Golden Retrievers – Everyone’s Best Friend
Goldens, Aptly Named
Golden Retrievers gradually became among the most popular dog breeds around. The reasons are not far to seek: they’re intelligent, friendly, eager to please and beautiful to look at.
But Goldens do require a bit more care and attention than some other breeds. Anyone considering one of these magnificent animals should think carefully.
Though it’s sometimes overstated, Goldens are more prone to hip dysplasia than many other breeds, particularly smaller ones. This genetically influenced condition can cause pain and eventually can cripple an animal. At minimum, reduced activity and careful control of diet is required. But Goldens love to run and eat, so keeping a check on them will take a bit more effort.
Goldens are also prone to certain skin problems. They can readily get ‘hot spots’ from itching due to allergic reactions, flea bites and other causes. They also have a tendency, especially as they mature, to develop certain tumors and cancers. That opens the possibility of a shortened life, or at least increased vet bills.
Their diet needs to be carefully considered, in order to minimize itching, loose stools and other problems. But they also are very active dogs, so providing them with the right nutrients for energy and muscle and bone development is essential. Wheat and corn sensitivity is relatively common in Golden Retrievers who, like all dogs, are by nature meat eaters. A diet high in meat protein is best.
Since they’re so active, they’ll need lots of exercise. But because they are so social, they tend not to run around on their own. If left outside alone to play, they’ll tend to simply lie down. That creates the need to interact with your Golden on a regular basis. Fetch, running, rope tug and other games are perfect for your Golden. But those all require your participation. Be sure you have adequate time for this breed.
Whether to spay or neuter a Golden is always a tough decision. There are valid medical reasons to consider the procedure, since it will tend to lower the odds of developing certain cancers and other health risks. But many want to breed their Golden to produce puppies. That’s a valid choice, but if one of the reasons is to make money, save that for the professionals. The effort required is far greater than you’ll be compensated for from one or two litters.
Vaccinations is another area of some controversy among Golden owners, as it is with other breeds. Most professionals agree that a series of vaccinations is best early in life. How long that should be continued, past the first two years, is a matter for ongoing debate. Some argue that regular vaccinations represents ‘playing it safe’, others that shots are unnecessary and risky. Antibodies do remain in the system for several years and the issue is still under investigation.
Regular grooming will be needed, since Goldens have a long coat that takes weekly care in order to stay healthy. Bi-monthly bathing, weekly toenail trimming and similar maintenance activities are an ongoing chore. Be prepared to spend time on this in order to keep a healthy and happy dog.
Socializing them with other dogs is easy, but also required for mental health and physical safety. Introducing newcomers, both human and animal, early in life will make the process straightforward. But it needs to be done gradually and for an extended period for best results.
It’s true that Golden Retrievers require time and effort to train and care for properly. But the rewards are immense. These beautiful, loving animals will give back tenfold all the attention they receive.
That unique Golden Retriever look as they face you smiling tells the whole story.
Temperament and Behavior of Goldens
The image of a friendly, active Golden Retriever is familiar to anyone who has seen a magazine ad or TV commercial. And there’s a good reason that breed features prominently in so many of them: it’s all true!
Golden Retrievers are one of the most easily trained breeds because they are smart, active and sociable. They take readily to any sort of outdoor activity because they enjoy anything that gets them moving. From their beginning as a derivative of Russian circus dogs in the mid-19th century, they’ve been bred to retrieve. Fetching a tennis ball, jumping short fences and other such activities are a natural extension of retrieving game.
They’re easily socialized and friendly with people and (usually) other animals. Individuals vary, but they typically adapt well to children and other pets. But proper socialization does take a modest amount of training. Golden Retrievers can be territorial and will bark at or chase animals and people who are not part of their regular environment.
In general, they don’t make good watch dogs or guard dogs despite their ready bark. They will definitely alert on the approach of the delivery person, but they also will bark at random movement. Teaching them to tell the difference can be a big challenge. They may bark at a stationary car outside the front screen door or a rabbit darting across the grass outside. Too many false alarms make most of them unsuitable for that role.
Also, since they’re so friendly by nature, they will almost never attack a person. Training them to do so is not consistent with their nature. Though they bark, they rarely bite. Their bark is a greeting, not a warning or a sign of anger. And though they can be mouthy, owing to their breeding history, biting in anger or protection is almost unknown.
They’re among the most intelligent of breeds, though, and can learn a wide variety of behaviors with only modest effort. They’re easily housebroken and will give clear signs (after initial training) that they need to be let outside to eliminate. Training them to fetch is almost automatic, but they can also be taught easily to sit, stay, roll over and more.
Reducing leash tugging for a Retriever, as with many large breeds, can be a challenge. But since they’re eager to please they can be taught to patiently wait at your side, or walk along without pulling forward. Like any training program, this will take a few weeks with most individuals and is best carried out young.
Since they’re so active and energetic by nature, it’s important to give them plenty of room to run and lots of exercise. Inside the house, they can get into trouble without intending to. Their tails wag often because they’re generally a happy and active breed and this is how they express it. That can cause objects to get knocked off the coffee table, or anywhere else low enough for them to reach.
They prefer company and being left alone for long periods is not healthy. If there’s no person at home during the day, having at least one other dog as a partner is best.
They’re best for people who want an active, friendly dog, one they’re willing to devote time and attention to.
Gear For Your Golden
Most dogs have their favorite toy. But Goldens have some unique requirements that make selecting the right gear a little trickier.
Leashes, Collars and Harnesses
Since they can get relatively large, a good leash or harness is a must. But what is ‘good’ in this case? The average male Golden is 22-24 inches (56-61 cm) in height and between 65-80 lbs (30-36 kg) in weight. Females are slightly shorter and about 10-20 lbs lighter. But that’s an average for purebreds. Male Goldens can easily reach 100 lbs, especially if they’re even a slightly mixed breed.
That height and weight requires a very strong collar and leash or harness. At the same time, you want one that doesn’t tear your hand or require enormous strength to control. A wide leash made of good nylon mesh or leather will fit the bill. Plastic, self-locking clips on collars are made these days of astoundingly strong composites and will serve the purpose well.
A chest harness isn’t mandatory, but using one can make it easier on the owner and dog. Some individuals are more inclined to pull than others, some are more easily distracted. A chest harness will make it easier to control the dog and avoids stress on its throat.
Golden Retrievers are by nature very mouthy. They love to chew on rawhide bones, balls and every other imaginable object. Though, they’re not particularly prone to chew on shoes, clothing or furniture, if properly trained and provided with alternatives.
Giving them plenty of alternatives helps keep their teeth clean and their chewing desire satisfied. Since they love attention it also gives their human companion a much needed break. Unlike children, you can’t occupy a Golden with TV.
Specialized plastics and rubber compounds are a blessing for Golden Retriever owners, since they provide a broad set of safe, healthy chew toy alternatives. Rawhide bones are another good choice, but avoid the flavored or coated ones in the house, since they’ll stain the carpet.
Don’t give your Golden real bones unless they are the large, non-splinter type manufactured for chewing. Chicken bones, and even real beef bones can shatter and splinter making for an unhealthy situation.
Golden Retrievers love to play tug. They have incredibly strong necks and jaws and it’s perfectly safe to play a vigorous game of tug with a Golden over a few months of age. Ropes with knots at the end are the best option, since it gives the dog something to grab onto. And something for you to grab, too. A full grown Golden can easily beat you at tug!
More complex gear is available for specialized training. Obstacle courses, tunnels and a wide variety of other arrangements can be used for show training, or just for fun. Goldens are smart, energetic and eager to please. Watching them wind their way up ramps and through tunnels is fun for both dog and owner. Just make sure it’s large enough to accommodate your pet as he or she grows.
Food Options For Your Golden
Like many other topics relating to food and health, it’s difficult to get objective information about proper diet. Many authors seem intent on bashing large companies and more interested in politics than pet food.
That means anyone interested in finding out the scientific facts about what is and what isn’t good for their Golden Retriever has to do a lot of research. A short article can’t be anything more than another voice in that dialogue.
Selecting the proper food, therefore, will require the exercise of some common sense and a fair amount of diligence. Any extreme claim should be met with skepticism. Avoid being swayed by emotional appeals and horror stories.
Even those opposed to the more popular, commercial dog foods agree on some basics about Golden Retriever diet. As canines, they are by nature carnivores. That means they have evolved to eat meat. All dogs, though (and Goldens in particular), have the capacity to digest some grains and vegetables.
Wolves in the wild will eat not only the muscle meat, but also the internal organs of their prey. In doing so, they’ll ingest what their kill has previously eaten, which is often grasses and vegetables and other plant material. Since Golden Retrievers ultimately are descended from, and closely genetically related to, wolves they have similar capacities.
There is general agreement, then, that Golden Retrievers should have a diet that contains a substantial percentage of meat proteins with a minimum of grains. And this is just what one finds in most commercial dog food, both wet and dry.
Ingredients on both cans and bags are listed in order of percentage of the total, even though the percentages themselves are rarely listed.
A kibble (dry dog food) that shows chicken or lamb meal will generally be in the range of 20-30% meat protein, in a form that has been dehydrated. To that has been added preservatives, sometimes Vitamin E (tocopherol), in order to keep the kibble from spoiling during the long period it is in the bag. Meat (in some form) should be first on the list.
Next is often a form of rice. Some will use an inexpensive form called Brewer’s Rice. Those are the small, milled fragments of rice kernels. These become separated from the larger kernels during the milling process. But ground rice is preferred, since it’s of higher quality.
Many commercial dry pet foods will have some corn or wheat gluten meal or even wheat flour. Some Goldens are sensitive to this, as evidenced by excessive paw licking or face scratching on the carpet or grass. They may bite the parts of their back and legs they can reach.
A certain amount of that behavior may be seen no matter what diet they’re fed. Like any animal, they can have an itch that is not an allergic reaction. But, sensitive or not, these ingredients should comprise a relatively small proportion of the total.
Corn gluten meal in particular should be kept low. It’s a plant protein that is added in order to slow down the chemical activity of certain fats. It is created from the dried residue of corn after the removal of the starch and germ.
Meat byproducts are often listed among the ingredients. These are the parts of chickens, lamb or cows that are not used for other purposes. Certain foods may contain parts of the neck, feet or even beaks or intestines. Avoid foods that list these as ingredients.
Though the controversy over what to feed your Golden Retriever isn’t going to go away soon, you can still feed your dog without fear. Observe the thousands of dogs that are healthy who are fed popular commercial dog foods. Though the food could no doubt be improved, this is strong evidence they are not harmful. Millions of dogs eat them and live long, happy lives.
Housebreaking Tips For Goldens
Housebreaking is something anyone will want to do no matter the breed of dog they own. Fortunately for the human companions of Golden Retrievers, that’s a much easier task with these intelligent, eager to please pups.
Beginning as early as four weeks for some, but certainly no later than eight weeks of age, Golden Retriever pups have the mental capacity and bladder and bowel control to receive potty training.
Some owners will follow the pup around or use crate training to prevent ‘accidents’ on the carpet. For some those methods may work well. Others will use a technique that is not generally recommended: paper training.
Paper training involves watching the dog carefully then moving it to spread out newspapers and allowing the dog to eliminate inside the house on the papers. There are also commercially available paper-like ‘rugs’ made of material that is supposed to attract the dog and minimize odors. This technique can help reduce rug cleaning and odors, but it builds in a bad habit early on that is more difficult to alter later on. The dog learns to eliminate in the house.
Also, once a dog urinates or defecates in a certain spot, rug or newspaper, they tend to return to the same spot. This can be a problem especially if the dog missed the paper by a few inches. It also de-emphasizes the need for the pup to give you a sign that they need to go outside. This short-term solution creates a larger, longer-term problem.
Golden Retrievers don’t require this kind of training. They learn quickly and are eager to please. Watch for signs of backing up, circling or squatting and quickly whisk them outside. Give lots of verbal praise and a nice pet when they go outside. Don’t strike the dog for going inside – never hit them for something they can’t control.
It’s equally important not to press their nose in it, since that has an effect the very opposite of its intention. Goldens will simply regard it as a normal smell and repeat the behavior. They don’t find feces offensive. In fact, Goldens will sniff and roll in other animals’ feces readily.
Just as important is avoiding pressing on their hind quarters to encourage them to squat. Though the problem is sometimes overstated, Golden Retriever’s are (like many large breed dogs who have been inbred over decades) prone to hip dysplasia. Don’t encourage any weakness of the hindquarters by stressing the dog’s rear end.
Most Golden Retriever puppies will learn quickly to defer their need to urinate or defecate (for a few minutes at least). This usually takes only a few days training. Some will require a couple of weeks to become consistent. If it takes longer than this, the dog may have developed some unfortunate habits, such as seeking out the same place inside the house. In those cases, a little extra ‘un-training’ will be needed. Commercial rug cleaners can help reduce the smell that attracts them to the same spot.
Even if your dog stays outside almost all the time which is not the best circumstance for Golden Retrievers, who enjoy human companionship you’ll want to make the effort to housebreak. Even older dogs will eliminate indoors if they haven’t been trained as pups.
Neutering Your Male Golden
Neutering a male Golden Retriever may be common practice, but it is still serious surgery and carries risks and benefits. Weighing them carefully will result in the best decision for you and your pet.
Neutering (‘spaying’ is the procedure for females) is a surgical procedure that removes the testicles. That act has a number of consequences.
Neutering, of course, removes the ability of the male to produce sperm making successful mating impossible. At the same time, however, it causes the body to reduce testosterone and other hormones that motivate mating behavior. Males don’t get aroused, and the standard behavior is lowered or eliminated altogether.
Female Golden Retrievers in heat produce a pheromone (biochemical scent) that males can sense from far away. That induces several behaviors in the male, apart from the obvious desire to mount. It incents males to lick the female’s ears and vulva. If unable to reach the female, males will wander back and forth in her vicinity. They’ll even forego food and water for long periods.
Altering the male’s hormone levels by neutering changes all that. Males will still show an interest in a female in heat, but the reactions are very subdued. Ear licking may still occur, but they never try to mount and arousal is very rare.
Neutering removes the possibility of testicular tumors and lowers the risk of prostate disease and other conditions. These are influenced by the level of testosterone in your Golden.
When the male is neutered also makes a difference. Males neutered very early in life may never acquire certain typical attributes and behavior. Assertiveness is reduced right away. Males neutered later may take some time for hormone levels to reduce and will have acquired some habits that may change only slowly.
Unneutered males will mark territory by urinating on trees, lampposts and even other dogs’ markings. Intact males are more assertive and may engage in rough behavior with other, competing males. They often engage in stereotypical (and often comical) fake mating behavior – on your leg, a pillow or other handy objects. All those may take time to fade if males are neutered after sexual maturity.
Neutering a male has other effects that more directly impact your relationship with your male Golden Retriever.
Since a female in heat gets most of the attention, your dog will become distracted and unresponsive if unneutered. Whining and agitation are common at those times. They’re more likely to try to assert dominance, often a problem with males in any case, as many will strive for alpha status. That makes training more difficult during those twice-yearly, three week periods.
But neutering, while a common medical procedure, is not without risks and possible drawbacks. Any surgery carries some discomfort and possible health impact. Assertive behavior can still persist despite the procedure. And, some people will want to make the perfectly justifiable choice to mate their males with other dogs.
Since the decision is irreversible, consider it carefully.
Spaying Your Female Golden
Since surgery is involved, the decision to spay your female Golden Retriever is a very serious one. There are benefits and risks whichever option you pick.
Spaying is essentially performing a hysterectomy on your dog, removing the uterus and ovaries to prevent pregnancy and menstrual cycles. Female Goldens have a ‘heat’ about every six months, during which time they’re fertile and eager to mate. Removing those sex organs eliminates the possibility of pregnancy. But it also causes her body to reduce the hormones that cause heats as well.
The reduction of those hormones is one of the chief health reasons that so many vets recommend spaying. Unspayed Golden Retrievers have about a 25% chance of developing breast cancer tumors. Spaying reduces the odds to about 6%, if the young female is spayed just after the first or second heat. Beyond tumors, there are other conditions that can represent a health risk. The odds of getting endometritis, for example, can be reduced by spaying.
There are other health-related reasons to consider spaying. Mating and pregnancy bring their own risks.
When a female is in heat, she sends out a pheromone (a biochemical attractant) that can be scented by males for a mile or more. Larger males can, and will, often leap a fence to get to the female. But mating with a larger species dog (or any other) can represent an unwanted pregnancy that puts your Golden at risk.
While it’s certainly a natural process, pregnancy is somewhat more difficult in some respects for dogs than for humans, especially when they’re larger than purebred Goldens. Litters number around eight pups. The odds of all surviving and being healthy are about 50-50. The effort puts a definite strain on the mother and the human who assists.
But there are factors beyond health to consider.
Females in heat ooze blood during their cycle just as other mammals do. That can be messy and inconvenient to clean up. This lasts for about two weeks. The total cycle is roughly three weeks. The first few days she’ll release a scent that attracts males, even when you can’t see anything.
Having to keep males away, or just tolerating their behavior, during this time can be an annoyance. Even when they’re physically barred from access, in fact even more so because of it, they’ll become real pests. They whine, they wander back and forth along the fence, scratch doors and exhibit other actions to show interest.
With all that said, spaying is surgery and carries some risk. The procedure is carried out by vets every day and most are experienced. But removing major organs that have evolved for a purpose is always a difficult choice. And, some Golden Retriever owners may want to undertake the perfectly legitimate process of mating their Golden.
Most pregnancies, with the proper care, can proceed with relatively little difficulty. For those with the skill and time, pups can be well cared for. Many healthy litters are born every day. The minor inconvenience of a dog in heat twice a year may be worthwhile to some.
Weigh the pros and cons carefully and arrive at the choice that is best for you and your loved companion.
Socializing Your Golden
Many dogs are deliberately not socialized – guard dogs, some guide dogs, drug sniffing dogs and others who have specialized duties. Many others simply live with people who don’t regard it as important enough to bother about. Many animals from shelters have had unpleasant experiences, making the task more difficult.
But socializing your Golden Retriever is not only easy, it leads to a better adjusted dog and higher safety for you and your pet. Fortunately, where Goldens are concerned, socializing your dog is relatively easy. Like any animal, in the absence of exposure while young to other dogs, animals and humans they can be wary and territorial.
Goldens are naturally curious, intelligent, active and eager to please. They play with other pups in the litter, making a game of dominance activities and exploration. You can build on that in-built social nature to acclimate them to pets of other breeds or species in the home and outside it.
Start socializing your Golden at a young age, approximately 8-10 weeks. Take proper precautions, though. You want to carry out the process safely and there are two major sources of risk. The first is physical injury, the second is disease.
Goldens are not particularly aggressive, relative to many other breeds. They prefer to play. That puts them at a disadvantage when other dogs or animals attack. Carrying out socialization safely will first require the ability to control the environment and any movement that your dog and another animal can make. Use of enclosed areas and/or proper leashes or harnesses are the minimum safeguards needed.
Next, ensure that your Golden is properly vaccinated and that they’re exposed only to other animals that are too. Kennel cough and other, more serious, infectious diseases are common in many environments. When exposed, vaccination makes the difference between becoming infected or not.
Once you’re in a safe place, with the proper restraints and the absence of surprises or distractions, you can easily socialize your Golden. The initial phase takes only a few weeks, though the process should ideally be carried out continuously for life.
Firmly grasp the leash and allow your dog to use its natural curiosity to explore the other animal. The other animal, needless to say, should be similarly restrained. Most young Goldens will want to ‘play nice’. They’re friendly and eager to explore this new phenomenon.
Individual responses will differ somewhat, since even among Goldens there are alpha dogs and omega dogs, those who are assertive and those who hold back. But even shy dogs can welcome contact if they’re made to feel there is no danger, and that the alpha (that’s you, in this case) is in control.
First contact should be relatively short, a few minutes at most. Gradually work up to longer exposure and a wider variety of humans and animals. Those who grow up together will usually not require any special considerations, but outsiders should be introduced slowly.
Grooming Your Golden
Some dog owners don’t have to worry too much about grooming. Short haired breeds can use the occasional bath and toe nail trim, but the effort required to care for them is much less. Golden Retrievers, on the other hand, require a bit more care to keep them healthy and looking good.
Proper coat care takes at least three steps: bathing, brushing and combing.
A Golden needs to be bathed at least every two months, approximately. Some live in cleaner environments and may get away with slightly less often. Some are outside rolling in the dirt at every chance and will need it as often as once per week. If that’s the case, however, a better solution would be to keep them out of the dirt!
Always use a dog shampoo, not baby shampoo or dish detergent. Commercial dog shampoos are designed with the Golden’s coat and skin in mind. They’re manufactured with the proper pH and contain mild ingredients to keep them odor free. Baby shampoo has not the proper pH and dish detergent is far too rough, disturbing the skin’s oil balance.
Golden Retrievers have two layers of coat, the top coat and the undercoat. Both need to be brushed correctly.
Grooming that long, thick, beautiful Golden coat is a continuing chore. It should be done at least once per week, more often if your pet tends to get collect debris from bushes and grass. Three instruments will help do the job with minimal fuss: a slicker, a Greyhound comb and an undercoat rake.
The slicker is used to brush the top coat, removing hair that has made its way to the surface. Goldens shed mostly from the undercoat, but much of that hair eventually travels outward. Firm, smooth strokes are good but take care not to get too vigorous. Avoid brush burn from forcible use of a slicker.
A Greyhound comb helps remove excess hair, both from shedding and that loosened by brushing. It’s also a great tool to use to check that your brushing has been successful. If you can comb the hair on the back, sides and chest without getting snagged then you’ve done a thorough brush. ‘No matting is good’.
The undercoat rake gets down to the lower layer, close to the skin. This undercoat helps keep the dog warm in winter and cool in summer, while the top coat helps protect from sun and friction from bushes. Goldens were bred to be game fetching dogs, much of which takes place in heavy forest and brush.
The rake is used to remove loose hair from shedding. Start at the rear leg and proceed gently forward. Lift and pull away from your body as you stroke the rake through the coat.
Nails should be trimmed as needed, generally about once per month at least. Tastes differ between the guillotine clippers and the scissor style. Use whichever suits you best, but be careful in either case not to snip the quick. That’s the tender, round vessel that delivers blood to the area. Cutting it causes pain and profuse bleeding. Wetting the toenails near the foot will make it more visible.
If you have an accident, don’t panic. Just have some styptic powder handy and daub some on the wound. Avoid allowing the dog run or jump for at least an hour. The wounds heal quickly, but can be re-opened.
Keep up with regular ‘maintenance’ and your Golden will be healthy, look good and feel great to the touch.
Exercise and Training Advice for Your Golden
Golden Retrievers are among the more active breeds and require a lot of exercise to stay fit and happy. Originally bred for game fetching, these energetic dogs can run much of the day, even late into life.
Training and exercise should start young, at around 8-10 weeks. At first the level of activity should be no more than what the pup is willing to do spontaneously. They’ll scamper around, explore bushes and wrestle with one another in between naps. But add to that by getting them to follow you in a particular direction, at least briefly. That’s the beginning of focusing on you and doing as you ask.
As they mature, their legs and heart quickly become able to tackle small hills and half-mile walks. At about 4-6 months, a good half an hour hike is a possibility, provided water is available.
During this period from about two to six months, the usual ‘sit, stay, heel’ routines can easily be folded into the mix. But there should be time allowed for less structured activities, as well. Goldens can be good show dogs, but they are also very free spirited and sometimes a little unfocused. Not all will excel at that kind of rigorous training. Giving them some time and space to simply run around and fetch a ball or sniff makes for a good balance.
By the time your Golden has reached six months of age, they’re ready to tackle more complex tasks. Many are taught starting at this age (or a little younger) to be guide dogs, rescue dogs, drug search dogs and other roles requiring sophisticated skills. They’re among the most intelligent of breeds and can learn obstacle courses, complex dance routines and the like provided the trainer has the skill and patience.
Also during this early period, introducing them to other dogs and animals they may encounter or live with is a good idea. Golden Retrievers are by nature very sociable, but any dog that is isolated from other dogs, people or pets will be wary. Goldens are very loyal, too, and they can be territorial. Allowing them to safely interact with other dogs will help keep that to an appropriate time and level.
A word of caution: since Goldens, especially those with parents from private owners, may not have been checked for hip dysplasia, you should discontinue exercise at any sign of hindquarter weakness. Have the dog examined. The vet will take an x-ray and check for signs of bone or joint problems. Goldens with this condition can still lead happy, healthy lives but reduced activity and special treatment is warranted.
Like any dog, specialized training will take time. At least an hour per day should be devoted for basics, more for more specialized tasks. Simple goals, like ‘sit’, ‘stay’ and others can be accomplished quickly. Dance routines, obstacle courses, game fetching or other tasks may take months or years to perfect. Guide dog training and similar ‘jobs’ require intensive training for two years or more.
But compared to many other breeds, Goldens will catch on quicker and execute more accurately. They’re eager to please, energetic and highly intelligent. Their trainer just needs to have the same qualities.
Health Care for Your Golden
Any dog owner will want to take the best possible care of his or her companion. For Golden Retrievers, that can be a challenge. Because of their popularity they’ve had a long history that has involved a fair amount of inbreeding.
Mating a bitch with a stud that is too closely related increases the odds of emphasizing certain genes. The chances of those genes combining is increased the more the pair share similar ones. That enhances the odds for both desirable and bad characteristics.
For example, mating a male and female who both have dominant genes for a certain color or type of coat will substantially increase the odds of the pups sharing that.
But the odds are increased for both good and bad, unfortunately. A pair who are both prone to hip dysplasia, for example, a common problem with Goldens, are much more likely to produce one or more pups with that condition.
The result over the past 120 years that Golden Retrievers have been a distinct breed is a large number with various weaknesses. Hip dysplasia and certain kinds of cancers are among the two most common. But each breed will have its weak and strong points. Golden Retrievers are no more prone in general to health problems than any other breed.
To keep them in tip-top shape is actually pretty easy, provided a few simple guidelines are followed.
From the earliest age possible they should have the best diet you can afford. There are different views about what that is, with many citing the benefits of a fresh meat diet. All dogs are meat eaters. But the right meat protein is more important according to most studies than that the meat be fresh. Fresh meat comes with its own risks, for example, such as contamination and spoilage.
Golden Retrievers in particular have a somewhat higher tendency to sensitivity to the grain products that are found in many commercial dog foods. Wheat and, to a lesser extent, corn can cause itching and some nasal or stomach sensitivity. Signs of skin problems are excessive paw licking and scratching of the face on the carpet or grass. For those with digestive sensitivity, the problem is even easier to spot: feces will be runny. In either case, that’s the time to consult your vet about switching food.
A good diet will help them develop bones and joints that are resistant to hip dysplasia, minimize skin problems and produce a healthy looking coat. And, since they’re such an active breed, it gives them all the nutrition and calories they need to run and play, which also keeps them mentally active and physically fit. Goldens are very active and a high meat protein, moderate fat diet is essential for energy and building strong muscles.
Regular vet visits for the appropriate shots are also a matter of some controversy, with some arguing that vets tend to over-medicate. Weighing the pros and cons, take into account how much contact your Golden Retriever has with other dogs, since most of the diseases that vaccinations guard against are spread by contact.
Parvo, lepto, distemper and others are the most common for Golden Retrievers to be vaccinated against. Shots should start young and be carried out according to your vet’s proposed schedule, usually every six months to a year past the initial shots they receive at 6-8 weeks.
Rabies in Golden Retrievers is a little harder to advise about. It’s rare, but the consequences are so severe that most will want to get the shots, provided their pet isn’t unusually sensitive and the right vaccine is used. In any case, most states require the shots be given at least every other year for the first few years.
Apart from diet and vaccinations, the best thing you can do for your Golden Retriever is give it a healthy lifestyle. Lots of outdoor activity in a low-risk environment keeps both you and your dog happy and in great shape.
Vaccinations, Worth The Risk?
Like much else today, whether to give your dog vaccinations is a matter of some controversy. Getting objective information is difficult because there are so many advocates on both sides of the question. Some even sound reasonable. Those who might be concerned about the issue will want to do their own research to get as clear a view as possible.
What is indisputable is that prior to the development of vaccines, many Golden Retrievers and other breeds died of infectious diseases. After their development and widespread use, deaths due to viruses were reduced.
The controversy is less over whether or not to vaccinate, but when, how often and with what.
Puppies have immature immune systems, but not entirely so. During gestation they receive a blood supply from the mother that helps them fight disease. That process is continued and strengthened as they receive the mother’s milk. But that maternal contribution is temporary.
By about 5 months of age, the antibodies supplied by the mother have completely faded. At this stage, they are vulnerable to harmful (and potentially fatal) viruses. There’s no guarantee they will come into contact with any of them, of course. But the consequences are so severe that most people opt to get vaccinations for their Golden.
Those shots typically start at about 6-8 weeks of age, as the maternal antibodies start to wane. Through the injection of live or killed viruses, the puppy generates a response by producing its own antibodies.
Which is the better type of vaccine, live or killed virus, is an area of ongoing research. Live viruses stimulate a greater response, but represent a greater risk of inducing the disease the vaccine is designed to protect against. Killed vaccines are safer, but they stimulate a lesser response in the pup and therefore may create the need for more (or more frequent) shots to gain the same effect.
Most vets today will use killed or modified virus-based vaccines, since they’re safer. The shots continue every month or two (every vet has a slightly different recommendation) for about four more months. Then, the recommendations become more divided. Some advocate continuing yearly, others say that’s unnecessary. The science is still uncertain.
There are several common viral diseases that vaccines are used to combat, and some of the vaccines are ‘combos’ that are designed to guard against more than one. Parvovirus and Leptospirosis are two of the most common. Bordetella, an organism that causes ‘kennel cough’ is about equally common, as is distemper and corona.
Most vets will recommend vaccinations for these and, provided a quality vaccine is used, the shots are safe and effective. Some side effects do occur in Goldens and precautions should be taken to react quickly to them.
Facial swelling within half an hour after the shot is received occurs in some and treatment with Benadryl should be immediate. That swelling is a sign of a problem, and a potentially very serious one. In extreme cases, anaphylaxis (producing breathing difficulties, possible vomiting and other consequences) is possible. In any case, be prepared to see your vet instantly when symptoms are observed.
Rabies vaccines are possibly the most controversial. Though it’s very rare these days for a dog to get rabies, because of past experience and the seriousness of the disease (both for pet and human) most states require the shots. Shots are typically required at six months, then every two to three years thereafter.
After the first year or two of vaccinations, current research suggests that the effectiveness and/or need of vaccines is considerably reduced. The dog’s immune system builds up antibodies which remain in the system for several years.
How many years is still a matter of research, but 6-10 is not uncommon, according to some studies. Since the higher figure is at the low end of the Golden Retriever’s lifespan, shots later in life is probably unwarranted.
Ongoing studies may give a definitive answer to the value versus potential of vaccines within the next several years. Until the issue is settled, only your vet can advise you properly. Only you can weigh the risks and benefits.
Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
Tragically, one of the more common afflictions that a Golden Retriever may suffer from is hip or elbow dysplasia. A University of Columbia study found that as many as 30% had the condition. Dogs examined by the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, http://www.offa.org), which has a screening service to certify the presence or absence of the condition, found hip dysplasia in 21% of adult dogs.
Even at the lower figure, the odds are high. Professional Golden Retriever organizations and breeders are taking steps to try to breed out the weakness, but that effort is a long-term solution. The average lifespan for a Golden Retriever is between 10-13 years, so changing inherited characteristics will take a long time.
Hip dysplasia is a genetically influenced condition in which the bone socket isn’t well formed and the head of the femur bone not properly rounded. A similar condition called elbow dysplasia affects elbows rather than hips, but is essentially the same problem.
The result is friction when the ball of the bone moves inside the socket, with subsequent unhealthy wear on the joint. The condition is debilitating and painful. Over time, the dog has weakness in the hindquarters and eventually extreme difficulty or an inability to walk.
The diagnosis is fairly straightforward. Your vet can take a simple x-ray and a radiologist will analyze the result and provide a report detailing the presence and degree of the problem, if any. Diagnosis is only worthwhile after about six months, but most are done at around two years of age.
There’s no cure, short of experimental and expensive joint replacement, which may or not be a long-term solution. But there are several things a Golden Retriever owner can do to mitigate the problem.
Step number one is to make efforts to adopt a pet that doesn’t have a propensity for the condition in the first place. The AKC (American Kennel Club, http://www.akc.com) and the OFA provide a means of certifying that the parents of pups offered do not suffer from the condition. Since it’s genetically dependent, the absence of the condition in the bitch and sire is a good indication the pups will be free of it.
When adopting a privately bred dog or a rescued dog from a shelter, those options may not be available. But there are still actions the owner can take to minimize the problem.
First is to discover if it exists. At two years (older, if the dog was adopted at later age), have the dog examined. If the condition is found, keeping the dog’s weight as low as possible is the first line of defense.
Though underfeeding a dog is unhealthy for the dog and cruel, many dogs are overfed. They are given far more calories than they need, especially if their activity level is low. Reducing the amount of, say, dry food given by 10-20% will not endanger the dog’s overall health but will help keep their weight lower.
Some activity is good, in order to keep joints in condition and muscles toned. Healthy muscles help keep bones firmly in the proper alignment, and movement causes the flow of fluids that keep the joint well-lubricated. But for a Golden Retriever with hip or elbow dysplasia, a reduced level of activity is a must.
There’s no cure, but a Golden Retriever that is well cared for can still enjoy a long and happy life.
Common Health Problems of Goldens
Apart from hip dysplasia, there are half a dozen common conditions or diseases that Golden Retrievers tend to suffer from. That’s not to say most Golden’s are unhealthy. They suffer no more than any other breed. But there are a group of afflictions that are more typically found among them than some others.
Skin diseases and conditions top the list of concerns for most Golden Retriever caretakers. Something as simple as a mosquito or flea bite can cause a small itchy section. Golden Retrievers are very mouthy and tend to chew what they can reach. That quickly produces a raw, moist patch called a hot spot that the dog tends to enlarge. Keeping them unable to reach it via a collar or bandage, or uninterested via sprays is the standard treatment.
Goldens also have a somewhat higher tendency than some other breeds to allergic reactions to certain food components. Wheat is a common part of many dry commercial dog foods. Though not toxic, dogs’ stomachs are designed to digest meat not wheat, and some individuals are sensitive to wheat, causing itching. That can be seen by excess paw licking or face scratching on the carpet or grass.
But the more serious forms of skin disease actually happen underneath the outer layers. Various forms of fatty lipomas and the more serious liposarcoma are common, especially later in life.
The first are typically benign and can be removed when the dog is already undergoing a procedure requiring anasthesia, such as a dental cleaning. They may enlarge, but in most cases they represent no health risk and can just be left alone for long periods. Liposarcomas, on the other hand, are malignant tumors and should be treated as soon as they’re diagnosed. When in doubt, see your vet and pay for a lab test.
Eye problems are common among older Golden Retrievers, with many getting cataracts past age 10 or so. Eventually these lead to reduced vision and even blindness. There’s little that can be done to treat the condition, unfortunately.
Golden Retrievers aren’t at high risk statistically for heart conditions, but when they occur it tends to be either subvalvular aortic stenosis or cardiomyopathy.
Subvalvular aortic stenosis is a form of obstruction in the left ventricle that reduces blood flow. In mild cases, the condition is harmless, though restricted activity may be required. In more serious cases, the heart muscle tissue thickens and the heart has to work harder to pump an adequate amount of blood. The condition is generally inherited and treatment varies from mild antibiotics to beta blockers. Surgery is an option, but it’s risky and has had limited success to date.
Cardiomyopathy is an acquired disease in which the heart muscle becomes thin and flabby. It tends to occur in dogs between the ages of 4-10 and the causes are largely unknown. It is progressive and ultimately fatal.
Despite the somewhat scary list, serious health problems in a well-cared for Golden Retriever are relatively rare and most live a long, healthy life. Proper diet and exercise, with appropriate screening is the best approach to optimizing their health.