In hopes that I can give my readers some insight into dog breeds’ personalities, I am featuring a couple of different breeds each week. I will give a little history about the breed, i.e., what they were bred to do, talk about their personalities, and provide advice on the lifestyle needs of the breed. Remember, as I always say, every dog is an individual. Some dogs will exactly fit the breed characteristics while others may be nothing like it.

There is no breed I know better than the Golden Retriever, having lived with them for 25 years and worked with dozens of them through rescue organizations. They are one of America’s most popular breeds. As a result, many of them are bred by unscrupulous breeders because the demand is there from the public. What used to be a beautiful, classic looking Golden can now look very different. Instead of the long, lush coat and gorgeous feathering off of their legs and tails which is the breed standard, you’ll now find Goldens with short sparse coats and very little feathering. The puppy mills are to blame for this sad state of affairs. I’ve seen way too many Goldens from Amish farms who look nothing like what a Golden should. And people paid a lot of money for a dog with AKC papers.

The Golden Retriever was first bred in Scotland in the 1800s by Lord Tweedmouth who was looking for a hunting dog who would retrieve water fowl. The Golden came from the Tweed Water Spaniel, the Newfoundland, the Irish Setter, and possibly some other water spaniels. Because the dog had to be a hunting companion, the Golden was bred to work well with people. And the Golden had to have a “soft” mouth in order to be able to retrieve fowl without damaging the bird. The result is the dog we know today as a loving people dog and often obsessive ball retriever!

The early Golden Retriever was darker in color than what you usually see now. The red Golden Retriever is probably very close to the original Golden’s color, possibly due to the Irish Setter genes. In fact, some Goldens can closely resemble an Irish Setter. Through the years, lighter Goldens have become more popular and now you can even find ones who are almost white.

Just like the Labrador Retriever, the Golden Retriever can be misunderstood. Many new Golden puppy owners have found themselves in for quite a surprise. The true nature of a Golden Retriever is a high energy dog who was bred to hunt all day. Without an outlet for that energy, Goldens can be quite difficult to live with. They are also very smart and love to learn. Without exercise and an opportunity to use their brains, Goldens are prone to boredom, destructiveness, and even separation anxiety.

Goldens bond to people very quickly and become our loving companions, making them great family dogs. They are so affectionate as a rule, and have the tendency to be attention seekers, nudging your hand to keep petting them. They need to be around people and do not do well being left alone, especially when young. Given this temperament, they make excellent therapy pets, visiting the sick and elderly, and being reading companions for children.

If you are contemplating getting a Golden, this is not a dog who will be happy to lie by the fire at night when you get home from a hard day’s work, unless the dog is quite old. One of my Goldens, Gizzy, did not slow down until he was 11 years old! They require a great deal of exercise and training. I walked Gizzy two hours a day. When young, they are prone to being jumpy and nippy in their exuberance. They also can be difficult to walk on a leash if not trained properly. Early obedience training is highly recommended.

The good news is, Goldens are very easy to train. They love to please people and are usually very food motivated. Harsh training methods should never be used with Goldens. They are too sensitive and loving to be punished. I once had a client whose husband foolishly followed Cesar Millan’s advice and alpha rolled the dog every day to “show him who was boss.” Consequently, the dog became terrified of the man. Only positive, motivational training is necessary for Goldens – for all dogs for that matter!

In addition to needing exercise, they love to play. Many Goldens are obsessed with tennis balls. Be prepared to throw the ball until your dog is exhausted or your arm gives out, whichever comes first. Because of this penchant for play, some Goldens love to steal things – the remote control, dish towels, your socks. A good game of chase can become one of their favorite activities. They also love to chew. If you value your possessions, make sure that they have plenty of their own chew toys. Smart dogs can often exhibit behavior problems if not trained properly, and Goldens are classic examples of that.

Sadly, Goldens have quite a few genetic health issues. They are prone to cancer, some at a very young age. They also have a high incidence of thyroid disease and allergies. They can get hot spots, a skin irritation that the dog licks and can become a full-blown infection within hours. Goldens also can have hip dysplasia, epilepsy, and arthritis.

Goldens shed a great deal. They need to be brushed regularly or else they can develop mats, especially behind their ears. The mats pull on the skin and hurt the dog and can cause hot spots too. If you have a Golden, you will have dog hair everywhere in your home.

A Golden Retriever is a commitment. They want to be part of your life, and require a great deal of time and attention. The love you get in return is so worth it!

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