10 Friendly Facts About the Golden Retriever

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It’s no mystery why these fluffy pooches are so popular. The well-mannered, fun-loving dogs are a hit with children and adults alike. Learn more about their history.

1. THEY WERE BRED TO RETRIEVE. 

Dudley Marjoribanks, first Lord Tweedmouth, in Scotland is credited for creating the golden retriever. The lord wanted a dog with a natural love of the water and inclination to retrieve the game he shot while hunting. In 1865 he purchased Nous, a yellow dog in a litter of black wavy-coated retrievers. He bred Nous with Belle, a Tweed water spaniel that he acquired from his cousin. After two litters, the couple produced four yellow retrievers—Crocus, Primrose, Cowslip, and Ada—that would become the ancestors of the dogs we know today. Later on, red setters and tan-colored bloodhounds were also introduced to the bloodline.

2. EGGS ARE SAFE WITH THEM.

Goldens have “soft mouths,” meaning they can carry things in their chops without damaging them—an important skill for canines tasked with retrieving their masters' hunting trophies. They’re so gentle, in fact, that some can be trained to hold a raw egg in their mouths without breaking it. 

3. THEY COULD GIVE EMILY POST A RUN FOR HER MONEY. 

Golden retrievers are some of the most mild-mannered and obedient dogs around. The first three dogs to ever achieve the AKC obedience champion title were all golden retrievers. 

4. THEY DO WELL IN LEADERSHIP ROLES.

The small town of Idyllwild, California is non-incorporated and has no human mayor. Instead, the organization Idyllwild Animal Rescue Friends (ARF) sponsored an election to put either a cat or dog in charge. Each vote came in the form of a $1 donation to the ARF. The good people of Idyllwild had to choose between 14 dogs and two cats to be their furry leader. In 2012, Max (Maximus Mighty-Dog Mueller), a 12-year-old golden retriever, was sworn into office. Sadly, the old dog passed away in his sleep from cancer in 2013. He was replaced by a stuffed animal until they could find a Max II. When this second Max stepped in, he was accompanied by his entourage: two other dogs named Mikey and Mitzi. The triumvirate is affectionately known as the "the Mayor and the spares" or simply "the Mayors of Idyllwild." 

5. THEY KNOW HOW TO PARTY. 

In 2006, the Golden Retriever Club of Scotland hosted a festival to mark their 50th anniversary. Nearly 200 golden retrievers from all over the world came to enjoy the festivities, making it the largest group of the dogs ever photographed in one place. That record was broken in 2013 when 222 dogs appeared for that year’s ceremony. Dogs and owners alike were able to frolic and enjoy each other’s company. You can see some highlights from the event here

6. THEY’RE POPULAR. 

According to the AKC, the golden retriever is the third-most popular dog breed in the U.S., right behind the German shepherd and the Labrador retriever. It’s not hard to see why: These friendly dogs are great with families, don’t have bad breath, and don't bark much.  

7. TURKEY ONCE CONSIDERED THEM A STATUS SYMBOL. 

It's easy to become infatuated with the allure of the golden retriever—its silky, gold fur and elegant frame suggest luxury. But at the end of the day, they're dogs who need to be loved and cherished—not an accessory that can be worn or thrown away. For a time, golden retrievers were a status symbol in Istanbul, Turkey, but the dogs were frequently abandoned when the novelty wore off. As a result, shelters in Turkey are working with Adopt a Golden Atlanta to help relocate goldens given up by their families to forever homes. So far, the organization has saved over 94 goldens. 

8. THEY MAKE GREAT ACTORS. 

Golden retrievers are well behaved and easily trained, so they’re naturals on set. One particularly talented pooch named Buddy stole the hearts of millions in the ‘90s by playing both Comet on Full House and Buddy in Air Bud. (Internet, consider this your official invitation to create the Full House/Air Bud mashup we never knew we needed.)  

9. THEY’RE SMART. 

Based on the AKC's official rankings, the golden retriever is the fourth-most intelligent dog breed—right behind the German shepherd and just ahead of the Doberman pinscher. 

10. THEY’RE RIGHT AT HOME IN THE WHITE HOUSE. 

While living in the White House, President Gerald Ford had a golden retriever named Liberty. She came from Minneapolis, and was originally named Streaker. The pampered pooch had a live-in trainer and even gave birth inside the White House. Liberty received a lot of fan mail, which was answered by Ford’s daughter Susan (she also answered fan mail sent to their Siamese cat Shan). Eventually, Ford’s secretary began mailing back “signed” pictures of the president and his dog with an inked paw print on the side. The paw print signatures were originally the real deal, but as requests increased, they had to switch to a rubber stamp. (It's hard work being the First Dog.)

Hee-Haw: The Wild Ride of "Dominick the Donkey"—the Holiday Earworm You Love to Hate

Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images
Delpixart/iStock via Getty Images

Everyone loves Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. He’s got the whole underdog thing going for him, and when the fog is thick on Christmas Eve, he’s definitely the creature you want guiding Santa’s sleigh. But what happens when Saint Nick reaches Italy, and he’s faced with steep hills that no reindeer—magical or otherwise—can climb?

That’s when Santa apparently calls upon Dominick the Donkey, the holiday hero immortalized in the 1960 song of the same name. Recorded by Lou Monte, “Dominick The Donkey” is a novelty song even by Christmas music standards. The opening line finds Monte—or someone else, or heck, maybe a real donkey—singing “hee-haw, hee-haw” as sleigh bells jingle in the background. A mere 12 seconds into the tune, it’s clear you’re in for a wild ride.

 

Over the next two minutes and 30 seconds, Monte shares some fun facts about Dominick: He’s a nice donkey who never kicks but loves to dance. When ol’ Dom starts shaking his tail, the old folks—cummares and cumpares, or godmothers and godfathers—join the fun and "dance a tarentell," an abbreviation of la tarantella, a traditional Italian folk dance. Most importantly, Dominick negotiates Italy’s hills on Christmas Eve, helping Santa distribute presents to boys and girls across the country.

And not just any presents: Dominick delivers shoes and dresses “made in Brook-a-lyn,” which Monte somehow rhymes with “Josephine.” Oh yeah, and while the donkey’s doing all this, he’s wearing the mayor’s derby hat, because you’ve got to look sharp. It’s a silly story made even sillier by that incessant “hee-haw, hee-haw,” which cuts in every 30 seconds like a squeaky door hinge.

There may have actually been some historical basis for “Dominick.”

“Travelling by donkey was universal in southern Italy, as it was in Greece,” Dominic DiFrisco, president emeritus of the joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, said in a 2012 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Monte’s] playing easy with history, but it’s a cute song, and Monte was at that time one of the hottest singers in America.”

Rumored to have been financed by the Gambino crime family, “Dominick the Donkey” somehow failed to make the Billboard Hot 100 in 1960. But it’s become a cult classic in the nearly 70 years since, especially in Italian American households. In 2014, the song reached #69 on Billboard’s Holiday 100 and #23 on the Holiday Digital Song Sales chart. In 2018, “Dominick” hit #1 on the Comedy Digital Track Sales tally. As of December 2019, the Christmas curio had surpassed 21 million Spotify streams.

“Dominick the Donkey” made international headlines in 2011, when popular BBC DJ Chris Moyles launched a campaign to push the song onto the UK singles chart. “If we leave Britain one thing, it would be that each Christmas kids would listen to 'Dominick the Donkey,’” Moyles said. While his noble efforts didn’t yield a coveted Christmas #1, “Dominick” peaked at a very respectable #3.

 

As with a lot of Christmas songs, there’s a certain kitschy, ironic appeal to “Dominick the Donkey.” Many listeners enjoy the song because, on some level, they’re amazed it exists. But there’s a deeper meaning that becomes apparent the more you know about Lou Monte.

Born Luigi Scaglione in New York City, Monte began his career as a singer and comedian shortly before he served in World War II. Based in New Jersey, Monte subsequently became known as “The Godfather of Italian Humor” and “The King of Italian-American Music.” His specialty was Italian-themed novelty songs like “Pepino the Italian Mouse,” his first and only Top 10 hit. “Pepino” reached #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963, the year before The Beatles broke America.

“Pepino” was penned by Ray Allen and Wandra Merrell, the duo that teamed up with Sam Saltzberg to write “Dominick the Donkey.” That same trio of songwriters was also responsible for “What Did Washington Say (When He Crossed the Delaware),” the B-side of “Pepino.” In that song, George Washington declares, “Fa un’fridd,” or ‘It’s cold!” while making his famous 1776 boat ride.

With his mix of English and Italian dialect, Monte made inside jokes for Italian Americans while sharing their culture with the rest of the country. His riffs on American history (“What Did Washington Say,” “Paul Revere’s Horse (Ba-cha-ca-loop),” “Please, Mr. Columbus”) gave the nation’s foundational stories a dash of Italian flavor. This was important at a time when Italians were still considered outsiders.

According to the 1993 book Italian Americans and Their Public and Private Life, Monte’s songs appealed to “a broad spectrum ranging from working class to professional middle-class Italian Americans.” Monte sold millions of records, played nightclubs across America, and appeared on TV programs like The Perry Como Show and The Ernie Kovacs Show. He died in Pompano Beach, Florida, in 1989. He was 72.

Monte lives on thanks to Dominick—a character too iconic to die. In 2016, author Shirley Alarie released A New Home for Dominick and A New Family for Dominick, a two-part children’s book series about the beloved jackass. In 2018, Jersey native Joe Baccan dropped “Dominooch,” a sequel to “Dominick.” The song tells the tale of how Dominick’s son takes over for his aging padre. Fittingly, “Dominooch” was written by composer Nancy Triggiani, who worked with Monte’s son, Ray, at her recording studio.

Speaking with NorthJersey.com in 2016, Ray Monte had a simple explanation for why Dominick’s hee-haw has echoed through the generations. “It was a funny novelty song,” he said, noting that his father “had a niche for novelty.”

Cats Make Facial Expressions, But Not Everyone Can Read Them

takoburito/iStock via Getty Images
takoburito/iStock via Getty Images

Science has finally confirmed what humans have suspected for centuries: Cats are inscrutable creatures prone to peculiar behavior. Some of us, however, are still capable of picking up on their subtle emotional cues, including facial expressions, without relying on clues like tails, ears, or whiskers.

This new evidence of a cat’s slightly malleable face comes from a study in the journal Animal Welfare. Researchers at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, recruited 6329 participants to watch a series of 20 video clips featuring cats reacting to either a positive or negative event. A positive interaction was defined as a feline approaching a human for a treat or an owner-identified action the cat traditionally found pleasant, like climbing into a favorite spot. A negative response was when a cat was confronted with something it wanted to avoid, was prevented from going into an area or outside, or was displaying an obvious sign of distress, like growling. (Sounds were edited out.) Most clips were from YouTube, though some were submitted by veterinarians and university colleagues. Breeds with long hair that might obscure facial changes were omitted. Most respondents were cat owners, and 74 percent were women 18 to 44 years old.

Using these brief clips, the researchers asked subjects to classify the cats as exhibiting positive or negative behavior by relying only on closely cropped footage of a cat’s face. They couldn’t rely on the tail or any other body language. The result? The average score was just 59 percent correct, accurately identifying a cat’s mood in an average of 12 out of the 20 clips. These humans, in other words, had little idea what a cat was experiencing based solely on their faces.

So why do researchers think they have any expression at all? Roughly 13 percent of subjects scored well on the test, getting at least 15 of the 20 questions correct. Those that did well were generally people who had extensive experience with cats, like veterinarians. That led researchers to conclude that people can become more attuned to the subtle flickers of emotion that may pass over a cat’s face.

“They could be naturally brilliant, and that’s why they become veterinarians,” Georgia Mason, a behavioral biologist and the study’s senior author, told The Washington Post. “But they also have a lot of opportunity to learn, and they’ve got a motivation to learn, because they’re constantly deciding: Is this cat better? Do we need to change the treatment? Does this cat need to go home? Is this cat about to take a chunk out of my throat?”

The paper appears to offer encouraging evidence that “cat whisperers” really do exist. If you’re curious whether you could be one of them, you can take a shortened version of the video test online.

[h/t Washington Post]

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