Golden Retrievers: Do They Need a Lot of Attention?


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When walking my Golden Retriever, I often get many questions and comments from people. Of the many questions, I get on my walks, one of the most common ones is, do Golden Retrievers need a lot of attention? 

Golden Retrievers need a lot of attention to meet their high physical, mental, and social needs. The breed is energetic and playful and thrives in a family dynamic. Physically active and attentive families may find meeting these needs easy. In contrast, less active and involved owners may find this breed too much. 

I’ve often said in my articles that the perfect dog for a family or individual is not a specific breed but how well the dog matches their lifestyle. 

Golden Retrievers were bred to work closely with their owners as sporting dogs, so they do best when placed with the right family who can offer the attention and care they need. 

So, in many ways, “attention” is relative. For example, a Golden Retriever may need little attention for highly active pet owners. However, for families who are busy or not active, the Golden Retriever’s needs may seem like too much.

Instead, a bulldog or basset hound that requires less attention with exercise and play maybe be a better fit. 

Let’s explore why that is.  

Why Do Golden Retrievers Need So Much Attention?

The primary reason a Golden Retriever requires so much attention stems from the reason they were developed. Like many dog breeds, the Golden Retriever was bred to aid humans in work and sports-related activities. 

Golden Retrievers are sporting dogs originally bred to work closely with hunters, an activity that required the breed to be highly active for long periods. Additionally, they were designed to work cooperatively with humans, making them friendly, playful, and eager to interact with their human companions.

Consider for a moment what a sporting dog must do. 

A sporting dog must be taught to work with its owner to locate and retrieve downed waterfowl. Training of this nature requires a dog that is intelligent, eager to please, works well with humans, and is biddable (willing to learn). 

The retrieving activity requires patience for the dog to lie quietly until the hunter tasks the dog with locating and retrieving the downed game birds, often from lakes. Flushing game birds from brush require a high degree of endurance and athleticism, as well as a dog that can learn and patiently work with its hunting companions.

Each of these activities might require the dog to do this for hours. 

So, what do you have now? A very smart dog has high levels of energy and endurance. One that is not only very trainable but wants to learn and to please its owner, and was developed to work with its owners in close contact.

Retrieving is a game for the dog, so the dog is used to playing for considerable periods. 

And, now you put that dog into the modern world where it is not required to hunt but still has all those urges and instincts to be highly active and to play, learn and please. And this dog will still need all those physical, mental, and social instincts to be met. That dog will need a lot of attention! And that dog is the Golden Retriever. 

So, these dogs need a fair amount of attention in managing their needs to ensure they have enough to do and don’t get bored. Put another way; they need to expend all that mental and physical energy; if this does not happen, they will use their smarts to find ways to do this for themselves. 

An understimulated Golden can often result in the dog engaging in negative behaviors such as digging holes, shredding toilet paper rolls, or finding other mischievous activities to occupy its time. 

One of Bailey’s favorite activities when bored

Attention seeking is the dog’s way of saying, “hey, mom or dad, I’m bored and want something to do .” So all that attention-seeking behavior – be it bringing you toys, pawing, jumping, barking, or giving you doggie kisses – is the dog’s desire to meet its mental, social and physical needs. 

And, if the dog gets the attention it needs? Well, it spends most of its time content, sleeping much of the day, and listening and interacting calmly. Like this…

But, just how much attention does a Golden Retriever need to accomplish this state of balanced canine bliss? Let us find out. 

How Much Attention Does a Golden Retriever Need?

Golden Retrievers need a lot of attention from their owners to meet their physical, mental, and social needs. To ensure a well-balanced dog, owners should provide adequate exercise, play, and mental activities. 

It’s essential to remember how much attention a Golden Retriever needs can vary from one dog to the next and from day to the next. There can also be a difference across genders.

In my experience, female Golden Retrievers are more independent. Therefore, they will seek less attention than a male Golden which can be very friendly and require more attention. 

Age is also a factor, with puppies or younger Golden Retrievers needing more attention than older or senior Goldens. 

However, as a general rule, this breed needs a lot of attention due to their high activity needs, friendly and playful natures, and high level of smarts. 

Often highly smart dog breeds need lots of attention and can get bored or start acting up because they don’t have enough diversions or jobs to do throughout their day. Combine that with a breed that needs lots of physical activity and one that enjoys the company of humans, and well…you get the picture. 

Smart dogs require a lot of mental stimulation!

Remember, Golden Retrievers are sporting dogs, bred to be active for long hours. Physically they were designed to perform those sporting activities with strength, endurance, and stamina, consistent with their energetic and athletic personality.

Golden Retrievers have also been shown to be the 4th most intelligent dog. But, of course, they also need plenty of mental stimulation in their day. And the breed was developed to work closely with humans, a requirement of hunting activities, making it eager to please and learn. 

Consider, for a moment, what that means. A dog bred to work closely and cooperatively with humans means it will be friendly and playful and will be one that will seek human interaction (attention) from its owners to satisfy that innate social need. 

Will a Golden Retriever Be Too Much for Me?

Consider what head trainer Steffi Trott of Spirit Dog Training says; 

Dog breeds were developed over centuries to show strong genetic dispositions for certain behaviors. Inform yourself about your chosen breed’s background BEFORE your get a puppy. Is the purpose this dog was bred compatible with your lifestyle?  

So, active families that are on the go and that balance their work time with lots of time playing and moving are the perfect fit for the Golden Retriever. This family is at home on the bike paths, and running trails and weekends are usually filled with something to do, and bringing the dog along is not an issue. 

In contrast, people who are less active or spend lots of time away from home might want to reconsider adopting this breed for the health and happiness of the dog. 

Neither lifestyle is good or bad, they are just different, and each has its pros and cons. The key is to pick a dog that is the BEST for your particular lifestyle. Or, adapt your lifestyle so that both of your needs are met. 

Trust me, having a dog that constantly pesters you because its needs are not being met when all you want to do is binge-watch Netflix will soon become frustrating. 

In turn, having a dog that would be happy sleeping on its mat when you want to get out for a hike or run with your dog is equally a poor fit. 

Instead, consider whether the Golden Retriever’s need for physical exercise, play, and mental stimulation is a time and energy commitment you don’t have. 

To help in this regard, I outline in the next section what it takes for a Golden Retriever to be happy and content. 

How Do I Manage My Golden Retrievers Need for Attention?

Managing a Golden Retriever’s need for attention is not difficult; it just requires more of a time investment than other breeds. 

To manage a Golden Retriever’s need for attention, ensure that its physical, social, and mental needs are met. This can be accomplished by balancing daily physical exercise such as walks with games and play while also including short training sessions for mental stimulation and social interaction. 

So consider those three areas as a triangle, with each side making up a key component of meeting Golden attention requirements.

Exercise 

While walking is generally the easiest and main exercise for Golden Retrievers, other activities can also be suitable. For example, running with your Golden Retriever, biking, swimming (perfect for older dogs), and other forms of exercise are good choices provided it meets its daily exercise requirement of about 60 to 120 minutes per day. 

For example, running with your Golden Retriever (yes, they can even work up to running marathons) is great exercise. Check out this recent article if you are thinking about running with your Golden Retriever.  

Walking, however, has the added advantage of allowing the Golden Retriever to use its excellent sense of smell to sniff. Sniffing scents and smells in the environment is a significant source of mental stimulation and should not be underestimated.

Walking allows for sniffing, which is “brain food” for Goldens!

In fact, consider what dog expert Patricia McConnell says in the article, The Best Exercise For a Dog is Using Its Nose when discussing walking her dogs,

But mostly what they got was brain food, and I can’t think of anything more important for a domestic dog than that. There’s a lot going on between those adorable ears, and we neglect it at our peril. Using their noses engages a dog’s brain in vital ways, and can prevent a raft of behavioral problems. 

Sniff breaks are a large portion of my daily walks with Bailey, and on days where he doesn’t get enough, I know it. Want to know more about the Golden Retriever’s fantastic sense of smell and how to harness it, then check out this article.

As well, walks allow for impromptu training sessions. For example, on walks, you can ask the dog to sit before crossing the street, practice looking at me’s and leaving it, and teach the dog to walk politely on a leash. 

Mental Stimulation (Training and games)

It is well known that a dog with adequate mental stimulation behaves much better. Obedience training is one way to accomplish that; training sessions do not have to be extended. Even 5 to 10 minutes of short training sessions a few times daily is adequate. In fact, that is preferred and much better for the dog. 

Games are also a great way to mentally stimulate your dog. Games can be puzzles or snuffle mats, homemade games such as hide and seek, or you can combine training and impulse control with fun. 

I list some good puzzles and games in my Must Have Dog Gear. The link is at the bottom of this article if you’re curious.

Social Interaction (Play and affection)

Social interaction is usually the easiest, but it is no less critical. If you’re exercising your Golden Retriever and providing it with mental stimulation through training and games, then this need is already being met. 

However, don’t underestimate play sessions. In fact, I recommend they should not be skipped. Play is for fun. There is no purpose (such as training) other than just goofing around. Play can be a game of tug, fetch or chase. Consider how kids play with a dog. That is play for the sake of play. 

Because Golden Retrievers were bred to work with humans, they have a friendly and playful nature. Take fetch, for example. Not only does that game allow the dog to interact with you, but it’s fun and satisfies its innate drive to chase and retrieve objects. 

Throw in some pets and “atta girl or boy,” and you have a good bout of social interaction. But don’t be surprised if your Golden Retriever just seeks you out for some pure and straightforward pets, scratches, and bell rubs. 

For example, not a day passes where BAR doesn’t come around one of us looking for some hip scratches, kisses, or belly rubs. Fortunately for Bar, there’s no shortage of those in our household. 

If you’re at a loss for some activities to do with your Golden Retriever, don’t worry, as I have you covered. In this detailed article, I list 21 great activities you can do with your Golden Retriever, whether it is indoors, outdoors or if you are interested in classes such as rally or scent work.

Rally is only one great activity to manage a Golden Retriever’s need for attention!

Yes, Golden Retrievers Need a Lot of Attention

While most dogs need attention, some need more than others. Typically, those dog breeds that need more attention were bred to work cooperatively with humans and therefore require close contact with their owners. Yet, others possess a high requirement for physical activity. 

Still, other dog breeds have a friendly temperament and nature. In contrast, others are highly playful or mentally acute and need to be preoccupied or risk being bored. 

And one dog breed qualifies as all of the above. That dog breed? Yeah, you guessed it. The Golden Retriever!! 

Woof-woof!

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