Golden Retrievers are a relatively modern breed, especially when compared to Basenjis - some 2400 years younger!  In recent years much painstaking research has been done to find out more about the breed's exact origins.  Special mention must be given to the late Elma Stonex who kept detailed scrap books and cuttings up to the 1960s, this laid the basis for further research by Valerie Foss (Elswood) and the Weeks family (Beldonburn) amongst others.  Mrs Charlesworth showing an early Golden in the 1930s
The story began in Scotland, at a remote estate called Guisachan near Inverness.  The house is still there but lays in ruins, visited by many Golden people to this day, in pilgrimage.  Lord Tweedmouth acquired a good looking yellow Flatcoated Retriever and mated him to a bitch of a local breed, now long extinct, known as a Tweed Water Spaniel, which looked very similar to the Irish Water Spaniel of today.

He began a programme of inbreeding using the offspring of this mating using occasional outcrosses including an Irish Setter, black Flatcoated Retriever (also called Wavy Coated Retrievers back then) and  back to the Tweed Water Spaniel.   The resulting progeny were much in demand, proving great working gundogs, good looking, biddable and intelligent.   Puppies were given as gifts to friends, most notably to the nephew of Lord Tweedmouth, Lord Ilchester, who carried on his own documented breeding programme.  The founder mating for Goldens was that in 1868 by Lord Tweedmouth, between 'Nous' (born 1884) and 'Belle' from whom every modern day Golden descends.  Approximately 99% of todays Goldens descend from the 'Culham' (first registered 1908) stock of Lord Harcourt, who founded his kennel on two puppiesAn early Irish Water Spaniel, resembling the Tweed Water Spaniel ancestor of Goldens purchased from Lord Tweedmouth.

We have a lot to thank Mrs Charlesworth for - she was probably the greatest early enthusiast and also one of the most influential breeders, as it was she who organised her fellow enthusiasts into forming a club for Yellow Retriever owners in 1911.  Prior to this these early Goldens had been classified as Flatcoated Retrievers - indeed to this day, there are still yellow puppies born in Flatcoat litters and even whole litters of yellow Flatcoats from black parents.   During the mid 1800s to early 1900s interbreeding was still carried out amongst all the retriever varieties.  All of them had originally been classed as Wavy Coated Retrievers, but by 1880 there was a split between curly and wavy coats, even though both types could be born in the same litter.  It was accepted that retrievers came in a variety of colours and it was up to early breed pioneers to decide which colour and coat type they favoured.

Mrs Charlesworth was also adamant that the breed retained it's dual purpose aspect, a heritage which we at Tenfield are also trying to maintain.  A breed standard was drawn up and on 1913 the Golden Retriever Club was recognised by the Kennel Club and the first sets of Challenge Certificates issued.  However, there was still a certain controversy as Col Le Poer Trench had dogs registered as Yellow Russian Retrievers and claimed them to be descendants of a Russian circus troupe.  At Crufts 1913, Golden Retrievers and Yellow Russian Retrievers had their own classes but competed for the same set of Challenge Certificates and the Russians won both of them!   Mrs Charlesworth was the first winner of a Challenge Certificate exclusively for Goldens with her 'Noranby Sandy' and also the first to make up a Golden Champion with 'Ch Noranby Campfire' - in the early days, no dog could claim any Champion title unless it had also won in the shooting field.

Tor setting out with the RA shootRemembering the reasons for the Golden Retriever coming into being in the first place, in the mid 1800s there were a variety of specialist Setters, Pointers and Spaniels in Britain all of whom performed specific functions in the shooting field.  As new sporting estates and grouse moors appeared, there was also a need for specialist retrievers.  Each Estate seems to have favoured and developed a preference for coat type and colour and a fair exchange of blood went on between the varieties.  Early dogs were registered as whichever variety of Retriever they most resembled.  Goldens almost certainly have Bloodhound, Labrador, Newfoundland and black Setter blood in their veins.  Indeed this heritage is still apparent, many Golden puppies today are still born with black hairs or patches, tribute to their mixed ancestry.  Goldens were a lot darker at the beginning, presumably because they came from black dogs.  As yellow is a recessive gene, a modern day cream Golden mated to a cream can only produce that colour, the only way to keep the richer dark Goldens is to include them in a breeding programme, something which we at Tenfield are also trying hard to do.

We are also trying hard to remember Mrs Charlesworth's words:Rowan at Crufts 2004
" .... My pleasure at hearing at a big shoot when a strong runner had eluded two or three dogs 'Oh get the Golden to try; he'll find it" can be well understood; more so when the said Golden arrived with that elusive cock pheasant"  Our Dogs, December 1931
" ... It is not that I have a down on the show dog, or show breeder, but I cannot help resenting it, when I am told as I was only this week 'I have never seen a Golden that wasn't soft, and they all seem to be show dogs' .... It is because a Golden is an all-round Gundog first and foremost, that I am so anxious that more of the show winners should qualify and so remove the stigma which in spite of the successes of so many outstanding dual-purpose Goldens, still attaches to them in the minds of so many shooting men, whose opinion after all is the one that counts"
" ... It distresses me to see year after year the type, quality, style, movement and more especially the virility deteriorating so sadly so that today it is almost impossible to find one dozen typical Goldens who look as if they were game and capable enough for a hard day's work.  The great majority would lie down and die at lunch-time on any grouse moor ..."  GRC of Scotland Yearbook 1950

My goodness, what would Mrs Charlesworth think if she could attend a dog show today!!  I think she would be a lot more enthusiastic about the strains of working Goldens which still abound, though we must remember that in her day most dogs were kennelled and in groups and did not enjoy the one to one relationship as a family pet, couch potato and companion that is expected of the more laid back Golden retriever in the 21st Century.  However, there is a happy medium and there are still many breeders trying to maintain a dual purpose aspect.  A true working gundog should be biddable above all else, expected to mix with dozens of gundogs and beaters' dogs on a shooting day, travelling with them in close proximity on a beaters truck or with guns in the confines of a four wheel drive vehicle.  True and steady temperament should therefore be on top of every breeders' agenda, which sad to say doesn't always seem to be the case.

Reiver and Maori learning to be couch potatoesOf course, Goldens should have a natural retrieving ability and affinity with water.  This makes exercise fun for both the dog and the pet owner if this is channelled early on.  Their biddable nature also makes them easy to train, they simply love to please - but like any naughty child, give an inch and they will still take a mile!  As puppies they should only be exercised conservatively, building up gradually over the months, although socialisation is all important, puppies should never be allowed to become over-tired.  Adults do require at least an hour a day, if only to keep their minds stimulated and active, but don't expect a Golden to achieve this until at least 10-12 months old. 

Goldens are relatively easy to train, confident and responsive.  Their whole aim in life is to please their owners, whether it be by achieving obedience or simply clowning about and making you laugh.  They definitely have a sense of humour and often cloth ears, but are never vindictive or jealous. 

Goldens are real family dogs, thriving when they have constant companionship.  They are people enthusiasts, friendly, good-natured, kindly and relaxed.  Sensitive by nature, they hate being left alone and are not suitable for kennel life unless they can share with another dog.  Even then, they should be allowed to spend the greater part of their day with the family, they simply crave companionship and are not ideal for families who are out all day.  Their innate retriever instinct means that they should be provided with plenty of toys that they will delight in carrying around and presenting to you.  Goldens also have strong teeth and they WILL chew if left alone as puppies or if allowed to become bored, they do after all use their mouths as hands, by instinct.  We are forever replacing things with a never ending stream of puppies, so chew toys and a means of enclosure are a must.  They are also great gardeners and puppies will help landscape the lawn or re-arrange plants, if left unsupervised. 

Unfortunately, though in general a healthy and robust breed, Goldens are predisposed to a number of health problems.  There are several eye diseases which all breeding stock should be screened for.  When buying a puppy, breeders should provide a copy of both parents' Kennel Club/British Veterinary Association current eye certificates (i.e. dated within 12 months of the date of birth of the puppies).  Both parents should also be hip scored as a minimum and ideally elbow scored as well.  Each hip is scored individually, the lowest score being 0 and the highest 53.  The score of both hips together provides the total score, of which the breed average in Golden Retrievers is currently just over 19.  Ideally, the lower scoring the parents the better, but this is still no guarantee of good hips and personally, we consider any score up to 30 acceptable.  However, the combined score of both parents should ideally be no more than around the 30 mark.  With elbows, each elbow is scored 0-5, again 0 being perfect and 3 certainly the lowest score acceptable for breeding.  However, again there are no guarantees.  Dogs are not machines and even with the best and most careful planning, things can and do go wrong - subject to the laws of mother nature.  There are many environmental and nutritional factors which play a part and even though a breeder may have done their best, much of the responsibility rests with the owner and the way a puppy is reared, fed and exercised. 

All breeders should give copious rearing advice and information - please read this and listen to your breeder if you are considering a Golden to become part of your family.  Although we all rely on the skill of our vets, on many occasions a breeders advice has been ignored in favour of an inexperienced veterinary surgeon, reference diet and minor ailments with often regrettable consequences,  Not many vets have the hands on experience of successfully rearing numbers of puppies and except for accidents and emergencies, your breeder should always be your first port of call for help or advice.

Rhyme age 11 yearsGoldens should be a fairly long lived breed, averaging 13 years.  There are very few drawbacks to owning a well bred and cared for Golden Retriever, the copious amounts of dog hair being the only obvious one - they are not really for the house proud or immaculate dressers!  They also tend to attract mud and it is useful to buy a good pair of trimming scissors and to have a lesson in how to keep the coat and in particular the feet tidy.  Boys moult less frequently than girls and also do not suffer the hormonal problems girls are prone to.  They are just as loving and affectionate as the girls, the main difference being their size and strength and the inevitable teenage 'testosterone' stage during which you have to show them a firm hand - a short-lived period, however.  

Goldens do NOT make good guard dogs, if sympathetically bred and reared.  However, they are big dogs with an imposing bark and WILL bark if people come to the door, this is usually enough to deter any would be intruder.  However, their good nature means that any unexpected visitors will usually be greeted with an enthusiastically wagging tail.  They should be outgoing and friendly, with a kindly, confident and fun-loving attitude.  If you are not met with this response from any breeders' dogs, then walk away.

The original breed standard 'General Appearance' clause said "Should be of a symmetrical, active, powerful dog, a good level mover, sound and well put together, with a kindly expression, neither clumsy or long in the leg" - this is the essence of a Golden Retriever, a moderate, unexaggerated breed, balanced in all respects - sound of mind, body and limb.  Active, affectionate, playful and sociable, they are ideal family companions and are one of the most popular dog breeds for good reason.

Copyright Kim Ellis, Tenfield Golden Retrievers 2004 - not to be reproduced without permission.

The Golden Retriever Club have accumulated an extensive archive of publications on the breed, including a collection of invaluable GRC Yearbooks.  We have a 'scrap book' of cuttings relating to Golden Retrievers since 1973 when I began to take Dog World on a weekly basis.  This archive is being copied and will be presented to the GRC archives.  All they are then missing are the years between the mid 1960s and 70s.  Any other cleptomaniacs out there willing to part with a copy of a collection? 

Some Golden Retriever Links:

Golden Retriever Breed Council
The Golden Retriever Club
The Golden Retriever Club of Scotland
Golden Retriever Club of Wales
Berkshire Downs and Chilterns Golden Retriever Club
Midland Golden Retriever Club
K9Data (On Line Golden Retriever Pedigrees)
UK Show Results for Golden Retrievers
Golden Retriever Club eV. (German Golden Retriever Club)
Deutscher Retriever Club (German Retriever Club)
Golden Retriever Club of America
Golden Retriever Club of Canada
Open Health Registry for Golden Retrievers (American site)
Guisachan - an article from the GRC of America
Illustrated Canadian Breed Standard