For the modern breed, the “golden” in “Golden Retriever” refers to the coat color, which is “golden”. That “golden” color can range though, from a deep rusty red to almost white. Still, a Golden is a Golden… or is it?
Many of the established breeds we know today have been descended either purposely or through accidental mixing through the centuries and the Golden Retriever is no stranger to this. The Golden is a relatively young breed, having only been established in Scotland in the 1800s.
Baron Tweedmouth, A.K.A Sir Dudley Marjoribanks (now that’s a name!), a Scottish baron and politician, is largely responsible for developing the Golden Retriever. He wanted a hunting dog with plenty of stamina, strong swimming ability, and good tracking skills. But hunting being a gentleman’s sport at the time, he also wanted a handsome breed that stood out from the rest of the pack.
The earliest generation of Goldens was produced by cross and in-breeding Flat-coated Retrievers, Irish Setters, bloodhounds, St. Johns Water Dogs, and the now-extinct Tweed Water Spaniel. The resulting dog had all the characteristics that Sir Dudley was looking for, plus a soft mouth for carrying game without damaging it, as well as a loyal but friendly personality.
Just like with any species or breed, there can be some anomalies with regards to coat color. Since the Golden is partially descended from breeds that have black as their primary color, it stands to reason that this notably blonde breed is able to arbitrarily produce black offspring. That being said, the odds of a blond female and a blond male, both with all blond lineage, producing a black-haired offspring, would be very, very slim. Odds are better that one of the two parents of this ‘black golden retriever’ may have had some other black-coated dog mixed in. Female dogs can play host to multiple sires while in heat, which may result in multiple colors, multiple breeds born, or mixes of each.
The only way to know for certain whether this dog is indeed a ‘golden retriever’ that happens to be black is to DNA test the dog or turn back time and witness the breeding – Since we can’t do that, we have to assume that while it’s not impossible, the possibility is far better that this “black” retriever might be a flat-coat or a golden mix. Be cautious, though – owners of specific breeds are a passionate bunch, and may take great offense if you try to offer an explanation for their seemingly unique variation of their breed of choice.