Posts Tagged ‘Golden retriever type’

Cute golden "teddy bears" mature into coarse adults that often have structural and temperamental problems (namely they are either slow learners or extremely lazy).

Cute golden "teddy bears" mature into coarse adults that often have structural and temperamental problems (namely they are either slow learners or extremely lazy).

Choosing the cutest puppies to breed from is probably how we got such different forms of dog. It probably goes back to at least 10,000 years ago, when wolves and dogs developed very distinct morphologies. The shortened muzzle and floppy ears that were signs of the dog’s domestication. Now, cuteness gave certain dogs a leg up on the competition, allowing them access to better foods and more breeding opportunities. It is little wonder then that most of the early domestic dogs were small, and one variety of early dog found in the Gobi desert has a relatively short muzzle, even compared to other domestic dogs at the time. Cuteness or novelty were advantages for early dogs. Today, breeding for both is probably going to be the downfall of the species.

The golden retriever was first bred for novelty but was still functional. When the 1st Baron Tweedmouth picked out Nous, he was intrigued by his reddish gold color. He knew that most retrievers used in Britain of his day were black, and yellow dogs were culled from the breeding programs. It is likely that he spend a lot of time caring for Nous, developing and honing his abilities until he became the best dog at Guisachan. He got breeding opportunities, as did his offspring, because their coats were of a different color. We are such a visual species that color means that much to us. It our love for unusual looks that has causes so many problems in dogs.

In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, wavy/flat-coat breeders selected away from dogs “with lumber,” breeding in lithe, athletic working retrievers that could do their work. Mrs. Charlesworth, Lord Harcourt, and the Earl of Shrewsbury did the same when selecting their early golden breeding stock, which they selected from the dispersed bloodlines of Guisachan. Their interest was in a working dog that was sometimes shown, not a show dog that occasionally did something like retrieving every once in a while.

Golden retriever puppies are extremely cute. This cuteness has led to a selection for blocky heads and heavy bone, because breeders and dog owners are selecting for puppies that look like little bears in the puppies. This reason is the only reason why the blocky-headed dogs have returned. A gracile golden puppy from field lines  is simply not going to have the features of their bear-like littermates.

I remember once working with a service dog organization. They were using golden puppies. They had six puppies. Five were from show lines and very teddy bearesque. One, the only bitch in the group, was dark red and from field lines. All of the people selecting the puppies at the time thought that she was ungainly and ugly compared to the rest.

When the puppies were seven months old, though, she was 48 pounds. The  others were pushing 55 to 60 pounds, and one dog was already at 70. She had retrieving instinct and had been selected for biddability above all other traits. She could do all the tasks required without much persuasion.  She also had good hips and joints. She moved fluidly and could keep up with wheelchair. ( Of course, part of her success was that she was a bitch, and bitches mature earlier than dogs.)

She may not have been the cutest dog as a puppy, but lots of people thought she was “pretty” at seven months. Field-type dogs, especially bitches, are often quite elegant in appearance because they lack that coarseness that begins to appear in show types as they mature. She may not have been cute, but she did not mature in a coarse dog.


Another reason why coarseness has been selected into goldens, even though all the early retriever people warned against this, is because of the show ring. A golden takes about 2.5 to 3 years to mature. Dogs can be shown at 6 months.

The breed standard for goldens in the US calls for “good bone.”

A six month old puppy with “good bone” has a lot more filling out to do, but in order for him to compete, he must have good bone at that early age. If he is a full champion by age 2, he will continue to gain bone until he’s nearly three. By that time, he will be so heavily boned it will approach coarseness,

And do not tell me that all judges make allowances for young dogs in the ring. The truth is they want that bone, too. Because a coarse golden can throw litters of  puppies with “good bone,” and these puppies will become breed champions early. The cycle then continues until you’ve essentially bred too much bone on too little leg and then added too much coat and too little retrieving instinct (because you didn’t care about that in the first place). 

Then you start breeding them to be very pale in color, even when the vast majority of the dogs that are still used for their original purpose are not. Then you make a rule that the dark colored and reddish individuals are faulty, so you can really diss the dogs that still do their original purpose.

By the time you reach that point, hip displasia takes over, as does hypothyroidism (both of which are associated with too much bone). And you really have ruined the breed.

And these heavily boned dogs are throwbacks to dogs that were so widely cursed when these dogs were still bred to be functional animals first and show dogs only on occasion. You aren’t preserving the breed. You are preserving the faulted type.

And this is why dogs should be bred according to these principles: 1. Health. 2.  Temperament 3. Brains and Biddability 4. Working instinct and 5. Working conformation.  All but 3 are universal.  Number 3 is unique to herding dogs, protection dogs, and gun dogs, while in terriers, scent, and sighthounds, you want brains and courage combined with brains, instead of biddability. In a livestock guardian dog, you want no predatory instincts or motor patterns and increased tendencies to bond strongly with small groups of people or animals and to protect them with extreme aggression.

Read Full Post »


The above picture appeared on a cigarette cartoon in 1939. These dogs represent the original color range in the breed, which is not “cream” but gold with cream shadings to golden red in color. The dog in the background has a white spot on the chest, which isn’t uncommon, especially with the darker colors.

Neither dog is “cobby” or excessively feathered. To my aesthetics, these are far better looking dogs than what currently passes for show quality in goldens these days. And I actually don’t care that much for aesthetics.

I suppose some people like to turn dogs into bear-like animals, while others think its a charming thing to put as much feathering on a dog as possible, not realizing that this feathering incumbers the dog in heavy cover and in water. It’s partly why goldens will always be a novelty when it comes to working retrievers. It matters not that goldens are generally the most biddable of all the retriever breeds. That biddability is quashed when we compare it with the need for speed.

Again, we need to go back to the roots of this breed during the halcyon days of the flat-coated retriever, when breeders demanded that the dogs have “power without lumber and raciness without weediness.”

Maybe that would be a good place to start. Perhaps we really ought to look at wolf anatomy. In Nature, the modern wolves were able to outcompete the dire wolf because the dire wolf had too much lumber to run down smaller game. It was perfect for bringing down the North American megafauna, but once those beasts became extinct, it could never compete with long-legged, more lightly built wolves. It’s also why I’ve never heard of a Newfoundland fisherman ever using the modern breed called the Newfoundland for hauling nets, yet its ancestors did just that.  The flat-coated/wavy-coated retriever breed/type very nearly went extinct in Britain in the late nineteenth century. It was deemed too coarse and cobby to be a useful retriever, perhaps because it was being outcrossed with the newly popular heavy Newfoundland. It was only when the fanciers of that breed bred out the cobbiness that the dog became the cornerstone of gamekeepers’ retrievers in Britain as well as becoming the top trial retriever. 

Bigger is not always better. More bone on shorter legs is always an anatomical disaster for canine species. You will not find a single breed that is both heavily boned and short-legged that has a healthy body structure. That’s why we have two types of Dachshund: the Teckel (which has somewhat longer legs and is dominated with the wire-haired variety ) and the Dachshund (which has a long back and tiny legs and can be purchased anywhere in the United States).

However, there should be a caveat to this advice. The flat-coat fell from favor after World War I in part because it suddenly began developing sighthound characteristics, including a very light frame and a very narrow muzzle. Some retriever fanciers denounced the flat-coat as being crossed with a Borzoi (Russian Wolfhound), although this charge has never been proven. Today, flat-coats are being bred back the more moderate body type. They have gone in the exact opposite direction as their yellow and tawny cousins. They have suffered a severe drop in popularity, coupled with breeding for this “weedy” frame.

Read Full Post »


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:


Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: