Posts Tagged ‘cream golden retriever’

Yesterday, I picked up a young golden retriever puppy from European show bloodlines.  Her name is Aspen.


She is a natural retriever. She will already put that toy in my hand!

aspen cocky fetch

Yes. I said I’d never own one of these. I said the same thing about German shepherds.

And cats.

And here we are.




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You can see from this litter of golden puppies with a dark golden mother and cream sire what the inheritance is. These puppies’ ears tell us that most of them will mature fairly dark in color, though probably not as dark as their mother:

One of these puppies will likely be a light gold, but the rest will be middle to dark gold in color.

Cream is not dominant over the dark colors in terms of inheritance.


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(Source for image)

This is a Scottish golden retriever doing pick-up work for a rabbit shoot.

As I noted earlier, retrievers in UK are used to retrieve both hares and rabbits.

I have no idea why this use has never taken off here. It seems to me a very useful thing for retrievers to do.

Retrievers aren’t just bird dogs.

I’m sure you noticed that this is the first cream-colored dog I’ve posted in a while.

And it’s working.

There are lots of working cream goldens in the UK and other European countries. It’s just that most of the “English cream” goldens that are being sold in the US are generally of an inferior mass-produced stock.

They are great puppy mill fodder.

However, there are some breeders of good quality creams in the US. You just have to search for them.

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Here is the current range in color for goldens in the UK and FCI lines (these dogs are from Germany):

The dog on the right is more typical of the color one sees in the pet and conformation lines. The dog on the left is actually gold in color, but these dogs make up the minority of the population of KC and FCI dogs.

So I guess they would be better off calling their dogs “cream retrievers.”

However, in the 1930’s, this was the original color range:

The 1938 standard revision allowed cream, and cream-colored dogs became very popular within a period of 25-30 years. Currently, very dark dogs are almost nonexistent outside of North America, and virtually all goldens in Europe, especially in the show lines, are fairly pale in color.

Every once in a while, I get someone who make the claim that all the Guisachan dogs were cream. Not true, actually. They were gold, and some of the later dogs in the strain were fairly dark, though not as dark as those two 1930’s dogs in the image above.


The first image of those German dogs comes from one of the better golden retriever books, Valerie Foss’s The Ultimate Golden Retriever.

I found it on a breeder site while perusing Google Images. I recognized it instantly.

The book actually discusses the different types of golden. I was particularly enchanted with some of UK field-type dogs. They resemble our field-types almost exactly. One cannot say the same about field-type Labradors, which have diverged into distinct types on both sides of the Herring Pond.


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This light cream golden has very little pigment and may approach the "Albino" description of St. Hubert's May.

This light cream golden has very little pigment and may approach the "Albino" description of St. Hubert's May.

Colonel le Poer Trench’s Russian retrievers were founded by a bitch named St. Hubert’s May. You can read about this line of goldens called Russian retrievers here. His dogs were much lighter in color than the other three lines of retriever derived from the Tweedmouth strain. They were heavier in build, too.

May was said to be an albino, but I think she was actually an unusually pale dog with brown skin pigment, like this dog. Most light colored dogs today do not have this skin pigment. They are really black dogs with cream colored hair.

Some of the Tweed water dog/tweed water spaniels were of this color. However, most of the original golden people never bred for this color at all. Even the 1st Baron Tweedmouth intentionally tried to avoid producing very light colored dogs.

It is likely that May was whelped in a litter and culled for being the wrong color. She was then given to Col. le Poer Trench, who according to  his contemporaries, actually knew very little about retrievers. He was told that her light color was a sign of her “pure-breeding,” which he believed whole-heartedly. She was a good worker, so we know that she was not a true albino. Albino dogs usually are useless, because they burn easily and often have poor movement. They are also blinded by direct sunlight, which means that an albino retriever would never be able to mark shot birds as they fell.

She was bred to St. Hubert’s Rock, a dog that had been given to a ghillie by the 1st Baron Tweedmouth. He was a mid-gold color or a light gold in color.

All of their progeny, except for a very few, were light gold in color. None were as pale as their matriarch, however.

This line was kept separate from the other lines of Tweedmouth’s strain, registered as the yellow Russian retriever. It remained until the colonel’s death, and it is believed to have disappeared.

May’s light color is not the origin of the current fad of cream colored dogs, which much more of a fad in Europe than North America. Her line died out, and it was not interbred with the Ingestre, Noranby, and Culham lines.

Light colors appeared into those lines but were originally culled, because it was believed that light colored dogs were unable to work as well as dark ones. I disagree with this assessment, but light colored dogs are nearly absent from working lines of golden. If you find a light colored one, it is more than likely going to be a show dog, so a dark one is more likely to be a worker than a light one. However, color does not affect working ability, but the perception has greatly affected how these lines have developed.

Breeding for exreme palor in the golden, though, really only exists in the mid-50’s, when these dogs became in vogue in the UK. By the 1980’s, they had largely replaced the darker colors in Britain and much of Europe.

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I found this photo of an early “cream” golden. I don’t know the dog’s name or where it comes from, but I’m assuming that it’s British and dates to sometime in the 1950’s or 1960s, just 20 or 30 years after the very dark colored and lightly built dogs dominated the breed. It’s not that cobby or blocky, as you would find today in European lines of golden. Think of this dog as a transition from that type to the very cobby creams that exist today in Britain.


Compare this dog with Culham Brass (b. 1904)


And compare with what’s in vogue in the European show golden set:


It’s almost like a different breed, isn’t it? It reminds me of another breed, not a retriever but a livestock guardian breed.

The Kuvasz:


I think someone could make a lot of money selling Kuvaszok as “white golden retrievers.” They have about as much retrieving instinct and working ability as a retriever as most European show goldens!

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It has long puzzled me why most working strain goldens are dark gold to golden red in color. I have argued that this coloration is an example of the the “founder effect,” in which the original working strain goldens were of this color and this trait was passed onto their offspring. Color has next to nothing to do with the actual abilities of the dog, but bloodlines do. Because the lines that produce field-type goldens tend to be darker, the dark colored dogs become associated with working ability. Because of this coloration association, I have argued that the European standard (KC/FCI), which penalizes “red” in the golden retriever, actually hurt the breed’s ability to compete with the Labs, which already have very specialized lines for gun dog work. It’s true that goldens have the same split, but Labrador people are more willing to admit this. Because of this split, I have argued that it is next to impossible to have a dual champion golden or Lab in the United States or Canada. In Europe, where competition isn’t as extreme on both sided, it might be possible. But really, the show type goldens and Labs actually don’t have working conformation.  I have made all of these arguments in various parts of the blog, but it turns out that I am wrong about color.

The founder effect may have something to do with it, but it turns out that dark color is actually functional in the field. I have had some golden people tell me that the dark color is useful for camouflage in the duck blind, while others have told me that the dark color is actually a superstition. Dark colored dogs are supposedly hardier than light-colored ones, just like horses with dark hooves are supposedly hardier than those with light hooves. (Neither of those hypotheses have been fully studied, because these are superstitions). I’ve seen a few light colored dogs have retrieving ability, but these have been relatively rare. I thought it was the “founder effect” and nothing else. Well, I’m wrong. 

In a column in Gun Dog, Chad Mason points out how color functions in various types of bird dogs. Some of these spotted and roan pointing breeds actually can disappear in snowy fields that happen to have areas of exposed vegetation. Because pointing breeds don’t bark on the hunt, a dog that cannot be seen clearly against the landscape is a major liability. What I found most interesting in the piece is the discussion of yellow Labs and golden retrievers:

Speaking of duck ponds, today’s trend toward bleach-blonde Labrador and golden retrievers may be advantageous to pheasant hunters, but seems grossly impractical for waterfowl hunting. I once saw a picture in a magazine of a virtually white Labrador retriever in a camouflage neoprene vest. They weren’t trying to be funny, but the dog looked like an albino elephant wearing a bowtie. There is nothing less conspicuous in the widest possible range of wetland (or grain field) scenarios than a tawny dog. Message to yellow Labrador and golden breeders: Give us darker coats

A light colored dog is a liabilty in the duck blind! However, it still doesn’t explain why black retrievers were preferred for so many years.  Oh well, I might add this to the working conformation list. But keep in mind the old saying: “No good hound is of a bad color.” The author points out that color isn’t everything, and he uses two black Labs that work well.  

The original goldens were dark in color. The only ones that were light gold were those produced in the first litter produced with Nous and Belle. The rest were really dark, showing a strong setter influence.

I am more interested in preserving the dark color because most of the working dogs have dark coats.  The KC and the FCI have shot themselves in the foot. They have essentially decided that the cream golden will be the only type considered. The working lines in North America are devoid of this color. We barely have this color in our show stock.

I’m not against light colored dogs at all. I’m against getting rid of the “red dogs.”  If you breed for the light color alone, the dark color will disappear (as it nearly has in Europe), simply because dark color is dominant to light color. Light colored dogs cannot carry a gene for dark color, but dark colored dogs can produced light colored puppies. If you select for light color alone, you will end the dark color forever.

Although I’ve read in several golden retriever books that the FCI/KC standard actually allows for a wider range of color, the opposite is true. The FCI/KC simply ban the dark gold and golden red colors, and promote the light gold and “cream” colored dogs (also mass produced in the US as “white” golden retrievers).  Now, this would be okay, but the working retriever people have selected for dark color for reasons of camouflage or superstition or “founder effect.” What happens is that those people who want to breed for a dual purpose dog  will be searching for light colored dogs that can retrieve. These dogs exist, but there aren’t many of them. And when you’re selecting for that light color, you are going against the grain of selection for the dark color in the working lines. This means that you will be searching for much longer to find a dog with the ability and the color, and this means that at some point you have relax on working ability. If this process is repeated for several dogs and generations, you can forget about competing with the Labradors, which are being selected solely for working ability. (I mean this as a general idea. I’m sure there are a least some light-colored goldens that can give the Labs a run for their money.) But because you’re already selecting for a light-colored dog and the people who came before you selected for the dark color, it’s just become that much harder to preserve and enhance the working abilities of the golden retriever.

What if it was decided that border collies could no longer come in black and white? And what if all the herding champions, except maybe ten every decade, were of black and white coloration? The working ability of border collies would drop rather significantly. This is what is happening to golden retrievers.

I should note here that Mrs. Winifred Charlesworth,  one of the people who separated the golden from the flat-coated breed, refused to breed a light colored dog, even though he was an excellent worker. Her Noranby dogs were often very dark in color, as this picture shows:

These dogs reflect the preferred original range of color in goldens.

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