Breed formation that results from fights over color is a pretty common occurrence in the modern dog fancy.
After all, the golden retriever only exists as a distinct breed because the flat-coated retriever fraternity of the early twentieth century shunned dogs that were of yellow or red coloration.
I’ve actually suggested that the much maligned silver Labrador retriever become its own breed. The color is not recognized in the AKC Labrador standard, and the current position of the American Labrador fancy is that it is nothing more than a shade of chocolate (liver). It’s actually a diluted liver, which is a chocolate dog with the dilution trait. The color was said to have been introduced through Weimaraners, but a more likely source is the Chesapeake Bay retriever.
But in golden retrievers, a similar debate exists.
It’s a debate over what the “true type” of golden retriever is.
My personal position is there really can’t be a true type of this breed. It’s always been very diverse in terms of its conformation. It shows traits of the old Newfoundlandish wavy-coated retrievers and more gracile modern flat-coated retrievers. Everyone has his or her own aesthetics and preferences for a golden retriever. I prefer a darker-colored dog with less bone and coat, but someone else might be ga-ga over very pale creams with very strong Newfoundland features.
I’m okay with this diversity.
The problem is that the dog fancy at large abhors diversity.
There can be only one true type, and anyone who disagrees is a heretic worthy of the worst persecution.
The Canadian and American Kennel Clubs use a very different breed standard to evaluate golden retrievers.
The “native” strains of North American golden retrievers are derived from stock that was imported from the United Kingdom in the 1920′s and 1930′s. The fashion in golden retrievers of that time was for more lightly built and darker dogs than the ones that typically win in the ring today, but the working strain dogs that are bred in North America are usually of this type– as are the ones bred in Europe.
The show dogs, however, have changed rather dramatically in both North America and Europe. Darker colors have largely been shunned in the show ring, and there has been a strong tendency to breed for cream colored dogs. These cream dogs are often more heavily-built than the working dogs.
In North America, these lighter colored dogs are novelty.
And that leads to mass promotion of them.
There are many mass producers selling “white” golden retrievers online. The dogs are derived from European companion and show lines, but they usually inferior specimens. Europeans aren’t going to sell their top dogs to the Americans.
The AKC standard clearly states that very pale or very dark individuals are undesirable, but the Kennel Club and FCI standards call for gold or cream but penalize red or mahogany. These colors are not defined in the least. Many dark gold dogs appear quite red, so they might be penalized. Thus the show lines of goldens in Europe have focused on breeding for cream dogs that can’t be confused with red.
So we have this difference of standard.
And in the United States, people are mass producing “white” golden retrievers, which is ticking off a certain constituency in the golden retriever community.
The dogs are not according to the Canadian or American standards, but people want them.
And if this conflict continues, we’re going to see a breed split in the United States.
I honestly hope I’m wrong, but the growing popularity of the lighter colored dogs means that there is a constituency for them.
They could create their own club, draft their own standards, and if they really gained momentum, the golden retriever could be split in the same way cocker spaniels now are.
I’ve noticed that some of these European lighter golden retriever breeders are selling their dogs as “British white retrievers.”
They already have a name.
All they need is a registry and a studbook, and we have a breed in the making.
If the breed splits in this way, I think it would be very bad.
There are breeders who cross different types of golden to produce greater genetic diversity in their strains.
This is actually a very good idea.
But if the “white” dogs become their own breed, that entire gene pool will be sequestered off from the rest of golden retrieverdom.
This would be a major error.
I don’t have a good answer to this question, but my view is that the standard ought be more reflective of a diversity of color in the same way that yellow Labradors are. In the AKC Labrador standard, it clearly says that yellows “may range in color from fox-red to light cream, with variations in shading on the ears, back, and underparts of the dog.”
That’s precisely the variation we have in golden retrievers.
I don’t know what would happen if British white retrievers became their own breed.
I think they would be cut off from international lines of golden retriever in the same way that American toy Manchester terriers were cut off from international lines of English toy terriers.
It’s unlikely that these American strains of cream retrievers would be sustainable, and it wouldn’t take long for any potential health problems to pop up.
I don’t know how to solve these problems that could lead to a possible breed split, but we do need to have a constructive dialog about it.
I think we have to respect the desires of other people to have a particular type of golden retriever.
If we can start from that understanding, then we might be able to move forward.