I was digging through some GRCA literature online, when I came across this document, which includes some analysis and commentary from early golden retriever people in the US, Canada, and Britain.
It seems that a poison seed always existed in the early days of the golden retriever as a standardized breed.
I don’t know how to describe this poison seed exactly, but the best I can come up with is the “Irish setter inferiority complex.” The early people in the breed hated that their dogs were mistaken for Irish setters, so they decided to breed away from the setter’s conformation.
Now, one must not forget that wavy/flat-coated retrievers came in two basic types: the setter-type and the Newfoundland-type. A very good illustration is these two can be found in the illustration of two wavy-coats named Paris and Melody in Stonehenge’s Dogs of Great Britain, America, and Other Countries.
Then, as wavy-coats evolved into the top working retriever of their day, the Newfoundland-type was deemed inferior in the breed. Writing about the merits of the working flat-coat in The Complete English Shot (1907), George Teasdale-Buckell contended that the flat-coat is “open to regeneration when he is bred more wiry and less lumbering.” In other words, one should breed away from the Newfoundland-type.
Teasdale Buckell continues his critique of heavily-built, lumbering retrievers. He writs that the “the old dogs were lumbering, and so no doubt the Newfoundland type of wavy-coated dogs were” (187) and again criticizes his own selection of the Newfoundland-type wavy-coat stud named Zelstone, claiming that he was the worst cross he ever made (188).
Now, this information on flat-coated retrievers is very nice, but what does it have to do with golden retrievers.
Well, golden retrievers actually started out as a strain of wavy-coated retriever and then became flat-coated retrievers. Their original breeder, Dudley Marjoribanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth, bred these dogs with the best black wavy-coated retrievers he could find, including some of the top wavy/flat-coated dogs in the strain. He never intended to split this breed off because it was a different color.
Good working conformation for a flat-coated retriever is based upon a very simply axiom “Power without lumber and raciness without weediness.” It’s actually a very good axiom for breeding any strain of retriever.
However, if you are breeding golden retrievers with this conformation and they happen to be towards the darker end of the spectrum, they will look a lot like Irish setters.
This makes a lot of sense when you realize that the main outcross for flat-coated/wavy-coated retrievers was the setter. In fact, Idstone thought that the wavy-coated retriever was a specialized strain of black retrieving setter!
In the nineteenth century, a very common setter was the red setter. In the US, we call this breed an Irish setter, but red setters also occurred in the gordon setter breed (and still do).
Because wavy/flat-coated retrievers were almost always black dogs at this time, it was very common for a black retriever to carry the gene for red, as was the case with Moonstone.
After the Tweedmouth strain had been founded, it was augmented through outcrossing to black wavy/flat-coats that had setter ancestry. And as the setter type became preferred in flat-coat, it also affected the golden retriever (How could such a preference not?)
That’s why the Noranby goldens in the 1930’s looked like this:
Yes, these dogs do look like Irish setters.
To which I say, “So what?”
Flat-coats have obvious setter ancestry. It is celebrated in that breed.
It is condemned in the golden, even though this is what the efficient functional conformation is for a retriever that has some coat.
If you scan to page 3 of that GRCA document, a person named E.F. Rivinus contrives a whole rationale for breeding away from this functional type. Basically, he wants to breed to look so distinct from the setter that everyone will recognize that it is not one.
I find it interesting that Winifred Charlesworth, the founder of the golden retriever as a separate breed, wanted to breed for a different head in her dogs. She produced the Noranby dogs in the above photograph, and their heads are not radically different from a flat-coat. Of course, she was one of those people pushing the Russian origins poppycock, but you can obviously tell that her dogs are derived from flat-coats and red setters.
I can’t imagine a sillier rationale for coming up with a conformation standard.
In fact, it is a reversal of what British golden breeders were trying to breed for as the golden became distinct from the flat-coat. Because the golden had been an estate shooting dog, it had been one of the last strains of wavy-coat to develop the lighter strain. The Reverend Needham- Davies wrote the section on the golden in A.C. Smith’s Gun Dogs-Their Training, Working and Management. In that section, Needham-Davies contended that the golden was more like an old fashioned retriever, which he incorrectly suggested was the Newfoundland (it was actually the old-fashioned Newfoundland-type wavy-coat). He writes that the golden was being developed that could move with more speed, and it would eventually be able to compete with the best flat-coats and Labradors.
Of course, that was in the working gun dog sphere. In the show ring, breeding away from the lighter-built dog and the darker colored dog was the goal, while in the working gun dog sphere, breeding for lighter-built dogs was the main objective.
And even early on, you the beginnings of the split that has since happened in this breed.
One set wanted a dog that could move efficiently and with speed, while the other wanted a dog that didn’t look like an Irish setter.
I’ve searched long and hard for the reason why the show-strain goldens developed as they did.
I can’t believe it was for such a silly reason as the lighter-built and darker dogs looked like Irish setters.
I’m sure stranger rationales exist for the conformation standards of many breeds, but I have not heard them yet.