150 Years After A Historic Breeding Experiment, Hundreds Of Dogs Invaded A Quiet Scottish Village

The crowd of canines stretched far into the distance, all shiny coats and wagging tails. Without question the scene was a heavenly one for dog lovers, and doubly so for golden retriever fans. But what brought the self-styled Guisachan Gathering to the grounds surrounding a Highlands ruin and the nearby village?

Arguably, there are few dogs that epitomize the concept of man’s best friend more than golden retrievers. They have long assisted humans ever since their domestication; hunters originally employed them as gun dogs. Indeed, bringing back felled prey is how golden retrievers earned their name.

Retrievers are so-called because they’re experts at fetching downed game and bringing it back to hunters undamaged. They’re even capable swimmers, so they can reach waterfowl. But retrieving was just their first role assisting humans. In recent times, the breed’s been helping us in many other ways, too.

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To be more specific, golden retrievers are commonly found working alongside people with disabilities. For instance, they’re often chosen to take up roles aiding the hard of hearing or those with limited vision. This is due to the breed’s many qualities that make them ideal for human interaction.

To begin with, retrievers are generally intelligent and highly trainable dogs. Indeed, they’re the fourth smartest dog breed in the world according to The Intelligence of Dogs by Professor Stanley Coren. By nature they’re also usually incredibly calm and friendly. Naturally, this means they’re excellent with children.

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It’s these behavioral traits that make golden retrievers an optimal choice for tasks requiring human-dog interaction. As such, you can find them working with search and rescue units or as sniffer dogs. Additionally, retrievers are great show dog candidates because of their eagerness to please.

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But what links golden retrievers to the Highlands, and why were they present in such droves? The location in question is Guisachan House, which lies nestled in Strathglass, in the Shire of Inverness. The house is part of the Guisachan Estate, consisting of the manor and Tomich village.

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Or rather, it was. In the 1890s Guisachan House was an impressive mansion, but now it’s little more than a ruin. Society high-flyer Dudley Marjoribanks – also known as Lord Tweedmouth – occupied the manor with his wife. Tomich village was actually constructed as living quarters for the house’s staff.

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Tweedmouth’s claim to fame came as a result of his passion as a dog breeder. Records published in 1952 revealed that his animal husbandry even occasionally resulted in new breeds. One such instance occurred when Tweedmouth crossed Tweed water spaniel Belle with Nous, another type of retriever.

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Belle gave birth to the first golden retriever pups in 1868. However, governing body The Kennel Club didn’t recognize the golden retriever as a new breed in its own right until 1903. Nonetheless, the year 2018 saw the 150th anniversary of Belle’s momentous litter, and this fact gave golden retriever owners much to celebrate.

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The breed’s popularity has been enduring ever since its creation. For evidence of that, you need look no further than the Golden Retriever Club of Scotland (GRCS). Founded to celebrate the breed in 1946, its members have been meeting regularly for decades. But the 2018 Guisachan Gathering has been its most successful to date.

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On July 14, 2018, Tomich village was engulfed by nothing short of a four-legged invasion. Retriever owners led their cherished pets to the “Golden Gathering” in their droves, blessing locals and attending GRCS members with the pleasure of their company. The event lasted five days, and concluded at the site of the golden retriever’s origins: Guisachan House itself.

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Although Guisachan Gatherings had attracted large turnouts in the past, the sheer scale of this one astounded its GRCS organizers. Indeed, there were 361 good dogs in total. Doreen McGugan, the chairwoman of GRCS, spoke to daily newspaper The Express about the meet’s popularity.

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“The 150th has been a roaring success,” a delighted McGugan revealed. “We’ve gone up from 188 golden retrievers ten years [ago] at the 2006 gathering to 222 in 2016. And now, today, we got 361!” Some of those wonderful woofers even strutted their stuff in the championship show.

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You’d think that so many dogs would drive a judge barking mad, but the retrievers were all perfect pooches. “Not one bark in these dogs,” McGugan told NBC’s Today show in July 2018; “It was quite exciting.” No doubt she had a tough job choosing “Best in Show” from such treasures.  

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The Guisachan Gathering isn’t just for people who want to show off their furbabies in contests, either. “It was a lot of pet owners who came just to join the fun,” McGugan said. She also noted that the reason for the meet might have come as a pleasant surprise to some.

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The GRCS spokeswoman elaborated by saying how the history of the golden retrievers wasn’t known to everybody. No doubt the assembly proved an enlightening time for some dog lovers. And if the online reactions are anything to go by, future gatherings could become even busier.

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Guisachan Gathering attendees posted their pictures on social media, much to the envy of fellow dog lovers. The sight of hundreds of so many pettable pooches in one place captured the hearts of many. One commenter wrote, “This is the most amazing thing I have seen in my life,” while others described the event as “Heaven.”

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One person was blown away by how beautiful the animal attendees were. “Look at the quality of these Golden Retrievers,” they wrote. “They are stunning, every single one of them.” They went on to describe the gathering as “very impressive and heartwarming.”

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All in all, the anniversary was a massive success, which touched McGugan profoundly; especially considering the occasion. Mostly, though, the chairwoman was just happy to see so many people who shared her passion. “I’m so grateful to everyone who came,” she told Today, adding, “I hope they enjoyed themselves.”

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