Almost ubiquitously recognized as the quintessential guide dog, search and rescue animal, or family companion, it is hard to imagine that the Golden Retriever was originally bred solely for retrieving game across long distances. With origins in Scotland, the original Golden Retriever was a cross between a yellow retriever and a Tweed Water Spaniel (now extinct) in 1868. Interestingly, this original litter of puppies was also instrumental for breeding programs of Irish Setters, Bloodhounds, St. John’s water dog, and wavy-coated retrievers. In 1925, almost 60 years after the first Golden Retriever was born, the American Kennel Club recognized the breed, which has become the third most popular dog in America.
Golden Retrievers are bred to have loyal, friendly, and intelligent personalities, which is also why they make fantastic assistance animals. They are highly active and do well with lots of vigorous exercise, such as running, hiking, or playing fetch. Given this breed’s hunting background, Golden Retrievers naturally excel at retrieving game on both land and water, and therefore make excellent companions as gundogs. The only activity not suitable for a Golden Retriever is being a guard dog, due to their trusting and friendly nature.
Golden Retrievers are slightly smaller than their Labrador Retriever cousins, topping out at 75 lbs for males and 65 lbs for females. They have a double-coat, with the top being long, wavy, and silky while the undercoat is short and soft. The undercoat sheds twice per year while the top coat sheds periodically year round. Golden Retrievers require frequent brushing for this reason, as well as to keep their top coats from developing mats. The coat can be any shade of gold or cream, but should never be all-white or dark brown. Given their use as water dogs, the Golden Retriever’s coat is also water repellent.
Although Golden Retrievers are generally healthy, utmost care should be taken when researching breeders, as this breed experiences cancer at a disproportionate rate relative to other dogs. The most common types of cancers in Golden Retrievers are hemangiosarcoma, lymphosarcoma, mast cell tumors, and osteosarcoma, which comprised 61% of Golden Retriever deaths in 1998 in the United States and 31% of deaths in 2004 in the UK. In addition to cancer, hip and elbow dysplasia are common, as are eye disorders. They are also prone to skin allergies, so a high quality diet is recommended. Due to their long, floppy ears Golden Retrievers require regular ear care with a mild ear cleanser in order to reduce the incidence of ear infections in this breed, especially after swimming or dock jumping.
Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular dogs for television and movies, largely thanks to their high intelligence and willingness to learn. Notable canine actors include Comet from Full House, Chance from Homeward Bound, and Buddy from the Air Bud series. Two United States presidents also had Golden Retrievers as pets. Gerald Ford’s Golden Retriever was named Liberty, while Ronald Reagan’s was Victory. Both dogs helped boost the popularity of the breed.