What to Know About Golden Retrievers

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen Claussen, DVM on July 09, 2022
6 min read

Golden Retrievers are a long-haired, medium to large-sized breed of dog. They are good pets and function well in both suburban and country homes. One of America's most popular dogs, they are gun dogs — given the retriever name due to their ability to gather shot game birds without damage. Very playful, Golden Retrievers are joyful puppies that keep their playful personality into adulthood.

The Golden Retriever is a muscular, sturdy dog. They are well known for their lustrous, dense golden coat. They have a broad head, short ears, a straight muzzle, and friendly eyes. They move easily, with a strong gait and a feathery tail.

Bred for hunting, the Golden Retriever is powerful and active. Retrievers also have good balance and agility. They should be kept in an environment that allows them to work hard, which is in the dog’s nature. They have a hair shedding level of four out of five, which is high considering their thick, water-repellant double coat. The American Kennel Club ranks a Golden Retriever's drooling two out of five.

How big will a Golden Retriever get? Males tend to reach a height of 23 to 24 inches at the shoulders, with an average weight of 67 to 75 pounds. Females will grow to about 21.5 to 22.5 inches at the shoulders and weigh 55 to 65 pounds. The Golden Retriever's lifespan is about 10 to 12 years. 

The Golden Retriever personality type is gentle and friendly. Because of this, they aren’t suited to be guard dogs. But the Golden Retriever breed is very intelligent and versatile. This makes them great dogs for guiding the blind and functioning as hearing dogs for the deaf. They are also bred for traditional hunting-type roles, including detection and search-and-rescue jobs.  

Golden Retrievers are alert, enthusiastic, and self-confident. They are also very playful, eager to please, and trainable. They are gentle with children and respond well to obedience training.  

Golden Retriever care consists of consistent grooming and occasional bathing. You should groom them daily during periods of heavy shedding and once a week otherwise. They shed throughout the year, with two periods of extreme shedding, which can result in bald patches. Constant grooming lessens the amount of hair a Golden Retriever sheds. They should also be bathed about every other month, with their ears cleaned regularly to avoid infections.

Golden Retrievers need high-quality food with proper nutrients. They can become overweight, so monitor their calorie consumption. It is best not to feed them from the table or give them too many treats because this can lead to weight gain and obesity.

A Golden Retriever needs plenty of exercise like most sporting breeds. They are great company on bike rides and long walks. Regular daily activity should satisfy their need for movement. Golden Retrievers have an average energy level and a low tendency to dig, but they need a lot of attention.

Check the dog’s floppy ears every week for infection. You should brush their teeth daily with a dog toothpaste. Take them for veterinary checkups annually. If your Golden Retriever goes outside, check them for fleas and ticks. Discuss appropriate flea, tick, and heartworm prevention with your veterinarian. Like all breeds, a Golden Retriever's nails should be regularly trimmed.

Several vaccinations are essential for your dog's health, including those for: 

  • Rabies
  • Parainfluenza
  • Canine Distemper Virus
  • Bordetella Bronchiseptica
  • Canine Adenovirus-2
  • Parvovirus
  • Canine Influenza
  • Leptospirosis

Overall, Golden Retrievers are a healthy dog breed. They do have genetic disorders and are prone to other diseases. And because they love to eat, their interest in food can often lead to obesity.

Hip dysplasia is fairly common and can be caused by genetic and environmental factors. A 2019 survey found that almost 25% of this breed has hip dysplasia. Some Golden Retrievers are affected by elbow dysplasia. Your vet may recommend a series of X-rays to look for signs of these conditions. Treatments include anti-inflammatories, weight reduction, physical therapy, and, sometimes, orthopedic surgery.

Golden Retrievers can have eye conditions like pigmentary uveitis, juvenile cataracts, and progressive retinal atrophy. Cataracts are a common eye problem but are manageable in most cases if detected early enough.

Golden Retrievers are prone to certain heart diseases, like the inherited subvalvular aortic stenosis, which is a narrowing of a heart valve that forces the heart to work harder. Treatment is based on the severity of symptoms and usually includes long-term medications.

Some Golden Retrievers are predisposed to hypothyroidism, which slows the metabolism by preventing the thyroid from secreting enough hormone. Symptoms include lethargy, weight gain, and changes in the coat and skin. A blood test will indicate if your Golden needs lifelong thyroid supplementation medication.

Dogs with allergies can have itchy skin and may experience other symptoms, such as sneezing and swelling of the face. Atopy is one type of allergic condition seen in some Golden Retrievers, making them more sensitive to common allergic triggers. The folds of the skin, ears, feet, and belly are most often affected. This usually begins between one and three years old and may worsen each year until the dog eventually needs treatment. Treatment may include fatty acid supplementation, anti-inflammatory medications, specialty diets, or allergy desensitization injections.

Golden Retrievers tend to live longer than many other breeds of dogs, so they may get cancer in their later years. Cancer is the most common cause of death in older dogs. Treatment can include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or other recommendations from your veterinarian.

Golden Retrievers are particularly susceptible to aggressive tumors called hemangiosarcomas. This disease is most common in the spleen, but the tumors can grow in any organ. The tumor can break open and cause internal bleeding. Early detection is important, as this type of tumor can be life-threatening. Some hemangiosarcomas are treatable with chemotherapy or surgical removal. Golden retrievers can develop fibromas, or benign skin tumors, as well. Veterinarians can perform diagnostic tests periodically and look for lumps and bumps during routine pet examinations.

Golden Retrievers are powerful and energetic dogs that enjoy playing outside. They were specifically bred to gather waterfowl and are comfortable swimming and fetching for hours.

Golden Retrievers get along well with kids, and they also get along well with other dogs. They do not bark much but will let owners know if a stranger is nearby. They also do not drool a lot. Goldens shed a lot of hair, which may trigger allergies in owners. Humans may react to these allergens with sneezing or eye itchiness. 

As with most breeds, veterinarians recommend puppy training classes. Puppy training classes help the owner to learn about their new pet. Training also allows the owner to recognize and fix any bad habits from developing. Training strengthens the bond between owner and dog. You can also socialize puppies by exposing them to numerous places, people, and situations. This is best if done between the ages of 7 weeks and 4 months. Habits formed early will lead to well-adjusted adulthood.

Though Golden Retrievers are almost perfect pets, they do have some quirks:

  • Can be rowdy and noisy, especially as puppies
  • Need a lot of attention and mental stimulation
  • Like to chew things
  • When confused or overstimulated, may howl or bark 
  • Genetically predisposed to health problems. 

You should have your Golden Retriever spayed or neutered. This procedure eliminates the risk for certain cancers and prevents unwanted pregnancies. 

The earliest records of the Golden Retriever date back to the mid-1800s. They belonged to the gamekeepers at Guisachan Estate owned by Dudley Marjoribanks, the first Lord Tweedmouth at Inverness-Shire, Scotland. He developed this breed during the reign of Victoria. His records show that his goal was to create the perfect “gun dog.” He bred the yellow retriever with the now-extinct tweed water spaniel — eventually adding bloodhound and setter to the mix.

The sixth Earl of Ilchester, the great-nephew of Lord Tweedmouth, released these records to the public in County Life in 1952. He was a sportsman and historian and was eager to publish the material his uncle left. It was factual proof of stories handed down from generation to generation.

The Golden Retriever has a history in the fields and waterways of Great Britain. They were bred to be bird dogs for hunting waterfowl. The result was a strong swimming dog that could survive in cold water, track game, and retrieve it. The first time the Golden Retriever appeared in a British dog show was in 1908. Show revelers were excited about the beauty and personality of the dog breed. Soon after, the well-groomed offspring of the breed started to arrive in America. Goldens were very popular with sports hunters, who appreciated the breed’s utility.