Golden Retrievers: High or Low Maintenance? (Here’s the Verdict)


Welcoming a dog to the family is a gratifying experience. But it’s also a lot of work and a big responsibility. And, maintenance levels for your new furry companion are an important criterion.

Maintenance is the “what you have to do every day for the rest of the dog’s life” stuff. The feeding, grooming, walking, vet appointments, and such. It’s the everyday life stuff, and because it’s so essential, it requires serious thought. 

So, is a Golden Retriever a high-maintenance dog? 

Golden Retrievers are average to moderate maintenance dogs. Shedding, health issues, and higher activity levels need more attention. However, the breed’s high trainability and obedience, minimal barking, and friendliness towards children and other pets make them more manageable than many other dogs.

All dogs, regardless of breed, come with a balance of some good traits and other less desirable ones. New dog owners will often consider a dog’s maintenance requirements (or should) when trying to match a prospective dog to their family. Conversely, other dog owners set their minds on a breed without considering what that might involve. 

Maintenance requirements for any dog should be considered as a whole. Each potential dog owner should take some time to determine how a dog will complement their life and which traits, if any, could be a deal-breaker. 

If you’re a potential first-time dog owner, then an article you might find interesting as a complement to this one is:

Golden Retrievers: A Good Dog For First-Time Owners?

So, What Determines High or Low Maintenance

That’s a good question. Keep in mind that maintenance is context-specific. Is a Golden Retriever higher maintenance compared to a cat? In most cases, yes. Is a Golden Retriever higher care than some exotic animals like a ferret or parrot? No. 

Maintenance encompasses much more than just brushing a dog’s coat or exercising him. For example, a dog that is easy to train and listens well is much less maintenance than a more difficult and stubborn one. Likewise, dogs requiring a lot of supervision around children or other pets are much more maintenance than dogs that do not. 

Lifestyle is also is a factor. Are you willing to commit the time and effort to a dog that lives 15-20 years or longer compared to one that lives only 10? How active are you? Are you an outdoor person who wants a companion on runs or hikes, or are you a couch potato who wants a snuggle buddy when binge-watching the new season of Cobra Kai? 

A person’s perspective plays a significant role in creating biases for or against a specific breed. Individual preferences and lifestyle for one person can define what they consider high maintenance versus another person.

Consider that a low activity person will most likely label a high energy dog as high maintenance; whereas, an active person will not. Thus, shedding might be a big issue for some people and an afterthought for someone else.

There’s always a trade-off too. For example, one trait may be so important to you, such as a Golden Retrievers friendliest and high trainability, that the dog’s seasonal sheds and weekly brushing are an acceptable compromise. 

Each potential dog owner needs to decide what they can’t live with and what they can’t live without

Comparing Some of the Popular Breeds

The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers a great tool to compare dog breeds on various criteria ranging from size to life expectancy to personality. 

Summarized below is a table comparing the Golden Retriever to three other top 10 most popular dog breeds.

Each dog is compared on seven characteristics; popularity, good with other dogs and children, grooming, activity level, barking, and trainability. 

Golden RetrieverFrench BulldogBeagleStandard Poodle
Popularity 3rd 4th6th7th 
Good with childrenYesYesYesYes
Good with dogsYesWith SupervisionYesWith Supervision
GroomingWeekly brushingOccasional bath/brush2-3 times per week brushingProfessional groomer
Activity LevelNeed a lot of activityCalmEnergeticEnergetic
BarkingWhen NecessaryWhen NecessaryFrequentMedium
TrainabilityEager to pleaseAgreeable AgreeableEager to please
Source: AKC

The comparison table is to demonstrate that first, each dog has its pros and cons. Secondly, many of the characteristics are context-specific. For example, live in a condo with neighbors? Then the frequent barking of the Beagle may be a concern. Have other dogs? Then getting a Poodle or French Bulldog might be an issue. 

Other than the Golden Retriever’s need for high activity, the breed fares as well or better than the other dogs on that list in each category. Therefore, one could easily argue that the Golden Retriever, as a whole, is the lower maintenance dog based on that table. 

In fairness, I chose only three dogs to compare with and did not include all traits, e.g., health. But, it shows how one quality may be a deal-breaker for one person, yet an afterthought for someone else. 

So, maintenance is not as simple as a Golden Retriever sheds a lot, so it’s high maintenance, or it doesn’t bark a lot and is easy to train, so it’s low maintenance.

Like most things in life, maintenance requirements for dogs are not black or white, and much of it depends on your own unique perspective and lifestyle. 

Let’s explore maintenance requirements for Golden Retrievers up close and in more detail.  

The Golden Retrievers Basic Maintenance Needs Up Close

Most people, when thinking of maintenance of a dog, consider the primary “care” items or basic maintenance needs, which are:

  • Grooming
  • Health
  • Activity Level
  • Food

Grooming

The hallmark of the Golden Retriever is the lustrous gold coat. Soft and beautiful, the Golden possesses a double coat that makes them well suited to water-based activities. However, the thick water repellant coat also means they go through a heavy shed (they blow their coats) twice per year. 

It’s during these twice-yearly heavy sheds that Golden’s requires daily brushing. However, in between those semi-annual events, the Golden only requires weekly brushings. So, for the most part, maintenance is average most of the year and higher twice per year. 

Like other dog breeds, your Golden will need its nails clipped, ears cleaned, and an occasional bath. No difference there. 

On the brushing or shedding scale, the Golden Retriever would be considered moderate-high maintenance. The higher maintenance grooming periods fall within the semi-annual seasonal sheds when they blow their coats. Not great for the hair phobic or those who do not want to brush their dog regularly.

Activity Level 

Golden Retrievers are typically very high-energy and active dogs. They require daily exercise, and depending on each Golden Retriever’s energy level, they may need more or less. 

Often people see a calm, well-behaved Golden Retriever and mistakenly believe the dog was born like that. However, more often than not, a Golden Retriever’s puppyhood is an extremely active one. A calm, well-behaved adult Golden Retriever is a product of enduring those stages and from consistent training. 

If a Golden Retriever’s activity requirements are not being met, it can engage in mischievous and destructive behaviors. Golden Retrievers are also very food motivated and may be inclined to weight gain, especially if it does not get enough daily exercise. 

However, if your lifestyle is active, the Golden Retriever may be a perfect companion, mainly if you like walking, running, hiking, and water-based activities. 

If you’re interested in learning how active Golden Retriever puppies are through the first two years of puppyhood, then check out this article:

How Active Are Golden Retriever Puppies? (What You Need to Know)

For exercise needs and activity levels, the Golden Retriever is considered a high-maintenance dog. 

Food

A larger dog will eat more than a smaller dog. Goldens eat twice per day, and they require healthy, nutritious dog food. They also need good snacks during a training session and for those “just for the heck of it” moments when they’re exceptionally well-behaved and loveable. Finally, of course, they need water. 

Water is free, but dog food costs money. So, in terms of maintenance, this may be more of a “budget” item. However, Golden’s are considered medium-large dogs, so their food needs would be considered average. Not as minimal as a small dog breed, e.g., a Chihuahua, but not as costly as a large breed dog, e.g., a Great Dane. 

Hold up. If you’re interested in learning the full cost of owning a Golden Retriever, I wrote an article detailing all the items you need to consider (and I included some cost-saving tips). Check it out here if you have a few minutes: The Full Cost of Owning a Golden Retriever (Plus Cost-Saving Tips)

Goldens can be prone to weight gain, so moderation on snacks is required in addition to exercise. For example, avoid feeding table scraps or do so sparingly. 

On the food scale, the Golden Retriever would be considered an average maintenance dog. Provided owners watch treats and table feeding; there should be little issues with weight gain. The cost of food is average for a dog of this size.

Bailey’s paw of approval. He gets 2 cups twice per day and soon will need to be transferred from a large breed puppy to adult food.

Golden Retrievers are generally healthy dogs but can be prone to several health issues. Health issues have the potential to be the most significant maintenance issue for Golden Retrievers. You won’t find the Golden Retriever on most (if any) lists of the healthiest dog breeds. However, they’re usually on the list for the dogs with the most health issues. 

Health

Golden Retrievers are prone to suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia, osteosarcoma (bone cancer), ear troubles, skin allergies, certain heart diseases, and obesity. However, obesity is mostly in the owner’s control

Obtaining your dog through a breeder that screens for illnesses such as elbow and hip dysplasia, eye conditions, and heart diseases can minimize those health-related issues.  

Cancer is responsible for most Golden Retriever’s death later in life. However, they are also prone to skin allergies and ear troubles, albeit those are typically minor. Skin allergies and ear issues can be the primary health maintenance items throughout most of a Golden’s life. 

If these health concerns are a big issue, then it is something you should consider before taking on this breed. Talk to your veterinarian and a reputable breeder to get a better understanding of what to expect. 

On the health scale, the Golden Retriever is considered a high-maintenance dog.

Other Maintenance Factors for The Golden Retriever

While the primary four discussed above are typically the most significant considerations in the maintenance requirements of Golden Retrievers, other less obvious ones can impact maintenance requirements. These include traits such as:

  • Temperament
  • Size
  • Trainability
  • Barking

Temperament

Golden Retrievers are well known for their fantastic temperaments. Friendly, tolerant, and trustworthy, good with kids and other pets are the breed’s hallmark traits. Contrast that with a Rottweiler. According to the AKC, a Rottweiler is not good with other dogs and is more suited to families with older children. 

Consider a family that has small kids or another dog, or a cat. A dog that gets along well with kids and other pets is more suited to such a family than one that needs supervision around small children or pets. The more a dog needs supervision, the more of your time and resources it taxes. 

Very few dogs are as well suited to a family as the Golden Retriever. The Golden is an excellent companion for households with other pets and kids. 

Are you interested in exactly why the Golden Retriever makes such a great family dog? If so, you might be interested in this article:

Golden Retrievers: Are They A Good Family Dog?

Golden Retrievers get very attached to their families. A drawback is that they may not do well when left alone for long periods and can experience separation anxiety. No dog, however, should be left alone for long periods. Dogs are social creatures, after all, so this is not specific to the Golden Retriever. 

If you need a pet that can be left alone for long periods, then a dog may not be your best bet. Reconsider your readiness for a dog, or avail yourself to 3rd party options such as sitters, dog walkers, or doggie daycare to ensure your dog gets adequate socialization. 

On the temperament scale, the Golden Retriever is a low-maintenance dog. Goldens are eager to please, friendly, obedient, and get along well with strangers, kids, and other pets.

Bailey and the cat are just chilling out.

Size

The bigger the size, the more dog there is to take care of. More hair, more to brush, more dog to bathe…you get the picture. Control is another consideration. 

A Havanese, for example, is easier to control on walks than a Great Dane. Try pulling a stubborn Great Dane on a walk, whereas you can always pick up the Havanese and carry it. A large dog may knock over children. A smaller dog, not so much. 

A smaller dog fits better in small spaces, such as small apartments or condos. A big dog takes up more space. 

Size also affects lifespan. Typically, the smaller the dog, the longer it lives. So, how long you can take care of a dog also needs to be considered. The lifespan for a Golden is typically 10 -12 years. 

The Golden Retriever is a medium-large dog breed. They range in weight from 55-75 pounds, with females on the smaller end of the scale. Not as big as a Newfoundland and not as little as a Beagle. 

The Golden Retriever on the size maintenance scale is average. Golden Retrievers are in the middle of the pack in size, not overly big but small. 

Trainability

An intelligent, easy to train, and obedient dog is much easier to maintain. On the other hand, a stubborn dog that is not obedient and doesn’t listen well requires much more attention. 

A Golden Retriever is smart. Very smart. The Golden Retriever is in the top tier of dog intelligence, according to canine researcher Stanley Cohen. Top-tier dogs learn commands in about five repetitions and are obedient 95% of the time.

That means you have a much easier time teaching a Golden Retriever to go potty and its basic commands (sit, stay, down, stand, come, leave it and let go) and walk.

The Golden’s great temperament and eagerness to please means that it can be trained more easily to tolerate brushing its coat and teeth, physical examinations, and baths. Some dogs take much longer.

For trainability requirements, the Golden Retriever is low maintenance. They learn fast and listen well. 

Barking

While barking is not considered a maintenance item in the traditional sense, I included it because it can be. Anything that requires time and effort can qualify as upkeep (maintenance), and excess barking can fall within this definition.

Ask anyone who has an excess barker for a dog, and they’ll most likely tell you that barking is a high-maintenance item. 

Consider someone who lives in an apartment or even a typical house in the suburbs. Excess barking, admittedly more of a nuance item, may need to be monitored.

Or, the dog may incessantly bark indoors, which may not be an ideal situation when you’ve put the kids to bed. Or if you are trying to catch the latest episode of Chicago PD.  

Some breeds are more prone to barking than others. They seem to bark for no apparent reason, while other dogs bark when necessary, such as when startled or someone rings the doorbell. Golden Retrievers fall in the latter category. However, the Golden Retriever is not a frequent barker. 

Since barking is such a big concern for many dog owners, I wrote a detailed article on just what to expect from a Golden Retriever when it comes to barking, including why they bark and what to do if it becomes a nuisance. Take a minute or two to give it a read here: Golden Retrievers: Do They Bark a Lot and What To Do.

Another consideration is the training to address barking. Barking dogs often develop the behavior due to owners not addressing it early or inadvertently reinforcing the behavior.

Training a barking dog not to bark or bark as much takes time and effort. First, both to train the desired behavior and then to maintain it. 

On the barking scale, the Golden Retriever would be low maintenance. The Golden is not a frequent barker. The breed’s high trainability also means the behavior can be managed more easily if it becomes an issue. 

Bailey is on guard for cats and kids on skateboards. A typical Golden Retriever – Bailey only barks when necessary.

The Verdict

It’s easy to see that a high or low-maintenance dog covers more than just brushing and walks. Many factors taken as a whole can make a dog more maintenance than another. And much, if not most, depends on a person’s lifestyle and tolerance for certain undesirable traits over others. 

A Golden Retriever is an average to moderate maintenance dog. Often they get unfairly labeled as high maintenance because of their seasonal sheds and increased activity. But those are only two items on a list of many. 

The Golden Retrievers is also highly trainable, listens well, is good with kids and dogs, eats about average, and isn’t a frequent barker. Those are the traits of a more low-maintenance dog. 

Overall, the Golden Retriever should pose minimal daily maintenance requirements for someone who doesn’t mind brushing their Golden regularly and providing daily exercise. 

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