Golden Retrievers: Why They’re So Good With Kids


Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular family dogs for a good reason. The breed is friendly, highly playful, intelligent, and easy to train. However, for families with or planning to have children, parents often wonder if the breed is well suited to a household with kids. 

As a whole, Golden Retrievers are good with children. The breed is friendly and trustworthy, and their high energy and playfulness make them great companions for kids. As with any dog, proper socialization, training, and supervision are required, and children must be taught to be kind and respectful. 

We’ll explore what makes a Golden Retriever such a good match in a household with children, as well as any potential concerns and situations when children should not play with a Golden Retriever. 

By the end, you’ll see why the Golden Retriever, as a breed, is a great family companion in a household with children, and has no equal. 

Why Are Golden Retrievers Good With Kids?

As a breed, Golden Retrievers are especially well suited as companions to children due to an abundance of kid-friendly traits. Specifically, Golden Retrievers are so good with kids because they:

  • Are highly active.
  • Love to play.
  • Are easy to train.
  • Are friendly
  • Have soft mouthes
  • Are a proven family dog.

Golden Retrievers Are Highly Active

If you own a Golden Retriever, then you know how much energy they have and how much physical and mental stimulation they need. If you are considering getting a Golden Retriever for the first time, then be prepared. 

If you are a first-time Golden Retriever owner, you might find it worthwhile to check out this article: Golden Retrievers: A Good Dog For First-Time Owners?

Golden Retrievers are renowned for their high activity levels. Adult Golden Retrievers can need upwards of two hours per day of exercise. The breed also excels in outdoor activities and enjoys swims, walks, runs, and hikes. Pretty much any activity can be done with a Golden Retriever. 

An active child should find little problem engaging a Golden Retriever in some playtime, whether it’s running in the backyard, a walk, playing in the park, or just goofing around the house. Most Goldens are always up for some activity and play. 

Chances are, if your kids have a lot of energy, it will be matched easily by a Golden Retriever. 

Golden Retrievers Love To Play

Golden Retrievers love to play. Much of that playful drive stems from their high activity level and friendly nature. However, much of it also comes from a high level of intelligence. Goldens are intelligent, and combined with high energy; they need to be mentally stimulated to be happy. 

And mental stimulation best comes from play. So whether it’s a game of hide and seek, fetch, soccer, or any other game your kids can come up with, rest assure your Golden Retriever will be a willing participant to join in with your kids. 

Not only will children benefit from the activity and play, but it’s very beneficial for your Golden Retriever. Many Golden Retrievers do not get the necessary physical and mental stimulation they need. With children, that usually is not the case. So, it is a win-win. Each gets the exercise and play that they need. 

Goldens are also well known to stay in puppyhood longer than most dog breeds. Meaning while many dog breeds will become much more “mature” at two years old, you may find your Golden still being playful and good well into adulthood. 

Golden Retrievers remain young at heart for most of their lives. So it’s not uncommon for an older Golden Retriever to enjoy some fetch, tug, or backyard play. They just can’t do it for as long. 

Golden Retrievers Are Easy To Train

As noted in the previous section, Golden Retrievers are intelligent. Fourth, overall, out of all dogs intelligent, according to canine researcher Stanely Cohen. Top-tier dogs (a Golden Retriever) learn commands in five repetitions or less and are obedient 95% of the time. 

So, in other words, Golden Retrievers are easy to train. In fact, I wrote an article on how trainable Golden Retrievers are, and you can find it here if interested: Golden Retrievers: Are They Hard to Train?

It is beneficial, actually necessary, that a dog listens to all members of the household, including children. However, some dog breeds do not obey well or are more challenging to train. Not so with the Golden Retriever.

The Golden Retriever can quickly be taught to be mindful of children. In turn, children can be (should be) included in training when old enough, so the Golden learns to listen to them when asked. 

Including children in training also teaches life skills such as patience and focus. Training teaches the child to be respectful and kind to animals, and kids enjoy teaching the dog to listen when asked. It’s fun for a kid when their Golden sits when asked or shakes a paw.

Note I said “including” kids in training, not “do” the training. Children over 12 can help in training the dog, but those under 12 should be monitored. 

As always, when children under 12 are interacting with your Golden Retriever, there should be adult supervision. This includes training as well.

Formal training should have frequent, short sessions and works best when the dog has been exercised or after playtime.

Check out this video where Zak George works with a youngster and shows how to include a child in dog training.

Golden Retrievers Are Friendly

Golden Retrievers are one of the most friendly and trustworthy dog breeds. Their nature is friendly and reliable, and they are known to do well with kids and pets because of that temperament. 

In fact, the breed standard for the Golden Retriever according to the American Kennel Club is:

Friendly, reliable, and trustworthy. Quarrelsomeness or hostility towards other dogs or people in normal situations, or an unwarranted show of timidity or nervousness, is not in keeping with Golden Retriever’s character.

Source: AKC

Golden Retrievers also seem to have a sense that children are smaller versions of us but more delicate. Often they intuitively know to be more gentle. 

It’s no wonder this dog breed is so often chosen in therapy work and as service dogs. It is these same qualities that make them a great match with kids. 

Golden Retrievers Have Soft Mouths

Golden Retrievers were bred to retrieve and carry waterfowl in their mouths gently without damaging the birds. You’ll find that Golden Retrievers often take things in their mouth, and they typically do this without damaging whatever they’re prancing around with. 

Golden Retrievers are also not “nippy,” a common trait with herding dogs and one that can be problematic with running children in the house that mimic unruly sheep. 

A soft mouth means Golden Retrievers are more gentle with their mouths as it’s aligned with their instinct. In addition, having a naturally soft mouth can make the Golden Retriever much more inclined to better bite inhibition. 

Bite inhibition is a dog’s ability to control its bite pressure and bite with no force. Bite inhibition must be taught to ALL dogs before 4.5 months of age, including Golden Retrievers.

A softer mouth means it’s often easier to teach to a Golden bite inhibition, and they catch on quicker because of their instinct for “soft” mouthiness versus, say, a herding dog or a hard mouth breed such as a terrier. 

How important is it to teach bite inhibition to a dog? It’s the most important thing that you must teach a puppy before 4.5 months of age. After 18 weeks, the window for inhibiting bite force closes, and behavior is locked in permanently.

To learn how to train a Golden Retriever puppy to stop biting, take a few minutes to read this article: Golden Retriever Puppy Biting: When it Stops, What To Do.

Golden Retrievers Are a Proven Family Dog

Golden Retrievers are among the most popular dogs in North America and have been for over a decade. Number three, to be exact, according to the American and Canadian Kennel Clubs. Families choose the Golden Retriever so often because of its suitability to the family lifestyle

Kids or pets, indoors and outdoors, the Golden Retriever matches well. Golden Retrievers also bond closely with their family and prefer to be in their company as much as possible.

Not known as a one-person dog, the Golden Retriever likes to cuddle and share its love with as many people as possible. The Golden Retriever is a love sponge and is equally happy sharing that love among all members of the family

If the Golden Retriever were not well-suited as a family dog, it would not be chosen by so many families, year in and year out. 

Are There Any Concerns About Golden Retrievers Playing With Children? 

While an excellent dog for families with children, there are, of course, some traits or situations to be mindful of. These are not bad issues, per see. But instead, some qualities to be aware of in order to be proactive in monitoring them.

As a general rule, Golden Retrievers play very well with children. However, parents need to be mindful of three areas when a Golden Retriever is playing with small children: the dog’s larger size, its high energy level (especially in younger dogs), and the type of games children play with the dog. 

Size

Golden Retrievers are medium to large dogs. The breed standard for the Golden Retriever is 55 to 75 pounds. Females typically are smaller and weigh 55 to 65 pounds, whereas males are 65 to 75 pounds. 

A Golden Retriever can be much larger and stable on four paws than a small child, so parents must be mindful that small children can be knocked over. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for Golden Retrievers to forget their size and, if excited (see below), run over or knock a little one over. 

Parents must also ensure Golden Retrievers do not jump up on children. A 55 pound Golden Retriever is enough to knock down or off-balance an adult, never mind a small child.  

Energy Level

As discussed previously, Golden Retrievers have a high energy level. They are second to none with their exuberant greetings and playful energy. But, often, when they’re in the midst of such joyful exuberance, they can forget their size. 

While that energy and playfulness make them a great match as playmates for kids, it also can be problematic when they forget their size. 

Combined with their larger size, children (and other smaller pets) can easily be mowed over, run through, or trampled.

So parents should take it upon themselves to teach their Golden Retriever to be calm and respectful during greetings and monitor their dog’s energy when it’s excited in the presence of their kids. 

Type of Games Played

Be careful of the types of games that your child plays with a Golden Retriever. For example, while tug of war is a game that many dogs love to play, they often can miscue when lunging for a toy and bite the hand while attempting to get the toy. 

The dog means no harm. It just accidentally grabbed the hand while going for the toy. So it is not a bite.

But while adults know (or should) that it’s part of playing the game and how to minimize any accidents, a child does not. Moreover, little hands are more sensitive and soft. 

Roughhousing can also be a bad idea. It often leads to escalation and accidents where one of the parties gets hurt.

So, I suggest not allowing the dog to play tug or to roughhouse with your child. Instead, opt for more appropriate games like fetch. Fetch is also a great game to teach skills such as “let go,” “leave it,” and “take it.”

When Should Golden Retrievers and Children Not Be Allowed To Play?

First and foremost, a Golden Retriever should not play with children under 12 without adult supervision. How can an adult know if the play of the dog or child is inappropriate if they are not watching? Always supervise. 

Secondly, immediately separate your Golden Retriever and children if you see any reactive or aggressive behavior from your dog. While an aggressive Golden Retriever is rare, they are dogs, and ANY dog can bite in the right circumstance. Be mindful of children when the dog is eating and watch for resource guarding behavior with toys and other items. 

When discussing aggressive dogs, the terms reactive, aggressive, and dangerous often get interchanged, but they are not the same.

I wrote an article on whether a Golden Retriever is a dangerous dog. In it, I clarify what constitutes a reactive, aggressive, and dangerous dog. You can find that article here: Dangerous Dogs: Are Golden Retrievers One of Them?

Of course, growling, baring its teeth, or a lip curl is a flashing neon red sign that the dog wants nothing to do with the child, and it’s communicating this in no uncertain terms.

But often, signals that a dog is uncomfortable with a child can be much more subtle, so it’s essential to read a dog’s body language.

If your Golden Retriever shows any nervousness or anxiety, such as licking its lips or yawning frequently, or its ears are down and tailed tucked, remove your child.

A stiff, rigid posture is also a sign, as is a head turn or snap. Often the head turns, or a snap occurs when a child approaches and touches the dog from behind.

Another possible sign is whale eyes or half-moon eyes. This occurs when a dog is nervous, and you can see the white portion around the rim or corner of the dog’s eyes.

This dog is nervous and showing classic whale eyes or half moon eyes.

The third situation that warrants a child not playing with a Golden Retriever is if your dog has gone to its “safe” place. Dogs have, or should have, someplace to go when they are scared, overwhelmed, tired, or feel safe. That place could be their crate, bed, matt, or another area like under a table.

A dog needs to have its own place to go to sleep, feel safe and decompress when it desires. That space needs to be sacred to the dog, which means a child needs to be taught to leave the dog alone when it’s in that space. 

Lastly, if the child is too rough with the dog, it is time to separate them. A Golden Retriever should not be hit; its tail or ears pulled, climbed on, jumped on, teased, or treated meanly. I would suspect any adult would become angry if any of that were done to them, so don’t expect a dog to tolerate it. 

It is unreasonable to expect a dog – even one as friendly and gentle as a Golden Retriever – to be a jungle gym and climbed on, pulled, and jumped on by a child. It’s your job as an adult to ensure that play is monitored and respectful.

Unfortunately, many children are often bitten by a dog due to inappropriate play and a lack of adult supervision. 

Can Golden Retrievers Be Aggressive With Children?

Not to sound like a broken record, but children must always be supervised when playing with a dog. Lack of adult supervision makes it impossible to know if the child and dog are playing appropriately, which is an accident waiting to happen.

While very rare, Golden Retrievers can be aggressive with children. Golden Retrievers are animals, and any animal can become aggressive in certain situations. Common causes are poor breeding, socialization or training, children teasing or being abusive to the dog, and lack of adult supervision.

After all, if a child is mean to a dog and the dog has retreated or issued numerous warnings, but you’re not around to monitor it, then who’s fault is it?

Proper training is necessary – both for the dog and for the children. Children must be taught to be kind and respectful to the dog.

Children are often noisy and sporadic in their movements, so a Golden Retriever should be gradually introduced to such erratic behaviors so they can become accustomed to a child’s behavior. 

A child should be taught how to be gentle around the dog. Do not allow roughhousing and no hitting the dog or pulling their hair.

Teach your child not to engage the dog when eating and not bother the dog when it needs time to decompress or sleep. Monitor how your child does around the dog to make sure no problems arise later on.

Of course, your Golden Retriever needs to be trained as well.

Bite inhibition training is the most critical element in your puppy’s education. Basic obedience for your dog is also a must to ensure a respectful animal. It would be best to teach your Golden Retriever not to jump up on people and not take things without permission, especially from hands. 

Final Thoughts

As a family pet, especially with children, the breed has few equals. The Golden is noted for being friendly, reliable, and trustworthy. In addition to being a gentle-mouthed retriever, the breed excels in obedience and shines as a guide dog for the seeing-impaired.

Canadian Kennel Club

Need I say more! 

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