While on your search for a dog to add to your family, it is likely that you have considered getting a Golden Retriever.
With their luscious golden fur, friendly faces, and their reputation for having a calm, patient temperament, Golden Retrievers have managed to win a place in the heart of most dog lovers. But can golden retrievers become aggressive?
Generally, Golden Retrievers are one of the least aggressive breeds of dog. However, like any animal, there is the possibility that they can become aggressive. In fact, because of their large size and their physical and emotional needs, it’s important to understand that there is always a possibility of a Golden Retriever becoming aggressive.
At the end of the day, word-of-mouth isn’t concrete proof. The last thing you want is to welcome a pet into your family, only to find that their temperament isn’t compatible with your lifestyle.
We look at the the likelihood of Golden Retrievers becoming aggressive, and what situations or conditions can cause aggression.
Golden Retriever Aggression Compared to Other Breeds
Golden Retrievers are medium to large dogs, which were originally bred as gun dogs. This means that it was their job to retrieve shot animals on hunts, such as birds. Nowadays, in addition to being hunting dogs and adorable pets, golden retrievers are also a popular breed as working dogs.
Specifically, they are a common breed for disability assistance and search and rescue assistance. One reason for this popularity in working roles is their very trainable nature and gentle temperament. They are generally not aggressive.
In fact, Golden Retrievers have been shown to be one of the dog breeds with the least aggressive traits. In a 2008 study, researchers compared the temperament of Golden Retrievers to breeds that are considered to be aggressive. The dogs were all put through obedience and sociability tests, and their behavior was observed in dog-dog and dog-human contact.
The study concluded that 98% of the Golden Retrievers tested showed absolutely no sign of aggression. This result implies that Golden Retrievers are very unlikely to have an aggressive nature, especially if they are well-trained, well-socialized dogs.
However, it is important to understand that, their generally calm temperament doesn’t mean that all Golden Retrievers will not exhibit aggressive behavior.
Rather than being a completely aggression-free breed, they are simply less likely to have an aggressive temperament than other dog breeds. This is why they have a reputation for being good with kids.
Dog bite statistics indicate that they do not have a high incidence of biting, even though they are among the population leaders by breed.
Therefore, if you are planning to get a Golden Retriever, it’s necessary to still remain vigilant for signs of aggression, as they are animals, and as such, will always present some level of risk.
Puppy Behavior and Aggression are Different
Before trying to diagnose a Golden Retriever as aggressive, it’s important to distinguish between puppy behavior and true aggression. Golden Retriever puppies are very playful animals. Their play may consist of behaviors such as, but not limited to, chasing, biting, barking, jumping up, and growling.
However, this behavior is completely normal for puppies of all breeds, and very distinct from aggression. Golden Retriever puppies are very enthusiastic dogs. They require a lot of mental and physical stimulation, and simply enjoy finding their voices, meeting new people, and exploring their environment.
In fact, rambunctious puppy behavior is actually useful when training Golden Retrievers to be non-aggressive. Behaviors such as these give the owner an opportunity to teach the dog what behaviors are acceptable, and what behavior is unacceptable. As such, make sure that you don’t jump to conclusions about your Golden Retriever’s temperament, as puppies are supposed to engage in some of these behaviors.
If you’re hoping to become a first-time dog owner and want to learn more about puppy behavior, take a look at the book Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones. Though it has a scientific basis, this book is particularly easy to read and will educate you on what your dog’s behaviors mean.
What Does Aggression in Golden Retrievers Look Like?
Now that we’ve distinguished between puppy behavior and aggression, it’s time to look at how you recognize aggression in Golden Retrievers. Below, we’ve listed the most common ways a golden retriever will exhibit aggression.
- Showing teeth
- Wide eyes
- Freezing up
While barking is a perfectly normal and acceptable behavior for dogs, aggressive barking which accompanies other indicators of aggression is not. If your dog is snarling, baring their teeth, and growling, this is generally an indication that your dog is uncomfortable and trying to let you or someone else know this.
Growling is often a warning by a dog that things are ready to escalate if whatever is threatening them doesn’t end soon. Most (but not all) biting by dogs is preceded by a warning growl. So if your dog is growling at you or somebody else, take them seriously and back away. Then seek the help of a behaviorist.
Aggressive dogs will also often pin their ears back, freeze up and get very still, and stare with eyes wide open. It is the opposite of a picture of a relaxed dog.
The Causes of Aggression in Golden Retrievers
Now that you can identify common aggressive behaviors, it’s important to understand why a dog displays these behaviors. Aggression in dogs is complicated. There is a vast array of different causes and manifestations of aggression in dogs. To understand this process more thoroughly, here are several circumstances that may induce aggressive behavior in a Golden Retriever.
Golden Retrievers can be rambunctious puppies. For instance, they might bark or growl at other dogs or people. To curb this behavior, proper training is necessary. However, if this behavior goes unchecked, aggressive behavior can develop.
For instance, if an owner attempts to distract aggressive puppies by offering treats or rewards, rather than deal with the situation properly, the puppy may be likely to act aggressively again as they have been rewarded with positive reinforcement for their behavior.
Dogs that have received excessive physical corrections in their training can also develop aggression. In simple terms, they may feel they are being treated unfairly and develop not only a bitterness or anger, but anxiety from fearing more corrections. Emphasize the positive and make training fun, not fearful for them, to avoid this condition.
Socialization is one of the most important things to consider when getting a dog. Though not discussed as frequently as behavior training, proper socialization is an absolute necessity and must be done immediately from the time you bring your dog home.
The term ‘socialization’ refers to the process by which a puppy learns how to behave and communicate effectively within a group. It also exposes them to all of the different sounds, sights, smells, people, and animals they’ll experience in the world.
If this process isn’t done properly, the Golden Retriever will likely become nervous in new situations. Though this nervousness doesn’t equate to aggression, in some cases, dogs may respond aggressively to things that scare them. Fear is probably the leading cause of dog aggression.
Though the term neglect sounds severe, it doesn’t necessarily require a dog to be in a dire state. Neglect can come in many forms, including not giving a dog the required emotional attention.
As discussed, Golden Retrievers are lovable creatures. But they can be demanding. They require mental and physical stimulation, and if this is lacking, they might develop anxiety or depression, which can ultimately contribute to aggressive behavior.
If you give enough attention to your golden retriever, they should remain happy and confident. However, if you don’t, it’s possible that they may begin to rely on aggressive behaviors to compensate for a lack of confidence.
If you already have or are planning to bring children into your home, it is necessary to make sure that you can still provide your dog with enough love and attention. If they feel neglected due to another person, they may begin to lose confidence, which can be a factor in the development of aggressive behavior.
New experiences can be frightening for a dog. That’s why socialization is so important. For instance, if a dog suddenly meets a group of new dogs all at once, and is not accustomed to this experience, they may respond aggressively out of fear.
Try to put yourself in your dog’s mind and understand the world from their perspective. Often, what we think should be no big deal,
And Golden Retrievers can be territorial and do enjoy their own space.
Therefore, if they meet a group of new dogs at once, a golden retriever may respond aggressively out of fear. In the same way, a golden retriever can become territorial when meeting a new human who has invaded their space.
Despite popular belief, domination is actually a very rare form of aggression. Truly dominant aggressive dogs don’t behave like aggressive dogs motivated by fear. They are confident and generally calm as they assert their dominance.
Dominance aggression is rare in Golden Retrievers but is still a possibility. Such cases require the help of a professional animal behaviorist.
Fear or Sense of Danger
Golden retrievers may respond with aggression when they feel a sense of danger. This can happen when they perceive another dog, or human, as a threat. For instance, if they have previously been attacked by a dog or abused by a human, they may develop aggressive behaviors as a protective mechanism.
In addition to self-protective aggression, golden retrievers are also particularly protective of their owners. For instance, if you are walking with your dog at night time, it might be quite common for your dog to respond aggressively by barking or growling at a figure in the distance.
However, through consistent, proper exposure to these instances along with positive reinforcement, your dog should learn how to respond appropriately in these situations.
As mentioned, fear is the most common reason for dogs to show aggression. It is simply a natural response when they feel threatened. The trick is to train and socialize your dog so they don’t feel threatened, and to do your best to avoid situations that can cause your dog to be fearful.
Food aggression is very common in all breeds. It falls under the technical term “resource guarding”, which refers to a dog’s excessive defense of their food, toys, bed, or even their own bodies.
There is no certainty as to how food aggression first develops, but many cite the competition between littermates for food when they are very young. Some dogs maintain this competitive spirit and defensiveness of their food as they get older.
It’s always a good idea, from the time they are puppies, to get your dog used to you being near them when they are eating. Get in the habit of approaching their food bowl and dropping a treat into it while they eat. Your dog will soon associate you near their food as a positive, not a threat.
If your dog is food aggressive, it can take a long time to desensitize them and reverse this condition. Always feed the dog where they can be alone and won’t be bothered by family members when eating.
If your dog becomes aggressive over a toy or bone, don’t try to take it away from them as you may risk getting bit. Offer them a “trade” of a treat of a higher value than the toy, and then put the toy away. Leaving toys out for them at all times can contribute to resource guarding. Put their toys away and only offer them for a period when they are playing with them. They will soon learn that you control when they have the toy, not them.
Irregular aggressive behavior might be a sign of illness in your dog. Aggression in this sense is a way for your dog to protect themselves. Therefore, if you notice a change in behavior, it is a good idea to get your dog checked out by the vet.
This is more common in older dogs. Pain and discomfort in more senior dogs are less visible, so aggression often seems to come from nowhere. However, this aggression is likely a sign of a painful health condition that needs addressing.
Although, a more serious problem is when aggression manifests due to a mental disorder. If you notice that your dog is aggressive for no reason, taking them to the vet is vital.
If your golden retriever has spent long periods of time around an aggressive parent, it is likely that they will also exhibit aggression. For instance, if a dog acts aggressively for any reason, particularly when in fear, the dogs around the aggressive dog will learn to also respond aggressively to fearful situations.
But learned aggression doesn’t always involve another dog. For instance, consider the situation where a dog feels threatened by a mailman. The dog may instinctively lunge or bark at the mailman in the hope that he will give the dog space. If this method proves effective, the dog will continue to perform these behaviors, having been “rewarded” for their behavior by successfully achieving their goal.
Poor Breeding Practices
Finally, there are unfortunately many people who are breeding dogs irresponsibly. If a dog is locked up for too long without socialization, for example, they will likely develop some aggressive behaviors.
Similarly, some breeders have been known to breed dogs that have a disposition for aggression. This can be done intentionally or unintentionally. When this happens, it is likely that some of the dogs within the subsequent litter will also have a genetic disposition for aggression.
How to Prevent Aggression in Golden Retrievers
Now that we’ve looked at the many factors in the process of aggression development in Golden Retrievers, we can explore ways to address such aggression.
Training and Socialization
As you’ve probably gathered, training and socialization are integral to prevent aggression in Golden Retrievers. Proper training and socialization are important to foster healthy behaviors in dogs, so it’s vital that you consider this before welcoming one into your home and family.
It is also important to make sure that any friends or visitors to your home are aware of your dog’s needs, and are able to respond calmly and give them the space they require.
Basic obedience, whether in a class or with a private dog trainer, will provide a structure for proper behavior as well as a foundation for learning. Dogs want to behave, but if they don’t know how or your expectations aren’t clearly and consistently communicated to them, they will fail. This can cause them to become frustrated and stressed.
Training, even the most basic, can be a lot of fun for both owner and dog. It can also help prevent issues that can lead to aggression.
Love, Care, and Attention
Again, although it seems obvious, most aggressive behaviors in Golden Retrievers are a result of feeling neglected, unconfident, and fearful. Making sure you have adequate time to play with, pet, cuddle, and walk your dog can only help them to avoid developing any aggressive behaviors.
If you are struggling to keep your dog calm while out on walks, and find your dog is easily stressed by things within the environment, there are a number of calming aids available. In particular, calming coats and t-shirts are very useful tools.
These pieces of clothing apply mild but constant pressure to the dog’s torso. The effect is similar to that of using a swaddling cloth on a baby. Check out an anxiety vest. It is designed specifically to relax your dog through pressure.
Researching Dog Breeders
Unfortunately, there are people out there who don’t treat dogs well. Doing thorough research on where your dog is coming from is incredibly important. In fact, it has been found that almost 15% of puppies purchased within 20 minutes or less by their owners will experience illness, ongoing veterinary treatment, or death within the first six months.
Look for responsible breeders who provide puppies with the best start in life to ensure your dog doesn’t harbor any aggression. If you’re new to owning a pet, the best way to find a trusted breeder is through word-of-mouth. Ask your friends and family who have pets or even local dog training facilities for advice.
A Reliable Schedule
A good schedule is often overlooked by dog owners but can be a great way to ensure your dog remains calm, happy, and confident. If you have a fairly reliable daily schedule in place by, for instance, ensuring you feed and walk your dog at regular times, your dog is likely to feel more content.
In fact, the way they respond to their environment depends on how they feel within that environment. A stable routine will help a dog feel comfortable and confident within its environment, as they will know exactly what to expect from their owners and their lives in general. By doing this, dogs are less likely to develop aggressive behaviors, such as protecting their food or compensating destructively due to feeling pent-up energy.
Believe it or not, a stable routine also helps dogs react more appropriately to change. Comfortable, well-balanced dogs that feel secure in their environment and their day-to-day lives are more able to deal with changes or upsets. As such, a reliable schedule can also help hinder fear aggression.
Golden Retrievers are pretty close to being the perfect breed of dog. They are fun-loving, incredibly loyal, easy to train, and are great companions in a family home.
However, to make sure that you, your family, and your dog are safe, it is absolutely necessary that you treat your dog correctly and address any issues of aggression immediately. With care, thought, and foresight, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to safely welcome a Golden Retriever into your home.