Emergence of the Golden Retriever

When the need for a supervisory organization to register dogs and set competition rules became obvious, the Kennel Club of England was founded in 1873. And coincidentally, the organization was founded by a retriever aficionado.

In 1913 the Kennel Club began registering them as varieties of Retrievers, so Goldens were then shown as “Retrievers (Yellow or Golden).” A few years later, this was further simplified to “Retrievers (Golden).”

Breed interest gradually increased and the Golden Retriever thrived in England. Goldens were making their names known in both the ring and field as their numbers steadily grew. World War I caused a temporary setback, however, but the breed recovered quickly after the war and was soon stronger than ever.

World War II proved to be more devastating. Not only were shows and competitions canceled, there was not enough food for kennels of large dogs. As a result, many large breeds essentially disappeared from Britain. Fortunately, the Golden had some dedicated breeders who sacrificed a lot to keep the main breeding stock going. After the war, the Golden emerged as the golden child of the dog world once again. 


The first Golden to come to North America came with one of Lord Tweedmouth’s sons in the 1890s. Conflicting evidence exists as to whether the dog named “Lady” owned by Archie Marjoribanks came to America with him or was born from an unidentified Golden female that he brought with him. Either way, Lady lays claim to being either the first Golden import to American or the first Golden born in America. There is also confusion about whether she had a litter while in America. Regardless, it is said that her offspring did not have an impact on the breed in this country. 

In the years that followed, Golden Retrievers were occasionally seen in the United States and Canada, but sightings were far from common. The first noteworthy kennel in North America was known as Gilnockie, which began breeding Goldens in 1918. This was followed in 1928 by one of the most influential kennels—Rockhaven. The owner of Rockhaven, Colonel S. S. Magoffin, eventually acquired Gilnockie as well, but he came to be best known for his part in founding the Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA). This led to the American Kennel Club’s official recognition of the Golden Retriever in 1932.

Since recognition of the breed in the 30s, a new population of pet breeders began to emerge. For the most part, these pet breeders were largely unaware of hereditary health problems in the 1950s and 60s. They bred despite what the available research said and they failed to follow recommended guidelines suggested by the GRCA concerning hip dysplasia and eye problems. Although the GRCA was instrumental in establishing the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA), pet breeders were rarely informed or concerned about health screenings. Unfortunately, this was a situation that would have many serious consequences for years to come.

With increasing popularity, Goldens began to be cast in movie roles and television commercials. They became a symbol of a wholesome family with an All-American dog.

If every American didn’t already know about the Golden Retriever, they surely did when President Ford made a Golden Retriever named Liberty the First Dog. By that time, AKC registrations had reached almost 22,000 Goldens per year.

Because of the popularity and exposure they were receiving, the breed became exceptionally vulnerable to unethical breeders and puppy mills. Sadly, Goldens were becoming money-making puppy producers. In some cases, they were victims of puppy mills churning out dogs to an unsuspecting public. In other cases, they were simply the pets of naïe backyard breeders unaware of the harm they were doing.

In addition, not every Golden had the temperament, health, or physical qualities that represented the breed; yet these dogs were repeatedly bred with no regard to the quality of the dogs produced or the lives they lived. Dogs with improper socialization, bad temperaments, and poor health were sold to people who didn’t know the difference, and in turn, bred these poor-quality Goldens. As numbers grew and quality fell, prices also fell, and more people bought Goldens on a whim, only to abandon them at the slightest problem.

At the end of World War II, less than 150 Goldens were registered with the AKC each year, but by 1998, over 65,000 were registered. 

Please note: This article is part of a collection of dog-related content that we purchased the rights to. Opinions expressed may or may not agree with those espoused by Master Dog Trainer Adam G. Katz. When in doubt, please refer to the advice given in Adam’s dog training book.  This article is provided for your enjoyment, only. It’s relevance to real world working dog training may be limited.