Golden Retrievers are famous for being one of the gentlest and most affectionate breeds around. They are the fluffiest, cuddliest boys around, and you can’t help but smile as this big pile of floof runs at you with the most gorgeous smile and biggest puppy eyes ever when you come back home.
But they are also strong 70-lb animals with a considerably muscular build and a strong bite that can knock you down in seconds if they become aggressive.
But can they? Can Golden Retrievers Be Aggressive? Yes, Golden Retriever Can Be aggressive but it’s quite rare. Your Golden Retriever can be aggressive because of fear, pain, poor socialization, their history of trauma and abuse, bad breeding practices, or other mental or behavioral issues.
Aggression, although rare in Golden Retrievers, is quite a serious problem in any dog. Aggression can lead to many other behavioral problems and is one of the main reasons families abandon their dogs in the United States.
That’s why every dog owner should know how to handle aggression in their dogs the right way. Aggression is a behavioral problem that is definitely fixable with some effort.
To learn why can golden retrievers be aggressive and how to fix golden retriever aggression in simple but effective steps, keep reading…
Table of Contents
Are Golden Retrievers Aggressive?
If we’re speaking generally, golden retrievers are not an aggressive breed at all. They have ranked in the top five most popular breeds in the United States for the last 3 decades, and they have the same popularity all over the world.
Goldens and labradors have the reputation of being the perfect family dogs, and this is mainly due to the gentle nature of these breeds. People know they can trust a golden retriever to live at their houses and be around their children.
Goldens were bred to be gentle around humans. They were bred by nobles and royalty, and they intended for the breed to be very docile and gentle around humans – even strangers. They needed dogs that they can take with them while hunting or traveling without fearing how they would react around other noble families.
So, no, Goldens are not an aggressive breed in any way. To put this into some context, let’s see how well do golden retrievers fare against other breeds in this regard, shall we?
Are Golden Retrievers Aggressive Compared to Other Breeds?
Short Answer: Golden Retrievers are very peaceful and friendly dogs when compared with other breeds that are labelled as “aggressive” by the laws in some parts of the world.
Veterinary researchers Stefanie A. Ott DVM and others conducted a study in 2008 that compared the temperament of Golden Retrievers to other breeds that were affected by the “dangerous breeds” laws in several parts of the world.
In the study, they used Golden Retrievers as the standard and compared these breeds that were labelled “dangerous” in different parts of the world to goldens.
They had the dogs go through different tests including obedience tests and their own tests that included putting the dogs through various situations where they had to interact with other humans, dogs, or environments.
The results? 98% of Golden Retrievers showed no aggression in different situations and environments.
What does this mean? It means that Golden Retrievers are not aggressive in nature, and for a well-trained, well-socialized Golden Retrievers, it’s incredibly rare for Golden Retrievers to become aggressive even under stressful situations.
This is one of the many reasons they can be trusted around small children. Small Children will hug and kiss dogs, but they will also often pull on the dog’s hair, ears, and paws, they will try to sit on them, they will try to move them around, and they will even try to ride them.
These all terrible actions that stress out dogs very easily, and it takes a very patient dogs with a lot of self-control to handle themselves in these situations well.
In Short, Goldens live up to their names as being one of the gentlest dog breeds around, and scientists agree with this sentence.
Aggressive or Playful?
Is your dog aggressive or just too playful? This is a problem especially when it comes to puppies. Golden retriever puppies are very energetic and get overly excited very easily.
Golden Retriever puppies still don’t know exactly what is okay and what is not, so they will jump on everyone, bite everything, bark on anything that moves, and play tug with anything you try to take away from them.
They do all of this and then in a second crash into a 4-hour nap to recharge and then do it all-over again.
If your dog is under 18 months of age, they are probably not aggressive, they are just hyper-active. With proper training and socialization, they will stop all the unwanted behaviors such as jumping and pulling.
You can learn how to stop golden retriever biting here.
As for their energy, sorry to tell you, but golden retrievers remain energetic all their lives. They do calm down after their puppyhood, and you can learn when do golden retrievers exactly calm down here, but they will always have high-levels of energy.
To be able to determine if your golden retriever does have an aggression problem, let’s see what are the signs of aggression you need to look for…
Signs of Aggression in Golden Retrievers
Aggression is quite easy to spot on dogs, and most of us know how to spot it instinctively. Nonetheless, learning about the signs of aggression can help you spot it early and recognize the micro-aggressions that you may miss if you don’t recognize as clear signs of aggression.
Here are the signs of aggression that are easy to spot:
- Wide eyes
- Ears pulled back
- Tense mouth or curled lips
- Wrinkled nose
- Showing teeth
- Air Snapping
There are also more subtle forms of aggression, these are what we may call “passive aggression”, but in dogs, passive aggression will quickly turn into normal aggression if not handled correctly.
This leads us to our next section; why do golden retrievers get aggressive?
9 Causes/Types of Aggression in Golden Retrievers
The most common types and/or causes of aggression in golden retrievers are:
- Fear Aggression
- Territorial Aggression
- Domination Aggression
- Possessive Aggression (of owners, toys, etc)
- Maternal Aggression
- Pain Aggression
- Mating Aggression
- Neglect Aggression
- Separation Anxiety Aggression
Let’s go over each of these quickly and see what is the cause the triggers the aggression, what are the signs for each type of them, and how you can recognize it.
Fear Aggression is the most common type of aggression in dogs in general. It’s instinctive and very strong that it will take over the dog’s entire body and mind in seconds.
Fear Aggression is triggered by a frightening experience. For example, fireworks and thunder are known to cause fear in all dogs, but so can storms, car backfires, and gunshot sounds.
But it’s not only sounds and lights that can cause fear.
Negative experiences in the past can also cause fear. If the dog was abused by their past owner, even a familiar smell can trigger fear in the dog and make them scared, which can turn to aggression.
While Golden Retrievers are not territorial animals by nature, they still possess some territorial instincts. Territorial aggression can be triggered by strange people or dogs coming over the house. At these situations, the dog will start barking and try to scare them away.
It can also be seen when you welcome home a new dog or a cat and the dog will start being protective of their territory as they are used to being alone so they think it’s their own place and not to be shared with another animal.
It’s worth noting here that in general, dogs are good with other animals in the house, especially cats, and you can learn more about how to introduce your golden and cat to each other and help them live harmoniously.
Domination aggression is when the dog gets aggressive with other animals or even humans by trying to show his/her dominance whether it’s in general or over food, toys, and similar objects.
This can be seen when dogs are playing. You will notice one dog trying to shove, push, and hump all the other dogs to show their dominance and that they are the leader of the pack.
This kind of aggression is rare in golden retrievers, but it does exist nonetheless.
Your dog could also become possessive over you. They may try to show their possession of you and push other dogs, cats, or even humans away from you.
This is one of the types of aggression that some dog owners wrongfully reward as they believe the dog is being protective of them.
It’s important to teach the dog the difference between threatening people and other non-threatening animals and people. Training the dog to not be aggressive at all could fire back when you do need them to be protective and aggressive and they don’t.
Train your dog using mock situations on what is considered an aggressive situation and what is not so they can respond appropriately.
The method is simple; ask a couple of friends for help, act in different situations with them, and reward the dog when they act appropriately. I’ll definitely discuss this topic in much further detail another time and link it here.
If your dog has just had a litter of puppies, they can become aggressive with anyone trying to play or approach the puppies straight away. This is a motherly instinct and it will make even the gentlest of dogs aggressive with their owners.
Thankfully, this only lasts for a couple of days after giving birth to the puppies and the mother will start to calm down and let you approach the puppies.
But while it may take her a few days to let you touch the puppies, it may take her a few more days or even a couple of weeks to let strangers play with them.
If your dog is sick or injured, it’s completely natural for them to be aggressive to try to stop anyone from touching them and making the pain worse.
You could be unaware of your dog’s injuries especially if it’s not something visible, which is more likely to happen with senior dogs. Try being gentler with your senior dog, avoid lifting it, and keep an eye on how they’re walking and moving around.
If you notice them limping, it’s a sign they’re in pain. You can learn what does your golden’s limping means and what to do here.
The mating instinct in dogs is a strong one and it can trigger aggression in dogs. If the dog finds it difficult to find a mate, finds competition in mating, or feels you’re trapping them inside the house and they can’t find a mate, they can become aggressive.
This, of course, happens mainly with male golden retrievers and is much rarer in females, and it’s one of the things to consider when getting a new dog and comparing males vs females. You can learn all 19 differences between male and female golden retrievers here.
If you are neglecting your dog and they are not getting enough attention or exercise, they may get aggressive. If your dog is not getting enough exercise, they will have pent-up energy and if it doesn’t get released, they can become aggressive.
Also note that this energy can stress the dog out and change their behaviors in other ways. Dogs that don’t get enough exercise can develop unwanted behaviors such as destructive chewing, constant barking, growling, and so on.
Separation Anxiety Aggression
Golden Retrievers are very social animals and they get strongly attached to their owners, making them prone to separation anxiety. If you leave your dog for long periods throughout the day (more than 8 hours) or leave for days or weeks for work, your dog could develop separation anxiety.
Dogs with separation anxiety can become aggressive when they are in a state of heightened anxiety, and their aggression can show in many different ways.
One common way dogs with separation anxiety become aggressive is property damage as they will chew and destroy things located in doorways, windows, and other points of entry and ext in the house.
You can learn how to help your golden retriever handle being left alone here so they don’t turn into a destructive hurricane in the house while you’re away.
7 Ways to Fix Golden Retriever Aggression
Once your golden retriever starts showing signs of aggression, it’s important to start immediately working on the problem to fix it before it becomes more ingrained in their mind.
Aggression in Golden Retrievers usually starts showing when they start to mature around 12 months of age. If you are able to see the signs early on, you should immediately get to work.
If you ignore the problem for long, or, even worse, reward it, it can become more ingrained in their behavior and much more difficult to adjust later on.
So, let’s say you now believe your golden retriever has an aggression problem, what to do?
7 Simple Ways to Handle Your Golden Retrievers Aggression:
- Don’t Reinforce the Behavior
- Find out the cause of the aggression
- Continue working on their socialization & Training
- Teach Them Gentle Play
- Praise Them for Being Nice
- Don’t Be Aggressive Yourself (Monkey See, Monkey Do)
- Seek Professional Help
Let’s go over each of them quickly, shall we?
Don’t Reinforce the Behavior
You can be unknowingly reinforcing your dog’s aggression without even knowing you’re doing it. How? by paying attention to the dog.
Yes, any form of attention to them when they display aggressive behavior is rewarding the behavior. Even if you’re shouting “STOP” or “BAD BOY” at them, it is still considered a reward because you’ve given them what they wanted; which is your attention.
What you’re doing is teaching your dog that by being aggressive, they will get your attention and the problem will go away.
Punishment is also bad and can not only make the problem more consistent, it can also make it much worse. By hitting, yelling, kicking, shouting, or isolating your dog, you’re making them feel more threatened and their reaction will be to become more aggressive as they feel it’s the only way to protect themselves.
I use this cheap and simple water spray bottle from Amazon if you need a quick recommendation.
Find out the cause
In order to adjust your golden retriever’s aggressive behavior, you need to find out what is causing the aggressive behavior. For example, if they are aggressive because of separation anxiety, then you can work on spending more quality time with them.
If they are afraid because of their new environment, you can work on introducing them and familiarizing them with the new environment so they can see that nothing is threatening them.
By finding out the root cause of the problem, you can solve the problem and not just the symptom which is the aggression.
Working on the aggression which is only the symptom and ignoring the problem itself will lead your dog to develop other behavioral problems and will make fixing their aggression much harder than it needs to be.
More Socialization and Training
Socialization and training should be an ongoing process that lasts through the dog’s lifetime. It’s not a one-and-done thing that you do when they’re young and ignore it.
It’s true that your golden will need less socialization as they grow up, but it’s still needed. Goldens are also very smart and can learn new commands at any age, and training them on new commands and routines is easier than with other dog breeds. On average, a golden retriever can learn a new command after just 3 repetition.
Gradually exposing your dog to new situations, people, animals, sights, smells, and more in safe and controlled environments will help you eliminate their fear of any of these and make the dog comfortable in these situations.
As they grow old, you should also start training them on how to behave in situations which might trigger them. Situations that may seem threatening on your life or theirs such as an aggressive encounter with another human or an aggressive dog.
Teach them Gentle Play
Teach your dog that they should play gentle. The easy way to do this is to not be aggressive yourself with them. Play gently with them when they’re young and stop playing when they bite or play roughly so they understand that rough play means no more fun.
If you see that a certain dog they play with at the park or the doggy daycare is playing aggressively, stop them from playing with this dog and inform this dog’s owner that their dog’s behavior is unacceptable and is making the other dogs more aggressive, which will end up in someone getting hurt.
Praise Them for Being Nice
Whenever your dog acts nicely in situations that used to trigger them to become aggressive, praise them and give them treats if possible. this teaches the dog that this is how they should react in these situations.
With repetition, your dog should be able to pick up on this and start being nice in other situations as well, expecting the same praise and reward, which you should give them. Being consistent in rewarding them is important to avoid confusing the dog.
Don’t Be Aggressive yourself
The phrase “Monkey See, Monkey Do” applies to everything your dog does. If your dog sees you shouting and being physically aggressive, they will think this is how they should act as well. So, they will try to be loud and physically aggressive as well.
You don’t even have to be aggressive with them for this to happen. It can happen with anyone else and they will start to imitate the behavior. Dogs get their energy from us, and if our energy is negative, then that’s what they’ll get.
If you face stressful situations while your dog is with you, try your best to control yourself and not show aggression.
Here is a real example: I discovered that my dog started barking when I got a phone call because they got used to me getting stressed over the phone when I get some work calls during the evenings which stressed the hell out of me.
Solution? I started getting out of the house for the really stressful calls, changed my ringtone, and became much friendlier in the calls I do take in front of them.
Seek Professional Help
If you can’t adjust their aggressive behavior yourself, you will need to seek help from a professional dog trainer. This can include enrolling them in growl classes or getting private training sessions.
There are some dog trainers now that will even guide you online on what to do, which is a cost-effective solution that will work just as well if you’re willing to put in the work.
Aggression is a serious problem in dogs, but it’s one that can be fixed with patience and consistency. Be consistent and patient and give your dog the time, attention, and effort they need and you will be able to adjust their behavior.
Can Golden Retrievers Be Protective?
Golden Retrievers can be protective of their owners if they feel their humans are in imminent danger but you shouldn’t count on it. Goldens are not protective by nature and they do not make good guard dogs because of their gentle nature.
If you want a dog to protect your home or defend your life, get a dog that was bred for the job such as a German Shepherd, a Rottweiler, or a Bulldog.
To learn more about what would your dog do in similar situations, check out the honest answer to whether a golden retriever will attack an intruder here. Bewarned, you may not like the answer and it may surprise you, but it comes from both scientific research and my own experience.
Do Golden Retrievers Attack Humans?
No, Golden Retrievers do not attack humans but they can be aggressive with humans when they feel threatened and cornered. Goldens are generally gentle and friendly with humans even strangers, and it’s rare for them to turn aggressive against humans.