The Golden Retriever is a breed of dog, historically developed as a gundog to retrieve shot waterfowl and upland game birds during hunting and shooting parties. As such they were bred to have a soft mouth to retrieve game undamaged and an instinctive love of water. Their intelligence and versatility see them employed in a variety of roles including illegal drug detection, search and rescue, as hunting dogs, and as guide dogs. They possess a friendly, eager-to-please demeanor.
The Golden Retriever was first developed in Scotland at “Guisachan” near Glen Affric, the highland estate of Sir Dudley Marjoribanks, later Baron Tweedmouth. For many years, there was controversy over which breeds were originally crossed. In 1952, the publication of Majoribanks’ breeding records from 1835 to 1890 dispelled the myth concerning the purchase of a whole troupe of Russian sheepdogsfrom a visiting circus.
Improvements in guns during the 1800s resulted in more fowl being downed during hunts at greater distances and over increasingly difficult terrain. This led to more birds being lost in the field. Because of this improvement in firearms, a need for a specialist retriever arose as training setter and pointer breeds in retrieval was found to be ineffective. Thus work began on the breeding of the dog to fill this much needed role.
The original cross was of a yellow-coloured Retriever, Nous, with a Tweed Water Spaniel female dog, Belle. The Tweed Water Spaniel is now extinct but was then common in the border country. Majoribanks had purchased Nous in 1865 from an unregistered litter of otherwise black wavy-coated retriever pups. In 1868, this cross produced a litter that included four pups; these four became the basis of a breeding program which included the Irish Setter, the sandy-colored Bloodhound, the St. John’s Water Dog of Newfoundland, and two more wavy-coated black Retrievers. The bloodline was also inbred and selected for trueness to Majoribanks’ idea of the ultimate hunting dog. His vision included a more vigorous and powerful dog than previous retrievers, one that would still be gentle and trainable. Russian sheepdogs are not mentioned in these records, nor are any other working dog breeds. The ancestry of the Golden Retriever is all sporting dogs, in line with Majoribanks’ goals.
Golden Retrievers were first accepted for registration by the The Kennel Club of England in 1903, as Flat Coats – Golden. They were first exhibited in 1908, and in 1911 were recognised as a breed described as Retriever (Golden and Yellow). The breed name was officially changed to Golden Retriever in 1920.