Golden Retriever

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Golden Retriever

The Golden Retrievers is a large dog, which is highly trainable with an exceptionally kind and affectionate character. It was originally developed in Scotland as a breed that could retrieve game both on land and in water. Today the Golden Retriever continues to be used as a working dog but is also a popular choice of family pet due to its good nature. The breed has a medium length wavy coat, which comes in a various light colours.

The Golden Retriever is extremely loving and loyal, as well as being sociable and playful. These attributes mean the breed is especially good with children. It is quick to learn and always eager to please which means that training is not usually a problem. The breed’s size and working origins mean that the Golden Retriever is energetic and requires plenty of exercise and mental stimulation. The Golden Retriever can be affected by some health problems so careful selection of a healthy family line is important.

About & History

The Golden Retriever was originally bred to retrieve game in Glen Affric, Scotland around the middle of the 1800s. The breed was intended to be effective on both land and in water and was initially formed when Lord Tweedmouth crossed Wavy Coated Retrievers (now known as Flat Coated Retrievers) with the now extinct Tweed Water Spaniel. The yellow colouring of the breed comes from the founding Wavy Coated Retriever used to establish the breed. Later on blood from various other breeds was introduced, including the Irish Setter and the Bloodhound. Lord Tweedmouth aimed to produce an effective and powerful retrieving dog with a soft mouth that also had a good, willing character.

The first Golden Retrievers were recognised by the UK Kennel Club in 1903 and then several years later in the USA and Canada. Since then, they have gone on to become an incredibly popular breed as both a companion and family dog, largely due to their kind nature and loving characters. In addition, the Golden Retriever is intelligent and is quick to learn so is frequently used as an assistance dog in addition to other working roles, such as as a sniffer and search and rescue dog. The breed’s energetic nature means that it can also excel in modern dog sports, such as flyball and agility.


Golden Retriever Large Photo

All the accepted coat colours for the Golden Retriever are variations of the characteristic ‘golden’ colour which gives the breed its name. Colours which can be registered with the UK Kennel Club include:

  • Cream
  • Gold
  • Red & White
  • Golden

The Golden Retriever is a large dog which should measure between 51 and 61 cm at the withers. Female dogs should be slightly smaller than males. There are some differences between Golden Retrievers found in Europe, America and Canada. This description refers to the British type, which tend to be more muscular with a lighter coat than their American and Canadian relatives.

The breed should have a strong neck which is relatively long, leading to well angled shoulders and a long upper front leg, so the front legs sit well underneath the body. The feet should be medium sized, rounded and compact. The Golden Retriever should have a relatively short body with a deep chest and straight back. The back end and back legs should be powerful and muscular, with straight hind legs.

The head of the Golden Retriever should be well defined with a wide skull and muzzle. The length of the muzzle should be around the same length as the other half of the head. The mouth should be strong with a perfect scissor bite and the nose should ideally be black. The eyes should be wide set, round and have dark pigmentation surrounding them. The ears should be medium sized and roughly level with the eyes.

The Golden Retriever is an active dog, which should appear powerful when it moves. It should move with a long, free stride that is powered by plenty of drive. The front legs should not be lifted too high or show any signs of an exaggerated ‘hackney’ action.

Character & Temperament

The Golden Retriever should have a friendly, affectionate and kind character, whilst also being extremely sociable. The breed has a gentle temperament and is excellent with children, and enjoys playing with them, making a popular family pet. Their confident and sociable nature means they do not typically make good guard dogs and are generally friendly with strangers and their owners alike.

Golden Retrievers are calm and the breed does not usually suffer from separation anxiety, but before getting a dog, prospective owners should always be aware that dogs should not be left home alone for long periods of time. As a breed they get on well with other dogs and animals, especially when socialized from a young age.


Photo of Golden Retriever puppy

Golden Retrievers are exceptionally trainable dogs. They are intelligent, eager to please and willing with a love for work. The breed enjoys the mental stimulation that training, dogs sports and working activities provide and despite their calm and gentle nature thrives on plenty of activity. This means that they are quick to learn recall and cotton on to house training, especially when given frequent access to outside spaces.


The Golden Retriever has an average lifespan of around 10 – 12 years of age. It is classed as a Category 2 breed by the UK Kennel Club with a couple of specific points of concern. These are:

UK Kennel Club Points of Concern

  1. Obesity: The Golden Retrievers roots as a working dog and active nature mean that plenty of exercise and an appropriate diet are essential to maintain a healthy weight and avoid problems, such as diabetes, which are associated with obesity.
  2. Leg Length: Dogs with legs which are too short in proportion to their body length and the depth of their body.

Assured Breeders Mandatory Schemes

Participation in the following schemes are mandatory for UK Kennel Club Assured breeders, as the breed can suffer from some health problems, including:

Hip Dysplasia (HD)

This condition occurs when a dogs hips develop abnormally. Several developmental problems and abnormalities can contribute to joint problems in older dogs. Dogs older than a year have their hips radiographed and scored by experts. The maximum score is 106, and the lower the score the fewer the signs of dysplasia. Hip dysplasia has a genetic component but is also influenced by environment.

Eye Scheme

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) eye scheme includes testing for various genetically transmitted eye diseases. Those which affect the Golden Retriever include:

  • Hereditary Cataract – Opacity of the lens or lens capsule impairs vision.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) – The condition includes various inherited diseases which affect the retina and can either be developmental or degenerative. Developmental types generally occur in younger dogs and have a rapid progression whereas degenerative types occur when dogs are older and have a slower progression.
  • Multifocal Retinal Dysplasia (MRD) – Multiple lesions develop on the retina that can, in some cases, ultimately affect vision.

Recommended Advice & Health Schemes for Assured Breeders

Although not mandatory it is strongly recommended that breeders also use the subsequent advice and participate in the following schemes:

  • Female dogs under 18 months of age should not produce a litter
  • Female dogs should only have one litter in a year

Elbow Dysplasia

This condition is caused by an abnormal development of the elbow, which eventually causes osteoarthritis. X-rays of the elbows are graded from 1-3 and ideally only dogs with a score of 0 should be bred from. There is a large genetic component to the condition.

Ichthyosis (ICT-A)

This disease affects the skin, and causes it to become scaly causing dandruff. Signs usually appear between 1 and 18 months of age and there is no treatment. To cause clinical signs the gene which causes it must be inherited from both the mother and father.

Other Health Concerns

In addition, Golden Retrievers can also be more prone to suffering from the following health problems than some other breeds:


Although it has not been proven that there is a genetic factor Golden Retrievers suffer from a relatively high incidence of cancers such as haemangiosarcoma, lymposarcoma, mast cell tumours and osteosarcoma.

Sub-Aortic Stenosis

This is a heart condition where a the area underneath the aortic valve becomes narrowed. The degree of narrowing can vary and in mild cases may not cause any signs at all. Severe cases can have severe consequences such as difficulty breathing, collapse and even death. Treatment options depend on severity and can range from medical management to surgery.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Golden Retriever was bred as a working dog and needs a lot of exercise, requiring around an hour and a half to two hours of walking a day to remain happy and healthy. At least part of this time should be spent off the lead to allow dogs to run and play sufficiently to tire them out. This said, the Golden Retriever can often appear tireless and will rarely stop voluntarily, making it an ideal breed for an active lifestyle.


The Golden Retriever has a medium to long coat which can be flat or wavy, with plenty of feathering. It also has a thick, waterproof undercoat that acts as insulation. Although the Golden Retriever does not necessarily require specialist grooming it needs frequent brushing at home to stop matting and prevent heavy shedding around the house.

Famous Golden Retrievers

The Golden Retrievers good character and highly trainable nature means there are many well known examples of the breed in popular culture. Some examples include:

  • Buddy from the film series, Air Bud
  • Comet from the sitcom, Full House
  • Shadow from the Homeward Bound films
  • Levi from the television series, Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye
  • Whopper from the television series, Pound Puppies
  • Goldie and Lucy from the children's TV programme, Blue Peter
  • Fluke from the film, Fluke
  • Muffin from the film, Napoleon
  • Brandon from the television series, Punky Brewster
  • Brinkley from the film, You’ve Got Mail
  • Dug from the animated film, Up
  • Digby from the television series, Pushing Daisies
  • Old Drum from the film, The Trial of Old Drum
  • Bailey from the film, Bailey’s Billions
  • Pilot from the film, The Retrievers


The Golden Retrievers popularity has led to a large number of crossbreeds, including:

You'll also find the Golden Retriever represented in a cross of two crosses. The Double Doodle is a mixture of the Goldendoodle hybrid and the Labradoodle hybrid.

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