Judges Education

Letter to Judges regarding correct coat and grooming practices

The Golden Retriever standard, in its opening paragraph, clearly points out that the Golden Retriever is “primarily a hunting dog.” While we have grown accustomed to seeing the Golden in the show ring, it is vitally important not to lose sight of the breed’s heritage and the Golden’s ability to perform its intended function as a retriever of both waterfowl and upland game.

The AKC breed standard states: (Bold type for purpose of this letter only)

Coat — Dense and water repellent with good undercoat. Outer coat firm and resilient, neither coarse nor silky, lying close to body; may be straight or wavy. Untrimmed natural ruff; moderate feathering on back of forelegs and on under-body; heavier feathering on front of neck, back of thighs and underside of tail.

Coat on head, paws and front of legs is short and even. Excessive length, open coats and limp, soft coats are very undesirable. Feet may be trimmed and stray hairs neatened, but the natural appearance of coat or outline should not be altered by cutting or clipping.

As a hunting dog, the Golden’s coat serves the specific function of protecting the dog both on land and in the water. He should be shown as the standard dictates, with a natural coat, not excessively sculpted or barbered. The correct, firm, resilient texture of the coat is extremely important and judges must be able to assess the coat to see if it is correct for the breed. The Golden’s body coat should wrap the body and show no signs of clippering or barbering. The breed standard calls for a double coat. The outer coat protects against the elements and the debris that dogs encounter in the field. The undercoat insulates, keeping the dog warm in cold weather and when swimming. The total effect of the coat is to create a waterproof jacket, protecting the body much as a duck’s feathers protect the duck’s body. A soft, silky or cottony coat or a coat that stands away from the body, while it might look attractive in the show ring, is not desirable as it would interfere with the function of the breed. The correct coat may be straight or wavy but it may not be open or groomed to stand away from the body.

The Golden is a natural dog, and excessive grooming or sculpting is undesirable and as unacceptable as a poorly groomed or un-groomed exhibit. Unfortunately, this kind of excessive fluffing and puffing of the coat, in an attempt to create a vision of correct structure, has become increasingly commonplace and is being unduly rewarded by some judges. While it might look pretty, this type of fluffed up, open and overly neatened coat is to be considered faulty under our breed standard and should not be rewarded.

Many exhibitors and handlers of Golden Retrievers attempt to groom in correct structure instead of breeding for it. Legs are moussed to create the illusion of more bone; poor toplines are improved with products that hold the coat in place after the hair has been back-blown and teased. Angulation is improved with creative scissoring to create the illusion of more bend of stifle or better layback. Feet and nails are excessively trimmed back to make the foot look smaller.

Despite AKC rules barring the addition of “foreign substances” to the coat or changing the dog by artificial means, a number of exhibitors seem to rely on such products to conceal faults. A brief check and comparison of the nose and the lips or eye rims can easily show if the black nose is representative of the dog’s actual pigmentation or an enhanced version. Please remember that grooming will not truly improve the quality of the breeding stock judges are asked to assess in the ring.

Remember too, the standard states: “With the exception of graying or whitening of face or body due to age, any white marking, other than a few white hairs on the chest, should be penalized according to its extent.” The coloring of the coat to conceal a natural result of aging is not necessary and judges should refrain from penalizing a gray face. Graying can occur as early as four to five years of age in this breed and the perception that judges will fault gray in the coat may be prompting the reaction of exhibitors to enhance their dog’s coloring.

Do not be fooled into thinking a dog has correct structure and color based solely on its superficial appearance. With a coated breed, no judge should rely on his eyes alone to assess a dog. A good hands-on examination by the judge will quickly discover if the dog has correct rib spring, adequate forechest, a good layback and upper arm, correct bone and proper coat texture and undercoat, as well as other attributes.

Judges have a strong responsibility to carefully examine and evaluate dogs based on the entire breed standard, not on currently fashionable trends or grooming practices, which often take a correct coat and transform it into clearly incorrect coat. Correct coat and structure should be rewarded and incorrect coat and structure should be penalized. GRCA relies on judges to make their decisions according to the requirements of the Golden breed standard. If you are unable to assess the correct coat texture due to grooming practices, then the dog must be penalized accordingly. Correct coat is an essential element of correct Golden Retriever type and the function of this breed as a retriever.

Golden Retriever Club of America
Judges’ Education Committee

June 2007