Over my years living with my golden retrievers, I have truly come to believe that they can be friends with anything that moves.
Goldens are so amazingly affectionate, loving, and gentle with everyone that it’s impossible to not love them.
But why are they like that? Why are golden retrievers so gentle? Golden Retrievers are so gentle because they were bred to be gentle with humans and while retrieving game for their hunters. Then this trait of gentleness was reinforced in golden retrievers through selective breeding and natural selection as breeders & families favored gentler golden retrievers.
This is basically what makes golden retrievers, but there are still some more to it than that, as is always the case with anything in this complicated world.
So, let’s get deeper into what makes golden retrievers so gentle and how this trait has made the breed wildly popular everywhere around the world.
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Why are Golden Retrievers So Gentle?
There are many reasons why golden retrievers are so popular around the world, not just in the US, but I think their gentleness is one of the primary ones and the most important ones.
As explained earlier, golden retrievers are so gentle because they have been bred to be so gentle. Being gentle was a very important trait for these dogs, and it’s one of the main characteristics that breeders and families alike focused on reinforcing in the dogs, but why?
The story behind why goldens are so gentle
Although debated, the popular story about golden retrievers started in the mid 19th-century in Scotland. At this time, wildfowl hunting was a popular sport for the wealthy elite in the country, but they didn’t quite have the perfect dogs for them.
They had retriever breeds but they were not adequate enough to retrieve downed game from both water and land, which was necessary because most of the hunting grounds in Scotland at the time were pocketed with marshy ponds and rivers.
There was also another problem with the dogs back then; they were working dogs and they were not very friendly with everyone. Now imagine yourself as one of the elite going on a hunting trip every month with one of your friends, it’s not okay to have this dog attack the friend or their dogs.
So, there was a very strong need for a dog that could retrieve game from both water and land just as effectively and one which was smart, easy to train, and friendly. They didn’t need these dogs to guard territory or herd sheep, they just needed to be friendly and to be good swimmers.
The story goes that one day in 1865, Lord Marjoribanks, 1st Baron of Tweedmouth, found a blonde-haired puppy at an unregistered puppy breeder store. The dog was so enthusiastic and friendly with everyone that Lord Tweedmouth fell in love with the dog and bought it.
He thought this puppy was the perfect specimen they were looking for to create this new perfect breed they needed. He then went on to breed the dog, which was named ‘Nous’ with a Tweed Water Spaniel female dog called ‘Belle’.
It is believed that ‘Nous’, the original puppy, was from the black wavy-coated retriever breed, but probably due to genetic mutations, the puppy had blonde hair.
This kind of genetic mutation is not that uncommon, and you can learn more about it in my post on can golden retrievers have black hair or fur here.
This kind of worked out perfectly for the Lord and the breed. The first litter had four puppies which became the basis of the breeding program that included the Irish Setter, the Sandy-coloured Bloodhound, the St. John’s water dog of Newfoundland, and another two wavy-coated black retrievers.
This bloodline was then inbred and selected only to be as close as possible to the true vision of the Marjoribanks’ idea of the perfect hunting dog.
The result was the golden retriever we all know and love today. A dog that’s strong and agile with almost infinite energy that is also smart, easy to train, friendly, and most importantly, gentle with everyone and everything.
Selective Breeding in Golden Retrievers in the last two centuries
If you think about it, really think about it, all a breeder wants to do is make more money. They can do that by either selling more dogs, which they are always actively trying to do, or by charging more for dogs.
Breeders quickly realized that friendlier and gentler golden retriever puppies are selling out faster, and with the AKC recognizing the golden retriever officially in 1925, the dog soared in popularity very quickly.
Demand increased, and people started looking for friendly family dogs instead of strong guardian dogs. I also believe the rise of the suburban life in the late 20th century in the US has contributed to the popularity of the family dog.
Back to the golden retriever. This was kind of the perfect storm to make demand very high for the golden retriever, and breeders very quickly picked up on the fact that they can charge more for friendlier, more affectionate, and gentler puppies than they can for other dogs.
They started selectively breeding the friendliest puppies of the litter, and people also started doing the same. Families also bred their friendly dogs, because why not? More puppies equal more love, right?
This is how we reinforced the traits of gentleness in golden retrievers, but there is another very important reason that contributes to golden retriever’s gentleness, even though it does so a bit indirectly.
How Being Smarter makes goldens gentler
Golden retrievers are very smart dogs, and smart animals really want to live their best life and guarantee the best life for their offspring. Dogs, in general, have figured out thousands of years ago that the best way to ensure their survivals is to be our companions. They guard us and we give them food, water, shelter, and love.
Golden Retrievers are very smart dogs, and they know that with being good, comes good things. They very quickly figure out that when they follow your commands, they will get treats and be treated well. This is the whole concept of positive reinforcement training, and golden retrievers pick up on that concept remarkably quickly.
Goldens are also another kind of smart; they are emotionally intelligent. they can pick up on what other beings are feelings, and they are can read humans like open books. They can pick up on our body language and changes in our body chemistry. This makes them very empathetic, which in turn means they become gentle with us and other animals as well. You can learn more about why golden retrievers are good with small animals here.
Do you want to learn more about what makes golden retrievers perfect family dogs? Make sure to check out these 20 reasons why golden retrievers are so friendly and happy all the time here.
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