A closer look at one of the world's favourite dog breeds, the golden retriever.
Golden retrievers have their roots set in 1864, after a series of matings between a yellow flat coated retriever and a tweed water spaniel (a now extinct breed) were carried out by Lord Tweedmouth on his Guisachan estate in Inverness-shire, Scotland.
Later down the line, the offspring was again crossed with Irish setters, bloodhounds and black flat coated retrievers, resulting in a good looking and hard working dog. For many years they remained relatively unknown, as puppies were only given to Lord Tweedmouth's friends and family who continued to breed them.
It was almost 50 years after the original puppies were born that the breed was first seen and loved by the public, thanks to Lord Harcourt – a friend of the Tweedmouth family – who showed them at a Kennel Club event in 1908. However, it wasn't until the 1920s that the breed was officially given its own identity and named 'golden retriever' on the official Kennel Club register.
How many are registered in the UK:
Kennel Club records show that in 2018, of the 91,194 gundog puppies registered to the organisation in the year, the golden retriever was the fourth most popular breed accounting for nearly 10 per cent of the overall figure at 7,794 puppies.
Traits and characteristics:
The golden retriever is a very popular breed for families all over the world as they are typically very friendly, well natured, playful and intelligent. They are renowned for being easy to train and once out of puppyhood adopting a very settled temperament. It is uncommon for the breed to not get along with people or other animals.
Today they are widely used as guide dogs, detection dogs and therapy dogs to name a few.
The golden retriever is of a large build with a long, soft coat; they are very elegant in appearance. Show breeds are usually pale in colour, whereas working strains are known to have a rich, reddish-gold coat that lightens as it feathers, akin to their ancestors, and are often of a lighter and more athletic build. Similarly with their labrador cousins, the head is broad in the skull with relatively short ears.
The breed is renowned for its very soft mouth – ideal for retrieving shot game undamaged – and should be powerful enough to jump whilst carrying large game species like brown hares.
Average life expectancy:
Health problems occasionally suffered by the breed include seizures, sub-aortic stenosis, eye disorders, elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism and mast cell tumors. Whilst more serious conditions like osteosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma and canine hip dysplasia can occasionally effect the breed.
Veterinarians may routinely test for heart, thyroid, hip, eye and elbow issues to pick up conditions as early as possible.
Feeding and nutrition – from the Chudleys' nutritionist:
“As a nutritionist, one designs a diet first and foremost to meet all the nutrient requirements to support a long, active and healthy life.
“For working breeds, fundamental nutrient requirements vary very little, if at all. There may be subtle trend differences between the breeds in terms of certain conditions that are more prevalent in one particular breed over another that may be helped by using appropriate functional nutrition.
“The key differences in nutrient requirements for working dogs stem from the duration and intensity of the work undertaken. The higher the workload, the more energy your dog will require. A very active dog will therefore need to eat more food, and as a result will get more of all the other nutrients it requires, such as protein and vitamins.
“It is important to know where that energy needs to come from. Sprint work requires a diet consisting of more carbohydrate and some fat – a diet of around 22–25% protein and up to 14% fat is preferred – whereas a dog working long days on a moor will rely more on fat and fat reserves – a diet with 24%+ protein and 14%+ fat works best.
“Finally, when it comes to choosing the size of the piece of food, studies have proven that all breeds prefer a kibble of around 14–16mm in diameter.
“So, choose a diet to suit your dog’s workload and type, and one that provides those functional nutritional aspects as well.”
Why do golden retrievers make good gundogs?
With the popularity of show ring golden retrievers at events like Crufts, it is common for people to stereotype the breed as one with few working qualities. However, this is not the case, and despite being a rarity in the field, golden retrievers can make excellent gundogs.
Golden retrievers tend to have very soft mouths and can be very proficient at picking-up game. Though they are considered easy to train, they do require a more thorough, step-by-step approach than would be used on a labrador. They also mature a little later than labradors and can be quite stubborn. Their hunting style is also a little different to labradors', as they are known to carry their head higher off the ground, relying more on air scent.
Furthermore, finding golden retriever pups with good working lines is becoming increasingly difficult, making them more expensive to source.