Joy and loyalty wrapped in sunshine is the perfect description of the Golden Retriever, a top dog for families, handicapped owners, and obedience competitors. The Golden lives to learn, to generate smiles, to romp with the children, and to please his owners. He's a bundle of canine cheer without an unkind bone in his body.
Although not as popular as his rambunctious cousin the Labrador Retriever, the Golden resides in the American Kennel Club's top 10 with more than 68 thousand individual dogs and 14, thousand litters registered in 1993.
Like many of the sporting breeds, the Golden was born in Britain in the 1800s. Breed ancestry includes the extinct Tweed Water Spaniel, a small Newfoundland, the Irish Setter and other water spaniels. The Golden was developed by Lord Tweedmouth at his estate on the Tweed River near Inverness, Scotland, for retrieving shot waterfowl. The foundation stock of the breed was a yellow retriever puppy of unknown breed and a Tweed Water Spaniel, both of which appear several times in early pedigrees.
In the early 1900s, Goldens were shown in England as Flat-coated Retrievers, Golden variety. The dogs made their way to the US with travelers in the 1890s, but were not exhibited in shows until after 1920. Initially, the dogs were used to hunt, but they gradually migrated to the show ring. Although the Golden color ranges from pale orange to deep gold, the deeper colors were originally preferred. Today the medium and light shades are more common than the burnished copper-gold.
Brains as well as beauty, along with an innate need to please his owners is the Golden trademark even above his handsome appearance. The first three dogs to achieve the Obedience Trial Championship instituted by the American Kennel Club in 1977 were Goldens.
The Golden is a well-balanced, strong, active dog with a kind expression, gentle manner, and an alert and self-confident disposition. He is trustworthy, friendly, and reliable; excessively shy or high strung dogs are atypical of the breed and usually the result of poor breeding practices or inadequate socialization.
Males stand 23-24 inches at the shoulder and weigh 65-75 pounds; females are a bit smaller and lighter. The body is a bit longer than tall.
Males have a broader skull and muzzle and a thicker neck than females, and neither should be coarse or overdone. The eyes have a deep and gentle expression with a spark of intelligence; the ears fall forward along the sides of the head but are set high so they do not droop like hound ears.
The tail is strong and well-fringed, and almost always wagging.
The Golden is a strong, muscular dog with fluid movement. He is well-angulated in the rear for endurance in the field, a trait that helps him work in obedience as well.
The Golden coat is dense and water-repellent with a good undercoat. The outer coat is firm and resilient and can be straight or wavy; the legs and tail are feathered with longer hairs. Color is rich and lustrous in various shades of gold. Although the color may shade to cream on some parts of the dog's body, particularly with the lighter-colored dogs, white markings are not permitted. In the show ring, Goldens with undershot or overshot jaws and dogs more than an inch off the stated height are disqualified.
The Golden needs moderate daily exercise to maintain health and condition. His coat needs some grooming, and he does shed the soft undercoat. Although he is wonderful with children and eager to please, he must be obedience trained to channel both his enthusiasm and his strength.
Early socialization and puppy classes are important for the Golden youngster who must learn to curb his natural friendliness to other dogs and his exuberance for greeting people. Some dogs do not appreciate Golden overtures, and most people do not care to be leaped upon or bowled over.
Training must be gentle and consistent, never harsh, even for the dog that is easily distracted. However, firmness is also necessary, for a 70-pound dog with bad manners is a nuisance. Games go a long way; the Golden enjoys retrieving Frisbees and other toys and can be taught to locate hidden items.
If the Golden has a drawback as a pet, it is his perpetual effervescence, which can get him into trouble with other dogs and with neighbors and can be an annoyance for owners not able to give him frequent attention. However, most owners of this breed find the ebullience to be a treasure, the sweetness a joy, and the tight family bond to be reminiscent of childhood dreams of the perfect companion dog.
The Golden diet should be a premium food, and owners must be careful not to overfeed. Goldens are susceptible to hip dysplasia, a condition that can be triggered or exacerbated by too-rapid growth of puppies. Many veterinarians and breeders recommend adult food of less than 25 percent protein instead of puppy food after three months of age. Owners must also guard against overweight in these dogs that often make a science of begging treats and table scraps.
[ More on nutrition and diet]
Goldens are also susceptible to progressive retinal atrophy, an eye disorder that causes blindness; von Willebrand's Disease, a bleeding disorder; cataracts; heart problems; and skin conditions. The Golden Retriever Club of America is jealous of the breed's health, but the popularity of the breed has led to many poor quality puppies produced by commercial kennels and backyard breeders.
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