The Golden Retriever
If you're lucky enough to adopt such a puppy, you can rest assured that when she finally grows into her paws, she'll be no less eye-catching as an adult. Regal, handsome and self-assured, Goldens cry out to be petted and gushed over. Their eyes never lose that look of pure, unadulterated love and devotion, and their soft muzzles seem uncannily to gently smile. Many Goldens develop the disarmingly charming habit of leaning gently against the legs of strangers, asking to be stroked and adored.
Such beauty and lovey-doveyness doesn't mean they're the
"dumb blondes" of the canine world; these gentle beasts were bred for
work and intelligence as well as looks and temperament. Records kept
from 1835 until around 1890 by the gamekeepers at the Guisachan estate
of Lord Tweedmouth in Scotland reveal that Golden Retrievers were
developed in the 1800s by crossing a light-coloured Flat-Coated
Retriever with the now-extinct Tweed Water Spaniel. Their purpose was,
initially, to retrieve waterfowl, guaranteeing them a gentle mouth that
will rarely snap or bite. Some still work as gun dogs or appear in
field trials, but in city life they can more usually be seen as
pampered family pets, and with good reason.
Born to please, these 65- to 80-pound gentle beasts of the canine world are particularly patient with children, friendly with other dogs and people, and easy to train. They thrive on close human companionship, and want nothing more than to put a smile on the face of their owners. Given their over-achieving disposition, it comes as little surprise that the first three dogs of any breed to achieve the AKC Obedience Champion title, first available in July 1977, were all Golden Retrievers.
Golden Retrievers are still the most popular seeing-eye and assistance dog, their even temperament and strength making it the ideal breed for such work. While other breeds can be too sensitive, high-strung, bouncy, or energetic for such responsibilities, Golden Retrievers fulfill these service roles with a nonchalant, self-confident manner. In return, they get nothing more than a bit of praise or a liver brownie.
Non-working Goldens are happy to laze around the house without too much fuss, as long as they get their daily exercise. This is easy enough to take care of; these dogs live up to their name and will retrieve just about anything thrown for them, be it on land or in water. Just don't expect your Golden to guard your property-they may bark at unfamiliar sights and sounds, but are much more likely to smother an intruder with wet kisses than to apprehend one.
The total package of looks, brains and personality does not come without a price, however. As is the sad case with many highly popular breeds, the Golden Retriever has developed an increased incidence of certain medical problems, mainly through unscrupulous breeding. Allergic skin conditions, eye problems, obesity and hip dysplasia are all, unfortunately, common problems, which can often end up costing thousands of dollars in vet bills. The best way to avoid such issues is to deal only with reputable breeders, and to feed quality foods that inhibit huge growth spurts during puppyhood. Doing so will cost more up front, but will pay off in the long run with a healthier, happier pet.
On the standard, there are really two colors for Goldens; one is almost blond, the other is reddish to the point of dark brown, and then everything in between. The variation can be quite extreme and it's worth noting the British standard now excludes red Goldens. However, this is really not an issue unless you're thinking of moving to Britain and showing in U.K. competitions. Feathering is also worth paying attention to. Some of these dogs have very heavy coats with very heavy feathering, which means more grooming, while others look almost like labs with very light feathering. If your dog is going to be outside a lot, make sure you've got a line that has a good coat. Sometimes show dogs have had the thick undercoat bred out of the line.
Of course, simply owning a Golden Retriever is not enough to ensure a fulfilling bond. All puppies require socialization and exercise; a bored Golden Retriever can cause as much damage to a shoe collection as an anxiety-ridden Border Collie. Close human contact is crucial-but with a puppy this adorable, it's virtually impossible to leave him alone. The earlier you start obedience training, the better for both you and your Golden pup, who will do just about anything to hear, "Good dog!" And whatever love and attention you give to a Golden Retriever, you're guaranteed to get it back tenfold. Man's best friend never looked so good.