A sea of golden retrievers congregated at the birthplace of the breed's first litter in the Scottish Highlands. The first golden retrievers were born in 1868. Image Credit: Ollie Sheppard via Washington Post

What happens when 500 extra-large lap dogs converge in one place? (Golden retrievers technically aren't lap dogs, but try telling them that.)

The answer is you get a chaotic crowd of eager-to-please golden-coated canines sitting on command, rolling over and chasing tennis balls with abandon in the Scottish Highlands. And while the humans they arrived with often have a lot in common, the pups are the focus of the "Guisachan Golden Gathering" - an event hosted by the Golden Retriever Club of Scotland.

The purpose of the five-day summer festival is to celebrate the breed on the grounds where the first golden retriever puppies were born in 1868. For people who have a deep and abiding love for golden retrievers, travel was no obstacle to be able to celebrate the 155th anniversary of the breed.

"People do tend to talk to each other's dogs more than anything," said Ollie Sheppard, who drove with his fiance, Michelle Potter, nearly 500 miles from Lichfield, England to Cannich, Scotland, to attend the gathering with their 2-year-old golden, Margo.

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This year's event - which ran from July 10 to July 14 - saw people traveling from places including the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and South Africa. Many of them decided to take their pooches along for the journey.

Kelly Sisco and her husband, Tim, are golden retriever breeders who made the trip from Fair Grove, Mo., where they live with 11 golden retrievers of their own. When they heard about the event, right away, "we decided we were going to go," she said.

Sisco wasn't able to bring her dogs to Scotland, but being around 500 flaxen-haired, floppy-eared pups all sniffing each other was everything she had hoped for.

"To know that the first golden retrievers ran on these grounds, practiced on these grounds and trained on these grounds is nothing short of incredible for those of us who are so invested in this breed," Sisco said.

Golden retrievers, in addition to being the third most popular breed in the United States, are often selected as service dogs because of their size, temperament and ability to learn skills quickly. Thousands of the pups are also participating in a longitudinal research study to support science and their fellow canine.

The gathering happens every five years at what remains of the "Guisachan House," which is the ancestral home of the Golden Retriever in the Scottish Highlands.

The first litter was bred by Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks, also known as Baron Tweedmouth, a Scottish businessman who owned the Guisachan mansion.

The puppies - named Crocus, Cowslip and Primrose - were the offspring of a flat-coated retriever, known for their hunting abilities and cheerful personalities, and a tweed water spaniel, an athletic canine that became extinct at the end of the 19th century because they were used excessively to breed goldens.

"A lot of golden retriever owners find there's an emotional attachment to the Guisachan house, and it's where they want to go and look and experience," said Carol Henry, the secretary of the Golden Retriever Club of Scotland.

A golden retriever puppy at the gathering. Image Credit: Kelly Sisco via Washington Post.

The first official gathering was held in 2006 and the second was in 2013. Since then, it has taken place every five years.

The Golden Retriever Club of Scotland organized both four-legged and two-legged activities, including: a torchlight procession - where all participants walked about one mile from the kennel field to the house, with people at the front of the group carrying electronic torches; a human-only traditional afternoon tea (though owners could bring their dogs and sit at a separate table outside); and training sessions, where a canine behaviorist offered tips to address problems such as separation anxiety and poor socialization skills.

There was also a picnic, educational meetings and various games - including tug of war open to anyone with opposable thumbs.

"Dogs were at the side encouraging them," Henry said.

The crowning event, a championship dog show, was won by Bronagh, a 2-year-old golden from southern Ireland.

And of course, there was a group photo.

The owner of the property - now a historical ruins site - allows the Golden Retriever Club of Scotland to host the event, and "he has been very supportive," said Henry.

Most activities were free, though optional catered events were ticketed, with prices ranging from $25 to $75.

Sheppard, who drove eight hours to be there, first heard of the gathering in 2018 when he saw a photo of the event and hundreds of sweet-faced, fluffy pooches frolicking in a green field. It immediately became "a bucket list thing," he said.

"You can't have a bad day when there's 500 golden retrievers around you," said Sheppard, 35.

Being there did not disappoint. He and his fiance tied an orange bandanna around their pup's neck to ensure they didn't lose her in the crowd.

"It was great energy," he said. "It was just brilliant."

Deborah Robbins, 52, had been counting down to the event for two years. She has been surrounded by golden retrievers since she was a young child, and visiting the breed's place of origin was something she'd always wanted to do.

"I've had them all my life," said Robbins, who lives in Yorkshire, England. "They're a pleasure to own."

She made the nine-hour drive to the Scottish Highlands with her two dogs, Molly, 11, and Maggie, 6.

"It was well worth it," Robbins said. "I would go again next weekend if it was on."

Being at the breed's birthplace made her feel "really emotional," she said.

"To see them all together was just so special, especially in the place where the first golden retrievers were bred," said Robbins.

Robbins is already looking forward to the next Guisachan Golden Gathering, which is expected to be held in 2028 - on the 160th anniversary of the breed.

"I'll be booking it as soon as it's announced," she said.

Sisco, too, is planning to travel again from Missouri for the upcoming gathering. Next time, though, she's hoping to bring some of her goldens with her.

"To look at a sea of beautiful dogs is just amazing," she said.