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Why do some Goldens look so different?
The Golden is supposed to be a mid-to-large size dog, suitable for sitting in a duck blind all day with, as well as small enough to be able to haul over the side of a boat all wet (after a retrieve). The standard has a range of acceptable sizes, for females it is 21 1/2-22 1/2 inches at the shoulder, for males it is 23-24 inches at the shoulder, with an inch allowance either way. So, just in size, if you have a small female (which could be 20 1/2 inches, about 45 pounds) and a large male (which could be 25 inches, about 95 pounds) there is a BIG difference. Now, if you add variations in coat, which may come from the "type" of breeding, you can get quite a physical difference. Through the years, breeders have bred for different qualities. Some breeders are interested purely in physical appearance for show purposes. Since "big and hairy" looks stunning in the show ring and wins, these breeders have bred for those characteristics. Other breeders have bred only for field ability. Since the smaller (and often darker colored) dogs have been the ones that are faster and flashier in the field, these breeders have tended to breed for those characteristics. There are other types, as well, but these are the most common. Just because a dog is of the "conformation" type does NOT mean that it cannot work in the field, just as being of the "field" type does NOT mean that that dog cannot win in the show ring.
(Cindy Moore, firstname.lastname@example.org)