Can Golden Retrievers Be Aggressive?

By John Martin - May 12, 2021

Golden Retrievers posing for fall photo

Golden Retrievers have become quite the social media stars—Tucker, for example, has more followers than some of us could ever dream of amassing in this lifetime. Understandably—what’s not to love?

From shining coats to “boop”-able noses to eyes that can melt any heart, Golden Retrievers have long been the choice for families, but the biggest draw is their gentle disposition. In fact, many people believe that putting “aggression” and “Golden Retrievers” in the same sentence is a sin.

However, there’s an exception to every rule, and so it is with Golden Retrievers. Unpalatable truth as it may seem, aggression in Golden Retrievers exists, and we’re not just talking about the occasional growling, snapping and even biting of other dogs and humans—we’re talking about actual anger.

We’re here to give you an in-depth answer to whether Golden Retrievers can be aggressive, so read on.

Reasons Behind Aggression

Studies show that 98.57% of all Golden Retrievers never lose their temper and act as the situation warrants, especially when treated appropriately.

If Golden Retrievers are generally gentle, their history has a huge part to play in this.

Bred as a cross between Tweed Spaniels and Flat-Coated Retrievers in Scotland, to retrieve hunted fowl, these dogs were the perfect hunting companions, the right mix of stamina, power, trainability and gentleness. All this makes goldens some of the most intelligent dogs in the world.

If this breed is so intelligent, then where does the aggression come from?

The chances are almost nil that your retriever is aggressive without any reason. Here are a few reasons why he or she could be displaying aggressive behavior:

  • Genetics: Your golden’s genetics could be the reason behind the aggressive behavior displayed. Dogs that come from a dominant bloodline may tend to be aggressive, as well as improperly-bred, selectively-bred dogs.
  • Pent-Up Energy: Retrievers are meant to be active dogs; it’s in their blood and history, both. If they aren’t provided the right outlet for their energy, they may find other ways to let it out, one of which could be aggressive behavior.
  • Abuse: Dogs that have been abused or witnessed abuse in their kennel mates and parents, especially those born and brought up in puppy mills/breeding areas (hashtag adopt, don’t shop!). Dogs abused or attacked as puppies, especially, have a hard time getting over their trauma and carry it into their later years.
  • Improper Training: Improperly trained dogs can also be aggressive, especially if they’ve been disregarded or subject to poor breeding practices.
  • Unfamiliarity: Some Golden Retrievers can get aggressive around unfamiliar people, especially if they’re visiting you. The reason behind this is quite endearing—they consider owners a part of their pack. They perceive strangers as a threat and seek to protect owners, their space or simply don’t want to share you.
  • Other Reasons: Just as humans get cranky when ill physically or mentally, your Golden Retriever can too. Emotions such as pain, fear and insecurity, or illnesses, can lead to aggression.

Your dog could also be aggressive due to having been separated too early from his or her parents, or due to a recently developed habit. Additionally, improper socialization could also lead to aggression, causing your puppy to fear other dogs or be wary of them, instead of seeing them as potential friends.

Related: Are Golden Retrievers Good Apartment Dogs?

Signs of Aggression

Golden Retrievers often indicate their aggression through growling, barking or sudden outbursts of hyperactivity. Perking up their ears, stiffening their tails and raising their hackles are also indicators of an incoming bout of aggression.

Should You Worry about the Aggression?

Not all aggression warrants worrying. Identifying the cause behind the aggression will help you decide whether or not action needs to be taken.

Many pet parents worry at the smallest sign of aggression in their Goldens; Golden Retrievers are also dogs, after all (though you can’t really be blamed for confusing them with angels.).

Therefore, it helps to know the two kinds of aggressive behavior in dogs—true and reactive.

  • Reactive Aggression: Reactive aggression stems from your dog’s previous experiences, where aggression has become the response to certain situations. This aggression is triggered by certain situations, such as a honking car or another barking dog. However, this is less severe and can be fixed. In fact, reactivity is confused with aggression—needless to say, it shouldn’t be.
  • True Aggression: True aggression is a cause for worry and can be diagnosed by constant aggression in a range of situations. This comes from causes such as genetics, abuse, and other prolonged traumatic experiences in your dog’s life.

Remember, especially when your Golden Retriever is still a puppy, to not confuse puppy behavior with aggression. Golden Retriever puppies are energetic and playful; this does not equal aggression.

Related: Can Golden Retrievers Run Long Distances?

Treating Aggression in Golden Retrievers

If you have a Golden Retriever puppy, raising him or her the right way will help reduce the chances of aggression, especially by following the below points:

  • Firstly and most importantly, never separate a puppy from its litter before it hits at least 8 weeks of age.
  • Socialize your puppy with other people and dogs at the age of 6, till around 14 weeks of age (though some puppies continue socializing even beyond that).
  • Don’t discipline your puppy harshly, especially in the 6-14 weeks age period. Puppies should be treated gently during this period. Any hitting, yelling or harsh disciplining will lead to aggression, just as it is with children.
  • Ensure that your puppy grows up in a suitable, happy environment. Poor living conditions (wet, dirty kennels and insufficient food and water, for example) and harsh people will lead to aggression.

If you get your Golden Retriever when he or she is slightly older and is already exhibiting signs of aggression, the following steps may help:

  • Start by trying to identify the reason behind the aggression.
  • A visit to the vet will help you determine if it’s caused by any pain or illness, whereas observing the dog’s behavior will give you more clues behind the aggression.
  • When you notice that your dog’s aggression rises to the fore around other dogs or unfamiliar situations, especially due to fear, try to divert his or her attention.
  • Remember, whatever you do, don’t use treats and rewards to divert attention. This gives the dog the wrong idea; you could try issuing commands and pretending as though everything is normal so that your dog also calms down and submits to you. This will also help normalize the situation for the dog; with time, the situation will seem normal to your dog and prevent aggression.
  • The best way to keep away the aggression is to exercise your Golden Retriever. As mentioned earlier, this is an active breed; active Golden Retrievers are happier, more fulfilled, and therefore, less given to aggression. Bored dogs, on the other hand, are more likely to be hyperactive and will try to expend their energy in negative ways.
  • Golden Retrievers love all kinds of exercise, so there’s really no excuse for pet parents in this regard. From swimming to running to playing fetch to simply walking, Goldens love it all.
  • Another way to deal with aggression is to properly train your dog. Proper training puts in place a structure, rules to follow, and the feeling of belonging. Pairing this with mental and physical stimulation will keep the aggression at bay.

Does Spaying Help?

Many pet owners, and even vets, suggest spaying as a counter to aggression. However, there is an equal number of folks who argue against this, as this won’t change the dog’s innate disposition or temperament and the process of spaying itself can put your dog through pain and trauma.

Remember that spaying will not only reduce aggression but lead to other changes as well. Sexual drive is only one of the functions related to the hormones that spaying aims to reduce. This could mean a less playful, less energetic and more sober dog.

The Bottom Line

Golden Retrievers are super intelligent and friendly by nature, so aggression is as rare as a badly-dressed Jennifer Lopez. Golden Retrievers are the extremely rare breed that doesn’t mind not being the alpha of the pack, either.

However, in the case that aggression does occur, there are ways to remedy it, depending on how old your dog is, but remember, the best way to start is by identifying and diagnosing it as early as possible.

Seek professional help if required, whether it’s for training or for your Golden Retriever’s health.

Apart from this, treat your dog with love, care and respect, and you’ll not only find that there’s very little chance for aggression but you’ll also gain a trusting, loving buddy for life.