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All About Retrievers: History, Origin, and Types of Retriever Dogs

  • 13 min read

The following information is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not constitute pet medical advice.
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You’re thinking about getting a retriever.

Golden, lab, whatever breed first comes to mind. I want you to pump the brakes, because before you really commit – and I mean commit in the strongest of ways – to any breed of retriever, I want you to know a few things about them.

They’re wonderful, for starters, but there are some types of retrievers that you might not be aware of. Some that could be the absolute perfect fit for your family and lifestyle. We’re going to talk about those today.

Let’s start with a bit of history on the retriever breeds, where they were used, and how they benefited a lot of people in a short amount of time. They’re different from other breeds of dogs, and this is why.

When Were the First Retrievers Bred?

Not to be ambiguous, but it’s not entirely clear where the very first golden retrievers were ever bred. There’s a lot of information with shaky sources that point to three places of origin: Scotland, England, and America.

The reason this is interesting is because, historically, there’s always been a bit of tension between England and Scotland (you know, not like the United States doesn’t have a history with England).

Because of the rivalries of these nations, it makes it difficult to verify who actually has the bragging rights to being the birthplace of the golden retriever.

Today, we have three types of golden retrievers: American, British, and Canadian. This doesn’t mean that golden retrievers couldn’t have originated in Scotland, but if so, they’re certainly not in high demand or high popularity there anymore

For the longest time, though, there were a lot of people who believed golden retrievers were actually the result of a breeding arrangement bu Russian circus dogs.

Two separate breeds of dogs, which are not disclosed throughout historical lore and rumors, were both purchased by a man named Sir Dudley Marjoribanks, who became the first Lord Tweedmouth at a later date in time.

As far as we can find, these dogs went with Sir Dudley and lived with him in Scotland (it is believed that this is where golden retrievers get their supposed Scotish descent from).

The man purchased a castle, and behind that castle, he would hunt deer fairly often in the nearby woods. Taking both of these apparent Russian circus dogs with him, they would hunt all day.

Sir Dudley was so impressed with their performance and aptitude for the hunt, that he just couldn’t pick between the two of them.

He didn’t know which were faster, which were better at sniffing out a lead, and so on. Instead of trying to see who was best and making them his primary hunting hound, he decided to breed them together.

Back in the 1950s, this tale was basically the Old Testament of the golden retriever lineage. Digging further into some information that was publicly made available by the modern-day Marjoribanks family that suggests something different happened.

A yellow retriever from Brighton and a tweed water spaniel (a Scotish dog breed that is long extinct) were apparently the origins of these two supposed Russian circus dogs.

Together, they became the patriarch and matriarch of all golden retrievers after having four puppies. Currently, it’s believed that all golden retrievers came from these two dogs, a pair named Nous and Belle.

While I know you and I are interested in golden retrievers to a great extent (otherwise, you wouldn’t be here reading this right now), not everyone is interested in this niche topic.

There’s not a lot of active investigation into dog breeds from the past, particularly because documentation from back then is often unreliable. For now, this theory of Nous and Belle is the best we have to go on for the origin of the golden retriever.

However it’s important to note that goldens are not the only types of retrievers, even though they are often the most popular.

Labrador retrievers are expected to have been bred some time around 1830, when these dogs were first really discovered (or at least their specific breed was explored) in Labrador, Canada.

Where Were They Used?

Where Were They Used?

Taking into account that golden retrievers may only be about 150 years old (give or take), that means we’re reasonably only about twenty-or-so generations in. That’s a short enough history that we can find out quite a lot about this particular breed.

While they were primarily used in Scotland and England for their superior hunting skills and retrieving (hence the name), they were so loyal and calm that they eventually became the go-to dog breed for families with children.

During the baby boom in the United States, where just about everyone had a dog, people wanted to know that their pup was going to be good with their children, even when the child was annoying or aggravating to the dog.

Goldens have always been domesticated, and their demeanor stems for loyal, obedient hunting dogs, so it’s no wonder they’re quick to learn from us and follow when we train them.

It’s important to note that while golden retrievers are the most beloved type, labs were actually domesticated earlier, and have a long history of being obedient as well.

They originated in 1800 in Newfoundland, and were also used for hunting, which is why some speculate that labrador retrievers are the “superior breed” of retriever dogs.

What Makes Retrievers Different From Other Dogs?

What Makes Retrievers Different From Other Dogs?

There are more differences than you might realize. Golden retrievers aren’t just another dog breed – they’re a cut above the rest in many departments, although there are some admittedly sad downsides to owning a golden retriever as well.

Easier to Train

Compared to just about every other dog breed out there (and I’m not just referencing the notoriously difficult-to-train ones), golden retrievers are more willing to follow your lead when it comes to training.

They’re inherently food-driven creatures, making them easy to please and train. You incentivize them with delicious food, and they’re going to quickly see that you’re here to provide them with things they enjoy as long as they do what you expect of them.

They Shed Like Crazy

Yeah, your dog might shed, but a golden retriever sheds. They’re notorious for leaving clumps of hair all over the house and backyard, mostly because they go through seasonal coat changes.

You actually have to brush your golden retriever’s hair once every 48-72 hours to properly remove all of the loose hairs. Otherwise, you end up with piles all over the house.

Excessive Loyalty

Perhaps it’s the fact that they’re easy to train, but once they decide on a master, they’re committed for life.

You can read so many stories of different retrievers going into depression when their owner dies, sitting at their grave without moving, and even saving their owners lives if trained properly. They have all eyes on you, and they care about you.


I’m not saying that other breeds of dogs are not affectionate, I’m just saying that few compare to retrievers. Goldens tend to be more affectionate than labs, but they’re very close.

They are social creatures who love receiving pats on the head, tummy rubs, and even full-body hugs. Goldens even like being carried by their owners, regardless of their age. They’re going to make sure you feel the love, they just want a little in return.

They’re Prone to Cancer

This is where the differences aren’t exactly a good thing. For some reason, retrievers are more likely to get cancer than any other type of dog. Since retrievers only have a 10 – 12 year lifespan as it is, that can really complicate things for the duration of time that your dog has.

Skin Infection Risks

Your dog’s skin is beneath all that hair/fur, but since retrievers shed like nobody’s business, they have so much skin activity.

They’re more prone to skin infections than most other breeds, so you have to watch for fungal growth or yeast infections (which can occur on the surface of your skin) and be privy to stopping these issues from worsening with time.

Types of Retriever Dogs

Types of Retriever Dogs

It’s not as simple as saying you want a retriever. While you’re going to notice the most common and beloved types of retrievers first on this list, there are a few other types that might have you scratching your head just a little bit.

They’re all great and have a place in your home, but let’s run down the differences between them before you decide on a specific type.


Golden retrievers rank as the most popular type of retriever out there, and how could they not?

They’re absolutely adorable creatures, whether they’re a puppy or a fully-grown adult dog. Males typically rank at 24” tall, while females will peak at 22.5” tall. Males weigh around 65-75 lbs, while females weigh roughly 55-65 lbs.

We’ve all fallen in love with golden retriever puppies and how cute and innocent they look, and as they grow up, they maintain that innocent demeanor. A golden is not an aggressive dog. They will hunt with you, but for the sole purpose of making you happy and obeying your guidance.

Golden retrievers have been hailed as the ultimate family-friendly dog for years, and there’s a lot of truth to that. While they are more prone to cancers and have a lifespan that generally peaks at 10-12 years, they are excellent with children, loyal to their masters, and will protect the home if need be.


As one of the most beloved dog breeds in the world, labs make up a lot of the retriever population. Males end up being around 24.5” tall, while females will reach about 23.5” tall, weighing in at 65-80 lbs for males, and 55-70 lbs for females.

They’re fairly medium-sized to big dogs depending on their age. Labs became one of the most popular dogs primarily because they’re loyal as can be, just like goldens, and they’re ridiculously athletic.

They’ll retrieve a downed duck, they’ll run with you on the beach, or hang out by the campsite—labrador retrievers can be hunting companions, or they can be a family dog that keep your children safe and protects your property. It’s all up to how you train them.

Labs are generally docile unless provoked by a real threat, so even if toddlers mess around with them, no lab is going to take the threat seriously.

Flat Coated

Flat coated retrievers can be a fairly medium-sized dog, even in terms of the retriever breed.

They’re around 24.5” tall for males, and a close 23.5” tall for females. Both genders end up weighing around 60 to 70 lbs in total, so there isn’t a lot of room for weight diversity. This can be good for tracking their development.

They’re described as flat coated for a good reason – their hair lays very flat against their skin, giving a smooth and silky appearance on the outside.

However, flat coated retrievers have a shorter lifespan than most retrievers, capping out at about eight to ten years old. They’re very athletic dogs that will retrieve a downed duck for you, or simply spend time in the outdoors by the tent during a camping trip with no issue.

Curly Coated

It’s just what you would expect – a retriever with a curly-haired coat instead of a sleek bit of long fur. Among retrievers these are some of the larger varieties.

Males can get up to about 27” tall, while females will reach around 25” tall. Both genders can reach anywhere from 60 lbs up to 95 lbs, depending on their height and veterinary diet requirements.

Since they have such a wide weight range, it can be difficult to know if they’re overweight or not sometimes. They’re very proud dogs who enjoy hunting, camping, and hiking, and will gladly be by your side anytime you’re in the outdoors.

They shed like nobody’s business, so be sure to get a brush that can handle curly hair without tugging on them. They’re going to require more grooming than your standard dog.

Nova Scotia

The Nova Scotia retriever, also known as a duck toller, is a rogeous, reddish and white breed of retriever. Their coat colors are as sharp as it gets, and they stand out among every other type of retriever for this.

They’re a bit shorter than most, with males tending to be about 21” tall, and females 20” tall, with a weight range of 35-50 lbs regardless of gender. They’re at about the 50% mark for most popular breeds among all types of dogs out there.

One excellent thing about them is their lifespan, which is generally around twelve to fourteen years, which is longer than golden retrievers. It makes them a more popular pick for someone looking to get a forever dog.

We know retrievers are athletic, but nothing is going to give you a run for your money like a Nova Scotia retriever.

They’re athletic, dastardly in a race, and enjoy camping, hiking, and swimming. They’re actually so good at swimming and have been doing it for so long, that you’ll notice a slight webbing to their paws.

Chesapeake Bay

They resemble a rougher breed of dog and don’t necessarily look like retrievers as much, but they are.

A bit taller than most, the Chesapeake Bay retriever tends to be about 26” tall for males and 24” tall for females, with a weight range of 65-80 lbs for males, and 55-70 lbs for females.

While other retrievers hail from Scotland and England, the Chesapeake Bay retriever was named as such because of their origin. They’re homegrown right in the United States, which is where they were first bred.

You’ll notice that these retrievers seem to have endless energy, and are always up for a run, jog, or playtime in the backyard. You would also find that they’re reluctant to leave the dog park.

One noticeable difference about the Chesapeake Bay retriever is their seemingly neutral demeanor. They’re good, friendly dogs, they just don’t look quite the same as their golden counterparts, which is why they’re often left in the dust.

Your Next Retriever

Now you know. From Nova Scotia to Chesapeake Bay, all the way back to their origin and the many years of puppy companionship littered in between, now you know the retriever inside and out, front to back.

But the question is, what are you going to do with all of this knowledge? Is a retriever still the right dog for you?

We believe that retrievers are the every-man’s dog that can fit into any household, any family dynamic, and anyone’s hearts.

Feel free to check out our other guides on retrievers from diet to aging, exercise and shedding, and all the little picadillos caught in the middle. They’re a great breed of dog; you’re going to love them.


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