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The “Other” Standard for Goldens - Evaluating Retrievers and Selecting for Purpose

by Ginnie Pastor and Dennis P. McConnell

If we are committed to keeping the Retriever in our Goldens, it is essential that we understand the qualities we are evaluating and selecting for. Our Breed Standard elucidates the blueprint for the Golden Retriever in physical terms, but is somewhat less illustrative in describing the functional attributes that make these magnificent animals what they are.

The Golden Retriever Standard includes such terms as powerful, sturdy, muscular and strong, and calls for smooth, free, well-coordinated movement. It describes a dog that is active, eager, alert and confident, who is also friendly, reliable and trustworthy with other dogs and people. "Timidity and nervousness are not in keeping with the Golden Retriever character". And, under general faults our standard states, "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." Certainly food for considerable thought, and though sketchy, this guideline provides a place to start. However, since the name GOLDEN RETRIEVER encompasses not only what our dogs look like, but what they do, I invite you to consider a more thorough examination of the desired working qualities of retrievers as described in the AKC booklets REGULATIONS & GUIDELINES FOR AKC HUNTING TESTS FOR RETRIEVERS, and its predecessor, FIELD TRIAL RULES AND STANDARD PROCEDURES FOR RETRIEVERS.

I would encourage Golden Retriever breeders, no matter what their personal pursuits, to familiarize themselves with these desirable retriever traits, make an effort to seek them out, and to keep them in mind when making breeding selections for the future of our breed. This is not to suggest that physical characteristics (or health issues or temperament) be ignored or minimized in the process, but rather that the way to improve our dogs most, is for us to be as knowledgeable of the “other” standard as we are of the familiar one, and proceed accordingly. As long as our beloved dogs are called Golden Retrievers, we owe it to our breed to be as concerned with their working attributes as we are with their physical traits. Just as heads, toplines, and hip structure are not left to chance in thoughtful breedings, neither can we assume that our definitive working abilities will be perpetuated without taking an active role in their selection. The good news is, we are fortunate indeed, to have enough fine examples from the whole spectrum to make this a viable reality!

Note: When retrievers began to be formally evaluated by AKC, Hunting Tests had not yet come to be, and Field Trials were the standard events by which our dogs were judged. Though they are run and judged a bit differently, it is important to note that the same qualities are desirable for solid performance in either event. We are looking for those skills that distinguish a stylish retriever, whether we are evaluating against a standard, or ranking among other dogs.

There are two major components to judging the fieldwork of retrievers. First is the evaluation of natural abilities, and second is the evaluation of abilities acquired through training. For this discussion we will focus on the former, which is not only of greater consequence, but more critical to our breeding selections, and therefore the future of our breed. Natural abilities are those that the dog possesses inherently. They can be “enhanced” through training, but they cannot be trained INTO the dog. These are qualities such as marking/memory, intelligence, attention, nose, courage, perseverance, mouth and style.

We know these inherent traits when we see them in a young pup with little experience or training to draw on. The one who is alert and ready, whose nose is always working, who seems to know just where the bird fell, and can’t wait to bring it tenderly back to you. The pup that will run through brambles or swim through icy water to make his retrieve, just because he wants to so badly. The pup that will hunt and hunt until he comes up with the bird he KNOWS is in the area, without giving up or looking back for help. All of these hard?wired qualities are what make retrievers valuable and allow them to excel in so many other endeavors besides hunting!
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