The Elusive Black Golden Retriever: Just A Myth?

Golden Retriever And Black Labrador

Photo by josh at Flickr.com – (Creative Commons CC BY 2.0)

The Golden Retriever has been a tremendously popular breed of dog for decades. It serves faithfully as a pet, a working dog, and as a beloved member of many families. How vital is that tawny coat to the features that make the Golden Retriever great, though? Those who’ve encountered the rare black Golden Retriever would contend that it’s not the color that makes the dog.

Origins Of The Golden Retriever

Retrievers of all sorts were first bred in the 19th century in order to keep pace with the advance of hunting technology. The improvement of firearms resulted in so many fowl being taken that a specialized breed was required for retrieval. By the end of the century, Dudley Marjoribanks, a Scottish Baron, wanted to use retriever stock to breed the ultimate hunting dog.

His breeding program ended up embracing a huge variety of hunting breeds, starting with the wavy-coated retriever and the Tweed water spaniel. The line’s original sire was a yellow retriever, giving rise to the breed’s distinctive coloring. Other breeds included in the mix were the Irish Setter, the Bloodhound, and the St. John’s water dog.

Marjoribank’s achievement was recognized by the creation of a distinctive registration breed by the Kennel Club of England in 1903. The American Kennel Club followed suit in 1925. The golden retriever’s strength, friendly disposition, and intelligence have made it persistently popular with both breeders and pet owners ever since.

How Black Shows Up In Gold Coats (And Vice-Versa)

Obviously, the easiest explanation for a black Golden Retriever is mixed breeding: a Golden Retriever mother being crossed with another breed, like a Black Labrador or an Australian Shepherd. Genetically speaking, the odds against other causes are steep; in most cases the gene which gives Golden Retrievers their distinctive color is recessive. This means that any other coloration gene is likely to overpower it. It also means that any match between purebred Golden Retrievers should make dark-colored offspring impossible.

Genetically, things may not be quite so cut-and-dried, though. The gene for yellow coloration in Golden Retrievers is itself a mutation, one which makes it impossible for the dogs’ normally-dark pigmentation to develop. This means that a second mutation could conceivably reverse the effect.

Whether the source of unusual pigmentation in a golden retriever puppy is a cross between breeds or a fluke of genetics, the issue is most often noticed when the dog develops a combination of colors. Black spots and patches on an otherwise golden dog are the classic examples.

Theory: Postwar Desperation

Beyond the possibility of genetic mutations, there’s another theory put forth to explain how black sometimes creeps into the coats of purebred Golden Retrievers. In the years following World War II, dog breeding in most parts of the world was severely compromised. Many breeds were faced with plummeting populations and their continued existence was in doubt. In many different places, kennel clubs met this challenge with an unorthodox solution: They registered dogs as purebred based strictly on their physical characteristics, ignoring their bloodlines.

While this introduced fresh blood into a lot of breeds – including the Golden Retriever – it also considerably complicated matters for future breeders. This theory basically returns to the original hypothesis listed above, mixed breeding, except now it comes with the full force of purebred registration.

Challenges Faced By The Black Golden Retriever

Today, kennel clubs have no shortage of purebred Golden Retrievers, and so their registration guidelines are far more strict. Dogs will only be endorsed as purebred if they have both the lineage and the pure coloration to prove it. Owners of  black Golden Retrievers that are partially or entirely black will be told they have crossbreeds, no matter how much they protest that the dog is the result of a purebred Golden match.

The dogs themselves that have black fur on a traditional Golden Retriever frame are also in for a rough time. Some commentators have claimed that there appears to be a genetic link between black coloration in Golden Retrievers and increased aggression. Regardless of their actual temperament, black Golden Retrievers also suffer from the “black dog” effect which makes them less likely to be purchased or adopted by new owners.

In the end, Golden Retrievers who’ve had a splash of black thrown into its genetic mix are no worse off for it. They can be every bit as wise, loyal, and friendly as their lighter siblings. Although they’re not likely to be recognized as an official breed anytime soon, black Golden Retrievers certainly deserve to be taken into loving homes.

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