The Nordenlights Golden Retriever:
I have been training and competing with Golden Retrievers for almost 30 years now.
Over these years, I have created my own line of fast and driven Goldens – NordenLights, High Performance Golden Retrievers.
Golden Retrievers and the Gundog World
Why Goldens are a comparatively rare sight to behold within the shooting field – especially in comparison to the ubiquitous Labrador – is one of our gundog world’s great mysteries.
I have no doubt that a great deal of this is down to fashion, because a good Golden Retriever that has been trained to the highest of standards is an easy match for even the best among Labradors.
Golden Retrievers at Crufts
Although annual Labrador registrations outnumber Golden Retrievers registrations by far, you will always find more Golden Retrievers at Crufts than Labradors. This is no surprise at all, because Goldens are the showiest of dogs – well-proportioned and handsome with a stunning colour. Recent years have sadly seen pale lemon and even near-white dogs dominate within the show ring, but working-bred dogs fortunately invariably retain that beautiful burnished gold shading.
Golden Retrievers – Relaxed & Easy to Handle
It may be quite easy to be rude about these show-bred pale Goldens, but I have to admit that I have seen several of them working quite satisfactorily. These dogs may not have their stunningly coloured working-bred cousins’ style and pace, but even several generations of ‘show ring breeding’ clearly were not enough to eradicate these animals’ working instincts. Obviously having retained their brains, these dogs invariably have a soft mouth – all the dogs I have had the pleasure to watch were remarkably relaxed & easy to handle.
Golden Retrievers and Trials
Golden Retrievers are a comparatively new breed – it was only in 1920 that a separate register for what was termed as ‘retrievers (golden)’ was allowed by the Kennel Club. Until then, Goldens were registered as ‘retrievers (golden or yellow)’, which caused a great deal of confusion with yellow Labradors.
First running in trials in 1910/11, Goldens did not start making their mark within competitions for a few years. In 1937, 3-year old Haulstone Larry (and his handler Mrs J. Eccles) became the first Golden to ever win the retriever championship. Three other Goldens have since repeated the feat (1954, 1982 and 2006).
FTCh Mazurka of Wynford, the winner in 1954, was home-bred by June Atkinson, who – having qualified animals for this championship on no less than 36 occasions (a total that was only bettered by John Halstead and John Halsted) – remains THE authority among Golden Retriever handlers.
The last time the championship was won by a Golden was at Ampton, where FTCh Marcus May Be of Wadesmill (handled by Andrew Wright, the son of his owner Max Wright) romped to victory. While three out of four Goldens usually qualified for this championship in recent years, the odds against a Golden win are long in a competition that is decisively dominated by Labradors.
Why Are Labradors the Shooting Dogs of Choice?
I have asked several friends why they think Labradors, as opposed to Golden Retrievers, appear to be everybody’s shooting dogs of choice. One friend suggested that working-bred Goldens are not that readily available and that buying well-bred Labradors is less expensive than buying Goldens.
In terms of health, there is not much difference between the two breeds and they have a similar average lifespan, with most animals reaching an age of 11 or 12 years. The latest Kennel Club/BSAVA (British Small Animal Veterinary Association) report also shows that the major cause of death for both breeds is cancer.
Placid and Trainable
As working dogs, Golden Retrievers are renowned for being much easier to train than Spaniels and as straightforward as Labradors. The trainability and placid nature of Goldens is reflected in the fact that they have been used as guide dogs for a long time, although it states on the Guide Dogs Web site that historically, Golden Retrievers crossed with Labradors have produced the most successful guide dogs of all, combining many of both breeds’ great traits.
Golden Retriever authorities will readily assure you that Goldens work very differently from Labradors, often using air scent, which leads to a decidedly higher head carriage. In trials, this can be a downfall, as some judges who are apparently unaware of this particular trait give Goldens lower marks for not getting their noses down and apparently not hunting properly. Whether hunting with their heads up or down, all Golden Retrievers I watched impressed with their ability to find birds.
Graham Cox and Golden Retrievers
Graham Cox, a long-standing Kennel Club Field Trial subcommittee member and one of the biggest fans of Golden Retrievers I know, has been working Goldens – including making up two FTCHs – for many years and believes that when you build effective relationships with Goldens, you will have game-finders beyond compare, and John Halstead, four-time retriever championship winner, often said “You don’t want a golden behind you!”
Both of Graham’s FTChs were competing in Labrador dominated (all other dogs were Labs) stakes – giving him a glow of satisfaction in the knowledge of having beaten this dominant breed – twice – at its own game.
In Love with Goldens
Finally, a friend with an ongoing, long-standing love affair with Goldens once said: “It’s difficult to explain why I like them so much, but whether seeing a working golden chasing down a runner or even something as simple as one just walking to heel, there is an elegance and style that you just don’t get with other breeds.” Quite frankly, I couldn’t have said this any better myself.
Training Golden Retrievers is not really any different to training Labradors, but if you would like a book with an emphasis on training Goldens, you should try Anthea Lawrence’s “Training the Working Retriever”.