Posts Tagged ‘English golden retrievers’

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.




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The dog on the right represents the original type for golden retrievers and is now only represented in the field lines. It also has a common characteristic in field bred goldens– a slightly undershot jaw. Some really dislike this characteristic that appears in working type goldens, but since we really don’t want a golden to bite to kill its game– like we would with a terrier or a sighthound– it’s not that big a deal. However, excessive bone and coat are a much bigger deal when we talk about working conformation. The dog on the left represents a light-colored dog, but the conformation is far more functional that we see in most modern “English cream” goldens.

I was recently going through some old golden retriever books. One was Gertrude Fischer’s The New Complete Golden Retriever (1984). Another was Valerie Foss’s Golden Retrievers Today (1994). The former is a classic golden retriever book about golden retrievers in America, while the other is a rather brief survey of the breed in Britain. What is interesting is how the type and color have evolved in both countries.

In the 1920’s, when the breed had experienced just a few years of separation from the flat-coat, the breed in both countries very strongly resembled the dog on the right. As I have stated before, from around 1890 until the First World War, the flat-coat (and the golden– known as “Tweedmouth’s strain”) were the dominant retrievers in Britain. The dogs had been bred with more leg and a more moderate coat. The “Newfoundland” influence was being bred out of the lines of the flat-coat.  The old strain of Newfoundland, which once reigned as the top retriever outcross, had disappeared, replaced with the more modern strain of mastiff-type dog.

Here are two golden retrievers who were shown and worked as flat-coats:

Culham Brass (1904):


(Note the water spaniel influence in his coat).

Culham Copper (1908):


(Note the white markings–not uncommon in working type goldens. It’s a throwback to the Irish setter, which was originally red and white. Most working red setters– field type Irish setters– in the US have at least some white on them).

Culham Brass’s dam was Lady, Archie Marjoribanks’s dog that he kept on the ranch in Texas. These dogs were typical of the type found in Britain at this time. The breed only existed in very small numbers in Canada, where Lord Aberdeen, the governor general, introduced them. The Culham dogs were registered, trialed, and show as “liver flat-coats,” “yellow flat-coats,” or “Tweedmouth’s strain.”

Colonel Magoffin’s first imports to North America in the 1930’s were all of this type. The breed was often mistaken as an Irish setter. Several field trial champions during this time period in America were often thought of by spectators as unusual retrieving Irish setters that could swim.

Lighter colors did exist in the breed in the early years, but these would be called light gold by today’s standards, not cream. The darker colors, because of their dominance in heritability, were simply more common.

In the United states and Canada, the darker colored dogs were much more common well into the 1990s, but in the UK and the FCI, something happened. In 1936, the KC and FCI standard allowed for cream colored dogs, probably hoping to open up the color so that dogs with whitish shadings could be used in the breeding program. The Golden Retriever Club said that the original dogs were cream, so they had to allow for it. Interestingly, the Marjoribanks family bred all of their dogs towards the darker end of the spectrum, even though that first litter between Nous and Belle were indeed light golden in color. (Nous was dark gold).

Then, the standard was rewritten to require that “red and mahogany” were not allowed colors. This would change the way that golden retrievers would develop in Britain and the FCI countries. All truly golden dogs are a diluted red in color, even those that are “white.” Then the KC and FCI standard reduced the height at the whithers– 20 inches became the new minimum. The result was that KC and FCI show breeders began breeding the lightest possible goldens until they were producing the pale creams that we sometimes call “English cream” or “white goldens.” The shorter legs on these dogs was soon accompanied with increased bone, and the breed entirely changed in Europe. If you look throug Foss’s book, the dogs sudden shift around 1960 to this English cream type.

In Fischer’s book, the American goldens do not get more heavily boned at all, in part because her book was published in 1984, before some of the shifts hit the North American golden population. The vast majority of the goldens in her are of the original type. There are light dogs, but there are no “white” dogs. What happens in her book is that the dogs’ feathering becomes more and more excessive. By the 1980’s pictures, the dogs in that book have 7 or 8 inch feathering streaming off their legs and tail. A dog built like a working golden with that type of coat is a beautiful thing to behold, even though that feathering is a hindrance in the field, collecting burrs and becoming waterlogged. Here’s a pic of a famous show golden from this time period. His type is very common in the American Kennel Club shows, although most of the modern American show dogs are now lighter gold than he was.  Heavier bone is appearing in these lines, too, making them even less functional.

Now, we have this dichotomy:


The dog on the right still has the dark color and more moderate body type (although heavier than the originals), so we know this is an American show type golden. The dark gold dogs are not frowned on the ring. You still see American show champions of this color. The dog on the left is the English show type, short legged and heavily boned and not even “gold” in color.

The English type also has been selected for a much more “mellow” temperament. Temple Grandin, an autistic woman who has studied the brain chemistry and behavior of a wide variety of domestic animals (most famously using her knowledge to design humane slaughterhouses), points out in her book, Animals in Translation, argues that breeding golden retrievers to be so calm has made epilepsy more common. Goldens are now subject to Avalanche of Rage Syndrome and may be related to this, which is actually a seizure disorder in which a nice dog suddenly attacks people for no reason. I wonder if the influx of English type goldens has resulted in an increase in aggression and biting in the US golden retriever population. According to one study, goldens are now the Number 3 biter in the US.

I’m not looking for a polar bear golden or a dog with so much coat that it drags half the undergrowth of the forest out with it. I’m looking for the old type, the “Swamp collie,” which varied in appearance but was more often dark gold or golden red in color, often with some white splashes on the face and chest. Something like this:


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