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When you have kids, adding a dog to your family is a big decision that can bring a lot of fun and unconditional love.
But there’s also the potential for a lot of stress and frustration, especially if the dog isn’t the right match for your children.
Golden Retrievers can make excellent family companions because of some key personality and behavior traits.
In this article, you’ll learn:
- The top five qualities that can make Golden Retrievers great family dogs
- Three things to watch out for that can make life with kids and a Golden Retriever challenging
- Four tips to help kids and Goldens thrive together
5 Reasons Golden Retrievers Can Make Great Family Dogs
Why do Golden Retrievers make great family dogs?
Golden Retrievers are resilient, sociable, playful, affectionate, and stable. This makes for a great companion for families with kids of all ages.
The American Kennel Club describes the ideal Golden Retriever as “friendly, reliable, and trustworthy” in the breed standard.
It goes on to say that “quarrelsomeness or hostility towards other dogs or people in normal situations, or an unwarranted show of timidity or nervousness, is not in keeping with Golden Retriever character.”
Let’s take a look at these family-friendly traits in more depth!
A good Golden Retriever is able to easily bounce back from stressors they may encounter.
When you have kids, your home can be noisy and chaotic, and if your dog is easily stressed out by the movement, sound, and energy of children it can make life hard for everyone.
Kids cry, scream, and laugh.
They drop things, throw things and break things.
They dance, run and roll around.
A resilient dog can take these things in stride with minimal stress.
Golden Retrievers can let things slide off their backs without being emotionally affected.
They can roll with the punches of day-to-day life with kids.
And if something does startle them or stress them out, it’s momentary and not going to ruin the dog’s day.
While they are sweet and intuitive, they tend to be pretty hearty dogs.
This is not to say that families shouldn’t take care to minimize their dog’s stress and ensure kids are treating them with respect.
But it really helps when the dog is resilient and their general temperament is one of optimism and cheerfulness.
The hallmark of a Golden Retriever is their friendliness.
Many Goldens have that “never met a stranger” attitude and are happy to be pet and loved on.
They enjoy the company and attention of people, including children.
While some breeds might be aloof or independent, Goldens love interacting with people.
If you have kids, you need a dog that genuinely likes kids, and the high levels of sociability that are common in Golden Retrievers make it more likely that they will enjoy children.
Kids often want to pet and interact with the family dog, so it helps when your dog is inclined to be fond of that sort of attention.
And many Goldens need a high level of social contact in order to feel happy and content.
So kids and Goldens can be a wonderful match!
Let’s get a little nerdy for a second and talk about the science of why Golden Retrievers are so playful, which is another trait that makes them a good choice for families.
Not all dog breeds remain as playful as Golden Retrievers do throughout their lifetimes.
Some breeds start out quite playful as puppies, but as they mature, the playfulness diminishes.
But most Golden Retrievers remain very playful and goofy well into old age.
So why is this?
It’s due to something called neoteny.
Neoteny is the keeping of juvenile traits into maturity.
Through many generations, breeders selected Golden Retrievers who maintained puppy-like traits, as these traits helped make them great hunting companions as well as wonderful family pets.
These traits include physical ones such as floppy ears, soft chubby faces, and low-set tails, all of which adult Goldens have.
It also includes behavioral traits like looking to adults (owners) for leadership, strong social bonds, and playfulness.
Many Golden Retriever owners will say things like, “She’s a big puppy” or “He’s like Peter Pan! He never grew up.”
And in a way, they’re right!
So all that to say, as a highly neotenized breed, Golden Retrievers are very playful, even as fully mature adults, which can be a wonderful trait for folks with kids.
When children envision a family dog, they often picture things like playing fetch with a ball or stick, playing hide and seek, or running around the yard together.
The long-lasting playful nature of Goldens means they are likely to enjoy these kinds of games alongside the kids.
Having a dog who likes playing and being silly can make life with kids and dogs a lot more fun.
Similar to sociability, many Goldens are highly affectionate.
They love getting pets, belly rubs and ear scratches.
Goldens are often very tactile and love physical contact.
And this is good news for families with kids, because kids often want to pet their dog.
When you have a dog that doesn’t like much physical touch and avoids affection, this can be hard for kids.
And it can be really hard for kids, especially youngsters, to understand that some dogs might not want to be touched.
Dogs deserve to have their preferences respected, and when kids try to touch a dog that prefers to be left alone, it can become a bite risk situation.
Again, this isn’t to say that Golden Retrievers should put up with any and all touching and handling from children.
All kids should learn how to interact with dogs – even friendly, affectionate ones – with respect.
But, many Goldens are inclined to naturally like the physical affection that kids can provide, and that can make them a great fit for families.
Another important trait that can make Golden Retrievers so good for families is stability.
When we refer back to the American Kennel Club’s breed standard, it says “an unwarranted show of timidity or nervousness, is not in keeping with Golden Retriever character.”
A stable dog is one who isn’t timid or nervous, but instead is confident, self-assured, and generally unflappable.
Now, this isn’t to say that a Golden Retriever might never be startled or sensitive.
They aren’t robots, after all!
But in regular, day-to-day life, a good Golden should be behaviorally stable.
A Golden Retriever who matches the breed standard shouldn’t be reactive, anxious, aggressive, or fearful.
They are trustworthy and unruffled both at home and when out and about in the world.
Training is important of course, to help your Golden Retriever learn to behave politely.
But they should have a solid temperament that allows them to feel confident and comfortable.
This stability is immensely helpful for families with kids.
Having a dog with a nice, easy temperament makes life with kids easier.
As a parent or caregiver of kids, you’re juggling a million things already.
If you add in a dog that’s highly anxious, it puts more work on you to try to help your dog feel okay.
If your dog is aggressive towards people or other dogs, that’s a huge thing you have to consider every time someone enters your home, or you step out the door into the world with your dog.
But a stable, confident dog is more able to integrate into your life with ease and joy.
They can come along for fun family adventures without it adding a bunch more stress onto you.
They can adapt to changes within your home and experience new environments more quickly.
And this all makes balancing your kids and dog easier for you.
- Getting a Golden Retriever puppy? Learn how to potty train them fast by downloading the Potty Training Cheat Sheet here!
3 Things to Watch Out for in Golden Retrievers as Family Dogs
No breed of dog is perfect.
While there may be some Golden Retrievers who embody all five of these wonderful, common traits, there are also some Goldens who have traits that can make them a challenge in a family with kids.
And these traits are also fairly common in the breed, so it’s important to be aware of them.
It will come as no surprise that Golden Retrievers are often good at retrieving.
This skill requires picking up things and carrying them in their mouth.
Historically, this trait made them excellent hunting companions, as they could run and retrieve a shot bird.
It’s also a trait that makes them good service dogs, as they can pick up dropped objects or bring things to their human.
But this mouthiness can sometimes get a little tricky when it comes to kids.
One way that this can come out is nipping or grabbing arms and legs out of excitement.
When Goldens get excited, it’s common for them to get mouthy.
They’re not being aggressive or mean, but it can still be scary and painful, especially for children.
Another way that mouthiness can be hard with kids is that Goldens might find picking up your kids’ toys super fun.
And this can easily become a game of “catch me if you can” which your dog might find super fun.
This can also escalate into a serious issue called resource guarding, which we will get into next.
Puppies and young Goldens are often particularly mouthy, but this can continue well into adulthood.
Positive reinforcement training can help your dog learn how to interact with your kids in calm ways, as well as how to ignore and drop your kids’ toys.
Mouthiness isn’t necessarily a deal breaker when it comes to kids, but it’s something to have on your radar and be working on from the very start.
This next issue can come as a surprise for some people, as Goldens are known for being such sweet, happy-go-lucky dogs.
Resource guarding is when a dog reacts to a perceived threat to something they find valuable.
The dog will growl, snap and even bite if you feel like someone is going to take away a toy, bone, or other object.
They might also freeze, pick up the object and run away with it, or try to eat it very quickly so you can’t take it.
Unfortunately, this is not uncommon within the breed, and it can pose a big safety concern, especially with children.
As mentioned above, this can sometimes happen with kids toys, but also with shoes, clothes or other kid items.
If the child sees that the dog has something that belongs to them, they might approach the dog to take it back.
If the dog is a resource guarder, this could potentially result in a bite.
Even if the dog doesn’t bite, resource guarding can also create a lack of trust between the dog and child.
It can be very confusing and scary for a kid to have their beloved dog growl or snap at them.
Beyond guarding kid stuff, Goldens can also guard their own toys and bones, and if a child just happens to walk past or get too close (even if they’re not trying to take it away), the dog may react in an unsafe way.
Ideally, you can work on resource guarding prevention beginning when your Golden Retriever is a puppy with the help of a certified professional trainer who uses positive reinforcement methods.
And if you notice any signs of resource guarding developing at any point in your dog’s life, you should consult a certified dog behavior consultant right away.
Resource guarding often gets worse if not properly treated.
Additionally, there are so many myths and bad advice floating around about resource guarding, and it’s not worth endangering your children.
Most Golden Retrievers are not lazy.
They are energetic, athletic dogs who need consistent exercise and mental stimulation in order to be able to relax around the house.
A typical Golden will need 60 to 90 minutes of exercise daily.
If their physical and mental exercise requirements are not met, they can become annoying, destructive, and very hard to live with.
It may be a challenge for some families to consistently meet this need.
Between work, school, and kid activities, families may struggle to find the time to exercise, play with, and train the dog, all of which are necessary to have a well-behaved Golden.
You’ll want to be sure that your family has the time and means to meet a Golden Retrievers’ needs, whether yourselves or through other options like a dog walker or daycare.
Additionally, as the adults of the family, the responsibility of caring for the dog and providing outlets for their energy lies on you.
Kids are often eager to help with the puppy or dog initially, but sometimes the excitement wears off or they become busier and no longer do what they had promised.
So even if your kid makes big promises or gives you a ten-page report on how they’re going to care for the dog in an attempt to convince you to get a family dog, be sure that you as the adult have the capacity to fulfill the breed’s energy requirements.
Not Every Golden Retriever Will Be a Good Family Dog
It’s important to acknowledge that not all Goldens are the same.
While the breed is generally known for qualities that make it a fantastic companion for kids, some individuals will not have the right combination of traits to thrive in a home with children.
They might be very sensitive to noise or chaos, which are inevitable when you have kids.
Some may not like a lot of attention or petting from children.
Others might be generally anxious, or just flat out do not enjoy being around kids.
So simply getting a Golden Retriever doesn’t guarantee that you will have a great family dog.
If you’re getting a puppy, it’s important to look for a good breeder who is purposefully breeding dogs with the traits that make a dog good with kids.
And if you’re getting a Golden through a rescue, it’s critical that the dog’s temperament has been assessed to ensure they will do well in a family with children.
The ideal for an adult dog is if they have been fostered in a home with children, especially children around the age of your own kids.
So while the breed is well-known as a good family dog, not every single Golden Retriever will be.
Tips for Families with Kids and Goldens
Here are some of the key things you can do to help all species in your home feel happy and safe.
Learn Dog Body Language
One of the best things that families with kids and dogs can do is to learn about dog body language together.
Dogs obviously don’t speak human language, but they do communicate a lot through their bodies.
If you understand what certain signals mean, you can make adjustments in your own behavior, and coach your children on how to act, in order to avoid stressing out your dog.
When dogs are stressed out and no one is listening to their signals, that’s when they tend to escalate to “louder” communication like growling, snapping and biting.
You can avoid pushing your dog to that extreme by understanding their body language.
The book Doggy Language is an incredible resource for kids (and adults!) to learn how to interpret what your dog is telling you through their body.
Learning dog body language can be a life changing skill for you and your kids.
Kids and dogs need to be supervised when together.
Especially, babies, toddlers, youngsters, and kids who may find following rules a challenge.
You just never know what can happen if you’re not there to manage the situation, and so it’s best to be present when kids and dogs have access to each other.
Without supervision, a child may unintentionally pester, hurt or scare the dog, which could result in some potentially dangerous consequences.
And a dog might pester, hurt or scare your child.
Adult supervision helps keep everyone safe and happy.
So what do you do when you can’t be supervising your kids and dog?
It’s not humanly possible to be keeping your eyes on them at all times, so this is where using management strategies is key.
Management refers to adjusting the environment to help prevent unwanted behavior, whether from your kids or your dog.
Let’s say you’re on a phone call and your dog is laying on the couch and your kid just can’t help but poke the pup’s nose.
Most dogs, even very tolerant Golden Retrievers, aren’t going to appreciate repeated pokes to the nose.
Your dog deserves to rest without being harassed and you, of course, don’t want your kid to provoke a reaction from your dog and get scared or hurt.
But you can’t keep reminding your kid to stop poking the dog or redirect them to play with a toy because you’re on a call.
This is where playpens and gates come in handy.
By using them to separate your kitchen and living room, you can keep your kid with you in the kitchen, and your Golden gets to snooze in peace in the living room.
And even if you are able to supervise, sometimes you might just need a break.
Management is crucial in maintaining peace when you have kids and a dog.
Puzzle toys are a great tool for busy families.
There will be some times when, despite your best effort, you can’t manage to get in that long walk, or that doggy playdate, but your dog still has energy to burn.
While puzzle toys are certainly not something that can replace physical exercise, they can be a lifesaver when it’s been one of those days.
It’s also great to combine these types of toys with the management strategies, that way your dog has positive associations with being in a pen, or behind a gate.
Here are some favorites:
It’s also helpful to have some food-stuffed frozen toys in your freezer.
Frozen toys take a while for your dog to eat, and can occupy your dog while burning some of their energy when you can’t give them your attention.
You can soak kibble in water or a little low sodium broth and then pack the mush into the toy and stick it in the freezer.
Other stuffing options include wet dog food, pumpkin, plain yogurt, baby food, and peanut butter.
Here are some favorite toys for freezing:
So when you’ve got a sick kid, or homework help is taking longer than expected, a puzzle toy can be a good bandaid solution to get your dog by until you have more availability.
Get Help from a Family Dog Specialist
There are professionals who specialize in helping families with dogs and kids live together in harmony.
Working with one of these trainers can help alleviate your stress and overwhelm.
Because even life with kids and a wonderful Golden Retriever can be a lot.
Getting the right support can make a huge difference in everyone’s quality of life.
Pooch Parenting is a business run by professional dog trainer and behavior counselor Michelle Stern, that offers resources, online classes, and one-on-one consultations virtually to families all over the world.
No matter what age kids you have, Pooch Parenting can help you regain some sanity with your kids and Golden, or prevent issues from starting if you’re aiming to be proactive.
A Kid’s Best Friend
Golden Retrievers often have many traits that make them well-suited as a family companion.
And growing up with a dog can be an incredibly valuable experience for children.
The love, fun and joy that a Golden can offer a kid is wonderful to witness.
If you want to learn more about Goldens, check out this ultimate guide to Golden Retrievers.
P.S. If you’re getting a Golden Retriever puppy, get the 30-day game plan in the Golden Retriever Puppy Handbook.
- The Complete Guide To Raising A Golden Retriever Puppy
- 8 Types Of Golden Retrievers (With Pictures)
- Golden Retriever vs. Labrador Retriever: 16 Differences To Help You Choose
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.