A Brief Commentary on Judging the Golden Retriever

In assessing the Golden Retriever it is necessary to first consider the breed as a member of the retriever family and consider those properties which suit the breed to its function. The General Appearance section of the Golden Retriever breed standard establishes the basic conditions of retriever type as it applies to the Golden Retriever. This section is extremely important in establishing priorities.

A symmetrical, powerful active dog, sound and well put together, not clumsy nor long in the leg, displaying a kindly expression and possessing a personality that is eager, alert and self-confident. Primarily a hunting dog, he should be shown in hard working condition. Overall appearance, balance, gait and purpose to be given more emphasis than any of his component parts.

Retriever type, common to all six retriever breeds, reflects a dog of normal canine structure with sufficient size, strength and stamina to function as a retriever on both land and in the water but small enough to be pulled from the water and fit in a blind or duck boat. Retrievers are dogs of moderation, with a muscular, athletic appearance; strong, medium long, muscular necks; weather-proof, water-resistant and protective coats; strong well-arched, webbed feet with useful nails and a well set on tail, useful in balance for movement and as a swimming aid. Retriever heads must have the correct eye placement for direct and peripheral vision; tight fitting eye rims to prevent debris from entering the eye; large, open nostrils for scenting; drop ears to protect from debris, wind and water; strong muzzles and back skulls, suitable for carrying game. Movement must be efficient, effortless and enduring both on land and when swimming.

Golden Retriever type can be further refined by focusing on the breed essentials of purpose, breed character and temperament, size and proportion, head, coat and colour. One of the joys of this breed is the variety of styles seen in the breed, but any variations must always be assessed in consideration of the breed standard. This is a hands-on breed, requiring careful examination under the coat for structural reference points in order to adequately assess qualities that may be altered by creative grooming or obscured by excessive coat. Judges should ensure they place hands under the coat to feel for the forechest, tip of shoulder blades, length of upper arm, depth of body to the elbows, tight fitting elbows, good length and spring of rib, short, deep loin, bend of stifle, rear thigh muscle mass and correct tail set and length.

Purpose: The Golden Retriever was developed in the United Kingdom in the mid to late 1800’s as a gentleman’s gun dog. The breed was developed by the aristocracy for sport and use on fur and feather, upland game and waterfowl. The Golden Retriever was expected to move easily from the field to the fireside as a gentleman’s companion. Today, the breed is one of the most versatile, succeeding in obedience, agility, tracking, hunting and field events, as guide dogs for the blind, service dogs, search and rescue dogs and as popular companions.

Temperament: Eager, alert, self-confident, friendly, reliable, trustworthy. The temperament of the Golden Retriever is renowned. There should be zero tolerance for any display of hostility or aggressiveness towards other dogs or people or any undue timidity or nervousness. Goldens should not always be “on” in the ring. They should be relaxed and accepting of what is going on around them, not constantly looking for bait or exhibiting “hyper” behaviour.

Outline, Size and Proportion: The judge’s initial impression of the Golden Retriever should be a dog of moderation and over-all balance. There is a disqualification for size with no exemption for puppies. Both the American and Canadian standards have disqualifications for deviation in height more than one inch over or under the prescribed standard. Many puppies do not reach the minimum size by six months of age and judges should not hesitate to measure suspected over-sized or under-sized exhibits. The standard calls for a proportion ratio of 11:12 based on the height from withers to ground and length from forechest to pin bone. To the average eye, this is only slightly off square. The distance from withers to elbow and elbow to ground should be approximately equal. Many Goldens today are lacking the correct proportions and appear long and lower to the ground than what the standard requires. Length in the body should come from a well developed rib cage which extends well back, as the Golden should be short-coupled and not long in loin.

Head: The head is one of the hallmarks of the breed. Correct head structure is important to the retrieving function of the breed, relating to vision, scenting and carrying of the game. The head should be clean cut with a broad, slightly arched skull and a good stop. The skull and deep, wide, slightly tapering muzzle have nearly parallel planes with the muzzle nearly as long as the skull. Full dentition is preferred, with a scissors bite. Undershot or overshot jaws are a disqualification. It is necessary to examine the side teeth for obvious gaps in dentition, but it is not necessary to count teeth.

The expression should be warm, intelligent and friendly, ideally highlighted with black pigment on the nose, eye rims and lips. The medium large, dark brown eye should be an open almond shape, with tight, dark rims. Any dog showing a functional abnormality of the eyelids or eyelashes, for whatever reason, should be excused from the ring. This can include excessive tearing, swelling, difference in appearance between the eyes, etc. Trichiasis was removed as a disqualification from the CKC standard effective January 2004.

The nose should be of good size with open nostrils. Preferably black, many Golden noses will fade with age or season. As long as there is a dark perimeter to the nose, it is not a Dudley nose, which is to be faulted. Ears should be rather short, soft and flexible, reaching only to the inner corner of the same-side eye. The forward edge of the ear should be set well behind and just above eye level. There are currently some large ears and low ear sets being seen in the ring. Please note that removal of whiskers is optional and not necessarily preferred in a hunting breed.

Coat and Colour: Colour is probably one of the most common variants seen in the breed and one of the most controversial topics. The standard specifies “lustrous golden of various shades” which allows a broad range of colour ranging from cream to a coppery gold, with allowable lighter feathering. Cream is a specific allowable colour in the country of origin and is not “white” as some uninformed people might believe. While the American standard considers extremes of light and dark coat colour as undesirable, the Canadian standard makes no such distinction. The variation in colour is one of the breed’s attractions. Please note that many Goldens begin to grey as early as four to five years of age and graying of the head and body due to age is not to be penalized. Incorrect white markings that are to be faulted usually appear on the toes, chest or head. Any other areas of black or off-colour hair should be faulted.

Much more important than colour in any assessment of the coat, is the texture. It must be firm, dense, and water-repellent with a good undercoat, lying close to the body. It may be either straight or wavy! Often coats with a slight wave have a more correct texture. Soft, limp, silky coats absorb water and lack the protective qualities of a correct coat. Excessive body coat and furnishings are not in keeping with the function of the breed as a hunting dog. The standard specifies “The natural appearance of coat or outline should not be altered by cutting or clipping, other that the trimming of the feet and neatening of stray hairs”. Excessive grooming often creates an incorrect “open” coat rather than the correct, protective coat which sheds debris and water.

Movement: The Golden should be moved on a loose leash at a moderate speed and exhibit a smooth, free, powerful, well-coordinated gait with a tendency to converge (both front and rear) as speed increases. The head should not be held high or pulled up on a tight lead. In order to maintain kinetic balance, the Golden will lower their head and thus allow for better reach in front and more efficient movement. The topline should remain level and the tail carriage should be level or with some upward curve, but never up over the back or between the legs. Current movement problems in the breed include short, choppy strides, overdone reach and drive, where the feet are lifted too high off the ground for efficient ground-covering motion, a lack of convergence, especially in the front, all of which can result in an incorrect roaching over the loin or an unpleasant bounce in the topline.