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How to train a Golden Retriever

How to train a Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers have been in the top five most popular dog breeds for many years and for many good reason. Golden Retrievers that meet the breed standard have beauty and brains, are terrific athletes, and are sought after for therapy and service dog work. 

The breed standard for a Golden Retriever describes what is often considered an ideal companion. If your goal is to raise a well-mannered and social Golden Retriever who is a wonderful ambassador for the breed, be sure to remember that your puppy will not arrive pre-programmed knowing how to behave just because he or she is a Golden Retriever. Diligent attention to your dog’s early and ongoing education and socialization is key to helping them be the best dog they can be. Proper training and guidance is required to avoid them quickly growing into an ill-mannered adolescent and then adult dog who makes potty and chewing mistakes, jumps on people, mouths, runs off when called, and otherwise ignores requests. Bring out the best in your Golden Retriever with the use of positive training, socialization, and management to set them up for success.

The First Few Weeks Home

When your Golden Retriever puppy first arrives home they’re likely to seem pre-programmed for perfection. This phase is often referred to as the ‘honeymoon period.’ This mellow, sweet, quiet phase may be an indication of their temperament. But is probably due in great part to needing time to adjust to being away from littermates and mom, being in a new environment, and needing lots of sleep. Once your pup feels fully at home they’ll start to nip (as though it’s their full time job), bark for attention and when left alone, and chew everything that crosses their path. This is the time to start establishing routines, boundaries, and expectations to set behavioral patterns that will have long-lasting payoffs. 

Management Magic

Of great importance during your Golden’s puppyhood is the diligent use of management tools to prevent predictable problems, to set your pup up for success, and to keep them safe. Focus on these four management tools:

  • On leash supervision
  • Crate training
  • Food stuffed chew toys
  • A daily schedule for potty, food and water, and play and train. 

On Leash Supervision

All puppies nip and mouth to some degree, but there is a reason Golden pups are referred to as baby land sharks. Remember, Goldens were created to carry things in their mouths, so they tend to be especially nippy, mouthy, and inclined to chew when they are puppies. Plan to keep your puppy on a very light leash when they aren’t resting in their crate or an exercise pen. The leash gives you an effective means of preventing your pup from wandering about the house and making potty mistakes, chewing inappropriate and/or dangerous items, and as a way to give prompt feedback when they nip or mouth. When your pup nips, hold your arm straight out and away from you so the leash keeps distance between you. After a brief moment, invite your pup to play again. Make play productive and practice some sits, stands, or downs using luring or help them engage with a toy. This timely feedback will help your pup learn that nipping ends play and how to interact appropriately when play resumes If your pup is focused on a toy or playing the training game with you, then they aren’t practicing nipping and mouthing.

Crate Training

Golden Retrievers tend to be super connected with their people. This is a wonderful quality that needs to be balanced with helping them learn to spend time quietly alone so they don’t suffer from separation issues. Help your Golden Retriever puppy learn to rest calmly in an appropriately sized crate (big enough to stand up, turn around, and comfortably lie down) starting with very brief moments when they’re already tired. Crate rest skills help develop time alone skills and potty skills. After a brief nap in the crate you can accurately predict when your pup needs to potty and take them to the right spot. Crate training is also the best way to keep your puppy safe when you can’t supervise them.

Food Stuffed Chew Toys

Golden Retrievers love to hold things in their mouths (after all, they were bred to retrieve) so stock up on a variety of toys. Durable plush toys can be great for supervised retrieve and tug games. It is generally ill-advised to leave give your Golden pup a plush toy when you can’t supervise as they may chew through it and ingest the filling and/or squeaker. Durable, hollow toys are designed to be filled with food (your pup’s normal meals and/or healthy treats) so that your puppy is happily occupied passing the time playing with them and ‘hunting’ for the food inside. Have at least four or five on hand so you can rotate them and vary what they are filled with to keep your pup’s interest. Give your pup one of these food stuffed toys when you can’t focus on them and you want them to self-pacify.

Daily Schedule

Creating a schedule for when your pup eats and drinks, when they have periods of higher activity (play and train), and when they nap will help you determine more precisely when they need to potty. Very young pups need to be given lots of potty breaks and rest time (just like very young children). As your pup matures and you are diligent about their schedule they’ll be able to have gradually longer periods in between potty breaks.

School is in Session

A Golden Retriever puppy as young as 8 weeks of age can start having fun playing the training game and learning foundation skills for sit, down, stand, stay, walking nicely on leash, come when called, and impulse control. It’s critical to start a pup’s education as soon as they arrive home. Puppies develop extremely rapidly from two to five months of age. Find a well run puppy kindergarten class as a great way to meet your pup’s education and socialization needs. Setting a foundation of skills and manners with a young puppy is critical to meeting the challenges of their next stage of development…adolescence. At puppy class you’ll learn how to teach your pup manners and obedience, and how to properly interact with other pups and their people. Golden Retriever puppies are programmed by nature to absorb lots of information around them and may have a challenging time focusing. Keep training sessions brief (about 3-5 minutes) and vary what you work on to keep them focused and motivated to play the training game. 

What Rewards to Use

Golden Retrievers respond very well to positive reinforcement. They are dogs that are generally highly social and love playing with people, so they love praise and affection. Golden Retrievers are also known for their love of food, so food rewards can be extremely effective. Keeping your golden retriever at a healthy weight can be a challenge for some people, so when training an adult Golden Retriever be especially careful to use very tiny bits of healthy food as rewards. Remember, your dog doesn’t have a scale in their mouth, and ten tiny rewards gives you the opportunity to reward for ten great responses as opposed to one big treat for one response. Since most Goldens are super fans of retrieving, also make use of their toys as rewards. When teaching your Golden to respond to your cues/commands, the toss of a favorite toy can be a very effective reinforcement.

Choose a Marker

A marker is a sound that is paired with a reward and tells your dog what they were doing at the exact moment they heard it was the right thing. Think of a marker like a fast shutter on a camera that takes a super sharp focused picture. A marker helps a dog develop a very clear picture of what behavior is earning the reward. A marker word should be short; something like yes or good works perfectly. Help your dog learn what the marker means by ‘charging’ it up. Have about 30 tiny, tasty, healthy treats in your treat pouch. If your Golden Retriever does anything you like without you asking them to do it (looks at you, sits, or stands there without jumping) say your marker word and then give them a treat. Repeat in a few 3-5 minute sessions, It typically takes just a few sessions for your dog to figure out what the marker means. Now you have a word that tells them what they were doing at the precise moment they heard it is the right thing.

Brief Sessions

Training sessions should be brief (about 3-5 minutes) and frequent throughout the day (rather than one long session). This is the best way to keep your Golden Retriever engaged and enthusiastic and to give them lots of opportunities to build strong learning muscles through frequent and brief repetition.


If there are multiple people playing the training game with your Golden Retriever, be sure everyone is as consistent as possible in regards to how they are teaching, cues/commands used, and rewards. This will prevent confusion and promote faster learning for your dog.


Golden retrievers are known for their friendly and sociable nature, but don’t assume that your Golden Retriever won’t ever take issue with a specific person or animal. Early socialization is important to best ensure your dog develops good skills and manners with other dogs and with people outside of the family. Trainer moderated puppy play groups can be a wonderful way to begin this process. Your pup gets to play with similarly aged puppies, and gets to meet their people, all under the guidance of a skilled professional trainer.

Grooming Your Golden 

Golden Retrievers require regular grooming to maintain a healthy coat. Brushing and combing will help keep them neat and lessen shedding around the home. Regular grooming also allows you to keep an eye out for any lumps, sores, ticks or other parasites. It’s also important to help your Golden to be comfortable with having their nails trimmed to prevent possible bone malformations due nails that are too long. If you want an adult dog who is calm and cooperative during grooming sessions you need to be sure to give your puppy daily opportunities to practice. Start with very brief, gentle brushing and body handling (including their feet) sessions and give your puppy a food stuffed chew toy to play with and/or have a helper offer tiny treats during the sessions so your pup is happily occupied and feels good about grooming and handling. 

Adolescent Angst

Teenage Golden Retrievers have a lot more energy and stronger opinions than when they were young pups. This phase lasts a lot longer than puppyhood (from about 6-18 months), and can be a lot more challenging. You may find yourself struggling with a feisty, moody, teenager who seems to have ‘forgotten’ all you previously taught or who looks at you with a “Why should I listen to you?” expression. This is the nature of being a teenager and requires you to provide calm and consistent guidance to help them make good decisions. Regardless of how much time you spent on training with your Golden Retriever puppy, be prepared to be even more diligent through their teenage months. This is a great time to consider joining a training class for agility, tricks, scent work, or advanced obedience manners. These activities are fun, improve overall responsiveness and manners, and are great outlets for your dog’s mental and physical energy. Golden retrievers are high-energy dogs and require plenty of exercise to prevent boredom and destructive behavior and ongoing attendance at a training class can be a super beneficial part of getting through your dog’s teenage months.


By around two years of age your Golden Retriever will be fully grown and have had many months of opportunities to practice and be rewarded for good manners skills. That means behaviors like sitting to say hello, coming when called, lying quietly on a designated spot while you eat your meals (rather than begging at the table), etc. should be strongly established behavior patterns by now. Congratulate yourself on doing a terrific job bringing out the best in your dog. From here on out the focus should be on maintaining these good manners through continued practice and rewards. Further, as Golden Retrievers are prone to health issues such as hip dysplasia, heart disease, and certain types of cancer, during regular check-ups be sure to discuss with your veterinarian what an ideal daily activity plan looks like to keep your Golden Retriever in optimal physical and behavioral health for many years to come.

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