The Golden Retriever: An Intelligent Worker and a Patient Family Dog

One of America’s most popular breeds, the Golden Retriever is also referred to as the “Golden” or the “Goldie”. Although originally bred for hunting, this large breed has made its name on the silver screen, in the service dog industry, and most of all, as the ultimate family companion.


  • Heavy shedders
  • High exercise demand
  • A good family dog
  • Exceptionally intelligent
  • A sociable and friendly breed
  • Does not like to be left alone

The History of the Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever is a breed that was developed out of necessity. In both Scotland and England bird hunting was a popular sport among the wealthy and something the lower classes depended on for food. It was this wild-fowling that led to a need for a dog skilled in retrieval.

The original Goldens are believed to have descended from a yellow retriever purchased by the Scottish Lord Tweedmouth. This dog (named Nous) was used as a hunting dog and eventually bred to a Tweed Water Spaniel in an effort to create a smaller hunting dog. It is said that the puppies that resulted from this first breeding are the puppies that gave rise to every Golden Retriever we have today! This happened through a process of selective breeding with more Tweed Spaniels, Wavy-coated Retrievers, and Red Setters.

By 1913, the Golden Retriever was officially recognized as its own breed in Great Britain and by 1925, they were registered as a breed with the AKC. It wouldn’t be until the 1930’s and 1940’s, however, that the Golden was recognized for their talent as a hunting and field breed.

Appearance and Vital Stats

Breed Group

The Golden Retriever is a member of the sporting dog group, dogs that were bred with a sporting purpose like wild-fowling in mind.


The Golden Retriever size

The Golden Retriever stands between 1’ 9” to 2’ tall at the shoulder and their weight can range from 55 lb. to 75 lb. Most larger Golden Retrievers are males.


The average lifespan of the G0lden Retriever is between 10 years and 12 years old although it is not uncommon to see them live to 15 years old.

One of the biggest factors in Golden Retrievers having shorter lifespans is the amount of overbreeding that takes place. As demand increases, more poor-quality breeders enter the market to make a profit. These breeders are focused more on making money and wind up breeding dogs with poor health who live shorter sickly lives.

Coat Colors

The Golden Retriever coat colors

There are various Golden Retriever colors, but they all fall within the “golden” spectrum. These include a dark golden color which has a redder appearance, a traditional golden color, and a lighter golden or “blonde” color.


The Golden Retriever tail

Like many sporting breeds developed to work in wetlands and in the water, the Golden Retriever has a large and powerful tail. The base of the tail is thick and tapers toward the end and the underside is thickly feathered. The Golden’s tail is most often held straight out from the body or slightly angled upward.


The Golden Retriever ears

The Golden Retriever has triangular and pendulous ears that also have some feathering. When gently pulled forward, the ears will cover the dog’s eyes but should not be so long that they resemble those of a hound dog.



The Golden Retriever is an exceptionally intelligent dog that is eager to please. This makes training a breeze so long as the dog is well exercised and provided positive motivation to learn (usually treats!) If poorly exercised, the Golden Retriever can find it difficult to focus (something seen in most sporting breeds).


A playful dog, the Golden Retriever remains much like an energetic puppy for at least four to five years. Always ready to initiate play, this is a social dog that can easily become too much to handle for the lazier family or elderly owner.

As they age, Golden Retrievers do become more mellow dogs, but many seem to retain their clownlike personalities even without the endless supply of “puppy” energy.

Apartment Living

The Golden Retriever is not the ideal breed for anyone living in an apartment. A large breed with plenty of energy in their younger years, Goldens can be too noisy for apartment neighbors.

If provided with regular and rigorous exercise younger Golden Retrievers may be able to live in apartments for the short term. This is not the ideal situation, however, as these large dogs like to have space to roam.

Compatibility with Children and Pets

The Golden Retriever compatibility with children

Dog-friendly, people friendly, pet-friendly, child-friendly, there isn’t much that Golden Retrievers don’t get along with. It’s important to keep in mind though, that the exuberant young Golden can quickly annoy older dogs and overwhelm small animals.

Care should also be taken when this dog interacts with young children simply because of their large stature and energetic nature. This makes it easy for the dog to knock down younger children and inadvertently cause them harm.



Golden Retrievers are especially fond of food and should be fed and exercised appropriately to avoid obesity. The average Golden Retriever will eat between 2 and 3 cups of premium quality dry food daily divided into two meals.

It is also quite common for these food-obsessed pups to “counter-surf” so food should never be left out where it can be reached.


The thick, long coat of the Golden Retriever makes grooming a daily necessity. Daily brushing will prevent tangles and matting and it will also cut down the amount of shedding indoors.

This is a breed that sheds quite heavily year-round, so if dog hair is a problem for you, this is not the breed you want!

The Golden is a pendulous-eared dog which makes them prone to ear infections, particularly if the individual dog enjoys water activity. The folded drop-ears hold moisture and provide a warm environment for bacteria and yeast to flourish.

Regular ear infections can be avoided with weekly preventative cleanings, thorough drying of the ears after any water-based activity, and feeding a grain-free diet.


Large and energetic, the Golden is a demanding dog when it comes to exercise. If allowed to, middle-aged and older Goldens may become couch potatoes, however, leading to an increased possibility of obesity.

The average Golden Retriever requires multiple daily walks as well as weekly higher-intensity activities like doggy daycare, going to the dog park, participation in dog-sports, or regular games of fetch!


Unfortunately, due to their popularity, Golden Retrievers are extremely over-bred which results in dilution of the healthy gene pool.


Caused by unusual electrical activity in the brain, epilepsy causes seizures that can vary in severity and frequency. There are different types of epilepsy, but all should be assessed by a veterinarian to determine whether medication can control seizure activity.

Von Willebrand’s Disease

Most frequently associated with German Shepherds, the Golden Retriever is also prone to this inherited blood disorder. Von Willebrand’s is a disease that impedes the ability of blood to clot and can lead to uncontrollable or excessive bleeding if an affected dog becomes injured. There is no cure for this disease, but blood transfusions can be used to treat symptoms.

Subvalvular Aortic Stenosis

A heart condition that results from narrowing of the connection between the left ventricle of the heart and the aorta. This impedes the flow of blood and can cause fainting, but in more serious cases, subvalvular aortic stenosis can lead to death. If properly diagnosed, S.A.S can be treated by a vet.


Like many larger breeds and overbred breeds, the Golden Retriever is prone to both hip and elbow dysplasia. This occurs when a joint fails because of structural abnormality, for example, a hip socket may be too shallow to properly accommodate the ball of the femur. Depending on the severity of dysplasia symptoms can range from pain to lameness. Dysplasia can usually be addressed with surgical intervention by an orthopedic veterinary surgeon.

Similar Breeds

Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retriever

The yellow Labrador is the dog most often confused with the Golden Retriever, in fact, some people confuse them so much they call them “Golden Labs”. Compared to the Golden Retriever, the Labrador is similar in height, weight, and life expectancy. Of the two breeds, however, the Lab does tend to live a year or two longer and can weigh around 5lbs more. The most noticeable difference between these two breeds lies in the coat length and grooming needs. The Labrador’s coat is short and thick and requires little grooming where the Golden has a much longer coat that needs daily brushing.

Great Pyrenees

Great Pyrenees

While the facial structure of the Golden Retriever and Great Pyrenees are similar, there are some significant differences between these two breeds. The Great Pyrenees stands between 27” to 32” tall some 4” to 6” taller than the Golden. When it comes to weight, the Great Pyrenees is almost twice the size of the smaller Golden. Of these two breeds, the Golden is the better suited to family life and has a lower prey drive and is easier for the novice owner to handle.

Irish Setter

Irish Setter

The Irish Setter is not a dog that is frequently seen in the United States which is possibly why this breed is so frequently confused with the Golden when it is seen. To the dog lover, the deep red color and unique draped shape of the Irish Setter’s coat sets it a world apart from the Golden Retriever. The Irish Setter also differs from the Golden in its fine coat, slightly taller build, longer life expectancy and lighter more slender physique.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

The Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever isn’t a breed that the average person would recognize which could contribute to its common misidentification as a Golden Retriever. There are significant differences between these two breeds, however, beginning with the shorter coat of the “Toller”. The Toller is also a shorter dog standing between 19” and 21” and is a lighter breed, weighing between 45lbs and 52 lbs. Perhaps the biggest deciding factor for someone deciding between these two breeds is the high impulse to wander and high prey drive of the Toller as compared to the Golden.