Working Traits of the Big Three - The Labrador, The Golden, and The Chesapeake - Page 2

Helping You Get the Most From Your Hunting Dogs

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The Golden Retriever
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The Golden
Not enough of the better trainers make use of the beautiful and talented Golden Retriever....The good ones tend to be pinpoint markers and fast and effective bird-finders.

Not enough of the better trainers make use of the beautiful and talented Golden Retriever. Male Goldens in particular share the Labrador's traits of training toughness and aptitude for learning. The good ones tend to be pinpoint markers and fast and effective bird-finders.

Their remarkable bird-finding ability is in part due to the "Golden nose." Whether or not their scenting acuity is greater than that of other dogs, Goldens clearly retrieve with their noses "switched on." This probably also contributes to their tendency to quarter on the way out to a bird, and in a slow dog can be annoying, as its wavering to investigate various scents interferes with forward progress. A fast dog which has learned to focus on its objective, however, is a knockout to watch, showing flashing speed, spirited water entry, animated hunt, and accurate marking.

While all three breeds can make excellent flushing dogs, the Golden seems most resistant to heat and fatigue. Unfortunately its coat is most susceptible to picking up burrs. As a consequence many upland hunters trim their Goldens' coats. Working Goldens have, however, shorter coats than the show variety and have little tendency to form mats. Incidentally, flushing work can make it more difficult to teach a dog to run straight on blind retrieves, but often enhances its hunt on marks. Praise in training needs to be, if anything, even more restrained than with a Labrador. A gentle "good" and a little scratch behind the ears is usually effective.

Goldens are known for being eager to please, and the field-type Golden is extremely tuned in to its handler--and stays tuned in. This gives Goldens some advantage in learning to handle, as they tend to really like to pay attention and cooperate. A top-notch Golden is highly intelligent and works out problems while remaining attuned to its handler. Such a dog is a real joy to work. When John's Golden, Sport (Oakhill Sportin' Life of Hobo***), was about twenty months old and running a blind retrieve, John blew the whistle to stop the dog just as he got into an area of tall cover--over his head. In a moment Sport's head appeared above the cover. He was standing, stock-still, on his hind feet, holding his front paws against his chest like a kangaroo, in order to see his master's cast. It would be hard to imagine a better display of intelligent cooperation.

Goldens have received some bad press regarding their water-going ability, and a mediocre specimen of the breed may be worse in that department than a mediocre Labrador. Well-bred Goldens, however, show courage and style in the water, excellent water marking, and a coat which, after a quick shake, is only slightly damp. The 1950 National Field Trial in St. Louis was won by a Golden, Beautywoods' Tamarack, who eagerly hit the icy water which many other good dogs refused.

Another area in which the Golden's reputation is inaccurate is its mouth. The Labrador's once-firm grip has deteriorated with the use of training methods which teach good delivery to almost any dog, obviating the need to breed for good mouth. Golden breeders deserve credit, however, as their dogs, once notoriously dropsy with birds, have actually improved in this area.

On the subject of breeding, in our experience raising retrievers, Golden parents selected for good working traits (desire to retrieve, birdiness, water-going ability, general "go") throw good offspring more consistently than Labs or Chesapeakes. Labs seem to be the least consistent, although this may be because the availability of titled Labradors leads breeders to seek titles, rather than traits, in their breeding stock.

Although the Golden's beauty may mislead some into thinking it is something of a sissy, male Goldens do not shrink from a fight and are devastating fighters. They use their agility and quickness to advantage, slashing and dodging. In our experience, they are at least as likely to initiate a fight as males of the other two breeds, possibly more so. We also find them the most likely to bite the trainer in resistance to training pressure, and accordingly use a little more caution in application of pressure to Goldens.

On the subject of beauty, dark golden or red dogs seem more likely to possess the best working traits, although there are notable exceptions, the great NAFC-FC Topbrass Cotton, for example.

Experienced trainers usually agree that although there have been some terrific Golden bitches, a dog is a better bet for field-trial work. The bitches are often soft and lacking in "go," although they are as likely as the males to be talented, intelligent, and eager to please. A bitch might be a good choice for someone who dislikes physically correcting a dog. Lila, now eighteen months old, learned all of her basic obedience and a perfect delivery with no physical force. We guided her through the desired action, usually once, and then she knew it. The first time she failed to perform a new command, a quick "ah!" reminded her of her responsibilities, and thereafter she would be almost perfect. With light physical enforcement for honesty in the water and forcing on back she is now retrieving at the Master Hunter level, but not as stylishly as we would like. For someone who desires extreme tractability at the possible expense of "go," a Golden bitch could be a good choice, but if you are looking for a hard charger, a male is a better candidate.
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