Golden Retriever Pros and Cons: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Often, when people consider adding a dog to their lives (like the Golden Retriever), they focus only on the pros. For example, we may get focused on a specific breed because of how they look or because we’ve seen one in the park or on television that is calm and well-behaved.

We can get so excited about the prospect of adding a new furball to our family that we forget that while each breed has many impressive traits or pros, but they all come with some cons, as well.

Talk to any dog owner, and most will likely tell you that their dog, regardless of breed, comes with its shares of the good, the bad, and even some ugly. And yes, that also applies to the Golden Retriever too. 

So, what exactly is good about Golden Retrievers and what is bad about them? What are their pros, and what are their cons?

Golden Retrievers, like any dog breed, come with their share of pros and cons, including:

ProsCons
They’re beautifulHealth issues 
Good-natured Not good guard dogs
Affectionate and friendlyCan be stubborn 
Intelligent and obedientCan forget their size
Eager to pleaseProne to weight gain
Easy to train Easily bored 
Active and sporty May have body odor
Good with kids and petsShedding
Not incessant barkersDrooling
Highly adaptableLike to steal
Soft mouthsWet chewers
Remain young at heart

Keep in mind that similar to us humans, our dogs are not perfect. But, that is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, it’s the imperfections that make each of us unique.

Of course, those same perfections in our dogs can be lovable “quirks,” or maybe they are annoying, but in all cases, the pros vastly outweigh the cons. 

So, let’s see how the Golden Retriever stacks up. First, we’ll discuss all the good things about them. We’ll then look at some of the bad and a few of the ugly. 

The Good

Trust me; the Golden Retriever is a fantastic dog. If they were not, they would not have ranked as the third most popular dog in North America for over a decade. And, I suspect in the coming years that ranking will increase. Maybe not enough to unseat their cousin, the Labrador Retriever, but the German Shepherd better watch out. 

The Golden Retriever’s good qualities far outweigh any bad and ugly. So what’s good about them exactly? Let’s find out. 

They’re Beautiful 

Golden Retrievers are gorgeous dogs. This majestic dog of Scottish heritage sports a long, lustrous golden mane, along with a strong, athletic body and straight muzzle. The Golden’s eyes are friendly and very expressive of this breed’s high intelligence and joy.

A medium to large dog, Golden Retrievers possess a powerful, athletic gait and move with a graceful trot or prance when carrying a “prize” in their soft mouths. 

You’ll find Goldens running the color spectrum from light to dark gold, mahogany, or even a creamy, whitish color. 

Good Natured 

Golden Retrievers are the epitome of joy. This easy-going breed has a vitality and zest for life that we could learn from and incorporate more into our lives. Their sweet love of life is evident in everything they do.

The Golden Retriever can find joy in the smallest of pleasures, whether it’s playing fetch, chewing on a bone, enjoying food, or just rolling around on the floor. 

Bailey just loving life. Rolling around and being goofy.

Always present in the moment, rest assured the Golden Retriever is enjoying life to the utmost.

Leery of conflict, the Golden is happiest when it is giving and receiving love. Not a dog to hold grudges or dwell on the past, the Golden Retriever truly exemplifies compassion and living life to the fullest. 

The world would indeed be a better place if we all were more like the Golden Retriever. 

Affectionate and Friendly 

The hallmark of the Golden Retriever is their friendly and kind temperament. A gentle dog with a soft mouth, the Golden is typically not a one-person dog. Instead, the Golden Retriever wants to share its unconditional love with as many people and animals as it can. Hostility or aggression is not characteristic of the Golden Retriever. 

The Golden Retriever is best described as friendly, affectionate, trustworthy, tolerant, and kind. These kindly traits are highly valued in therapy and assistance dogs and make Golden Retrievers especially well-suited to families.

Intelligent and Obedient

Golden Retrievers are very smart dogs. How smart? Canine researcher Stanely Cohen ranks dog breeds into intelligence tiers depending on their ability to learn commands and obedience. Golden Retrievers fall within the top tier of all dog breeds and rank fourth, behind the Border Collie, Poodle, and German Shepherd. 

If you are curious how the Golden Retriever and German Shepherd stack up against each other, you might want to check out this article: 

Golden Retriever or German Shepherd: Which is the Better Dog?

These top-of-the-class canine students can learn commands within an average of five repetitions and are obedient 95% of the time. It’s little wonder that Golden Retrievers, with their good nature and high intelligence, are so often used for service, guide, and therapy dogs. 

The majestic Golden also does well with rally, scent, obedience, and other activities that the smartest dogs excel in.

Eager to Please

Golden Retrievers are among the breeds that are most eager to please their owners. Not all dog breeds possess this trait. Some are highly independent or ever stubborn and are content doing their own thing. The Golden Retriever’s love for people and hearts of gold (haha) instill within them a genuine desire to please their people. 

Golden’s bond closely with their owners, and they are often happiest when making us happy.

Easy to Train 

Eager to please their owners, plus the ability to learn quickly and with a high level of obedience, is the definition of easy to train, and that is the Golden Retriever.

Golden Retrievers do best with positive, reward-based training. However, the breed is also very food motivated, making training more straightforward, as food is a high-value reward to the Golden Retriever. 

The loving and sensitive nature of the Golden Retriever does best in a training environment that is rewarding and positive. Punishment, aversives, and yelling are not aligned with the Golden’s good nature and should not be used.  

Active and Sporty 

People often see a calm, well-behaved adult Golden Retriever and mistakenly assume that the dog was born with this chill nature. You would be wrong. That calm, well-behaved demeanor is a byproduct of their high intelligence and high trainability. It’s why you see the dog often used on television or the movies. 

But, Golden Retrievers, especially as puppies, are highly active and energetic dogs. Their dynamic energy and high intelligence mean they need regular exercise and mental stimulation.

A physically and mentally under-stimulated Golden will become bored quickly and direct that energy into undesirable behaviors. 

Be prepared that Golden Retrievers have a very long and active puppyhood. Therefore, training will need to start early and be ongoing to ensure a well-behaved, calm dog into adulthood (like the ones you see on TV). 

Some great physical and mental activities for Golden Retrievers are listed in this article if you’re interested:

Boredom Busters: 21 Great Activities for Your Golden Retriever

Now, of course, if you are not active and do not have enough time to meet the Golden Retriever’s social, physical, and mental needs, then I might suggest another breed. Or find alternatives such as dog sitters, daycares, or dog walkers to help out. 

Good With Kids and Pets

The Golden Retriever is valued for its ability to get along with children, other pets, including cats and livestock. It’s another hallmark of the breed and a big reason why they are often sought after by families as companions for the household. 

Cocoa, the cat, is checking out Bailey’s dinner while he’s eating. A lot of dog breeds would not tolerate this.

Not Incessest Barkers

Another great trait of the Golden Retriever is they typically bark for a reason. Meaning that they usually bark because there is something to bark at. For example, a Golden may hear kids playing outside, a noise, other dogs barking or expressing joy during play.

Rarely do Golden Retrievers just bark for the heck of it, and when they do bark, it’s not the annoying type of barking that is ongoing and continuous that is common in some other breeds. 

Because the Golden Retriever is so intelligent and easy to train, an owner can control barking with consistent training. The key is to start early, and it’s not difficult to teach your Golden Retriever to bark on command or stop when told. 

Highly Adaptable 

Very few dog breeds are as highly adaptable as the Golden Retriever, which should not be surprising.

The dog loves life, has a gentle and kind nature, is affectionate, top-tier intelligent and obedient, easy to train, and highly active. In addition, the breed gets along well with everyone – other dogs, cats, children, women, and men. 

On the medium to larger side, the Golden Retriever is not a giant-sized breed but rather the Golden ranges from about 55-70 pounds, with females falling on the smaller side of the scale.

You could say that Golden Retrievers fall within the “Goldilocks zone” – not too big, not too small, but just right.

Their size makes them great for the home and well-suited for indoor and outdoor activities. In addition, their size makes them adaptable to farms, acreages, homes with backyards, and even apartments and condos.

Their easy-going, playful nature means they do well with families and active households. Do you or your family like to run, swim, hike, or bike and want a companion on these activities? Then, the Golden is a perfect choice.

But that doesn’t mean the dog doesn’t like to cuddle. On the contrary, Golden’s loving nature means there’s plenty of cuddles to go around. Once the Golden is exercised and mentally stimulated, you’ll find it curled up on your feet or snuggled on the couch beside you in the evening. 

Yup, the Golden Retriever pretty much checks all the boxes. 

Soft Mouths 

All puppies play bite. Bite inhibition is an essential part of training in puppyhood. Maybe the most important part of training. It’s needed to ensure the dog does not bite hard when older during excitement, anger, or play.

Some dog breeds have a “soft” mouth, and this trait is instinctual and highly desired in some of the sporting breeds of dogs. For example, Golden Retrievers have very soft mouths. The term “soft mouth” is used by breeders and sportspeople (hunters) to refer to a behavioral tendency to pick up, hold, and carry quarry gently in their mouths without doing any damage.

The Golden Retriever’s soft mouth is well-suited to a family with children, cats, and other pets. This instinctual trait translates into more gentle play with kids and other pets once bite inhibition is taught. However, different breeds that are more “hard” mouthed need additional training and supervision to ensure they adequately monitor their bites’ strength, especially during play or anger. 

Puppy biting should be addressed early on for all dog breeds, and that includes the Golden Retriever. To learn why addressing puppy biting is so important and how to do it, take a few minutes to check out this article: Golden Retriever Puppy Biting: When it Stops, What To Do.

Remain Young at Heart

Most dogs are considered puppies until about 18 months to 2 years old. However, the Golden Retriever is known to take their puppyhood well past two years and some well into adulthood. It’s a hallmark of the breed, and that means you should expect a fully grown adult Golden Retriever that is still a puppy at heart.

Some people might put this on the “bad” list, but I don’t see this as a negative. How can it be?

Ever meet one of those charismatic older people with a joy and zest for life that is more reminiscent of someone much younger. We describe these people as “young at heart,” and it’s a trait that we admire. They seem to have a childlike joy for life even in later years and live in the moment. That is the same with the Golden Retriever. 

It’s hard not to love this trait. Golden Retrievers maintain a joy for life and desire to play throughout most of their lives. Goofy and joyous, this dog breed can bring a smile to your face even when they are older. 

The Bad

There are some issues with Golden Retriever that some may classify as undesirable. Some can range from mere annoyances to downright negative. Which of these, if any, is ultimately determined by your lifestyle, personality, and preference.

For example, those who like an immaculate home may have issues with the Golden’s shedding and messiness, while others could care less. 

Being aware of these “bad” issues ensures you make an informed decision and know what you are getting into if you choose a Golden Retriever as a companion. Or better yet, accept that these traits are just the cost of having an amazing companion in the home.

After all, we adapt to our spouse’s and children’s bad habits, and they, in turn, adapt to ours. It’s just a part of life.

Health Issues

If one issue stands out about the Golden Retriever as truly bad, health issues are the biggest. Unfortunately, Golden Retrievers can be prone to some serious and costly health issues. In researching on the internet, you will find that the Golden Retriever consistently ranks in the top tier of dogs with health issues ranging from mild to severe.

In addition, cancer is the leading cause of death in older Golden Retrievers at over 60%. 

Not only is there a financial cost for serious health issues, but there is a high cost to a person’s heart and soul. There are very few things in life that are as heartbreaking as watching a loved one suffer and make no mistake…our Golden Retrievers quickly become our children and valued members of the family. 

If you’re interested in the most severe and costly health issues found in Golden Retrievers, then check out this article:

The Most Serious and Costly Health Issues in Golden Retrievers

Not Good Guard Dogs

Is not being protective a “bad” quality? It could be if you want a companion that fits the role of a protection dog for your family and home. If that is the case, I might suggest choosing a dog better suited to that role, like the German Shepherd.

However, Golden Retrievers as a whole do not make good guard or protection dogsIt is more likely a Golden Retriever will greet or run from an intruder than attack.

The Golden Retriever is known for its friendly and kind nature, and most do not possess the courageous and natural guardian instincts of other breeds. That doesn’t mean that it won’t protect you in some instances; it just means it’s not as likely as a Doberman or German Shepherd, for example. It’s just not the Golden Retriever’s nature. 

Those who choose a Golden Retriever are not looking for a protection dog. Instead, these folks are looking for the quintessential family dog – a dog that is social, friendly, gentle, tolerant, and good with children. And that’s what you get with a Golden Retriever.

Can Be Stubborn

Oh yeah, Golden Retrievers can be stubborn. The stubbornness, fortunately, seems to be most concentrated mostly during the ages of 6 – 18 months or their rebellious teens. Like a human teenager, the Golden Retriever may become stubborn during this time and not listen to you. Your Golden will test boundaries (and your patience) during this stage as well. 

During its rebellious teens, the Golden Retriever is becoming more independent and developing its own unique personality, including testing the limits of what it can and can’t get away with. Hormones play a big part during this time, and you may find increased humping from males and less tolerance with some dogs.

Behaviors can run the spectrum from laziness to being downright rowdy. All of this is normal. 

Patience and continued training are essential. After 18 months, your Golden will be on the cusp of adulthood and will become calmer and much more manageable.

However, expect the odd stubborn or defiant interaction from time to time, even in early adulthood. Still, overall your Golden will listen much better around two years of age. 

Bailey is in his stubborn phase at just over six months old. He knows his “off” command, but today he was having none of it. He was just too comfortable. 

Can Forget Their Size

Golden Retrievers love people, and few dogs greet their families as enthusiastically as the friendly Golden. They’re just so darn happy to see you and get so excited that they sometimes forget that they’re medium-large dogs of 55-75 pounds of fast-moving, high-energy fur. Golden Retrievers can even share their joyous greetings with perfect strangers, much to the dismay of many people.

Unfortunately, small children, pets, and older people might not be well equipped to handle this exuberance.

Often small children or smaller pets can get steamrolled in the Golden’s desire to greet someone. In turn, some adults – especially the elderly – may take exception to being jumped on by a larger dog.

Training is the key, and so is requesting the help of all visitors. While it’s very flattering having a dog greeting us with such excitement and enthusiasm, we must teach family and friends not to encourage this behavior.

No matter how happy and excited it is to see us, an unruly Golden Retriever should only be rewarded with attention when it’s calm and under control. Fortunately, Golden Retrievers are so easy to train and obedient that this behavior can easily be managed.

Prone To Weight Gain

Golden Retrievers can be food-obsessed, making them prone to weight gain or obesity. However, most Golden Retrievers are always hungry and will inhale any food you put in front of them. So chances are you’ll find your Golden Retriever lurking closely by anytime there is food around.

Now, this food drive can also be very much a positive. Specifically, food is a high-value reward that can be a source of motivation and make training even more straightforward. 

However, because they’re so food-driven, it’s easy to overfeed a Golden Retriever, and before you know it, they’re fighting a weight issue. As such, this food obsession lands itself on the “bad” list. But, just barely. 

Easily Bored 

Being easily bored is a byproduct of the Golden Retriever’s high intelligence and high energy. Physical and mental stimulation is a must to expend that abundance of overactive energy. Therefore, activities that incorporate both mental and physical stimulation are most effective.

Golden Retrievers are not lazy dogs. Exercise depends on the individual dog, but an adult Golden Retriever might need one to two hours daily.

Inadequate mental and physical stimulation leads to boredom, which, in turn, leads to mischievous and unwanted behaviors.

A bored Golden will put its smarts to work finding ways to entertain itself, and that can include getting into things it shouldn’t and stealing anything available to it (dish towels, socks, toques (beanies), mitts, slippers, toilet paper…and the list goes on). Or they might dig in the backyard.

Boredom in a Golden Retriever = mischief.

Activities like rally, dock diving, scent work, obedience, and other canine sports are great outlets to expend excess energy for Golden Retrievers. 

Bailey is a high-energy, level 3 dog. He will dig on days when he doesn’t get enough physical and mental stimulation. 

The Ugly 

The ugly refers to some unpleasant traits found in Golden Retrievers. Each dog breed has its share. For example, bulldogs are known for drooling and flatulence. Newfoundlanders drool and try to swim in their water dishes, plus they are huge shedders. These traits are just the cost of having a dog.

Remember, no human is perfect, and we have more than our share of “ugly” features. Our dogs have less. 

May Have Body Odor

Some Golden Retrievers have a strange body odor. I have not personally encountered this, but some people have. What is the cause? Often it appears due to a skin allergy or skin problems. Golden Retrievers can be prone to skin issues and allergies, yeast infections, and bacteria.

The better the condition of the skin, the less likely there will be an odor. No different than us. If we fail to shower or have some skin condition, often an aroma accompanies it. Golden Retrievers can also be prone to ear infections. While not overly serious, it can be a cause for an odor as well.

Maintaining a good grooming regimen and being proactive with any issues can go a long way to preventing or mitigating any odor issues.

Shedding

From a day-to-day standpoint, this is probably the most prominent complaint people have of the Golden Retriever. Shedding is regular throughout most of the year and requires weekly brushing of once to three times.

However, Golden’s have a double coat and will undergo large shedding events (blow their coats) twice per year. Therefore, during the semi-annual “big” sheds, the Golden will require daily brushing. 

Brushing is undoubtedly the biggest maintenance item for Golden Retrievers.

Shedding lands on the “ugly” list because of the likelihood of hair in the house, furniture, and clothes. For those who value a neat place, this is an ugly trait.  

Whether the Golden’s level of shedding is an issue or not depends on how hair phobic you are and if you can live with hair in the house, on the furniture, and your clothes. And, yes, hair sometimes becomes a condiment as well.

Drooling

Not all Golden Retrievers drool. But some do. Ours does.

Drooling can run the spectrum from spit running down the dog’s mouth for apparently no reason to watering the floor after drinking water from its water dish.

Expect puddles of water strewn throughout the house if you have a drooling Golden Retriever, especially around the water bowl.  Drooling is also linked to food, and because the Golden Retriever is so food-driven, expect a lot of drooling anytime there is food in the vicinity.

Like to Steal Stuff

Golden Retrievers are like to steal.

The Golden Retriever’s tendency to steal stuff directly aligns with the breed’s mouthiness and instinct to carry things. Remember, the breed was bred to retrieve and carry game birds gently. That trait will manifest itself in the Golden carry stuff throughout the house, depositing it on the floor somewhere or bringing it to you.

What a Golden Retriever steals and carries often depends on availability, so that could be almost anything. Golden Retrievers were bred to carry waterfowl, so if they can’t carry birds, then it’s going to be other “stuff.”

Our Golden Bailey usually brings us “things” when greeting us. His favorites are blankets, towels, jackets, beanies (or toques to Canadians), and mitts. But he’ll grab pretty much anything in the vicinity. He doesn’t shred it; he carries it around. Once deposited, he can have quite a collection and quickly mess up the house. He may then pick an item to chew on.

Like shedding, those who like an ordered and neat house or forget to hide valuable shoes and slippers may find this trait an ugly one. I find it endearing.

Hold up. If you’re interested in why Golden Retrievers like to steal stuff like socks, then check out this article I wrote on that very topic: Canine Kleptomania: Why Golden Retrievers Steal Things.

Bailey’s collected a comforter, bottle, hat, rope, bag, and some underwear on this day. Anything and everything is a potential toy to Bailey.

Wet Chewers

Golden Retrievers, because of their “mouthiness,” like to chew. All dogs do to varying degrees. After all, dogs do not have hands, so they explore much of their world through their mouths, some more so than others. Goldens fall into the “more” group. 

As discussed, Golden Retrievers were bred to pick up, carry and return downed waterfowl and game for sportspeople. Their mouthiness is instinctual. So, they often like to chew or mouth things. They’re also intelligent and energetic and become bored quickly. So, those traits can result in a Golden Retriever chewing on whatever is available to them. 

Often, they will mouth something (not chew or rip it apart) and cover it with their dog spit. It’s not uncommon to have to retrieve an item that your Golden Retriever has stolen, only to find it coated in doggie saliva. 

Final Thoughts

Like most things in life, much of what we interpret as good or bad is subjective.

For example, someone who values an ultra- neat house may find shedding and the Golden Retriever’s messy tendencies a bit challenging, while others might not care at all.

Likewise, those who are unprepared for the Golden Retriever’s high energy and activity levels may find that unburned energy frustrating, especially when the Golden Retriever directs it into mischievous behaviors.

In contrast, an active household might instead revel in a companion who can keep up with their energy level.

Managing expectations is essential, and that starts with knowing what to expect from the outset. And that includes all traits – the good, the bad, and the ugly. It’s also important to keep in mind two things.

The first is that most of us get a dog for the love and joy they bring into our lives. Everything else is secondary to that. And in terms of love and joy, rest assure the Golden Retriever will bring that in abundance.

Everything else – or the so-called cons – is inconsequential compared to all the fantastic gifts the Golden bestows upon us during its lifetime. 

And the second is that there is no such thing as a “better” dog; there is only a better fit. So pick the dog that best fits your household and lifestyle. For us, that is the Golden Retriever, and he is most definitely OUR perfect fit – cons and all. 

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