Golden Retriever | Complete Breed Characteristics Guide

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

Golden Retriever

If you have children, no doubt they have asked you multiple times for a family dog.

When you give in to their demands, what qualities should you consider and which breeds?

Certainly, the term Golden retriever will come up at least once in your quest for an ideal family dog.

Using my experience as a veterinary doctor, I’ve put together this one-page guide for Golden Retriever owners. Read on to learn more about this incredible breed and what you can expect from living with these friendly dogs. Here’s all the information you need to ensure a long-lasting friendship!

Brief Introduction

Goldens seem like the perfect pet with their charming personality, enthusiasm, athleticism, beautiful golden locks, and friendly nature with people, kids, and other pets.

On the other side of the coin, Golden retrievers take a considerable commitment to attention, exercise, and grooming.

Research is just as crucial for retrievers as any other dog breed.

Many sporting dogs like Golden retrievers are people-oriented and easy-going.

They also are akin to working dogs that require an active lifestyle and a sense of purpose to stay fit and remain happy.

About the Golden Retriever

Golden retriever playing

Golden Retrievers, or Goldens, are medium to large-breed dogs whose color can range from white or cream to deep red.

Famous and overwhelmingly popular because of their looks, friendliness, and unfailing obedience, Goldens are the ideal family pet for many.

They get along with other animals, children, and visitors, yet their sporting background makes them indispensable in various jobs.

The incredible history of the Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers have one of the best-documented histories of any dog breed.

There is still debate about the original ancestors.

One sure thing is the active development of the Golden retriever began in Scotland in the late 1860s or early 1870s with Sir Dudley Marjoribanks, who later became the first Lord of Tweedmouth.

Tweedmouth would develop a famous studbook outlining the rise of the Golden retriever.

At first, the widely-accepted belief was Lord Tweedmouth started his retrievers on his Scottish lands with Russian circus performing dogs.

Goldens came from outcrosses between the Russian deerhound-type dogs and sandy Scottish Bloodhounds, according to this theory.

In the 1950s, new data came to light. According to Lord Tweedmouth’s studbook, he started the Golden Retriever with the purchase of a yellow retriever-type named Nous in 1865.

He did not immediately breed the unregistered dog, but when he did, he crossed it with Belle, a Tweed Water Spaniel of Scottish descent.

Experts now believe most Goldens are from that cross producing four females.

There is compelling evidence that a red and white Setter contributed to red and sometimes golden-colored retrievers through crosses with one of the original females.

Lord Tweedmouth continued to produce mostly yellow retrievers in the subsequent decades.

Documentation of yellow retriever breeding fell off after 1890.

Golden retriever

In 1901 Golden retriever breeding began again in earnest, with continued outcrosses with setters during the previous few years likely.

A couple of the most influential foundation dogs of the breed after the first Lord Tweedmouth’s crosses were Lady and Culham Brass.

Lady gave rise to the Culham line and probably descended from one of the Nous x Belle crosses and a red setter.

Experts believe Lady is responsible for 90% or more of all Golden retrievers that followed.

Culham Brass became one of the most important Golden retriever sires after the United Kennel officially recognized the breed in 1901.

The Golden Retriever joined the AKC in 1925.

Interesting facts about this furry friend

  • There are three major types of Golden Retrievers – American, English, and Canadian 
  • Goldens make good dock diving competitors
  • Although not problem barkers, they have a booming voice – A Golden from Australia holds the Guinness World record as of 2013 for the loudest bark. Charlie’s voice registers at a little over 113 decibels
  • The breed is No. 3 most popular dog in the US according to the AKC and No. 6 in the world

Golden Retriever Characteristics

As is true for many sporting and working dogs, Golden Retrievers should impress you with their symmetry and balance.

The head is broad between the ears and is equal between the skull and snout from front to back.

Golden retriever

A Golden has a pronounced stop, medium-sized, deep-set dark eyes, and moderately short hanging ears.

Golden retrievers are strong with medium-length strong and arching neck, sloping shoulders, rather wide muscular hindquarters, and a moderately broad chest.

In keeping with the breed’s overall balanced appearance, the body is short-coupled, and the tail is thick and muscular.

A Golden’s tail curves at the tip but neither rises over the back nor tucks between the legs.

The Golden’s back also portrays strength, straight from shoulders to hips.

The croup, or area between the hipbones and tail, has a slight slope. Golden retrievers are a breed with minimal abdominal tuck-up.


Golden Retrievers have a double coat with a ruff of longer hair around the neck, especially males, and feathers on the legs’ backs, under the tail, and the belly.

The undercoat is lighter in color than the outer guard hairs. Goldens, as their name indicates, are usually a shade of golden brown to blonde.

Some dogs are almost red, while others can be cream.

White is a color disqualification by the AKC, as is the rare black dog.

Individual white or black hairs will receive penalty points, and pale colors like cream are serious faults.

Preferences vary, however, among the different types. 

  • American – Similar in size to Canadian variety; Deep, rich shades of honey to golden
  • British (English) – A cream color is common; On average, the smallest of the three types with the most feathering
  • Canadian – Shortest and thinnest fur of the three types of Goldens; Tallest variety

 As you can surmise above, the AKC recognizes three colors for the Golden retriever.

  • Golden
  • Light golden
  • Dark golden – Can be almost red, but extreme shades are not preferable

 The United Kennel Club prefers cream-colored dogs.

Golden retriever laid down

How adaptable is your friend?

 Goldens are moderately adaptable to various living conditions.

They are very flexible to different and challenging situations as well as to unfamiliar people and animals.

+ Good for novice owners? -Yes

Similar to Labradors, Goldens are patient, kind, and amiable.

They are also willing to please, obedient, smart, and easy to train, making them great dogs for beginner owners.

+ Adapts well to apartment living?

Your Golden can adapt to apartment living if you keep a few characteristics in mind.

You must train your dog to behave calmly and reasonably within a small space.

Younger Goldens may be challenging because they retain puppy-like exuberance through the age of three or four years.

Finally, you must never forget your Golden is a working retriever and needs plenty of activity.

If you provide your Golden Retriever with many exercises and mental stimulation, she will be a good apartment or condo companion.

+ Sensitivity level

You will find your Golden is a sensitive soul. Golden Retrievers seek validation of a job well-done more than other similar breeds, like the Lab.

Harsh words or lack of attention can make them depressed and withdrawn.

Otherwise, you can expect your pet to be attentive and responsive to your wishes.

+ Tolerates being alone? – No

Your Golden should not be alone for longer than six or seven hours at a time.

Goldens are programmed to be working companions and are prone to separation anxiety.

Prolonged separation from their owners or family members can lead to inappropriate howling, barking, severe depression, and chewing.

+ Tolerates cold weather?

This breed tolerates cold weather much like a Labrador. The double coat is well-adapted mostly to cold water because the outer hairs are water-repellant.

A fluffy undercoat will insulate your dog against temperatures down to 40 or 45 degrees Fahrenheit.

Despite their protective coats, Goldens are not meant to stay outside in below-freezing temperatures for prolonged periods.

Golden retriever wet

Exercising dogs keep themselves warm with the help of muscle movement, but the coat is not as wind and cold resistant as a Malamute’s.

Golden retrievers can hunt outside in the winter or play with the kids in the snow but should spend most of their idle time indoors with their families.

+ Tolerates hot weather?

Hunting dogs can acclimate to warm weather, especially if retrieving in lakes.

However, if your dog is mainly a pet, he should not exercise or spend much time outside if the temperature is above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

Goldens have even less tolerance for heat if the humidity creeps near 20% or above.

You can make your dog’s time outdoors in the summer more tolerable by providing shade, pools, and sprinklers.

Goldens are best off indoors with their family members in any extremes of temperature.

Friendliness of the Golden Retriever

Golden retrievers are among the friendliest of dog breeds.

A reputable breeder is crucial because a few lines of Goldens show dog aggression and fear biting tendencies.

+ Affectionate with Family?

Goldens are exceptionally affectionate and loving with the entire family.

Most enjoy cuddling even if they are not the ones to initiate a snuggling session.

Overall, they enjoy being by your side and hearing your voice.

+ Kid-friendly?

A Golden’s kindness extends to children. They often have a seemingly natural gentleness with kids.

They also like many activities that appeal to young ones like fetch, receiving hugs, splashing in kiddie pools, and playing chase.

+ Friendly with other pets?

Golden retriever playing with a puppy

The Golden retriever is one of the few breeds that is friendly with almost all animals, large and small.

She can even have an altruistic nature where she tries to take care of other species.

You might easily mistake your Golden’s easy-going friendliness with lack of a prey drive, but that is not the case.

You must socialize your Golden, so he controls his instincts to chase animals, bicycles, and cars.

Just because your Retriever may not be a killer does not mean he will not cause harm by wild chasing.

Good manners allow him to tap into other strong drives like pack instinct, making him widely social and willing to form bonds.

+ Friendly towards strangers?

Conscientious breeding and proper socialization will mean your Golden will not know a stranger.

Your dog should be kind and cordial with everyone, greeting all with a Golden smile and a wagging tail.

Guarding instinct is nonexistent, although your furry friend will likely announce visitors with loud and enthusiastic barking.

Health and grooming needs

Goldens have moderate grooming requirements and can suffer from both minor and severe health problems.

+ Amount of shedding

Golden retrievers shed a considerable amount year-round. They shed even more during the season changes that occur in autumn and spring.

+ Drooling potential

Goldens have a low potential to drool excessively. Unlike breeds such as Saint Bernards or Great Danes, the Golden Retriever does not have excess folds around the lips or flews.

Therefore, saliva does not collect enough to contribute significantly to slobbering. 

+ General Health

Health problems beset Golden Retrievers. Not all Goldens will suffer any issues, and most health challenges are manageable.

You can expect your Golden to live 10 to 12 years.

Like many purebred dogs, large or small, one of the top hereditary problems facing Golden retrievers is hip dysplasia.

Largely a congenital growth irregularity from the parents or grandparents, environmental factors like over-exercise and obesity can exacerbate hip dysplasia in susceptible individuals.

Golden retriever close up of face

Besides bone and joint issues, including OCD and arthritis, the Golden’s health problems run the gambit from allergies to heart disease and from allergies to eye issues.

+ Potential for weight gain

Goldens adapt readily to a comfortable and lazy lifestyle.

Historically an active dog in the field, Golden retrievers whose primary jobs are companionship and babysitting can quickly ingest too many calories.

Moreover, their conformation can make it challenging to detect excess weight in the early stages of obesity. 

+ Easy to groom?

Goldens are not the most difficult dogs to groom, but their beautiful luxurious coats require reasonable care.

Most dog owners keep their Goldens in a natural coat as needed for the conformation show rings.

However, the curling of the outer coat and the feathering on the tail, hind legs, and belly make the breed prone to matting.

You should brush your Golden Retriever at least three times a week.

The thicker your dog’s coat and the fancier the feathering, the more often you will need to brush.

Ideally, you should use three or more brush types for your pet.

A pin brush has bristles with rubber tips and is an excellent general surface brush to get rid of dirt, debris, and loose hairs in the outer coat.

It also distributes natural oils throughout the coat. A slicker goes into deeper layers of the fur than the pin brush.

Some owners use it in place of the pin brush, but it is ideal for dogs with medium-long to long hair.

A deshedder cleans the undercoat of dead hair and dirt. Golden retrievers soil easily because of the nature of their coats.

+ Size

Females are 21.5 to 23 inches tall at the shoulder and weigh about 55 to 65 pounds.

Males can be 22 to 24 inches tall and typically are 10 pounds heavier than females.


 Goldens are highly intelligent, trainable, and obedient.

Golden retriever puppy

+ Easy to train?

One of the Golden’s most notable features is her trainability.

The major challenge to training that may make it harder for a novice owner is the breed’s sensitivity.

Harsh training methods or impatience can lead to a nervous or skittish dog.

However, Golden retrievers forgive mistakes. They have a hard-to-match willingness to please, and their operational intelligence helps them learn commands quickly.

+ Intelligence

According to Stanley Coren’s ranking of dogs by working intelligence, the Golden retriever is among the brightest.

She falls at No.4 between the German shepherd and Doberman.

Working intelligence has become the gold standard that many sites use when judging canine intelligence, but Coren also measured dogs’ powers of observation, problem-solving capabilities, memory, and social capacities.

The prominent missing link of the study is the absence of a large number of breeds.

Nevertheless, Goldens excel in the work they were bred for, social intelligence, and memory.

+ Prey drive

By adapting the Golden to a particular purpose, breeders have modified prey drive to the point that it is no longer recognizable.

In the Golden retriever, the retrieving and pack drives have overtaken predatory instincts.

Goldens may chase moving objects, but generally, the result is not aggression.

Most inherent in the breed’s personality is a strong need to be with the family and love games like fetch.

+ Tendency to bark or howl

Golden retrievers have a loud bark but do not vocalize without reason unless suffering from separation anxiety, boredom, or loneliness.

+ Potential for mouthiness

Like any retriever, Goldens want to carry things in their mouths.

Usually, they resort to picking up inanimate objects, but they may try to “carry” your hand or the family kitten.

Golden retriever

Expect your Golden to be mouthy even beyond two years of age.

Teaching your Golden what is acceptable for her to put into her mouth can be ongoing and frustrating.

The other worry is that some individuals, especially puppies, go as far as to eat foreign objects.

Physical needs

 Golden retrievers have extensive physical needs.

  • Exercise
  • Attention
  • Love and affection
  • Socialization
  • Training, reassurance, praise, and validation
  • A purpose

+ Intensity

Goldens tend to be high-intensity and high-maintenance dogs.

Companion and show lines can be as intense as field dogs because they are active in most things they do.

Your Golden will take affection seriously and will go all out to show it.

He will display the same zest for hunting as he does for playing with the kids.

His focus will be unwavering as a guide dog for the blind or a therapy animal for the autistic.

Golden retriever on a bed

+ Energy level

Goldens have abundant reserves of energy. Although they can adapt to a sedentary lifestyle, most crave a highly-active lifestyle until the age of four years or more.

+ Exercise needs

Sporting dogs are much like working dogs in that they are smart and active. They require plenty of exercise on top of mental challenges.

Your Golden Retriever should receive 60 to 90 minutes of exercise daily.

Most dogs benefit from breaking up activities into more than one period over a twenty-four-hour span.

Twenty to forty minutes of your session should involve high-intensity exercises for your dog.

You should also dedicate ten to fifteen minutes to consistent training and focus on socialization during your dog’s puppy stage.

Training for competitions such as agility or hunting trials is an excellent way to engage your dog’s mind, an aspect of exercise that is easy to neglect.

Goldens are athletic and agile, making them fun and satisfying to engage in sports and jobs.

  • Dog park – Social nature makes this an excellent venture for Goldens.
  • Search and rescue
  • Physical assistance dogs
  • Disability assistance – Guide, hearing-impaired
  • Narcotics sniffing
  • Agility
  • Flyball
  • Hunting or field trials
  • Conformation shows
  • Obedience trials 
Golden retriever puppies

+ Potential for Playfulness – High

Golden retrievers love to play, never taking themselves too seriously.

Many people know them for possessing a puppy personality well into adulthood.

Size of the Breed

Golden retrievers are a medium-large breed almost the exact size of the Labrador.

Goldens are on average half an inch shorter and five pounds lighter than their Lab counterparts.

Size is a significant standard for AKC conformation.

Show candidates receive penalty points for any deviation from the size standard and in proportion to how much above or below the accepted range.

Dogs that are above or below the designated range by over an inch receive a disqualification.

Puppies are not exempt from the size standard, so many show late relative to other breeds.


Golden retrievers should be confident, enthusiastic, and friendly.

Ready to take on their duties with exuberance, young dogs may lack focus.

Goldens can be at best flaky and hyperactive without training and socialization and, at worst, skittish and antisocial.


Although Golden retrievers apparently love children and often exhibit remarkable gentleness, they can forget their size.

Golden retriever puppy

Dogs under five years of age can have a youthful exuberance that is overwhelming to small children.

Without careful adult monitoring, your dog is large enough that he can accidentally knock a child over.

Golden retriever aggression is rare, but you should teach your child acceptable behavior around canids and discourage your pet from jumping up on people.

Do not allow your Golden to rough house with children under the age of ten years.

Other Pets

Golden retrievers are amicable with other household pets, including cats, rabbits, and Guinea pigs.

They seem to especially like other Goldens but are great with any dogs close to their size.

Golden retrievers are not typically aggressive with small dogs, but their large size and exuberant nature can put little pets at risk of accidental trauma.


Goldens are not particularly unusual among purebred dogs in the plethora of health problems they can suffer.

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Cancer – Goldens are overrepresented in this category; Types are hemangiosarcoma (usually spleen), lymphoma, or bone (osteosarcoma)
  • Heart disease
  • Skin disease – Skin disease outside of allergies is common; Lipoma or fatty skin tumors: skin tags; Bacterial infections, mainly associated with matted fur.
  • Allergies – Can cause rashes, skin infections, and ear infections.
  • Hypothyroidism – low thyroid hormone production
  • GDV – Potential problem of deep-chested dogs where stomach swells with gas, fluid, or food and rotates; Can lessen risks with smaller meals and not exercising your dog directly after she eats; Elevating food bowls increases risk
  • Von Willebrand’s – Clotting disorder; Nail trims and surgery will see your dog bleeding more profusely than she ordinarily should
  • Luxating patellas – The kneecap does not stay in place, causing intermittent lameness as it pops out; Golden retrievers are one large breed that can become afflicted
  • Neuronal ceroid lipofuscinosis (NCL) – Neurologic disorder more prevalent in some breeds. In Goldens, neurologic deterioration eventually leads to seizures; Disease appears around 13 months, and affected dogs may only live until they are three years old.
  • Epilepsy – Seizure disorder
  • Eye ailments – You can see progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, or Golden retriever uveitis as the most common eye problems in the breed; Uveitis or inflammation of the inner eye structure beneath the sclera can cause blindness via glaucoma or cataracts.
Golden retriever walking in the water


Golden retrievers suffer hip and elbow dysplasia at similar rates to herding breeds.

You will likely see percentages as high as 20% and 12% for the hips and elbows, respectively.

Dysplasia is inherited on multiple genes, and all mechanisms are not yet understood.

There are also environmental factors. Dysplasia involves a failure of the respective joint to align properly through asymmetric growth or joint laxity.

Severe cases end up in great pain with arthritis later. Surgical intervention is an option for many individuals.


Goldens most commonly suffer from SAS or dilated cardiomyopathy.

Subaortic Valve Stenosis

The Golden’s most common congenital heart disease, SAS, can be distressing.

The condition involves excess tissue below the aortic valves, impeding blood flow into the heart’s left side.

Unlike dilated cardiomyopathy, the heart muscles undergo hypertrophy or excessive development.

The heart eventually can become dysfunctional, causing weakness, shortness of breath, and exercise intolerance.

It is hereditary with an unclear pattern in the Golden. Mildly affected dogs live everyday lives.

Some dogs with subtle symptoms can still suffer severe disease and pass it on to their offspring.

Dilated Cardiomyopathy

As the name suggests, dilated cardiomyopathy involves the weakening of the heart muscles secondary to dilation of the chambers and thinning of the walls.

Such changes reflect inefficient heart contraction, commonly from a taurine deficiency in the Golden.

Widely associated with cats, taurine deficiency appears more common in certain dog breeds, including Goldens.

Ensure you consult your veterinarian about specific diets you want to feed your dog, starting as a puppy.

To get a general idea of common health problems, the AKC recommends conscientious breeding programs incorporate hip, elbow, eye, and heart evaluations on their dogs as well as a CNL DNA test.

Golden retriever running

Grooming and care

Goldens have a Retriever double coat comprised of straight to wavy guard hairs in the outer layer and dense underfur.

The outer coat is usually of medium length but can be longer and thicker in some Goldens.

A Golden’s undercoat is variable in thickness depending on how much exposure your dog has to extreme weather.

Goldens have long fringes of hair or “feathers” on the backs of the lower front legs, upper hind legs, chest, abdomen, and tail.

Feathers grow thicker on the tail and hind legs, and most Golden retrievers also have a ruff of thicker fur around their necks.

A Golden’s luxurious fur not only leads to copious shedding but necessitates that you dedicate a lot of time to brushing.

Some people shave their Goldens down to cut down on the high-maintenance needs of their coats.

Such measures eliminate the insulating benefits of your dog’s double coat.

If your Golden has a natural coat, you should brush it three times a week to every day.

Brushing removes loose hair to improve shedding and deals with the breed’s tendency to attract dirt.

There are a few other tasks to add to your grooming routine.

  • Baths: You can bathe your Golden every one to eight weeks, depending on soiling. Always use a mild shampoo with low levels of detergent. Brush any mats out of dry fur before you bathe. The skin and coat health of this Retriever depends on thorough drying as well as the bath itself. 
  • Brush teeth: Every week to every few days; Use only dog toothpaste.
  • Clip claws: Every six to eight weeks; Dogs who exercise on hard surfaces will need less nail care except for the dewclaw.
  • Check ears for any sign of infection every week – Check for redness, odor, discharge, scratching, or frequent head shaking.

How to feed your Golden Retriever

Hopefully, you will acquire your new Golden retriever puppy no sooner than eight to twelve weeks old.

Young pups like these eat three or four times a day. Puppies younger than seven or eight weeks may need you to feed them every few hours.

Once their dog reaches six months of age, many people start the more convenient feeding schedule of two meals a day.


Goldens have large puppies that grow quickly.

Ideally, you should feed your young dog food formulated for large-breed pups. Such diets attempt to eliminate overfeeding.

They prevent incredibly rapid growth that can lead to the worsening of orthopedic developmental problems.

Dysplasia has a strong genetic component but can also receive environmental influences from excess weight, too much dietary fat and carbohydrates, and vitamin and mineral imbalances.

Once she achieves physical maturity at about nine to 12 months, you should continue to feed your Golden twice a day.

The breed is susceptible to bloat, and avoiding large meals helps in preventative efforts.

How much to feed your Retriever depends on several factors.

  • Age: Puppies may eat three times the amount of food than an adult would, relative to size.
  • Size: Feeding charts usually go by your dog’s weight; Use charts on dog food labels with caution as they tend to error on the side of overfeeding.
  • Gender: Males usually need more food than females due to a greater core body mass.
  • Reproductive status: Nursing mothers need the most calories, followed by pregnant females then actively breeding males.
  • Activity: Intuitive, more active dogs need more calories.
  • Illness and surgery: Recovering dogs often need more food and sometimes a particular nutrient composition.
  • Weight loss: Your veterinarian can determine amounts to feed if your dog becomes overweight. 
  • Weather: If your dog spends significant amounts of time outdoors, you may need to account for extra energy burning in the winter.
  • Quality of food: Diets with animal proteins as the top ingredient and those that use whole foods where possible provide greater nutritional value in smaller portions

A 60-pound Golden with proper daily exercise will need about 1450 calories per day.

Couch potatoes may need less than 1000 a day, while working dogs often require more than 1750.

Depending on the dog food, 1400 calories could work out to between two and a half and four cups a day.



  • “The Origins of the Golden Retriever Revisited” by Jeffrey Pepper
  • “Adelaide dog claims loudest bark record” by ABC News
  • The Top 50 Most Popular Dog Breeds In The World
  • “Types and Colors of Golden Retrievers” by Corey Rawlins
  • “Golden Retriever” by American Kennel Club
  • “Five Questions About Golden Retrievers, Answered” by Orvis Staff
  • Ranking of Dogs for Obedience/Working Intelligence
  • “Subaortic Stenosis” by Katherine Hogan, DVM, DACVIM
  • Taurine deficiency and dilated cardiomyopathy in golden retrievers
  • “Health Testing Requirements” by American Kennel Club
  • Golden Retriever Feeding Guide – Puppy, Adult & Senior

See more dog breeds

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

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