The Strange Truth About The History Of Golden Retrievers

The history of Golden Retrievers is one of luck, extinct breeds, myths, and prejudice.

Here’s how the breed got started:

Golden Retrievers were first bred by Lord Tweedmouth in Scotland in 1868. He bred a Tweed Water Spaniel and a Wavy-Coated Retriever together to create the first litter of Golden Retrievers.

But there’s much more to the story than that…

And it all starts in 19th century England.

When & Where Golden Retrievers Were Started

golden retriever history

In the summer of 1865, Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks was walking around Brighton, England, with his son, when he stumbled upon a yellow sporting dog named Nous.

This was the only yellow dog in a litter of black Wavy-Coated Retrievers and was owned by a cobbler (someone who repaired shoes).

According to the British elite of the day, black dogs were better at hunting, so lighter-colored dogs were often disposed of.

Nous was lucky to be alive, but his luck was only just beginning.

He would soon father one of the world’s most famous breeds.

Marjoribanks, later titled Lord Tweedmouth, brought Nous with him back to Guisachan, his estate in Scotland.

Three years later, in 1868, Nous was bred with Belle, a female Tweed Water Spaniel.

Belle had four puppies, the first of what would become Golden Retrievers as we know them today.

Why Golden Retrievers Were First Bred

Many people like to hate on designer breeds these days, like doodles or mini Golden Retrievers, because they’re bred with the intent to create a dog for a specific need.

But guess what? That’s exactly how Golden Retrievers came about.

Marjoribanks, like many British men of his social standing, was interested in breeding the perfect hunting dog.

Since his hunting grounds in Scotland had marshes, ponds, and streams running through them, he needed a dog that could retrieve both over land and in the water.

And because the guns were becoming more advanced, retrieving birds in this varying landscape was becoming more challenging.

So in an effort to breed the perfect hunting partner, Marjoribanks bred Nous, a retriever, and Belle, a water dog.

As we now know, this worked quite well!

Golden Retrievers are excellent swimmers, so they can easily retrieve in the water, they’re athletic, so they have no problem with a variety of landscapes, and they have a thick, waterproof double coat, so they’re comfortable in a range of temperatures.

They’ve also got soft mouths and an excellent sense of smell to easily find and retrieve the gunned-down game.

Which Breeds Golden Retrievers Are Descended From

first golden retriever

The first Golden Retrievers came from a Wavy-Coated retriever and a Tweed Water Spaniel.

But as time went on, several other breeds were thrown into the mix, including Irish Setters, Bloodhounds, Flat-Coated Retrievers, and St. John’s Water Dogs.

Or so they say…

Controversy Surrounding The History Of Golden Retrievers

Everything discussed in this article so far is generally accepted as accurate.

But this is a rather simple story for such a popular breed.

Could the origin of Golden Retrievers really be so buttoned up as to have all started with two dogs?

There are three pieces of controversy in this story that you might find interesting:

  1. The Russian Circus Dog Myth
  2. Ada the “erroneous” fourth original Golden Retriever
  3. The Pre-Tweedmouth Golden Retriever

The Russian Circus Dog Myth

Up until 1952, the commonly accepted origin story of the Golden Retriever was that Lord Tweedmouth had purchased a group of Russian circus dogs.

But that was until one of his descendants came forward with his studbooks.

His breeding records showed no mention of Russian circus dogs, but finally revealed the romantic story of Nous and Belle.

Ada The “Erroneous” Fourth Golden Retriever

Speaking of the blossoming romance between Nous and Belle, they had their first litter in 1868.

But the controversy here is how many puppies were in that original litter.

According to the American Kennel Club and Friends of Guisachan, there were three puppies:

  1. Crocus
  2. Primrose
  3. Cowslip

But according to the Golden Retriever Club of America, there was a fourth puppy: Ada.

Friends of Guisachan says the reports of Ada are “erroneous.”

Who’s right? Did Ada actually exist?

I guess we’ll never know…

Pre-Tweedmouth Golden Retrievers

The story about Pre-Tweedmouth Golden Retrievers is written by Jeffrey Pepper on the Golden Retriever Club of America’s site.

He recently acquired a picture dated in 1854, 11 years before Lord Tweedmouth bought Nous, of a dog that looks eerily similar to a Golden Retriever.

Is it possible that somebody else had also been working on creating a breed similar to Lord Tweedmouth’s Goldens?

Of course.

But because we like buttoned-up stories, the generally accepted history of Golden Retrievers is that of Lord Tweedmouth’s story of Belle and Nous.

And not only is there controversy and myths surrounding the origin of Golden Retrievers, but there’s also one big problem…

history of golden retrievers

The Problem With The History Of Golden Retrievers

If all Golden Retrievers came from two dogs, then that means all Golden Retrievers are inbred to some degree.

That’s a problem in and of itself, but there’s one big glaring problem that, unfortunately, most Golden Retriever owners will have to deal with.

All Goldens share the same genes, and somewhere in that genealogy, cancer appeared.

According to the Morris Animal Foundation, 60% of Golden Retrievers will get cancer, which is one of the highest rates among all dog breeds.

Some studies say American Golden Retrievers are more likely to get cancer than English Goldens, but either way, it’s heartbreaking how many Goldens have to suffer from this disease.

Did keeping the gene pool closed doom almost two-thirds of Golden Retrievers to getting cancer?

Will we ever find a cure?

Thankfully, the veterinarians and scientists with the Golden Retriever Lifetime Study are working hard on that problem so Goldens in the future won’t be so susceptible to cancer.

The Golden Retriever History Timeline

Here’s a rundown of when every major event in Golden Retriever history happened:

1865: Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks purchases Nous

1868: Nous and Belle have their first litter

1881: Sol and Lady become the first Golden Retrievers on North American soil

1911: Britain’s The Kennel Club officially recognizes Golden Retrievers as a breed

1925: The American Kennel Club officially recognizes Golden Retrievers as a breed

1938: Golden Retriever Club of America is formed

1952: Lord Tweedmouth’s studbooks are released

1958: Golden Retriever Club of Canada is formed

1974: President Ford gets Liberty, a Golden Retriever puppy

1997: Air Bud is released

2018: 360+ Golden Retrievers get together at the Guisachan Estate in Scotland to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the breed

The Future Of Golden Retrievers

golden retriever origin

Golden Retrievers were started by combining several breeds into one to meet the need for the perfect hunting dog that could travel over land and through water.

These days, people are once again combining or dividing breeds to meet a certain need.

They’ve divided Golden Retrievers into field Golden Retrievers to continue hunting, and show Golden Retrievers to excel in the show ring.

They’ve combined Goldens with other breeds to create mini Golden Retrievers and hypoallergenic Golden Doodles.

You can learn all about the different types of Golden Retrievers in this article.

Have any questions about the history of Golden Retrievers?

Let me know down in the comments.

And if you’re about to get a Golden Retriever puppy, then check out the Golden Retriever Puppy Handbook.

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