While Golden Retrievers are well known for being excellent family dogs, there’s actually much more to the breed. Although the history of the Golden Retriever is relatively short in comparison to many other dog breeds, it’s definitely an interesting story.
The first recorded Golden Retriever breeding took place in the Scottish Highlands in the mid-19th century. Although there’s some dispute over the actual details, it’s generally agreed that a man named Sir Dudley Marjoribanks, who was later known as Baron Tweedmouth, was responsible for the original breeding from which all modern-day Golden Retrievers are descended.
So how did Golden Retrievers go from being an obscure Scottish breed to the third most popular breed in the United States? Let’s find out!
A Gentleman’s Sporting Dog
As the story goes, in 1864, a yellow wavy-coated retriever was born to a litter of all black retrievers. This puppy was given to a cobbler as payment for a debt and later purchased from the cobbler by Baron Tweedmouth. The Baron named the young dog Nous and took him back home to his estate in Scotland. There, Nous joined Tweedmouth’s pack of other hunting dogs.
Baron Tweedmouth was an avid waterfowl hunter. In Scotland, the hunting grounds were covered with marshlands, ponds, rivers, and streams. The hunting dogs that were popular at the time didn’t have the strength, stamina, and swimming skills necessary to successfully retrieve game from both water and land. As guns became more popular and effective for bird hunting, the need for a well-bred retriever grew.
Tweedmouth set out to solve the problem by breeding a high-quality sporting dog that was both a strong swimmer and excellent tracker. He envisioned an ideal new breed that would have excellent stamina and a soft mouth that would allow it to retrieve game without causing damage. Since hunting was a gentleman’s sport, he also wanted to breed a handsome dog with stunning good looks that would always stand out from the crowd.
To this end, Tweedmouth bred Nous with a Tweed Water Spaniel named “Belle” and they produced a litter of four yellow puppies. These offspring were later bred with a variety of other breeds including another Tweed Water Spaniel (a breed that’s now extinct), wavy and flat-coated retrievers, and a red setter. Baron Tweedmouth kept most of the yellow puppies he bred — and a few black ones — to continue the bloodline.
After years of selective breeding, Baron Tweedmouth was able to produce the breed that we now know as the Golden Retriever. These dogs had all of the traits he had been hoping for, as well as the welcome addition of a loyal and friendly personality. This is now a major characteristic of the breed and part of the breed standard.
Today, Golden Retrievers continue to be excellent gun dogs that excel in hunting and field work. They shine in obedience competitions, are used for search-and-rescue, and are trained as guides for the blind. Their largest role, however, is now that of a loving family pet.
Introduction to Kennel Clubs
Most of the puppies that Tweedmouth didn’t keep were given to close friends and family members. Outside of these inner circles, Golden Retrievers were relatively unknown. This changed in 1908 when Lord Harcourt entered his Golden Retriever dogs into that year’s UK Kennel Club (KC) show. Since Golden Retrievers were not yet classified as their own breed, they were entered into a category that was open to “any retriever.”
In 1911, the breed was recognized by the UK Kennel Club as a “Retriever, Yellow or Golden.” The breed then quickly began to grow in popularity, and in 1913, the Golden Retriever Club of Britain was created. By 1920, the UK Kennel Club finally recognized the “Golden Retriever” as its own separate class.
The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized Golden Retrievers 14 years later, in 1925. The breed gained popularity in the United States and in 1938 the Golden Retriever Club of America was founded.
In 1927, the Golden Retriever breed was officially recognized in Canada, and in 1958, lovers of the breed formed the Golden Retriever Club of Ontario (GRCO).
Notable Golden Retrievers in History
Once people started to learn about Golden Retrieves, there was no going back. This breed is now extremely popular as both a hunting dog and a family companion. Thanks to their bubbly personalities and high levels of intelligence that make them extremely easy to train, they’ve been featured in many TV shows and movies and are a favorite among celebrities and even past presidents.
Presidential Golden Retrievers
One of the most historically famous Golden Retrievers was President Gerald Ford’s beloved dog “Liberty.”. The eight-month-old puppy was given to him by his daughter Susan Ford and became a welcome addition to the White House.
You can see her in many photos lying around the Oval Office, swimming at Camp David, and playing on the White House’s South Lawn. It’s been said that when Ford wanted to stop a conversation, he would signal Liberty, who would approach the guest, tail wagging, and create a natural distraction.
In 1980, another Golden Retriever made its way into the presidential spotlight when a nurse named Carol Schaidler, who was a friend of Nancy Reagan’s family, met Ronald Reagan on the campaign trail. Schaidler presented Reagan with a Golden Retriever puppy who she agreed to care for until he won the election and moved into the White House.
While the dog, who was named “Victory,” never actually moved into the White House with the Reagan family, he lived happily on the Reagan’s ranch in California, where he had free run of the property. It’s said that Reagan and Victory enjoyed working the ranch together whenever he would visit the ranch on vacation.
Golden Retrievers in TV and Movies
Golden Retrievers have been featured on television and in movies for many years. One of the most famous is “Duke,” the handsome pet of Bush’s Baked Beans spokesperson Jay Bush. This dog was featured in many commercials and advertisements throughout his lifetime.
Other famous Golden Retrievers include “Brandon” from the 1980’s sitcom Punky Brewster, “Comet,” the talking Golden from the hit TV show Full House, and “Buddy,” the basketball-playing star of the Air Bud movie series.
Famous Celebrities who Own Golden Retrievers
There are plenty of famous celebrities who have learned first-hand how wonderful it is to own a Golden Retriever. This includes late-night TV host Conan O’Brien, reality television star Lisa Vanderpump, musicians Nick Jonas and Adam Levine, actors Jackie Chan, Jennifer Aniston, Denise Richards, Cameron Diaz, and George Clooney, and American icons Oprah Winfrey, and Betty White.