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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

The Timeless, Cheerful Appeal of the Slightly Spacey Golden Retriever

The case for the Golden Retriever as definitively himbo
Graphic: Elena Scotti (Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)
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He’s got long locks of blonde hair to match his sunny personality. He’s an athletic guy who lives for the outdoors, and all he wants to do is go hiking, or boogie boarding, or maybe even run around the local park. He’s sweet, he’s gentle, he’s kind, and he makes you laugh. More than anything, he wants to keep you smiling, keep you feeling loved. His kisses are a little messy, a little slobbery, sure, but they’re sincere and never in short supply. To top it all off, he’s great with kids.

I’m describing, of course, the dream himbo: a golden retriever.

“They’re definitely the Instagram models of the dog world,” said veterinarian Rachel Meyer. I could almost hear her swoon through the phone. “They’re so beautiful [and] they’re wonderfully oblivious, just happy and desperate for affection. And they don’t question whether or not you love them. They know you love them, they just want you to show it.”

With their golden coats, their affinity for water, and their pleasant disposition (they’re the most smiley dog, right?) it’s easy to envision them in human form as a smiling, hunky blonde surfer, eager to catch some waves at daybreak with their friends. Their eagerness to please and constant desire to have fun fun fun and go go go and walk walk walk and swim swim swim make it easy enough to conjure up a somewhat ditzy sort of fellow, perhaps not the sharpest tool in the shed, but so down for adventure and affection that that’s of little consequence.

“Sometimes they can act like they have like two functioning neurons, and one is telling them, like, ‘I need a human contact!’ and the other one is kind of like, you know, ‘food, squirrel, butterfly, treats, nap’ and maybe they’ll get some pets in there too,” Meyer said. “They’re the dog at the dog park that doesn’t really care about the other dogs that much, they go to the humans to get pet.”

Evidence from the world of romance novels supports the golden retriever-himbo connection. “Authors really should promote their golden retriever-like romance heroes more,” romance novel critic Silvana Reyes tweeted back in April. “I WOULD GET THAT BOOK SO FAST u don’t even know.” Reyes offered up Brendon from Alexandria Bellefleur’s Hang the Moon and Josh Darling from Rosie Danan’s The Roommate as examples. “Josh is what I would call a golden retriever type of love interest,” Reyes, who contributes to Book Riot and On Frolic as well as her own book reviewing YouTube channel, The Book Voyagers, told Jezebel. “He gets unbelievably happy when he gets a text from the main character, Clara. He sends her selfies of him doing mundane things only to make her think of him.”

A golden retriever type is a guy who might be a little goofy, but he is ultimately loving, kind, and absolutely devoted to his Person. “Their [partner’s] simple presence makes their day and they are so happy whenever they have the chance to be near them,” Reyes said. “When the protagonist looks at them, it’s like their wish has been granted and they cannot believe they are the luckiest person alive. It’s that love, that determination, that really catches my attention whenever I read a character like this.” Sounds like a big ol’ himbo to me.

In fact, the breed is even invoked in the all-powerful Urban Dictionary definition of a himbo: “Generally, a large (broad, tall, or buff) attractive man, who tends to be not very bright, but usually extremely nice and respectful. Think Kronk from The Emperors New Groove, or maybe a golden retriever.”

But golden retriever owners are a little touchy about the idea that their precious dogs could be described as “himbos.” Take Kate, a teacher from Florida who documents her nine-year-old golden retriever, Lucy, on Instagram. I stumbled upon the account in a random geotag years ago and have followed their adventures ever since. Lucy is a spunky girl who loves swimming, playing with her fish-shaped pool toys, and twerking. She’s a big sweetheart, but according to Kate, a (lady) himbo she is not.

“She’s definitely adorable, but super smart too,” Kate said. “Her vocabulary is pretty extensive. From basic words like food, treat, and potty to her favorites like swim, pool, beach, and Fishie she understands a lot more than I ever imagined a dog could... It’s crazy that I know she understands when I’m happy and sad without being able to tell me. She’s the best.”

Kate added, “That’s why so many are trained support dogs. They are pretty quick learners, too, because they are pleasers. All they wanna do is please you so they will learn quickly.” Kate’s right: According to the American Kennel Club, golden retrievers are within the top five most intelligent dog breeds. They’re a popular support dog and sought-after during search and rescue missions.

This sentiment was echoed by Malia Mailes, who runs an Instagram account about her dog, Brady. “Brady definitely isn’t [a himbo]!” she said via e-mail. “He’s incredibly smart and very, very strategic... but then sometimes thinks he can’t get out of an open door if the curtain is closed!”

“Goldens are known for being one of the most beautiful breeds in the world, but we wouldn’t consider them to be himbos since they’re also quite intelligent in most cases,” said Laura Furr. She runs @goldenretrievers, an Instagram account owned by pet product retailer Alpha Paw. The account boasts 2 million followers and posts Golden Retriever content a couple of times a week. “They’re also wonderful family dogs and are usually friendly to all. What’s not to love?”

I contacted Senator Elizabeth Warren’s office and asked if her famed golden, Bailey, is a himbo. I have yet to receive a response.

And Reyes isn’t totally sure “himbo” fits her beloved golden retriever love interests, either. “I think himbos and golden retriever heroes are quite different, but similar in some ways,” Reyes said. “The one thing that marks a difference for me is the attention. Golden retriever heroes crave attention, mainly from their love interests. They want to be there for them, they want to make them smile, etc. I guess himbos can also achieve that, but it’s not the main thing that they are.”

I reached out to Meyer about this pushback. She still doesn’t think that describing golden retrievers as “himbos” is all that unfair. “I would say there’s a difference between being trainable and being intelligent,” said Meyer. “Of course, there are some Goldens that are smarter than others, [but] I would argue that you don’t want a dog that’s that smart.”

A himbo isn’t necessarily brainless; they just don’t rely on being brainy as a major personality trait. It’s not more important than having good clean fun. Seems like a fair enough assessment of a golden retriever to me. But what do I know? I’m just a casual observer—admirer—of the fair-haired canines who are always down to play.