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History of Golden Retrievers

History of Golden Retrievers

Historians believe that dogs, one of our favorite domesticated pets, descended from gray wolves 130,000 years ago. While little is known about the early domestication of dogs or the first dog breeds, we have fairly extensive knowledge of the history of Golden Retrievers.

The origin of Golden Retrievers begins with an affluent man whose favorite pastime was breeding dogs. His breeding program produced one of the world’s most beloved dogs: the playful, agile Golden Retriever.

Goldens are eager to please with a calm temperament. These pups were bred to be hunting dogs that excelled at activities like fetching and swimming. They’re also known for their intelligence. With these excellent traits, they changed how people would view selective breeding and quickly became one of the best family dogs.

The history of the Golden Retriever is well-known thanks to detailed accounts by the man who started it all: Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks.

The Man Responsible for the Golden Retriever Breed

Born in 1820, Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks was the second son in his family. Not being the firstborn, Dudley was not the heir to his father’s banking business. That title belonged to his older brother.

However, Dudley still inherited a significant amount of wealth from his family, which he used to fund his own pursuits. Due to his business investments and leisure pursuits, notably, the breeding of Golden Retrievers, Dudley Marjoribanks would become one of the most well-known members of his family name in history.

So the history of the Golden Retriever is bound to the way that Marjoribanks expanded his familial wealth and prestige.

First, he purchased Meux Brewery, a company specializing in brewing beer. From here, he became a director of the East India Company. Lastly, Dudley Marjoribanks would become a member of Parliament in London.

But despite all of these business and political pursuits, from a young age, there was one hobby Marjoribanks was always fascinated with — dog breeding.

Marjoribanks would extensively journal all of his breeding experiences in detailed accounts of dog species, parental lineage, and the appearance of pups. By the time he passed, he had been breeding dogs for 50 years.

The Birthplace of the First Golden Retriever

In 1854, Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks purchased the home that would become the birthplace of Golden Retrievers, Guisachan. The Guisachan Estate was home to 20,000 acres of hunting and fishing land.

When purchasing land in Scotland, the title of “Lord” or “Lady” is bestowed upon the homeowner. Thus, Dudley Marjoribanks became First Lord Tweedmouth of Guisachan.

Marjoribanks, now formally dubbed Lord Tweedmouth, used his wealth to expand the Guischan house into a mansion. He added many additions to the property, including a church, dairy farm, and stables. But the most notable addition to the estate was the kennel for dog breeding.

At this time, hunting companions were in high demand. And the most renowned hunting dog in the mid-1800s was the black Wavy-Coated Retriever.

Otherwise known as Flat-Coated Retrievers, these dogs were bred for their ability to find wounded game and softly carry objects in their mouth. They were also prized for their high intelligence and swimming aptitude.

Dudley Marjoribanks set out on a mission to create a new species of hunting dog that would rival the black Flat-Coated Retriever, and he had the perfect property to put his new breed to the test. In 1868, he succeeded by creating a gentle, obedient hunting companion: the Golden Retriever.

The First Litter of Golden Retriever Pups

So how did two different dog breeds come together to create the Golden Retriever? It all began with a yellow Flat-Coated Retriever and a Tweed Water Spaniel.

Some stories suggest Lord Tweedmouth obtained his yellow Flat-Coated Retriever from a Russian circus troupe. But, according to the Earl of Ilchester, who was one of Marjoribanks’ relatives, this is untrue.

Nous, the first sire of the Golden Retriever puppies, was found on the streets of Brighton. Nous was a yellow Wavy-Coated Retriever with black-furred parents. His yellow color was undesirable by early breed standards. So when Tweedmouth haggled with Nous’s owner, he won quite easily and walked away with a rare find.

Our lady in this story, a Tweed Water Spaniel named Belle, was gifted to Tweedmouth by one of his wealthy cousins. Unfortunately, Water Spaniels are now extinct, but thanks to the extensive records left behind by Marjoribanks, we have a good idea of what Belle looked like.

She was described as a liver-colored dog, which indicates she was a shade between yellow and brown.

Three golden retriever puppies on a grassy field

And thus, from Nous and Belle, the first litter of Golden Retrievers was born. Belle gave birth to four yellow pups named Cowslip, Crocus, Ada, and Primrose.

Historians have conflicting accounts about the first pups — some claim that Belle only birthed Cowslip, Crocus, and Primrose, while Ada came later. However, an essay by the Earl of Ilchester confirms that Ada was among the firstborn to Nous and Belle.

The Golden Retriever Lineage

Dudley Marjoribanks knew he struck gold with these beautiful, well-behaved puppies, and he didn’t give them to just anyone. Like his wealth, he kept his new dog breed in the family. 

Cowslip and Primrose were the two Goldens kept by Tweedmouth for further breeding. Dudley gave Crocus to his son, Edward Marjoribanks. It’s possible that Edward took up his father’s love for breeding. Some Golden Retrievers have a red hue to their coat, which could come from Edward’s red Irish setter named Sampson.

black and white photo of a golden retriever

Lastly, Dudley gave Ada to his cousin, the 5th Lord of Ilchester. Once Ada became an adult Golden Retriever, she bred with a medium-sized black Wavy-Coated Retriever.

Unfortunately, the Lord of Ilchester did not keep detailed records of his dogs like Marjoribanks did. At this point, following the lineage of Golden Retrievers through England becomes challenging to track.

However, historians have some information from the Marjoribanks regarding Goldens visiting other countries. Archibald “Archie” Marjoribanks was recorded as the first man to take Golden Retrievers out of the country.

In 1882, he brought a dog named Sol to Texas, and he later introduced a Golden Retriever named Lady to Canada. 

Up until the Golden Retriever was first formally introduced to the public in 1908, the breed was called the Yellow Retriever. A man named Lord Harcourt registered his dog as a Golden Retriever for the Crufts dog show. From this point on, Lord Harcourt’s name stuck, and the world came to know this dog breed as Golden Retrievers.

According to the Golden Retriever Club, in 1910, ten Goldens were registered to be showcased at dog shows.

The world would become enamored with these well-tempered pups, and before long, people from all corners of the globe wanted one of their own. In 1925, the American Kennel Club officially recognized the Golden Retriever as a separate breed of dog from Flat Coats.

Kennel clubs from various countries soon followed suit, including the Canadian Kennel Club.

Today, Goldens are among the best family dogs. They’re ranked as the 4th most popular breed in the United States by the AKC.

And if you’re curious about your own puppy’s ancestral lineage, buying from a reputable breeder will give you access to his genetic history and health background. Getting your Golden Retriever from a trusted breeder will also ensure your puppy is happy, healthy, and certified purebred.

The Downfall of the Guisachan Estate

Unfortunately, the birthplace of Golden Retrievers has decayed over the last 150 years. When Dudley Marjoribanks passed away, the Guisachan Estate was willed to his eldest son, Edward Marjoribanks.

Edward and his family lived there until his wife passed away. Grief-stricken by his wife’s death, Edward could not bear to live in the house and sold the Guisachan property.

The property changed hands multiple times, and plots of land were sectioned off to various buyers over the years. The once beautiful mansion with 20,000 acres of land was eventually reduced to a dilapidated manor with a mere 150 acres.

The ruin was further perpetuated by Lady Islington, who purchased the estate in the late 1930s. She removed all of the furnishings and the roof of Guisachan, supposedly to deter nearby villagers from traveling to the property.

Despite the ruin of Guisachan, Golden Retriever lovers recognize this estate as the birthplace of their beloved breed. In 2014, a statue was erected near the Guisachan property to honor the first Golden Retrievers.

Four years later, in 2018, 361 Goldens and their owners gathered from all over the world to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Golden Retriever breed. This week-long celebration in the Scottish Highlands included an emotional trek to the famed Guisachan ruins, where the history of the Golden Retriever began.

Conclusion 

The story behind one of the most well-loved breeds in the world started with a wealthy man from England who purchased a Scottish mansion with intentions to breed hunting dogs.

While the breed’s founder had numerous other business dealings, he’s best known as the one who introduced the world to the friendly, loyal, intelligent Golden Retriever.

The magical pairing of Nous and Belle at Guisachan has given us over 150 years of unconditional love from our fluffy, golden pals. While Tweed Water Spaniels like Belle are long extinct, their legacy lives on through Goldens.

At Snowy Pines, we treat our White English Golden Retrievers like family. Our puppies are certified purebreds raised on 120 acres of property in the Ozarks. Snowy Pines gives pups one-on-one attention to ensure our dogs have a calm temperament while maintaining their playful spirit.

Our selective breeding process guarantees that puppies have a superior bloodline free of genetic defects. We are confident that Golden Retrievers from Snowy Pines will maintain their health, and our facility offers a two-year guarantee against congenital defects. 

If you’re interested in purchasing a purebred English Cream Golden Retriever, contact us today to learn about our available puppies!

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About the Author

tom-massey

Tom Massey

Tom Massey has owned and operated Snowy Pines Labradors for over a decade. They have become the leaders in English Labradors in the US. He and his team serve customers all over the US and Europe. They house their "dog family" in a state of the art facility on a large farm in the Ozark Mountains. With an obsession for genetics and temperament they raise and train dogs known across the globe for health and personality. Tom serves the pet industry in many forms campaigning for ethical breeding, training, and pet ownership.

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