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Making sure your Golden Retriever gets plenty of exercise is vital to its health and well-being. Physical exercise ensures your Golden Retriever has healthy muscles and bones, that its heart and lungs get stronger, and it helps maintain a healthy weight.
However, for your Golden Retriever to be well-balanced, it also needs mental stimulation and socialization. Boredom in dogs can often lead to destructive behaviors. Balancing your Golden Retrievers’ physical, mental, and social needs can be done through various activities – by themselves in some instances or with a combination of activities.
So, what are some good activities for Golden Retrievers?
Good activities for Golden Retrievers incorporate physical exercise and mental stimulation and should include training and socialization whenever possible. Physical activities help burn excess energy and maintain physical health, while mental-focused activities aid in cognitive skills and problem-solving.
Activities for Indoors or Outdoors
Fetch should be a staple activity for your Golden Retriever. Goldens were bred to retrieve waterfowl and can be very “mouthy.” Incorporating activities where they can carry items in their mouth and bring them back aligns with that instinct. The game also works on recall skills as a bonus.
Fetch is simple and cheap. You throw it an item such as a tennis ball, frisbee, or practically anything your dog can comfortably carry, and your Golden gets it and brings it back.
You use the backyard or take your Golden to a park and use a 30 ft recall leash to ensure your dog doesn’t wander off. Or, if the weather is lousy, you can play a shortened version in the house.
Tug of War
Yes, it’s OK to play tug with your pup, and no, it does not teach aggression. And no, you don’t have to make sure you “win” every time to ensure your pup doesn’t learn that it’s dominant. The tug game is widely recommended by most science-based trainers and animal behaviorists.
Begin by showing your dog a toy that they like and that is suitable for the dog. You may have to really wiggle it and shake it around if your dog has never played before. If your Golden has played before, then they’ll usually engage quite quickly. The goal is to get their interest peaked, and movement usually does it.
Every game has its rules, and this applies to a game of tug too. Your dog cannot make contact with skin or clothes, and you decide when the fun begins and ends.
Rules for us humans are that no aggressive pulling is allowed, nor is pulling aggressively up at steep angles or side to side. You don’t want to injure your Golden and be especially considerate when they’re puppies. When they’re adults, they can handle a bit more physical play.
The tug game can be combined with fetch as well. Teach your Golden to let go and ask for a sit. Then throw the toy, tell him to “go get it,” and have him bring it back for another round of tug. Mixing it up keeps it more exciting and mentally stimulating.
Follow the Leader
Follow the leader is a great training game that teaches your dog to follow you while having fun. If your Golden goes right, you go left; if your dog runs ahead of you, you slow down; if your Golden slows down or stops, you run.
The rule is that he follows you. Don’t go after him if he gets distracted and runs off or is preoccupied with smelling something. If your Golden becomes distracted, you’ll need to hoot, holler, and call him to get the dog to re-engage and follow you again.
It’s a variation on the chase game, and it provides a good foundation for recall and teaches your Golden to be mindful of where you are at all times.
Your Golden may not play for long, though, and that’s fine. It can be a quick activity to start or end a play or training session, and it works well as an add-on to other activities. I usually like playing follow the leader before a fetch game.
Puzzles and Games
Many pet stores and online retailers carry puzzle games and lick mats, so if your budget affords it, these can be fantastic options to keep your dog mentally stimulated. Puzzle feeders can be used with your kibble, while lick mats work well with peanut butter, yogurt, or dehydrated foods such as beef liver treats.
Puzzles and games are often overlooked but shouldn’t be. All dogs need mental stimulation, especially higher intelligent dogs such as the Golden. Many games engage a Goldens brain and include anything from hiding treats in toys to commercial puzzle games.
You can also get creative if you’re on a budget. Our Golden likes to play the “shell” game where I hide a treat under one of three cups and mix them up, and he gets to find the right one. Or we put a treat or two in a muffin tin, put tennis balls on each hole, and the goal is for our Golden to find the reward.
Or create a foraging box. Keep some boxes in various sizes, such as cereal boxes. Sprinkle some treats in each box and then place the smaller box inside a bigger one and those inside an even bigger one. Your Golden has to use its nose to locate the treats and must figure out how to get the goodies out.
Kong toys work well also. You can put some loose kibble in there for your Golden to locate, or you can soak the kibble, put it inside the Kong and freeze it for the next day. Your Golden will need to figure out how to get the tasty reward out.
DIY Obstacle Course
Set up an obstacle course in your house or outdoors and run your Golden through it. You can use make-shift pylons (any object will do), use Hoola hoops, small jump obstacles like cardboard boxes, stairs, brooms, rolled-up blankets, and whatever you think of.
Teach your Golden to run through the obstacle with you. Have your Golden run-around, over, and under the obstacles. You might need to use a lure to teach your Golden, but you’ll have fun running through the obstacle course, and you’ll both get some exercise.
Hide and Seek
This is a great indoor game when the weather isn’t cooperating.
Find a hiding space. Someplace where your dog cannot see you, but your Golden should still be able to hear your when you call. Once you find the right spot, say behind a curtain or door, call his name. Your Golden will find you pretty quickly (unless you are a great hider), but they love seeking you out and finding you.
Another variation is using treats. You can do this activity indoors or, if you have a yard, then outdoors. Use cheese, boiled chicken, apples, or any high-value treat your dog loves. Of course, you’ll need to be out of sight when you’re hiding these treats.
Once all the treats are hidden, say, “go find it,” and let the search begin. You may have to show them the first few treats, so they get the hang of the game, but they catch on quickly.
Cheap, fun, and no training is required. Great for kids as well. Get a bubble blower. Blow bubbles. Your Golden Retriever will chase the bubbles and jump up, snapping at bubbles to break them. Just make sure the bubbles are pet friendly (yes, they make bubbles for dogs), and off you go.
You can even play this indoors if you have a basement or an area you don’t mind getting a little wet.
Think of a fishing pole; that’s kind of what a flirt pole is (they’re sometimes called long poles). You can use a PVC pipe, an old fishing rod, or a sturdy stick (think hockey stick, eh). Attach a long rope or string, and now add a furry toy, a rag, or a dog toy, and you have a flirt pole. You can make one or buy one for usually under $20.00.
The rule is, though, you must let your Golden catch the lure or toy on occasion. It’s the reward for the activity to ensure the dog remains invested. It also prevents frustration. Not allowing a dog to catch its toy is teasing and can cause behavioral issues.
Once your Golden catches the lure, now you can transition into a game of tug. When you’re ready to resume the flirt pole chase component, you stop, ask your Golden to let go and sit, and then proceed again with “go get it or go play.”
You’re teaching your dog to listen when preoccupied, to let go, stop playing, and resume on command. All handy things for your Golden to learn. And, the teaching moment is all wrapped up nicely in a fun play activity. Bonus
General Training/Teaching Tricks
Training – even short sessions – should be done almost every day. It’s always good to review the basics, but why not teach a new trick to your Golden. Maybe it’s shaking a paw, playing dead, or barking on command.
Just remember, dog training is supposed to be fun, so keep it that way. There’s no need to be overly formal or stuffy when training. It can be fun and still accomplish the goal at the same time. The best teachers know how to do both.
Or teach your Golden an invisible boundary, so it stays out of the kitchen or stays back from the door. Not only are these complex skills a great way to invigorate the mind, but it teaches skills that benefit both them and you.
Activities That Require Classes
Formal obedience classes are a wonderful activity and one that I consider essential. It combines socialization, mental stimulation, and training. Your Golden gets to meet new dogs and people, learn basic commands, and do all this in a distracting environment.
Obedience classes ensure your Golden gets a great foundation of obedience and manners while simultaneously building and strengthening communication between your Golden and you. You each must learn to work together as a team.
Hold up. Are you looking for a good online training program for your Golden Retriever? I recently wrote an article comparing some of the most popular online dog training systems. To find out more about the features, pros, cons, and cost of each program, check out this article: Online Dog Training Courses: These Are The Ones To Buy.
Canine “Sports” like agility and rally are just some of the specialty classes your dog might have an aptitude for and interest in. Canine sports classes are especially suited for dogs with high energy or dogs with very ingrained instinctual drives like herding dogs.
Golden’s can be very high energy and are very intelligent. If you have a very dynamic and cognitively curious Golden puppy, some “sport” training could be a great outlet.
And, although he’ll be doing most of the work, don’t worry. You’ll get a good workout and some mental stimulation as well.
Scent work training is excellent for dogs. Much of a dog’s world is experienced through their noses, so teaching them to do scent work is perfect mental stimulation. Scent work is also great for fearful and reactive dogs as it teaches them to focus and be confident.
Nose work starts by teaching your dog how to seek out treats and toys, kind of like puzzle games and hide and seek. Then it expands and increases in difficulty to entire rooms, outdoor areas, and vehicles.
Scent detection is actually a competitive canine activity. If you and your dog have an interest, then competitive events are an option. Like obedience training or canine sports, you’ll need to enroll in classes, and a Certified Nose Work Instructor should lead all levels of instruction.
If you’re lucky enough to have classes in your area, this may be a fantastic activity for you and your Golden.
Doggie daycare is great for puppies and older dogs alike. Just like children need to play with other kids their age to get exercise, mental stimulation, and to learn how to socialize – your Golden is no different.
While not exactly a “formal” class like obedience or scent detection, it does require you to drop off your Golden in a formal facility. It’s more like a supervised, free-form play class without the learning and instruction.
While this activity won’t really include you, it does have the advantage of giving you a break during the week from your Golden. So, you get a day to relax or run errands. It also helps teach your Golden Retriever to be away from you, which can reduce separation anxiety.
If you work and have your Golden in there every day, then you know your pup is getting exercised along with plenty of social and mental stimulation. And, they’ll be exhausted after a day of playing with their friends at the daycare.
Strictly Outdoor Activities
For this one, you need a body of water.
Golden Retrievers are bred to retrieve waterfowl from lakes, and their coats are designed for the water. Golden Retrievers are very well adapted to tolerate cold because of their double coats, and they dry off quickly. The result? Goldens are ideally suited to the water and love to swim.
Body of water includes lakes or ponds, pools, and even slow-moving rivers or streams.
If you don’t have access to a pool, lake, or other water body, get a kiddy pool. Golden’s love water and most will delight in playing in the pool, even a small one, although technically, that won’t be swimming.
If swimming is done in a pool, be mindful of pool chemicals and chlorine. Give your Golden a good rinse after a pool swim.
Did you know that overbathing can be bad for a Golden Retriever? If you’re interested in reading about how often you should bathe your Golden Retriever (and tips on how to do it) then check out this article: Golden Retriever Baths: How Often and How Best To Do It
Also, always remove your Golden’s collar. You don’t want anything getting snagged on your dog and having him pulled under.
Of course, with this one, you need both a lake and a dock. But, it’s relatively easy to teach. Once your Golden is comfortable with the water, just run and jump off the dock. Chances are your Golden will follow. Just make sure he doesn’t trip you during your run or while jumping off the dock.
Once your Golden gets the concept, you can start throwing balls or a frisbee off for him to chase and catch, and sometimes this is the best way to teach it if he won’t jump in after you.
Dock diving incorporates swimming plus diving plus fetch all rolled in one. Your Golden gets to spend time with you, and it’s a physical and mental challenge. You can’t do better than that.
Paddleboard, Kayaking, or Canoeing
While Goldens can’t paddle a paddleboard, canoe, or kayak, you can train them to come along for the ride. They enjoy just cruising out to areas that they usually don’t get to access.
Make sure you put a life jacket on them, though. They’re great swimmers, but if you’re far from shore and you hit the water, you need to make sure both of you are in a position to make it back.
While kayaking or canoeing won’t physically tax your Golden, it is a great mental workout for him, and if paddleboarding, it does work on his balance (and yours).
Paddleboarding requires some more involved training, so best to start Golden’s when they’re young, with short small sessions, and be PATIENT. Kayaking and especially canoeing are easier for your Golden, but paddleboarding will take training for the both of you.
These activities can involve swimming too if you decide to take a dip with your Golden (sometimes that may be unavoidable). However, the real benefit is mental stimulation (new sights, sounds, and smells) and the time you spend together.
Hiking is an excellent activity for people and dogs alike. It usually incorporates inclines (depending on the terrain) and offers a host of other sights and sounds for your dog.
Not all trails allow dogs, so check in advance to be sure. And if the trails do allow dogs, then most will require that you keep them leashed. Keeping your Golden on a leash is a good idea anyway since if you lose your dog in a thick brush or a forest, you may never get them back.
Also, you want to be mindful of any encounters with small animals like squirrels or porcupines or bigger critters like bears. Just keep them leashed to be safe.
When hiking a new trail, it’s always a good idea to get familiar with the difficulty and what terrain is involved. Rocky and ungroomed, jagged trails can cause issues with their paws, so be alert to the type of landscape on the hiking path.
Make sure to bring water and snacks for you and your dog. Also, throw a small backpack on and take some essentials just in case. Bring a first aid kit along at a minimum.
It’s a good idea to bathe or brush your Golden when you get home and be on the lookout for ticks. Remove any you find and be thorough.
Snowshoeing/Cross Country Skiing
Live in a cold environment, and there’s snow on the ground. Great. There’s no excuse not to exercise your pup. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are not unlike walking or hiking in that it gets your Golden Retriever outdoors and trotting beside you.
Usually, groomed trails or shallow snow is best, or your Golden may have difficulty navigating itself through the snow. Also, be mindful of temperature and your Golden’s nose and especially paws getting too cold.
It’s best to tether your Golden to you so your hands are free. With your Golden tethered, you don’t have to worry about your dog running away should you fall.
Biking can be an excellent exercise for you and your dog if you have a well-behaved and well-trained Golden. You want your dog to trot beside the bike, which means you need to keep the speed reasonable.
It would be best if you had excellent control of your dog, so training your Golden gradually with the bike beforehand is a good idea. You should also wear a helmet. Be very mindful of temperature in the summer; your Golden can overheat quickly. Bring water and snacks for your dog.
Also, watch your Golden’s tempo. If your Golden falls behind, then it may be tiring. Turn around and walk your Golden back home. Yes, you can over-exercise a Golden Retriever.
During walks, your dog is exposed to the world outside his home. He gets to experience various sights, sounds, smells, and environments, which mentally engage him.
You may find your dog wants to stop frequently and check things out. That’s perfectly fine. A solution is to mix up your walking sessions. One that focuses on fast walking for exercise and another where your Golden gets time to smell and investigate his environment. One is more physical, the other more mental. Both are social.
You can also throw in some impromptu training sessions, such as asking for a sit and stay, a down, and let’s-go.
Running is a great cardio workout for both humans and dogs. However, refrain from running with your Golden before 14 to 18 months of age due to developing joints, muscles, and bones and the impact of running on those. And be sure to get a thumbs up from your vet first.
In addition to being a great workout, it is excellent for teaching good leash work (they won’t have time to stop and smell things), heeling, and developing focus. Every so often, stop and ask your Golden to sit or change directions and vary the terrain. Keep it fun and your dog guessing.
If running in the summer, be cautious of not overheating your Golden, so stick to cooler mornings or evenings and bring water for the both of you.
If you’re a runner, I wrote a detailed article on running with your Golden Retriever. The article details the age they can start, how much they can run, how fast and how far, and much more. Check it out here: Need a Running Partner? How About Your Golden Retriever?