Golden Retriever: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Golden retriever sitting down in a farm
Capuski / Getty Images

Known for their kind eyes, loyalty, and enthusiasm for life, the golden retriever is one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States. Though historically bred as hunting dogs in the Scottish Highlands, goldens also make excellent family dogs. The dogs usually get along well with children and are incredibly affectionate and intelligent. Golden retrievers make wonderful service dogs and are often very successful as guide, assistance, or search and rescue dogs.

Breed Overview

  • Group: Sporting
  • Height: 23 to 24 inches (males); 21.5 to 22.5 inches (females)
  • Weight: 65 to 75 pounds (males); 55 to 65 pounds (females)
  • Coat and Color: Medium length double coat in light to dark gold
  • Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

Characteristics of the Golden Retriever

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding High

History of the Golden Retriever

Golden retrievers originated from the Scottish Highlands, where they were used primarily as hunting dogs. The Scottish estate owners needed a dog that could retrieve birds either in water or on land because their hunting grounds had many ponds and marshes. As guns were improved, retrievers needed to be able to bring back birds from farther distances.

To develop the ideal retriever, the Baron of Tweedmouth, Dudley Marjoribanks, crossed a Tweed water spaniel with a yellow-colored retriever. The four pups were then used in further breeding with lines including the Irish setter, bloodhound, St. John's water dog, and black retrievers. He kept detailed records throughout the later years of the 19th century, showcasing the goal of developing a dog with a soft mouth for retrieving game but that was also strong and active. The breed gained popularity in England and was recognized by The Kennel Club of England in 1911.

During the early 20th century, golden retrievers were introduced to North America as both a hunting dog and a companion. The golden retriever was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1925. When the AKC debuted the AKC Obedience Champion title in 1977, the first three dogs to earn the designation were golden retrievers. Presidential golden retrievers include those owned by Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan.

February 1932: Two Golden Retrievers entered in a Crufts Dog Show, pose with their owner, Mrs K Evers Swindell.
February 1932: Two Golden Retrievers entered in a Crufts Dog Show. Douglas Miller/ Hulton Archive/ Getty Images
Golden retriever leaping over fence with
The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images / Getty Images

Golden Retriever Care

Golden retrievers have medium-length hair with a thick undercoat and a water-repellent outer coat. They shed moderately most of the year and heavily in the spring and fall. They should be brushed daily and will probably need a bath about once a month. You can expect to live with plenty of dog hair if you have a golden retriever.

Your dog will need his nails trimmed once or twice a month to keep them from splitting and causing foot problems. You should also help your dog maintain good oral hygiene by brushing its teeth at least a couple of times per week. Because they have droopy ears, they are more likely to have ear infections, so check your dog's ears regularly.

Goldens are active dogs which require daily exercise and thorough training. It is best for a golden retriever to have access to a play yard for romping and to be taken out for a walk a couple of times per day. Golden retrievers get along well with most other dogs and a trip to the free-run dog park is likely to be appreciated.

Golden retrievers are known to be mouthy, carrying things around in their mouths. Have toys and chew bones available to satisfy this oral fixation.

This breed likes to be where the action is with the family rather than relegated to the yard, where they can easily get lonely. They are not suited to be watchdogs, as they are friendly with everyone. Socialization is important for dogs and comes pretty naturally to the golden retriever. They should do well in a multi-pet household with other canines and cats.

Golden retrievers are gentle, patient and enjoy playing with kids, but their size means they can knock over a small child if they are excited. This might scare little kids, especially visiting playmates who are not used to a larger dog. When they learn to play together appropriately, a golden retriever is a good match for families with kids.

Playful dog
cunfek / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Responsible breeders strive to maintain the highest breed standards as established by kennel clubs like the AKC. Dogs bred by these standards are less likely to inherit health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur in the breed. Conditions to be aware of include:

  • Hip Dysplasia: A malformation of the hip sockets, which can lead to pain and arthritis
  • Elbow Dysplasia: A painful malformation of the dog's elbows on the front legs
  • Osteochondrosis (OCD): An inflammatory condition in which diseased cartilage separates from the adjoining bone
  • Various types of cancer: The most common cancers in golden retrievers include hemangiosarcoma and lymphoma.

Diet and Nutrition

Golden retriever puppies grow rapidly and should be on a low-calorie puppy diet that will keep them from growing too fast and increasing their risk of bone disorders. An adult golden retriever should be fed two meals a day of up to 1.5 cups of dry dog food per meal. It's best to measure out the food and provide it as meals rather than leaving food out for free-feeding. The amount needed for an individual dog depends on its size, activity level, age, and other factors. You should always provide fresh, clean water.

Be sure to monitor your dog's weight as obesity will shorten your pet's lifespan and predispose other health conditions. If you notice your dog is gaining weight, discuss this with your veterinarian. Get recommendations for feeding schedules, amount of food, type of food, and exercise to keep your dog healthy.

Pros

  • Sweet, lovable, and incredibly good-natured

  • Loves to be around its family and is good with kids

  • Intelligent and easy to train

Cons

  • Food-obsessed and can easily gain too much weight

  • Needs a significant amount of exercise and training

  • Sheds regularly and needs daily brushing

Where to Adopt or Buy a Golden Retriever

Check your local animal shelter and rescue groups for golden retrievers in need of homes. A number of nationwide rescue groups for golden retrievers provide online resources to find a dog, including:

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Before you decide on a golden retriever, do plenty of research: Talk to other golden retriever owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, look into these to compare the pros and cons.

There is a wide variety of dog breeds out there. With a little research, you can find the right one to bring home.