like their interest in water and retrieving instinct, but they were very concerned that its heavier size and longer coat was a hindrance in the field. By the twentieth century, the retriever breeders wanted that conformation bred out.
For the most part they succeeded, but then competitive dog showing changed all of that. Top breeders on both sides of the Atlantic are breeding for the Newfoundland’s conformation in golden retrievers, even though we know that the Newfoundland’s conformation prevents it from ever working as a retriever.
So bit by bit, the golden retriever is becoming the twenty-first century Newfoundland, which was the first large working breed to ever be mass-produced for the pet market. Today’s Newfoundland is but a remnant of what was once perhaps the most common dog in the world. They are dogs with gentle natures and biddable temperaments, and they do water trials and hauling competitions. But the original Newfoundland dog is lost the pages of history.
And I’m afraid that’s what’s going to happen to the golden retriever.
Update: Okay, this is getting too hard to moderate, so comments are now officially closed.