Hepper is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

What Were Golden Retrievers Bred For? History & Origin Explained

Lindsey Lawson

By Lindsey Lawson

Golden Retriever standing on the ground

The Golden Retriever is undoubtedly one of the most popular family dogs in the world. They are an incredibly intelligent and charming breed that possesses an intense loyalty and wonderful nature that goes unmatched.

We know that nowadays Golden Retrievers are commonly used as service dogs and even in rescue in addition to being one of the most beloved family pets, but what were they originally bred for? We’ll give you a hint; it’s in the name.

Earliest Records of the Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever was initially bred to assist hunters in retrieving game, specifically waterfowl. The most complete records of the breed were kept from 1835 to 1890 by gamekeepers at the estate of Lord Tweedmouth in Scotland.

The records were not released to the public until 1952 when Lord Tweedmouth’s great-nephew published the material and provided some clarity on the breed’s true history.

Show Golden Retriever walking outdoor
Image Credit: Victoria Antonova, Shutterstock

How It All Started

Scotland’s terrain wasn’t exactly friendly to hunters. Many birds that were gunned down could not be retrieved by the hunters. Whether they had fallen in bodies of water, far distances from the hunter, or in areas difficult to access, a lot of game went to waste.

Though the hunters did turn to dogs for help, no breed fit the bill for being athletically built with strong swimming skills. It was obvious a dog built for hunting and retrieving in water was needed to solve this issue, and thus began the Golden Retriever.

Nous and Belle

In the late 19th century, Sir Dudley Marjoribanks bred the first Golden Retrievers at his Scottish estate Guisachan. He bred Nous, a yellow-colored wavy-coated retriever with Belle, a Tweed Water Spaniel. Their offspring were then cross-bred further with other water spaniels, flat-coated retrievers, and even Red Setters, Labrador Retrievers, and Bloodhounds.

Controversy Behind the Golden Retrievers Origins

The origins of the Golden Retriever were long disputed by many. There were many claims they originated from a pack of Russian circus dogs, but the record was set straight when the records of Lord Tweedmouth were published in 1952.

Making Their Way to Golden

In the beginning, the Golden Retriever was known as the Flat-coated Retriever and the Golden was just considered a color variety of the breed. In 1903 the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom recorded the first examples of the breed, listing them under the same registration as the Flat-Coated Retriever.

By 1911 a breed club was formed in England called The Golden Retriever Club, where the dogs were given a new name, the “Yellow or Golden Retriever.” This began their separation from the Flat-coated Retriever and in 1913, the Kennel Club officially recorded them as a completely separate breed.

It wasn’t until 1920 that the “Yellow or” portion of the breed’s name was finally dropped. This was the year they officially became the Golden Retriever that we all know and love today.

golden retriever in the shore
Image Credit: Lars_Nissen, Pixabay

Official Recognition by Major Kennel Clubs

A breed’s history is traceable through official registration throughout the world. We already mentioned that the breed was officially separated from the Flat-coated Retriever in 1913 by the Kennel Club of the United Kingdom, but this was just the beginning.

AKC Recognition

There were records of a few Golden Retrievers in America as early as the 1880s, but it wasn’t until 1925 that the breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club, which was founded in 1884. In 1938, the American Golden Retriever Club was formed.

Canadian Kennel Club

The Canadian Kennel Club officially recognized the Golden Retriever in 1927, just two years after the American Kennel Club recognition. The Golden Retriever Club of Ontario was not formed until 1958.

Golden Retriever
Image Credit: rustyc, pixabay

Growing Popularity

The popularity of the Golden Retriever began to intensify significantly after WWII. The breed was not only very popular among hunters that used the breed for their original purpose, but this lovable, friendly breed made its way into the hearts of families far and wide, making them one of the most popular dog breeds kept as family pets.

Goldens have maintained its ranking as one of the top 10 dog breeds in America since 1976. Throughout the years, their combination of traits has evolved them into a highly versatile breed that is now used as service dogs, scent dogs, and even search and rescue dogs.

Why Golden Retrievers Make Great Working Dogs

Aside from the superior hunting and retrieving skills they were bred for, the Golden Retriever possesses many ideal characteristics that make them excellent for working in a variety of settings.


Golden Retrievers are extremely intelligent and are even ranked among the top four intelligent dog breeds along with the German Shepherd, Poodle, and the Border Collie. This breed is very loyal and obedient, which in addition to their intelligence makes them very easy to train.

Size and Strength

Goldens are an ideal size for a service dog, they are not too large but do possess the size, strength, and athleticism to provide support and assistance to their human handlers.

golden retriever
Image Credit: Olena Brodetska, Shutterstock


The temperament of the Golden Retriever goes unmatched when it comes to public access needs. These dogs are very friendly and even-tempered. They do great around other animals, children, and even strangers. They lack the intense protective nature of some other breeds, which can prove difficult in the service dog world.

Outstanding Nose

Not only are Goldens used as search and rescue dogs because of their outstanding scent tracking ability but they are also used as drug dogs or even medical alert dogs that assist people with ailments such as diabetes. 


The Golden Retriever originated in Scotland and was bred for hunting and retrieving waterfowl from both the land and in the water. They excelled at this purpose because they were highly trainable, athletic, and have a knack for swimming. Since making its way all over the world, this breed has captured the hearts of almost everyone. Today they are among the most popular dog breeds for families and are commonly used as service dogs, therapy dogs, and even in search and rescue.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: Melanie Mai, Pixabay

Related Articles

Further Reading

Vet Articles

Latest Vet Answers

The latest veterinarians' answers to questions from our database