Goldens can also have an aggressive side, and understanding where it comes from, what it looks like, and how to both prevent, and work with, it will be an important lesson when bringing a Golden Retriever home.
When you look at the facts in a general sense, no, Golden Retrievers are not aggressive. They are family-friendly dogs that are friendly, forgiving, patient, and calm with both other animals and children. That being said, Golden Retrievers can sometimes show aggressive behaviors. To protect everyone — including your Golden — learn how to spot aggression, understand what causes aggression, and how to deal with it safely below.
Is it common for Golden Retrievers to be aggressive?
As you already know, Golden Retrievers are generally not aggressive by nature. In fact, they are so calm and controlled that this breed is often the “control” factor when marking aggressiveness in other breeds!
What this means is that experts in dog breeding and dog psychology use a Golden Retriever as the example breed for being calm, controlled, and friendly. Other breeds are tested against a Golden’s reaction and their level of aggression is then noted against a Golden itself.
If you’ve spent any amount of time with these friendly dogs, you’ll find that everything from their body posture to their general personalities is calm, friendly and relaxed. Even those who don’t like dogs often find Goldens okay to be around.
Why would a Golden Retriever be aggressive?
As calm and relaxed as these doggos are, there are situations where you’ll find a Golden can be aggressive. Maybe these are one-time events, and maybe there is a pattern.
Neglect or abuse
If a Golden Retriever is neglected in his life at any point, they tend to have some sort of aggression towards other humans in the future. This is especially so if they were forced into starvation or severe isolation. The same goes for abuse (mild, moderate or severe). When a mistreated Golden Retriever finds themselves with humans again, having only their own past experience to go off of, they can be aggressive to protect themselves from the neglect and abuse from happening again.
A scared Golden Retriever can also be aggressive. This is similar to the point above where he is just trying hard to protect himself from being hurt or scared further. Think about it like a child swatting at a bee or something else similar that scares them. They are trying to protect themselves.
One of the most common causes of aggression in a Golden is injury. Dogs don’t show their pain as humans do. Instead of searching for someone to help them, they will — literally — lick their wounds in isolation and can be aggressive when someone tries to help (particularly if the pain is severe).
Dogs who don’t know how to interact with other people, situations, environments or animals will often be scared all the time. That fear leads to, you guessed it, aggression. A dog who is too sheltered won’t understand that not everything is out to get them and they will react to protect themselves as well as their owners, first, from the “threat”, even if it’s just a squirrel or a garbage truck.
Being specifically trained to be aggressive
Goldens are very smart and have a lot of respect for their owners. If their owner deliberately trains him to be a guard dog and aggressive with anything he doesn’t know, he will be aggressive to obey his master. This training will override their gentle and calm personalities.
Trauma (mental or physical)
This could be neglect or abuse, or it could be something more like PTSD where something is suddenly causing them to fear loud noises or strange smells or even people that they don’t know. This often can be hard to detect, but it is common in service dogs as well as in seniors with memory or cognitive issues.
Dogs have an additional sense that can often judge a person’s character or intention before we can judge it. If a Golden senses danger, they will often act aggressively to warn it off on their behalf as well as yours. While it seems unneeded for you, you can bet that your doggo is sensing something that you aren’t.
Good aggression versus bad aggression
The thing to remember is that sometimes there is a time and place for aggression and sometimes there isn’t. After all, if you have an intruder in your home, you wouldn’t want your pooch to run up in excitement and greet them like their very best friend, right? No, you’d expect him to bark and protect as he works to ward him off while you call the police. Good aggression is an important part of your dog’s personality and it should be protected and encouraged rather than coaxed out of him.
Bad aggression, on the other hand, is if he is acting aggressively towards your child, or snapping at the mail deliverer, or causing problems and fear when you take him out for a walk around the neighborhood. You’ll want to recognize the difference and make sure that you train and work on bad aggression while encouraging and allowing good aggression.
Do Golden Retrievers bite?
Most of the time, Golden Retrievers don’t bite. If they do bite, it’s because they’re puppies and are still getting used to their pointy white things and might be a little enthusiastic, causing injury. As far as biting to hurt, Goldens aren’t prone to these behaviors. Even if aggressive, they often snarl and curl their lips rather than bite to hurt. Even with pesky children who they will fend off in defence. They often get nothing more than a nip as a warning. This can grow into a bite though if that warning doesn’t work.
How to recognize aggression signs
Regardless of the source of a Golden’s aggression, there will be a few predictable signs that you can watch for and keep in mind as far as triggers and, of course, the potential for someone to get injured.
One of the most common signs to show aggression, especially against other dogs or pets in the house, is with food guarding. Since dogs are programmed to be protective over their food source, they can often become aggressive if that is threatened.
Your doggo is also very protective of his home and of his favorite humans. Aggression can sometimes come out in the form of protecting or defending his territory, or the people in it. Dogs know to protect their home and humans, so territory spats are common, especially with other animals (such as new additions to your furry family).
Snarling, growling and snapping
Any time that our doggo is snarling, growling or even snapping, this is a sign of aggression. Even if it’s in play, these noises often mean that something is making him feel aggressive and he will start to switch over to aggressive sounds, complete with lip-curling and snapping.
Whether it’s with other doggos or humans, Goldens can sometimes show aggression through being too rough and frantic when they play. Sometimes it takes the shape of a doggo accidentally knocking over a child when playing tug-of-war, or maybe it’s being too rough when playing with other toys on the ground.
How do you deal with an aggressive Golden Retriever?
If you do find that your pooch is showing these common signs of aggression, you’ll want to make sure that you deal with it sooner rather than later. The longer the aggressive behavior sets in, the more “accepted” it gets by your pooch and, of course, the more likely there is to be an injury. Here are some details to keep in mind when you look at dealing with an aggressive Golden Retriever.
Nature versus nurture
Make sure you remember that Goldens are calm and kind by nature. If they are being aggressive, it’s because something in their environment is telling them to be so. Perhaps this is a past owner, or perhaps it’s something in your environment.
Take ownership of your Golden behavior
Since the aggression is related to his setting, make sure that you take ownership of that behavior. After all, he’s your pooch and his behavior is your responsibility. In essence, it’s not his fault that he’s acting this way, as he is a product of your upbringing/leadership.
Don’t punish bad behavior
The first mistake before you even start to work on aggressiveness is that you punish the pooch for “his” bad behavior. While proper education is important for retraining aggression (more on that in second), all that punishing a dog’s aggression does is make him fearful and confused. Dogs aren’t unable to understand what they are being punished for.
How to stop aggressiveness in Golden Retrievers
If you want to learn how to stop aggressive behavior in your Golden Retriever, here are some great tips to help your dog feel more secure and safe in his environment — which is what it’s all about.
Proper training at a young age
The first way to help curb aggressive behavior is to not allow it to start in the first place! Proper training and socialization throughout his puppyhood are going to be really important to help him learn what is acceptable and what isn’t.
As soon as he is immunized (and therefore safe to be around other animals), you’ll want to start taking him for walks, get him used to new people, and more. Make sure he learns how to act around other animals (both other dogs, cats and more) and that he learns how to react to new sounds, signs, smells and more. The more he is exposed to, the braver he will be.
Similarly, if he is trained on how to act around food, other animals, territory, guests, children and even other aggressive animals, this will also help him curb bad aggression even in situations that are new to him. He will look to you to help him learn what to do (and not to do).
As with any training, you’ll want to keep it consistent throughout every instance so that your pooch doesn’t get confused as to why the rules prepare to change for no clear reason.
Design a schedule
Dogs enjoy schedules because it’s the only way that they can understand how to interact with the world around them. When dogs have consistency in their lives, particularly when it comes to wake-up time, mealtime, walk time and playtime, they can feel content and calm in their life. The calmer and happier they are, the least likely they are to be aggressive.
This is particularly helpful when you are helping a Golden re-learn his aggressive behavior. Understanding schedules and routines help him learn to trust you as well as his surroundings.
Give them lots of love and play
A lot of Goldens become aggressive because they are lonely. Their favorite humans are gone all day and they often spend enough time with their doggos even when they are home. Sound familiar? Make sure your pooch knows that he’s loved as much as possible. This is done through treats, cuddle time on the couch (especially if you add it into the schedule so your pooch knows to expect it) and lots of playtime, too. Since Goldens can get insecure if they don’t get enough attention, make sure that they know you are loyal to them.
Be patient and kind
When you are retraining aggressive behavior, make sure that you are always patient and kind. No matter how many times you need to redirect to remind the dog what he’s supposed to do, do it with kindness. Your pooch needs time and space to unlearn a past behavior and then relearn a new one.
Any time you get frustrated and raise your voice to your Golden when he snaps at a passing dog, all he learns is that he is bad and his human doesn’t love him. You know this isn’t true, but he doesn’t! Be calm, kind and patient as your dog starts to learn what he is supposed to be doing instead of snapping.
Goldens are beautiful dogs that are naturally good-natured. From other animals to new humans, to kids, Golden Retrievers love to be the best of friends with everyone. If you do notice aggression in your Golden, make sure that you know where it’s coming from and how to deal with it. Not only will this keep everyone safe, but it will also ensure that you and your family can enjoy a Golden Retriever for all of his many perks as a breed overall.