To Have the Best Golden Retriever Ever!
Research article by Emery-n-Denise (Updated January 26, 2024)
Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular canine breeds in America, and for good reasons. The classic Golden Retriever personality is second to no other breed of dog among over 200 registered pure breds in the American Kennel Club (AKC). They are intelligent and learn very quickly. They are extremely loyal and loving to family, friends, strangers, children, babies, and even bank robbers (no, they don’t make very good guard dogs). In terms of intelligence, they rank No. 4 out of over 200 breeds. In terms of loyalty, loving obedience, and people-friendly dogs, they rank No. 1 and share that position with the Labrador Retriever. When you combine those two rankings into one breed of dog, you just can’t own a better family member, and the vast numbers of people who have owned a Golden, almost without exception whole heartedly agree.
Goldens are also playful and will spend hours at some creative pastime such as chasing a ball or frisbee, finding a hidden treat, or just about any indoor or outdoor activity. The classic Golden Retriever personality doesn’t try to manipulate or second guess its owner. To the contrary, a Golden strives with all its heart to please its owner because it deeply craves attention and affection and it instinctively knows that obedience will be rewarded with both of these. One of the main characteristics that we adore about Goldens is their adaptive personality. If you are a more active individual or family who is always on the go, a Golden will adjust to that lifestyle and be quite happy on the go with you. Or, if you have a more laid back lifestyle and just like to chill in front of the TV, fireplace, reading a book, or listening to music, a Golden can be content with that pace too, as long as they are spending time with their owner… and usually some part of their body needs to be touching some part of yours because they love closeness and cuddling.
As Golden Retriever owners for more than 40 years, we have grown very accustomed to the classic Golden personality and we adore this magnificent breed. Since we started breeding close to 20 years ago, we have talked on average to 5-10 Golden owners per week who adore their Goldens and appreciate all the qualities that this breed offers. Many Golden owners try very hard to return the unconditional love they get from their Golden by treating them like a human equal member of the family. Common practices we’ve heard from Golden owners include: giving their Golden daily treats, sharing scraps of food from the dinner table with them, letting them climb up on the furniture, and sleep in their owner’s bed. These are common practices with many dog owners, and we must apologize in advance for what we are about to say because we know it’s going to step on some toes. From experience, we have learned that treating a Golden as an equal, human family member is not an ideal way to have a relationship with a Golden and almost always ends up with problems. If you want to have the best Golden Retriever ever, one that loves you to the fullest, respects you completely, never challenges or tries to second guess you, and has that classic Golden Retriever personality that everyone is so attracted to and desires, then we need to take a second look at some of these common practices which attempt to humanize a Golden and make them an equal family member. Truthfully, doing this can sometimes change the classic Golden personality into something that is not desirable, and even hurtful to both you and your Golden.
At the risk of stepping on a few more toes (please forgive me for being brash), let me start by briefly discussing some aspects of child-rearing because this is very similar to how one raises and treats their Golden. For example, some parents will strive to be their child’s best friend. This type of parenting often tries to make their child an equal, like a best friend, with the same level of respect going both ways. But when a parent does this, it deprives a child of its desperate need for direction, instruction, learning obedience, and discipline when circumstances calls for it. The child will often times be, disrespectful, disobedient, challenging, and ultimately, frustrated with the lack of guidance or direction they desperately want and need.
Along with unconditional love, a parent’s first and foremost responsibility is to be a nurturing teacher who guides, instructs, and teaches their child to recognize the difference between right and wrong, and the importance of following rules. Consequences and discipline are sometimes needed to get our child back on track when they’ve strayed. When parents combine their role as a teacher with expressions of appreciation, proudness, and accolades towards the child, they will see their child being more obedient, more respectful, and more loving to both the parents and other family members as well. There will still be bumps in the road but everyone is generally happier and the family unit operates more harmoniously compared to a family in turmoil caused by a rebellious child who has been misdirected by the parents. I should add that this is an over simplification to child rearing which can be far more complicated than what I have described. Rearing a Golden Retriever however, is not so complicated.
Training and bonding with your Golden Retriever is in many ways similar to raising a child, but your pet is not your equal and should not be treated as an equal because this can ruin the relationship and the classic personality of a Golden. From over 40 years of experience with Golden Retrievers, we have learned and confirmed over and over that a Golden is most content and happiest when they are treated as a beloved animal, and who is expected to learn from its master with plenty of instructions and guidance combined with affection and praise. Goldens thrive on this type of relationship with humans.
A while back, we received a call from a young couple who purchased a puppy from us and the puppy was about 5 months old at the time of the call. The lovely wife of the family began to describe a scenario that was a bit unsettling to her and her family, and us as well. The conversation went like this (PB = Puppy Buyer. E&D = Emery-n-Denise):
PB: A couple of days ago our Golden, Charlie, really took us by surprise with some very unusual behavior and we were taken back at his behavior and were unsure what to do or how to handle it.
E&D: Okay, please tell us what happened.
PB: My husband and I were getting ready to turn in for the evening and we were wanting some alone time. Charlie had fallen asleep in the middle of our bed. When I attempted to move him to the dog bed that we bought for him, he snarled a bit, showed his teeth and growled at me!
E&D: Oh my! Were you afraid that he might bite you or try to nip at you?
PB: Well, he didn’t go that far but I just didn’t know what to expect next. I didn’t want to provoke him and risk getting bit.
E&D: Okay that was probably wise. May I ask you a few questions about your daily practices with Charlie?
PB: Sure, we love him so much! He is like one of the family!
E&D: That’s great! How often do you feed Charlie?
PB: Oh he eats whenever he wants to. We keep dog food in his food bowl. At dinner time, my husband or I will usually give him some scraps off our plate. He loves that and always wants more.
E&D: Do you find that sometimes Charlie waits to eat with you and your husband?
PB: Yes. Lately, it seems he has gotten to where he just wants to have what we are having for dinner so we usually prepare a little extra which means we end up giving him a little less dog food.
E&D: How often do you work with Charlie to teach him things?
PB: Well, we both work and we don’t have a lot of time on our hands to train Charlie, but he gets tons of attention and affection from us.
E&D: Do you ever feel a need to raise your voice with Charlie for doing something you don’t approve of?
PB: Oh no, not at all. He is the best dog ever and we love him so much, he never does anything wrong in our eyes.
E&D: How often do you take him out to go potty, and how often do you take him outside on a leash?
PB: We have one of those swinging door flaps out through our back wall that allows him to go in and out whenever he wants or needs to. We also have a huge backyard that he runs around and plays in so he doesn’t get much time on a leash. Maybe once a month, but he hates being on a leash.
E&D: Where does Charlie sleep at night?
PB: In bed with my husband and I. He is a real snuggler and gets his fair share of our king size bed!
After a few more questions along the same lines as those, we felt like we had enough information to determine why Charlie had been acting the way he did in their bed a couple of nights before. However, it was very hard to share our opinion with this lovely family because we knew it would be hard for them to hear what we were about to share regarding Charlie’s behavior. But frankly, they had been training Charlie to be his own person with equal rights, no boundaries, no rules, no discipline, and that he didn’t have to do anything he didn’t want to do as an equal member of that household. That’s not to say that every single thing they were doing was wrong on its own, but when all the different activities and behaviors were done together in concert with one another, it was a recipe for frustration and unhappiness, for both Charlie and his owners. We’ll come back to this situation later.
Let’s take the activities one by one and examine the pros and cons:
First the feeding habits. Leaving food out in a dog’s food bowl at all times is called, “free-grazing”. It is not a healthy practice and can end up producing an obese dog or a picky, finicky eater. Having designated eating times with set limits on the amount of food given to your Golden is healthier and establishes a routine that they actually get excited about. Goldens love routine. What about table food scraps? This too can be unhealthy depending on what is being given and how it was cooked. We as humans have a complex digestive system with a digestive track that is roughly 5-6 times our overall height. A dog’s digestive track is much shorter and the digestive process is much quicker in a dog from the mouth to the exit. The human digestive track can break down complex carbohydrates such as wheat, corn, peas, brown rice, pasta, and starchy foods. Dogs cannot properly break down complex carbohydrates into useful nutrients that their body can absorb. In addition, humans require a diverse quantity of foods and intestinal flora, whereas dogs are not well suited to a variable diet of many different kinds of food throughout the day or week. This is why normal table food prepared the way humans prefer it could be doing more harm to your pet than good. A Golden that eats the same diet of dog food day in and day out for months or even years will be healthier in the long run than one who has a varied diet.
Now let’s talk about training your Golden puppy. This is an absolute must in the life of your puppy because it teaches obedience, respect and a calmer disposition. Giving praise and affection are part of the training process, but expressing disappointment with unacceptable behavior is also essential. If your beloved Golden is never made aware of unacceptable behavior, then it will disappoint or frustrate its owner at some point and the owner finds they just have to live with this type of behavior. A Golden owner must learn how to express disappointment with certain behaviors while at the same time reassuring their love and acceptance. A very low tone of voice is often used to express bad behavior and a high pitch tone to express pleasure and behavior that the owner is proud of.
Taking your Golden out on a leash to go potty and for walks in your neighborhood are also essential for a happy, healthy dog. This teaches obedience, restraint, and routine. As I mentioned previously, Goldens love routine. While on the leash, your Golden will learn that you are the boss and not the other way around. This will translate into the behavior of your Golden in the home as well, so please don’t neglect leash training which should be a life-long activity between you and your Golden.
What about dogs that are allowed to sleep in the bed with their owners? Here are some things to consider. A dog goes barefooted outdoors and steps in anything and everything. It also sniffs and licks anything and everything, including other dog’s genitals. Their keen sense of smell always leads them right to the spot where other animals have peed and pooped, where they proceed to sniff and step in it. Sometimes they will roll in it. We often sees dogs rolling in a particular spot in the grass. Why that spot? Now you know. Most humans bathe daily but we don’t roll in the dirt and grass; we are just washing off our sweat, body oils, and natural odors. Dogs do not and should not be bathed daily but rather every couple of weeks or more depending on where they’ve been, their smell, and the feel of their coat. If you bathe them too often, they will get dry flakey skin which can develop into itchiness and hot spots. So with these contrasts in mind, should we allow a dog that has been exposed to all kinds of outdoor conditions and bacteria to share our bed with us? Everyone has to make this decision on their own but we think the answer is pretty clear. Keep in mind that if you allow your Golden to sleep in your bed and climb up on your other furniture, it blurs the boundaries of respect between you and your pet.
Now back the situation with Charlie. With as much kindness and gentleness as we could possibly muster, we explained that they needed to make a lot of changes, immediately, or else there would be many years of frustration and disappointment ahead. We explained that loving your Golden to the fullest does not mean letting him rule the roost and get away with whatever they desire. True love must have boundaries between a pet owner and their beloved dog and rules that are obeyed (but as everyone knows, the same cannot be said about cats). We shared with Charlie's owners most of the pros and cons of the daily activities I discussed above and we asked if they felt they could make some changes while Charlie was still young in his formidable stages of puppyhood. Surprisingly to us, they seemed to understand and agreed with all that we shared and decided to make the necessary changes. We stayed in touch with them over the next few weeks and months and they reported that Charlie learned and accepted the changes very quickly. They were happier and said that Charlie seemed happier as well with the new boundaries. They thanked us and we expressed our appreciation for being patient and understanding with us as well as with Charlie.
We wrote this article to help pet owners experience the deep, deep joys of owning a Golden and hope it helps everyone get the most out of their relationship with their beloved furry family member. Thank you for spending some of your time with Emery-n-Denise today!