Golden Retrievers With Blue Eyes (Are They True Goldens?)

The soulful, deep brown eyes of the golden retriever are among its most distinctive characteristics. But every once in a while, you might see a dog that looks like a golden retriever, except for its bright blue eyes. Can a Golden Retriever have blue eyes?

A golden retriever with blue eyes does not meet the breed standard for a true golden retriever. Although it is possible in rare cases for a purebred golden to have blue eyes, it is most likely that any dog appearing to be a golden retriever with blue eyes is actually a mixed breed. 

Read on to find out more about the breed standards of golden retrievers and how it determines which dogs can be considered true golden retrievers. You will also learn about some causes of blue eyes in goldens and discover the surprising links between eye color and illness in dogs.

A blue eyed Golden Retriever.

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Breed Standard

One way to think about which dogs officially “count” as being golden retrievers is to see what the people in charge of registering dogs think about it. When you register a dog to be in dog shows, you get paperwork that says your dog is officially a purebred member of a particular breed. In the United States, the American Kennel Club (AKC) is in charge of registering dogs. 

This dog pedigree association sets standards for each breed based on the breed’s national parent club’s input. For Golden Retrievers, that parent club is the Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA). The GRCA and the AKC together define the breed standard for Golden Retrievers to include only dogs with brown eyes–and dark brown is preferred over medium or light brown. 

Blue-eyed goldens are what is known as “non-conforming” goldens. They may very well be the offspring of two purebred golden retrievers, but they have not inherited the particular combination of genetic traits that define the breed. 

This may sound like a lot of needless rules that exclude some dogs for no good reason. But the point of having breed standards is so that distinct breeds aren’t lost over time. It takes many generations of breeding to create a dog breed with the characteristics suited for a particular purpose–hunting birds, herding sheep, pulling a sled, and so on. Without a fairly strict definition of the breed, it would be easy to lose those characteristics in future generations.

Want to see the breed standard in action? Check out this video from the AKC: 

To learn even more about this breed, consider reading one of these great books:

  • Golden Retriever (Kennel Club Classics) (Amazon link): This beautifully illustrated guide to the breed gives information on its history, the AKC breed standards, and the capabilities of these smart, hard-working dogs.
  • The Complete Golden Retriever Handbook (Amazon link): This handbook is intended for new and future owners of goldens and includes a thorough introduction to caring for and enjoying your golden retriever.

Causes of Blue Eyes in Golden Retrievers

There are two explanations for blue eyes in the offspring of purebred golden retrievers. One is albinism, and the other is recessive genes for blue eyes. But blue eyes as a result of crossbreeding are much more common than either of these scenarios.

Albinism

You’ve probably heard of “albino” animals. Albino animals lack the genes for producing melanin, the pigment that colors hair and skin. This causes them to have white hair and pink skin. Albinism is rare in dogs. Two copies of the recessive genes for albinism have to be inherited for a dog to display these traits.

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Golden Retrievers With Blue Eyes?

Animals with albinism often have pink eyes, but this isn’t true for dogs. Dogs with albinism are more likely to have blue eyes. Albino dogs also have pink noses and white fur. Two purebred golden retriever parents can possibly produce an albino puppy; this would be one of the rare cases where a blue-eyed dog can be a non-conforming golden retriever.

Recessive Genes

The genes that are associated with brown eyes are dominant, and so most dogs have brown eyes. Because golden retrievers have been deliberately bred over many generations to display brown eyes, the blue eyes’ recessive genes have become less and less common. 

In the rare case where two purebred dogs are each carrying the recessive blue-eyed genes and are bred together, it’s possible for some of their offspring to inherit blue eyes. This would be the second circumstance where a blue-eyed dog could be considered a non-conforming golden retriever.

Crossbreeding a Golden Retriever

Given how rare albinism and the recessive blue-eyed genes are in golden retrievers, it’s not surprising that most blue-eyed goldens are actually golden retriever mixes. There are many golden mixes out there–people like to have a dog that’s at least part golden retriever because of their outstanding temperaments.

Some golden mixes are easy to spot as mixes, while others can look a lot like purebred golden retrievers. Here are some common golden mixes and their characteristics:

  • Goldendoodle: Goldendoodles are poodle/golden retriever crosses. Many have the coloring of a golden and the beautiful curls of a poodle. For a fun look at these smart and lively dogs, check out this video:
The Goldendoodle Dog Breed Guide

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  • Coltriever: This golden/border collie mix can have a wide variety of coat colors. Some have the golden retriever coat color and the blue eyes common to border collies. Take a look at some of these beautiful golden/collie mixes:
The Coltriever is a mix between a Border Collie and Golden Retriever
  • Golden boxer: This hybrid offers the athleticism of the boxer and the personality of the golden–what’s not to love about that? Want to see an adorable golden boxer pup at play? Have a peek at this quick video:
A Golden Boxer
  • Goberian: Goberians are another crossbreed that can have the appearance of a golden with blue eyes if they inherit the golden’s coat and the blue eyes often found in huskies. You can see the huge variety among these crosses, including goberians that look like blue-eyed goldens, here:
Goberian is a mix between a Golden Retriever and a Siberian Husky and often has blue eyes.

Are Blue Eyes Linked to Illness?

In some cases, blue eyes in dogs are linked to a gene called the “merle” gene, and this gene is linked to a number of health problems. Because of this, many people mistakenly believe that all blue-eyed dogs are at greater risk of illness. But golden retrievers don’t carry the merle gene, so when they have blue eyes, it’s for a different reason and is not linked to a higher risk of health problems.

Can a Golden’s Eyes Change Color?

All dogs’ eyes are a shade of blue at birth. They gradually darken to brown over the first months of life. So yes–almost all dogs’ eyes change color. But can it happen the other way? Can a brown-eyed dog become a blue-eyed dog?

One strange side-effect of the eye conditions like cataracts and glaucoma is that a dog’s eye color may change. If your previously brown-eyed golden retriever’s eyes are starting to look blue, it’s time for a visit to the vet to get your dog’s vision checked.

Conclusion

Blue-eyed goldens are not “true” golden retrievers. They don’t meet the standards set by the golden retriever national parent club and the AKC. But there’s no reason not to refer to them as golden retrievers. They’re just non-conforming examples of the breed. 

There is a strong likelihood that a blue-eyed golden isn’t a purebred dog. It’s possible for two purebred goldens to have a blue-eyed pup among their offspring, but this is extremely rare. Crossbreeding somewhere in the parent line is a more likely explanation–in this case, the dog would be referred to as a “golden retriever mix.” 

If your dog had brown eyes that turned blue over time, it would be smart to take your dog to the vet for an eye exam. But if you’re the owner of a naturally blue-eyed golden, you’ll be relieved to know they shouldn’t generally be associated with an increased risk for health problems.

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Bryan Mullennix

Bryan's a freelance travel photographer and happy dog dad. He currently lives in Las Vegas with his wife, his son, and two dogs Nom Nom & Speck.

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