Lessons Learned From Golden Retrievers

It's All About the Process

Kaye and Roger Fuller train Golden Retrievers and raise Beefmaster cattle at their ranch in Paige, Texas. (Becky Mills)

"He was the only dog that did the big swim. I can see it like it was yesterday," Kaye Fuller says.

It was one of Kaye's proudest moments, watching her Golden Retriever, Flash, compete at the top of his game in 2013 during the open stake at the Fort Collins Retriever Club trial. Flash's professional handler, the late Bill Eckett, turned that memorable day into a win, earning Flash his Field Champion (FC) title and qualifying him for the National Retriever Championship.

It was a big day for everyone, but especially for Golden enthusiasts. Flash, full name "Topbrass No Time To Paws," was making a name for himself doing something more expected of a Labrador than a Golden.

"When word got out that a Golden was making the swim, a crowd gathered," says pro trainer Kirk Major, recalling Flash's nearly 1,200-yard swim that day over three consecutive retrieves. It's a big deal when any retriever wins an open and earns their FC, but when it is a Golden rather than a Labrador, it is truly a special occasion.

It says a lot about Flash's training but also about his genetics. The Fullers know all about picking the keepers when it comes to genetics in good dogs and, as it turns out, in cattle, too.


Kaye and husband, Roger Fuller, took their knowledge of genetics in Goldens in another direction in 1985, when they bought a ranch in Paige, Texas, near Austin, today known as "KC Beefmasters." The previous owner had 200 head of quality Beefmasters, a cross between Hereford, Brahman and Shorthorn. But, that wasn't what the Fullers walked into when they bought the ranch.

Kaye recalls, "He sold all but the ugliest 12 and left them on the ranch." She and Roger did their research on the breed and decided to stay with it. They used artificial insemination (AI), which Roger added to his skills set, and embryo transfer to upgrade the herd.

"Beefmasters make sense genetically and environmentally in Central Texas," says Roger, adding not only are they heat tolerant but also gentle. That docile temperament is a necessity, as he and Kaye are in their 70s and do almost all their own cattle work. Kaye adds she likes that the breed coexists well with the dogs.

The dogs, all Goldens, continue to be a key part of this couple's day-to-day joy. They were what brought the two together many years ago.


Kaye Fuller, a veterinarian in Austin, was working with a company that helped transport dogs when she met Roger in 1985. He worked for IBM and was moving to Texas from Germany. While his dogs were in a required quarantine period at Kaye's office, she got to know Roger.

"He would come by on his lunch hour every day and love on them," Kaye recalls. "I decided he was a pretty good fella."

In 1989, after he proved he could throw and shoot a live pigeon for the dogs, Kaye agreed to marry him. At the time, each had four Goldens, so their wedding photos include eight Goldens, all in a line.

Roger competed in obedience trials, but Kaye says she dragged him into fieldwork. He proved to be an apt study, earning an Amateur Field Champion (AFC) title on his dog KC's Chip Off The Old Block. Chip passed away in the 1990s; Flash, this past January.

But, the Fullers' household still has plenty of Golden family, including Wager, who isn't quite a year old; Marty, 3; Rider, 3; Auggie, 7; and Jessie, 8. Roger says Kaye's Jessie and his Auggie are both close to their AFC titles.

As for the future for the cattle herd, they've cut back to 37 mama cows, which Kaye says is the number, along with their calves, they can work in one day. They've also continued to improve genetic quality.


At first glance, Beefmaster cattle and Golden Retrievers don't seem to have much in common. Roger says the study of genetics applies in both cases, as they work through what traits to avoid and what to encourage.

With the cattle, the breed association makes it a bit less challenging by providing expected progeny differences (EPDs) and indexes. The Fullers emphasize rib-eye area and intramuscular fat. Structure is another critical point. Roger says they want to see spring of rib and a straight top line.

And, just like with the cattle, a good Golden puppy is all about genetics and an experienced eye. The Fullers rely on pedigrees and observation.

"We're going to make sure we've seen the sire and dam work," Roger says. "If we haven't, we have friends we can call and ask. We have a tremendous network around the U.S."

Kaye adds that structurally they want a dog with a pleasing head, moderate size and a good shoulder.

"They have a hard life running and swimming. It helps extend their working careers if they have good structure," she explains. The also make sure the puppy's health clearances are in order, including those on hips, elbows, eyes and heart, as well as being free of inherited diseases that tests have identified.

Then, of course, there is temperament. With puppies, Roger says, "How biddable are they? I want them to interact with me."

Kaye adds, "Goldens want to work for you. You're a team."

It's a winning team the Fullers hope will earn them a few more titles in the years ahead.

"When Flash started winning, our goals went up, and we set our standards high," Kaye says. "We still very much enjoy the process. It is great to see these dogs do what they are hard-wired to do."

Labradors vs. Goldens: It's All About Gene Pool:

There's a reason it's so special to see a Golden Retriever succeed in field trial work. From a genetics standpoint, they don't have the same kind of gene pool Labradors today do.

Karl Gunzer, director of Purina's Sporting Dog Group program, says there is simply a larger number of competitive Labradors. This means the gene pool is bigger, he explains.

"Maybe it is because Goldens descend from upland hunting dogs, but it is harder to find good ones, especially in the water. Flash was a wonderful dog," he says of Kaye Fuller's winning Golden.

Gunzer admits his praise for Flash may be biased. Before he retired as a pro trainer, he handled Flash to his first open win. "It was Texas in February. It was miserable, cold, raining and muddy. Flash was perfect. You don't remember all your wins, but I remember that one," he says.

In open and amateur field trials, retrievers are usually tested in four series. They can be dropped at any time.

The first series is typically three or four marked retrieves on land for birds the dog sees thrown. He isn't sent for the birds until they've all been thrown.

The second series is normally a blind retrieve on land, where the handler directs the dog with whistles and hand-signals to a bird the dog hasn't seen thrown.

The third series is a water blind, followed by what is usually the hardest test, three or four marked retrieves in water.

Series resemble an obstacle course. Retrieves can be 250 to 300 yards long or longer. The dog may have to go through thick cover, stiff crosswinds, swamps and ponds big enough to make even the most courageous dog think twice.

"Flash was intelligent, he learned quickly and was always trying to please," Gunzer says. "He was also a good marker and had a good memory."



-- Golden Retriever Club of America: https://GRCA.org/…

-- Orthopedic Foundation for Animals: https://OFA.org/…

-- Beefmaster Cattle: https://beefmasters.org/…

-- American Kennel Club: https://www.AKC.org/…

-- Hunting Retriever Club: https://HRC.dog/…


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