Are Golden Retrievers Sensitive? Explaining High Sensitivity in Goldens

This may come as a surprise to many; but high sensitivity in dogs is a very real thing. It’s as real in dogs as it is in people, and recent research has finally given us some insights into what it means to be a Highly Sensitive Dog (HSD).

But what about goldens? Can goldens also be HSD?

Are Golden Retrievers Sensitive? Golden Retrievers are sensitive dogs by nature, and some goldens can be way more sensitive than others. Sensitive golden retrievers will be highly attuned and affected by the environment and by other people’s moods. High Sensitivity is a perfectly natural personality trait in dogs.

Goldens, by nature, tend to be more sensitive than other dog breeds on average. This makes handling them quite different from handling other dog breeds.

To understand what is high sensitivity in dogs, how to know how sensitive your dog is, and how you should handle a highly sensitive dog, keep on reading…

What is High Sensitivity?

sad golden to show why are golden retrievers sensitive

The term “High Sensitivity” is a relatively new term and idea that only came to light when psychotherapist defined and described the traits of high sensitivity in people in 1997. Even as early as the early 2000s, people have guessed that some dogs could also have the High Sensitivity trait, and a recent study has confirmed it.

The findings from the recent study found that high sensitivity in dogs is as evident as it is in humans. It’s worth noting here that studies have found the high sensitivity trait in about 15-20% of the human population, and the recent study in dogs suggests that this may also be the case for dogs.

But what even is High Sensitivity? High Sensitivity, also known as ‘Sensory Processing Sensitivity’ or SPS for short, is a perfectly normal trait in the person (or the dog) that means the subjects’ nervous systems are hypersensitive which makes them highly attuned and affected by what’s going on in their environments and by other people’s moods.

It’s important to understand that here, we’re discussing emotional sensitivity. If what you want to know is some sort of physical sensitivity, you should check out my guide on sensitive stomachs in golden retrievers here or my guide on sensitive skin in golden retrievers here.

What Causes High Sensitivity?

High Sensitivity, whether in people or dogs, was found to be independent of any external factors. This means that any person or dog can be highly sensitive regardless of the environment they grew up in, the people around them, their history of abuse, or even time spent in the wild.

High Sensitivity seems to have a genetic rather than an environmental basis.

How to know that your dog is highly sensitive?

People or dogs with high sensitivity have some common traits that make it easy to identify that they are highly sensitive, here are some of the common ways to find out that your dog is highly sensitive;

  • They get startled easily (by lights, sounds, movements, etc)
  • They react quickly to any strange sounds – for example, the phone ringing may cause them to howl consistently
  • They seem affected by arguments or angry voices at home
  • They take a long time to calm down after an unsettling or an exciting effect
  • They get easily excited through positive or negative stimuli
  • They seem to be easily affected by your energy or vibe (they get sad when you’re sad, happy when you’re happy, etc)

If these or most of them apply to your dog, you may have a highly sensitive dog. It’s important here to know that most of these do apply to most dogs, but if you have experience dealing with a few dogs, especially if you’ve owned dogs before, you will know that some dogs are just way more sensitive than others.

Why are golden retrievers sensitive dogs?

Golden Retrievers tend to fall on the high sensitivity metrics more than other dogs, or at least that’s been my experience with goldens in the last few decades. That’s because golden retrievers tend to be more attached to their owners than other dogs.

That’s why they are also more prone to separation anxiety, which you can learn more about in my post on leaving goldens outside here.

If you do own a golden retriever, or are intending on getting a golden retriever anytime soon, you will need to prepare yourself to deal with them with a little more caution in case they’re highly sensitive. Let’s take a look at what that looks like.

How to deal with a highly sensitive Dog?

To deal with a highly sensitive dog, you need to understand that they experience the world differently than others. It’s difficult for them to filter what is goin on around them and they can get easily overwhelmed by things that will not overwhelm the other 80-85% of the population that are not as sensitive as them.

Here are some pointers on dealing with a highly sensitive dog;

  • Avoid making sudden noises, keep your phone on vibrate if possible
  • Avoid bright lights and fireworks as much as possible
  • Avoid making sudden movements
  • Keep a regular feeding schedule that ensures they don’t go hungry – hunger affects highly sensitive dogs more intensely as it’s an internal stimulus
  • Give them regular quiet time to process and calm down
  • You can try working on desensitizing the dog to certain stimulus like bright lights and loud noises gradually when they’re still young.
  • Give them positive reinforcement and assurance whenever possible.

Conclusion on Highly Sensitive Dogs

High Sensitivity is not a disorder or a disease. It can’t be cured or treated. It’s a genetic trait and the only thing we can do about it is to train ourselves to handle it better – whether it’s in dogs or people. You need to understand what it’s like for them to be easily overwhelmed and work on adjusting your behavior and the behavior of those around them to make it more comfortable for them.

One aside note here, this kind of sensitivity is one of the reasons golden retrievers are often so gentle. You can learn about all the reasons that make golden retrievers so gentle here as it will help you understand goldens a bit better (and appreciate them a bit more).

One can argue that it also makes goldens more high maintenance than other dogs. I tend to agree with this but I think it’s totally worth it. You can learn how to handle your high-maintenance golden retriever better here.

Related Questions

What makes golden retrievers happy?

Golden Retrievers are happy if they get enough exercise, good nutrition, and enough quality time with the people they love. Golden Retrievers are very social and affectionate dogs that attach strongly to their owners and need to spend time around the people they love, so leaving them alone for most of the day can make them very sad.

Are Golden Retrievers fun?

Golden Retrievers are very fun dogs that like to spend time outside and engaging in fun activities with their owners. Goldens are also very friendly, social, and people-loving which means they thrive when they get to spend more time playing with people and other animals.

Some people mistakenly think that because goldens are so kind and gentle that means they are kind of boring, but that could not be further from the truth. You can learn why goldens are not boring at all here.

Helpful Resources

Development of the “Highly Sensitive Dog” questionnaire to evaluate the personality dimension “Sensory Processing Sensitivity” in dogs – Maya Braem, Lucy Asher, Sibylle Furrer, Isabel Lechner, Hanno Würbel, and Luca Melotti

Are Golden Retrievers emotional

Living with a Retriever: Recommendations and Sources

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