Handsome, intelligent, trainable and easy to handle. So why aren’t golden retrievers more popular in the shooting field, wonders David Tomlinson

One of the mysteries of the gundog world is why golden retrievers are a comparative rarity in the shooting field, especially compared with the ubiquitous Labrador. Fashion probably has a great deal to do with this, because a well-trained golden is every bit a match for even the best of Labradors.

Golden retrievers – relaxed, easy to handle with soft mouths

The golden retriever is a relatively new breed — it wasn’t until 1920 that the Kennel Club finally allowed a separate register for what it termed as retrievers (golden). Until then they had been registered as retrievers (golden or yellow), causing confusion with yellow Labradors.

Golden retrievers in mud

One disadvantage of the golden retriever is its long, lustrous coat – which is far from ideal on muddy shoots

Why is the Labrador the shooting dog of choice?

I’ve asked a number of friends why the Labrador, rather than the golden retriever, is the shooting dog of choice. One suggested that it is less expensive to buy a well-bred Labrador than it is a golden, and that there are not that many working-bred goldens available. Health-wise, there’s not a lot to choose between the two, and the latest report from the Kennel Club/British Small Animal Veterinary Association shows that cancer is the major killer for both. The average lifespan is similar, with most reaching 11 or 12 years old.


The Labrador has been the UK’s most popular dog breed for nearly three decades

Disadvantages of the golden

  • A long lustrous coat that needs attention
  • They moult, leaving blond hair behind
  • Their coat makes them less than ideal on a muddy shoot

Advantages of the golden

  • A well-deserved reputation for being as straightforward to train as Labradors and a lot easier than spaniels.
  • Golden retrievers have been used as guide dogs for a long time, which shows their placid nature and trainability.

Fans of golden retrievers will tell you that they work differently from Labradors. They often use air scent, which causes them to carry their head higher. Whether they hunt with heads up or heads down, the golden retrievers I have watched have all impressed with their bird-finding ability.

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Graham Cox is one of the golden retriever’s biggest fans: he is a longstanding member of the Kennel Club’s field trials sub-committee, and has worked goldens for many years, making up two FTChs. He believes that if you “build an effective relationship with a golden, you will have a game-finder beyond compare.

A friend says about the breed:  “It’s difficult to explain why I like them so much, but whether seeing a working golden chasing down a runner or even something as simple as one just walking to heel, there is an elegance and style that you just don’t get with other breeds.”

A great golden retriever enthusiast and story teller

Training a golden retriever isn’t really any different from training a Labrador, but if you want a book where the emphasis is on training goldens, turn to Training the Working Retriever by Anthea Lawrence. It is full of common sense with training methods methods based on kindness and co-operation. The emphasis is on producing dogs with good manners, able to cope with anything they encounter.

Buy Training the Working Retriever by Anthea Lawrence here on Amazon now from £14.40

10 things you’ve learned about golden retrievers from reading this

  1. Serious golden retriever people hate the term ‘goldies’ for their breed
  2. They’re not usually fussy eaters
  3. They have impressive bird finding abilities
  4. They’re easier to train than spaniels
  5. They moult, leaving golden hair behind
  6. They have soft mouths
  7. They live to about 11-12 years old
  8. They have elegance and style
  9. They have been used as guide dogs for a long time
  10. They have a placid nature