31 October 2022
Undoubtedly, the Golden Retriever is one of America’s most popular dog breeds. From their work as hunters and field workers, guides for the blind, and search-and-rescue dogs, they excel at obedience events and have an endearing love of life. So how did the Golden Retriever become such a distinctive dog breed? To learn that, we have to rewind to 19th-century Scotland.
In 1820, Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks was born to a successful Scottish banker, and as a teenager, Dudley became passionate about dog breeding. Over a half-century, he recorded all his breedings in a leather-bound book still on file at the Kennel Club in England.
When Marjoribanks walked with his son in Brighton in 1865, he encountered a wavy-coated retriever named Nous with golden fur. During the 19th Century, black dogs were fashionable and considered better hunters; any other color in well-bred litters was usually discarded. So Nous might not have survived if Marjoribanks hadn’t acquired him.
Marjoribanks decided to breed Nous with Belle, a Tweed Water Spaniel, known as kissing cousins to Irish Water Spaniels. The cross between a retriever and a water spaniel created a robust hunter capable of navigating land and water for hunting grouse, partridge, and even red deer. Cowslip, Crocus, and Primrose were the first Golden Retriever puppies born to Marjoribanks in 1868.
Marjoribanks’ son Edward was given Crocus, and because he also owned a red setter named Sampson might explain the deep red that is part of the spectrum of colors seen in Golden Retrievers today.
Long before Golden Retrievers became the third most popular breed in America – behind only Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs – two landed on North American soil through Marjoribanks’ youngest son, Archie. Archie raised some of his family’s prized Angus Aberdeen cattle and his line of Golden Retrievers in Texas on his Rocking Chair Ranch.
The breed survived without Marjoribanks, who died several years after making the last breeding entry in his leather-bound record book. The Golden Retriever’s ancestral home changed over the decades, with much of its 20,000 acres eventually partitioned and sold off.
A life-size bronze statue of a Golden Retriever was erected in the Scottish village of Tomich, along the road to Guisachan, by Friends of Guisachan, a non-profit group devoted to sharing information about the breed’s birthplace.
Golden retrievers are still fantastic working dogs. In addition to loving the outdoors and water and being intelligent and responsive to commands, they are easy to train and a joy to be around. It is unlikely that Dudley Marjoribanks could have predicted how popular his yellow retrievers would become centuries after he bred his first litter.