Cheerful, easy to train and eager to please, the Golden Retriever is what you see in the dictionary when you look up “Perfect Family Dog.” They love everyone, especially children, and get along well with new people and strange dogs. They draw admiring looks – and usually loving pats – from almost everyone they meet. The Golden is an active dog who will retrieve a tennis ball until your arm gives out. Their loyalty, intelligence and stable temperaments have made them the darlings of the service dog world. They’re smiling faces and sun-kissed coats have brought more than a few to movie fame, including a starring role in two “Homeward Bound” movies.
Is the Golden Retriever the Right Dog for You?
The Golden was developed to be a working retriever, and that means a high level of activity is a must for these dogs. If not trained, socialized and exercised daily, the good-natured exuberance of these dogs – especially as adolescents and young adults – can be overwhelming, and even frightening to small children despite the dog’s best intentions to be (overwhelmingly) friendly.
Unlike their short-coated cousin, the Labrador Retriever, the Golden's profuse coat does require brushing and bathing to remove debris and mats. And while all dogs shed, Goldens do it with the same enthusiasm they bring to swimming and retrieving. Their owners can keep it under control with daily brushing to remove the dead undercoat, but if shedding is a deal-breaker at your house, this is not the breed for you.
Goldens love everyone, but that love for people will often translate into jumping as a form of greeting. Basic, early obedience training is a must for these big, rambunctious dogs. Fortunately, Goldens are very easy to train, and a small investment of time when the dog is young will pay off when he's full-grown. He will readily sit on command, walk on a leash without pulling and come when called.
Golden Retrievers are very people-oriented, and if you expect your dog to live in the yard, don't get a Golden. Loneliness and boredom will lead to barking, digging and general destructiveness. Your Golden Retriever needs to live indoors as part of the family.
Variations of Golden Retriever
As with the Labrador, the Golden has diverged into several different types – primarily the fluffy, block teddy-bear Goldens of the show ring and the leaner, darker, smaller and less-coated athletes popular as hunting companions and dog-sports competitors. Each camp swears their “type” is the best. Dogs bred for looks only – and for the currently trendy near-white color – are anecdotally less healthy and some seem to sport a considerably un-Golden temperament, including problems with biting. Hunting and dog-sports lines may be a little too energetic for many families, but the traditional stable temperaments remain intact, and they may be healthier overall.
6 Tips to Bringing Home a Healthy Golden Retriever Puppy
- Don’t ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store. You're more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to housetrain puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills. Puppy mills also advertise through Internet sites, so never deal with a breeder who'll ship anywhere to anyone with a credit card.
- Look for a good, reliable breeder. The Golden Retriever Club of America advises its member breeders to abide by a Code of Ethics, which does not permit the sale of puppies through brokers, auctions or commercial dealers such as pet stores. Breeders should sell puppies with a written contract guaranteeing they'll take back the dog at any time during his life if you become unable to keep him, and with written documentation that both the puppy's parents (and if possible, his other close relatives) have had their hips, eyes, elbows and hearts examined and certified by the appropriate health organizations.
- Don't fall for a bad breeder's lies. Some breeders are full of excuses as to why their dogs don't need those pesky health clearances, but there are no good reasons to forgo them. If a breeder tries to tell you his lines are free of those problems, the tests aren't reliable or that he doesn't need to do those expensive tests because his puppies are "vet checked," take that as a sign that you're dealing with an irresponsible breeder and walk away.
- Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with “puppy lemon laws,” be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.
- Consider adopting an adult Golden from a shelter or rescue group. Although health clearances or history aren't likely to be available, many genetic diseases are apparent by the time a dog is two or three years old. A simple x-ray and veterinary exam should tell you if the dog you're considering has some of these health problems, and allow you to make a more informed decision before making him a part of your family.
- Puppy or adult, take your Labrador to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues. Ask specifically about preventive care for ears, since dogs who like to swim and have floppy ears are prone to infections.
Health Issues Common to Golden Retrievers
At the top of the list of health concerns in the breed is cancer. A GRCA study in 1998 found that 61.8 percent of all Goldens die of cancer, including hemangiosarcoma, lymphosarcoma, mast cell tumors and bone cancer. Some veterinarians call Goldens "Cancer retrievers," and treatments for this disease can be emotionally and financially devastating. It's not known to what extent all these forms of cancer are genetic or exactly how they're transmitted from one generation to the next, but the sky-high rate of cancer in Golden Retrievers is at least partly inherited.
Goldens also suffer from a high incidence of the painful genetic hip deformity known as "hip dysplasia," where the head of the thigh bone doesn't fit properly into the hip socket. A study published in JAVMA in 2005 reported that prevalence values of hip dysplasia range from 23.5% to 55.7% for Golden Retrievers. Serious hip dysplasia requires very costly surgical treatment and can lead to crippling arthritis.
Golden Retrievers can also have genetic elbow deformities. Eyes are another problem area in the breed, so make sure the parents have been examined by a board certified veterinary ophthalmologist and certified by the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.
Heart disease is also prevalent in Golden Retrievers, primarily the condition known as sub-aortic stenosis, a narrowing of the aorta that carries blood away from the heart. This usually shows up first as a slight heart murmur, but murmurs often occur in puppies that have no heart problems as adults. SAS can lead to sudden death, even at a young age, so have your dog's heart checked at least once a year, and investigate any murmurs thoroughly.
Epilepsy, ear infections, allergies, itching and skin infections, immune and auto-immune diseases like lupus – sometimes it seems like it would be easier to list the conditions that don't affect the Golden rather than those that do.
|Condition ||Risk Profile ||Cost to Diagnose and Treat |
|High ||$8,000-$15,000 |
|Hip Dysplasia |
|High ||$1,500-$6,000 |
|Sub-Aortic Stenosis |
|Medium ||$500-$1500 |
|Elbow Dysplasia ||Medium ||$1,500-$4,000 |
|Osteochondrosis of the Shoulder/Elbow ||Medium ||$2,000-$4,000 |
|Portosystemic Shunts ||Medium ||$2,000-$6,000 |
|Entropion ||High ||$300-$1,500 |
|Cataracts ||High ||$1,500-$5,000 |
|Ichthyosis ||High ||$200-$1,000 |
|Estimates based on claims paid by Embrace Pet Insurance |
Pet Insurance for Golden Retrievers
Pet insurance for Golden Retrievers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Golden Retrievers are slightly more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for conditions that are expensive to treat.
Embrace pet insurance plans offer full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Golden Retrievers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Golden Retrievers is when he’s a healthy puppy. You can’t predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can’t get when you need it the most.