What Exactly Is a Golden Retriever

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What Exactly Is a
Golden Retriever?

What exactly is a Golden Retriever? • What are Golden
Retrievers used for? • Why does my Golden love to swim? •
How big do Goldens get? • How active are Goldens? •
Are Goldens good watchdogs? • Do Goldens shed a lot? •
What does a Golden need from me? • Why are Goldens so
popular? • How long do Goldens live? • How long do Goldens
stay puppies? • Why is there so much difference between a
Golden show dog and a Golden pet? • Is there a difference
between hunting Goldens and pet Goldens? • What are the top
10 reasons people want a Golden Retriever for a pet? • What are
the top 10 reasons people give up their Golden Retriever after
they’ve acquired one? • What kinds of people will best be able
to develop a Golden into a good pet? • What kinds of people
will probably have difficulty managing a Golden Retriever as a
pet? • Why shouldn’t I want a Golden?
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What About Golden Retrievers?
What exactly is a Golden
Retriever?
It’s a medium-size sporting dog, weighing between 55 and 75 pounds,
although either sex may be slightly smaller or larger than the standard. A
Golden’s coat is thick and wavy but never curly, of medium length, and is
solid colored in any shade of gold. A typical Golden is a happy character
who dotes on his family and likes other dogs.
What are Golden Retrievers
used for?
Sportsmen originally bred Golden Retrievers to retrieve waterfowl and
upland game birds. The hunter shot the bird, and then it was the dog’s job
to bring the bird to the hunter’s hand, retrieving it from water, dense under-
brush or wherever the bird happened to land. Good retrievers picked each
bird up gently and brought it back intact. The dogs hunted under trainers
and professional handlers, and many are still used for those purposes.
Today’s Golden is more often kept as a pet and family companion.
He’s strong and powerful, has a moderately high energy level and can play,
work or swim for many hours in almost any weather. Goldens are highly
trainable and active in canine sports, and they excel in obedience trials;
agility and fly ball contests; Frisbee competitions; and more recently, in
synchronized freestyle dancing exhibitions. They are superb companions
for hikers, bikers, and backpackers.
Considering the Golden’s heritage, it’s little wonder that trained Gold-
ens often compete in tracking and scenting contests and are valuable as
drug, contraband, and munitions sniffers. The practical scenting skills
needed following disasters and avalanches are within the realm of possi-
bility for the sensitive nose of the Golden.
Goldens are superior guide dogs for the blind, and many are used as
therapy dogs who bring their cheerful wagging tails and earnest expres-
sions to long-term care facilities and hospital patients. Goldens often are
trained as assistance dogs for the handicapped, and are large enough to
fetch and carry sizable objects to wheelchair-bound owners. Specially
trained Goldens nudge their hearing-impaired owners when the doorbell,
telephone or alarm bell rings.

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Just how versatile is a Golden?
Versatility is the Golden’s strongest suit. Part of this flexibility is associated
with his even temperament, and more is due to his penchant to please his
human companions. His cleverness and intelligence serve him well in
every pursuit. His trainability and willingness to bond with families rather
than specific individuals are also part of the Golden’s versatility.
What’s a dual-purpose dog?
It’s one who has two separate but nearly equal purposes for its existence.
For example, a Golden might be proficient in tracking trials and also be a
gundog or retriever trial competitor, or a combination obedience dog and
gundog or show dog. Goldens have so many diverse uses that nearly every
one is at least a dual-purpose dog.
Where do retrievers come from?
During the 1920s Goldens came to the United States from Great Britain.
Retrievers of every description have come from all over Europe and parts
of Asia. Probably they were developed from companion dogs who showed
a propensity for chasing wounded birds, catching them and bringing them
to their handlers. Spaniels, waterfowl retrievers and upland game bird
dogs all have individual physical characteristics and histories.
Why, when and where did Golden Retrievers
originate?
There’s a great but probably fictitious story about the Golden’s origin that’s
worth repeating. According to an ancient report that’s still accepted by some
authorities (and discounted by most), the Golden Retriever originated in
1860 when Sir Dudley Majoribanks of Brighton, England, purchased eight
performing dogs from an Eastern European circus troupe. Those dogs were
called Russian Trackers and were accomplished trick dogs.
According to that report, these Russian Trackers were used chiefly as
guard dogs to protect the great flocks of sheep in Russia’s Caucasus
Mountains. The strongest and usually the biggest dogs were chosen to
combat the flocks’ predators. These dogs often measured 30 inches at the
shoulder and weighed more than 100 pounds, and those with the heavi-
est and thickest coats were most valuable because of the cold Russian

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weather. Those dogs, so the story goes, were the ancestors of the first
Golden Retrievers.
However, most current authorities say that sometime before 1865, the
(now extinct) Tweed Water Spaniel was used as foundation stock for the
Golden Retriever. This spaniel was crossed with Irish Setters and other
hunting dogs, small Newfoundland dogs and probably Bloodhounds to
produce today’s Golden Retriever. All this cross-breeding was done in an
effort to produce a superior gundog with just the right combination of
characteristics: trainability, toughness, courage, good swimmer, protective
coat, ability to find downed birds in thick cover, gentleness and willing-
ness to relate to people and take direction. Today’s Golden Retriever is big
and tough enough to satisfy outdoors people and gentle and trainable
enough for families with children.
Why does my Golden love to swim?
You tend to like what you do best. So do dogs. Most dogs are proficient
swimmers, and for many years Golden Retrievers have been selectively
bred for swimming ability and a great love of water. That means you will
have a hard time keeping your Golden out of any nearby lake, pond,
stream or swimming pool.
Leg strength, body musculature, coordination and balance are among
the qualities that make the Golden a superb swimmer. Other retriever
qualities, such as good scenting ability, soft mouth (holding a bird in his
mouth without crushing it), obedience, temperament and coat quality,
accompany his swimming ability.
How big do Goldens get?
Males stand 23 to 24 inches at the withers (the tallest point of the shoul-
der), and females are a couple of inches shorter. In other words, a male
Golden’s shoulder is knee-high to a six-foot man. When he’s standing with
all four feet on the floor, his muzzle can usually reach a steak lying on the
kitchen table. Coffee table treats disappear quickly when a Golden strolls
across the room. An adult Golden standing on his hind legs is as tall as a
petite adult human, and a rambunctious Golden can easily knock over a
child or an older person. Some Goldens grow taller and some shorter and,

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like humans, some lean toward heavyweights and others are slim. Balance
and muscularity are more important than size in this sporting dog.
What does physical balance mean?
An adult male Golden should appear powerful. He should be slightly longer
than he is tall, measured from the foremost point of his chest to the rear of
his buttocks. A Golden should be strong, full-bodied, standing on sturdy
legs, with a muscular chest and rump. His head should be broad and some-
what massive, and his neck should be muscular. His physique should appear
smooth and balanced, never clumsy-looking. His movement should be easy
and graceful, and his legs should be well muscled as befits an athletic dog
who can earn his biscuits by swimming with a duck or goose in his mouth.
A female Golden’s features are balanced as well, with considerable
strength and coordination, but her muscle mass should be more refined
and her weight a few pounds less than the male’s. When you look at a
Golden, you should be able to discern the difference between male and
female at a glance, even though they’re performing the same work.
How active are Goldens?
Goldens are not super-energy individuals, like small terriers, but a healthy
Golden will need plenty of vigorous exercise each and every day. A
Golden pup will be moderately active, but usually your puppy is as active
as you allow him to be. A pup’s activity may feed off his family’s activity,
and if he’s playing with energetic children, he’ll be a living dynamo until
he exhausts himself or is confined. A typical young adult is a reasonably
active individual as well, and can keep up with almost any human activity.
A healthy adult Golden of any age who’s living with a family that has
several children probably won’t need any more regular vigorous exercise
than he gets playing with the kids—if the children play with him just about
every day. A Golden one to fours years old should be exercised vigorously at
least once a day for at least half an hour, and also should go on at least two
leisurely walks every day. A Golden five and older will need at least three
walks every day, plus a half hour of vigorous exercise a few times a week.
When your Golden is asleep, he’s busily planning his next game in his
dreams. If you’re looking for a sedate lapdog, a very low-energy pet, the
Golden isn’t the dog for you. But you can redirect his constant frolicking.

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Teach him new activities. He’ll enjoy it just as much as pointless playing,
and you’ll both get a feeling of accomplishment.
Why is a Golden puppy so active?
Because he’s a happy camper! A Golden puppy’s merry attitude is conta-
gious, and his playfulness and curiosity are timeless. A healthy Golden’s
desire to frolic is quieted only by old age. The innate desire to play begins
as soon as a puppy is coordinated enough to tackle a sibling, and it never
disappears. The Golden has a happy switch. He can act serious and reserved
one minute and be roughhousing the next. He’ll curl up beside a sleeping
child and be quiet and content there until the child begins to stir, then will
spring to life, ready for any adventure. A big, active puppy can get rough,
though, so very young children should not be left alone with a Golden pup.
Are Goldens good watchdogs?
If you want a guard dog or protection dog, look in another direction, because
the Golden isn’t the dog for you. A Golden has a big voice and may
announce a stranger at the door or gate, but when it’s a neighbor or friend
calling, she’ll greet them affectionately. Guarding property is foreign to a
Golden’s character. However, a watchdog’s job really is just to warn her fam-
ily of an approaching stranger, and this can be learned by a trainable Golden.
Do Goldens shed a lot?
Without regular, frequent combing and brushing, a Golden is a hair mer-
chant. His hair isn’t short and stiff like a Dalmatian’s or a Pug’s (that kind
of hair sticks on everything), but it collects in nooks and corners of the
house in little golden dust bunnies. This breed probably isn’t for you if the
first question you ask is “Do they shed?”
What does a Golden need from me?
A Golden Retriever is a friendly, people-oriented, loving and lovable dog
who bonds tightly with his owner or handler. He’ll trust you if you are

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consistent and patient with him, and will be a trustworthy companion if
you give him the training he deserves.
Your Golden Retriever is a pack-oriented animal, like his wolf ances-
tors. When he comes to stay at your house, he has traded his canine pack
for a human pack, and he wants to be included in practically all of his
family’s functions—even if it means just watching. A Golden wants to
share and be included, and will eventually exhibit behavior problems, and
even health problems, if he’s penned or tied up or otherwise regularly
excluded from family activities. Some Goldens are quite happy just going
for an afternoon ride in the country once a week, going on a picnic or
driving to a lake or park. If you spend two hours a day with your Golden
in between such functions, he’ll be ecstatic.
He’s a living paradox. He’ll sit for hours for petting and grooming, but
you must manage his coat or he’ll shed copious quantities of hair every
day. His favorite pastimes include fetching, playing ball, chasing and
romping with children, and he is rarely discontented except when you
ignore him. He will often find a toy and bring it to a family member, sit
with it in his mouth, waiting patiently, begging to play, but you must direct
his activities.
He’s not picky about what he eats, but you can’t keep a Golden happy
with food unless it’s followed by a long walk, a swim in the lake, a game of
Frisbee, or some quiet petting time shared with a member of his family. He
wants a yard, but the yard furnishes only the opportunity to play. Play must
involve you and other family members. A Golden needs his humans to toss
a ball for him; a hide and seek game requires human participation.
Goldens demand training. Since they have active minds, they’ll become
bored and think of mischief. They need challenges and to be taught a new
concept nearly every day. It needn’t be a complex problem-solving venture,
and might be a simple child’s game of hide the toy under a rug.
Although a Golden isn’t terribly conceited, to look his best he’ll need
regular grooming all his life. You should brush his coat twice a week, and
each session should last about 20 to 30 minutes, or until his coat is
straight, untangled and shiny.
Grooming is an activity that Goldens anticipate with enthusiasm, once
they learn its advantages. They’re no different from other dogs who enjoy
the personal handling and touching that accompanies regular brushing
and combing. Few doggy chores require as much conversation as groom-
ing, because Goldens like to be talked to and they like the one-on-one
dialogue that accompanies grooming.

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Why are Goldens so people-oriented?
Prehistoric dogs hunted in clans or packs, usually made up of relatives. Dogs
have been selectively bred from those who considered themselves part of
human society, and the Golden has risen to the upper crust of dogs who are
extremely people-oriented. He assumes his role in a human pack and lives
contentedly there. One breed rescue organization referred to Goldens as
“Velcro dogs” because they do best when they’re close to their owners.
Do Goldens think and reason like we do?
That depends on how we think. Dogs have varying abilities to store expe-
rience, think, reason and solve problems. Goldens have sharpened those
abilities over many years of selective breeding. An 1895 training book
written by Mr. B. Waters noted that most dog owners of his day believed
dogs’ actions were only related to instinct. Waters flatly stated that prem-
ise is woefully wrong. A dog’s actions are related to his knowledge, which
depends on heredity, training and experience.
Dogs have fantastic memories, and they use that to great advantage in
learning. Dogs watch their mothers and copy her actions. Thus, if a
Golden’s mom is a gentle, loving, well-socialized and peaceful pooch, he
will have that pattern to follow.
Reasoning and planning result from inherent intelligence, learned
cleverness and past successes. When a Golden hunting dog discovers that
wounded quarry dive and swim away quickly, he’ll retrieve them first,
before picking up those that fall to the lake like a stone and are obviously
dead. Reasoning also is exemplified by a Golden’s rushing to pull a floun-
dering infant from a lake. A Golden guide dog will refuse to take his blind
handler onto a trail that leads under overhanging tree branches, even
though the dog’s height is well below the danger. Those situations can’t be
taught, and are the result of reasoning and planning.
Why are Goldens so popular?
Goldens are people pleasers. They are number two on the American
Kennel Club’s breed list because smart people want smart dogs. Popularity
depends upon personality, size and maintenance requirements, and
the slow-maturing Golden Retriever is a smart dog with an easygoing per-
sonality. He’s typically intelligent, athletic, clever, self-confident and trainable.

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There is a perception that Goldens don’t shed much, but in fact, they
shed as much as any dog and require their share of maintenance. Good
nutrition and regular grooming will help minimize shedding.
There is also a perception that the Golden Retriever is the end-all, per-
fect companion who doesn’t require anything except food, water, and
housing. Wrong, wrong, wrong! It’s natural for you to think of the obvi-
ous attributes a Golden Retriever offers, but at the same time, you must
consider his less desirable imperfections.
The Golden Retriever breed has many genetic problems (see Chapter
4), so buying one requires very thoughtful screening. A Golden is quite
intelligent, but many people consider him slower than some dogs of other
breeds. Usually he’s extremely trainable, but he still requires patience and
consistency, exactly like any other dog.
Sometimes Goldens’ popularity clouds the mind of a shopper. Maybe
several of your friends have smart, lovable, beautiful and wonderfully
trained Goldens, but a neighborhood trend is a lousy reason to acquire a
living being. If you find that status is your true motive, buy a classic Mer-
cedes or a yacht instead of a loving Golden Retriever.
Why are some owners dissatisfied with their
Goldens?
They refuse to accept a Golden for who she is. They think they’re getting
a perfect, trained, non-shedding, super dog—which the Golden is not!
Often, dissatisfied owners want nothing in their life that’s as unpre-
dictable and time-consuming as a companion pet, no matter how loving
she is.
What is the Golden’s share of the United
States dog population?
Exact numbers are impossible to calculate, but according to American
Animal Hospital Association surveys, there are about 52.9 million dogs in
the United States. These dogs live in about 31 million households, so each
dog-owning household averages about 1.69 dogs. Those surveys report
that approximately half the U.S. dog population is purebred.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognizes 150 different pure
breeds, although worldwide about 400 breeds are recognized. The Golden
Retriever ranks number two in numbers of AKC registrations (after the

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Labrador Retriever), with 63,497 Goldens registered in 2001, out of a
total of 1,081,335 AKC-registered dogs. This means that about 6 percent
of all registered dogs in the United States are Goldens.
Annual Golden registrations are down from 1997, when the number
reached over 70,000. Many Golden fanciers believe this decrease is
healthy, because even after a breed loses some of its popularity, conscien-
tious breeders continue to select the best dogs for the gene pool. There-
fore, the decrease might mean that fewer but better breeders are
producing fewer but better Golden Retriever puppies.
How long do Goldens live?
Never long enough to suit their owners. Barring accidental injuries
and serious illnesses, a typical Golden will live 10 to 13 years. His life
span depends upon genetics, nutrition, exercise and preventive health
care.
If you choose your puppy carefully, feed him appropriately, and take
good care of his health, he should live at least a dozen years and maybe
longer. As a puppy grows, his needs change and you must adjust his diet
and exercise accordingly. As he continues to age, his requirements change
dramatically. You must adjust a senior Golden’s care to accommodate his
physical changes, and failure to do so may cause your pet’s life to end pre-
maturely. Mistakes made during puppyhood may return to haunt you and
your Golden in later years and shorten your pet’s life.
How does human age compare with dog age?
The oldest dog in the world was an Australian Cattle Dog who lived 29
years and five months (don’t expect your Golden to approach that
record!). Large dogs have a shorter life expectancy than small ones.
The first year of a midsize dog’s life is approximately equivalent to 21
human years, and each subsequent year of a dog’s life is roughly equiva-
lent to four human years. By this calculation, a six-year-old dog compares
to a 41-year-old human, and a 10-year-old dog compares to a 57-year-old
human. Since the Golden is a fairly big dog and has a correspondingly
shorter life expectancy than smaller dogs, he may even be a bit older at age
10. Let’s just say that a 12-year-old Golden Retriever is well into his
Social Security years.