When you think of a Golden Retriever, you probably imagine the joyful, lovable dog who is just happy to be here, right?
That’s what this incredible breed is known for, and one of the reasons they are so beloved.
But sometimes even Golden Retrievers can experience anxiety.
As an owner, it’s very hard to see your dog looking so stressed out, especially when you may not be able to understand or control the cause of it.
In this article, you will learn:
- What anxiety really is
- Symptoms that your dog is anxious
- Different types of dog anxiety (and the most common kinds of anxiety for Golden Retrievers)
- What causes anxiety for dogs — and how to calm your anxious Golden
- What to avoid that makes your dog’s anxiety worse (DON’T do this)
- How to treat your dog’s anxiety
- And more
Anxiety In Golden Retrievers
Anxiety is feelings of discomfort and nervousness about an impending event or threat.
It’s common in golden retrievers, but the good news is that there are things you can do to prevent, treat, and calm your golden retriever.
Anxiety is similar (but slightly different) to fear.
Fear is a response to an actual or perceived threat that involves physiological, behavioral and emotional responses.
Even if there isn’t something that poses a real danger to your Golden, they may feel that it’s a threat and react accordingly.
Fear is part of survival and serves to keep your dog safe and alive.
Anxiety is displayed by very similar signs as fear, but the signs are triggered by the anticipation of the scary, uncomfortable thing.
For example, say your Golden Retriever, unfortunately, had a very stressful experience at the vet yesterday, where they did a blood draw and trimmed her nails.
Today, you want them to get in the car so you can go walk with a friend at the park, but your pup refuses to get in and is doing behaviors that indicate they are stressed.
While you can’t read your dog’s mind, it’s likely that your dog is having anxiety about getting in the car because they worry you may be taking them to the vet again where they had a scary time.
The vet procedures resulted in a fear response, and now the car is triggering anxiety as she anticipates those uncomfortable events again.
Golden Retriever Anxiety Symptoms
Unfortunately, you can’t simply ask your Golden how he’s feeling to determine whether or not he has anxiety.
That would make things so much easier, right?
While you can never know exactly what your dog is feeling or thinking, your dog’s body language gives excellent insight into their emotional state.
It’s a good idea to do a bit of studying up on dog body language so you can tell if your Golden Retriever is experiencing anxiety.
This book, Doggie Language by Lili Chin, is a great resource to help you better read your pup.
While it’s not focused solely on Golden Retrievers, the information is still accurate.
Here are some common signs of anxiety in dogs:
- Excessive barking
- Yawning or lip licking
- Putting themselves in a corner
- Hiding, such as under furniture or between someone’s legs
- Urination or defecation in the house
- Looking away
- Excessive licking or grooming behaviors
- Laying flat on the ground
- Destructive behavior
- Stiff body posture
- Tucked tail
- Attempting escape
- Other behavior changes such as refusing food or aggression
This is not a complete list of signs of anxiety in dogs, as there are many, but these are some of the most common ones.
It’s important to look at your whole dog and the complete body language picture they are showing you, as well as the environmental context, when trying to figure out if your Golden may be having anxiety.
For example, your dog may be panting, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are anxious – they may simply be hot after playing fetch.
Or they may be restless and unable to settle because they have an upset tummy, which is still cause for concern, but may not be anxiety.
Your veterinarian can help you determine if your dog has anxiety.
Sometimes owners don’t think to discuss their pup’s potential anxiety with their vet, but they can be a very helpful resource.
Types of Dog Anxiety
It’s helpful to distinguish between chronic and situational anxiety in dogs.
Chronic anxiety is referred to as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and is a diagnosis that must be made by a veterinarian.
Dogs that have generalized anxiety are rarely or never able to feel relaxed and stress-free.
Situational anxiety is triggered by a certain thing, such as a sound, sight or experience.
The dog may feel anxious while the trigger is happening, but then return to a more normal mental and emotional state when it’s gone, or a short time after it’s gone.
Let’s look at these two types in more depth.
Unlike a dog with situational anxiety, a dog with generalized anxiety doesn’t seem to have a particular trigger.
They show signs of anxiety most or all of the time, despite the situation or context.
Generalized anxiety can range from fairly mild to severe.
As you can imagine, living in a constant state of anxiety can really take a toll on the well-being of your Golden.
A dog with generalized anxiety may also have situational anxiety, wherein certain instances they show signs of heightened fear and stress.
If you feel that your Golden Retriever may have generalized anxiety, talk to your vet right away.
Medication can help dogs with Generalized Anxiety Disorder feel better about life.
Life can be stressful, for dogs and humans alike.
There are likely certain situations or triggers that make you stressed out, and the same is true for your dog.
Here are some common things that can trigger anxiety in dogs:
- Sounds, such as storms or fireworks
- Being left home alone
- Confinement, such as in a crate
- Car rides
- Vet visits
- Being in a new, unfamiliar environment or situation
- A sudden environmental change, such as the addition of another dog to the home
For dogs experiencing this kind of anxiety, there is a pretty clear reason to which you can attribute their anxiety.
Let’s look at two types of situational anxiety in more detail – noise phobia and separation anxiety – which are, unfortunately, not uncommon for Golden Retrievers.
Golden Retriever Noise Phobia
Noise phobia is excessive fear of a sound, and results in a dog showing intense signs of stress.
The most common triggers of noise phobia are storms and fireworks, but a dog can develop a phobia of any sound.
The sound of a dishwasher, the beep of a fire alarm, or the clanking of metal pans can all trigger anxiety in dogs.
In dogs who have issues with storms, it may start as fear of the sound of the thunder, but then can generalize to the sound of wind or rain, or even a drop in barometric pressure because they anticipate the loud thunder noise.
Noise phobia can put a dog in an extremely stressed state, and some dogs will try to escape out of the home, crate, or yard.
Sadly, there is a spike in lost dogs around holidays that involve fireworks (such as Fourth of July in the United States) because dogs panic and escape in an attempt to flee the loud sound.
Noise phobia should be considered a medical emergency for your Golden Retriever and veterinary care should be sought out.
There are medications that can help manage noise phobia, which can really improve your dog’s quality of life.
Depending on the sound, a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant can also help you change your dog’s feelings about the sound.
Be proactive about discussing your Golden’s noise phobia with your vet.
If you saw signs that your pup was worried about fireworks on New Year’s Eve, talk to your veterinarian and have a plan for the Fourth of July.
If you noticed your dog panting heavily during a storm, tell your vet and make a plan for the next time a storm rolls in.
Golden Retriever Separation Anxiety
The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that 17% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety to a degree.
This means it’s sadly a common anxiety issue, and Golden Retrievers can be prone to it.
It’s important to note that separation anxiety is a panic disorder, and can only be diagnosed by a veterinarian.
Common signs of separation anxiety include:
- Persistent crying, barking howling
- Destructive behavior
- Urinating or defecating
- Trying to escape a crate or house
The cause of separation anxiety is not entirely known, though more recent research suggests some dogs may be genetically predisposed to the disorder.
It could also be triggered by a traumatic experience when left alone, such as a burglary, a big life change, such as owners having a baby, a scary experience unrelated to being home alone, such as being attacked by another dog, or long repeated owner absences.
Separation anxiety should also be considered a medical emergency, as regularly leaving your Golden in a state of distress is not humane or healthy.
Consult your veterinarian if you suspect your dog has separation anxiety, as medication can help treat the disorder.
Often, medication and training can be used together to help your Golden Retriever feel comfortable being left home alone.
It’s best to seek help early, as opposed to waiting until the issue has been going on for a long time, which can make resolution harder.
What Causes Anxiety for Golden Retrievers?
Anxiety in dogs can be complex.
It can be difficult to pinpoint an exact cause, but there are some common factors that can contribute to your dog’s anxiety.
Anxiety in dogs can be influenced by a dog’s genetics.
If your Golden Retriever’s relatives exhibit anxious behavior, whether chronic or situational, those traits may be passed onto your dog.
Genetics are very complicated, and just because your dog’s mother or grandfather has anxiety, it doesn’t mean your dog is guaranteed to have it too.
It can be very distressing to see your dog experiencing anxiety, and sometimes it’s easy to blame ourselves and wonder what we could have done differently.
Dog parent guilt is real!
The reality is sometimes anxiety is genetic and even with the best care and training, your Golden may still develop anxiety.
Anxiety can be the result of a traumatic experience that happened to your Golden.
Remember, something doesn’t have to be actually dangerous for it to be traumatic for your dog.
Particularly if your Golden Retriever is a young, impressionable puppy, or in their adolescent development phase, an aversive experience can have long-lasting effects on their behavior.
If your Golden was attacked by another dog on a walk, that may result in your dog showing anxiety around the location of the encounter, or they may not want to leave the house for a walk at all.
Sometimes a dog may have a negative experience and associate it with something that is less obvious to you as the owner.
Perhaps a bag of groceries fell from your counter onto your poor, unsuspecting dog’s back as the kitchen timer was going off.
Your pup was very startled by the impact of the full grocery bag, and now when he hears the beep of the kitchen timer, he shows signs of anxiety.
You may not have even been aware that the timer was going off at that moment, but for your dog, that sound was paired with the traumatic event.
Some dogs seem more resilient to past negative experiences than others, so it’s not guaranteed that your dog will be traumatized by something scary.
Others are more sensitive and may show an excessive reaction when that trigger comes around again after even a mildly uncomfortable experience.
Lack of Socialization
Socialization is a process of educating your dog about the world.
By giving them positive experiences, they learn how to be a confident, self-assured dog.
The best time to socialize a dog is between three to sixteen weeks old because their brains are very impressionable and ready to learn what is safe and what is not.
If your puppy wasn’t exposed to certain things in positive ways during this period, or if they had a negative experience during this time, that could contribute to the anxiety they have as an adult.
For example, if your Golden Retriever was never exposed to the sound and sight of traffic until they were 9 months old, you may see some anxiety in a situation where they are near traffic because it’s unfamiliar and perceived as a threat.
Certainly, older puppies and dogs can learn about novel things, but sometimes it’s not always as easy to convince them that the thing is not a danger as it is when they’re young.
There are some Golden Retrievers that won’t develop fears or anxiety even with poor early socialization.
And there are other Goldens that will, unfortunately, develop anxiety even with the best possible socialization.
This is where genetics come into play again.
The poorly socialized Golden may have genetics that compensates for how sheltered their early life was.
And the other Golden may have genetics that overrides all the fantastic, early experiences and results in anxiety.
As you can see, the causes of anxiety can be quite complicated and interconnected.
P.S. Getting a golden retriever puppy? Check out the Golden Retriever Puppy Handbook!
Pain or Illness
It’s always important to consider a dog’s physical wellbeing when looking for causes of canine anxiety.
Physical pain may cause your dog to become anxious in certain situations if they predict that it will trigger their pain.
Hormone issues can result in an increase in fear and anxiety.
Aging Golden Retrievers may experience changes in cognition, hearing, or vision, which could contribute to anxious behavior.
Your vet can help you identify and treat physical issues connected to your dog’s anxiety.
How to calm an anxious Golden Retriever
There is a myth that you shouldn’t comfort a scared or anxious dog because you may reinforce their fear.
The thought is that your dog will act more stressed out because you’re giving them attention for it.
That’s actually not true!
It’s absolutely okay to comfort your dog when they show signs of fear or anxiety.
Think of it like this: Someone breaks into your house while you are home and you are completely shaken up by the experience.
You feel violated and afraid.
Your heart is racing, you’re sweating and just generally feel panicked.
Your friend comes over and gives you a big hug.
They make you some tea and a snack and sit with you on the couch until you’re able to calm down.
Do you feel like the comfort your friend provided reinforced your fear and made you more fearful after the burglary?
It’s likely the complete opposite: their comfort helped you feel better and less fearful.
The same is true for your dog.
You can’t reinforce fear.
Now that that’s out of the way, here are some additional tips on how to help calm your Golden who has situational anxiety.
Please note that these tips apply to situational anxiety, and not chronic anxiety, which will be addressed later in the article.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but it can be easy to start getting stressed out when you see your dog in an anxious state.
We never want to see our beloved dogs experiencing fear or anxiety, so sometimes we can unintentionally feed off of it.
Golden Retrievers are highly intuitive dogs and can pick up on our stress, which can then make their own anxiety worse.
Breathe and keep calm when you see your dog is anxious.
Remove Them From the Situation
While this isn’t always possible, often the best thing to do is to get your Golden away from whatever is triggering the anxiety.
Forcing your dog to endure it in hopes that they’ll see it’s not so bad will not help, and may make the issue even worse next time.
For example, if your dog is anxious around the grill because one time a speck of hot grease flew up and burnt his nose, which is a surprisingly common source of anxiety, it’s best to simply keep your dog inside the house instead of letting them pant and pace around the yard.
If a garbage truck sends your dog into a panic, turn and walk the other way to get more distance from it.
If your Golden Retriever generally enjoys petting and scratches, you can try calmly petting or massaging them to help soothe them.
Sometimes simply applying firm, but gentle pressure with your hand on their shoulder or side can help them feel supported and calmer.
Perhaps you can cuddle up on the couch and pet your pup with long, slow strokes.
There are many products on the market that claim to help de-stress your dog, but as you can probably guess, they don’t all work.
Some products, however, have some studies to back up their calming effects.
Certain music has been shown to help dogs relax, including classical music and music made especially for dogs.
Lavender and Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) are scents that have proven calming effects.
Lavender can be diffused or sprayed onto a blanket, or in the air, but be sure not to spray it directly onto your dog.
Compression shirts, such as the Thundershirt, can also help soothe anxious dogs.
What To AVOID That Makes Your Dog’s Anxiety Worse
Sometimes you may unintentionally behave in a way that makes their issues worse, so it’s good to be aware of these things.
Punishing Your Dog
You come home from work and your Golden Retriever has made an absolute mess of your house while you were away.
You may have the urge to punish your dog in an attempt to communicate that the soiling and destruction is not okay.
But if your dog is suffering from separation anxiety, this punishment may only make your dog more anxious, resulting in even more destruction the next time you leave.
Let’s say your dog gets anxious around large black dogs after an altercation a few months ago.
He spots a big black dog across the park and starts pulling hard on the leash to get more space from it.
You may be annoyed by his pulling and want to correct him for yanking you around, but punishment will only make that other dog more scary and aversive.
Punishment throws fuel on the fire of your dog’s anxiety and it’s best to avoid it.
Flooding is a very outdated training technique where you expose a dog to a trigger at close proximity and for a long enough time in hopes that the dog will realize that there is no real danger and that they don’t have to worry about it in the future.
Unfortunately, this also can make your dog’s anxiety much worse.
Let’s say your dog gets anxious when the fire alarm goes off.
If you leashed up your dog and made them sit in the house for hours while the alarm went off with the goal that eventually they would stop caring, that would be flooding.
This typically backfires and makes the issue worse, so it’s best to avoid flooding your dog to try to get them over it.
How to Treat Anxiety in Golden Retrievers
As hard as it can be to see your pup experiencing anxiety, there is good news!
There are effective treatment options to help your Golden have a better quality of life.
As with many behavior issues, it’s best to get help sooner than later, as the longer it persists, the longer it may take to resolve it.
Talk to a Vet
If you notice your dog shows signs of chronic or situational anxiety, please talk with your vet.
Nothing can substitute seeking professional, medical advice from your veterinarian.
Even if you feel that the anxiety is mild or only happens in a particular situation, talk it over with your vet.
You can also get help from a Veterinary Behaviorist, who is a vet with additional training and expertise around animal behavior.
A vet may prescribe medication or other treatment to help treat your dog’s anxiety.
Find a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant
Training and behavior modification can also help your dog overcome or lessen their anxiety.
Because anxiety can have such a negative impact on your dog’s overall wellbeing, it’s a good idea to get professional assistance from a Certified Dog Behavior Consultant who can help you come up with a plan specifically for your Golden’s issues.
Your dog will make progress more quickly with expert help, as opposed to trying to go it alone.
Using science-based, humane training techniques, you can change your dog’s feelings and how they act in the presence of a trigger.
Meet Your Dog’s Needs
This may sound simple, but ensuring that your dog’s physical and mental needs are met on a consistent basis can really help in minimizing your dog’s anxiety.
Just like with humans, diet can be a factor in your dog’s overall wellbeing, including anxiety.
Consider if there is a better or different, high-quality diet you could feed them.
Your vet or a Certified Vet Nutritionist may be able to help you with this as well.
Look at your dog’s exercise – are they getting enough? Are they getting the right kind?
When it comes to dogs and exercise, it’s hard to beat enjoying time in nature.
Studies show that being in nature has many, positive effects on human health, and it’s highly likely that it has a similar impact on your Golden Retriever.
Letting your dog move their body in nature can be quite therapeutic for anxiety.
Consider also letting your dog enjoy more time outdoors off leash, or on a longer leash.
This fascinating study found that dogs on longer leashes sniffed more than dogs on a traditional 6-foot leash, and sniffing actually reduces dogs’ heart rate.
Giving your anxious pup some more room to explore and sniff could help lower their heart rate and relieve some of the tension that anxiety can cause.
This 15 foot long biothane leash is ideal for helping your dog get better quality exercise – it’s durable, waterproof, and easy to clean.
Adequate sleep is crucial for your Golden Retriever’s wellbeing.
Ensuring that your dog has a quiet, comfortable place for them to rest is important for their body and brain.
If your dog is young and energetic, they may need more structured nap times to help them get the amount of rest they need.
Likewise, if you have a busy home environment, you might need to be more intentional about creating time and space for your pup to get their rest.
Stick to a Routine
Dogs don’t have much choice in their daily lives.
As a human, you make the majority of the decisions that affect your dog’s routine.
You are in control of what you do and when and all you have to do is check your calendar app to know what’s in store for you that day.
Your dog doesn’t get to choose what they’re doing that day, apart from things like where to lay and whether or not to bark at the squirrel out the window.
They don’t know what is on their schedule for the day, since you control it.
For a lot of Golden Retrievers, keeping to a fairly consistent schedule can help ease some anxiety.
Patterns and predictability are calming for many dogs.
Think about your dog’s needs and how you can make sure they are met each day.
Find a routine that works for you and your dog and try to stick to it.
It gives your dog some stability and they know their needs will be met.
Desensitization & Counter-Conditioning
There are training techniques that can be used to help change your pup’s feelings and behavior around their anxiety triggers.
The first is desensitization, in which you systematically expose your dog to a very low level of the trigger so the dog doesn’t feel anxious.
You gradually increase the intensity of the trigger, moving at a slow enough pace so that the dog never reacts to it.
The key is to keep the dog under threshold, so they feel safe and don’t cross over into anxiety.
If you move too quickly and the dog feels anxious about the thing or situation, it can backfire.
For example, in the case of separation anxiety, the dog is desensitized to being home alone by exposing them to extremely small doses of alone time, building up until they can be left alone for several hours.
The dog is never pushed beyond what they can handle, and they never panic, which helps them learn how to be okay while alone.
Counter-conditioning is a way to change your dog’s feelings about the trigger by pairing it with something positive, typically food.
The presence of the trigger means that an amazing reward appears.
Counter-conditioning is often paired with desensitization, so the dog is exposed to the trigger at a low level where they don’t react, and they get delicious food.
It’s extremely important that the trigger predicts the reward.
The trigger happens and then the reward appears.
If you get the timing wrong, and the reward happens before the trigger, you can actually turn your dog off the food because they know something worrisome follows it.
For example, your dog gets anxious when they see balloons because one popped above their head.
You could start desensitizing your dog to balloons by beginning with a single, small balloon that is across the yard.
Every time your dog looks at it, you give them a high-value treat like a piece of chicken.
Once the dog is comfortable, you have someone move the balloon one foot closer to the dog and repeat the exercise.
As the dog is comfortable, you continue to gradually move the balloon closer and closer to the dog.
After your Golden no longer shows anxious behavior with the one, small balloon, you could start over with a larger balloon.
Then a small bunch of balloons, then a large Disney character balloon, then a big bunch of balloons.
You always have to move at your dog’s comfort level.
It can be tempting to try to rush things to try to get the dog over the anxiety, but that will almost always make it worse.
Depending on the severity of your dog’s anxiety, training alone may not be enough to resolve the issue, and medication prescribed by your vet may be needed in conjunction with training.
Remember that anxiety can be complex and getting some help from a trainer can help you implement these training techniques effectively.
Enjoying Life with Your Golden Retriever
You probably got your Golden because dogs add so much to our lives as humans.
The companionship and love they offer are unparalleled.
Anxiety can feel confusing and unfair, but there is a lot of hope for your anxious pup.
Understanding and helping your anxious dog can help make life even more enjoyable for both of you, so you can live a fulfilling life together.
Have any questions about anxiety in Golden Retrievers?
Let me know down in the comments!
P.S. Getting a golden retriever puppy? Check out the Golden Retriever Puppy Handbook!
- How To Train Your Golden Retriever To STOP Barking
- 5 Best Harnesses For Golden Retrievers (For Safety & Pulling)
- 5 Easy Tricks To Teach Your Golden Retriever That Are Fun, Cute & Simple
About the author:
Alisa Healy is a professional dog trainer in the Chicago suburbs, with a wide range of training experience from shelters to in-home training to dog sports. She is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and is passionate about helping people and dogs live fulfilling, harmonious lives together.