As any dog lover will tell you, golden retrievers are up there with one of the sweetest breeds and are known as the perfect family dog. Many movies have been made with a gorgeous golden retriever as the leading actor.
But in addition to making great family pets, Golden Retrievers are also one of the most common breeds used as service dogs. Their temperament, trainability, and overall general demeanor makes them ideal candidates for service dog work.
As a service dog, a golden retriever will be specially trained to work with people that have disabilities and need support in their day-to-day lives. They perform tasks that individuals may find otherwise difficult and help protect them from unsafe situations. There are many different types of service dogs.
Let’s look at Golden Retrievers as service dogs.
Golden Retriever Breed
Goldies have some amazing qualities which make them perfect for so many reasons. Most of all, they are usually friendly and calm.
Of course, as puppies they are like any other puppy, boisterous and energetic. But they are also highly intelligent, making them very easy to train. Females mature quicker, so are easier to train from an early age.
Goldies are known for they loyalty. Once you have established a bond, you can rely on these dogs to stay connected and protective. They are eager to please, meaning you can teach them easily, and they will be motivated to obey.
They are active dogs and need to keep stimulated, so it’s important they have the opportunity to do that. In addition, they always remember who you are even if years have passed. You can trust them to remain by the side of those that they are entrusted to look after.
Another strong quality of the golden retriever is their ability to sense when their humans are in pain or hurting in any way. They are super sensitive and often instinctively know when something isn’t right.
Many Goldie owners can relate to a time when they have been upset and their faithful friend has been right at their side. These qualities make them perfect as companions to those that suffer with illnesses or psychological and emotional difficulties.
Goldies are also non-aggressive most of the time. They are alert and protective without being reactive, which provides the best balance for an owner. They are also super sociable and can tolerate being touched and petted (a regular thing for service dogs).
A fully grown golden retriever is strong and bulky. They weigh in at about 65-70 pounds, which makes them a great choice for service dogs. They are sturdy enough for owners to lean on, and their strength provides reassurance to those with complex needs.
Training any dog to be a service dog takes a huge amount of time and patience, but working with a goldie is well worth the effort. During the puppy years, they will go through rigorous training and attend obedience classes from a very young age.
Typically, you don’t need qualifications to foster a potential service dog, and you can volunteer through organizations and charities. It’s a big commitment, but you get the satisfaction of knowing that you will be helping someone receive a better quality of life once they receive their fully trained dog.
While most service dogs are trained by professionals, it is possible for amateurs to train service dogs as well, but it is a huge commitment to take on. You should have experience training dogs to high levels of obedience or have a very experienced mentor support your endeavor.
Training a dog to be a full-time service dog is a significant effort and someone’s wellbeing will be dependent on them. You can’t “kinda” train a service dog; by doing so, you will increasing the risk of negative consequences.
How Long Does it Take to Train a Service Dog?
Generally, it will take 6 months to 1 year to train a service dog before will be ready to join their new handler. Depending on the disability they are being trained to assist with, it may take even longer.
Typically, in addition to having a top candidate dog that is both trainable and social, training a service dog takes a a minimum of 120 hours of training. The dog must be trained to do the unique required service tasks as well as be trained to properly behave socially in public.
Once the dog is trained, another 30 hours or so of practice in public situations is required for them to be able to execute correctly in all environments.
And not all dogs who appear to be strong candidates for service dogs work out. Some simply aren’t capable and must discontinue their training program.
All of these reasons are why trained service dogs cost so much to purchase.
Why Makes a Golden Retriever Trainable as a Service Dog?
The biggest challenge in training a service dog is finding one that can both (1) perform the required tasks, and (2) handle the inherent stresses of constantly being in public. Many dogs satisfy one of these requirements, but not both.
Confidence is a huge factor in training a service dog. The dog must not be shy or anxious, yet they cannot be overly excitable, either. Great service dogs roll with whatever situation is presented without a change in demeanor.
With Golden Retrievers, or any breed, you can usually recognize fairly early on if a dog has this confidence and easy going attitude. It’s not guarantee that they will ultimately succeed as a service dog, but it’s possible to see if the potential is there.
Ultimately, a particular Golden Retriever needs to be primarily concerned about their handler’s wellbeing and comfort more than their own.
What is the Best Training Method?
Reward-based training works well with most dogs as they are food-driven. However, you can also use toys or a mix of the two. Initially, you should start with the basic commands; heel, sit, stay, fetch, etc. Most goldies love receiving rewards and verbal praise.
Positive reinforcement training has been well-proven to be more effective than correction-based training (using choke chains, etc.). Corrections can damage a dog’s confidence, and there is nothing that can’t be trained with positive only methods.
Tasks a Service Dog Can Help With
There are countless ways in which service dogs can help their handlers. Of course, it all depends on the needs of their handlers.
A small sample of the many tasks a service dog can perform are:
- Picking up items and bringing them to their handler
- Helping with a handler’s balance
- Sensing changes in their handler’s body chemistry that indicate oncoming seizure, etc.
- Alert to changes in glucose levels
- Turning on and off lights
- Alerting others in case of emergency
- Assist with dressing
- Assist with getting in and out of cars
As you can see, there is a wide spectrum of tasks that a service dog can do. Obviously, some tasks require far more training than others.
The key to successful training is consistency and the dog will need the opportunity to regularly practice what they learn in real life situations. Dogs also need relaxation and play time, just like any other dog.
Golden Retrievers have wonderful temperaments for training to be service dogs. Their calm, intelligent, gentle, loyal nature can provide a comforting and reassuring presence to all those suffering from a disability, whether mental or physical.
But not all Golden Retrievers can become service dogs. It takes a very special animal to be able to learn the necessary skills as well as function appropriately in public access situations.