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Red Golden Retrievers: Color Controversy, Puppy Cost & More

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Last Updated: November 2, 2023 | 8 min read

Red Golden Lab in Field

The Red Golden Retriever is the same as any other Golden Retriever, except for a few differences. His coat is a shade of deep mahogany, and his coat is a little shorter than the Golden Retriever. The Red Golden is ever so slightly smaller than the average Golden Retriever and is certainly more streamlined and athletic as he is mainly bred for hunting purposes. Because of this, he is said to be marginally more energetic, and requires a little more intense exercise.

Despite having a few differences compared to the Golden Retriever, he is just as friendly, sociable and a pleasure to be around! They make for a wonderful family pet, or a meticulous hunter and retriever in the field.

So, if you are thinking about getting a Golden Retriever but you want something a little different, then the Red Golden Retriever is definitely worth thinking about. His gorgeous color will turn heads, and definitely get everyone talking for all the right reasons!


The Golden Retriever’s journey began in the Scottish Highlands of Great Britain in the mid-19th Century. The clever nobleman, Dudley Marjoribanks, also known as Lord Tweedmouth I, desired a gun dog with the qualities of the ‘then’ Golden Retriever, the now extinct Tweed Water Spaniel, the Irish Setter and the Bloodhound.

Across 50 years he meticulously engineered the perfect gun dog who we now know as the forefathers of the Golden Retriever that we love today. Not only did his canine creation have the perfect coat to keep him warm in the harsh cold climate of the Highlands, but he had one of the most impressive noses to sniff out his master’s prey, but he would also collect it without mauling it; in the gundog world this is known as ‘soft mouth’, and it is a very desirable hunting trait.

Lord Tweedmouth created a consistently good collection of fine specimens, and shortly after his death the first Golden Retriever was shown in Great Britain in 1908. At the same time, so impressed were his sons by their father’s creation, they sailed the Golden Retriever across the pond to America where his skills, such as his impressive nose and soft mouth, were a surefire hit.

The Americans also fell in love with his grace, beauty and dignity. The Golden Retriever became a popular family pet when America’s 38th president Gerald Ford’s Golden Retriever named Liberty, was regularly seen on TV to be a gentle and lovable companion. Ever since then the Golden Retriever has been amongst the top spots on the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) popularity ranking, and he is currently the 3rd most popular dog breed in America.

It is unknown when the first Red Golden Retriever came into the Golden family, but it is believed that he inherited his stunning mahogany color from the Irish Setter, and overtime, the red hue coat has become part of his genetic make-up.The most famous Irish Setter was ‘Big Red’ in the fictional novel written by Jim Kjelgaard, which was published in 1945. Ever since then the red coat color has become increasingly popular. Many people think that this color, combined with the Golden Retriever’s remarkable temperament, makes for the perfect pooch!


Red Golden Labrador Retriever

The Red Golden Retriever’s coat color is believed to have come from one of his ancestors, the Irish Setter, when he was bred in the 19th Century. The Irish Setter’s traditional coat color is Red, and this is the color that the Golden Retriever has inherited. The Irish Setter also has two other shades, which are Chestnut and Mahogany.

In maturity the Golden Retriever’s coat slowly changes to an almost white or a dark golden red shade, whereas the Red Golden Retriever, minus a few grey hairs, maintains his deep mahogany hue throughout his lifetime.  The red golden is similar to the lab, in that they can both come in shades of red – although the lab is called the “fox red” lab.

The Red Golden Retriever looks similar to a Golden Retriever, but he does have slight variations in appearance. He is considered to be a large dog. A male Red Golden Retriever will weigh between 65 to 75 pounds, and measure 23 to 24 inches tall at the withers (shoulders), and a female will weigh 55 to 65 pounds, and measure 21 ½ to 22 ½ inches at the withers. They are elegant and slender in appearance with long lustrous locks.

If the Red Golden Retriever pup was born into a hunting or sporting family then there is a high chance that he will be on the shorter and lighter side of the above weight and height spectrum. This is because the working lineage is more athletic and suited to hunting rather than in the conformation ring. Although he will not be significantly shorter, you may find that your Red Golden Retriever is the smallest in Retriever puppy class.

If showing your Golden Retriever in the conformation ring is an important factor to you, then you should not consider a Red Golden Retriever. The AKC have outlined in the breed standards that if they are too red then they will not be accepted in the ring. Only rich and radiant golden shades are accepted, and any color that is lighter or darker than this is considered to be undesirable.

The Red Golden Retriever will also have feathering fur concentrated around the ears, front of his neck and underbelly, however the feathering fur will be slightly shorter and less apparent compared to a Golden Retriever.

The Red Golden Retriever has an under coat and an outer coat which enables him to retain his body heat whilst working in cold and harsh weather, such as the Scottish Highlands. His under coat is short and dense whereas his outer coat is long, and it is wavy and soft in appearance, giving him an elegant look. His outer coat will be shorter than the average Golden Retriever. This beautiful coat isn’t just aesthetically appealing, but it is also water resistant for when he is retrieving objects from the water. Not only does the color and the texture of his coat ooze elegance, but so does his tail. It is long and his hair plumes, and as the AKC would describe it, it is always carried ‘with a merry action’.

Similar to the Golden Retriever, he will commonly have black or dark brown features, such as the lips, the eyes and eye rims, and his nails.

Red Golden Retriever Color Genetics Explained

In order to understand this, we need a quick science lesson. Each doggy cell (except the sperm and egg cells) has 39 pairs of chromosomes. Each pair is provided by both parents, one from Mama dog and one from Papa dog. Each of these chromosomes has 50,000 to 100,000 genes (which are made up of D.N.A), and approximately just 10 of these genes dictate coat color. Some of the 10 genes determine color itself, while others influence the distribution of color, i.e. spots or stripes, or the intensity of color in each individual hair or across the entire coat.

The two genes that are inherited from his parents may be identical or they may be different. Some genes are dominant, and some are recessive, and of course the dominant genes will mask recessive. For example, a pair could be ‘Aa’, with ‘A’ being dominant ‘a’ being recessive. If both big ‘A’ and little ‘a’ are present in a pair, then the dog will present as ‘AA’ as ‘A’ masks ‘a’.

So, in Golden Retrievers the important identifiers for color determination are known as B, E and C areas on the chromosome. B & E determine the color while C will affect shade or intensity. So, C genes become ‘C’ and ‘cch’. The C is the dominant gene (mostly!) and ‘cch’ is the recessive gene. In Red Golden Retrievers (and also yellow) their striking red coat color will depend on the following gene variations:

Gene Pairing
Coat Color
C + C
C + cch
Any shade in between
cch + cch
Nearly White

Color Controversy

The Red Golden isn’t a specific breed in and of itself.  It’s just a color variation of the actual golden retriever.  With that being said, breeders can certainly attempt to breed for darker coats, and the outcome will solely depend on the genetics listed in the table above.

There has been some controversy going back over many years that somewhere along the line an Irish Setter could have been introduced, which would have resulted in a darkening of the coat of the breed.  While there are many breeders today that produce “designer dogs” that are a mix of two purebreds like a Setter/Retriever mix, the red-coated golden retriever is truly just a darker color of the normal shade.  Almost all breeders recognize the darker shade as being purebred, although there are some out there that feel the darker color is a mutation of the breed and should be scored down when it comes to show retrievers in the ring.

In The Ring

This is where your mileage may vary.  Most competition judges will view a darker golden color as fine to show, but a deep red is a fault.  There are some judges that will score down for a darker red coat, and you may not be able to show your pup at all.  Be mindful of this if you specifically plan to show your dog.  Generally speaking, the golden retriever should be a wide variety of colors from a cream almost white color, all the way through a darker shade of red.

Extremely dark colored golden retrievers may not be able to be shown because the darkening of their coat may be considered to be flawed.  Keep this in mind if you are adopting a darker pup from a breeder with the intention of showing your dog.  If it’s just a family companion and you prefer the darker colored retrievers, then this will matter less for you in the long run.

Generally speaking “dark golden coated” retrievers are fine for show, but the dark red or mahogany colored golden retrievers are not, and will either be rejected for showing or scored down.


The Red Golden Retriever is more demanding than the average pup in regard to his grooming routine, however, he is slightly less demanding than the average Golden Retriever. As the Red Goldens have an ever so slightly shorter outer coat their shedding will not appear to be so intense. Of course, they will still shed, but there will not be as much of it compared to the Golden. They will still require brushing once or twice a week, but each session will certainly take slightly less time.

The longer feathering fur around the average Golden Retriever’s ears, neck, legs, feet and tail need trimming every two months or so to prevent it from tangling or getting too long. As the Red Golden Retriever has less feathering fur compared to that of the average Golden, this extra grooming will not be required as much, and his hair is less likely to tangle.

The Red Golden will require a bath once every four weeks to keep him smelling pleasant and looking fresh and healthy.

Breeders & Puppy Prices

Red Golden Lab Puppies

The average cost of a Golden Retriever puppy ranges from $800 and up from a reputable breeder. Because the Red Golden Retriever is much much rarer, you can expect to pay a lot more as the demand for him is much higher, with prices online suggesting that you can expect to pay in the region of $3,000.

Buying your pup from a reputable breeder will optimize the health of your pup. Ask for their parent’s recommended health certificates and ask to see them and their living conditions. This is particularly important for the Golden Retriever given their higher rate of Cancer.

Keep in mind that there’s also additional costs you will need to consider when adopting your red golden retriever pup, which can include the puppy crate made for goldens, the right toys, and also plan in advance for unexpected vet trips.

Could Pet Insurance Help?

If your pet insurance covers exam fees and your dog needs to be examined, there is a good chance your policy will reimburse those costs based on your policy details. However, if you are a new customer, vet expenses will not be covered until after your policy’s defined waiting periods, so signing up once you have an existing health concern is not going to help this time. Pre-existing conditions are not covered by any current pet insurance plans.

This is why it is a great idea to sign up for a pet insurance policy when your pet is young and relatively healthy to ensure you will be covered when you need it most.

Final Thoughts

The Golden Retriever is one of the most popular dog breeds, and has been for many decades, and if you’ve ever met or owned one, then it is easy to see why. Their temperament is fantastic for families and active singletons alike.

Now take all that awesomeness and put an extraordinary color on him like the Golden Red, and you have one canine superstar that will dazzle the most hardened of dog aficionados with his skillset and beauty.

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  1. we had a red haired retriever and he was wonderful! almost naive at time. just a wonderful well minded dog and overall one of the best dogs we ever had!

  2. Thomas Krisanda

    Exceptional education/information on the red golden retriever. It is far clearer now. I can respond to comments in a more knowledgeable manner.
    Thank you

  3. Phillip Mortis

    Accidentally came across your article. Wonderful job of explaining the “red” Golden. I have had the privilege of owing and raising five “red” Goldens. They all were and are field trial trained; great upland and water dogs. Most of all wonderful house dogs. I must say I love the color and breed. Phil

  4. My son got a red retriever from a breeder at 6 weeks old. Now we all know they suppose to be 8 weeks old before they are placed. I have question my son on the reputation of this breeder but can not tell me much. In Sept of last year he brought Rusty and spent a week with us. I have never seen a dog of a breed like this so afraid of everything. Of course we they came in the door Rusty came right to me and spent most of his time laying at my feet.
    Rusty will be coming to live with me in a few months.
    Can you give me an ideal on why he is so afraid? And what can I do to help him out of it?

    1. Dogs need time to adjust to a new home. Give it time and patience. Maybe he’s just a shy dog – every dog’s personality is different. Do everything you can to comfort Rusty and make him feel safe and happy with lots of love and extra praise, treats, and attention. Good luck!

  5. The correct breed standard (as in the Country of Origin) does not allow for the ”deep red” coat, nor for the athletic build of the so-called ”working Golden Retriever”, which is now being bred as if it’s a seperate breed. (Or, is it merely a bad example of a Golden?)
    Sadly, certain countries seem to specialise in extreme examples — look what they did to the Cocker Spaniel.

    1. The red is the most beautiful of the goldens in my opinion. Most people I know want the red. This is your personal opinion as is what I write here is my own personal opinion. I loved my very first red . So many years ago and love the reds I have now and it’s what’s in the heart of the owners. Not all political at all. Keep it real. My heart belongs to the breed and the color I prefer .

  6. Sibylle Brüngger

    I‘m interrested in a Red Golden Retriever.
    Is there any possibility in Switzerland?
    Thank you for giving some inputs 🙂

    1. Patsy Giblett

      I have never read such utter rubbish. Where do you get your information? I assume you must simply make it up.

      There is no such thing as a ’Red’ Golden Retriever or for that matter an English Cream. The breed is Golden Retriever and consists of all colours from light to dark. The only difference is that the show dogs tend to be heavier in build and lighter in colour whereas the working line is lighter in build and darker in colour. These ‘ascribed’ colours appear to be nothing more than some sort of marketing ploy to make puppy buyers pay more or believe they are buying something new and trendy.

      As a footnote there is no such thing as a ‘Fox Red’ Labrador either, they are Yellow and, like the Goldens consist of light to dark yellow.

  7. Lol, is this a joke? Im a 3rd generation of show/reputable breeders our breed standard includes light to dark shades of golden this color is not controversial. The only controversial issue we have within this breed is breeding only for color and NOT breeding for genetic health and temperament.

  8. I haven’t breed Golden Retreivers for about 20 years. But a couple of years ago, I got Saban. He is AKC Dark Golden but he is mahogany. May a year and a half ago I bought Breeze. She is also AKC Dark Golden. Two weeks ago she had 12 puppies but we lose. We are raising 8 puppies, most are as dark as her and a few are darker like my male. I could use some advice. I live in Western Louisiana about 70 miles from the coast.

  9. Hi!
    We live this red golden retriever .
    Do you happen to know how to find one in Europe. It is so difficult.

    I hope you can help us.

    1. I have had dark red Golden’s for 40 years. Find a reputable breeder through the American kennel club and don’t get ripped off. This is a ridiculous article..and YES they are shown in breed rings. Ugh

      1. Lizzy Can you recommend a good breeder that has red retriever pups or soon we’ll i’m in California Orange County looking for someone who really cares about their health and their hips and their heart.
        Let me know sure would like to find someone reputable and it doesn’t have to be a breeder just someone who really cares about their health thank you

  10. Michael O Neill

    Hi I am looking to buy a red golden retriever they are a stunning look dog can you recommend some reputable breeders please

    1. Michelle Schenker

      Great question! Goldens are made to run, and their working group history makes them well suited for long distances, but only at slower speeds. Their fetching personality makes them more comfortable with short, fast spurts vs. long extended runs. And, as with all breeds, puppies should not do long walks or runs as their bones are still forming and need time to build and stabilize before they do longer distances, especially on hard surfaces.

  11. Sandy Schriefer

    We currently have two Golden Retriever female siblings…Stella (red retriever) and Wrigley (golden color). They’re inseparable. They’re 3 years old now. What a great breed. First time owning this breed. Great with everyone. The differences between the two variations that are mentioned in this article are spot-on. Great article. Thank you!

  12. We had two golden retrievers, a red female that had a liter of 5 pups, in which we kept a blonde male. The female sadley was hit by a car and had to be put down, and tragically we just lost our male golden due to cancer, best dogs I have ever owned, great with the grandkids, best dogs EVER!

    1. Sorry for your loss, Kenton! Glad to hear you had a great experience with the breed, though! Thanks for the comment!

  13. Debra R Lewis

    I have had two Golden’s one blonde and one red both females my red was sunshine and she crossed over two weeks shy of her 15 birthday. She was such a sweetheart. My blonde was Lilly. She was 7 when she crossed over. She was precious, they were the best girls I ever had. They are like potato chips you can’t have just one.

    I lost them 5 months apart to cancer, but I have such great memories of them. If you’ve never had one for a best friend you don’t know what you’re missing. They made every step me and my husband made. If we went on a trip they were always with us. I miss them so much!

    1. Sounds like two amazing dogs, Debra! Thanks for stopping by to comment and share your experience with the breed!

  14. Anita Brenneman

    We always wanted a golden. And love the color of the red golden. We we’re looking for a female. We love camping hiking and boating. We think this dog would be perfect for us. We don’t need a perfect show dog. Just one we could love.

    1. Thanks for the comment Anita! We would recommend you look for Golden Retriever breeders in your local area. Many of them will end up with Goldens that have red coats out of regular puppy litters, even though it’s considered a fault. Good luck with your search!

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