Reviewed by: Paula Simons, DVM
Wondering why your golden retriever puppy is so aggressive?
A golden retriever puppy is generally a happy-go-lucky dog and isn’t likely to be an aggressive dog. In fact, “true” aggression in a golden retriever is quite rare.
So what gives? The first thing to do is to identify normal behavior versus true aggression. Golden retrievers may have behavioral problems, but true aggression is very rare in this breed.
This post will help you sort it all out.
You’ll discover some of the most common reasons for aggression in puppies and how to change that behavior.
What Happened? You Expected Your Golden Retriever Puppy to be Perfect!
Golden retrievers are loved by millions around the world.
These happy dogs seem to walk around with big smiles on their faces. They are very approachable. If anything, they crave attention from humans.
Puppies, however, need to learn certain behaviors before they evolve into those well-adjusted dogs we all know and love.
Young puppies haven’t had a chance to learn acceptable behavior. This is something that’s taught by the owners through training. It also happens through normal puppy play and socialization.
Retrievers are loyal and intelligent. They have a strong desire to please their owners and make amazing family dogs. They also have high energy levels that require physical and mental stimulation. Puppies are excitable and, sometimes, that can look like a form of aggression.
Let’s Figure This Out. Understanding Normal Puppy Behavior
It’s normal for golden retriever puppies to engage in rough play, biting, barking, and chewing things you don’t want them to chew.
These activities don’t make your golden retriever puppy aggressive. It does mean the puppy needs behavioral training. Golden retrievers are highly intelligent dogs and are fairly easy to train.
If you think you’re dealing with a truly aggressive dog, keep reading. We’ve outlined a few behaviors (below) that could be misinterpreted as aggression.
Normal Golden Retriever Puppy Behavior
If you’re wondering why your golden retriever puppy is so aggressive, you’re in the right place.
It’s important to understand that serious aggression from a golden retriever puppy is pretty rare. However, it’s not impossible.
The truth is, golden retrievers LOVE people. This is a wonderful trait. Unfortunately, their excitement tends to lead to some unwanted behavior.
Jumping on people
It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the pure joy of a puppy.
Unfortunately, well-meaning pet owners can encourage bad behavior by not setting boundaries early on. The over-excited romp of a puppy is cute.
It’s not so cute when the dog reaches full maturity and weighs 65 pounds or more.
Constant jumping and an in-your-face attitude could be seen as aggressive. If your dog is growling and showing teeth, it’s aggression. If not, it’s likely a byproduct of the dog’s happy nature.
Obedience training is important. If you’re knowledgeable about behavioral training, you can do it yourself. Otherwise, the help of a professional by way of a dog trainer can go a long way.
Online Behavioral Training
In-person training is perfect for new dog owners. However, if you simply need to brush up on your skills, or prefer to learn online and away from crowds, consider signing up for courses at Udemy.com
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Golden retriever puppies haven’t learned acceptable behavior yet. Let’s just say they get wound up about everything! Naturally, they are going to jump, bite, and bark at everything that moves.
If you give the puppy a chance, he will literally grab your underpants from the laundry and run around the house (or yard!) with them. Don’t ask me how I know this.
Normal puppy behavior can include destructive behavior due to separation anxiety or pain due to teething. All puppies, including golden retrievers, go through the teething stage.
When new teeth start pushing through those tender gums, all a dog can think to do is chomp on something.
Unfortunately, if they don’t have access to an appropriate chew toy, you may find your adorable puppy sitting in the corner with one of your half-chewed shoes.
Chewing is normal; it just needs to be redirected.
Baby teeth fall out between 12 and 16 weeks of age. You might start finding little rice-size teeth around the house. The problem isn’t about the teeth falling out; it’s about the new ones growing in.
Make sure that anything you don’t want chewed is stored away. Offer your dog-safe chewing alternatives like:
- Nylabone Puppy Chew Starter Kit Triple Pack Puppy Chew
- Nylabone Teething Pacifier Chew Toy
- Teething Rings for Puppies
- Sensory Tough Ball Chew
- Pet Qwerks Peanut Butter Flavored Chew Toy
- Chew toys that can be frozen
- Tough Kong chew toys for puppies.
Golden Retriever Behavior That Could Signal Aggression
It’s rare for a golden retriever to become extremely aggressive. If you have a new puppy from a breeder that is suddenly experiencing aggression, you should contact the breeder.
The breeder knows the dogs really well (or should!). Let them know what’s happening to see if they can offer any insight or help.
Also, as you’ll read below, there’s a time when you need to take your dog to a veterinarian for assessment.
Pain can trigger aggression in some dogs.
True signs of an aggressive puppy include:
• Teeth-baring and snarling
• The fur on the back of the neck goes up in certain situations
• Ears pressed back
• Standing tall with ears erect
• Growling when you try to take away the food bowl or toys.
• Grabbing things out of your hands roughly
• Excessive barking
• Chasing and biting people’s ankles
Types of Aggression In Dogs And What To Do About It
The following are examples of types of aggression that could be affecting your dog. While it’s rare for puppies to experience these things, you could find them in rescue dogs or dogs with an unknown past.
Over one million dogs are surrendered to shelters for various reasons, including aggressive behavior.
A fearful dog may use body language or behaviors as a form of self-defense. They may not be in any danger, but the dog feels like they are. When this happens, the dog will do anything to put distance between himself/herself and the “threat”.
It’s very important for family members and dog owners to recognize stressful situations for dogs. These might include:
• Strangers trying to interact with the puppy
• Children being too rough with the puppy
• Loud noises
• Being exposed too quickly to other pets in the house
• Sudden move
• Car rides
This type of aggression could manifest in the dog biting other dogs, other people, etc. This usually happens if the dog is in his own yard and another person or animal approaches.
Dogs with territorial aggression may have triggers that bring on the defense mechanism. Certain sights, sounds, or actions can trigger anxiety in some dogs. Although golden retrievers don’t typically fall into this category, it’s possible that they feel protective enough about their property that they will launch into action.
Signs of territorial aggression include the following:
• Usually occurs in the dog’s back yard or home
• Growling and barking
• Lunging at people or animals
Possessive aggression in dogs, also known as resource guarding, occurs when a dog feels threatened by something they consider to be theirs.
Golden retriever puppies may act aggressively toward someone trying to remove their treats, food, or toys. You will recognize it immediately in the way the dog behaves. He/she will quickly react when you try to remove something from them.
The dog will bark or growl at you. He/she may even give you a warning “snap” to stay away.
Frustration aggression might occur in dogs who are territorial, for example. If the dog is tied outside or restrained in some way, his/her fear can really ramp up.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have your dog safely leashed or kept safe from traffic, animals, etc., it’s just something to be aware of.
If your dog shows signs of growing aggression whenever a person or other animals walks by, it’s time to get help from a professional behaviorist.
A frustrated dog, can quickly turn around and bite the leash or the hand holding her leash or collar. This kind of behavior can occur in breeds like the German shepherd, for example. That said, a well-balanced, healthy dog shouldn’t exhibit territorial or frustration aggression.
Aggression can occur in both male and female dogs, regardless of whether they are adult dogs or puppies.
You know your dog better than anybody, so if anything seems out of the ordinary, pay attention. For example, if you notice any changes to how much your dog eats, drinks, sleeps, etc., there could be a medical problem.
If your dog is in pain, it could go in one of two directions. Your dog may not feel like eating, become reclusive, or won’t engage in the activities he/she normally loves.
On the opposite end of the spectrum are dogs whose pain drives them aggression.
Disease-related aggression can be due to pain. It can also be due to neurological changes. The following diseases are examples of disorders that can predispose a dog to aggression:
• Hormonal imbalances (hypothyroidism)
• Loss of eyesight
• Neurological disease
Female dogs tend to go into heat at around the 6 month mark. At this point, it’s not unusual to recognize different behavior in your dog.
Suddenly, your dog might seem to be going through the “terrible teens” where she becomes more stubborn or unruly. This is a good time to contact your veterinarian to ask about spaying/neutering if you haven’t already.
Sexual drives and desires are absent in the early stages of a dog’s life, intensify during puberty and early adulthood, and then fade as the dog ages.
Redirected aggression is similar to frustration aggression. The difference is that the dog will turn on the person who tries to intervene in an aggressive situation. For example, people who try to physically break up dog fights are often bitten.
Another example happens between two or more dogs. For example, the dogs might be confined together in a back yard. If something triggers aggression in one of them, he/she may turn on the other dog.
This type of aggression can occur in both male or female dogs.
How To Manage an Aggressive Golden Retriever Puppy
First, see a veterinarian to rule out any medical problems. The diseases listed above are only a small sample. It’s very important to ensure your dog is healthy before embarking on a training program.
If there is an underlying condition causing the aggression, training won’t have much effect at this point.
Once your dog has been cleared of any medical problems, it’s time to look into basic behavior training. Experienced dog owners may be able to do this themselves. Otherwise, you may want to look for local training groups in your area.
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Behavioral Training Timelines
Start behavioral training between 8 and 16 weeks. At this point, socialization is key. It’s less about basic commands rather than allowing your puppy to learn how to interact with the environment and other dogs.
You can bring your puppy to a dog park as long as your dog has been vaccinated.
Puppies do not have strong immune systems and are vulnerable to things like the parvo virus. Parvo can be deadly in puppies. Ask your veterinarian when he/she thinks it’s safe to bring your puppy to a public park.
Socialize Socialize Socialize
Dogs learn best by playing with other dogs. If a puppy bites too hard, for example, he will quickly learn bite inhibition because the other dog will put him in his place.
By 6 months of age, your puppy should be able to follow basic commands. He/she should be housetrained and have good recall.
Teaching your dog that it’s okay to be alone in the house sometimes is a good way to reduce separation anxiety. There are a few ways to work on this including limited crate training while you leave the house for a short time.
You’ll also need to practice leaving and re-entering your home calmly and quietly. If you leave the house in an over-excited state your dog will take on that over-excited state.
Golden retriever puppies may appear to be aggressive when, in fact, they’re just doing what energetic puppies do.
That said, there are serious signs of aggression that should be noted. Any type of dog aggression needs to be addressed with professional help. That could be in the form of a veterinarian ruling out medical causes or a behaviorist assisting with training.
Golden retrievers are known to be friendly dogs. They are, however, big dogs. Big dogs can be dangerous (even when they’re just playing) to small children.
The best way to avoid unwanted behavior from your dog is to start basic training at an early age. Use positive reinforcement and be consistent.
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Great Pet Care. www.greatpetcare.com, 5 June 2020, https://www.greatpetcare.com/dog-behavior/understanding-fear-aggression-in-dogs/.
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Vca. vcahospitals.com, https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/aggression-in-dogs-territorial. Accessed 26 May 2022.
Breeding Business. breedingbusiness.com, 25 Mar. 2021, https://breedingbusiness.com/possessive-aggression-in-dogs/.
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ASPCA. www.aspca.org, https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/aggression. Accessed 26 May 2022.
Sexual Behavior in Dogs – PetPlace. www.petplace.com, 14 May 2020, https://www.petplace.com/article/dogs/pet-behavior-training/sexual-behavior-in-dogs/.
Cesar’s Way. www.cesarsway.com, 6 Sept. 2020, https://www.cesarsway.com/6-steps-to-managing-a-dogs-over-excitement/.