Golden Retriever history is fascinating. Today one of the most popular breeds in North America, the origins of the Golden Retriever lie many thousands of miles away.
Golden Retriever history FAQs
- Where did Golden Retrievers originate from?
- Who created the Golden Retriever?
- Where did the name Golden Retriever come from?
You can use those links above to jump to the parts that interest you, or scroll down for the whole story!
We’ll explore the history of the Golden Retriever from the earliest known records of the breed.
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The first retrievers
Golden Retriever history is inextricably linked to that of the Retriever group of dogs in general.
The breed belongs to a sub-group of dogs – the ‘Retrievers’ that in turn belong to our gun dog or sporting dog group.
From the sixteenth century onwards as guns became the weapon of choice, gun dogs were developed specifically to work alongside their human companions in hunting small animals and birds destined for the table.
Spaniels were used to flush animals from dense cover. Pointers and setters to flush birds from their seats in moorland and open spaces
As man evolved weapons that were effective at greater distances, the type of dog that accompanied him began to change.
The development of specialist retrieving dogs arose alongside the development of guns. And particularly alongside the development of breech loading guns.
We now needed dogs whose primary purpose was to excel at finding and collecting dead or wounded animals.
Dogs with sharp eyes to mark the fall of game, great noses to track down wounded quarry, and the power and length of leg to work in difficult terrain and over long distances.
Retrievers gradually replaced the pointers and setters as the primary hunter’s companion.
Breech loading was much faster and there was no longer so much need for a dog that would stand and point at birds, while their master loaded a gun.
Competitions called Field Trials became very popular among the landed gentry in the early part of the twentieth century. Retrievers competed against one another and several aristocrats developed their own lines of retrievers.
Early retriever coats and colors
In the early days retrievers were mostly black. Modern coat colors in retrievers often include a rich chocolate brown and various shades of gold or yellow.
But the browns and yellows are created by recessive genes and the default for our original retrievers was the dominant and at the time most popular, color black.
Retrievers were often simply classified by coat type – so we had curly coated, wavy coated, and flat coated retrievers.
Mixing it up with dog breeding
In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, mixed matings between different breeds and types of dog was still the norm.
The idea of closing registers and creating breed purity, was only just emerging.
So it was common to have matings between quite different dogs in order to introduce new characteristics in a breed.
Who created the Golden Retriever?
While no single person can take all the credit, the main person attributed with creating the Golden Retriever was a Scottish aristocrat called Dudley Marjoribanks.
He was the 1st Baron Tweedmouth.
Marjoribanks was a wealthy businessman born in December 1820 and became the member of parliament for Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Where do Golden Retrievers come from?
Lord Tweedmouth live in the Highlands of Scotland and it is here that the Golden Retriever arose as an independent and separate breed of gun dog.
The baron purchased a deer forest at Guisachan in Inverness-shire, and it was at Guisachan that he established his dog breeding kennels and it was here in the highlands, that his new breed of golden gun dogs were created.
Marjoribanks was looking for a Retriever that excelled in retrieving from water as well as from land. So he did what many people did in those days. He mixed things up a little!
An article by the Earl of Ilchester printed in Country Life magazine in 1952 and published on the website of the Golden Retriever Club of America
The Tweed Water Spaniel
While most nineteeth and early twentieth century retrievers were black, occasionally two dogs carrying the yellow recessive gene would get together and some yellow puppies would be born.
Dudley Marjoribanks had such a yellow dog, probably a flat-coated or wavy-coated retriever, called Nous.
There is a photo of Nous taken in 1872 in Hutchinson’s dog encyclopedia so we know that he was yellow. Marjoribanks records in his studbook that he crossed his retriever Nous with a Tweed Water Spaniel called Belle.
The Tweed Water spaniel is sadly now extinct as a breed but Belle’s legacy lives on in the Golden Retriever, and the breed has now become one of the most popular in the world.
Where did the name Golden Retriever come from?
By the turn of the century the Golden Retriever lines and type were becoming established.
A certain Lord Harcourt had purchased two of these yellow dogs from the Guisachan kennels, and in the early 1900s he began breeding and exhibiting his Golden Retrievers at Kennel Club shows.
Harcourt is often credited with giving the breed its name and was important in establishing the breed and promoting it to the wider public
When did Golden Retrievers become purebred
Golden Retrievers were initially classified by the Kennel Club as Flatcoats but in 1913 they got their own category as ‘Retrievers – yellow or golden’
It wasn’t until 1925 that the breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club. And the Golden Retriever Club of America was founded in 1938
In the early days the Golden was very much a dog with a job. A working gun dog and hunting companion. But it was not long before the breed’s popularity as a companion dog took off.
Dual purpose Golden Retrievers
I had my first Golden Retriever as a child in the 1960s and at this time many Golden Retrievers were still dual purpose.
My own Goldie was from the dual purpose Sharland kennels, and was a stunning, dark golden dog with a fairly short coat.
Today the breed has been split into working and show lines with the working line dogs closely resembling my childhood friend.
Fashions in the show ring have seen some changes and the modern bench bred Golden Retriever is often a heavier, paler dog with a lot of quite long fur.
A Golden Future?
There is no doubt that the modern Golden Retriever as a breed faces some challenges, with cancer being a particular problem.
One thing about the breed that remains true is their wonderful temperament, which along with their beauty has no doubt been a driving force behind the Golden Retriever’s enduring popularity.
Hopefully we can overcome the health issues in this and our other pedigree breeds to ensure that the future is indeed golden for this retriever.
Don’t forget to tell us about your Golden Retriever in the comments box below. And do check out some of the interesting resources below for more information
The Earl of Ilchester’s article is particularly interesting!
References and further reading
- The Golden Retriever Club of America
- The Golden Retriever Breed Council (UK)
- Morecroft M. From Yellow to Golden: The Stately Heritage of the Golden Retriever. Herkimer Publishing 2014
- Retriever History
- Eley, C. The History Of Retrievers Vintage Dog Books 2013 (general retriever and trialling history)
- Forestry Commission Scotland