The history of the Golden Retriever begins in the British Isles. During the nineteenth century the British gentry were attempting to develop the perfect hunting dog. They proceeded to breed hunting dogs with the qualities they desired with other breeds and cross-breeds in an effort to acquire other desirable traits. This type of selective breeding resulted in the origin of many of the hunting and retriever breeds of today such as the Golden and Labrador Retrievers.
Among the British gentry engaged in breeding hunting dogs was Sir Dudley Marjoriebanks who later became the first Lord Tweedmouth of England and Scotland. Unlike many of his fellow gentry,
Marjoriebanks kept breeding records and recorded them in his “Stud Book.”
In 1952 the original Stud Book of Lord Tweedmouth was made available by his descendants. These books record his breeding activities from 1835 to 1890 at his residence, known as “Guisachan,” in Scotland. An examination of these records revealed that Lord Tweedmouth developed a sophisticated method of line breeding, i.e. breeding related dogs with desired traits in order to improve those traits. Undoubtedly, the desired traits that Marjoriebanks sought were the friendly nature and disposition, the athletic ability, the love of water, and the natural instinct for hunting and retrieving which Golden Retrievers are known for today.
In regards to the type of dogs utilized in Marjoriebanks breeding program, his Stud Book lists that in 1865 he purchased a yellow retriever named “Nous” from a cobbler in Brighton, England. The dog was given to the cobbler in exchange for payment of a debt. It was the only yellow pup in an unregistered litter of black Wavy-Coated Retrievers. Marjoriebanks transported the dog to his home in Scotland where the dog adapted extremely well to hunting. Later, Marjoriebanks obtained a Tweed Water Spaniel, which he named “Belle.” He subsequently bred Belle to Nous which produced four bitches which he named “Ada,” “Primrose,” “Crocus,” and “Cowslip.” Each of these females, particularly Cowslip, were bred back to over a twenty year period in the development of the Golden Retriever. The Stud Book lists that Cowslip was bred to another Tweed Water Spaniel, no doubt where today’s Goldens inherit their love of the water. Next, a bitch puppy from this litter was later bred back to a descendant of Cowslip’s sister, Ada.
The breeding process continued with careful out crosses to two black Wavy-Coat Retrievers in order to improve the hunting instincts of the dogs. Eventually an Irish Setter was bred to improve the upland hunting ability and to insure desired colour. Finally, a sandy-coloured Bloodhound was used to improve the tracking ability of the new breed. The Stud Books reveal that the coat texture of these dogs varied from fox red, similar to the Irish Setter, to cream which is similar to the colour of many British and Australian Goldens of today.
The Wavy Coated Retrievers which were used in Marjoriebanks breeding program are the ancestors of today’s Flat-Coated Retrievers, which today are black in colour as were their ancestors. The breed was developed in England from cross-breeding the St. John’s Newfoundland (different from today’s Newfoundland) with Irish Setters. According to history, the St. John’s Newfoundland was a native of North America. They were imported to England aboard fishing ships returning from America. They are the ancestors of most retriever breeds of today and were about the same size as Irish Setters.
Though the Tweed Water Spaniel is extinct and its exact origins are unknown, in Britain early water dogs were commonly bred to Land or Field Spaniels in order to develop Water Spaniels. Along the coast of Great Britain, Water Spaniels were relied upon by families to bring food to the table with their great retrieving ability. The Water Spaniels were very intelligent, good swimmers, and were eager to please their masters. Hence, the Tweed Water Spaniel is credited with contributing to the temperament, intelligence and retrieving skills of today’s Goldens. What is known of the Tweed Water Spaniel is that they were developed in the Tweed River area after which they are named. They were essentially a small brown to yellow coloured retriever.