Council House Goldens, located northwest of Boise in Council, Idaho, breeds English Cream Golden Retrievers. They are on our short list of recommended breeders. We asked Coleen Goodwin, owner of Council House Goldens, to answer a few questions for us. This is the first in our series of ethical breeder spotlights!
Coleen, of all the breeds out there, why did you decide to breed English Cream Golden Retrievers?
I loved JJ fiercely, and then his son, Chipper. When we lost JJ and then Chipper, I began my search for that deep, dark mahogany Golden Retriever. So dark that you knew you had an Irish Setter! After a brief internet search, I began to see a different Golden. The European, or more commonly called English Cream Golden caught my eye. Their round black eyes and nose spellbound me in stark contrast to their stunning cream-colored coat. That blocky head and stocky build became the Golden standard I would grow to love.
How long have you been breeding?
The decision to breed Goldens happened when a breeder told me that they would soon become a thing of the past. Their popularity created a profitable market, and careless breeding became the rule rather than the exception. The drive to breed with intention and purpose drove me to ask questions and look for answers in the not so familiar places. The research and questions that began almost ten years ago remain with me and continue to influence every step I take.
What sets you apart from other breeders?
What sets me apart from other breeders? Gee, that’s a difficult question for me to answer. What does set me apart? Most breeders do health testing, and I do as well. Not many feed their dogs a species-appropriate raw diet, but I do. I don’t believe that hip dysplasia is solely the result of genetics.
I choose classes from a Ph.D. in canine biology covering subjects from joint health, coefficient of inbreeding, and the question of nature vs. nurture as it pertains to temperament over a good night’s sleep. I appreciate the conventional and unconventional approach to healthcare and carefully research all of the standards.
The only skin I have in the game is the health and well-being of my dogs. If I learn that what I’m doing is wrong, I make a change. There isn’t a dogma that is tethered to my ego such that I can’t change. Do these things make me different? Perhaps to some small degree.
What is your goal as a breeder?
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” says Shannon, founder and president of Northwest Battle Buddies. That sentiment expresses my goals as a breeder. Each new year brings with it an understanding of what I didn’t know. Yesterday and today, my goals are health, temperament, and beauty. But, my knowledge of health, temperament, and beauty is ever-evolving.
How long is your wait list?
Do we “over reserve”? We try not to. It is heartbreaking to tell a family waiting for a puppy that there isn’t one. Our girls have reputations; some have big litters, and some have average litters. We even accuse one of the girls of being stingy! But, the past doesn’t always repeat itself, and surprises do happen.
Depending on the girl, I generally limit the reservations to three or four girls and three or four boys. To make matters more challenging, I never know how many girls and boys we are getting until they are here. This reservation thing has been known to keep me up at night. Seriously.
Waiting for a puppy is grueling. The unknowns of life are simply out of one’s control and can mean disappointment for everyone. The waitlist can be up to a year and sometimes longer and is difficult for the family and us.
What health testing do you do?
Ever sat on a three-legged stool? You know, the short one with the big legs? I see health testing like that stool. PennHIP for hip evaluation and OFA or my reproductive veterinary team at Idaho Veterinary Hospital for elbows, eyes, and heart is one leg. The coefficient of inbreeding is another leg, and genetic testing via Paw Print Genetic makes the stool complete.
What do you feed your dogs (and puppies)?
Imagine my surprise when I was told that feeding dogs what wolves eat in the wild was what I should do. What, kibble with an egg or gravy on top wasn’t the best choice? It was time to dig in and do one of my favorite things. Research!
I read books about the principles of the raw diet, written by veterinarians. I read about how kibble was made, the sourced ingredients and what a label reveals, and what it hides. Can anyone say controversy? The raging battle between some of the raw feeders and kibble feeders was both disappointing and revealing. I have been determined to stay true to my love of knowledge and my disdain for bickering by staying out of the time-sucking social media food fights.
Today, I feed raw meat and bone and add eggs from our pastured chickens. I make kefir from our raw fresh milk and toss in a few homegrown garden veggies. I ensure that our pack gets an essential nutrient that isn’t found in muscle or bone by top dressing with Showdown by Dynamite Specialty in Meridian, Idaho. Showdown is the only supplement that I’ve found with adequate manganese amounts for our dogs’ ligament health in addition to other vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and cofactors.
The benefits are tangible and proven in the health profile of our adults and puppies.
How do you figure out the best home for a puppy?
No matter how detailed, the puppy application is inadequate in matching the perfect family with the perfect puppy. Phone visits and emails help round out the process. Hearing what a family hopes for in their new family member goes a long way in making a good match.
You donate dogs for veterans. Tell us about that.
Council House Goldens is given the privilege and honor to thank our armed services’ service men and women by partnering with an exemplary organization, Northwest Battle Buddies. With founder and President Shannon Walker at the helm, Northwest Battle Buddies provides highly trained services dogs for no charge to qualifying veterans with PTSD.
We have promised to give a puppy from each litter, or in some instances, an entire litter, to be raised by carefully selected foster families. Once they become adolescent dogs, they begin training to become highly qualified service dogs and then train with their veteran to form an enduring bond known by Northwest Battle Buddies as a “team.”
Service dogs trained for this high calling must be of sound body and mind to be a lifelong companion and working dog for their veteran. Northwest Battle Buddies’ trained service dogs must be reliable, trustworthy, steady under pressure, and unwavering in their task. We are empowered by the knowledge that our dogs are fit for a job such as this.
Do you ever have dogs returned to you?
Right of first refusal provides a pathway for families that can no longer keep a dog they got from us. We will take a dog back to ensure that no dog from our program is placed in a shelter. We have had three dogs come back home. One girl couldn’t stay because the child in the home developed an allergy; a boy came home because his family didn’t have the time for him, and a sweet girl came home because her family said she had behavior problems.
In every case, the dogs were successfully rehomed and are living good lives.
You mentioned you don’t do ultrasounds on your pregnant females. Why?
Did you know counting puppies before they are born is a thing? Experienced breeders tell the next generation breeder that an x-ray is safe and highly accurate in counting puppies once the female is 49 days pregnant. I remember reading and rereading that. Here I was trying to avoid anything that might increase cancer, and I’m reading that it’s okay during pregnancy for the mom and her puppies?
Back to the research. I found an article noting cancer in pups as young as two years of age that had been exposed to x-ray before birth. I had to wonder about the effect of repeat radiation every time the female was exposed as well. Counting puppies with x-ray would not be used in the breeding program. I’ve opted to use ultrasound at around 28 days of pregnancy and settling for a puppy count that is an estimate.
Is there anything else you want to tell us about Council House?
Council House has grown beyond my expectations and abilities to manage everything. Thankfully, I have a family that is deeply committed to this work. They work by my side, do the “heavy lifting” that I can no longer do, and love our dogs. Our dogs live with us in our homes. After all, Goldens are part human, right?! If that connection with their family is lost, our goal to keep the Golden into perpetuity is lost too. We are not offended by dog hair and allow them to join us on the couch while watching a movie or reading a book. No matter how big they get, they will always be lap dogs!
Thank you, Coleen, for sharing this information and all your wonderful photos with us. I know first-hand from meeting you, evaluating your litters and training the dogs you produce, that your program is a cut above the rest! We’re truly honored to highlight your incredible breeding program.
To contact Council House Goldens, please go to their website at www.councilhousegoldens.com and fill out the form in the footer. You can also find Council House Goldens on Facebook @councilhousegoldens and Instagram at council_house_goldens. Like them. Follow them. See what they’re up to!
Coleen notes that all the photos shown in this article were taken by her dear friend, John Hafner, a professional photographer. Here is a link to his website for anyone who might be interested in commissioning him for photos of their dogs.