Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM
Golden Retrievers have a reputation for being one of the sweetest and safest dog breeds available.
They are a common choice for families looking for a dog that will be calm and good around all ages.
However, just like any other dog, individual golden retrievers may show signs of aggression under certain conditions.
Golden Retrievers are not an aggressive breed and are known to be excellent family dogs. However, lack of socialization, a history of abuse, or genetic issues can cause your golden to show signs of aggression. It is also possible to mistake your dog’s protective tendencies for aggressive episodes.
In the rest of this article, using my knowledge as a veterinary doctor, we will take a closer look at the situations and circumstances that can bring out the aggressive side of your golden retriever.
We will also see what to do when the aggressive episode is occurring and how to decrease the occurrence of these episodes in the long run.
Are They Aggressive to Humans?
Golden retrievers are not usually aggressive to humans, provided they have been properly socialized. However, human contact can trigger aggressive episodes with a history of abuse or lack of socialization.
Golden retrievers are typically loving and loyal to their family members.
Therefore, it is not normal for this breed to show aggression to the people they know and love.
However, if a particular family member triggers your goldens, an aggressive episode is rare but possible.
As a breed, golden retrievers are known for being good around children, including babies.
The breed is gentle by nature and typically does not pose a threat to the new human additions to the family.
It would be hard for a small baby to act in a way that a golden retriever would find triggering.
Still, if you have an aggressive dog, you will want to monitor their interactions closely.
Golden retrievers are famous for their ability to be soft with even mischievous toddlers.
They tend to be patient and loving family members, even when the toddler struggles to understand what a dog enjoys.
However, for an aggressive retriever, this age group may touch them in a way that reminds them of past abuse and could trigger an aggressive episode.
Older kids and golden retrievers tend to get along well. These playful dogs usually enjoy the energy of older kids.
However, with aggressive retrievers, your older child must understand how to play with your dog without activating any of their known triggers.
A well-socialized golden retriever tends to be very friendly with adults.
They love the affection of their owners and will seek out attention and pets.
Adult family members who understand the dog’s triggering behaviors will know how to avoid provoking an aggressive episode.
In general, golden retrievers enjoy the company of strangers. They tend to be friendly and docile, enjoying the attention provided by strangers.
However, this can be different if you have a particularly aggressive dog.
In Your Home
Aggressive golden retrievers may feel particularly protective in the home.
If they view visitors as a threat to their territory or family, they may show signs of aggression.
Let’s take a closer look at these scenarios.
If the pet owner warmly welcomes guests into the home, the golden retriever will likely be relaxed and friendly.
They will usually seek out attention and pets from the guests.
However, if the guests behave in a triggering way, the dog may respond differently.
Golden retrievers do not have a reputation as good guard dogs.
They may let out a warning bark but are likely to greet an intruder with a wagging tail.
However, if the intruder is encroaching on their food, territory, or puppies, they may experience a more aggressive side of the dog.
Outside your home
Meeting strangers on the street should be a pleasant experience for a well-socialized golden retriever.
They are not a suspicious breed by nature and tend to enjoy human interaction.
For undersocialized dogs, they may be alarmed by new people. Socializing your dog will help with positive interactions outside the home.
Are They Aggressive to Other Animals?
Golden retrievers are as docile with other pets as they are with humans, and they tend to get along well with other animals. Only if your dog has a history of abuse, problematic genetics, or a lack of socialization will you typically see aggressive behavior towards other animals.
Other Animals in Your Household
Golden retrievers do well with other animals in the household. As a breed, they can live quite harmoniously with other pets.
Only if they are predisposed to aggressive behavior do they tend to have aggressive episodes related to other animals.
Animals They Encounter Outside
The same goes for animals they encounter outside. A healthy, well-socialized golden retriever will enjoy time with other dogs and animals.
If your golden suffers from aggressive episodes, other animals can act as a trigger.
Are Female or Male Golden Retrievers More Aggressive?
Female golden retrievers may show more aggressive tendencies after having a litter of puppies, but when it comes to causes of aggression, the sex of your dog is not a primary contributing factor. Instead, genetics and individual experiences typically decide a dog’s aggression.
What Can Cause Aggressive Behavior?
A mix of genetic and environmental factors can bring on an aggressive episode for your golden retriever. A lack of socialization, a history of past abuse, and unsafe breeding practices can all contribute to a dog’s aggressive behavior.
Lack of Socialization
If your dog hasn’t been properly socialized, they may find new people, places, and animals overstimulating and threatening.
When golden retrievers feel unsafe when exposed to so much new stimulation, they are more likely to get defensive and aggressive.
It can be hard to get through to your golden retriever when they are already feeling this way and entering their aggressive episode.
To make life feel less threatening to your dog, you can spend more time and energy socializing them.
Make socializing part of your dog’s daily routine to make it both normal and something they can start to look forward to as part of their regular schedule.
If your dog gets used to being around different people, dogs, and other stimulation, they will no longer perceive these external changes as threatening.
When they learn that new people, places, and animals are safe, the rate of aggressive episodes should decrease.
If your golden retriever suffered violence or abuse in the past, they would likely have more aggressive tendencies than a dog that did not suffer such hardships.
In addition, if they experienced abuse, they might struggle to be handled or touched in certain ways.
If you suspect your dog has suffered abuse in the past, you will want to recognize their triggers and be sensitive to what they have experienced.
Only once you understand their triggers will you be able to effectively help them view their current world as a less scary place.
Unsafe Breeding Practices
While environmental factors significantly impact a dog’s tendency to become aggressive, genetics also play a part.
Unfortunately, there are breeders in the world that are more concerned with making money than ethical breeding.
If you are looking to get your dog from a local breeder, be sure to take the time and research the options carefully.
Find a breeder that follows responsible breeding practices.
This will give you the best chance at taking home a dog without genetic problems that could lead to aggression.
Is Your Golden Retriever Being Aggressive or Protective?
Golden retrievers may become protective of their territory, family, food, or puppies. It is essential to understand the difference between instinctive protective mode and excessive aggressive episodes as a pet parent.
An undersocialized dog, an abused dog, or an inbred dog may seem to get aggressive without a particular reason why.
However, we can understand them better and help them manage their aggression when considering their genetics and environmental conditioning.
That being said, healthy goldens that have been well socialized without any past abuse may also exhibit aggressive-seeming behavior from time to time.
However, if you look carefully at the environmental context surrounding the episode, you will likely see that they were being protective instead of aggressive.
Learn To Recognize the Signs That Your Dog Is About To Get Aggressive
Luckily, there are usually physical clues that can signal the pet parent that an aggressive episode is about to begin.
For example, if you notice your golden retriever tensing up, widening their eyes, and showing their teeth, it is likely they are entering an aggressive state.
You may also notice their lip curling back, or their mouth is becoming particularly tense.
These symptoms can become more severe, with your dog possibly snapping at the air, lunging at the target of their aggression, and even biting.
Again, the signs will differ from dog to dog, and you will have to become accustomed to how your dog is signaling to you that an aggressive episode is beginning.
Understanding what is causing this behavior is the first step in changing the pattern for the pet parent.
If you can see your dog’s perspective and locate the root cause, you will be able to tackle the behavioral problem effectively.
Be sure to observe your dog and notice the underlying patterns when this behavior comes up.
What To Do During an Aggressive Episode
While prevention will be vital in retraining your dog from aggressive behaviors, it is also essential to have some in-the-moment strategies ready to help your dog during an episode.
In addition, you will want to know what you can do to de-escalate the situation and keep your dog and others safe.
Know that it is imperative that you stay calm and avoid further stressing your dog.
During an aggressive episode, your dog may not be able to listen to you and follow commands as they normally would.
You mustn’t punish your dog for this, as punishment can make your dog feel even more threatened and lash out with increased aggression.
Look to establish the environment as safe for your dog.
For example, did your pet become aggressive because of a stranger or a child?
Whatever the root cause of the aggression, look to remove it or your dog from the situation as soon as possible.
The goal should be restoring peace, not training your dog in this instant.
Rehabilitating an aggressive dog will not happen at the moment but rather when your dog is calm and ready for training.
Following a training plan with plenty of positive reinforcement will be key.
When To Get Professional Help
If your dog is establishing a pattern of aggressive behavior and you are at a loss for positively influencing this pattern, it’s time to seek out professional help.
If you notice the aggressive episodes are occurring more frequently or to a new degree of severity, it is time to call your vet for advice.
Checking with your veterinarian or an animal behavior expert is a great way to make sure you are helping your dog as effectively as possible.
These professionals can help guide you precisely, considering your dog’s particular tendencies, past and personality.
They will also be able to demonstrate to you what you can do as a pet parent to prevent future aggressive episodes and what to do when the aggression is occurring.
What Does the Rehabilitation Process Look Like?
The rehabilitation process will require patience and consistency from the pet parent as they navigate their dog’s triggers. To support your dog in establishing new, more desirable behaviors, be sure to avoid punishment, and avoid known triggers.
Even once you have sought out professional help, you will still need to help your dog on the rehabilitation path actively.
If your dog is feeling threatened and is lashing out with aggression, delivering a punishment at the moment can make matters worse.
It can make your dog even more fearful, and they may aim their aggressive behaviors more directly at you.
Avoid Known Triggers
While the rehabilitation process will ask a lot from your dog regarding behavioral changes, it will also require changes from the pet parent.
The things that trigger your dog’s aggressive episodes should be minimized during the rehabilitation process and undertaken only with great care during training.
For example, if touching your dog in a particular way brings about aggressive behavior, the owner should not touch the dog like this unless it is part of the retraining plan.
Prevention of excessive episodes is vital in the rehabilitation process so that You can carefully reintroduce the triggers as non-threatening to the dog.
Be Patient and Consistent
The pet parent will need to show plenty of patience and consistency in this rehabilitation process.
It will take lots of repetition to show the dog that life is not threatening and that they can feel safe, even when exposed to their triggers.
For example, suppose a dog is triggered into aggression when a particular body part is touched.
In that case, the pet parent will need to spend lots of time petting parts of the dog that do not elicit that response and rewarding the dog generously.
By rewarding your pet with praise and treats, the dog will slowly feel more comfortable being touched.
Over time, as trust and positive conditioning grows, the dog may not feel so threatened when particular body parts are touched.
If you are bringing a golden retriever home, you have chosen an extremely sweet and docile breed for you and your family.
However, just because these dogs are not typically aggressive by nature, genetic or environmental factors may cause them to have aggressive episodes.
If you notice a pattern of aggressive behavior in your dog, you will want to contact a professional to begin a treatment plan.
With time, patience and consistency, you can demonstrate to your dog a non-threatening way to experience the world that will help decrease the aggressive episodes.
- Golden Hearts: Can Golden Retrievers Be Aggressive?
- Golden Hearts: Golden Retrievers & Kids
- Golden Retrievers Training: Aggressiveness in Golden Retrievers
- Loyal Goldens: Male Vs. Female Golden Retriever
- Michigan State University: Aggression Toward Owners is Always Problematic, But When Is It Pathological?
- Retrievers Hub: Why Does My Golden Retriever Attack Other Dogs?
- The Spruce Pets: How to Stop Aggressive Behavior in Dogs
- Youtube: The Truth About Aggressive Golden Retrievers
Learn more about this breed on my one-page Golden Retriever guide
Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society