Is a Golden Retriever Right For You?
It’s no surprise that we, as members of the Golden Retriever Club of America (GRCA), think Golden Retrievers are just about the best breed ever! And that’s because the sum of all the features that define the breed are a good fit for what we want in a dog, and the inconveniences (yes, there are some!) are manageable to us. Not everyone agrees with us, of course, and that’s exactly the reason that there are literally hundreds of dog breeds. Each breed was created with its own set of physical characteristics, temperament, and aptitude that make it desirable to some people, but less suitable for others.
Predictability of traits is the primary reason that purebred dogs exist. But not all purebred dogs are created equal, and serious hobby/competition breeders offer the highest level of reliability for good health, temperament, and appearance. With breeding programs guided by knowledge, purpose, and passion, these breeders strive to produce puppies that closely match the breed’s ideal trait profile as described by the AKC Breed Standard. That’s the breeder’s responsibility.
But the buyer has an equally important responsibility to carefully evaluate how well the breed’s characteristics match their family’s needs and limitations. Perhaps most critical is to honestly consider whether there may be any significant drawbacks that could cause distress for either the family or the dog. To assist with this, we have compiled here a discussion of some Golden Retriever traits, puppy requirements, and common scenarios that experience has taught us are difficult for some families to manage. Please consider these points thoughtfully, because these issues can and do cause Goldens to end up in rescue and cause significant emotional upheaval in families. We want to help you make the right decision up front, and if a Golden isn’t suitable for your household, perhaps another breed will be.
- Activity Level and Exercise Requirements
- Shedding and Grooming
- Goldens and Children
- Socializing and Training
- When the Puppy Must be Unsupervised or Home Alone
- Housing Arrangements
Activity Level and Exercise Requirements
Goldens are a Sporting breed and need regular exercise, and this is most pronounced during puppyhood (up to approximately two years of age). While most Goldens can adapt to a less active lifestyle once they are mature and trained, puppies and adolescents often have energy to burn. If not given an appropriate outlet, this energy may be channeled into behaviors that are destructive and appear “hyperactive.” And even though the puppy is mentally still a youngster, physically he may be a strong and sizeable dog that can be difficult to manage when energy is pent up. Rule to remember: A physically tired puppy is a well-behaved puppy!
Appropriate outlets for youthful enthusiasm include brisk walks on lead, swimming, chasing a ball in a safe enclosure, play dates with known safe dogs, and even obedience, agility, tracking, and field training sessions. Activities such as jogging and biking with the dog are too stressful for a young Golden’s developing joints, and are not recommended until he is at least 12 months of age. Even then, the dog’s veterinarian should be consulted and perhaps a hip x-ray obtained to assess hip joint status, prior to gradually introducing these kinds of activities.
As adults and into their senior years, Goldens still benefit from regular, vigorous activity to maintain lean body weight, promote physical and mental fitness, and improve longevity. And since most Goldens are not interested in exercising alone and need their people to accompany them, the bonus is that the whole family can benefit from a commitment to exercising their Golden!
About Fenced Yards A fenced yard (barrier or electronic fencing) can be a relatively secure place to allow a Golden to run, play, and retrieve when a member of the family is outside with him. It can also provide convenience and safety for dogs that are let outside briefly to eliminate, usually with the owner watching from a window and then bringing the dog back inside when he’s finished.
However, Goldens are not self-exercisers, so a fenced yard will not by itself meet a Golden’s exercise needs. Further, barrier fences are rarely completely safe from a determined or simply bored dog that may dig, chew, climb, or jump out. Electronic fences can be breached from the inside by an excited dog (chasing a squirrel, perhaps), and from the outside by wildlife, other dogs, and dognappers.
Shedding and Grooming
Goldens shed, and whatever amount of coat they have (this can vary between litters), will eventually fall out. That beautiful gold coat that feels so luxurious to run your fingers through undergoes natural cycles of growth, dormancy, shedding, and then regrowth, and there is little that can alter that. Depending on several factors, major shedding cycles generally occur about once per year, but there is also some minor coat loss all year long. For most of the year, weekly brushing is sufficient, but daily brushing is almost mandatory during major sheds.
Baths are particularly helpful to loosen dead coat so that it can be brushed out (once the dog is dry) before it falls out around the house. Goldens can be bathed as frequently as the owner desires, and clean, dry skin and ears help keep the skin and ears healthy. Professional groomers and many hobby breeders and exhibitors use high-powered blow driers not only to dry their dogs, but also to assist in removing dead coat. Some pet owners may find a professional style drier to be a worthwhile investment when spread over the lifetime of the dog, and a knowledgeable breeder should be able to suggest brands and models that are suitable.
Nonetheless, despite regular grooming and increased vacuuming, there will still be Golden fur on the floor, perhaps on the furniture, and maybe even in the soup!
About Allergies If a family member tends to have allergies, it would be wise for that person to visit the breeder’s home and facilities to help determine whether those particular Goldens are a good fit for the family. Although scientific studies have shown that the most common canine sources of allergens are dander and saliva rather than fur or hair, and that the so-called “hypoallergenic” dogs are not less allergenic1 , nonetheless it is possible that some lines of dogs may aggravate an individual’s allergies more than others. For everyone’s sake, it’s best to find this out before bringing a puppy home.
 Vredegoor DW, et al. Can f 1 levels in hair and homes of different dog breeds: lack of evidence to describe any dog breed as hypoallergenic. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2012 Oct;130(4):904-9.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2012.05.013. Epub 2012 Jun 22.
Goldens and Children
Goldens have a well-deserved reputation as being wonderful family dogs and excellent with children. That makes it all the more sad that families who are drawn to Goldens because of small children in the family, can sometimes encounter difficulties raising a puppy. So why does this happen?
First, adding a new puppy to the family is very much like adding a toddler in terms of the time and attention required, and commotion that may ensue. For a family that may already have one or more preschoolers, this mix may simply stretch the parents’ energy so thin that something has to give. Unfortunately, this may result in not investing the time and effort needed to provide enough exercise and to teach the puppy good manners.
Second, interaction with young children can excite and confuse a puppy. Puppies naturally chase, jump, and bite (as they did with their littermates), and the sounds and movements that children make can incite this normal but rough puppy behavior. The success of relationships between puppies and children depends almost entirely on supervision by the parents, and without this, mishaps are bound to occur.
Worst of all is when the new puppy repeatedly misbehaves because it is not getting the time, exercise, and training that it needs, and then ends up banished to a garage or yard or crate. This creates a sad cycle where manners don’t improve because there is inadequate investment into teaching the puppy, the puppy continues to become larger and larger, and thus it is kept away from the family more and more.
Socializing and Training
Golden puppies mature mentally and physically at a rate that roughly corresponds to one month of a puppy’s life equal to one year of a child’s life, for the first 24 months. Thus, an 8 week old puppy coming into a new family is similar in abilities and needs (relative to its species!) to a two year old toddler.
In this context, one can understand that 2-4 months of age is a critical developmental period for a puppy, and appropriate socialization and training during this time lays the foundation for a lifetime of calm and well-mannered behavior in public and at home. Socialization should include frequent exposure to all the situations that he may encounter as an adult, including: car rides, visitors in your home, neighborhood walks, loud and unfamiliar places, bathing and grooming (including trimming nails and cleaning ears), parks and schoolyards, outdoor shopping malls, and so forth.
Safely introducing as many people, dogs, noises, and experiences as possible during this important socialization window will teach the puppy that the world is a safe and fun place, and that there’s no need to get overly excited by routine situations. Puppy training classes (puppy kindergarten) can also be a very useful part of this process, and skilled instructors will teach owners how to effectively interact with and train their puppies.
All of these activities are necessary to turn a rambunctious puppy into a well-behaved Golden companion, and require a significant time commitment from an adult in the family. Since early socialization and training are so crucial, prospective owners should plan to get their new puppy when they are willing and able to devote extensive time and energy to raising their puppy well. It is an investment that will pay a lifetime of dividends!
When the Puppy Must be Unsupervised or Home Alone
No one can be with their puppy all the time, yet a puppy’s natural curiosity and energy tends to lead to misbehavior when unsupervised. The safest and most efficient way to teach a puppy good habits is to not allow him to engage in unacceptable behavior when he is unsupervised. In most households, this means crating or otherwise confining the puppy any time that an adult is not able to actively supervise, including at night, when away from home, or while preoccupied with another task (such as a phone call).
Crating or confinement can and should be part of a daily routine – but it can’t be the entire daily routine! Puppies can easily nap during approximately 1-4 hours of confinement, providing that they are tired after exercise, have had some social interaction, and that bowel and bladder are empty. They cannot, however, be hurried through a quick walk in the morning, fed breakfast, and then left in a crate for 8 hours while everyone in the household is gone for the day.
If the time that a very young puppy must be left alone stretches to more than a half day, arrangements such as doggie day care or hiring a dog-walker should be considered, at least for the first several months. In such a scenario, keep in mind too that the end of your work day will actually be the beginning of the puppy’s day, and no matter how tired you are, he still needs you to play and cuddle with him, and train and exercise him.
Golden Retrievers want to be where their people are. One of their most endearing characteristics is that they are so people oriented, and this means that they need to live as members of the family. If you are an outdoorsy person, your Golden will want to be with you. If you are more of an indoor sort, your Golden will want to be with you there, too.
Goldens do not do well kept away from people, such as in a fenced yard, in a garage, or worst of all, tied outside. Isolated from human companionship, they become bored and stressed, and this produces behavior such as barking, chewing, digging, and hyperactivity. In extreme cases, these behaviors result in surrender of the dog to a shelter or rescue organization.
About Goldens as Watch Dogs or Guard Dogs Adult Goldens are observant and some will bark when they detect activity outside the home, which may be a deterrent to intruders. However, the typical Golden is friendly to everyone, and is more likely to offer to carry the intruder’s flashlight than to physically protect the premises!
Golden Retrievers are large dogs. The AKC Breed Standard sets the ideal height for males at 23 to 24 inches (measured at the shoulder) and the weight from 65 – 75 pounds. Females should be 21½ to 22½ inches and weigh 55 – 65 pounds. Size that is significantly larger or smaller than the Standard may be an indication that the breeder does not place priority on following the GRCA Code of Ethics, and this also raises concerns regarding other aspects of the breeding, such as health and temperament issues.
However, puppies spayed or neutered prior to maturity grow taller and lankier than their genes intended, and are more likely to become obese, in addition to other health consequences. Please read “Effects of Early Spay or Neuter in Golden Retrievers” in the Health section of the GRCA website www.grca.org for a more complete discussion of the pros and cons of early spay/neuter.
Do You Still Want a Golden?
We believe that it was important for you to know up front all the reasons that you might not want a Golden, so that you can make a well thought out decision that is best for your family and best for a prospective puppy. But we also know that a well-bred, well-trained Golden can be a joy for its lifetime – and if this is the right breed for you, we are very happy to help you connect with reputable breeders. So let’s get started!