Posts Tagged ‘field-line golden retriever’

This is the late Mick, who belonged to a reader from Minnesota:

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Here’s a young working-type golden with a very nice wavy coat:

(Source for image)

To see the advantageous of this coat, please read Rawdon Lee’s comments on utility of the wavy coat for a land-based retriever.

The other working coat for a golden retriever is flat, but it should be dense and hard to provide the same protection.

Both coats have a dense undercoat and very active oil glands in the skin to keep the water from chilling the dogs when they swim. That is a very useful feature for a dog that needs to be comfortable in the water for a long time.

I happen to like the true wavy coat a little more than the flat-coat, just because I think it provides a little bit more protection. (Miley is a moderately wavy-coated golden, in case you were wondering.)


I was recently sent a study that compared the condition of the skin of different dog breeds. The only retriever in the study was a Labrador, and Labradors had thicker and more hydrated skin than the other breeds by a very significant margin. Now, this study should have compared Labradors with other breed of their size (beagles, fox and Manchester terriers are hardly fair comparisons to Labradors).

If the study had includedsome other large dogs, my guess is the results would be somewhat different, but I do not doubt that Labradors have unusually thick skin.  Thick skin does insulate the dog in the water much more effectively. It also keeps the thorns from cutting up the dog as it tears through the undergrowth.

From family lore, I have heard that the smooth dachshund that was also a great hunting dog was even more prone to being cut up in the brambles than the beagles were. That goes a long way to explaining the desire of the Germans to breed wire-haired and long-haired dachshunds as their main working dogs. One very rarely sees a smooth dachshund hunting in Europe. Most working dachshunds are wire-haired.

I do know that having been around both beagles and golden retrievers that have run over the same thorny ground, that the goldens never were as hacked up in the undergrowth as the beagles were. Of course, goldens have a much thicker coat, and the Norwegian elkhound I knew very well also never got so severely cut up in the briers and multiflora rose bushes. How much the elkhound and golden retriever strength in heavy cover was the result of having thick skin and how much was the result of having a thicker coat are questions that I cannot answer.

These comparisons of dog skin anatomy need to be explored more fully, but they are pretty interesting. We know that the average dog has thicker skin than virtually all of wild dog species. The only exception appears to be the sighthounds, which are notoriously thin-skinned, and they get cut relatively easily.


I am amazed at how much this dog resembles the golden in this Reuben Ward Binks painting:

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Red-headed golden retriever (Canis lupus familiaris) retrieving a redhead (Aythya americana).

These dogs hunt dinosaurs.

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(Source for image)

Nice looking dog. Nice looking scaup.

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The dog in the foreground is Ft. Ch. Holway Dollar. They are standing “at the line” in a British field trial, which requires dogs to be very well-behaved and patient while waiting to be sent for a retrieve.

She is handled by June Atkinson, her breeder, and the woman who founded the Holway line of working-type golden retriever. Her line is perhaps the most influential in working type goldens in the world.  It is very hard to find a field-type golden retriever in the US or Canada that doesn’t trace to Holway Barty.

I found a very good site about June Atkinson and the Holways at this link.

If one looks at the photos on that site of the various Holway dogs living today, one can see they strongly resemble the field line dogs we have always had in he United States and Canada. Part of this is because of Holway Barty, but also because the field line dogs tend to evolve a particular conformation that is a bit distinct from the dogs that tend to do well in conformation shows. It is not that show dogs cannot do field work or regular hunting work. But because the economics and the intense competition in both areas, the lines have had to specialize. Specialization and divergence in type and behavior are very bad things to happen within a closed registry breed, for these issues further Balkanize the gene pool, creating something like two separate breeds within a single registry.

It’s not particularly good thing, and if there were some way to stop it, I’d be very happy. I don’t think a golden retriever club anywhere likes that this divergence has happened. Knowledgeable people tried to stop it when the split started to become obvious, but it could not be stopped.

Unless the culture and economics of field trialling and dog showing change, I don’t see this divergence being reversed.

Doing dual purpose is very tough in this breed, especially when it must contend with very specialized trial lines of Labrador.

One thing about the Holway dogs: They were and are still noted for their very strong noses, which is a great asset in the European retriever culture. It is important in the American retriever culture, but marking is more important than nose here.

Robert Atkinson, June’s son, is still trialling the Holway dogs in the UK. He won the 1982 International Gun Dog League’s Retriever Championship, which his mother also won in 1954.  Goldens have not won this trial very often. I believe the last one to do so was in 2006.

This is the same a championship that Don of Gerwn, a liver flat-coated retriever whose sire was a “golden retriever” from the Guisachan kennels, won in 1904.

June Atkinson’s line continues to be influential with working-type goldens throughout the world. Dogs from this line have always been in demand, which feeds some of the popular sire problems in working goldens. So it is very important for the continued welfare of the breed to see new lines developing from relatively unrelated stock.

We should certainly celebrate June and Robert Atkinson’s achievements, but we need to be careful about the long-term viability of the working-type golden.

I’m sure that the Atkinsons would not like to see this breed disappear as working gun dog, which was the main focus of their breeding program.

We have real issues with genetic diversity in the working type golden retriever. This problem is mostly the result of the popular sire effect. Just a few stud dogs have been very influential in producing puppies per generation, and part of this problem, at least in American goldens, can be traced to Holway Barty through his grandson, AFC Yankee’s Smoke’n Red Devil. Nearly half of all MH and All-Age goldens that have been born since 1980 descend from one breeding between that Barty grandson and FC Windbreakers Razzmatazz.

This type of breeding might be good for producing good working retrievers, but it is not so good from a population genetics standpoint.

That’s why breeding between the “show” and “performance” types is something that should be encouraged every now and again.

At the very least, it keeps the gene pools a bit more diverse.

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Everything is in moderation, and her eyes show that keen, eager to please intelligence that every golden should have.

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When I say “dark golden retriever,” this is what I mean:

We may call this dog “red.” As you can tell from the name in the JPG file. However, dogs of this color were always within the accepted range of golden retriever color.

Just not in the UK or the FCI.

And here’s another:

(Source for image.)

Djanick Michaud at Zomarick golden retrievers suggested that I include the color range for the breed. He has a very good color chart on his website.

And here it is with actual dogs for visualization purposes:



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Note that these puppies have a lot of energy at six weeks of age.

They are also already very interested in people and objects. Several of these puppies are obviously trying to get cues from the person holding the camera. They appear to be looking at the person  in the eye to glean some information about this unusual two-legged dog.

This is what performance-bred dogs are selected for: high energy, high drive, retrieving instinct, and a strong desire to pay attention to people.

Breeds that have been bred to work more independently of people tend to have different reactions to people and objects as puppies.

Take this brace of beaglets.


Beagles are relatively small scenthounds. Properly bred, trained, and socialized, a beagle can be a wonderful family dog– every bit as much as a golden retriever.  As a very small child, I had a beagle babysitter, so I know what these dogs are like.

They are quite intelligent animals when they are tracking rabbits or hares. Members of my family have trained beagles to tree squirrels and flush grouse, so they are not necessarily a breed that is entirely set to be a lagamorph trailer.

That said, a beagle is never going to have the biddablity of a performance-line golden retriever.

You can see the difference in the play behavior of these beaglets. They are less interested in the person sitting on the ground and are less interested in the objects. They are very interested in each other, which makes perfect sense– beagles were bred to run in packs.  The proper beagle temperament is very friendly toward other dogs, but it is less focused upon people than the retrievers and herding breeds are.

It is not useful to talk about “dog intelligence” without understanding that different breeds have different breed typical behavior. However, breed typical must be taken with a grain of salt. In popular breeds, where there are tens of thousands of individuals and many different lines, vast differences can appear within a breed.

It is important to understand that each dog is an individual, and each dog can be an exception to the general tendencies of its breed.

But just because these aspects are correct does not mean that understanding breed typical behavior is useless.

These breeds have been selected for many, many generations for particular behaviors and tendencies to focus on people.  It would be folly to say that these selective pressures have had no effect on these dogs. The people who originally created these breeds relied upon being able to select for behavioral conformation.

One can see how these aspects of behavioral conformation manifest themselves at an early age. As puppies play, the behavioral tendencies they inherited manifest themselves. Retriever puppies carry objects in their mouths and pay very close attention to people, while beagle puppies follow their noses and play with each other more.

Selective breeding does affect behavior. Before we can have any rational discussion about dog intelligence, it is important to understand that each breed evolved its behavior in a particular environment and culture.  Each breed became “intelligent” for its purpose, the culture of its people, and the particular environment in which it was developed.




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Myrna Loy of Gilbert, Minnesota, sent me this photo of her late golden retriever named Mick.

Mick was a mahogany golden.

It’s not a very common coloration these days, even among field lines, where darker colors tend to predominate.

He was a beautiful dog and, as you can tell from what he has in his mouth, really got to be a real retriever.

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I’ve been trying to come up with some names that might be easier to say than “working-strain golden” of “field-line golden.” Even the term “performance bred”  is a bit too much.

I was calling them the “Bush’s Baked Bean dogs,” but that’s too silly.

But then I got the perfect name for them.

They are handsome with sandy red hair. They are rugged and rustic.

Just like Robert Redford.

(My favorite of his movies is The Candidate, as I’m sure you can tell):


So now I think I’m going to call them “Robert Redford retrievers.”

Do you think it fits?

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