In the books that I have been reading regarding hunting in the later half of the 1800′s, the authors’ generally express how hunting was changing since rifles were advancing and vast areas of land were being cleared. There is a very nicely written and illustrated book: “Shooting: Field and covert; with contributions by Hon. Gerald Lascelles and A.J. Stuart-Wortley” dated 1887.
In this book, the retriever and how to choose, train, and keep him/her, the authors cover what they feel makes a good modern hunting dog. I find it to be interesting. As opposed to today’s breed ring for Goldens, these authors feel a retriever should not have his head held straight up and high (handlers in breed rings today yank the poor dogs’ heads up straight) but rather a retriever should be interested in the ground and smelling for game. They say the chest should be deep but not overly wide since too much bulk is not good in the field.
“A retriever, to be useful, should have legs short and as straight as darts, firm and strong ; a full-sized head (a dog with a too small head is rarely a clever worker), a tail that does not curl over his back, but is borne high and light, good loins, a shaggy and yet glossy coat, small ears, large feet with well-planted toes that do not splay outwards, and a deep well-formed chest, which does not imply a broad, massive one — the latter is a disadvantage, as it means a slow and heavy dog, especially in covert”
Of course today the Golden is bred for a broad head but I find the overly exaggerated heads of today to be almost comical. It seems that short legs are exaggerated today. Also the shaggy coat has been exaggerated to be overly long and open and rather than a hard glossy finish the coats of today in the ring are seen as soft and silky with a matte finish.
In the book I referred to yesterday, the author felt that the smaller dog was the better in the field and also in the boat. He felt the smaller the better and said that the “true” Labradors were much smaller than the Newfoundland and the Newfoundland he described is smaller than today’s breed by about half the size.
Our canine needs today are not what they were back in the 1800′s. We probably use golden Retrievers as much for tracking, assistance dogs, and therapy dogs as we do for hunting which tends to be mostly a sport today. The overly large and heavy Goldens tend to be better at therapy and assistance and the smaller more lively dogs seem better suited for field and agility. They both make great house pets but you want land for the smaller livelier type whereas the heavier more calm type is happy quite often to be house bound.
Different world, different needs, different types…