Origins and history
The Golden Retriever was originally bred in Scotland in the mid-19th century. At that time, wildfowl hunting was a popular sport for the wealthy Scottish elite, but the existing retriever breeds were inadequate for retrieving downed game from both water and land. Retrieving from both land and water was necessary because the hunting grounds of the time were pocketed with marshy ponds and rivers. Consequently, the best water spaniels were crossed with the existing retrievers, resulting in the establishment of the breed today known as the Golden Retriever. The Golden Retriever was first developed near Glen Affric in Scotland, at "Guisachan", the highland estate of Dudley Marjoribanks, 1st Baron Tweedmouth. For many years, what breeds were originally crossed was disputed, but in 1952, the publication of Marjoribanks' breeding records from 1835 to 1890 dispelled the myth concerning the purchase of a whole troupe of Russian tracker sheepdogs from a visiting circus, instead it details a careful line-breeding program.
Improvements in guns during the 1800s resulted in more fowl being downed during hunts at greater distances and over increasingly difficult terrain, leading to more birds being lost in the field. Because of this improvement in firearms, a need for a specialist retriever arose, as training setter and pointer breeds in retrievals was found to be ineffective. Thus, work began on the breeding of the dog to fill this much-needed role.
The original cross was of a yellow-coloured retriever, 'Nous', with a Tweed Water Spaniel female dog, 'Belle'. The Tweed Water Spaniel is now extinct, but was then common in the border country. Marjoribanks had purchased Nous in 1865 from an unregistered litter of otherwise black wavy-coated retriever pups. In 1868, this cross produced a litter that included four pups; these four became the basis of a breeding program which included the Irish Setter, the sandy-coloured Bloodhound, the St. John's water dog of Newfoundland, and two more wavy-coated black retrievers. The bloodline was also inbred and selected for trueness to Marjoribanks' idea of the ultimate hunting dog. His vision included a more vigorous and powerful dog than previous retrievers, one that would still be gentle and trainable. The ancestry of the Golden Retriever is all sporting dogs, in line with Marjoribanks' goals. The Golden Retriever was active and powerful and had a gentle mouth for retrieving game while on hunts.
The above information came from Wikipedia, more information is available on the Golden Retriever Club of America web site.