The golden retriever may be one of the most beloved and ubiquitous dog breeds in the world. Today, golden retrievers enjoy a status as one of the best dogs for families, but their popularity wasn’t always so assured. But understanding where the golden retriever came from can help us understand how to keep our furry friends healthy and satisfied.
The Birth of the Breed
As far as dog breeds go, the golden retriever is relatively young. And as is often the case, geography necessitated its existence. Hunting was a popular pastime of Scotland’s more affluent families, but the marshy landscape necessitates dogs that were good at retrieving game from both water and land.
New technologies created more sophisticated hunting rifles, and that meant there was a need for dogs that could track and retrieve over difficult terrain. There were plenty of dog breeds that were good at retrieving game from either water or land, but none that were more than adequate at both. And so the golden retriever was bred for the name of sport.
By most accounts, golden retrievers acquired those qualities through the breeding of a Russian tracking retriever with an Irish water spaniel. The former was golden in color — a disadvantage, as black hunting dogs were generally favored among the elite — and is directly responsible for the unique shade of a golden retriever’s coat.
Kept in the Family
Breeder Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks was responsible for the creation of the golden retriever, but he kept the breed very close to the family throughout the course of his life. Throughout the 119th century, golden retrievers were kept within the family except in rare instances where they were gifted to close friends.
Over the years, a variety of other lineages would be mixed into the bloodline to help improve their efficacy as all-terrain retrievers. For the most part, these included different varieties of retrievers and water dogs. This focused breeding accounts for both their natural love of water and their relentless athleticism.
By the end of the 19th century, Marjoribanks had passed, but golden retrievers had made their way to Texas thanks to the migration of Marjoribanks’ youngest son Archie. They would help raise the popularity of the breed throughout the United States in the years to come thanks to their charm and showmanship.
Entrance on the Public Stage
While Marjoribanks worked for five decades perfecting the golden retriever breed, it wouldn’t be until the 20th century that the golden retriever would be officially presented in the public eye. The United Kingdom’s Kennel Club recognized the first golden retrievers for registration in 1903. In 1908 the first golden retrievers were exhibited. In 1908, they would first be presented in an official dog show.
It would take a little longer for that level of recognition to reach the United States. It wouldn’t be until 1925 that the golden retriever got the nod. It wouldn’t take long for golden retrievers to become some of the most popular dogs in competition. And today, golden retrievers are ranked second for breeds registered by the American Kennel Club.
And golden retrievers have made it all the way to the White House as well. Liberty and Victory were the pets of Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan respectively, and they were both full-bred golden retrievers. The golden retriever has earned its place in the hearts of families throughout the world. And what was once bred as a way for Scottish nobles to catch the birds they shot are now used reliably as service animals, rescue dogs, and family pets. They truly are one of the most versatile and dependable breeds recognized today.
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