Mike and I and our dogs just returned from a week in Florida at a beach community that prides itself on its dog-friendliness. We met our friends Bob and Karen from Virginia, who brought their two Labs, Gus and Sally.
It was an amazing week. We spent hours with the dogs walking the beach, watching shorebirds and dolphins, hiking local trails, and visiting a nearby island preserve that is home to a pair of endangered Red Wolves (no sighting of those, but Bob and Mike did see a Bobcat while out cycling one afternoon). A perfect winter get-away for all of us.
The Dogs: Our four dogs included Chippy (Toller), Vincent (Brittany), and Alice and Cooper (Golden Retrievers). Ally and Cooper are field-bred, from Jackie Mertens of Topbrass Retrievers. We have a 30-year history with Jackie’s dogs and love their athleticism, spirit, and boundless exuberance. They fit with our lifestyle and are a joy to live with and to train. Karen’s two Labs are also from field lines. Sally comes from Cresthill Kennels and Gus from Southland Kennels. Like us, Karen and Bob are active folks who spend a lot of time outdoors with their dogs. They have the added good fortune of living near the water and so they enjoy swimming, retrieving and boating regularly with their dogs.
Field-bred? As many readers know, the Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever are closely related breeds that were originally created to aid hunters by retrieving game – most commonly water fowl. As a result, they are highly active dogs that love to swim and to retrieve. As the general story goes, both breeds experienced an increase in popularity as family pets during the 1970’s. Because the attributes of a family companion are not always in line with the behaviors one seeks in a hunting dog, the breeds began to experience a divergence in selection criteria, with some dogs bred for their hunting ability and others for conformation and a more easy-going temperament. Over several generations, this resulted in two distinct types within each breed. Although there is certainly overlap and some purposeful outcrossing between the two types, the term field-bred refers to dogs born within pedigree lines that are selected specifically for hunting ability, while conformation/pet refers to those selected for conformation and suitability as family companions.
Do field-bred dogs behave similarly across breeds? Karen and I had many great dog training conversations during our time together. One topic that interested us was the similarities and differences that we observed between field-bred Labs (her dogs) and field-bred Goldens (my dogs). Similarities included a love of retrieving and apparently inexhaustible energy level. All four dogs are intensely focused on retrieving and will chase toys and bumpers until the sun goes down (and comes back up again). Similarly, all are highly active (an understatement). Alice is known for “orbiting” – circling around us in wide arcs, veering off on each loop to splash through the surf. A typical 5-mile hike for us meant at least 10 miles for Ally. Similarly, Gus only slowed down when he fell asleep in his crate at the end of the day and Sally clearly has no understanding of the statement “this is your final retrieve“.
What about differences? A major difference that we observed, and something that will not surprise Lab folks, is that Karen’s dogs were more physically robust than my Goldens. While my guys love to chase and wrestle as they play, the Lab version of this involves a lot more body-slamming and chest-bumping (a play style that Alice made abundantly clear to Gus that she had no interest in participating in).
These were just a few observations from our dog days on the beach. And of course, they may simply reflect similarities and differences of our four individual dogs. This was an “n of 2” for each breed, after all. Hardly a representative sample.
So……upon returning home, my immediate Science Dog query was naturally:
“Is there any research that compares the behavior of Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers?”
Well yes Virginia, as a matter of fact, there is.
In 2016, a team of behavioral geneticists led by Dr. Pers Jensen at Linköping University in Sweden compared Dog Mentality Assessment (DMA) test scores of Labrador and Golden Retrievers (1). The DMA is a standardized and validated behavior profile that is administered by the Swedish Working Dog Club. The researchers’ objectives were to examine behavioral differences between field and conformation/pet lines of Golden retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. They hypothesized that because selection criteria were the same, that the behaviors of field-bred dogs in each breed would be similar. They collected DMA scores and pedigrees for 902 Golden Retrievers (204 field dogs and 698 conformation/pet dogs) and for 1672 Labrador Retrievers (1023 and 649). A statistical test called Principal Component Analysis (PCA) was used to identify a set of six primary behavior categories: curiosity, play interest, chase proneness, social curiosity, social greeting and threat display. Results were compared between both breeds and breed types, and pedigrees were used to compute heritability estimates for the behavior categories.
Results: Although the hypothesis was that similar selection criteria (hunting ability) would result in similar behavior patterns in Labrador and Golden Retrievers (two closely related breeds), the researchers actually found several significant differences between field-bred Goldens and Labs:
- Labradors vs. Goldens: When compared overall (combining types), Labrador Retrievers scored higher in curiosity, play interest and threat display compared with Golden Retrievers. Golden Retrievers, on the other hand, scored higher in chase behavior, social curiosity and social greeting.
- Field-bred vs. Conformation/pet: Within-breed comparisons showed that field-bred dogs scored higher in playfulness than their non-field cohorts in both Goldens and Labs. Other than this similarity however, there were several breed-specific differences (statistically speaking, this is called an interaction effect of breed and type).
- Field-bred Labrador Retrievers were less socially curious and less interested in social greeting than their conformation and pet-bred counterparts. These results are in agreement with a 2014 study of hunting Labs (2).
- In contrast, field-bred Golden Retrievers were more curious and more likely to show social greeting behavior than their conformation/pet cohorts. Field-bred Goldens also had a stronger chase (retrieve) response than conformation/pet Goldens.
- Heritability estimates: Analysis reflected substantial (moderate to high) genetic influence on the behavioral traits that were measured, in both breeds. However, results suggest that the genetic influences (called genetic architecture) underlying hunting ability in Labs vs. Goldens may be different.
Despite similar genetic origins and intense selection for the same type of work (retrieving birds), field-bred Labradors and Goldens demonstrate distinct behavioral differences. Most notably, field Goldens seem to be more highly social and more socially curious than other types of Goldens, while field-bred Labradors do not demonstrate this enhanced sociability. Equally striking is the evidence that the set of genes in Goldens and Labs that influence hunting ability are not identical and suggested different selective pressures and underlying genetic influences in the two breeds.
Take Away for Dog Folks
These results provide some helpful information to trainers, veterinarians and other pet professionals who regularly advise their clients regarding breed selection. First (and I know this is a no-brainer for those of you who live with these breeds)……a Golden is not a Labrador (and vice versa)……. Second, a field Golden/Lab is not a conformation Golden/Lab (also obvious)…… And finally, a field-bred Golden is also not a field-bred Lab (less obvious). Even though field-bred Golden retrievers and Labrador Retrievers have been intensely selected for the exact same job over many generations, they still turn out, well, different (ain’t nature something?).
Practically speaking, a field-bred Labrador Retriever should be expected to be highly focused (i.e. less socially curious) and intensely playful (remember – they are the rough-and-tumble guys), and may have a higher propensity to threat responses than a Golden Retriever. And, if you go for the field-bred Golden type, expect a social butterfly who zips around at 100-miles-an-hour (Ally would be happy to demonstrate).
Most importantly, if you are considering one of these breeds (or types), find and trust a breeder with experience who knows his/her lines. The current research suggests that the behavior traits that were measured in the Goldens and Labs were moderately to highly heritable. A reputable breeder who knows her pedigrees is also going to understand how the temperaments and behavior of her dogs carry from one generation to the next and will advise her puppy buyers accordingly. For me personally, I am thankful for having met Jackie and her co-breeder, Paige, who know their Topbrass Goldens inside and out and who over the years have allowed us to have so many amazing dogs share their lives with us.
- Sundman AS, Johnsson M, Wright D, Jensen P. Similar recent selection criteria associated with different behavioural effects in two dog breeds. Genes, Brain and Behavior 2016; 15:750-756.
- Lofgren SE, Wiener P, Blott SC, Sanchez-Molano E, et al. Management and personality in Labrador Retriever dogs. Applied Animal Behavior Science 2014; 156:44-53.
14 thoughts on “(Field) Dogs on the Beach”
What’s the name of the Florida beach community ?
If you’re referring to my description of a *Most* friendly dog community, that would be Dunedin. Next to Clearwater.
In what city are there beach communities that are friendly to dogs? I live in Florida and the whole area is incredibly dog unfriendly. I would love to find a place that was dog friendly. Thank you!
Hello Ol’ Red Hair…I live in Dunedin (often referred to as, “Dogedin”) which borders Clearwater in the Tampa Bay area. This small city is paradise for dogs and their two-legs. Most popular outdoor art? Mural upon mural of dogs. Dog-friendly bars and restaurants galore. (Check out Rosie’s tavern in particular…or Skips…or Bowsers…or Kelly’s…or Poochie’s Wine and Woof…or Dunedin Coffee and Bakery…or Strahan’s Ice Cream (get a little pooch-sized vanilla fro-yo for your doggie)…etc. etc. etc.
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Thank you Harry! This is wonderful to hear. I definitely want to visit, and might even consider moving there. Are dogs actually allowed into the tavern, the ice cream place, the bakery, the frozen yogurt, and the wine bar? How about beaches and parks? How about festivals and farmers markets? Dogs are banned these in my town in Florida. Where I live, many parks don’t even allow dogs on leash. And the only beach dogs are only allowed off leash is one tiny filthy out of the way place. There is a nice beach that they allow leashed dogs on, but it is about 12 feet across. What are you supposed to do there, just stand there with your dog on leash and let him walk around you? I guess you could have him swim out in the water and retrieve on a long lead. But that is all; they can’t run up and down the beach at all, except for that horrible dirty little place that’s way out-of-the-way.
Hey Ol’ Red Hair,
Dogs are allowed in some establishments, depending on the proprietor’s willingness to thumb the ol’ nose at municipal ordinances. Most eateries and many drinkeries have outdoor patios that are quite dog friendly. Rosie’s Tavern does not inspect when someone states that the dog is a service dog. (Seems like we have an awful lot of ’em here, especially on a weekend!).
Dunedin has one dog beach. The beach requires dogs on a lead, which I happen to think is an excellent policy. The ice cream place has an outside patio with an order window outside–free cones to poochie!
There are two major dog murals. The oldest one (outside of another dog-friendly bar) has about 600 dogs on it. The muralist paints dogs as a benefit to the local rescue. The smaller mural is only a few weeks old, and I doubt it has more than 50 dogs on it now–more to come!
What city are you in?
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Those murals sound really cool! When you get a chance take a picture. I’m in Pensacola, FL. Some of the eateries have outside patios that allow dogs. But many of the parks and most of the festivals do not allow dogs.
Reblogged this on Karen Kovacs PT and commented:
How do field=bred Labs differ from field-bred Goldens? Science says:
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Of all of these types, which would you most highly recommend as a candidate for a service dog?
Hi “OlRedHair” – Well, actually, for what it is worth (i.e. I am not a service dog trainer so in no way is this an expert opinion), my inclination would be to say that the best candidates for service dog work are those dogs who have been purposefully selected and bred for service dog work. This is why many Service Dog organizations have their own breeding programs, of course. Best, Linda
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That definitely makes sense. And I’m sure that’s why the large organizations such as CCI and Guiding Eyes have their own breeding programs. So I guess I was wondering for the smaller programs or the owner trainers, whether a field line would be better? Or just evaluate the puppies on a case-by-case basis?
Topbrass dogs are great I had two from Jackie when she lived in Elgin Il. Great dogs.
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Hi Marc! I completely agree! Love their spirit and eternal happiness! My life is enriched every single day by Ally and Cooper and my many beautiful memories of our past dogs. Thanks for reading! Linda
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