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Key Points When Judging the Golden Retriever

Golden Retriever retrieving a bird, in shallow water.


Key Points When Judging the Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever is usually represented in good numbers at most shows across the country. Many judges find the breed somewhat challenging to judge, with its diverse colorings and styles. The breed is a normally structured dog with many of the same qualities desired of any of the retrieving breeds. It is therefore important to discover the unique qualities that define breed type in the Golden Retriever and look for the soundest-moving dogs best displaying these qualities. These are the dogs with breed type, and we encourage judges and fanciers to review some of the important criteria of the Breed Standard, which are sometimes being overlooked.


Judging Golden Retriever
A lovely, balanced, moderate male Golden Retriever. Photo used with permission of GRCA.

General Appearance

The Breed Standard states: “Primarily a hunting dog, he should be shown in hard working condition. Overall appearance, balance, gait and purpose to be given more emphasis than any of his component parts.” Despite its popularity as a pet, service dog, search and rescue dog, detector dog, dog guide, etc., this breed was developed in Scotland first and foremost as a hunting companion to the aristocracy. It is a moderate breed, free from excess or exaggeration, and attains its beauty by balance, harmony of structure, fitness for purpose, and wonderful breed character. These characteristics make it one of the most versatile of breeds. While individual parts, whether correct or faulty, must be considered, judges should focus on overall appearance, balance, gait, and fitness for purpose.

The essence of breed type for the Golden Retriever includes temperament, coat, color, outline (proportion), and head. The Golden Retriever should not be judged as a generic show dog, nor with undue emphasis on presentation, showy attitude, and abundant coat, which are mere glamour points. More important considerations are fitness for purpose as an athletic, working gundog with overall balance, condition, muscle tone, correct coat texture, and a dense undercoat providing a waterproof jacket. Judges should not mistake excessive speed or extreme reach and drive for correct gait. Correct movement should be effortless, smooth, ground-covering, and efficient, allowing a Golden to work all day in the field.

It is a moderate breed, free from excess or exaggeration, and attains its beauty by balance, harmony of structure, fitness for purpose, and wonderful breed character.



The Golden temperament is a hallmark of the breed and should be eager (willing to respond), alert, and self-confident, neither constantly “turned on” or hyper in nature, nor sluggish and disinterested. It should not be necessary to constantly feed a Golden in the ring to keep it entertained. Bait should be put away so that the head can be examined, with the ears at rest to ascertain the correct width and shape of the actual skull. The tail in action should be ideally level with the topline or slightly above, and preferably wagging, never tucked down between the legs. There should be no excuses made for any shyness, aggressiveness, or unwillingness in this breed.

Judging Golden Retriever
Lovely head study


A correct Golden Retriever coat is a close-fitting, water-proof jacket with a firm, resilient texture and a dense undercoat. The coat may be straight or wavy, with no preference! Wavy coats generally have the correct texture. The Breed Standard requires a natural appearing coat, with moderate feathering, untrimmed natural ruff, and trimming limited to neatening stray hairs on the ears and feet. Goldens should never be clippered or sculpted in appearance. Obvious scissoring or shaping, stripping of the topcoat, and over-trimming are completely uncalled for and are not within the guidelines outlined by the Breed Standard.


A lustrous golden of varying shades. Greying of the face and body due to age is not to be faulted. Variation in coloring, with lighter feathering on the back of the legs, thighs, and tail, is one of the great features of this breed. The Standard states: “Predominant body color which is either extremely pale or extremely dark is undesirable.” Undesirable is not a disqualification, a major fault or fault, and there are many structural issues and type issues that should be considered more seriously than color. Extreme dark color is not preferable to light or cream colors either; the Standard is clear. Ideal is somewhere in the middle, all other qualities of structure, gait, coat, head type, etc., being equal. Breeder-judges will often comment that they have never made a decision on a winning dog based on color. Just find the best Golden Retriever first, then consider color if necessary.

Judging Golden Retriever
Photo credit: Gloria Kerr

Proportion and Size

The Breed Standard is clear, but what is often appearing and being rewarded in the ring is not in keeping with the requirements of the Standard. “Length from breastbone to point of buttocks slightly greater than height at withers in ratio of 12:11.” This is only slightly off-square. The measurement of withers to elbow and elbow to ground should be approximately equal. The underline should be relatively short. The Golden needs sufficient leg to scramble out of the water and over some tough terrain in its native Scotland. Often, excessive body length comes from length through the loin, which is not the short, muscular, wide, deep loin called for in the Standard.

Golden Retrievers have a disqualification for size. Please note that puppies are NOT exempt from the size requirements. Judges should always be aware of the size standard of the Golden Retriever and its importance to the breed function. The Golden Retriever is a moderately sized, athletic hunting dog that may be required at times to work out of a small boat yet have the stamina to perform a full day in the field. We encourage judges to measure any Golden Retriever in competition whose size creates uncertainty, whether at the upper or lower limit of the allowed size range. Dogs that are outside of the desirable size range, but within the disqualification limits, are to be proportionately penalized. Dogs and bitches which fall within the stated acceptable size range should be regarded as having equal merit, whether they are at the upper or lower end of the desirable range.

Judging Golden Retriever
Amazing photo showing function. That is a large goose! Photo credit: Barb Loree



Another hallmark trait of the Golden Retriever is its friendly, soft, self-confident expression and beautiful head. With the breed’s prime function of retrieving game, the proper construction of muzzle and skull is imperative, as is musculature of the neck and head. Good depth and breadth of muzzle and skull are necessary. The muzzle should be approximately as long as the skull. Ears should be relatively short, attached slightly above and behind the eye. While eye shape is not stated in the Standard, they should be medium-large and dark in an open, almond shape. They should not be obliquely set, round or triangular, all of which detract from the correct expression.

The correct Golden Retriever can fulfill many roles in today’s society, but the qualities that made it a keen hunting companion and fireside companion are those that endear the breed to many today. We encourage judges to understand the importance of correct proportion, coat texture, head properties, gait, and temperament to ensure the breed remains true to type.

For More Information, Golden Retriever Club of America Study Guide: