If you’ve decided that you would like to have a golden retriever, you owe it to yourself to consider if your lifestyle, personality, and aesethic sense really match the main characteristics of this breed. Too many dogs are purchased without considering their innate drives and inherited tendencies toward behavior, and as as result, too many dogs are given up to shelters and rescue organization. We owe to the dogs to consider these things very carefully before we bring one into our homes.
I think now I will lay out some possible negative characteristics of the golden retriever.
- This is a water dog. Water dogs are different from most other breeds in that they not only have webbed feet, they also have some other adaptations that make them comfortable and maneuverable in the aquatic environment. Among these characteristics is the double coat. The typical golden has a very thick under coat, which is quite oily. These oils repel water, and the dense undercoat prevents the water from getting the skin wet while the dog is swimming. Because of this adaptation, a golden retriever can swim in much colder water than a human can for a lot longer time. However, this oily coat does have an odor to it. These dogs have a very strong “doggy” smell. Even regular bathing and brushing cannot eliminate it. Also, that thick undercoat sheds out twice a year. Most goldens shed a bit all the time, but during the spring and fall, the dogs will drop lots of undercoat. Bitches tend shed right after their heat cycles. If you can handle the odor and the shedding, maybe you can stand living with a golden retriever
- However, shedding isn’t the only way goldens can make a house messy. Many goldens don’t like swimming. However, I have yet to meet one that didn’t think mud puddles were the perfect place to lie down. Younger dogs in particular like playing in mud puddles. If you live somewhere that receives regular rainfall, you are going to have to worry about the dogs getting muddy.
- I have also not yet met a golden that didn’t enjoy rolling in stinky substances. The ethological term for this behavior is called “self-annointing.” There are several theories about why dogs do this behavior. One suggests that dogs do it because wolves used to roll in stinky substances as a way of camouflaging their own scent. However, I’ve always felt that this had stronger basis in the social behavior and “aesthetic senses” of domestic dogs. I think dogs view scents in much the same way we view beautiful landscapes. To a dog, a rotting carcass can be as moving as viewing the Grand Canyon is to us. When we go to the Grand Canyon, we take photographs to show our family and friends. When dogs come across an “aesthetically pleasing” scent, they self-annoint, so they can share this odor with their packmates. For some reason, goldens like doing this more than any other breed I’ve been around. They really like to self-annoint.
- Of course, if your dog is going to live in the city, it is very unlikley that the dog will have a chance to get very muddy or ever have the opportunity to roll in something disgusting. However, that whole premise starts another problem. Not all goldens are good urban dogs. In general, the European show-type goldens are a better candidates for city life than any working-bred dog. However, even the show-type dogs require a bit more excercise than the normal dog, and it is not wise to even consider keeping the working-bred dogs in an urban environment, unless you can walk them six hours a day. For those of you who have seen Marley & Me or read the book, the real problem the Grogans had was they were keeping a working- bred Labrador retriever in an urban environment. These dogs need more stimulation for their minds and bodies than the typical dog, and if you leave one locked up in a house all day, your furniture probably won’t be in one piece when you get back.
- Golden retrievers can have what can best be called an “oral fixation.” These dogs have been selectively bred to put things in their mouths. As puppies, many working bred dogs will start to engage in the full retrieving behavior at a very early age. Not all goldens will develop the instinctive retrieving behavior, but if you buy a working bred dog, the chances are very high that the dog will start retrieving with very little encouragement. However, even those dogs that don’t retrieve will develop some rudiments of the behavior. Lots of goldens will bring objects as a greeting behavior. Now, all of this sounds good, but no dog is born knowing what it can retrieve or carry in its mouths. It is very common for young retrievers to steal laundry, which almost always involves the dog running off with underwear. And then eating it.
- These dogs are generally very social. Most goldens have never met a stranger. They really like people and other dogs. These dogs are not typically loyal, as you might describe the word. If these dogs can escape and wander the neighborhood looking for friends, they will. Not all goldens will do this, but virtually all male goldens will wander, castrated or not. If you live an area where free roaming dogs are not allowed or where free roaming might be a death sentence for the dog, you probably want to have something to keep the dog on your property.
- This is not the healthiest breed. At one time, this breed was known for being the longest lived of the retrievers. Bruce Fogle’s Encyclopedia of the Dog (the original edition) listed this breed’s life expectancy at 13 to 15 years. (He may have been inflated the breed’s life expectancy a bit. He is, after all, totally smitted with golden retrievers.) However, depending upon the line and the survey you are using, the life expectancy is now somewhere between 10 and 13 years. Now, that’s better than the bulldog, the St. Bernard, the Irish wolfhound and the Dogue de Bordeaux. This breed has real problems with cancer. Hemangiosarcoma and lymphosarcoma are estimated to account for about half of all deaths in the breed. Hip and elbow dysplasia, juvenile cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, eyelid and eyelash abnormalities, pigmentary uveitis, immune and autoimmune diseases, von Willebrand’s disease, hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Subarterial Aortic Stenosis, Mitral Valve disease, swallowing disorders, and allergies to all sorts of things are known disorders in the breed that are at least thought to have a genetic basis. ( Of course, many of them have been fully proven to have a genetic disorders.) I am sure I am leaving out some disorders. The list grows every year. The genetic diversity of the golden retriever is not very good, and this problem has been exacerbated through the overuse of a few sires in the gene pool and the balkanization of the gene pool around performance and show lines.
- These disorders have happened because of poor breeding practices, but another problem has popped up in recent years that also can be blamed on the poor selection of breeding stock. This breed has a reputation for being gentle and friendly. These dogs are very tolerant of other dogs, and I have known one to let the other dog chew on the other end of a bone she that she was also chewing. However, many of these dogs have lots this tolerance. Possessiveness has become a well-known behavioral problem in golden retrievers. Many dogs won’t let people near their bones, or they commandeer certain areas of the house (such as their beds or furniture). Now, such behavior is a total rejection of the proper behavior of a working retriever, which readily give objects in their mouths to their human handlers. This behavior seems to have some basis in inheritance. Some lines produce rather possessive dogs, while others do not. Dog aggression is another behavioral problem that seems to be on the increase in this breed. This problem is also a deviation from the traits needed in a working retriever, for working retrievers often work in close proximity to strange dogs.
Now, if you’ve considered all of these issues very carefully and you think you are up to it, you need to work on finding a dog that meets your needs. With this breed, there is quite a bit of variance between show and working lines. Show dogs have a lot more coat to care for than working-line dogs do. However, working line dogs require a lot more mental and physical stimulation.
In addition to the commonly characterized lines, there are many, many goldens that are considered “pet-line dogs.” These animals are often a mixture of the various types, and because of this, it can be hard to determine what you’re going to get. In one litter you could have a mellow, cream-colored European show-type pup that has a litter mate that is a red retrieving fool. The vast majority of goldens are actually this type, and because of this, one needs to be a little careful in choosing a dog from a “non-specialized” litter. You could wind up with a barmy retriever that can’t stand being shut up all day.
With popular breeds, choosing a dog is often far more complicated than choosing a rare breed. With rare breeds, you are almost guaranteed that the breeder will be somewhat knowledgeable about the animals. Finding someone who actually knows something about the breed is often harder than you would think. Of course, you may have to wait longer to get one, and if you want a working animal, the rare breeds are often inferior to the more popular ones.
However, if you are willing to give a golden retriever what it needs and put up with its negative characteristics, the golden retriever might be for you. Choosing a dog requires careful consideration. If everyone would take some time to research dog breeds, conflicts between dogs and people would be greatly reduced.
And that’s why it’s a good idea to think this through.