Sunday, March 16, 2014

How to Find a Red Golden Retriever

Puppy Tao has been upgraded, so this post has moved. It will eventually be unavailable at this location.

I can see some of the Google terms and site referrals that lead people here to and Puppy Tao, and probably the most consistent searches that bring people here are variations on the question of where to find a red Golden Retriever.

I get that Comet and Jax are good looking, and I get that dark gold is a spectacular color on a retriever (though be prepared for a lot of "is that a setter?" when you're out and about), but if that kind of search brought you too this article, please indulge me with a moment to lecture you on the wisdom of shopping for a dog by color. Some of this applies only to Golden Retrievers, since color fads have negatively affected the breed, but a good deal of it applies to buying other kinds of dogs too, so stick with me, especially if you're new to the world of purebred dogs, competition dogs, the health issues of Golden Retrievers, and the struggle to find a dog bred for solid health and temperament.

Like all purebred dogs, Goldens have a breed standard, a sort of roadmap of characteristics that define the look and purpose of the dog. A well-bred dog should exemplify its standard. For Goldens, that means the characteristic gold coat, the athleticism of a working retriever, and a number of other specific qualities. You can read the standard itself to get an idea of the degree of specificity with which it defines the breed.

Goldens can come a huge range of colors,
but color shouldn't drive a breeding program.
When it comes to color, the Golden standard says they should be a "rich, lustrous golden of various shades," and it says that a "predominant body color which is either extremely pale or extremely dark is undesirable." What that means is that while Goldens are supposed to be gold (not white or red), there's a substantial range of colors that are all equally acceptable.

However, there are lots of people who use color as a marketing tactic to sell more puppies, and whether they're advertising red puppies, white ones, or the current fad, cream or creme Goldens, breeding for specific colors means, by definition, the breeder is putting other qualities farther down the list of priorities. It's fine to have a color preference as a buyer. It's not fine to breed for a color extreme as a breeder. So when you find a breeder who seems to advertising primarily by color or who's breeding for color extremes, that should be a red flag. In fact, I have yet to see a reputable breeder who advertises by color, and I've known and researched a ton of Golden Retriever breeders. All of the ethical breeders talk about the difficulty of making a perfect matchup for health, longevity, temperament, structure, and working ability, so trying to produce a litter that was more red or more white would involve major compromises in much more important priorities.

As a side note, did you know that English Golden Retrievers come in all shades too? Unethical breeders will sometimes conflate English, European, and light-colored Goldens as if they're all the same thing, but in England and the rest of Europe, good breeders focus just as hard on health as the good ones do on this side of the pond, and they end up with a similar range of colors. I'll be writing an article in the future on exactly why some English Goldens are lighter than their American counterparts, but suffice it so say for now that if you end up at a breeder's website and it seems to indicate that all English dogs are cream-colored, and the breeder advertises their dogs by color, you should run the other way. "Cream" has been a successful marketing term among uneducated puppy buyers for several years, and some profiteers have jumped on the bandwagon. You don't want a puppy from somebody breeding purely for profit.

Bad breeders can just buy the two lightest or darkest dogs they can find and then breed them. It's not hard to make puppies, and all puppies are adorable. And since the majority of serious health and temperament issues don't show up in the first few months of life, they can breed the pup, sell him to you, and wash their hands of you when the puppy develops hip dysplasia, ichthyosis, neurotic behavior, pigmentary uveitis, or any other of a host of health issues that show up far less often in carefully bred dogs.

I thought I preferred light dogs, but then I met Gus.
I would encourage anybody who's searching for a Golden puppy to search for health first and then to think about color only after you've identified a reputable breeder you want to work with. When I first started looking for my own dog in 2001, I really preferred the lighter gold dogs like Summer, but I was led by somebody rather wiser than I to a litter of dogs who had full health clearances as recommended by the Golden Retriever Club of America. The best dog for me from that litter was as dark gold as a Golden can still be while still meeting the standard. I discovered then that my favorite color of Golden is the color of the living, breathing companion I have by my side.

So please, if you came here because you're searching for "where to buy a red Golden" or "red Goldens in Connecticut" or some other color-driven pursuit, take a second and reconsider your priorities. It's totally fine to prefer one color—though I'll always make the case that your beloved dog's color will become your favorite—but either way, don't be led astray by people marketing "American Reds" or "English Creams." You'll tend to find that they're not doing all the health testing that is recommended by the GRCA, and even if they were, you don't want a puppy that came from a breeding designed to produce a particular shade of gold. It's hard enough to find a Golden from a great breeding in the first place. Once you find a great breeder, it's fine to express your color preference to that person when you're trying to match up the perfect puppy for your family, but even then, I hope you'll decide to look for the pup whose temperament best matches your plans and just enjoy whatever shade of gold you end up with.

Comet and Jax, by the way, are only coincidentally dark. Comet came from a large litter with a big range of colors, and he was the best personality match (high energy and people focused), and only happened to be one of the darker pups. His sister Zuzu is pretty light, and his brother Magic is even darker than he is. Jax was from a smaller litter, and he was the best match for us out of four dark gold puppies. When the time comes for us to look for another Golden, I'll happily take the lightest dog around if he's the best fit and enjoy the contrast, or I'll take the darkest and continue to enjoy the fact that nobody can tell my dogs apart until they get to know them.

You can read more about finding a breeder and what health tests are recommended by visiting the GRCA's page on finding a reputable breeder.

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