Golden Thoughts

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I just read the Jan/Feb issue of Shooting Sportsman. In George Hickox’s Hunting Dogs column he says, “Labs and Chessies also can be used for upland hunting. I give the nod to Labs here, as they usually are faster and have more endurance. A popular dog that I have not mentioned is the Golden retriever. Quality goldens have become harder to find these days, and they now rank high on the list of dogs most likely to bite. This is not to say that there are no good goldens. There are. However, why play Russian roulette when there are so many good Labs”? Interesting that Mr. Hickox sells Labs.

Many of us “sportsmen or women” are golden retriever owners and very proud of it. We take offense to this being published in your magazine. There are many places for opinions, but when you degrade a dog breed based on personal bias without doing any fact checking in a well-known publication, it becomes very offensive.

Our family hunts goldens and a Lab; we breed golden retrievers for hunting (both upland and waterfowl). There are hundreds and hundreds of birds retrieved by our goldens every year; they are the heart and soul of our hunts.

We have no issue with George promoting his personal breed of choice, but to make unfactual derogatory comments on another breed in your publication is not sportsmanlike at all.

An apology to owners of golden retriever hunting dogs would be very appropriate.

Barb & Dwight Loree

Via e-mail


I am sure you are being inundated with e-mails and photos of goldens hunting, and I am sure you will be getting many more. Obviously this is in reference to Mr. Hickox’s recent column in which he made some very derogatory comments about golden retrievers, not only concerning their hunting abilities but their health and their temperament.

It is a shame he did this, although I realize it is only his personal opinion; but it is demeaning to the breed and calls into question his credibility as an unbiased author and his lack of research. I will attack neither his manhood nor his character other than to say it was a huge disappointment to read this column. I have read many articles by Mr. Hickox and have thought about approaching him to ask permission to reproduce some of them in the Golden Retriever News. Now they would be “banned in Boston.”

I have and have had both goldens and Labs for many years. These include a fair amount of FC/AFCs, National contenders in both breeds, as well as many MHs and QAA dogs.

I happen to love both breeds and have found in training them that the differences are greater among individuals than between the breeds. Many of my goldens have lived close to or slightly more than 14 years—remaining very active right up to the day of death. I have two 12-year-olds right now that could pass for five. One of my goldens got his MH at age 12—he had his FC/AFC and didn’t like being retired from the field, so we ran hunt tests so he could continue to have fun. I try to join up with a gundog trainer on a regular basis, and he (a Lab man) thought so highly of my Bart’s hunting abilities that he purchased two of his pups to train and hunt. I have eight males, all intact, who live together, usually forming a large furry rug in our family room.

I have never been bitten by a golden or feared being bitten by one, and I have had grandkids raised by them—learning to walk hanging on to a dog. One of the goals of all good golden breeders is producing dogs with stable temperaments combined with loving natures and that are willing workers. I don’t have golden pups for sale. (Actually, I do have a very lovely breeding of my FC Lab bitch due in a month or so in case Mr. Hickox is interested!)

I am the Field Liaison to the Golden Retriever News and have sent in many articles re goldens and hunting, both here and in Europe and England.

Glenda Brown

Via e-mail


I have been involved with golden retrievers for quite a few years. We mainly use our dogs to hunt and have had goldens for the past 40 years. We have had goldens from, for lack of a better phrase, all walks of life. From a puppy born with a heart murmur destined to be destroyed by a breeder because he was not healthy enough to sell, to a spectacular puppy noticed in the pet store, to a seeing-eye trainee who just didn’t quite make it, to top-of-the-line competitive field-bred puppies. All these special souls had one special trait: the love of retrieving. Each one came from very different breedings and heritage and all became part of our family. Golden retrievers not only love the retrieving game, they also become members of the family that earn and deserve respect. The dog that is chasing a cripple duck for all he is worth can come home and sit by the fire with the kids at the end of the day.

We too have had black Labs, and our goldens can out-hunt and outlast the Labs on any given day. I am not writing to you to get on the Lab vs. golden wagon, only to make you aware there are quality goldens with the desire to retrieve. As with all other hunting dogs, training is the key to success. I would like to share a few quick stories with you about the goldens we have had in our lives.

Sunners was born with a heart murmur. Bred mostly for the show ring, he was too adorable to not take care of. We agreed never to breed him and set out to make him a world-class hunting dog. Training and patience made Sunners everyone’s desire as an upland-game dog. He was methodical and systematic in his hunting but always got his birds. Even with the show-breeding background and his health issue, he was trainable and had enough desire to be a great upland hunting dog.

Rusty was in a pet store looking for a new home as an eight-week-old puppy. This 105-pound golden retriever loved to hunt. He lived to a ripe old age of 15 years. His breeding was from Old English stock, and his trainability was high. He could hunt anything.

Wags was destined to be a seeing-eye dog. After months of training at the blind society, she was released from the program two weeks before graduation. This dog was trained to not look at birds during her time at the blind society. With lots of patience and encouragement, she hunted ducks and geese. Her natural instinct to retrieve was still there, and she was a wonderful waterfowl hunting dog. This dog was produced from our own breeding that produced 13 puppies.

Star and Lacy are bred from competitive field-bred lines. Star hunts waterfowl and also has competed in hunt tests and field trials. Lacy only competes and was the Top Golden Female Derby Dog for 2009.

All of the golden retrievers we have had over the years have been “quality” goldens, trained to be good citizens and good retrievers. My experience has taught me that a dog is only as good as its training.

With proper training, golden retrievers can be wonderful hunting dogs and good citizens. I have included a few photos of our dogs demonstrating their keen hunting abilities as well as their ability to live with the family.

Tammy Zahornacky

Tracy, California


In his January/February Hunting Dogs column Mr. Hickox makes the following comment: “Labs and Chessies also can be used for upland hunting. I give the nod to Labs here, as they usually are faster and have more endurance. A popular dog that I have not mentioned is the Golden retriever. Quality goldens have become harder to find these days, and they now rank high on the list of dogs most likely to bite. This is not to say that there are no good goldens. There are. However, why play Russian roulette when there are so many good Labs”?

As an owner and occasional breeder of quality field golden retrievers, I feel compelled to respond to this gross generalization.

I actively participate in the AKC Hunt Test venue and am proud to serve on the Master National Retriever Club Board as Region IV Vice President. I would beg to contradict Mr. Hickox’s statement that quality goldens have become harder to find these days and say that now more than ever there is a higher percentage of great field goldens participating in Hunt Tests at the Master Level.

While the field continues to be clearly dominated by Labs, percentage-wise (entered vs. passed) the pass rates are comparable. And I’d certainly like to see the stats behind his comment that goldens now rank high on the list of dogs most likely to bite. I’m not trying to say goldens are perfect, but I must say from my experience the only biting I’ve seen in the field has been by either a Chessie or a Lab!

While I must confess I am not an avid hunter myself, several of my Master National Hall of Fame Girl’s pups have gone to hunters. In fact, just four days before I became aware of Mr. Hickox’s article I received the following email from one of my pup owners. I think it says it all.

“I have to share my ‘That’s my girl’ moment with both of you. Maggie did a triple speckle-bellied goose retrieve this morning while the chocolate Lab had to just watch. Four of us fired 12 rounds in about four seconds, feathers were flying and birds were falling. We had a flight of geese fly right over our blind 35 yards off the ground!

“First bird, both dogs mark it—100-plus yards out in the south pond Maggie wins the race to the bird.

“Second bird, I am still in the pit blind and send Maggie on a ‘blind’ retrieve after a wounded bird 150 yards out toward the far corner of the north pond (northwest of the pit blind). She runs west down the check, I whistle her to sit and give her a diagonal right back. She does a left back down the check and then disappears in the foliage on the south pond. I whistle her to return and see her running back on the check with another goose in her mouth! She had a second mark I didn’t see. I know, she should have taken my cast, but we are hunting not training.

“Third bird, this is the ‘blind’ in the north pond. This time I am standing on the check, so she can see me. Again she runs west down the check and I whistle and repeat the diagonal right back. She started left toward the south pond again, so I whistled and gave her a right over, finally getting her into the north pond. Whistle, right back when she is lined up with the bird that is swimming away. She takes the right back and charges straight toward the bird (now 170-plus yards away) still on a blind. At about 140 yards out, Maggie and the bird see each other. Maggie: You’re mine; goose: Oh, crap! By the time she reaches it, they are almost 200 yards out in the far corner of the pond.

“Fourth bird—wounded flyer 300-plus yards northeast in another pond; the shooter was not sure where it was and declines having Maggie go after it.

“The Lab only marked the one bird and does not do blinds. She and Les, her owner (my hunting mentor), could only watch as Maggie did her job. Another one of our hunters said he has never seen a triple goose retrieve in all his years of hunting, and Maggie is a ‘well-trained hunting machine.’ Les did not say a word.

“I had to share the moment with the two of you, since you both made it possible. Dad is real proud of our girl!”

I hope that in the future your highly regarded magazine provides more balanced commentary regarding the various breeds of dogs working in the field. At the end of the day, good dogwork is good dogwork, regardless of breed.

Janet Wood

Via e-mail


As a lifelong owner and trainer of field-bred goldens, I couldn’t help but be offended by Mr. Hickox’s dismissive attitude toward the breed. But on reflection, I have to agree that his comments have some merit. My very best golden, Topbrass Kelly, suffered from aggression. While she never met a human she didn’t want to “love to death,” she would, on rare occasion, attack an inferior breed if it didn’t respect her territory. And . . . she did die of Lymphoma . . . at the age of 14.

And in keeping with Mr. Hickox’s summary of the deficiencies of the breed, I would hasten to add that there are other shortcomings that you should consider. A superior olfactory sense has always been a problem with my goldens. While my friends were getting in a full morning’s hunt with their Labs, spaniels and setters, Kelly would have me limited out before the sun was visible in the east. If you need exercise to control your weight, don’t buy a golden.

Intelligence is clearly a problem with goldens. Labs will obediently perform the same mundane, routine task repetitively without ever questioning the wisdom of the exercise. Goldens, on the other hand, will almost invariably question the logic of a training exercise . . . and you had better be ready to demonstrate the relevance of the task to a goal or your golden will find a better way to do it.

Sociability may be one of the biggest problems with goldens. When company arrives, most breeds will go hide under the bed or curl up in the corner while the guests make merry, but a golden will immediately grab the limelight, entertaining your guests while you’re sitting idly by waiting impatiently for your turn to interact with company.

And last but not least, the most egregious shortcoming of goldens is their annoying habit of becoming the focus of any hunting photo. Take a snapshot with your buddies and your spaniels at your side, and the hunters, guns and birds will be the focal point of the picture. Take a hunting photo with your goldens, and no one will even remember who was hunting with those handsome dogs. On the other hand, if you’re in the mail-order-catalog business, you just might want to follow the L.L. Bean example and breed goldens to sell your products. It obviously works.

If you are seeking advice when buying a car, don’t ask the man who sells Chevys for a living to advise you on the merits of a Ford. The same rule applies to dogs.

Ron Jones

Midland, Michigan


A professional toting all the accolades George Hickox has should know “shooting” even a small portion of his potential audience/prospects is not in his best interest. Which begs the question: Why would he do it? There are many dog breeds capable of upland hunting, with all sorts of styles and techniques. Moreover, there are only a small percentage of high rollers in all of them (dogs that do it better than all the rest)—champions. No breed has a version whereby you just add water and instantly get a huntin’ dog. Sure, one can look for potentially sound genetic makeup but still may be at risk of not getting a great huntin’ dog in any breed.

So why would a professional single out a specific breed and slander it, stating the breeders are incapable of consistently producing dogs talented enough to find birds? The heritage of the breed he has chosen to insult is long and rich in success from a hunting perspective. Educated professionals would understand this. They’d also comprehend that all breeds have their issues and each deserves the dignity it’s earned. Respectable publications would normally avoid this sort of defamation as part of good business practice. If the author wanted to guide hunters, there are far better means to describe more accurately what he may have been trying to express without offending all those who own terrific upland & waterfowl goldens. Maybe he could have just simply said that good hunting goldens are harder to find.

I’m sure the article presented by Mr. Hickox was reviewed before the magazine went to press, but the impact may not have been considered as to how devastating such comments might be to sportsmen looking for an outstanding upland/waterfowl companion.

Diane Glassmeyer

Via e-mail


I was surprised to read in George Hickox’s piece “The Right Dog For You, Part I” (Hunting Dogs, Jan/Feb) that golden retrievers “now rank high on the list of dogs most likely to bite.” My limited experience with goldens has been that they are sweet, somewhat-high-strung dogs that love to chase tennis balls.

I did some research online and was unable to find a list that ranks dogs that are most likely to bite. I did find a list that ranked breeds according to human fatalities from dog bites. Goldens, of course, weren’t on the list.

The Humane Society’s Website reminds us that any dog breed can bite. With that in mind, I found it interesting that Mr. Hickox didn’t address dog bites caused by the other breeds mentioned in the article. What’s more surprising is that Chessies are identified as “intimidating guard dogs,” but their propensity to bite isn’t explored.

I’d like Mr. Hickox to give us more data on dog biting for all the breeds mentioned in his two-part piece or avoid the issue altogether rather than mention biting in passing for only one of the breeds discussed.

Ryan Mayward

Via e-mail


I was disappointed to see that in his January/February Hunting Dogs column George Hickox wrote: “Labs and Chessies also can be used for upland hunting. I give the nod to Labs here, as they usually are faster and have more endurance. A popular dog that I have not mentioned is the golden retriever. Quality goldens have become harder to find these days, and they now rank high on the list of dogs most likely to bite. This is not to say that there are no good goldens. There are. However, why play Russian roulette when there are so many good Labs”? Interesting that Mr. Hickox sells Labs.

I have a number of Mr. Hickox’s videos and have used those specifically for training all three of my goldens for hunting upland birds. I also compete in field trials. The only comment in the above quote that I would agree with is that good goldens are very hard to find. But they are worth the wait. They make both excellent hunting dogs and field-trial competitors. One of the pictures I have included is of my daughter who competed against adults with one of my goldens. The competition was almost exclusively Labs handled by adults. Out of 40 dogs and handlers, she placed second. She was only 11 years old at the time! I have hunted with goldens extensively in Saskatchewan and Alberta for upland game and done exceptionally well.

In the article a more balanced view would have been that goldens are hard to find, but when you do find them they have excellent characteristics for hunting and competition. They can easily hold their own with Labs and chessies. I would even add that if more people recognized the capabilities of goldens, the demand for them would drive better breeding and the gene pool would improve. I am concerned that the risk of losing this excellent breed of gundog is higher than the other breeds, and if that happened it would be a shame.

You might want to consider including an article specifically about hunting/competition goldens to provide a balanced and complete view of the breed and its capabilities. I would expect you are getting a number of similar messages from golden owners who would be willing to contribute to that article.

Rob Laishley

Via e-mail


I was astounded to read Hickox’s comments about golden retrievers not being suitable for upland hunting. Is he on crack? Seriously, anyone who knows retrievers knows that goldens are perhaps the best upland hunting retrievers. Even the hardcore field-trailers who universally compete with (black, male) Labs will admit that goldens have better noses. I have both Labs and goldens, and we both hunt and run field trials. My Labs may be better at field trials, but the goldens are much better hunters.

His assertion that goldens were more likely to bite than other breeds is similarly ridiculous. There are many factors that go into why a dog would bite, but the biggest correlation in the number of bites is the number in the breed. Goldens and Labs are very popular breeds, and it stands to reason that in absolute numbers they would be higher. Very few controlled studies have been done on biting by breeds, but the seminal study done in 1991 by Denver Animal Control found that both goldens and Labs are more common among non-biting dogs than biting dogs. German shepherds, chows, collies and Akitas were the most frequent among biting dogs. In addition, a study published in the journal of Applied Animal Behavior Science by the University of Pennsylvania found goldens (and Labs) among the least likely to bite as a percentage of their population.

Hickox cannot be so ignorant, so his bias as a breeder and seller of Labradors must be showing. I urge you to print a retraction and refrain from such ignorant articles in the future.

Penn Cox

Via e-mail


In your most recent magazine the following appeared in an article written by George Hickox: “Labs and Chessies also can be used for upland hunting. I give the nod to Labs here, as they usually are faster and have more endurance. A popular dog that I have not mentioned is the golden retriever. Quality goldens have become harder to find these days, and they now rank high on the list of dogs most likely to bite. This is not to say that there are no good goldens. There are. However, why play Russian roulette when there are so many good Labs”?

First and foremost, golden retrievers are known for their good and dependable dispositions. Secondly, I have owned Labs and golden retrievers and will tell you that the golden’s “nose” is quite superior to the Lab’s and is a great hunting aid for upland gamebirds that like to hunker down in snow and cover. Yes, I hunt. My dog, AFC AFTCH Rosehill’s Mr. Speaker, MH, OS, FDHF, CCA was one of the best upland-game dogs I ever hunted over because he could find the birds, was biddable, and because he had a good nose he could find those that were wounded or hit-and-run birds. He even caught a rooster that he flushed that did not want to move! A wild pheasant, not a game bird! Not only that, but he also was a tremendous performance dog and house companion.

The history of the golden retriever is based on developing a gentleman’s hunting dog—a dog that was easy to spend the day with, walking in the meadows and marshes for upland game and waterfowl. In Europe they retrieve not only upland birds (chukar, pheasant, quail, grouse) and waterfowl, but also hare! And they are very easy to live with because they have such a wonderful disposition. They are valued as one of the best family dogs to own, being great with children and getting along with other dogs and pets.

I do not write this to sell golden retrievers. I don’t sell goldens. I own them, train them for field trials, hunt tests, agility and obedience competition. I have six intact males at my home now and they all hang out together, go on walks together and play together. They range in age between 13 and one year. I have dynamic dogs that are some of the best hunting companions and teammates I could ask for. It is why I train them, hunt them, love them and live with them. Please check out my Website for further proof.

I hope that Mr. Hickox gets educated about the golden retriever, because he did the breed a disservice by writing what he did; and your magazine did the same by printing it.

Lorie C. Jolly

Sparta, Tennessee


Mr. Hickox and your magazine have done a grave disservice to golden retriever gundogs and their owners who use them with great success in retrieving upland birds and waterfowl; not to mention many golden breeders who produce many fine gundogs.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Hickox has not met more goldens that are good representatives of the breed. Since Mr. Hickox trains dogs for other people, he does not have control over choosing the breeder of the goldens that come to him for training.

I have a photo of a 10-month-old golden who flushed & retrieved almost 40 pheasants, working for six hunters over a three-day period. This fall he did equally well hunting geese & ducks in Canada.

Another photo shows a golden from Cape Cod who hunts nearly every day during the season, goes to work with his owner, and has been the honored guest at the owner’s daughter’s tea parties. When this fine dog showed his hunting ability, the owner’s hunting buddies, who have Labs, insisted that this golden is just “not normal.” Perhaps Mr. Hickox also uses this same rationalization for his anti-golden prejudice demonstrated by his statements about goldens as gundogs in his article?

Gerry Clinchy

Coopersburg, PA


George Hickox responds:

Everyone has the world’s best dog. However, the emotions that owners have regarding their dogs often lead to “kennel blindness” and sweeping genetic problems under the rug. Viewing canine traits through rose-colored glasses does not lead to decisions that will improve the breed. As I stated, there are good golden retrievers, but prospective buyers need to research lines and breeders, as finding good hunting goldens is harder today.

My major concerns regarding the golden retriever gene pool are centered on the higher propensity of goldens to develop lymphoma and problems with aggression. I have been accused of presenting misleading information because I breed Labs. Hogwash. I presented this information in an effort to inform buyers of potential hazards.

Regarding the risks of lymphoma in golden retrievers, the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University states: “Golden retrievers are considered a breed at increased risk of developing LSA.” LSA is the designation for Canine Lymphosarcoma, referred to as lymphoma, LSA. More information regarding LSA can be found by going to and reading the article “Cancer in Animals.”

There is plenty of information regarding LSA available on the Web. An article on the Canine Lymphoma Guide ( states: “One in every eight Golden Retrievers will develop this condition.” I consider this is a high risk, and potential buyers should be aware of it. Dr. Bob Reynolds has been a veterinarian for decades and is a valued consultant. When I asked Reynolds about the risk of lymphoma in goldens, he said, “Over the years when asked what is a good family pet, I was able with confidence to recommend the golden retriever, but a few years ago I became concerned about the number of young goldens that were developing lymphoma at three, four and five years of age. Treatment for this can be expensive, and if the dog is euthanized, this can be devastating to the family.”

Another thing that can lead to heartbreak is an aggressive dog. Ed Bailey is an esteemed canine behaviorist, and in a recent issue of Gun Dog Magazine he wrote: “Ask anyone dealing with dog problems or, more appropriately, problem dogs, what the biggest problem is today, and everyone will unhesitatingly say aggression. That is scary, but more scary is the change in breeds now being labeled as aggressive. Not long ago you would have heard that the German shepherd, Rottweiler and pit bull top the list. But at the behavior clinic here, while the Rottweiler is still tops just behind it, and climbing, is the golden retriever.” (To read the entire article go to aggression 05021.)

As I stated, there are certainly good golden retrievers. But I feel that there is a growing problem within the breed. The more a breed becomes influenced by backyard breeders who either hide genetic problems; are motivated by traits other than health, temperament and performance; and/or have a limited gene pool available to them, the more potential buyers are put at risk. My hat is off to those breeders who recognize the growing problem of aggression and lymphoma in goldens and are doing their best to restore the breed to a high standard of performance, health and temperament.

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