Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular dog breeds in the
United States. In addition to being iconic and featured in a number of movies,
Golden Retrievers also tend to be gentle and intelligent, which makes them
great family dogs, especially around little ones. All dogs use their mouths to explore the world. Puppies nip, lick,
and bite everything around them in order to learn about their environments. As
they grow up and learn, and are trained otherwise, most of the time, that chewing
and biting subsides so they don’t hurt you or damage your home. For some dogs,
like Golden Retrievers and Labs, the inclination to use their mouths may
The Root of the Behavior
Golden Retrievers, like Labs, were originally bred as hunting or gun dogs. Specifically, they were valued for their ability to retrieve fowl and other small game without damaging the feathers or fur. It was a useful skill to have if you were hunting ducks, quail, or other game fowl. In general, Golden Retrievers are patient and gentle, which makes them excellent pets and companions. However, just like any breed, the tendency to nip, mouth, and bite can persist if not properly redirected in puppyhood. Many dogs have instincts that date back to their breed’s origins even hundreds of years ago. Shepherding dogs may be more likely to “herd” children, ducks, or livestock, even without any training or exposure. Just like Retrievers may have more of a tendency to retrieve or carry things gently.
Soft toys like stuffed animals or “plush” toys tend to be favorites among bird dogs like Retrievers and Labs. They may also be fairly gentle with their toys, but again, being “soft-mouthed” isn’t something that’s always inherent or guaranteed in the breed. Like any other dog, bite control and gentleness has to be trained and encouraged from the very beginning. As puppies and even adult dogs play, the mouth is an important part of that play time. Nipping is one of the most prominent features of play between two dogs. Most of the time, nipping is harmless and the two dogs establish their boundaries and ground rules. If you watch two dogs play nipping and see one dog take it too far, the other will yelp or cry out. The dog who bit too hard will back off as if scolded or shocked. Then the bitten dog will usually get back up and resume play just as before. That behavior may repeat several times during play. That kind of interaction is important in learning restraint and how to nip rather than bite.
Encouraging the Behavior
It is essential that your dog learns the difference between play nipping and actual biting. If your dog mouths your hands during playtime and isn’t hurting you, it’s up to you if you want to let the behavior continue. Mouthing is an important part of play time, but you can redirect their mouths onto soft toys or balls instead of your hands as a precaution. If you have children, or you have children visiting, even soft mouthing may hurt a young child, and not every guest or visitor will be accustomed to or appreciate having their hands nipped. Dogs who don’t nip hands even in play are also less likely to bite when scared or in pain.
To work on gentle mouthing in place of biting in puppies, you can put smeared banana or peanut butter on your hands. This encourages your puppy to lick rather than bite, which you can reward and praise. If your puppy bites too hard, you should do the same thing another dog would do in a play situation. Yelp or say “ow” in a high-pitched tone. Also, holding still rather than pulling away will help discourage your puppy from biting. It might be hard, especially because the reaction to sharp puppy teeth is generally to pull away, but holding still will discourage your pup from thinking you’re playing a game with them. Especially for puppies who nip feet and ankles, running away or pulling your feet away quickly turns an annoying behavior into an exciting game. Holding still will quickly turn your puppy’s attention onto something more exciting.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Any dog can bite. Many dog breeds become featured subjects of stereotyping in the media, which can become “trendy” in some ways. Currently, Pit Bulls have a bad reputation as aggressive dogs. In the past, German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers were the target of that same false label. But the truth is, negative behaviors can’t be pinned to any one breed. Bloodlines and genetics have more to do with aggressive behaviors than breed. Lack of training or attention, and encouraging bad habits turns good dogs into problems. Just because Golden Retrievers are often gentle is no excuse not to train your dog the same way you would any dog. Giving them plenty of appropriate toys, exercise, and your time and attention is the only sure way to encourage your dog to be a great family dog.
Golden Retrievers can be great dogs. Biting and chewing can be a problem in any home, so making sure you teach your dog how to play gently or shift their energies onto appropriate toys rather than your feet or fingers is always a great idea. If you put in the work, Golden Retrievers can be a wonderful addition to any family.
By a Border Collie lover Charlotte Perez
Published: 04/16/2018, edited: 01/30/2020