Charlie the Golden Retriever from Potomac, MD came to FluentDog at 4 months old because he was growling and starting to show signs of resource guarding–when a dog acts aggressively when you take away a valued item.
His owners, busy parents, were of course concerned because they did not know if this was normal puppy development, or if they somehow got an aggressive Golden Retriever. Of course, their kids had already fallen in love with the puppy, so Charlie’s owners contacted us at FluentDog to see if Charlie would be safe to remain with their family.
Unfortunately resource guarding in “friendly” breeds is becoming more common. Aggression or resource guarding in a Golden Retriever is absolutely not in keeping with the breed standard, but it is becoming more common to see, as the “English Cream” (a backyard breeder term) Golden Retrievers are so popular. Unscrupulous breeders are breeding for quantity, not quality. Some even cross Goldens with Great Pyrenees (a breed that is SUPPOSED to aggressively guard its territory) to get that fluffy white coat.
According to the AKC, a Golden Retriever’s temperament should be: “Friendly, reliable, and trustworthy. 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.“
I suspect that Charlie may have come from a less-than-ethical breeder. Puppy mills can be extremely marketing-savvy and I get so many clients who don’t even realize they bought from a puppy mill agent. They pick up the puppy from a farm and are not allowed to see the parents or other littermates…because they aren’t there!
Buying a puppy is not an online transaction (anyone can say anything online) and you do need to do some legwork, talk to actual people, and see actual relatives of the puppy you are considering. Here is a great checklist to vet any potential dog breeder.
I also recommend buying from a breeder who titles their dogs in a sport (conformation, obedience, agility, dock diving, even Canine Good Citizen). Yes, this is important even if you just want a pet, not a show dog! Titles are third-party proof that the breeder’s dogs can do what the breeder says they can do and that their dogs are trainable to an objective standard.
Anyway, back to Charlie and his odd resource guarding. To some degree, it is normal for a puppy to protest when you take something they want. If this happens to you, the safest thing to do is take the dog away from the item (not the item away from the dog) or ideally teach your dog “drop it” long before you ever need to use it. I would never punish a dog for growling because that is communication. Better to growl rather than have a dog bite “out of nowhere” because the dog was punished for growling in the past.
Also, at 4 months old, nippiness could be related to teething or just not knowing how to “drop it” or “leave it” on cue.
Once I taught Charlie how to let go of items as part of a fun game, the issue went away. His problem was just being a baby and not knowing yet. Soon, he did not see people as a threat to “his stuff”. In fact, people brought him good things and might even play with the items he had!
I did see that Charlie was a bit of an oddball in his play style–overall, his body language was happy, wiggly and totally normal for a puppy. Yet he still growled when he played. After observing him for 2 weeks, I concluded this was just a quirk of his personality, not something to be overly concerned about. It was weird, but not true aggression. It is important to look at the dog’s body language OVERALL and not be overly focused on one aspect, like a wagging tail (often associated with a happy dog, but a biting dog can also be wagging its tail) or ears down (can a sign of submission or fear, but some dogs do this when they are happy).
Ever since training, Charlie has been a trustworthy and valued member of his family. They have not seen any more resource guarding and he happily drops any item. He is good on walks and they take him to their kids’ sports events all the time. He is just exactly what you would expect of a Golden Retriever.
He also learned patience! This is what his owner texted me the morning after he came home:
“Charlie was quiet until 7 today when my son got up! And he stayed in place for 10-15 min while my son ate his bagel on the coach. Wow wow. I was so impressed.”
I was happy to help Charlie’s family with the Set for Life program. About a year after his training program, they asked me to come back to teach Charlie how to bring toys back after they were thrown for him. No problem! Whether your dog has a problem in the future, or you just want to teach him something cool, you can always come back. It’s all part of the package.
If you’re having issues training your puppy or seeing concerning resource guarding behaviors, I would be happy to help you too. Contact us for more information and to find the right program for you.