Many individuals may be surprised to find out that the history of the Golden Retriever is not rooted in the United States, but rather in Scotland. Since this dog has become so popular in the USA as well as around the world, often people in America simply assume it is a North American breed. In reality the origins of the Golden Retriever are rather specific as to where the breed started, if not completely clear on what foundation stock was used.
The Golden Retriever was bred to be a hunting dog, specially designed to have a soft mouth. This term means that the dogs do not bite down on what they are retrieving, bringing waterfowl and birds back to the hunters completely undamaged. This is an essential factor in most of the retrieving types of dogs as smaller game birds would be literally crushed and destroyed by dogs that didn't have this naturally soft mouth.
The Golden Retriever was first bred by one breeder, Sir Dudley Majoribanks, who had an estate in the highlands of Scotland. In this remote area he worked through crossing known hunting dogs of many different types with larger boned and bodied dogs, ultimately producing the larger, stronger and natural strong swimmer known today. Surprisingly, Sir Majoribanks kept very detailed breeding records including the actual names and breeds of dog he used in the development of the Golden Retriever between the years of 1835 and 1890.
It is interesting to note that Sir Majoribanks actually became known as Baron Tweedmouth, a title that he held until his death in 1894. Baron Tweedmouth also slightly changed his developing breed of dogs in response to the newer, more higher powered hunting rifles and shotguns that were coming onto the market. The longer distances of accurate shots meant that more and more birds were downed farther from the hunters and outside of the sight range of the traditional pointer and setter hunting dog types. The retriever was therefore bred with a higher emphasis on scent and tracking abilities, allowing them to find birds at a far greater distance away from both the dog and the hunter.
The first dogs used in the breed program by Baron Tweedmouth were a Tweed Water Spaniel and a yellow colored flat coated retriever. The Tweed Water Spaniel is a now extinct breed, however it is known to very closely resemble a liver colored variety of the modern Flat Coated Retriever. These were excellent water retrieval dogs that were also good at tracking and working through dense bush to find birds. This cross between the yellow coated Retriever of unknown specific breed and the Tweed Water Spaniel produced four puppies, which were then used as the foundation stock of the modern Golden Retriever. During the following generations infusions of Irish Setter, wavy coated black retrievers, and a rare sandy colored Bloodhound were recorded. In addition there were several instances where St. John's Water Dogs, a now extinct foundation breed for both Newfoundlands and Labrador Retrievers, where also used in the various lines in the Majoribanks kennels.
Rumors have persisted over many years that there was a variety of Russian dogs, specifically Russian Sheepdogs, which were purchased from a traveling circus and used in the breeding program. Although these rumors are widely believed by some people, the actual breeding records from the kennels do not indicate any outbreeding to Russian Sheepdogs or any other type of herding or working dog were used in the original or subsequent breeding programs. This is also somewhat born out by the fact that Golden Retriever has no natural herding instincts or abilities and are not flock guardians.
The Kennel Club of the United Kingdom first accepted the Golden Retriever as the breed designated as Flat Coats – Golden in 1903. It wasn't until 1911 that the breed was actually designed as a Retriever, at that time listed as both golden and yellow. The Golden Retriever Club was founded in 1913 and the breed name officially changed to Golden Retriever in 1920.
The first Golden Retriever was brought to Canada by Sir Majoribanks himself in 1881. They were recognized by the Canadian Kennel Club in 1927 and also by the American Kennel Club in 1925. Several kennels, most founded by English and Scottish breeders, were found across both Canada and the United States by the early part of the 1940's. While they were popular as hunting dogs in both countries, they were also increasingly popular as companion dogs and farm dogs. Their gentle temperaments and high levels of intelligence made them perfect for most types of families.
As with many of the dog breeds imported to the United States there is now a slight physical difference between the Golden Retriever bred in the United Kingdom, known as the British type, and the Golden Retrievers bred in the United States. In general terms the British type of Golden Retriever tends to be stockier and heavier, while the American type is longer in the leg and taller, and there are specific height and weight ranges not seen in the standards in the United Kingdom.
The Golden Retriever continues to be one of the most popular of the larger sporting dogs in the world. They are also one of the most common dogs used in movies and television because of their calm and friendly nature combined with their high level of trainability. Some famous Golden Retriever from the big screen and TV include Buddy, and the dogs that played Buddy, from the movies Air Bud, Brinkley from You've Got Mail, Speedy from the Drew Carey Show and Shadow the Golden Retriever from the Homeward Bound series of movies.
In addition several very famous people have owned Golden Retrievers. Gerald Ford, the 40th President of the United States owned a Golden Retriever named Liberty that was often photographed with the President. Oprah Winfrey had three Golden Retrievers at one time and Pamela Anderson owned a Golden Retriever named Star that appeared with her on Baywatch.