The Golden Retriever is famous for its easy-going, affectionate nature. As one of the most popular dogs in America and all across the world, it makes the perfect family pet.
So, it might raise a few eyebrows when someone asks the question, are Golden Retrievers aggressive?
We’re going to explore this topic in full and find out the answer.
Are Golden Retrievers Aggressive Dogs?
On the whole, no, they are not.
Their reputation as a big softy that loves to play with kids and wants to be everyone’s best friend is well earned. They are endlessly patient, and can take any amount of rough and tumble when playing with children, and they are generally calm and gentle. The very idea of an aggressive Golden Retriever seems ridiculous!
However, it’s as well to be aware that all dogs are capable of aggression on some level. Many people take huge chances, especially where children are concerned. Social media networks are packed with photos and video clips of babies and toddlers snuggled up with the family dog.
As cute as this is, it really isn’t the best idea. There are too many horror stories where dogs have suddenly turned on the youngsters aggressively. It’s easy to say, well, that won’t happen to me. I know my dog! But, dog owners who have witnessed their toddlers being attacked probably said exactly the same thing before it happened to them.
In almost every case of dog attacks on babies, they were left alone and unsupervised. During this time, the dog involved turned on the child, resulting in injury or death. The Golden Retriever rarely features in these statistics, although there was one tragic case where a Goldie/Labrador mix attacked a two-month-old baby. The poor child lost both legs and died in the hospital the same day.
So, what causes aggressiveness in dogs, or Golden Retrievers in particular? We’ll explore this in the next section.
What Causes A Golden Retriever To Be Aggressive?
There are several causes of aggression in dogs. It’s never a nice thing to see, particularly if you’re on the receiving end. It’s even more of a shock when a super-friendly breed like the Goldie is involved.
Let’s look at the common causes of canine aggression to get an understanding of what might be going on:
Dogs are pack animals. This instinct runs deeper in some breeds than in others, but most dogs regard you and your family as ‘the pack’, with someone (usually a parent) taking the role of pack leader. We’re not going to stray into the dangerous territory of gender politics here, suffice to say that dogs will naturally choose who they believe to be the dominant character, whether it’s a mother or a father.
Everyone else has their place in the pack, and with some breeds, it is essential to ensure that the dog views other family members as higher in the ranking than they are, or they may try to assert their dominance.
If there are other dogs in the home, there may be a power struggle to see who is the alpha. This may change from day to day, but the human alpha rarely alters.
Dominance is a form of dog behavior, and in some senses, it’s not really fair to describe it as aggression. These events can be very short, and over in a matter of seconds. Most will involve only dogs, but it can be aimed at humans on rare occasions.
Just like humans, dogs can be possessive over certain things. This usually involves dog food, toys, attention, or your entire home!
It’s also known as resource guarding, particularly when associated with food, treats, or chew toys. The dog jealously guards its food bowl or favorite toy, and it will snap or bite if anyone gets too close.
Some dogs aren’t happy if you pay another pet (or human) more attention than them.Others may be wary of visitors in the home, even going as far as biting them. All dogs can display territorial behavior at times, although some breeds are worse than others. The good news for Golden Retriever owners is that they are usually happy to share their home with anyone and everyone! Yes, they might bark when someone calls, or if they spot a stranger passing by, but that’s to alert you rather than warn anyone off.
As for resource guarding, Goldies are generally okay, but some will growl if you approach them when they are feeding. This is especially so when they ‘find’ a morsel of food, say, a discarded sandwich in the trash can or a piece of cake they snaffled off the kitchen counter. Try to take it from them at your own peril! They will hang on to it for all they’re worth, and you might get bitten for your troubles. In cases like this, it’s usually best to leave them to it rather than risk being bitten.
In most cases, behavior like this is learned over time. Early obedience training and socialization are the best solutions as they get the puppy used to having people around when they are eating. You should feel safe enough to put your hand into the food bowl without risking a nip. You should also be confident that your dog will drop any object on command, whether it’s stolen food or any other item they shouldn’t have.
Even the happiest, most well-adjusted dog can experience fear at times. Whether it’s fireworks on New Year or on July 4, a heavy thunderstorm, vacuum cleaners, the hum and clatter of the garbage truck, car alarms, a passing jet plane, or a screaming baby, a dog’s sensitive ears will magnify these sounds and make them terrifyingly loud.
Dogs can also fear certain events, like bath time, a trip to the vet, traveling in the car, or having their nails clipped.
They might also be afraid of people, other dogs and animals, or particular places. Memory plays a big part in this, and they make negative associations very quickly.
All of this may lead to aggression as the fearful dog lashes out, trying to escape or avoid the thing that is making it uncomfortable.
It’s important to remain calm in these situations as your anxiety (or anger) will only add fuel to the fire and make their fear aggression worse. In extreme cases, you may need to get expert help from an animal behaviorist. You could also consider natural therapies or holistic medicine (always check with your vet first!) that will soothe your fearful pet.
The main thing is to try to understand what’s upsetting them before taking any action. Remember, they may be acting aggressively, but it isn’t personal! This is probably out of character, and it will pass when the root problem is addressed.
Abuse And Neglect
Tragically, dogs are all too frequently mistreated, abused, neglected, and abandoned. This leads to fear and distrust of people and other animals, and it could result in aggression. It’s hardly surprising, but it takes a lot of love, care, and hard work to bring such a dog around. In some cases, the damage is too deep, and some dogs face euthanasia as they are too aggressive for anyone to deal with.
This is very unlikely to be a problem if you buy from a reputable dog breeder, but more likely (but, by no means, guaranteed) if you adopt from a shelter. Even so, most rescue groups run foster programs where the dogs are assessed and rehabilitated in order to prepare them for their forever homes.
Dogs acquired from a backyard breeder or a puppy mill may have had a very bad experience, so there’s an increased risk of aggressive behavior.
This highlights the need yet again to avoid these places and only use trustworthy breeders.
Deliberate Training To Be Aggressive
This one is a bit of a puzzle, and it says more about human nature than our precious dogs.
It’s difficult to fathom why anyone would choose a Golden Retriever and then train it to be aggressive. Come to mention it, it’s difficult to imagine why a human being would train any breed specifically to be mean and vicious. Training protection dogs is one thing, but these go through rigorous physical and mental challenges in order to prepare them to be exceptionally obedient and to assess threats themselves. Properly trained protection dogs cost thousands of dollars, and they are specifically designed to be loving and loyal to their owners. Any aggression is controlled and guided through a series of commands.
However, a small minority of people seem to delight in creating nasty dogs as some kind of deterrent. These dogs are poorly trained and generally unhappy. They’ll probably display symptoms of other causes of aggression including fear, abuse, possessiveness, and neglect.
All dogs need exercise, and most dogs also need some kind of mental stimulation. Some dogs are believed to be more intelligent than others; the Golden Retriever being among them. These dogs need to use that big brain or they will become bored and frustrated, especially if they don’t get enough exercise.
Tethering a dog in the yard is not adequate. They will become frustrated and aggressive. Just imagine… they are limited to roaming the area. They will feel vulnerable, unable to escape or defend themselves, and bored of pacing the same ground. There will be sights, sounds, and scents all around, but they are fixed in the same spot, unable to explore or even play properly. This is a recipe for disaster, and it usually results in extreme frustration.
The same applies to dogs kept in kennels or cages for prolonged periods, or simply left in the home all day, every day. Dog owners seem shocked and angry when they arrive home to discover the house has been wrecked. It’s all very amusing to record this and put it on Instagram, but the reality is that you have let your dog (or dogs) down. They are bored and frustrated because you are not there for them.
The only blessing here is that the dogs take out their frustration on soft furnishings and houseplants. It’s not quite so funny when they become aggressive as a result of frustration.
The answer is to never chain a dog in the yard. Make sure you give them the exercise and mental stimulation they need (particularly before you leave them home alone), and try not to leave them alone for too long. If possible, get family or friends to drop by, or use a dog walking/sitting service. Invest in a dog monitoring app that allows you to communicate with your doggy friend while you’re out. In short, do all you can to avoid them becoming bored and frustrated.
Sexual frustration can be a problem with dogs that are not spayed or neutered, but we’ll cover this further along.
Stress And Anxiety
Stressful situations or tension within the home can put a dog out of sorts and make it act strangely. Golden Retrievers are remarkably sensitive dogs, and they’ll pick up on the signs of unhappiness in your home in a heartbeat.
Arguments and unresolved tension, a sick family member, a death in the family, serious financial concerns, a kid leaving for college, a new baby, worries about life events – all of these affect your furry friend, too! They sense your tension, tiredness, anxiety, etc., and they also get anxious.
They also have their own worries, and separation anxiety is often overlooked as a cause of bad behavior. We already mentioned frustration as a cause of aggression, and this is linked to it. Dogs are social creatures by nature, and they are built to crave human company. If you deprive them of this, they may well act up, and aggression could be part of this.
The Golden Retriever is exceptionally social, and should never be left alone for longer than four hours at a time. Some experts suggest the maximum is eight hours, but this should be a rare event. If a pet owner plans to leave any dog at home alone for eight hours a day on a regular basis, it has to be asked why they are getting a dog in the first place as it just isn’t fair to the animal.
Dogs can’t process the passing of time as we do. When they see you go out the front door, they believe they’ve been abandoned. That much is clear when we return to an overwhelming welcome just 10 minutes later.
Training and socialization can help with separation anxiety, but it’s best to try to avoid leaving them home alone for too long. We already mentioned some ways to break up their day in the section on frustration, and it’s a good idea to use several of these in order to keep your pooch happy.
Sickness and injury
We all know what it’s like when we’re in pain or feeling under the weather. Some of us cope better than others, but there is a tendency to become irritated and snap at those around us.
Dogs feel this even more acutely as they can’t simply tell us what’s wrong. Older dogs with arthritic joints will feel very sore at times, and may snap at your hand when it presses too hard on a painful hip.
Dogs can face many health issues during their lives, some of which will make them feel really rough and may lead to aggressive behavior.
Our pooches may have an injury while out walking; perhaps a grass seed or a thorn in a paw, or a cracked nail from running on rocks or a hard road surface. Dogs love to chew on sticks, and they may cut their tongue or get splinters in their gums.
On the more serious end of the scale, epilepsy, brain tumors, and cognitive deterioration (such as dementia) can cause behavioral problems.
These are the most common reasons for canine aggression, and although they can affect any breed, some are more prone than others.
It’s important to keep this in mind when asking whether Golden Retrievers are aggressive.
Are Golden Retrievers Aggressive Towards Other Dogs?
Forums and blogs out there show that this can be a problem. Even the sweetest Golden Retriever puppy can suddenly show signs of aggression when they meet dogs when out and about or at the dog park.
You can sense the disappointment when dog owners say things like, I was so shocked the first time I saw my Golden Retriever puppy being aggressive towards other dogs!
To be fair, it isn’t always true aggression, and sometimes it’s just overenthusiastic play. Even so, this can lead to trouble later on if it’s not kept in check.
Leash aggression can also be a problem for many dog breeds. Pet owners may see their pooch lunging at other dogs while out for a walk. This is because being on a leash affects a dog psychologically. It forces them to behave unnaturally, especially when greeting other dogs.
Under normal circumstances, dogs will approach from the side and stand end to end with their bodies slightly curved. This allows them to engage in their customary sniffing ritual.
A dog on a leash is often forced to engage head-on, which makes them uncomfortable. They also feel trapped and restricted by the leash, unable to escape or fight freely if needed. This makes them nervous and defensive, which can lead to aggression.
The best way to tackle this problem is to start proper training at a very young age. It’s always best to use a professional dog trainer, even if only for a few sessions (however, it can be an expensive business!). If finances are a concern, speak to your breeder as some of them offer training and may offer a discount. Others have affiliate programs with dog trainers, and will provide coupons toward the first lessons to help you out.
Although online courses and training advice are invaluable, it’s always better to meet the trainer in person so they can see how you interact with your dog, and give you the right guidance. Your dog will also get to meet new people and other dogs, which is good for improving its social skills.
Socialization is essential as it gets pups used to a variety of situations and experiences, exposing them to different people, animals, and other dogs. This makes them comfortable around strange dogs, and far less likely to misbehave when they are older.
Leash training should form part of this process, using positive reinforcement to reward good behavior. This method is far more effective than harsh punishment for bad behavior! Hitting or shouting at dogs is an outdated and cruel method that has very little value, and rarely achieves the desired result.
Are Male Golden Retrievers Aggressive?
There’s a general belief that male dogs are more likely to be aggressive than females. However, there isn’t a lot of evidence to support this claim. Male dogs can certainly be more dominant, fighting for their position at the top, but females are often sharper in some breeds than others. It all comes down to personal experience, the breed involved, and what we define as aggression.
Breeding has a role to play in this issue, too. Two non-aggressive Golden Retrievers are more likely to produce pups that are happy and even-tempered, though this isn’t set in stone by any means. What it comes down to is consistent, carefully-planned breeding programs run by reputable breeders.
If you buy from a puppy mill or a backyard breeder, there is an increased chance that your pup will have behavioral problems because the parent dogs will not have been treated well and will be poorly-bred themselves. The pup will probably also have been mistreated and malnourished, leaving you with a big problem on your hands. You will possibly need to get professional help to overcome any dog aggression in your pup as it will be deeply ingrained in them.
Most respected, ethical breeders include a spay/neuter clause in their sales agreement. This is often regarded as a responsible action, reducing unwanted pups and lowering the number of dogs that end up in shelters and rescues. It can also have positive health benefits and make them calmer.
When intact male dogs reach sexual maturity, they can become aggressive at times, usually when there’s a female in heat within three miles of them! No matter how soft and sensitive your pooch may be, once this instinct takes over, they’ll try to act on it, and if you get in the way, you could be on the receiving end of some serious dog aggression.
Are Female Golden Retrievers Aggressive?
Again, when we ask, are Golden Retrievers aggressive?, we have to look at all the possible reasons and types of aggression.
Females are usually regarded as the softer of the two sexes (in humans as well as in dogs!), but this is a gross oversimplification of the facts (in both cases).
A mother dog can become agitated if she believes her pups are in danger, in which case, she will protect them at all costs. Can this be classed as aggression? It certainly looks aggressive, but who can blame a mother who is just looking out for her babies?
Female dogs in heat can become moody and irritable, and may snap at your fingers or ankles for no apparent reason.
Some people regard spaying (and neutering) as a cure-all solution, but this isn’t the right way to look at it. It should always be considered, and it does seem to offer some definite health benefits. On the whole, it is a positive act that usually (but not always!) calms the dog down and reduces the possibility of aggression, especially related to their sexual urges.
Learn more on what is the best age for neutering or spaying Golden Retrievers.
Do Golden Retrievers Bite Their Owners?
It has been known, yes.
However, it’s a pretty rare occurrence!
Millions of dog bites happen every year; however, most don’t cause any damage so they aren’t reported. Many of these would be difficult to class as the result of canine aggression as they are merely warnings or reactions to sudden noises or accidents (such as the poor pooch being trodden on).
Dogs have different ways of communicating, and they use various parts of their body such as their face, ears, and tail. They also use their mouth to communicate in the form of growls, whines, and barks. As they lack hands, their mouth also plays a vital role in exploring their world and as a means of defense. If a warning bark and a growl are not heeded, the next action may involve using those sharp teeth to get their point across.
Golden Retrievers are soft-mouth dogs, originally bred for fetching fallen game birds. Because of this, they are surprisingly gentle with their mouth, even though they have a bite force of around 190 PSI.
Even so, they will rarely use this in anger against their owners unless the circumstances are extreme.
Photo from: @adventures_with_biscuits
So, are Golden Retrievers aggressive?
We can confidently say that, on the whole, they are not. These are the sweetest, gentlest, and most affectionate dogs ever!
However, this takes several things for granted:
• The pup came from a reputable breeder with responsible methods and breeding practices.
• The dog was raised in a loving environment and has never been mistreated.
• The pup was properly trained and socialized.
• The dog has regular health checks at the vet.
• The dog has been spayed/neutered.
Although this last point isn’t absolutely essential, it may have a bearing on any aggressive behavior you witness.
The Golden Retriever dog isn’t naturally protective, so they don’t make the best guard dog. They excel at being service dogs because of their innate intelligence and sweet nature. On the subject of being smart, here’s an interesting fact: the Golden Retriever is considered the fourth most intelligent breed, after the Border Collie, the Poodle, and the German Shepherd!
We should add here that the Golden Retriever is frequently used as a gauge by which to measure whether a breed is aggressive. Experiments have been undertaken where dogs are exposed to a particular set of circumstances or a specific experience, and their reactions are observed. They then expose a Golden to the same set of circumstances and record the difference between the reactions. Why do they do this? Because the Golden Retriever is so predictably non-aggressive in nature that they can rely on the result and assess how aggressive the other breed is based on the outcome of the test!
It’s essential to remember that every dog has its own individual character. Personal experience, especially in the first few months of its life, also plays an important role in forming a dog’s personality. If a pup is removed from the litter when it is too young, and then receives little or no socialization and training (or is poorly trained), then there’s a fair chance that it will grow into an aggressive animal no matter the breed.
In the end, we can’t rely on a breed’s reputation. All of us must take responsibility for our pets, starting with the breeders. Choosing the right breeder is the best way for you to get the best dog. Reputable breeders are trustworthy, carefully planning their breeding programs to produce healthy, happy dogs with a great temperament.
Many of the best breeders begin the training and socialization process when the pups are only days old. You must commit to completing the process in order to help your pup develop into a well-adjusted adult.
Are Golden Retrievers aggressive? No, they aren’t, except on rare occasions, but we all need to play our part in making sure it stays this way.