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The Many Shades of Golden Retrievers

Golden Retriever Dogs in a field

Many of us have preferences when it comes to color; in our clothes, in our homes, in a variety of things, including our dogs. However, when it comes to judging, Golden Retriever color should NOT be a preference. Our standard states the following concerning color: “Rich, lustrous golden of various shades.” What does this mean? You name it, from a very light cream to a dark golden red, the feathering is almost always a few shades lighter than the base shade. The key is the golden highlights. This is more easily seen in the sunlight than it is under the more common halogen lighting used in many indoor venues, but it is always there. From the very light golden to the much darker shades, there is a beautiful, natural golden sparkle.

In the judge’s education seminar, we emphasize that the overall dog is most important and the shade of gold should not be a determining factor. Do they need to be gold? YES, it is in their name! If you get to the end and have two dogs of equivalent quality, then certainly choose your favorite shade of dog to win. (I can tell you, I have never heard of this happening.) From a judging perspective, it is more important that you do not dismiss out of hand a dog because it is not your favorite shade. As I hear exhibitors lament ringside, they are not showing their dog because the judge has a reputation for not looking at dark or, more commonly, light dogs. There is a significant amount of time spent in the seminars discussing shades of gold with prospective judges, and it is frequently heard, “I don’t like that shade.” This is not really your call. It is our breed and we have provided the full range of shades that are acceptable. Please respect this and
judge accordingly!

As an exhibitor, I frequently had light dogs, and have had a judge move me to the end of the line and say, “I guess you know what shade I don’t like.” If the highlights are there and the dog is a shade of gold, then make your determination on overall structure and balance. Golden Retriever color does not influence if they can do their jobs. They can be light cream or a dark reddish gold. The full range of gold shades available should not influence you, and you don’t want the reputation of only putting up medium gold dogs. (Below is a picture of the acceptable range.) To be blunt, it is our breed. Respect the fact that the shade of gold is not the most critical factor.Golden Retriever color

Golden Retriever color inheritance is a whole different conversation. As a breeder, I can get all the colors within a litter. All purebred Golden Retrievers carry the double-recessive (e/e) gene, which prohibits black pigment in the hair. (Occasionally, a somatic mutation allows a patch of black, or black-tipped, hair that does not affect the genes passed on to the next generation.) Some Goldens also carry pattern genes on the A locus that can affect the shading on the coat. Coat color can be changed in a generation and produce either a rainbow of shades or a uniformity of color within a litter. In general, when judging, most breeder-judges do not even notice color; there are so many other pieces of structure—and the overall dog—that are significantly more critical to the ability of the dog to perform its function. Although the extremes are not preferred, they are accepted, and if the best dog in the ring is within the acceptable shade range, go for it!

In puppies, color develops over their first year or so. The ear color is the best indicator of the color the dog will be when reaching maturity. Their puppy coat is usually much lighter than it will be at maturity.

The other thing related to color that you will see in the ring is a greying of the face. This is NOT an indicator of age.
Many dogs can grey early, some as young as two years old. This seems to be more common in the lighter-colored dogs and in certain lines. If you question the age of the dog, have the steward look it up and let you know. These dogs should be considered in your overall assessment of the class.

When it comes to judging Goldens, let me leave you with this from the standard:

“Overall appearance, balance, gait and purpose to be given more emphasis than any of the component parts. Any departure from the described ideal shall be considered faulty to the degree to which it interferes with the breed’s purpose or is contrary to breed character.”

No mention of color; it is a component in your overall judging of the dog. But remember, they are primarily a hunting dog and they don’t hunt on color! Happy Judging!