Golden retrievers are one of the most popular dog breeds and are often known for their long golden-colored coat.
According to the American Kennel Club, golden retrievers are the third most popular dog breed based on registration statistics. This golden coat starts to develop as they move out of their puppy phase and into adulthood.
Do all golden retrievers have long hair? While long hair is a staple characteristic of the golden retriever, not all of them have long hair. The length of their hair is based on variations in genes. Golden retrievers with short hair can still be considered a standard breed with genetic testing, but may have differences in the genes specific to hair or not be pure gold.
Long hair is more common in golden retrievers, but some do have short hair. This may make them stand out from their traditionally long-haired counterparts.
Variations may be related to genetic mutations passed down through a line of dogs, or the golden retriever may not be entirely purebred. This article jumps into these differences and how to care for both.
Golden Retrievers and Long Hair
Because golden retrievers predominately have long hair, we are first going to discuss the characteristics of this hair and the history that resulted in the need for this recognizable coat.
Standard Coat Characteristics
The golden retriever has standard coat characteristics that are accepted by the American Kennel Association.
This official body determines what a dog must look like in order to be considered standard and purebred. This official description is referenced to determine the length and appearance of this coat.
To be considered a standard golden retriever, the dog must have a thick coat with a notable undercoat. The long feathering hair must be present on the tail and underbody, with thicker feathering on the back and neck.
This hair should not be shortened or excessively long. Hair is shorter around the face, as well as the paws and front of the legs.
These standards are very specific, and any golden retrievers with obviously short hair will not be recognized as a truly pure golden retriever.
History and Practicality of the Long Coat
Retrievers were initially bred and designed to accompany hunters on trips to help them collect and “retrieve” prey.
This would require a thick undercoat and long hair to survive the cold temperatures of their origin birthplace, Scotland.
Breeding different retrieving dogs to arrive at the golden retriever served purposes of aesthetic as well as hunting advantage.
Having this long hair is not only a stylish characteristic of the breed, but it serves a practical purpose. Their thick and long hair was designed to protect their bodies from extreme temperatures in both the hot and cold. Over time, these long wavy coats became a staple to the breed.
The combination of coat color and length is related to genetic variations. As many were bred to have their rich golden color, a recessive trait, this also allowed for the breeding of longer and more full coats.
Retrievers varied in coat texture (curly, wavy, straight) and color, as most were black. Breeding for the golden retriever created uniformity in length and texture as well as color.
Today, there is less of a need for a thick and long coat with the more regulated temperatures that domesticated dogs live in.
They are typically not spending as much time outdoor or hunting in these environments as their ancestors. The coat still is useful in this way, but the long coat is much more a staple of the desired look of the breed over function.
Growth of Long Hair
A golden retriever will not grow its long hair until it has surpassed its puppy phase. The golden retriever does not lose this soft short hair from its puppy days, but it becomes the undercoat.
Long hair grows on top, creating a second longer and smoother coat of hair. This starts to occur at around three months of age, where “feathering” of longer hair begins to grow in.
The hair consistency is reminiscent of feathers, starting on the legs and working its way around their body. This will push aside the puppy fur that will become the undercoat and grow thicker as the feathering grows longer.
This coat of fur will also be darker in color. Feathering is what is responsible for the long hair that defines the golden retriever.
The two coats are referred to as an undercoat (which consists of shorter and wool-like hairs) and the top coat, also known as guard hairs.
This two-coat system helps to keep their body temperature regulated in both extremely hot and cold climates. When the undercoat is thicker, this will require more grooming.
Shedding is not significant year-round, but you will experience heavy shedding in the fall and spring as they try to relieve themselves of this undercoat as seasons change. Shedding will be unavoidable with a golden retriever, but there are some tips to keep it under control:
- Consistent grooming: A grooming routine includes brushing and bathing often for optimal coat health and limited shed.
- Diet: Proteins, Omega 3s, and a well-balanced diet will keep hair follicles strong.
- Low–Stress Environment: Keeping the animal in a low-stress environment will keep their hormone balances in check and not have a negative impact on their physiological health.
Why Do Some Golden Retrievers Have Short Hair?
Golden retrievers with short hair are not an officially recognized breed by the American Kennel Club because this breed is known for its long hair.
There are a couple of reasons that may result in short hair, leading to the discovery that the golden retriever is not entirely pure or that there is some genetic variation that is specific to the dog.
Mixing of Breeds
The most common reason that a golden retriever has short hair is that it is not an entirely golden retriever. If you choose to work with a breeder and find a golden retriever that has short hair, you should expect this to be a mixed breed.
If they say that it is a pure golden retriever, you have reason to be skeptical. It is very rare for pure golden retrievers to have short hair.
Most golden retrievers with short hair have at least a little bit of some other dog breed mixed in. Many of these dogs can look very similar, not changing the look of the animal at all.
They may look exactly like a golden retriever in all areas except for the length of their hair. Historically speaking, golden retrievers were derived from the mixing of other breeds as well.
Some of the breeds that could be mixed to make golden retriever hair short but still hold all the other characteristics of the animal include:
Labrador Retriever: They belong to the same retrieving family, making their looks and behaviors very similar to that of golden retrievers. Labradors are known for their short coats, making this a likely explanation for the change in length. They also shed more frequently year-round, unlike goldens. If you notice this in your golden retriever, this may point to mixed breeding.
Chesapeake Bay Retriever: With curlier short hair, this breed of dog looks similar to a golden retriever. If your golden retriever has shorter or curlier hair than standard ones, you may have a golden retriever mixed with Chesapeake Bay retriever.
Flat-Coated Retriever: These retrievers look very similar to golden retrievers but have slightly shorter hair. A combination of the two breeds could result in a golden retriever looking dog with shorter hair.
All of these breeds come in yellow and brown variations that would not interfere with the color of the traditional golden retriever.
With testing kits made available to see the genetic background of a golden retriever, you can see if there is any genetic variation that explains the short hair in a retriever.
These genetic testing kits will reveal the DNA results related to hair length and other traits. The DNA tests are helpful for breeders to only use pure dogs and for pet owners who are curious.
It is very rare for golden retrievers to have short hair, and if a genetic test comes back that they are purely golden, a recessive gene was passed down to the dog.
Recessive genes will result in short hair, and a combination of dominant and recessive alleles will pass along the short-haired gene to future generations. Breeders will not use these dogs for future litters.
These genetic tests can show variations across dozens of characteristics, making them helpful for a significant amount of information beyond hair length.
This is especially helpful for health outcomes and potential medical risks. There is a very slim chance that a golden retriever will have short hair, especially a purebred one.
Research related to genetic testing and variations has been less concerned with coat length and focused more on more threatening health risks that specifically affect this breed, such as hip dysplasia and cancers. While short hair is a genetic variation (or most likely mixing of breeds), it is not one that is dramatically pressing, pulling resources to other issues within the breed.
How to Care for Golden Retriever Hair
Whether a golden retriever has long hair or not, you will need to take care of its coat for both aesthetics and overall dog health and comfort. The process of grooming a golden retriever is easy and can be enjoyable for you and the dog.
There are a couple of steps you should adhere to when grooming a golden retriever. This process is pretty simple, and many of the steps should be completed often to keep their coat looking healthy.
The first thing you should do when grooming a golden retriever is to brush them. You can use a dog or horse brush with metal bristles that will be able to take away loose hair and remove any tangles or matting that has occurred.
Brushing more consistently will prevent the matting from occurring. If matting gets severe, you may need to carefully cut these clumps of hair out.
To brush most efficiently, brush in a downward direction, starting from head to toe. You will want to spend ample time in each area of their body, paying particular attention to areas that have thicker fur.
Remove hair that builds up in the brush and brush until the loose hairs stop forming in the brush. This will take out the extra hair and leave what isn’t ready yet.
Brushing is an activity that can be completed a couple of times a week or at least weekly. This will prevent hair from matting and becoming tangled. This also is a good bonding activity with your dog.
You will want to bathe your golden retriever around once a month. This should not be done excessively throughout the month unless specified by a veterinarian as washing them strips the natural oils from the hair.
These natural oils help to keep their coats healthy, and over-washing can interfere with this production. More washing may be necessary if they get dirty quickly!
Use a good dog shampoo, one that will not irritate their skin, and warm water. This water should not be too hot as to hurt them and not too cold to prevent them from being uncomfortable.
Try to apply the shampoo evenly around their body and get a good scrub in. This will further loosen hair that can thin their coat for optimal comfort.
If your dog is not incredibly dirty, you can choose to complete the next steps before you bathe them. This can help to remove excess hair that will be coming off anyway. This is definitely up to owner preference.
3. Brush and Trimming
Brushing after washing will give you a better idea of the shape that their coat is in and where you might need to do some additional grooming. This lets their hair fall cleanly in place and continues to collect loose hair.
Trimming should be completed sparingly as to not over cut the golden retriever’s hair. The goal should simply be to clean up some areas without changing the shape or flow of their coat.
You probably will not have to do any trimming for golden retrievers with short hair, and only small changes should be made for those with longer coats.
The most important areas to trim are:
Paws and toes: Hair can grow excessively long on the underside of their paws and between their toes. This can get easily dirty and may be irritating to the dog. The hair on their feet should be short and smooth to the surface. This is also a good time to check on the health of their pads and if there are any cracks or irritations.
Ears: Keeping the hair short in the ears is important to their health. Built-up hair in and around the ears could block their ear canals, and unkempt or dirty hair here can lead to irritation or infections.
Legs: You will want to lightly trim their legs to keep the hair close to their body. This cuts down on the amount of dirt they can collect when walking around. You should only try to remove fuzzy or out of place hair. The goal for all trimming is to remain symmetrical.
Chest and neck: With two coats, this area of hair can get especially thick. Trim to keep this area looking clean and only focusing on taking away excess hair that does not flow in the natural pattern of the coat. You can use a brush as well to further thin this area.
If you are interested in learning more about the grooming process for golden retrievers, this is a helpful video that maps out the steps from a professional groomer’s perspective.
Hair Length in Golden Retrievers
Most commonly for the standard golden retriever, they will have a long coat of hair as a defining characteristic of the breed.
If you have a purebred golden retriever, this long coat is what you should expect and look for if you want a truly pure breed. Those with shorter coats are likely mixed with other breeds or have a very rare genetic variation in their line.
If a golden retriever has short hair, the best way to determine the cause is to use a genetic testing kit. These can be ordered online through a variety of veterinary medical school labs, or you can speak to a veterinarian about how to go about conducting these tests. A DNA sample will be taken, and this can show a variety of genetic variations in the animal.
These tests can also determine if there are other breeds mixed into their line. This is most likely the explanation for the shortness in hair.
Regardless of their coat length, golden retrievers continue to be one of the most popular dogs not only for their looks but for their cheerful and loyal disposition. Their playful personality and energy make them great companions.