Golden Retriever: An Exuberant Scottish Gundog Of Great Beauty

 

  1. Where do you live? What do you do “outside” of dogs? 
  2. How many years in dogs? Showing? Judging?
  3. Describe the breed in three words.
  4. What are your must-have traits in this breed?
  5. Are there any traits in this breed you fear are becoming exaggerated?
  6. Do you think the dogs you see in this breed are better now than they were when you first started judging? Why and why not?
  7. What do you think new judges misunderstand about this breed?
  8. Some have suggested Goldens today are losing breed type, as compared to dogs in the past. Do you agree? If so, what are some key breed-type characteristics you feel breeders need to improve on?
  9. How do you prioritize key Golden breed-type elements when judging the breed? What is most important to you? Least important?
  10. When evaluating dogs in your ring, how do you go about assessing correct Golden breed character/attitude/temperament? Do you think current breed judging is favoring “generic showdogs” with wound-up high energy, or dogs with a more workman-like, yet biddable attitude?
  11. What about correct Golden Retriever outline and proportion? How would you characterize proportion of the majority of dogs you’re seeing? Do you feel breeders are doing a good job with length to height; or is this still a drag on the breed? What about short versus long back/loin length? Which areas of proportion do you think breeders still need to concentrate on?
  12. What is the state of Golden Retriever heads today? What do you look for? What can be improved?
  13. It seems that many dogs being shown today are moved at a fast pace. How do you assess adequate reach and drive versus effortless/efficient movement?
  14. How do you prioritize correct Golden coat and color when considering breed type?
  15. What do you think are important features of Golden Retriever type that are too often overlooked by conformation judges?
  16. What advice would you give to a new judge of your breed.

 

Helen Dorrance

I have been showing, breeding and competing in performance events with Golden Retrievers since 1977, and have owned or bred over 50 Golden Retriever champions under the Ducat prefix. I’ve owned seven GRCA Outstanding Dams, including the Dogs In Review top-producing Golden Retriever bitch in 2012, and have personally owned and trained five Goldens to Excellent Agility titles. I currently judge the Sporting Group and am a retired agility judge. I am lucky enough to own and live on an eight acre farmette with sheep, goats, chickens, a livestock guardian dog, and a boarding kennel in central Texas.

Describe the breed in three words: Purpose, profile, soundness.

What are my must-have traits in this breed? Slightly off-square proportion; level, firm topline with correct tail carriage; well-developed forechest; deep and wide muzzle, only slightly deeper and wider at the stop than the tip; well-defined stop; correct coat; balanced and symmetrical movement. Although not specifically stated in the standard (other than “muzzle straight”), parallel planes are also a must.

Are there any traits in this breed that I fear are becoming exaggerated? Yes—excessive grooming, longer body length, too much coat, and exaggerated and inefficient gait, frequently resulting in “kicking up” in the back or overreaching on the side.

Do I think the dogs you see in this breed are better now than they were when I first started judging? I don’t think the dogs are better or worse than they have been since the mid-seventies when I started showing. Like any breed, Goldens wax and wane according to whatever the current influence is—usually dependent on the stud dog du jour. As in any breed, when you rush to fix something, like fronts, another part of the dog suffers. It’s impossible to fix everything at once. Goldens are particularly hard to breed because they have several genetic problems we screen for. Golden breeders are very conscientious and generally follow the code of ethics and don’t breed dogs that don’t pass OFA. Just as in breeding for type, when you suddenly have to concentrate on breeding dogs that can pass cardiac screenings or pass eye clearances at the age of eight, you may lose some of the other traits you spent a generation or more cultivating.

What do I think new judges misunderstand about this breed? Coat, color and gait. Coat should not be as profuse as we are frequently seeing in the ring. (Profuse coat truly does slow down water retrievals and retrieving from heavy cover.) Neither should the coat be scissored all over to present what the exhibitor thinks is the correct outline. Not only does the scissoring ruin the outline (the opposite effect of what the exhibitor is hoping for), it changes the texture of the coat so that it is no longer firm and resilient. Wavy coats are perfectly acceptable and, in many cases, are the correct texture and the least likely to hold burrs. Unfortunately, exhibitors frequently spend hours stripping out coat and/or trying to “straighten” the coat “for the judges,” thereby ruining the wrap-around jacket it is supposed to be.

I think the majority of breeder-judges are truly color blind. What shade of gold a Golden is rarely factors into the decision-making process. Plus, color can change throughout the Golden’s life. Some dogs can look almost white at six months of age and be a medium shade at six years.

Lastly, I sometimes feel it is easier for judges to focus on side gait instead of trying to remember all of the nuances of breed type. Goldens are supposed to have a powerful and well-coordinated gait commensurate with their body proportions. When we reward the dog with the “sweeping” side gait or tremendous reach and drive, we may be rewarding the dog that has no forechest to interfere with that tremendous reach; or we are inadvertently rewarding a longer-bodied or short-legged dog, or narrower and/or racier dog with an uncharacteristically longer neck and narrow head.

Do today’s Goldens have breed type? Throughout the years there have always been several Goldens with good breed type—and there still are. Unfortunately, a lot of these Goldens are now only going to breeder judged specialties. I try to encourage them to exhibit at all-breed shows so that judges can see what typey Goldens look like, but many feel it is a waste of money. In general, bodies and loins need to be shortened and backlines need to be firm, level, and smooth. I’m always looking for the topline that the proverbial glass of water can sit on—without spilling—as the dog moves around the ring.

How do I prioritize key Golden breed-type elements when judging the breed? I look for profile first, which for me includes a slightly off-square body with well-developed forechest and a firm, level backline with tail following the natural line of the croup. Head is part of the profile too and should have adequate stop, depth of muzzle, and a muzzle that is slightly shorter than the skull, along with parallel planes. Well let down hocks complete the profile. Coat needs to be a firm, resilient, waterproof jacket. Balanced, symmetrical gait with no bouncing or rolling of the topline completes the overall appearance.

Although eyes (placement, shape and size) and ears (placement, set and length) are important to me, I am more willing to “give” on both of those, but usually don’t have to. If the other parts of the head are correct, usually the eye placement, shape and size are also correct. I love a short loin, but can’t always find it. Light colored noses, light eyes, and missing teeth are not as important to me—especially since some dogs can lose teeth in the field. Least important of all is color.

How would I characterize correct outline and proportion? As I described previously, outline to me includes the whole dog, from well-developed forechest to slightly sloping croup, and well let down hocks. The slightly off-square proportion seems to be very difficult to achieve—not just in Goldens, but in many breeds. I have actually measured Goldens I thought were the correct proportion and have had trouble finding a dog that is truly 12:11. I think in our effort to get “reach and drive” we started breeding longer and longer dogs. So, yes, it is still a drag on the breed. But I think as more and more judges look for the correct proportion, more and more breeders will breed for the correct proportion.

What is the state of Golden Retriever heads today? Good heads can be difficult to find and even harder to breed for. To those who say you can fix a head in one generation; my answer is always, “Then why haven’t you?” While other retriever breeds specify a “broad skull,” Goldens are the only retriever breed that calls for a broad skull “slightly arched laterally and longitudinally.” We want a broad and deep muzzle that is slightly shorter than the skull, but we don’t want heavy flews that would trap feathers; and we want the broad and deep muzzle to carry through from the stop to the tip, with very little tapering. One of the longest paragraphs in our standard is on eyes and yet we don’t specify the shape of the eye—only what shape it isn’t. We want the eyes medium large and reasonably deep, but not so deep in the sockets that they get entropion. Some experts think of the Golden Retriever eye as a fat almond. I think of it as more of a peach pit. In any event, it should not be obliquely set, narrow, squinty, triangular or round. Above all, the eyes are responsible for the kind, friendly and intelligent expression that is such an inherent Golden Retriever breed characteristic. Add on correctly-set, short ears and it is easy to see why it is so difficult for breeders to produce the perfect Golden Retriever head, and for judges to find the perfect head.

How do I assess adequate reach and drive versus effortless/efficient movement when many dogs being shown today are moved at a fast pace? I guess judges are as much responsible for some of today’s trends in the ring as the exhibitors are. If we reward the easy/effortless movement of a dog on a loose lead, perhaps breeders won’t feel they have to produce entrants for a sweeping side gait contest. The Golden is supposed to be an endurance, stamina breed, able to traverse over uneven ground. They are a gentleman’s hunting dog, not a dog that needs a GPS collar so you can retrieve him from the next county.

Over the years, it seemed we were frequently breeding for side gait at all cost. It didn’t seem to matter if the topline slapped the floor on each side, as long as the dog had “reach and drive.” This seemed to be all that mattered. Unfortunately, when the exhibitor races their dog around the ring, the dog ends up overreaching (sometimes unnecessarily). Getting exhibitors to show their dogs on a loose lead—and looking for a level topline that doesn’t bounce or roll—helps assess correct gait in Goldens.

How do I prioritize correct Golden coat and color when considering breed type? I must admit that having a boarding kennel really opened my eyes to what constitutes correct Golden coat. Spending an entire summer combing burrs out of Golden Retriever coats before they could go home to their owners made me despise “excessive length, open coats, and limp, soft coats.” (And that was when I had employees to help me; fast forward to pandemic era after letting all of my employees go, which means I now get to bathe these same dogs.) Profuse, open, soft coats are not fun to bathe, shed more than they should, and take forever to dry. Correct coat is definitely one of my top five discriminators when judging Golden Retrievers, and can be a deciding factor between two dogs. Color is last priority. I have personally owned and bred every shade.

What do I think are important features of Golden Retriever type that are too often overlooked by conformation judges? Retriever head properties. We want muzzles broad enough with strong underjaws that are capable of carrying waterlogged ducks. We want enough stop so they can see over the bird they are carrying while swimming or on land. We don’t want long ears that are going to wick water into the ear canal. They need premolars to help “pin” the bird, contributing to their characteristic “soft mouth.”

What advice would I give to a new judge of my breed. Please do not reward the over-groomed or over-trimmed Golden. I am continually amazed that exhibitors are not only changing the texture of their dog’s coat, they are actually grooming their dogs to look like they have an open coat, are sickle hocked, have splayed feet and a faulty outline.

And please don’t discount Goldens that are on the lower end of the standard. A 23 inch dog is frequently more athletic and balanced than his 24+ inch counterpart.

 

Judy Bachofner

I have been involved with the Golden Retriever breed for over 47 years now. I joined the GRCA 47 years ago and was also a member of the Golden Retriever Club of Illinois. When I relocated to Oregon 26 years ago, I joined the Pacific Rim Golden Retriever Club of Oregon. I have served as President, officer, board member, and have chaired several committees. I am a member of the Judges Education Committee for GRCA and have judged several sweepstakes. In addition, I am a CCA Evaluator for the GRCA. I am honored to share my life with this noble breed!

Describe the breed in three words: Noble, loving, intelligent.

What are my must-have traits in this breed? Excellent temperament, health, and intelligence. Proper coat, proportions, and athleticism.

Are there any traits in this breed that I fear are becoming exaggerated? Anxiety/hyperness, coat, over-angulated rears, and short legs.

Do I think the dogs you see in this breed are better now than they were when I first started judging? I believe they are better in some areas, [though] we seemed to have had better longevity years ago, overall. Dogs were also, overall, more athletic. I do see many breeders make great efforts in this regard. Front assemblies always seem to need improvement, then and now. I believe we have very good quality in our Golden Retrievers, overall. There is always room for improvement, and many are working in that direction. Purebred dogs represent generations of work and dedication and are a continuing work in progress.

What do I think new judges misunderstand about this breed? They are not a racehorse. They need to be shown on a loose lead, not over-groomed (a huge issue for me). Pay attention to moderation; level topline and not too long—and [not] that over-angulated rear.

Do today’s Goldens have breed type? There are really a couple of different “types.” “American” style and “English” style, and many combinations thereof. This does not mean there is not correct on both sides. Moderation should be key!

How do I prioritize key Golden breed type elements when judging the breed? Head and face, neck into shoulder, good front assembly, solid topline, well-set tail, good leg, correct coat. Grooming! So much can be fixed in the whelping box.

How would I characterize correct outline and proportion? Our standard is very specific on the 11:12 ratio. Length to height has become a real problem. It seems to be getting somewhat better, but we still need to work on this. Breeders should concentrate on front assemblies—and it is a complete assembly; not just shoulders, or prosternum, or length of upper arm—it is all three combined!

What is the state of Golden Retriever heads today? I think we need to work on some loose eye lids, low ear sets, and too round an eye. I like to look into an inquisitive, sweet, intelligent face that says, “Golden Retriever”; correct eye shape, good stop and correct ear set.

How do I assess adequate reach and drive versus effortless/efficient movement when many dogs being shown today are moved at a fast pace? They are moved way too fast; it is not a race. You cannot easily assess effortless/efficient movement when they move that fast! Loose lead and let them flow.

How do I prioritize correct Golden coat and color when considering breed type? Correct Golden coat is of very high importance to me! Color means very little to me.

What do I think are important features of Golden Retriever type that are too often overlooked by conformation judges? They should be moderate dogs, and not profusely coated! In addition, the short legs and over-angulated rears are a problem in too many.

Advice to a new judge of my breed? Take your time, don’t dismiss the owner-handler who is not as proficient and may be nervous—these can be some of your nicest dogs with amateurs at the end of the lead. Learn to feel for a correct coat. Slow them down!

 

Collette Jaynes

I currently live in Whitwell, Tennessee, but will be moving to White, Georgia, in a couple of months. I have been in the dog world since 1973. My first show dog was an Irish Setter. I started showing and training Golden Retrievers in 1975. I also bred English Springer Spaniels in the late 1970s to late ‘80s. I became involved in Clumber Spaniels in 2002. I have actively competed in agility, field, obedience, and conformation with my dogs. I began judging sweeps in 2009 and regular classes in 2015. I am a retired AT&T employee. I currently have three grandchildren who are the center of my world.

Describe the breed in three words: Primarily a Hunting Dog.

What are my “must-have” traits in this breed? Proportions, movement, correct head, and coat.

Are there any traits in this breed I fear are becoming exaggerated? Yes. The proportions are becoming long and low and the coats are over-groomed and too profuse. The GRCA sent a letter to judges about too much coat and grooming for the breed years ago, but I do not believe it made much of a difference in the show ring.

Do I think the dogs I see in this breed are better now than they were when I first started judging? No. We are losing type, specifically in balance, heads, expression, and soundness. There is too much emphasis on grooming to hide faults instead of breeding them out.

What do I think new judges misunderstand about this breed? I think that new judges can be tricked by a flashy, over-coated, over-groomed Golden presented by a professional, instead of evaluating movement and the structure with their hands. A lot of handlers move Goldens too fast, which makes it difficult to evaluate the movement correctly. There is a range in both color and size, and I think new judges get caught up in color and size. Quite often the one Golden that is NOT like the others is the only correct Golden in the ring, but because the rest are alike and mediocre at best it is easy to reward what is similar in the ring, instead of what is truly correct.

Do today’s Goldens have breed type? What can be improved upon? Balance and correct movement. Form and function are not being considered, and the condition of Goldens needs to be improved. This is, again, primarily a hunting dog and thus should look like one!

How do I prioritize key Golden breed-type elements when judging the breed? First would be overall impression, balance, and outline. Then proper movement; the Golden should cover ground effortlessly and not have so much kick-up in the front or rear. Least important to me would be color.

How would I characterize correct outline and proportion? Correct proportion is just off-square or 12:11 as stated in the standard. Breeders are making the mistake of often breeding to the flavor of the month and not really understanding structure, balance or type.

What is the state of Golden Retriever heads today? Heads are starting to become a problem and seem to be all over the place with houndy ears, loose eyes, and no underjaw. The Golden should have a soft, loving expression, yet so many have a very harsh expression. The backskull is too big and the muzzle is lacking in depth and width. But there are still some lovely heads as well. I look for: The Golden expression, which is the hallmark of the breed; a muzzle that is deep with a strong underjaw, which is necessary as a hunting dog; and a proper backskull with proper size ears.

How do I assess adequate reach and drive versus effortless/efficient movement when many dogs being shown today are moved at a fast pace? It is a pet peeve of mine when they race around the ring. Correct movement needs to be evaluated at a normal pace. Handlers will move at a very fast pace in hopes of hiding the faults—it doesn’t. I require all my exhibitors to move at a normal pace and, if they move too fast, they do it again.

How do I prioritize correct Golden coat and color when considering breed type? Color is not a major issue for me. The extremes should be panelized, but I will put structure over incorrect coat color every day. Correct coat texture is very important in the field. It should not be soft and have adequate undercoat. We are also seeing excessive length of coat and excessive grooming. The coat should fit like a jacket and be weather-resistant. Too many handlers blow the coat out to give the impression of more substance or rib spring. This doesn’t fool me. If there is a LOT of product in the coat, I will mention it to the handler.

What do I think are important features of Golden Retriever type that are too often overlooked by conformation judges? The type that screams primarily a hunting dog. Too often the fluffy, excited attitude gets the attention and the correct dog that is moving with head out and tail right off the back gets ignored because he is not flashy.

What advice would I give to a new judge of my breed. Study, study, study. Talk to long-time breeders and don’t be afraid to put up what is truly correct, even if it is the only one in a ring of mediocre Goldens. To do this will take confidence and the knowledge to know what is truly the Golden Retriever type. Judge for the overall balance, head, movement, and coat—you will never
go wrong.

 

Gloria Kerr

Gloria Kerr has bred and titled numerous conformation champions under the name of Krishna Kennels. Several famous US Golden Kennels are founded on her Krishna dogs. She has bred many champions in Golden Retrievers, Akitas, Pembroke Welsh Corgis, and Chinese Cresteds. Many of these dogs have attained Best in Show and Best in Specialty wins.

Gloria became an AKC licensed professional handler in 1974 and has handled, finished, and specialed dogs in every AKC group.

In 2000, she became an AKC licensed judge and is now approved for the Sporting Group, Herding Group, Toy Group, Non-Sporting Group, Whippets and Miniature Schnauzers, along with six breeds in the Working Group, Junior Showmanship, and Best in Show.

She has judged throughout the world in Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Taiwan, China, Canada, Sweden, Columbia, Japan, and Brazil; including the Golden Retriever National Specialties in the US, Korea and Canada, the Chinese Crested National Specialty, the Akita National Specialty, and the Brittany National Specialty in the US.

Describe the breed in three words: Athletic, kind, reliable.

What are my must-have traits in this breed? My must-haves are balance, correct temperament, slightly off-square outline (11-12), level topline, (both moving and standing), functional head, (soft expression), and water-repellant coat.

Are there any traits in this breed that I fear are becoming exaggerated? Traits that seem to be exaggerated now; faster is better, slanted toplines, blown-up and trimmed coats, and that show, show, show attitude. None of these are correct in a Golden Retriever.

Do I think the dogs you see in this breed are better now than they were when I first started judging? I think that dogs today are straying far from our breed standard, which has not changed since before I started judging. When many of the dogs in the ring are incorrect in proportion, blown-up with too much trimming, long in body and short in leg, it makes it difficult for new judges to find a dog that matches our standard.

What do I think new judges misunderstand about this breed? Goldens are “Primarily a Hunting Dog.” Proportion should be slightly off-square, coats should wrap-around and be water-repellent. All shades of Golden are correct. Goldens should be shown at a moderate speed (effortless, easy) on a loose lead (called for in the breed standard) and should be athletic. When only a few meet the standard, then a generic dog is chosen by judges who are not breeders.

Do today’s Goldens have breed type? There are still pieces of breed type in the ring, but many are the generic show dog. Our breed was bred to carry a goose/duck through deep cover, or swimming. For this type of dog you need legs, as well as a functional head with two level planes, and enough muzzle to carry birds. We need to look to proportions, coats, and athleticism. Think endurance gait, effortless, easy, on a loose lead.

How do I prioritize key Golden breed-type elements when judging the breed? When judging Goldens, I want to see them move around the ring with balance and correct outline. I then look individually for outline when standing, muscling, heads and expression, coat texture and, when coming and going, do the legs converge? When you look at them they should make you smile. The least important would be color; they can range from light Golden to dark Golden, all shades of Golden are correct!

How would I characterize correct outline and proportion? We are still seeing dogs out of proportion, being too long—often in the loin—or too short in leg. This needs to be addressed by our breeders. Also, tails are starting to be carried too high, and not level. We need to watch this, as we had a big problem with this years ago.

What is the state of Golden Retriever heads today? Golden heads are sometimes hard in expression, with not enough stop, and slanted eyes. This keeps the very soft expression from making you smile when looking at them. We have been improving on this the last few years, but it still needs work. Keep in mind that they need a wedge-shaped head that is functional, with enough muzzle to carry a 12-lb. bird, and eyes that can see over the goose when retrieving.

How do you assess adequate reach and drive versus effortless/efficient movement when many dogs being shown today are moved at a fast pace? I’m against any dog being shown at the fast pace that many handlers think should be done. Correct movement is balanced reach and drive. On a loose lead, this is beautiful. Racing around the ring, on a tight lead, ruins many dogs that can have beautiful movement when moved effortlessly and easily on a loose lead. Goldens, especially, are so smart that they can be taught to go on a loose lead without much trouble. Toplines should not roll and bounce, and dogs should not kick up in the rear. This happens many times when they are moved too fast. We still need to pay attention to shoulder layback and return of upper arm—to improve them—so the front and rear movement match.

How do I prioritize correct Golden coat and color when considering breed type? Coat quality is ESSENTIAL in considering Golden breed type. The coat should be a water-repellent jacket with undercoat. Wavy coats are many times more correct in texture than straight coats that have been blown-up, sculpted and scissored. Too much product is also a problem.

Color should be the last consideration when judging a Golden Retriever. Most important is structure underneath the various shades of lustrous light Golden to dark Golden.

What do I think are important features of Golden Retriever type that are too often overlooked by conformation judges? Conformation judges, many times, feel that Goldens should Show, Show, Show, but this is not a true Golden temperament. Goldens are a laid-back dog that will do what you want, but are not over-the-top. They should be calm and easy going. Also, many judges seem to overlook that our dogs should be in good condition.

What advice would I give to a new judge of my breed? Think of a dog you want to have as a companion, living in your home, playing with your children, and going hunting with you. They are smart and always want to please; reasons why they can go on a loose lead easily, if you just teach them.

 

Cindy Partridge

I have been breeding Golden Retrievers for close to 40 years under the Firestar kennel name. It has been a never-ending learning experience. I began judging formally approximately 10 years ago and have been a past chair for the GRCA’s Breeder’s Education Committee, and a member of the JEC committee for many years. I am still active in the many venues our wonderful dogs compete in. I also enjoy helping people learn about our wonderful breed, both from the judging and the breeding sides.

Describe the breed in three words: Primarily a hunting dog!

What are my must-have traits in this breed? I believe the must-have traits are temperament, coat, and soundness. I am a strong believer that without these things they cannot do their original job or the many others jobs they perform today.

Are there any traits in this breed that I fear are becoming exaggerated? The most exaggerated traits I see in the breed are excessive coat, short legs, and gay tails.

Do I think the dogs I see in this breed are better now than they were when I first started judging? This is one of those questions that is not simple to answer. Component pieces seem to improve at the same time others get worse. I believe breeders frequently focus on a particular problem rather than working on improving the overall dog; this can take longer to see consistent improvement.

What do I think new judges misunderstand about this breed? Coat and Color! The quantity of coat is not anywhere near as critical as the texture. And when it comes to color, as long as it is within our acceptable range they should not judge on color. I have never been so lucky as to have dogs equal in value at the end, so that the decision came down to color.

Do today’s Goldens have breed type? We have breed type, but many acceptable styles within. Here again I believe coat is one of the key areas that needs improvement, the other being overall structure. If the structure isn’t there they would break down and be incapable of performing their job.

How do I prioritize key Golden breed-type elements when judging the breed? For me, balance and the overall dog are the key. The “elements” individually are key to that. The least important is color.

How would I characterize correct outline and proportion? Correct outline and proportion is slightly longer than tall. The problem we are experiencing in the breed affecting this right now is length of leg and gay tails. I am still seeing long, low, dogs and, frequently, tails straight up in the air or curling over towards the back. Both of these problems affect the outline and proportion of the dog.

What is the state of Golden Retriever heads today? The state of Golden heads today is similar to other parts of the dog. There is quite a variety, some much better than others. I look for a topskull slightly arched, good fill where the muzzle fits into the skull, and a strong muzzle. The topskulls can be improved; I see many rounded topskulls, and snipey noses.

How do I assess adequate reach and drive versus effortless/efficient movement when many dogs being shown today are moved at a fast pace? Make them move again at a more reasonable pace. Goldens should move at an easy pace on a loose lead. A rarity, I admit!

How do I prioritize correct Golden coat and color when considering breed type? Coat texture is required for them to do their job. If it is not correct, it can absorb too much water and they become weighed down. Color only needs to be within the acceptable range, it does not affect their ability to do their job.

What do I think are important features of Golden Retriever type that are too often overlooked by conformation judges? I don’t think it is that they necessarily overlook features; I think they focus on the wrong things. The focus needs to be on the entire dog and how capable they are of doing their job. Can they trot all day in the field? Do they have a strong enough neck to pick up a 15-pound goose? And can they do it all with that characteristic smile and wagging tail?!

What advice would I give to a new judge of my breed? Get your hands on them! Feel the coat. Feel the structure. Watch them move at a reasonable pace, and then think, “Could that work all day in the field without breaking down?” Primarily a Hunting Dog!

 

Barbara Pepper

I live in Swannanoa, North Carolina, about 20 minutes east of Asheville in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains of Western North Carolina. I am a weekly volunteer at the Women’s Prison here.
I enjoy growing flowers, both inside and outside the house. I am an avid reader, and also love to listen to books on tape.

How many years in dogs? Although my parents had a Golden Retriever, technically the one that started it all for me was born in 1968. I started showing in 1970-71 and started judging in 1991. You do the math, but am older than dirt!

Describe the breed in three words: Beautiful, biddable, and balanced.

What are my “must-have” traits in this breed? Proper proportions with correct length of leg; correct length and return of upper arm; soundness without exaggeration; moderate, moderate, moderate!

Are there any traits in this breed that I fear are becoming exaggerated? Yes, sadly, quite a few. Excessive coat, followed by excessive grooming. We are losing our wrap-around, waterproof jackets; an essential for a working retriever. Also, over-angulated rears, and exaggerated movement. Somehow, excessive lift in front and rear is mislabeled as reach and drive. Dogs with legs flying high off the ground are not efficient. The Golden should be relatively short-coupled, not long in loin.

Do I think the dogs you see in this breed are better now than they were when I first started judging? Actually, no, I don’t think they are better; different in some ways, but not necessarily better. We have some outstanding Goldens today, but given the vast numbers, we lack depth of quality. I’m not saying you won’t see many lovely dogs at a National, but on many weekends, in major entries, it’s a relief to find a worthy dog and bitch for Winners and up. Some of the reasons for this—what I’m seeing in the ring—are lack of balance and proportion, some low and long, and poor front assemblies that do not match rears. Sadly, many of today’s Goldens are physically incapable of converging at a fast trot. We have also lost our soft, pleasing expression on many; with small eyes, almost slanted, or a harsh look.

What do I think new judges misunderstand about the breed? The Golden shouldn’t be a generic show dog, flying around the ring at excessive speed, coat blown-out, or its legs brushed-up. This is a breed that should present a balanced picture of a moderate hunting dog. They are certainly beautiful, potentially breathtaking, but first and foremost a working retriever. You have to physically feel for the structure. This isn’t a breed for a quick pat-down. Can you actually put your hand on the forechest? How long is that upper arm? Where do the ribs end and the loin begin? You have to bend over and actually get your hands in there and feel those bones. One of the biggest misunderstandings for breeders and judges alike is front reach. It’s not just where that foot is going, but where the “reach” is coming from. A correctly-built Golden can reach from the shoulder, not the elbow.

Some have suggested Goldens today are losing breed type, as compared to dogs in the past. Do I agree? Yes, and some I have already mentioned; moderate, correct balance and proportion, solid toplines, short-coupled—not long—loins, fronts with both good layback and return of upper arm, eyes medium large—not small, skulls not overly-rounded, muzzles with both depth and breadth. It sounds weird, but at times I wonder if anyone reads and understands our standard. Part of the problem is there are people in the breed today who have never had their hands on a “correct” Golden. The fact that hundreds finish and win doesn’t make them correct.

How do I prioritize key Golden breed-type elements when judging the breed? I think I’ve covered a lot of that already. Overall balance is key, but there are several aspects to this, including size/proportion, and fronts/rears. Basic structure is paramount. I’ll forgive head and expression, if I have to, but not a bad front, or long/long.

When evaluating dogs in my ring, how do I go about assessing correct Golden breed character/attitude/temperament? As I have said, I think many judges are rewarding incorrect, generic show dogs. Breeds that should be workman-like are being penalized. I want a dog that is happy to be there and willing to please, but not crazed. I spend a lot of time asking people to slow down and loosen their leads. I try to let people know that the dog setting a pace is not the same as a handler racing a dog. Many dogs move-out smartly, but it looks different when it’s of their choosing. I hate dogs being raced, and it doesn’t actually make them look better. Scrambling around the ring, or taking a million steps, is not efficient. Goldens should have a smooth, powerful, and well-coordinated gait, which is usually lost when they are moved at excessive speed.

How would I characterize proportion of the majority of dogs you’re seeing? I think you would not be asking this question if it wasn’t a problem for our breed, and many others. Low and long is a drag on our breed, and breeding a long rib rather than a long loin is a challenge. Remember, this is all about function in the field. Yes, dog shows are beauty contests, but breeders need to be breeding pretty dogs that could also do a day’s work.

What do I think are important features of Golden Retriever type that are too often overlooked by conformation judges? Important features of Golden Retriever type that are too often overlooked by conformation judges include overall balance of front and rear angulation, correct leg length to body length proportion, correct “wrap-around, waterproof” coat, and connection of form and function.

What advice would I give to a new judge of my breed? Seek in-depth understanding of our standard, ask for mentoring and help in applying it to real dogs, and don’t make it so complicated. There are many styles in our breed and a correct Golden is a correct Golden, so understand what that means! Set a template in your mind and seek that when judging.

 

Marcia Schlehr

I live in Southeast Michigan, not far from Ann Arbor. Other than dogs, I am a retired veterinary assistant and a freelance artist specializing in canines.

I started in obedience with my Cocker in 1953; my first Golden was born in 1955; approved by AKC to judge Goldens in 1982. In the years since, I have judged all over the US and Canada, and
in Australia.

Describe the breed in three words: Functional (capable of many sorts of work); balanced (in body, mind, and aptitude); moderate (without exaggeration of any sort).

What are my “must-have” traits in this breed? Proper outline and proportion; basic soundness (both structure and temperament); correct coat; head and expression. These are trademarks of the Golden.

Are there any traits in this breed that I fear are becoming exaggerated? Yes. Far too often we see incorrect proportions (long body, short legs), excessive/incorrect coat, poor head and expression.

Do I think the dogs you see in this breed are better now than they were when I first started judging? Yes and No. Not so much variance in general appearance as back in the 1950-60s, but more “fancy” and less functional. Too much emphasis on “pretty”—showmanship and presentation seem to be of more importance than the basic dog. True quality is far more than surface appeal.

What do I think new judges misunderstand about the breed? Too many don’t seem to understand the “what” and “why” of correct structure, soundness, gait—or of classic breed type (and the several “styles” present) in the Golden Retriever.

Some have suggested Goldens today are losing breed type, as compared to dogs in the past. Do I agree? Yes. Breed type and functionality too often lose to the pretty “show dog.” Soundness is also a component of breed type in any retriever; they must be able to work. Hallmarks of the Golden are its classic head and expression, over-all proportion and balance (which is far more than just the front and rear angulation!), as well as its characteristic coat—unique among Sporting dogs.

How do I prioritize key Golden breed-type elements when judging the breed? Priorities in judging can vary according to the qualities present in the dogs being judged on the day. If all are sound and balanced, for instance, the judge can have the luxury of judging on niceties of type and style—and styles can vary in dogs of equal overall quality. This is often difficult to get across to newbies, but it is the basics that must be considered first, then one can consider variations within the desired/accepted range of breed type. Deviations from breed type, however, must be penalized—sometimes severely. The esteemed Labrador lady, Mary Roslin-Williams, categorized “flaws, faults, and failings.” The flaws are minor, faults are more serious, failings generally set the dog out of consideration.

When evaluating dogs in my ring, how do I go about assessing correct Golden breed character/attitude/temperament? How? By observation, although the short time in the ring does not always reveal everything about temperament and character. However, a Golden should be accepting of the circumstances, including other dogs and people, and be willing to be examined and handled. The standard says, “eager and confident,” but this means willing, biddable, readily and calmly accepting; NOT hyper, grabbing for bait, ears at alert at all times. And yes, far too often the high energy dog wins over the quiet, calmly confident one. “Workmanlike” and “biddable” are very good descriptions!

How would I characterize proportions of the majority of dogs I’m seeing? There are very few correct 11:12 proportioned dogs seen in the ring. Indeed, some approach the Clumber in over-all proportions, including a relatively short leg. We see short ribcages (and shallow, slabby ones) more often than the capacious body that a retriever should have. Long loins are not uncommon, although toplines are generally decent; not as many sloping ones as at one time past.

What do I think are important features of Golden Retriever type that are too often overlooked by conformation judges? Features too often overlooked are proper head qualities and expression, which are so important to breed character, as well as correct coat, which in the Sporting Group is unique to Goldens. In addition, proportion and symmetry, which may be said to be the result of all parts being in proper relationship to each other; hard to define, but once seen should be imprinted in one’s mind.

What advice would I give to a new judge of my breed? To never stop learning, particularly about structure and function; to utilize all the best sources of learning; and use that knowledge to find and reward the dogs that truly do come closest to the requirements of the breed standard, even if it may not be what’s commonly seen “winning” at the moment.

The previous interviews are from the Golden Retriever Club of America Judges Education Committee members. Please feel free to contact them for more information about judging Golden Retrievers. We also have a very informative Judges Education page you can access via www.grca.org. The page lists free resources, including a link to our Golden judging video. There is also a list of items to purchase for people who want even more in-depth study. And please access our “GRCA Judges Education” Facebook page for further information about judging our breed. Above all, thank you for taking the time to further your education of our wonderful and versatile Sporting breed!

 

Helen Dorrance

Chair, GRCA JEC

  • GRCA is the primary guardian of the Golden Retriever breed. Members determine the breed standard, code of ethics and performance standards. As a member, your vote can help shape Bylaws changes and Breed Standard changes. No other organization’s members care more about the Golden Retriever, or try harder to protect and improve the breed in America. GRCA is committed to providing education to help pet owners obtain and care for healthy Goldens from reputable breeders.

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