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All 3 Golden Retriever Colors (and 2 Fakes)

Updated September 19, 2022
All 3 Golden Retriever Colors (and 2 Fakes)

Golden retriever colors aren’t limited to pure gold, despite the breed’s name. These gorgeous dogs come in many shades.

Lustrous, silky fur is the most notable characteristic of these dogs, but its color is surrounded by numerous myths and misconceptions.

The confusion about golden retriever shades arises due to mixed information online and breeders who strive to portray their dogs as having a “rare, exclusive color” when they don’t.

To make matters even trickier, golden retrievers come in multiple types with slightly different color standards and temperaments.

But regardless of the color, all golden retrievers are playful, active, intelligent, affectionate, and devoted dogs that genuinely love their owners.

Cream or Light Gold

True to their name, golden retrievers come in various shades of gold, ranging from very light cream to dark reddish gold. Cream, also known as pale gold, is the lightest color golden retrievers come in.

According to the golden retriever breed standard published on the American Kennel Club’s website, these dogs must have a rich, lustrous golden color, and extremely pale or dark colors are undesirable.

In other words, cream goldens have low odds of winning a dog show in America. That’s not to say the American Kennel Club doesn’t recognize the cream color – the standard calls it “undesirable” but doesn’t prohibit it.

In contrast, the British golden retriever standard allows lighter shades of gold but not white markings. According to Kennel Club U.K., goldens can be “Any shade of gold or cream, neither red nor mahogany.”

So, if you’re looking to buy a golden retriever for shows in the U.S., the cream color won’t be your best bet, but it is undoubtedly gorgeous and perfect for pet dogs.

English golden retrievers also slightly differ by type from American golden retrievers. They have blocky heads and stocky bodies and tend to be calmer.

Research also suggests that English goldens are generally healthier and are at a lower risk of developing cancer.

Interestingly, English golden retrievers didn’t originate in England but in the British Isles. More specifically, they come from Scotland, like any other golden retriever type.

A common myth about golden retrievers is that cream color is rare. It indeed isn’t as popular in the U.S. as in the rest of the world because of the local breed standard.

American breeders simply have no sense in importing dogs that won’t win shows. However, the color is just as widespread globally as gold.

So, don’t let ads like “rare cream European golden retriever” or “exclusive platinum golden retriever” mislead you.

Gold

Rich, golden color is the breed’s golden (pun intended) standard. It’s the most popular golden retriever color in the world, accounting for over 50% of all goldens globally.

Gold golden retrievers (or should we just name them golden retrievers?) come in many shades, from light to dark gold.

They can also have different types and temperaments. The gold color is recognized by English, American, and Canadian golden retriever standards.

Sometimes, distinguishing between cream vs. gold golden retriever can be tricky. Where do you draw the line? When does cream become light gold?

Even professional breeders may have difficulty distinguishing these colors unless dogs have different types.

Generally, American goldens have longer and straighter hair. Even American-type cream goldens usually have wavier, shorter hair because they typically have English goldens in the pedigree.

A common misconception is that gold golden retrievers shed more than cream. That isn’t true – all goldens shed a lot, but since gold dogs tend to have longer hair, shedding may be more noticeable.

Gold golden retrievers may appear cream when they’re puppies because they become darker as they age. If you’re picking a puppy and want to have an idea of its future color, look at the tips of its ears.

On the other hand, dark gold golden retrievers can be easily confused with red goldens. However, they lack amber or mahogany hues and are born much lighter, appearing light to mid gold.

Red

The Irish setter is one of the golden retriever’s ancestors, so it’s easy to see how some goldens acquired their deep-red or mahogany color.

Although it’s the least popular golden retriever color, many people find it the most beautiful.

Red golden retrievers undoubtedly have a unique appeal. However, neither American Kennel Club nor Kennel Club U.K. is fond of red shades in golden retrievers.

The American Kennel Club states that extremely dark body color is undesirable, and the Kennel Club U.K. says that golden retrievers can’t be red or mahogany. But this doesn’t mean that red goldens are a genetic mistake.

There are show golden retrievers and field golden retrievers. The former are stockier, have longer coats, and come in all shades of gold.

Field goldens were bred to hunt, so they are slender, athletic, have shorter coats, and can be red-colored.

Many golden retrievers are a mix of show and field types. Some sources say that the Canadian breed standard recognizes red golden retrievers.

However, the Canadian Kennel Club states that the color can range from cream to darkest gold.

“Darkest gold” is still gold and not red. In other words, a red golden retriever won’t win a dog show, but it will make an equally excellent companion as a cream or gold golden retriever.

Red field type goldens have a lot of similarities with Irish setters, but setters are taller, lankier, and have longer noses.

Black

Perhaps, the most famous golden retriever myth is that this breed comes in black. You may have seen pictures of black dogs resembling golden retrievers online or even met them in person. Your eyes don’t fool you – these dogs exist.

However, black golden retrievers aren’t purebred. Neither American Kennel Club, Kennel Club U.K., nor Canadian Kennel Club recognizes black as golden retriever color.

That’s a pity because black golden retrievers look magnificent. They may share the same personality traits and visual characteristics as purebred golden retrievers and make perfect family members.

However, a black golden retriever can’t participate in dog shows or breed with purebred goldens.

Now, you may wonder how black golden retrievers were bred. The gold color of golden retrievers results from two recessive genes responsible for melatonin production.

The dominant gene, “E,” produces black color, and the recessive gene, “e,” makes a gold color. All purebred golden retrievers have an “e/e” genotype, so two purebred golden retrievers can’t produce a black puppy.

Sometimes, genetic mutations occur, and golden retriever puppies have black patches on their fur, but they are never entirely black. Dogs appearing like fully black golden retrievers are dogs of another breed.

Breeds that could resemble black golden retrievers are flat-coated retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Newfoundlands, Hovawarts, or a golden retriever and black German shepherd mix.

Interestingly, flat-coated retrievers are ancestors of goldens.

Overall, flat-coated and golden retrievers have more similarities than distinctions, but the former may be slightly exuberant for kids and are taller.

If a breeder claims to sell rare black golden retrievers, they’re just trying to make extra money or don’t know their job.

White

While black dogs resembling golden retrievers exist, white don’t. You may have seen pictures of white goldens, but they are a result of lighting or Photoshop.

Some cream goldens may appear almost white, but you can clearly see the golden undertone if you compare them with actually white dogs, such as Samoyeds or bichons.

Some English cream golden retriever breeders call their dogs “white golden retrievers” or “platinum golden retrievers.” That’s nothing more than a marketing tactic.

Does Color Affect Anything but Appearance?

Cream, gold, and red golden retrievers have some distinctions in appearance, but do they differ by temperament and health? Slightly, but the differences are due to type rather than color.

For example, American cream and gold golden retrievers have the same temperament and health risks, while English cream and American gold golden retrievers may differ.

As a rule of thumb, English golden retrievers that come in various shades from cream to dark gold are calmer and have lower odds of developing cancer than American goldens.

Field golden retrievers that typically come in dark gold or red are a bit more active and have higher prey drive, but they’re equally loving and friendly as show goldens.

However, the temperament also depends on an individual dog’s personality and training, and health is largely influenced by diet, exercise, and veterinary care. All goldens have the same life expectancy of 10-12 years.

Which Color to Choose?

When you’re choosing a golden retriever puppy, color should be your last priority. Decide which type of goldens you prefer – English, American, or Canadian, and whether you want to participate in dog shows.

Gold golden retrievers are the optimal choice for American shows, but cream goldens are acceptable for international dog shows.

If you don’t have plans on making a show career for your dog and genuinely like red color, pick a red golden retriever.

Most importantly, your golden retriever should have a great personality and health. You can ensure this by choosing a trustworthy breeder and getting to know the puppy’s parents.

Image credit: Unsplash