The Golden Retriever: A Guide for Owners
Throughout the world, few dogs can match the intelligence, playfulness, and affectionate qualities that are characterized by the Golden Retriever. Although first bred in the 1800s for hunting, the Golden Retriever is now considered one of the most popular dogs in the world due to its companionship and family-friendly traits. This article examines the Golden Retriever and provides an in-depth analysis of the dog’s behavioral patterns, temperament, and general characteristics. In reading this, I hope that you will have a better understanding (and appreciation) of this remarkable breed.
- Common Name: Golden Retriever
- Binomial Name: Canis Lupus Familiaris
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Carnivora
- Family: Canidae
- Genus: Canis
- Species: Canis Lupus
- Subspecies: Canis Lupus Familiaris
History of the Golden Retriever
The Golden Retriever was first recognized by the AKC (American Kennel Club) in 1925 and is believed to have originated in Scotland and England around the Nineteenth Century. The Golden Retriever was originally bred by hunters in the region for the purpose of pursuing game birds. It is not by sheer chance that the dog was bred during the advent of breech-loaded shotguns, as the new technology afforded hunters a remarkably efficient means for hunting smaller game. To keep pace during hunting excursions, hunters needed an intelligent breed of dog that could track, locate, and fetch downed birds at a quick rate; hence, the arrival of the Golden Retriever in the mid-1800s.
All Golden Retrievers are thought to share a common ancestry with the Wavy-Coated Retriever, which was, in turn, bred from a combination of the St. John’s Dog, a variety of spaniels, and setters. One of the first Golden Retrievers to be bred was recorded by Lord Tweedmouth around 1864. Tweedmouth bred the animal through a combination of Black Wavy Coated Retrievers and a Tweed Water Spaniel, affectionately named “Belle.”
Following his success, it wasn’t long before the newly bred Golden Retriever was gaining popularity as both a working dog and companion to humans. Through importation, the breed soon spread beyond the boundaries of England into Europe and most notably, North America. Today, the Golden Retriever remains one of the most popular dogs in the United States.
Because the initial function of the Golden Retriever was for hunting and retrieving a variety of small game, a high-degree of intelligence and good temperament were essential as the dog was required to work closely with its owners (as well as other dogs). Stamina was also crucial for the breed, as hunting excursions could prove both exhausting and taxing to the animal’s body.
By crossing a mixture of spaniels and setters, breeders were able to recreate each of these characteristics with remarkable success, including a soft-mouth trait that allowed the dog to retrieve game without damaging its prize. For these reasons, modern-day Golden Retrievers are renowned for their gentleness, affection, and intelligence.
Overall appearance varies significantly between male and female Golden Retrievers. Adult males reach approximately 23 to 24 inches in height, whereas females are slightly smaller at 21 to 22.5 inches (AKC, 109). Overall length follows similar measurements for both the males and females and usually deviates no more than an inch.
As a medium-sized breed, owners can expect their Golden Retrievers to reach a maximum weight of 65 to 75 pounds, with females reaching 65 pounds at maturity. Dogs that exceed these measurements should begin treatment for obesity immediately as excessive weight can cause a variety of health conditions for this breed, including heart, bone, and joint problems.
The Golden Retriever possesses a broad head (wide) that is “arched laterally and longitudinally” (AKC, 110). Joining their head is a well-defined muzzle that is straight all the way to the tip, along with a set of medium-sized eyes (dark) that are set deep within their sockets. Topping the Golden Retriever’s head is a set of relatively short ears that droop to the dog’s neck and which favor hound-like characteristics.
The forequarters of a retriever are considered muscular and “well-coordinated” with the dog’s hindquarters, with the shoulder blades and upper arms appearing roughly the same length, while the lower legs are considered “straight with good bone” (AKC, 111). Following this pattern, the Golden Retriever’s paws are considered medium in size, and follow a rounded (yet compact) shape. In conjunction with its paws is a series of thick pads followed by a series of prominent knuckles that are covered with thick strands of fur.
Similar to the dog’s forequarters, the hindquarters are also considered to be extremely broad and muscular, with similar feet and legs as the front regions. The only major difference for the Golden Retriever’s hindquarters is the relative straightness of the dog’s legs (particularly when viewed from behind).
Retrievers are well-known for their thick and relatively long tails. Set on a muscular base, the tail typically follows “the natural line of the croup,” with bones in the tail extending to the point of the hock (AKC, 111). Although a slightly upward curve in the tail is normal for this breed, extensive curvature is considered a deformity for the Golden Retriever and should be examined by a veterinarian immediately.
Coat and Coloration
The Golden Retriever’s coat can be best described as dense, firm, and resilient. Known for its waterproof properties, the dog’s coat is “neither coarse nor silky” and typically lies close to the animal’s body (AKC, 111). The coat can be either wavy or straight (depending on grooming preferences) and is well-known for its golden coloration that varies between light and dark.
Are Golden Retrievers Right for Your Home?
- Energy Level: 3/5
- Exercise Needs: 4/5
- Playfulness: 5/5
- Affection Towards Owners: 5/5
- Friendliness Towards Other Animals: 5/5
- Training Difficulty: 1/5
- Grooming Level: 3/5
Note: Scale of 1 to 5 (1 = lowest, 5 = highest)
Golden Retrievers are well-known for their companionship qualities and affection towards their owners. Due to the animal’s initial role as a working dog, however, it should be noted that the retriever is naturally athletic and extremely active (particularly during its puppy years). For these reasons, prospective owners should be aware that the Golden Retriever requires extensive attention and exercise to feel both happy and loved.
Owners should also plan to invest a substantial amount of time into training, as the dog’s remarkable degree of intelligence makes the animal prone to boredom if not mentally stimulated on a daily basis. This can, in turn, result in destructive behaviors (such as chewing and restlessness) if not corrected.
Are Golden Retrievers Good With Children?
Yes! In fact, Golden Retrievers are often considered one of the best family dogs in the world due to their gentle and playful demeanors. Because of its energetic nature (as well as its love for games and various toys), the Golden Retriever often develops deep-rooted attachments to children of all ages; attachments and friendships that are known to last a lifetime due to the dog’s unwavering affection and devotion to its owners.
How Smart Are Golden Retrievers?
Golden Retrievers are highly intelligent and consistently rank among the top 10 smartest dog breeds due to their ability to learn and adapt to new situations with ease. In fact, it has been estimated that the Golden Retriever is capable of learning new commands with less than five repetitions of an action. Unlike other breeds, the Golden Retriever’s intelligence is also classified as “adaptive,” in that the animal is capable of learning without the assistance of its owner (or an instructor). Similar to humans, the Golden Retriever often learns by making mistakes, which it then seeks to correct (until perfection). Current research suggests that the Golden Retriever is capable of learning upwards of 200 commands in their lifetime; an impressive feat for the canine world.
The Golden Retriever is also remarkable in that it is capable of understanding human emotions to a large degree. The dog is known to actively cuddle or “kiss” (signs of affection) when they sense that their owners are sad or depressed. The retriever also responds well to positive emotions, and actively seeks playtime with their owner when the occasion arises.
As a relatively long-haired dog, the Golden Retriever requires regular brushing to prevent matting and excessive shedding on your furniture. Regular grooming of the animal is also crucial for maintaining proper hygiene and to prevent a variety of pests (most notably ticks) from sticking to the Golden Retriever’s coat. Owners should pay particular attention to their retriever’s grooming needs in the summer, as failure to brush away excess fur can result in overheating for their pets.
Retrievers typically shed their coats twice a year. Regular baths can aid in the shedding process, as soap (and heated water) help to loosen dead hairs. Nails should also be trimmed on a regular basis to prevent scratching or injuries to the dog’s paws.
Similar to most breeds of dogs, the Golden Retriever does best when it is trained at an early stage (puppy years). Early socialization to a variety of animals, people, and places (between 7 weeks and 4 months old) will help the retriever tremendously in its overall development (and acquired mannerisms) into adulthood. Puppy training (most notably, obedience training) can also correct a variety of bad behaviors before they are allowed to become habits.
Owners will find that obedience training is a relatively easy endeavor with this breed, as Golden Retrievers are eager to please their owners. The simple repetition of a task or action (followed by a yummy treat) can go a long way in winning love, respect, and admiration from your retriever.
High-quality dog food is appropriate for all stages of the Golden Retriever’s life, including its puppy, adult, and senior years. Careful monitoring of the retriever’s diet is also necessary, as this particular breed is prone to obesity due to excessive calorie consumption (and its natural love for eating). The Golden Retriever also loves a variety of dog treats (which can be extremely useful during training exercises). To prevent over-consumption, however, owners should exercise restraint with treats and keep rewards at a minimum.
Although many owners allow their retrievers to eat table scraps following large meals, scraps should be checked for foods (or contaminants) that could prove harmful to their dogs. Cooked bones and fatty substances should also be discarded, as bones present a choking hazard, whereas fatty foods can lead to heart complications down the road (a health concern for many Golden Retrievers).
The 10 Worst Foods for Dogs
- Fatty Meats
- Foods with High Levels of Sodium (Salt)
- Dairy Products (Such as milk or ice cream)
- Raw Meats, Eggs, or Fish
- Grapes and Raisins
- Garlic or Onions
- Foods with High Levels of Sugar
How Much Food Should a Golden Retriever Eat per Day?
Dietary needs vary significantly for Golden Retrievers and are dependent upon a number of factors (including age, size, and the overall activity level of your pet). Puppies (over the age of two months) should be fed approximately 1/3 to 1/2 cups of dry dog food around three times a day.
Adult Golden Retrievers, on the other hand, require greater levels of food due to their active lifestyle. Experts suggest 2 to 3 cups of high-quality dog food twice a day. As of 2020, Blue Buffalo consistently ranks as one of the best dog foods available for the Golden Retriever due to its high-quality ingredients and inclusion of vitamins and minerals. Owners should work closely with their veterinarian, however, in determining the proper diet and dog food to purchase for their pet.
"Once someone has had the good fortune to share a true love affair with a Golden Retriever, one's life and one's outlook is never quite the same."— Betty White
What Type of Home Is Good for the Golden Retriever?
The best type of home for Golden Retrievers are rural/country areas where the animal can run freely. Although the retriever can be just as happy in the city, urban life offers unique challenges to owners as space and exercise options are limited. This is problematic for the Golden Retriever as regular exercise is a necessity for this breed due to its natural abundance of energy. For city-dwellers, regular visits to the park (or maintaining a well-fenced yard) should be a priority for owners of Golden Retrievers.
Are Golden Retrievers Good With Other Pets?
Yes! The Golden Retriever’s lovable and friendly demeanor extends well beyond people and includes a variety of pets and animals. Although Golden Retriever puppies can be a little too rough and rowdy for smaller pets in your household (with a tendency to carry smaller pets in their mouth), early socialization with other animals (and obedience training) can go a long way in correcting these bad behaviors before they become permanent personality fixtures. Unlike many breeds, the Golden Retriever is also great with cats, and are known to exhibit close attachments to their feline companions over time.
Are Golden Retrievers Good Guard Dogs?
No. Due to their size and body-build, Golden Retrievers often produce the illusion of a good guard dog. Because of their friendly demeanor, however, the Golden Retriever is far more likely to greet intruders with affectionate “kisses” and tail-wagging rather than barking or growling. While it is certainly possible to train a retriever in the art of guarding, owners should be aware that this sort of training goes directly against the nature and personality of this particular dog breed. For this reason, owners who desire extra protection should consider more suitable breeds (such as a Doberman or German Shepherd).
Does this mean that a Golden Retriever won’t defend their family in times of need? No! In fact, retrievers are well-known for their active defense of owners (especially children) when danger arises. Owners who expect their retrievers to actively guard their house when they are away (i.e. at work, school, etc.), however, should not expect positive results. This is largely due to the dog’s natural responsiveness to its owner’s emotions. When the retriever senses fear from their owner, their protective instinct prompts the dog to guard their owner from danger (i.e. an intruder). Without their family present, however, the Golden Retriever won’t sense the natural fear expressed by their owner in times of an intrusion; thus, prompting the dog to display its natural love and friendliness to would-be burglars (which it perceives as friends).
Health Concerns: Recommended Testing and Evaluations
Recommended medical tests and evaluations for the Golden Retriever are as follows:
- Elbow Evaluation
- Hip Evaluation
- Ophthalmologist Exam
- Cardiac (Heart) Exam
As with many larger breeds of dogs, the Golden Retriever is prone to a variety of health issues involving the joints. Hip and elbow dysplasia are common concerns for this breed, along with various skin issues and problems with their hearts. Mast Cell Tumors and PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy) are also common with the Golden Retriever.
To prevent these issues from occurring (or to prolong their progression in some cases), owners should actively take their retrievers to a qualified veterinarian on a regular basis. Preventive care (along with a variety of treatment options for these ailments) are available for the Golden Retriever and can go a long way in making your pet’s life better and more comfortable. With proper care and nutrition, owners can expect a healthy Golden Retriever to live upwards of 10 to 12 years.
Famous Golden Retrievers
- Liberty (President Gerald R. Ford’s prized pet)
- Victory (President Ronald Reagan’s pet)
- Kira (2019 pet that rescued two dogs that had fell through the ice into a frozen lake)
- Orca (Awarded the PDSA Gold Medal for bravery)
World's Greatest Pet?
In closing, the Golden Retriever is a remarkable animal and pet due to its intelligence, companionship, and gentle nature. Good with children and other animals, the retriever is an ideal pet for most individuals and families as it is highly adaptable to a variety of environments and situations. Although the Golden Retriever requires extensive attention and care from their owners, the companionship and friendship offered by this dog (in return) make all of the extra work a worthy endeavor. For these reasons, the Golden Retriever will likely remain one of the most popular pets in the United States for the foreseeable future.
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- Coile, Caroline. The Dog Breed Bible: Descriptions and Photos of Every Breed Recognized by the AKC. Hauppauge, New York: Barron’s Educational Series, 2007.
- Dennis-Bryan, Kim. The Complete Dog Breed Book. New York, New York: Dorling Kindersley, 2014.
- Mehus-Roe, Kristin. Dog Bible: The Definitive Source for All Things Dog. Irvine, California: I-5 Press, 2009.
- O’Neill, Amanda. What Dog? A Guide to Help New Owners Select the Right Breed for their Lifestyle. Hauppauge, New York: Interpret Publishing Ltd., 2006.
- Slawson, Larry. “The Top 10 Smartest Dog Breeds.” (PetHelpful). 2019.
- Slawson, Larry. “The 10 Best Dogs for Children.” (PetHelpful). 2019.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
© 2020 Larry Slawson