An open letter to breeders and judges:
What could be more glamorous than this image: A handsome golden retriever, running happily through a field; a spectacular dog with a shiny, silky and soft coat, glowing in the sunlight—complete with long feathering, flowing in the wind?
Yes, indeed, what could be more glamorous, but what could in fact be more incorrect? The Golden Retriever Club of Canada’s Breed Standard Committee wishes to urge both breeders and judges alike: Please pay attention to the breed-standard description of the correct Golden retriever coat, as this is of utmost importance for a hunting dog.
To quote the standard:
“Dense and water repellent with good undercoat. Texture not as hard as that of a shorthaired dog, nor as silky as that of a setter. Lies flat against body and may be straight or wavy. Moderate feathering on back of forelegs and heavier feathering on front of neck, back of thighs and underside of tail. Feathering may be lighter than rest of coat. Excessive length, open coats or limp, soft coats are undesirable.”
From our observation over recent years, it is clear to many of us that there is now a disturbing trend developing in this breed: Golden retrievers with incorrect coats are not only a common sight, but they are, unfortunately, also often given merit over more correct specimens, in part because of a certain “glamorous” look.
A Golden Retriever is first and foremost a hunting dog. The primary purpose of this breed is to efficiently retrieve any bird or upland game. This is a dog that should be able to swim long distances in all kinds of waters, plus be able to work in all kinds of weather. He is expected to make his way through swampy areas, thick brambles and heavy underbrush. The breed standard describes a dog that readily can swim out to retrieve a duck or goose. A good Golden Retriever is also a dog that can efficiently hunt on land, in fields and in forest, in search of picking up any bird or upland game, be it a pheasant, a grouse or even a hare.
A Golden Retriever must not be impeded in his water work by having an open, soft and excessive amount of coat, as this will only act like a sponge; soaking up all moisture. A heavily soaked coat will then act as an unnecessary extra weight, making swimming harder work than it needs to be. Such an incorrect coat will furthermore not dry easily. The dog that remains dripping wet for hours in freezing weather will then feel the cold more; consequently he will tire more easily and he might also be more susceptible to skin infections.
A Golden Retriever must also not be impeded in his work on land, by having a long, silky or open coat. This type of coat will tangle, knot and easily pick up any debris in the field. It will lack all the essential protective coat qualities that a functional hunting dog needs. A dog with such an incorrect coat will be hindered in his job, as he will inadvertently pick up twigs and burrs that will slow him down. If the coat is also not of the proper density, the dog will be more prone to scrapes and cuts and the possible skin infections that often follow.
To have a properly textured coat, of moderate length and furnishings, is therefore an essential part of what is considered correct type. Type in a golden retriever should always equal the impression of a dog that looks as if he will be able to do a day’s work, whether this is on land or in the water. Therefore, a Golden Retriever’s coat should never be flowing in the wind (which would indicate an open coat), nor should it possess a soft and/or silky texture, nor should it have excessively long feathering.
Judges and breeders alike should note that a wavy coat almost always indicates correct texture. Silky, flowing and open coats rarely will form waves, because the texture is too soft. A wavy coat will almost always lie very close to body and will often have the required thick, dense undercoat, keeping the protective overcoat in place, just like a tight jacket. Such a well-fitting wavy appearance should be considered equally desirable as the flat well-fitting coat. A dog with this wavy look should, therefore, never be penalized.
The correct Golden Retriever coat, whether straight or wavy, should always have moderate furnishings and must always lie flat against the body, plus have a firm texture. The undercoat is an important factor in this equation. It’s thick, dense and almost impenetrable texture will protect the skin against injuries. Also by acting almost like Velcro, it will also hold the longer over-coat in place, so that it in turn lies flat to the body, providing a protective, waterproof jacket. A dog that lacks this dense undercoat will instead have what we call an “open” look. This kind of coat will seem as if it is “poofed out” and it will stand away from the body, with the skin easily visible. To compound the problem, certain grooming techniques (such as force blow-drying, just before the dog goes in the ring) have recently been developed to promote this most undesirable open look, in order to add the impression of more coat and bone.
Occasionally a dog will be “out of coat” and it then may be hard to evaluate whether it is presented with an undesirable coat, completely lacking in the correct undercoat, or if this is just a correct coat, during the stage of a normal shedding out. If this dog still has a topcoat that is lying relatively flat to the body, then it is safe to assume that, at normal times, such a dog will probably have a correct undercoat as well. A dog that is out of coat will often have a texture that is rather coarse and it may even have a feel or look of “dead grass”. The dog with an incorrect coat will have a much softer appearance, coupled with an even more open look during the shedding out stage.
We urge breeders and judges alike to pay attention to the first paragraph in our breed standard, which includes the following: “Primarily a hunting dog, he should be shown in hard working condition.”
This must always be interpreted to include a wavy or flat coat that lies close to the body, with moderate furnishings, as befits a true working dog. An open, soft and/or silky coat of excessive length should be considered a serious fault in this breed, since such undesirable coat qualities will always interfere with the primary function of the Golden Retriever.
Written by Karin Klouman on behalf of the GRCC Breed Standard/Judges’ Education Committee.