Characteristics of Golden Retrievers

The characteristics of Golden Retrievers are many and varied.

Aren’t they “just dogs”? Technically, yes.
But that’s like saying the Mona Lisa is “just a painting.”
I don’t want this to be a “my dog is better than your dog” argument.
I’d just like to point out a few character traits that have helped make Golden Retrievers one of the most popular breeds in America today.
If you already own one, you know what I’m talking about.
If you’re trying to decide if this is the right breed for you, maybe I can help you with your decision.

Breed Standard

Every breed of dog recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC) has a breed standard.
The Golden Retriever breed standard sets forth the unique Golden Retriever traits that make this breed different from all others.
Considerations include type of coat, color, conformation, size, temperament and several other attributes.
We’ll look at each of these, and give you a chance to see how your own Golden compares with the standard.
We’ll examine the Golden’s built-in instincts, such as hunting prey and retrieving. After all, it’s hard to imagine a Retriever who doesn’t like to retrieve!


Goldens are incredibly people-friendly, which tends to make them very family-friendly, as well.
They get along well with babies, children, adults and seniors.
Most Golden Retrievers have never known a stranger. They think everybody’s their friend!
The characteristics of Golden Retrievers vary a bit with each developmental stage.
We’ll look at each stage, from puppyhood through adolescence and adulthood, to the senior years.
Goldens are just kids at heart and may take a little longer than some other dogs to settle into adult behavior. Don’t worry. Most of them grow up–eventually!

Intelligence and Energy

How smart is your Golden?
Although intelligence is closely linked to (and confused with) trainability, we’ll take a look at both of these important characteristics of Golden Retrievers.
Does your Golden Retriever communicate with you? Absolutely!
We’ll explore all the ways your furry friend tries to talk to you, and help you decipher his lingo.
What about a Golden’s energy level?
Again, there’s a great deal of variance here.
We’ll look at a few determining factors and help you decide how much Golden exuberance your family can handle.


While we can rely on many Golden Retriever characteristics to be true of every Golden, we also have to consider each dog’s individual personality and temperament.
Just like people, each Golden has his own quirks and idiosyncrasies.
That’s what makes him so special!
What can we expect in the way of the Golden Retriever life expectancy?
There are several factors that determine how long you’ll be blessed with your canine companion’s presence.

Senses and Sociability

The Golden Retriever possesses amazing senses that allow him to react to and interact with his environment. Besides their extraordinary senses of smell and hearing, we’ll also look at their senses of sight, direction, taste and touch.
One of the best-known characteristics of Golden Retrievers is their sociability.
This includes not only the family that dotes on them, but everybody they come in contact with, as well.
They also interact beautifully with other animals, if properly socialized and introduced.


The Golden Retriever has been one of the most popular breeds in America for several years.
According to statistics, almost 65,000 Goldens are registered in the U.S. every year, and about 8,500 in Canada. Many more are born that are not registered.
It’s no accident that this lovely breed is so popular!
The unique and special characteristics of Golden Retrievers have brought the breed its well-deserved recognition.
It’s safe to say that once a person has owned a Golden, life without one is never the same.

Care Tips For Golden Retrievers

Would you like your furry friend to look and feel his very best? Here are some care tips for Golden Retrievers that will help you do just that.

As beautiful as that Golden coat may be, your canine companion needs your help to maintain that healthy glow.
Proper grooming involves bathing, brushing, and keeping an eye out for skin problems.
From brushing your dog’s teeth (I’m not joking!) to keeping his toenails trimmed, the time you spend on your Golden’s care will make him feel great and look like a champ.The advice “You are what you eat” applies to pets, too.

Let’s explore ways to fulfill your dog’s nutritional requirements by following some excellent dog feeding guidelines, along with some special information on feeding a puppy.
And let’s see if we can unravel the mystery about which type of dog food might be best for your Golden Retriever.
Every stage of your dog’s development presents a unique set of circumstances.
We’ll take a look at the best ways to meet the special needs of puppies, adults, and Golden oldies with care tips for Golden Retrievers of all ages.

Living Arrangements

Most Golden Retrievers are beloved indoor pets, so we’ll examine the situation from both sides–keeping your dog safe from household hazards such as poisonous plants, and keeping your house safe from an enthusiastic, lively Golden by puppy-proofing your home.

Here’s another great idea: a sturdy dog crate, used appropriately, can be both a safe haven for your furry friend and a protector of your house and sanity.
Where will your Golden companion sleep? If this is your first dog, you’ll want to consider the options before you bring him home.

If circumstances prevent you from keeping a dog in the house, there are still ways to make him as comfortable as possible outside.
We’ll look at some ideas for kennels and other outdoor care tips for Golden Retrievers in order to make the best of this less-than-ideal situation.

Health Care and Your Veterinarian

When it comes to your dog, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Here are some health care tips for Golden Retrievers that you can do at home to help keep your Golden in tip-top shape:
• Excellent nutrition
• Special diets when necessary
• Administering prescribed medication

You’ve done your part well, but you still need a professional’s help.
Let’s talk about your veterinarian. She’s an important part of responsible Golden Retriever care.
How do you choose one?
How can you experience relatively stress-free visits to the vet?
You might even get a break on the cost of dog health care if you choose to invest in pet health insurance.

Physical and Mental Fitness

Every dog is different in his level of athletic ability, but there are some basic guidelines on Golden Retriever care when it comes to exercise.
We’ll look at a Golden’s wide range of energy levels and give you some ideas to help your Golden companion stay fit and happy.
Staying fit means more than just physical activity. It’s important to provide mental stimulation for your pooch, too.
He’ll be much happier that way, with less chance of becoming bored.
Boredom can lead to a host of behavior problems, so let’s derail that train before it even heads down the track.

Daily Care–For a Lifetime

From puppyhood to the senior years, your canine friend relies on you for his food, shelter and companionship.
It’s not difficult to take care of a Golden, but it requires a commitment on your part.
His options are limited. He needs you!
Feel free to browse through these care tips for Golden Retrievers and see what you can add to your collection.
I hope you’ll find a useful suggestion you haven’t thought of before, that will make your canine buddy even happier.

Canine Lyme Disease

In many parts of the United States, canine Lyme disease is becoming an increasing problem for both dogs and their owners. So let’s talk about what it is, and what you can do about it.

A Little Bit of Lyme Disease History

Lyme disease was named for the town of Lyme, Connecticut, where the first human cases were diagnosed in 1977. The first case of canine Lyme disease was reported in 1984.
This disease is found today in every area of the United States, and is endemic (always present) on the east coast, west coast and upper Midwest. It can also be found in several areas of Europe and Asia.

Causes of Lyme Disease

The deer tick is the culprit most commonly responsible for spreading canine Lyme disease.
To be more precise, ticks don’t actually cause the disease–they’re just the carriers. The bacterium that causes Lyme disease is a spiral shaped organism called Borrelia burgdorferi.
The ticks feed on smaller critters (often the white-footed mouse) that are infected, then move on to bigger prey. That’s usually deer, but they’re not fussy–dogs or people will do just fine.
After the tick’s been drinking its victim’s blood for 24 to 48 hours, it injects a substance into the blood to keep it from getting too thick. That’s when the disease-causing organisms get injected into the victim, too.
So you have a small window of opportunity (24 to 48 hours) to get ticks off your dog (or yourself) before the disease is transmitted. Unfortunately, these ticks are smaller than the head of a pin, so they’re easy to miss.
Not every deer tick harbors canine Lyme disease–only about 10 to 50 percent of them do, depending on the part of the country they live in. Those still aren’t very good odds for your dogs and you.

Signs and Symptoms of Lyme Disease

Symptoms may not show up immediately after an infected tick steals a meal from your pooch. In fact, dogs can harbor the organisms for several months before the first symptoms of Lyme disease appear.
The telltale Lyme disease bullseye rash that shows up on people is quite rare on dogs. But here are the most common canine Lyme disease symptoms to watch for:
• Swollen, painful joints
• Lameness
• Fever
• Loss of appetite
• Lethargy
• Swollen lymph nodes

How is Lyme Disease Diagnosed?

It’s difficult to diagnose Lyme disease because the symptoms mimic many other problems. Your veterinarian will try to reach a diagnosis by:
• Asking you if your dog’s been in an endemic area, where he could have been exposed to a deer tick
• Performing a physical exam to look for typical clinical signs
• Drawing blood in order to perform a special test
Until recently, vets found it nearly impossible to determine if the presence of antibodies to Borrelia burgdorferi were caused by an earlier vaccination or by the actual infection.
A new Lyme disease test–called a C6 ELISA–is now available which provides information about three diseases–heartworm (carried by mosquitoes), canine Ehrlichiosis and canine Lyme disease (both of which are carried by ticks).
This new test is unique in that it can determine whether the antibody was produced in response to active infection or by vaccination, making it much easier to make an accurate diagnosis.

How Is Lyme Disease Treated?

The best treatment for Lyme disease (for both dogs and people, actually) is a round of antibiotics. The antibiotic doxycycline is relatively inexpensive and has limited side effects for dogs.
Most vets prefer doxycycline because it also successfully treats several other tick-borne diseases that may be causing these symptoms. Amoxicillin and tetracycline are other frequently used antibiotics for Lyme disease.
Fortunately, over ninety percent of dogs treated within the first week of obvious symptoms will respond rapidly to antibiotic treatment, often within 2 to 5 days.

Lyme Disease Prognosis

Prognosis for dogs with canine Lyme disease is very good. But it’s really important to finish out the full term of the prescribed antibiotic therapy. Don’t stop early, just because your dog seems to be well.
According to Lyme disease statistics, about five percent of dogs will have some type of relapse–with later symptoms of Lyme disease in the form of heart or nerve damage–even after treatment.
Some of these dogs will experience chronic Lyme disease symptoms of lifelong joint pain from the damage caused by the bacteria. That’s why the sooner treatment is started, the better the dog’s chances of a complete recovery.

How to Prevent Lyme Disease

Prevention is the key to keeping your dog healthy and free from this disease. Here are some ways to reduce the chance of ticks feasting on your dog:
• Use insecticides on the yard around your house
• Check your dog for ticks every time he comes back into the house
• Remove ticks carefully with tweezers, and apply an antiseptic to the spot where the tick was dining
• Discuss tick preventives and repellents with your veterinarian
• A monthly medication (applied between the shoulders) combined with a prescription-strength tick collar have
been shown to be quite successful when used together
• If you use a topical once-a-month tick product, always consult your veterinarian before applying any
additional repellent product
• Insect repellents designed to be applied to clothing should not be used on dogs
• If you own a kennel, check with your veterinarian about tick control measures specially designed for
Use of the current canine Lyme disease vaccine is still being debated. It’s not 100 percent effective, and it only prevents infection in dogs vaccinated before any exposure to Lyme organisms. That means it only helps puppies and dogs from non-Lyme areas traveling to Lyme areas. Annual boosters are needed to continue the vaccine-based immunity.
Opponents of the vaccine argue that Lyme disease is an infection for which over 90 percent of infected dogs will never even get sick anyway. And the 5 to 10 percent that do get sick can be easily treated with a safe, inexpensive course of antibiotics. This is an issue you may want to discuss with your vet.

Is Lyme Disease Contagious?

You can’t catch canine Lyme disease from your dog, but you could get the disease if your dog is harboring an infected tick and that tick bites you, too.
That’s why it’s really important to try to keep ticks off your dog and to check yourself for ticks frequently.

Canine Hypothermia

Your dog can show signs of canine hypothermia with just exposure to cold water and some wind. It can be deadly, so know the symptoms and be prepared to administer treatment.
What is hypothermia? It’s when a dog’s core body temperature drops due to exposure to cold. A dog’s normal body temperature is 101-102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 to 38.8 degrees Celsius). Hypothermia occurs when his temperature drops below 97 degrees F (36 degrees C).

Common Causes of Hypothermia

The main cause of canine hypothermia is prolonged exposure to cold temperatures.
But the temperature outside doesn’t even have to be below freezing.
In fact, studies have shown that 55-degree water, with 40-degree air temperature and 10 mph winds are prime conditions for hypothermia in dogs.
An accidental fall into cold water is also likely to lead to hypothermia.
But the water doesn’t even have to be icy cold, because the body loses heat more quickly in water than in air.

Hypothermia Symptoms

You usually have no problem recognizing when you’re too cold, but hypothermia symptoms are subtler, and unvoiced, in dogs. Canine hypothermia can be divided into three categories or stages:

1. Mild: Your dog begins to shiver uncontrollably. He’ll begin to act lethargic or tired. Typically at this stage his temperature is between 96 and 99 degrees F (35.5 to 37.2 C).
2. Moderate: Once your dog’s temperature falls into the 90-95 degree F range (32.2 to 35 C), he loses his ability to shiver. He’ll lose coordination and appear clumsy. His pulse and breathing rates slow, and he may lose consciousness. Your dog’s life is in serious danger.
3. Severe: At this point your dog has collapsed, he’s having trouble breathing, his pupils are dilated, and he’s probably unresponsive. His temperature is 82-90 degrees F (27.8 to 32.2 C). It’s critical that you warm your dog quickly and get him to an emergency vet center immediately.

How to Treat Hypothermia

If you’re home when your dog begins showing signs of hypothermia, rub him vigorously with towels to dry his fur. (You can give him a warm bath first, if you have time.)
Slowly warm him using a hair dryer on the lowest setting. Offer him a warm drink and warm him gradually by wrapping him in a blanket that’s been warmed in the dryer.
Place plastic milk or soda bottles filled with hot water outside the blankets, not touching the dog.
You can also place a plastic tarp over the blanket to help keep the heat in, making sure your dog’s head isn’t covered.
Monitor his temperature, and stop warming him when his temperature reaches 101 F (38.3 C).
Monitor for shock even after his temperature has returned to normal, and take him to the veterinarian as soon as possible.

Canine Hypothermia on a Hunting Trip

Knowing how to treat canine hypothermia when you’re out hunting with your Golden Retriever is even more crucial, as you probably won’t be close to a vet or the conveniences of home.
Your main concern is to remove your dog from further exposure to cold, and prevent any more heat loss.
First, dry him with towels, your coat, or anything that will absorb the water.
The next step is getting your dog out of the wind.
If you’re in a duck blind, that won’t be too difficult, but if you’re hunting from a boat or in flooded timber you can use your coat to make a wind block.
Get cozy–open your coat and huddle with your dog to help him warm up.
If you can get your dog to your truck, put him on the floorboard, crank up the truck and use the heater. In lieu of a warm truck, build a fire to produce some heat.
Vigorously rub your dog, preferably with a dry towel. Besides drying him off, the rubbing creates friction that produces heat.
If you have a mylar emergency blanket with your hunting stuff, you can use it either as a thermal shield to reflect the heat of a fire or to create a small warming chamber in the truck.
Of course, if no heat source is available or you need to carry your dog a long distance to a vehicle, wrapping him in anything will help trap body heat.
You’ll know you’re making progress by watching symptoms reverse themselves until eventually your dog begins to shiver.
This means his temperature has risen to the point that his brain once again recognizes that he’s cold and needs to warm up. But it’s still crucial that you get him to a vet as soon as possible.

How to Prevent Hypothermia

Perhaps the easiest way to deal with canine hypothermia is to simply avoid it. That doesn’t mean you have to cancel those cold weather duck hunts, but you need to take a few extra precautions when the mercury drops.

• When transporting your dog to the field, put cedar shavings in the dog box to help insulate it.
• If you use a plastic or wire crate, use an insulated kennel cover to provide shelter from the cold wind as you drive to your hunting location.
• Once you arrive, put a neoprene vest on your dog to help him retain body heat. There are several manufacturers and models to choose from.
• Sitting in the cold water will zap the warmth right out of a dog. So use a dog stand or find a dry spot in the boat or blind for your dog to sit.
• Keep your wet dog out of the wind. Hang a piece of burlap or put him behind a brush pile–anything that will help keep some of the cold wind off.
• Dry your dog often, using towels or a chamois cloth.
• If it’s bitter cold and the shooting is slow, throw a stick (on land) a few times to get your dog moving, keep his blood pumping, and help him stay warm.

Damage and Recovery

Dogs who experience mild or moderate hypothermia usually enjoy a complete recovery.
Most long-term hypothermic damage occurs to organs (such as the brain) that have not received adequate blood flow during severe hypothermia. In that case, it may be several days or weeks before you or your veterinarian know the entire extent of the damage.
Canine hypothermia kills dogs every year. Knowing basic hypothermia information and treatment procedures may one day help you save your dog’s life.

Canine Cataracts

Canine cataracts are a common problem for dogs. Unfortunately, they’re even a common Golden Retriever eye problem.
There are several types and causes of cataracts. Let’s talk about what they are and what you can do about them.

What Are Cataracts?

The lens in the eye focuses light onto the retina at the back of the eye so your dog can see clearly. Cataracts occur when the normally transparent lens becomes cloudy.
Any spot on the lens that’s opaque (you can’t see through it), regardless of size, is a cataract.
They can affect one or both eyes
Vision loss can be partial or complete.
Some canine cataracts will develop rapidly, even in a matter of days.
Other cataracts can take months or years to develop.
The most noticeable cataract symptom is a white or cloudy look to a dog’s eye.
It’s sometimes described as a “crushed ice” appearance.
Some dog cataracts are clearly visible to the naked eye, while others can only be seen with an ophthalmoscope.

Canine Cataract Types and Their Causes

Congenital cataracts (present at birth) make up the majority of cases. They’re also known as congenital juvenile cataracts in dogs.
The most susceptible breeds are Schnauzers (especially Miniatures), Spaniels, Poodles, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, Huskies, and several types of Terriers.
Despite the fact that a dog is born with them, they’re not necessarily inherited. Infections or toxins can also cause these cataracts in unborn puppies.
With hereditary or congenital canine cataracts, symptoms can appear in puppies as young as 5 weeks old. The cataracts may develop rapidly over weeks, or slowly over years, in one or both eyes.
Developmental cataracts are those that develop early in life. As with congenital cataracts, they may be inherited or caused by problems such as diabetes, nutritional deficiencies (possibly from milk replacement formulas), toxins, infection, or trauma.
The canine cataracts that occur in dogs over six years of age are called senile cataracts. They actually occur much less frequently in dogs than in humans.
Just so you know, it’s actually not unusual for older dogs’ eyes to become slightly blue-gray. This usually occurs in dogs over 6 years old, and is called nuclear sclerosis.
Since it rarely affects their vision, it seldom requires treatment.
Trauma from an automobile accident, or penetration of a thorn, shotgun pellet, or other object may damage the lens and a cataract may develop.
Traumatic cataracts usually only occur in one eye and can be treated successfully with surgical removal.

Treating Canine Cataracts

Different types of cataracts require different types of treatment. A small cataract that doesn’t restrict vision is probably not significant, while a more mature cataract may warrant aggressive treatment.
On the other hand, if a cataract is of a type that can be expected to progress rapidly (such as the hereditary cataracts of young Miniature Schnauzers), it may be best to surgically remove the cataract when it’s smaller and softer, as surgery is easier then.
Something else to keep in mind is that a cataract can slip from the tissue strands that hold it in place, allowing it to float around in the eye where it can cause trouble.
If it settles in a place that blocks the natural fluid drainage of the eye, glaucoma can result, leading to pain and permanent blindness.
A cataract can also cause glaucoma when it absorbs fluid and swells so as to partially obstruct fluid drainage from the eye.
The only treatment for canine cataracts is surgery (unless the cataracts are caused by another condition like canine diabetes–in which case cataract eye drops may work).
The good news is that surgery is almost always (90 to 95 percent) successful. The dog has to have a general anesthesia but is usually able to go home the same day. Even better news is that once the cataract is removed, it doesn’t come back.

The procedure and equipment used for cataract surgery for dogs are very similar to those used for cataract surgery in people.
A veterinary ophthalmologist will surgically remove the defective lens, replacing it with an intraocular lens or IOL.
This plastic or acrylic prosthetic lens allows for more focused vision.
After successful cataract surgery, your dog will see close to normal, but his vision won’t be perfect.
That’s because only a handful of different IOLs are available for dogs, and an exact replacement of the original lens isn’t possible.
In some cases, it’s not possible to safely place the replacement lens into the eye.
Since the cornea actually does two thirds of the focusing of the eye, he’ll still be able to see, but not perfectly.
His close-up vision (1 to 15 feet) will be blurry. But most dogs adjust quite well to this disability after a short time.
You should know that canine cataracts can cause a serious reactive inflammation inside the eye (Lens Induced Uveitis, or LIU) that will need to be treated, whether or not you opt for surgery. If you skip surgery, you’ll need to apply anti-inflammatory eye drops for the rest of your dog’s life, as well as take him in for periodic eye re-examinations.
LIU can lead to complications such as glaucoma or a detached retina, and LIU also decreases the success rate of cataract surgery (in case you later decide to go through with it).
In other words, there’s an ideal window of time in which to perform surgery. In general, the earlier a cataract can be removed, the better.
By the way, the average cost for cataract surgery for dogs is usually about $1000 to $1500 (U.S.) per eye. Why does it cost so much? Because it requires specialized equipment, just like for people. You’re also paying for the advanced training of a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.

Canine Cataract Surgery Recovery

Surgery aftercare requires a significant time commitment. Your job as the caregiver is vital to the success of the procedure. Your duties may include the following:
• Administer eye drops several times a day for about 3 to 6 months
• Keep your dog calm and quiet
• Keep the Elizabethan collar on at all times for 1 to 3 weeks after surgery, to keep him from hurting
• Use a harness instead of a collar when on walks to reduce pressure on his head (and eye) from pulling
• Cancel all grooming and vaccination appointments for about 6 weeks
• Schedule and keep all follow-up appointments
• Report any changes you may notice to your doctor
Vision usually improves during the first week, but the return of vision sometimes takes up to 2-3 weeks. Most dogs experience little or no pain after surgery.
Complications After Cataract Surgery For Dogs
Although this is a highly successful procedure, there are some possible problems after cataract surgery:
• Some degree of uveitis (inflammation) is unavoidable. This can cause a pupil constriction reaction which can increase the risk of scarring within the eye. Eye drops to keep the pupil dilated are usually effective in preventing this, but not always. Inflammation in the eye will resolve over weeks to months after surgery.
• All dogs develop some scar tissue inside the eye. Excessive scar tissue can limit vision later on.
• Glaucoma (increase in eye pressure) occurs in 30% of all dogs who have cataract surgery, usually within the first 24 hours after surgery. This is usually temporary, and is successfully treated with eye drops.
• Retinal detachment can occur. While re-attachment is sometimes possible, the success rate is low and this complication usually results in complete vision loss.
• Bleeding after surgery can be a serious complication and can easily be caused by excess barking or activity after surgery. Small bleeds are of little consequence but a large bleed could ruin vision.

It’s Your Decision

Your veterinarian can help you decide if cataracts are affecting your dog’s vision enough to warrant surgery. A cataract by itself doesn’t necessarily require treatment. Dogs with one normal eye and a cataract in the other can still see well enough to skip surgery.
Even if canine cataracts rob your dog of his vision entirely, it’s important to remember that blind animals still have a good quality of life.
They do quite well as long as you don’t move the furniture around too much, and you keep everybody’s clutter picked up off the floor–which may not be such a bad idea anyway!