Golden Retriever | Clumsy or Agile

Golden Retriever

I have been showing and training Golden Retriever breed since 1976, and even though I probably didn’t start out reading the standard at least once a month, there were many times when I read it more than once a month. Consequently, I have probably read the Golden Retriever standard hundreds of times and yet, every time I read it, I discover something new that somebody, somehow, snuck into the standard without me noticing.

Usually, I find the hitherto unnoticed word in the middle of the standard. However, this time I found it in the very first sentence of the standard, right before I was getting ready to judge a very large entry of Goldens.

The handsome Golden couple was “clumsy,” a word in the first sentence of our standard that I had apparently skipped over so many times. I didn’t recognize it as having always been there. As beautiful as the two adults were, they didn’t look like they could do a whole day’s work in the field.

The night before my assignment, I just happened to turn on HBO in the hotel room and a really cute movie starring Golden Retrievers had just commenced. It featured a litter of darling Golden Retriever puppies who were surprisingly coordinated for their approximate four-month-old age range. There were occasional flashes to their “parents” who appeared to be very pretty, well-bred dogs from obvious show dog stock. Nevertheless, there was something “off” about them that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The next day, as I was reading the standard before my assignment, I realized what it was that had bothered me the night before. The handsome Golden couple was “clumsy,” a word in the first sentence of our standard that I had apparently skipped over so many times. I didn’t recognize it as having always been there. As beautiful as the two adults were, they didn’t look like they could do a whole day’s work in the field. In fact, the puppies were more athletic than their parents. The parents looked like they had too much bone, too much coat, too much length of body, and too little agility. (In their defense, they were highly trained and were supposed to demonstrate emotional, humanistic traits for the movie, not hunting dog traits.) The above revelation made me start watching other Sporting breeds as they ran and played—a luxury afforded me by virtue of owning a boarding kennel. Obviously, different Sporting breeds move and hunt differently. But it is fairly easy to pick out the efficient, agile movers, and I started realizing that some of the “show” dogs (of any Sporting breed) weren’t always in this category.

Golden Retriever

The most important priority is actually contained in the very first “General Appearance” paragraph that refers to the Golden as “primarily a hunting dog.”

In our effort to emphasize the “retriever” characteristics of the Golden Retriever, the Golden Retriever Club of America Judges’ Education Committee has recently come up with priorities/hallmarks of the Golden Retriever that we want judges to look for and emphasize while judging the Golden. The most important priority is actually contained in the very first “General Appearance” paragraph that refers to the Golden as “primarily a hunting dog.” In fact, almost everything you need to know about Goldens is contained in that paragraph. I’ve attended many breed seminars and webinars where the speaker has said almost the same thing, and yet, I read that first paragraph of everyone else’s breed standards and I still don’t always get the essence of their breed. Hopefully, with the emphasis on purpose in our “General Appearance” paragraph, the essence of our breed does not escape you—though you may be like me and just have to keep reading the breed standard to find and remember those elusive traits that are sometimes easy to miss.

Golden Retriever

Another important hallmark/priority the committee came up with is proportion. The Golden is slightly longer than tall (12:11 as measured from breastbone to point of buttocks), i.e., slightly off-square. And yet, ironically, while I was skipping over the word “clumsy,” I found myself worrying way too much about the “long in leg” aspect. Apparently, a lot of exhibitors felt the same way. Obviously, no one wants a “leggy” Golden (a Golden that is too tall for its body length) or a square Golden. But, unfortunately, there has been a tendency to go in the opposite direction: Low on leg or longer bodies and/or longer loins. Part of this trend ensued because of an effort to achieve the show dog “tremendous reach and drive” (TRAD) that isn’t really the way a Golden Retriever should be moving. TRAD is frequently achieved at the expense of level toplines, “well developed forechest,” short loins, and length of leg. Rolling or dipping toplines, ewe necks, and shoulders set too far forward start to become the norm, all because of the quest for ultimate TRAD. However, Goldens were bred for stamina and endurance, and navigating rough terrain of the Scottish highlands—not for racing and sprinting across flat fields. So, even though it is not specifically stated in the standard, the Golden is a Retriever with a 50:50 leg-to-height ratio—the distance from the elbow to the ground should equal the distance from the elbow to the withers. And the proper gait for a Golden in the show ring is a working trot at a moderate speed on a loose lead. There are supporting articles on our GRCA Judges’ Education page, addressing leg length, judging suggestions, etc.

We haven’t really addressed the other priorities the Judges’ Education Committee has come up with, but they will be addressed in our GRCA JEC Facebook page:

  • Functional Head with True Breed Characteristics
  • Coat—Wrap-Around, Water-Repellent Jacket with Undercoat
  • All Shades of Golden Acceptable (Please see the ShowSight article by Cindy Partridge in this issue.)
  • Endurance Gait—Effortless, Easy, on a Loose Lead

In the meantime, extensive information can be found on the GRCA Judges’ Education page of the website. We have many downloadable articles, including an Illustrated Standard, At A Glance brochure, and a Quick Study Guide. We also have several videos, including a Golden Retriever Conformation Judges Training Video. For those of you who are confused about the many styles of Golden Retrievers, the Conformation Judges Training Video has several examples of the different styles.

As for the “not clumsy nor long in the leg,” our committee’s breed historian and Golden Retriever expert, Marcia Schlehr, says it is a “warning against clunky, overdone dogs on one hand, and racy sighthound types on the other. This phrase has been in our standard since recognition of the breed.”

  1. Judge’s Study Package for licensed and provisional judges. $25
  2. NEW Golden Retriever Conformation Judges Training Video
  3. The Golden Retriever: An Illustrated Study Guide
  4. Golden Retriever Quick Study Guide (suitable for double-sided printing)
  5. Golden Retriever-At a Glance (suitable for printing on legal paper and folding into a pamphlet)
    1. De un Vistazo” Referencia para Jueces (en español)
  6. Articles, and Letters to Judges
    1. Breed Function: Food for Thought for Judges of Golden Retrievers
    2. Letter to Judges regarding correct coat and grooming practice
    3. Size Disqualification in Golden Retrievers
    4. Suggestions for Judging the Golden Retriever
    5. AKC Video on Measuring and Weighing
  7. The Golden Retriever – Structure, Movement and Use (Video)
    1. Part 1 –
    2. Part 2 –
    3. Part 3 –
  8. IN REVIEW: JE Postings from GRCA Judge’s Education Facebook site
    1. Backline in Review
    2. Bite and Dentition in Review
    3. Coat Color in Review
    4. Length of Leg in Review
    5. Profile Movement in Review
    6. Upper Arm in Review
  • Helen Dorrance has been showing and training Golden Retrievers since 1976 and has been judging Goldens since 2002. She is the current Chair of the GRCA Judges’ Education Committee.

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