Posts Tagged ‘cream colored golden retrievers’

It has long puzzled me why most working strain goldens are dark gold to golden red in color. I have argued that this coloration is an example of the the “founder effect,” in which the original working strain goldens were of this color and this trait was passed onto their offspring. Color has next to nothing to do with the actual abilities of the dog, but bloodlines do. Because the lines that produce field-type goldens tend to be darker, the dark colored dogs become associated with working ability. Because of this coloration association, I have argued that the European standard (KC/FCI), which penalizes “red” in the golden retriever, actually hurt the breed’s ability to compete with the Labs, which already have very specialized lines for gun dog work. It’s true that goldens have the same split, but Labrador people are more willing to admit this. Because of this split, I have argued that it is next to impossible to have a dual champion golden or Lab in the United States or Canada. In Europe, where competition isn’t as extreme on both sided, it might be possible. But really, the show type goldens and Labs actually don’t have working conformation.  I have made all of these arguments in various parts of the blog, but it turns out that I am wrong about color.

The founder effect may have something to do with it, but it turns out that dark color is actually functional in the field. I have had some golden people tell me that the dark color is useful for camouflage in the duck blind, while others have told me that the dark color is actually a superstition. Dark colored dogs are supposedly hardier than light-colored ones, just like horses with dark hooves are supposedly hardier than those with light hooves. (Neither of those hypotheses have been fully studied, because these are superstitions). I’ve seen a few light colored dogs have retrieving ability, but these have been relatively rare. I thought it was the “founder effect” and nothing else. Well, I’m wrong. 

In a column in Gun Dog, Chad Mason points out how color functions in various types of bird dogs. Some of these spotted and roan pointing breeds actually can disappear in snowy fields that happen to have areas of exposed vegetation. Because pointing breeds don’t bark on the hunt, a dog that cannot be seen clearly against the landscape is a major liability. What I found most interesting in the piece is the discussion of yellow Labs and golden retrievers:

Speaking of duck ponds, today’s trend toward bleach-blonde Labrador and golden retrievers may be advantageous to pheasant hunters, but seems grossly impractical for waterfowl hunting. I once saw a picture in a magazine of a virtually white Labrador retriever in a camouflage neoprene vest. They weren’t trying to be funny, but the dog looked like an albino elephant wearing a bowtie. There is nothing less conspicuous in the widest possible range of wetland (or grain field) scenarios than a tawny dog. Message to yellow Labrador and golden breeders: Give us darker coats

A light colored dog is a liabilty in the duck blind! However, it still doesn’t explain why black retrievers were preferred for so many years.  Oh well, I might add this to the working conformation list. But keep in mind the old saying: “No good hound is of a bad color.” The author points out that color isn’t everything, and he uses two black Labs that work well.  

The original goldens were dark in color. The only ones that were light gold were those produced in the first litter produced with Nous and Belle. The rest were really dark, showing a strong setter influence.

I am more interested in preserving the dark color because most of the working dogs have dark coats.  The KC and the FCI have shot themselves in the foot. They have essentially decided that the cream golden will be the only type considered. The working lines in North America are devoid of this color. We barely have this color in our show stock.

I’m not against light colored dogs at all. I’m against getting rid of the “red dogs.”  If you breed for the light color alone, the dark color will disappear (as it nearly has in Europe), simply because dark color is dominant to light color. Light colored dogs cannot carry a gene for dark color, but dark colored dogs can produced light colored puppies. If you select for light color alone, you will end the dark color forever.

Although I’ve read in several golden retriever books that the FCI/KC standard actually allows for a wider range of color, the opposite is true. The FCI/KC simply ban the dark gold and golden red colors, and promote the light gold and “cream” colored dogs (also mass produced in the US as “white” golden retrievers).  Now, this would be okay, but the working retriever people have selected for dark color for reasons of camouflage or superstition or “founder effect.” What happens is that those people who want to breed for a dual purpose dog  will be searching for light colored dogs that can retrieve. These dogs exist, but there aren’t many of them. And when you’re selecting for that light color, you are going against the grain of selection for the dark color in the working lines. This means that you will be searching for much longer to find a dog with the ability and the color, and this means that at some point you have relax on working ability. If this process is repeated for several dogs and generations, you can forget about competing with the Labradors, which are being selected solely for working ability. (I mean this as a general idea. I’m sure there are a least some light-colored goldens that can give the Labs a run for their money.) But because you’re already selecting for a light-colored dog and the people who came before you selected for the dark color, it’s just become that much harder to preserve and enhance the working abilities of the golden retriever.

What if it was decided that border collies could no longer come in black and white? And what if all the herding champions, except maybe ten every decade, were of black and white coloration? The working ability of border collies would drop rather significantly. This is what is happening to golden retrievers.

I should note here that Mrs. Winifred Charlesworth,  one of the people who separated the golden from the flat-coated breed, refused to breed a light colored dog, even though he was an excellent worker. Her Noranby dogs were often very dark in color, as this picture shows:

These dogs reflect the preferred original range of color in goldens.

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