Why Has My Golden Retriever Got Short Legs?

Sylvie was having none of it. No matter who hard
I tried she did not cooperate with having her legs
measured!

Are you worried that your Golden Retriever has short legs? Well, you are not alone.

It seems like it might be a growing trend or cause for concern because when you type “Golden Retriever short legs” into Google and you will be hit by a huge gallery of images of short legged Golden Retrievers!

And , short legs and being overweight are the two biggest concerns that the British Kennel Club have for the breed. 

But more on that later…

If you are worried about whether the legs on your Golden Retriever are too short, then listen up.

Or to put it another way- if you think that your Goldie might have been crossed with a basset hound then this is the post for you. 

I have just measured the front legs on my two Goldens and from the elbow to the tips of their toes they measure about 13”!

And I have never been particularly worried by how long their legs were. 

I mean other things about them worry me constantly but not the length of their legs.

Golden Retrievers come in all shapes and sizes

Golden Retrievers are unique individuals and not clones. 

And yes there are such things as “breed standards” which are descriptions from national kennel clubs that describe what a perfect specimen should like and the variations that are allowed- and I explain a bit more about that later. 

But here is a photo of my three beautiful Goldies who are all related- Grandmother, mother and daughter but you can see that, despite this, they are slightly different heights and builds.

Golden Retriever breed standards

If you think that the legs on your Goldie are too short, why is this and does it matter?

Let’s take a look at three different circumstances where it does matter.

[1] AKC Registered Puppies

You bought an American Kennel Club (AKC) registered puppy and you thought that this guaranteed that your Golden Retriever will turn out to have those Hollywood-like looks and proportions.  

Unfortunately, it doesn’t. 

AKC registration It is only one part of an incredibly important puzzle.

Although people tend to see the American Kennel Club (AKC) and its registrations and certificates as a gold standard in any breed, that simply isn’t the case.

In an ideal world it should be but since it is only a registration service and not a verification service, it can be open to lots of abuse.

If you feel let down and disappointed,  I am almost certain that you will not be able to get your money back in these circumstances.

And this must hurt because in the UK pedigree Golden Retriever puppies cost around £1000 and in the US they can cost as much as $2000. 

Your best bet is to not recommend these breeders to any of your friends or family who might be considering getting a Golden Retriever in future. 

And unless you bought a puppy because you fancied entering the world of dog shows then I would say that the look of your dog is far less important than its state of health. 

Before I move on, I want to quickly explain what I believe are the crucial elements to finding an outstanding breeder.

And this is just my personal opinion. 

You need to find a reputable breeder that is also AKC registered. 

And what do I mean by reputable? Well, I mean that they are:

 [1] They are experienced breeders (and can prove it), 

[2] AKC registered

[3] That the dame and the sire have the necessary health checks.

The complete list of health checks for Golden Retrievers involved in breeding can be found here.

[4] The dame and her puppies are reared in exceptional conditions. It is warm, spacious and loving. 

[2] Short legs as a point of concern

There is a trend for pedigree Golden Retrievers to be bred with shorter legs. This makes no sense when we think about the working origins of the breed (which I discuss in a later section).

The British Kennel Club believes that short legs
are a “point of concern”

But how do I know this is true and why is it happening?

[1] The biggest piece of evidence that this is happening with Golden Retrievers is that, since 2014, the (British) Kennel Club have made it a point of concern.

The Kennel Club has a duty of care over all breeds of pedigree dogs. That these breeds are protected so that they are healthy and continue to flourish for future generations. 

Every breed is part of an ongoing program called “breed watch” and Golden Retrievers have two points of concern. The biggest areas of worry are weight gain and short legs.  

This early warning system has been devised primarily to be used by judges at pedigree dog shows.

Importantly, Golden Retrievers are not alone in having concerns

It is difficult to understand why pedigree Golden Retrievers would be deliberately bred to have shorter legs but perhaps the clue comes from the fact that most of them are no longer actively working.

Strangely, dogs with shorter legs do have an advantage in the dog show world because of the way they move around the show ring. 

Jeffrey Pepper mentions in his book on Golden Retrievers that shorter legs require a faster movement and that some people “might like the faster movement of the legs and feet that is a consequence of shorter legs.” 

Have they been bred to have shorter legs so that they are better looking in the show ring?!

Golden Retrievers at Crufts…2014

I have included the video above to highlight how golden retrievers trot around a show ring. Do you think that their legs are too short? Do you think that a shorter leg would lead to a better trotting movement?

[3] osteochondrodysplasia

And the final very valid reason to be concerned about whether your golden retriever has shorter than average legs is because they have osteochondrodysplasia.

This is a medical condition that results in a dog having shorter legs than they should, whilst still having a normal sized body.

As a result, many dogs who have this condition experience a lot of pain.

And so if you have a Golden who has shorter than average legs and seems to be consistently moving awkwardly or in a lot of pain, then book an appointment at your vets.

The Three Breeds of Golden Retrievers

Did you know that they are three recognised breeds of Golden Retrievers and that there are slight differences between each breed.

The three breeds Golden Retriever breeds are:

British (source)Canadian (source)American (source)
There are three recognised types of golden retriever…

Let’s take a look at each of these breeds to find out if one of the differences relates to the length of the legs.

The American and Canadian Breed standard are the same and state that a male should measure from 23- 24” the the top of the shoulder blades to their paws and that for a female this measurement should be between 21½”- 22½”.

For the British variety, the measurements are slightly different (trust us) in terms of height in that the males should stand between 22- 24” at the withers and the females 20-22”.

What do we mean by short legs?

But I can’t find any guidance in any of these breed standards that would suggest an acceptable sense of proportion between the length of a Goldie’s leg and for instance the depth of their chest. 

After all, a leg will only be viewed as short or long in proportion to the rest of its body.

This is quite strange as the breed standard describes that the width of the chest between the two front legs should be at least as wide as a man’s closed hand.

And that in terms of length a Golden Retriever (from breastbone to buttock) should slightly more than the height of the withers: a ratio of 12:11 to be exact. 

But I guess that an important part of this sense of proportion can be gauged through a dog’s weight and the guidelines here are that a dog should weigh between 65- 75 lbs (29 kg- 34 kg), bitch 55- 65 lbs (25kg- 29 kg.)

English vs Canadian vs American Golden Retrievers

Looking on some of the forums and at other information, it seems that the real differences between these three breeds relates to color and the size of the head, not size.

British Golden Retrievers tend to be paler and to have a larger, more sturdy head than their North American counterparts.

Although it seems that an American Golden Retriever should be slightly taller and longer

The Origins of Short Legged Dogs

Most breeds of dogs with short legs were bred for a very specific purpose- where having short legs is highly advantageous.

Did you know that the gene that causes dogs to have short legs, first mutated about 300 years ago?

And that the gene causes an overproduction of a protein to inhibit leg growth

Bassett Hound- a short legged dog breed ¹

Famous short legged dog breeds include Basset Hounds and Dachshunds.

Basset (meaning low) Hounds have an incredible sense of smell (second only to Bloodhounds) and so they were bred to hunt hares. 

They have short legs for a variety of reasons- so that their nose can be closer to the ground and also so that they can only go “so fast” that a person could hunt with them on foot or on horse. 

Dachshunds were bred to hunt badgers and “burrowers” and their short legs enabled them to follow their prey into small holes and thick undergrowth..

Why would Golden Retriever’s be bred to have shorter legs?

It doesn’t make any sense for working Golden Retrievers to have legs that are on the short side.

I don’t want to go into too much detail about the origins of Golden Retrievers but they were bred to retrieve birds from land and water.

Both of these qualities require a very agile and athletic dog with “long” legs. 

After all, is a dog whose job it is to retrieve any good if it cannot do it in a reasonable time? 

And Golden Retrievers were bred to cover large distances because as gun technology became more sophisticated in the early 20th century, gunmen could successfully kill birds without having to get so close to them. 

As a consequence, too many birds were then being lost because existing retrievers couldn’t successfully retrieve from these greater distances. 

Can you name a breed of short legged dog that can keep going for hours on end?

The second key quality is the ability to swim. Here again, can you name a breed of dog with stubby legs that likes or is able to swim? A Basset Hound or French Bulldog?!

Popular Golden Retriever Crosses That Have Shorter Legs

Photo Credits

¹ Photo by Juliedesigns4u on Flickr