Even if you know a great deal about your Golden Retriever’s behavior, some of the things he might do might confuse you. It is not uncommon for Golden Retriever owners to get curious about why their dogs behave a certain way.
Common Golden Retriever behaviors include licking, nibbling, putting everything in their mouth, howling, barking, whining, pawing, rolling and sleeping on their back, laying on your feet, digging, staring at you, tail chasing, and circling before lying down.
Of course, these common Golden Retriever behaviors don’t sum up all of what a Golden Retriever does daily. Other behaviors seem less explicable but do have a rationale.
Knowing why and how your Golden Retriever behaves can help you connect with him better. More importantly, it can help with the early identification of health issues.
This all-new guide explains the most common Golden Retriever behaviors that some owners may find difficult to understand or even a little weird! I’ll share advice on minimizing problematic behaviors alongside pointing out what’s just natural canine behavior. So let’s get started!
Common Golden Retriever Behavior Explained
There are many reasons why Golden Retrievers manifest certain behaviors. For example:
- Showing excitement or aggression.
- Seeking or giving attention.
- Expressing joy or anxiety.
- Finding relief from or expressing pain.
- Showing dominance or taking a defensive stance.
- Seeking or providing protection.
- Marking their territory.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Lay on Your Feet?
Golden Retriever behavior consisting of lying or sitting on your feet can be cute – but sometimes annoying! So what exactly does it mean?
When your Golden Retriever lays on your feet, it can mean seeking and offering protection, wanting attention, or initiating play. Other reasons are to seek or show affection, to feel cozy and warm, or to mark his territory by spreading his scent on you.
Here are a few examples of why your Golden Retriever may lay on your feet, sit on your feet, or even lay on you!
- Seek and offer protection. Your Golden Retriever will lay at your feet to feel safe and offer you protection simultaneously. Among pack dogs, the alpha has a prominent position. So, laying at your feet shows that he recognizes you as the alpha. But he also feels safe and secure alongside you.
- To seek attention or initiate play. If you’re busy working at your computer for a couple of hours, your best friend will take what he can of your closeness, hoping to remind you that he exists and that it’s time for his walk!
- For warmth. Have you ever wondered why pack dogs lie close together, especially in cold weather like the gorgeous Husky? Most pack dogs lie close to each other to keep warm. If your dog feels a little chilly, it’s warmer near your feet, and he seeks that natural doggie closeness that is part of his nature.
- Seek and show affection. Your dog may lay on your feet or sit on you to seek affection or show you devotion. Golden Retrievers are very friendly and affectionate, have a warm temperament, and love to cuddle.
- Territory marking. Your Golden Retriever will communicate that he belongs to you by spreading his scent on you. To do this, he’ll need to be close to you. So, laying or sitting on your feet, lap, or belly whenever you sit or lie down is his way of labeling you with his scent.
- You’ve let your Golden Retriever have his way with you! A study of 32 dogs showed that the dogs judged humans on direct experience and preferred to be closer to friendly people. So if your Golden Retriever likes laying on your feet, you may have inadvertently made him humble, and he’s become used to flopping down on you!
Why Does My Golden Retriever Stare at Me?
Has your Golden Retriever been keeping an eye on you? Do you sense him intently staring at you from the corner of the room? Some stares may be cute, others not so. Some may be broken by blinking, and others not. Let’s decipher the meaning of your dog staring at you.
Your Golden Retriever stares at you to communicate with you, such as expressing love and devotion, seeking attention, or manipulating you to get what he wants, such as playtime or treats. He may also stare at you to communicate displeasure, sense your mood, or when resource guarding.
Staring is normal canine behavior, but you must be able to read your Golden Retriever’s communication messages from his staring. But don’t worry; you’ll quickly figure it out and learn to distinguish between them. Check out these examples:
- Seek Attention. Dogs will stare at you to seek your attention. You might be enjoying a tasty meal, and he’s not had his dinner. His stare serves to remind you that he needs his meal too!
- It’s in his wolf ancestry. In the wolf world, staring is threatening and rude, and some canines may retain that trait. So, if your dog stares at you intensely, without blinking, and has a stiff stance, he might be communicating some displeasure. And if the uninterrupted hard stare is directed towards a stranger, they should back away and not stare back!
- Manipulate you to get something. When your Golden Retriever stares at you with eyes of pity, he wants you to concede and let him have his way. It might be an untimely treat, a nap on the forbidden couch, or playtime. Every evening my dog sits in front of me and intensely stares when she wants me to play.
- Resource guarding. This is often combined with a hard, aggressive stare where your dog will protect his food or toys. Resource guarding is a behavior problem; you may need to consult a professional dog behaviorist to help you train him.
Watch This Fun Video To Learn More About Dog Behaviors
Why Do Golden Retrievers Lick So Much?
Golden Retrievers often lick people and other pets. Most dog owners expect this even before adopting them, and it’s often seen as a positive behavior that owners enjoy. But regardless of how you feel about your dog licking you, himself, or other dogs, there is a reason behind the act that you might miss.
Golden Retrievers lick for behavioral reasons, including showing affection, attention seeking, boredom or stress, excitement, grooming, habit, natural puppy exploratory behavior, or they like the taste.
Sometimes there could be a medical cause, such as pain, allergy, infection, or stomach problems. This Canadian study found that underlying GI irregularities were noted in 14 out of 19 dogs with a history of excessive licking of surfaces.
Let’s look at some specific dog-licking conduct and explain its meaning.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Lick Your Face?
Golden Retrievers lick your face to show joy and affection, display submissiveness, get your attention, signal their hunger, seek reassurance, offer comfort, or get a taste. They lick around the mouth to investigate matters like what you had for lunch.
Here are some examples:
- Your Golden Retriever will lick your face to investigate you and give and receive biochemical information. Since your dog cannot ask you how you are or what you’ve had for lunch, your dog will lick your face to detect the smell of what you’ve eaten.
- Your Retriever will lick your face to communicate affection and happiness, such as when you come home from work. When your dog has been all alone, your arrival is a cause for jubilation, and he’ll want to express his immense joy at your homecoming.
- Your Golden Retriever will lick your face to calm, comfort, and soothe. If your visual expression tells him something is wrong, he’ll come over to you and lick your face to say he is sad you’re unwell and he wants you to be better again. It has been proven that dogs can recognize human emotions.
- Goldens will also lick your face to seek attention. If you have ignored him all morning because you are busy, he’ll lick your face to get your attention, as it may be time for his walk.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Lick Other Dogs?
My dog treats other dogs’ ears like a popsicle when playing. It is common for dogs to lick other dogs’ ears, faces, private parts, or wounds, especially if they live together. You might assume that your Retriever licking other dogs carries the same meaning as him licking a human. That is partly true.
Golden Retrievers lick other dogs as part of normal canine social behavior and to communicate with them. They lick to show affection or groom, greet them, play, bond, show submissiveness or peaceful intent, or when drawn to the other dogs’ pheromones.
From sniffing other dogs’ privates, your Golden Retriever can learn more about other dogs’ gender, age, health, and mood. It is an investigative act that signals curiosity.
If you have more than one dog, you will see that one is clearly more dominant and will receive food, toys, and attention first. The dominant dog usually wins fights more often. But if you look closely, you’ll notice that he gets more licks from his subordinates.
In this study on dog dominance, licking their subordinates less was one of the dominance indicators in 83% of dogs rated by their owners.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Nibble?
Aside from licking and sniffing, Golden Retrievers tend to nibble as well. If your dog gently bites your hands or toes, you might wonder if he is being aggressive. Dogs also nibble other dogs’ ears during play. So does that mean nibbling you is also a playful act?
Golden Retrievers nibble as part of instinctual behavior, especially in teething and exploring puppies. In adult dogs, nibbling is a unique form of communication that strengthens and creates emotional bonds with you. It’s your dog’s way of wanting to play or showing affection toward you.
Nibbling has a developmental benefit, at least initially. When Retriever puppies start nibbling each other while playing, they learn to develop their “soft mouth.” By understanding their bite strength during this stage, the pup learns to pick up things without breaking them and can afford to nibble his owner without harming him.
It appears that this nibbling instinct is maintained into adulthood for fundamental reasons. This study investigating the meaning of nibbling in dogs concluded that the behavior is not related to negative personality traits. Instead, nibbling has two functions:
- Nibbling demonstrates the highly positive emotions of one dog towards humans or other animals.
- Nibbling is a unique form of communication used to create and strengthen emotional bonds between animals, regardless of their social status.
Also, nibbling behavior in dogs can be caused by several other factors:
- Attention seeking.
- Itching and soreness due to teething.
- An expression of extreme excitement.
- A sign that they are unhappy about something (nibbling may escalate to biting).
Nibbling becomes a liability the moment your dog understands bite strength control. After that point, it serves no purpose yet can transfer to your furniture. To keep your dog from shredding your curtains and couch, you must redirect teething and boredom-driven chewing toward chew toys.
I love the KONG range of teething and chew toys like the KONG Puppy Toy from Amazon. They last forever, and there’s such a vast range your dog will never get bored.
You can also check out my article to learn exactly how to teach your dog rules and learn the correct behavior, How to Discipline a Golden Retriever: What Not to Do!
Why Do Golden Retrievers Paw At You?
Pawing is a behavior that looks like digging without claws. Golden Retrievers can often paw at people, especially their owners. When that happens for the first time, you wonder why your Golden Retriever is pawing at you.
Golden Retrievers paw at you to get your attention. The behavior is often associated with seeking affection and desiring attention. If your dog paws at you, pet him and show him lots of love. Avoid rewarding pawing with treats because it can become annoying and get out of control.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Get Jealous?
Jealous behavior among Golden Retrievers is pretty apparent. It can be identified by guarded and protective body language, evident sulking, and aggressive responses when ignored. If your dog shows these signs, you might wonder why he is jealous.
Golden Retrievers can get jealous when they are ignored or are insecure about their safety or the safety of their owners. Jealousy can signify dominance, which is why it must be curbed. It is an asocial trait that shouldn’t be confused with healthy behavior.
But when it comes to reducing jealousy, you shouldn’t discourage the behavior itself because it is just a symptom. The underlying problem must be fixed as well. This might look like restoring your dominance, helping your dog feel more protected, and giving him enough food and attention (but not immediately after a display of jealousy).
Why is My Golden Retriever So Vocal?
Dogs have a long history of domestication and social assimilation, so it is easy to understand their mood from their body language. But aside from body language, dogs also communicate vocally. But since they don’t bark in human language, we can discern what they mean from the context, volume, and frequency of their barking.
Golden Retriever vocalization is generally linked to two main things, arousal and stress. Dogs are vocal when they are excited, upset, scared, or anxious. They use vocalizations to communicate as they can understand human language, recognize emotional cues from their owners, and respond.
Generally speaking, Golden Retrievers aren’t as vocal as some breeds, such as German Shepherds, who are very protective and territorial. However, all dogs naturally “speak,” and your Golden Retriever may become vocal for one or more of the following reasons:
- Happy or relaxed
- Seeking attention or boredom
- Territorial or resisting
- Lonely or afraid
- Anxious or stressed
- Injured or in pain
As you can see, your Golden Retriever’s reasons for being vocal can vary across at least six rationales. It is your responsibility as a dog owner to understand why your Golden barks as often as he does and when. Let’s explore Golden Retrievers’ reasons for vocalizing so much.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Bark So Much?
When learning to decipher the different types of dog speak, you must figure out what excessive barking means.
Golden Retrievers bark for many reasons, including alerting you of danger, such as a stranger. They may also bark as a threat, when happy, during playtimes, if they’re bored, need exercising, suspicious, in fear, anxious or stressed, demand something from you, or when in discomfort or pain.
Next, you need to get to know your Golden Retriever’s many barks. This study about barking in dogs found that different barks mean different things, but don’t worry, as you’ll soon get to know them. Here are some examples:
- A warning or alert bark will be quick and sharp and may become more intense.
- A Golden Retriever demanding food or attention will have a piercing and persistent bark directed at you.
- A bored dog will have a repetitive monotone bark.
- A Golden Retriever suffering from distress, such as separation anxiety or panic, will have a high-pitched and highly repetitive bark. As the dog gets more stressed, the barking may become even higher pitched or progress to howling.
- A fearful or suspicious bark will be fast and low.
- A playful bark will be high-pitched, more tonal, and modulated.
Why Does My Golden Retriever Bark at Me?
Golden Retrievers can bark at other dogs, any movement outside the house, and noises around them. But sometimes, you’ll notice your Golden barking in your direction. Knowing the reason behind this type of barking will help you address your dog’s needs.
Your Golden Retriever will bark at you (demand barking) to communicate various things to you, especially when he wants to get your attention or something specific from you, such as food, play, or to go potty. Dogs soon learn that they can get what they want, especially if you usually give in.
Prevention is better than cure in this instance. It sends the wrong signal if you start taking care of your dog when he barks at you.
But if this barking results from his need to exercise, you can address that need before he starts barking at you. This way, his needs are met, and you don’t have to comply with a demanding bark.
Never take care of the underlying need immediately after your dog barks at you. Instead, ‘punish’ him with a lack of attention until he stays silent for at least 5 seconds. That’s when you can offer him a treat to encourage said silence.
You should also take care of the issue causing him to bark. Once he is silent, he can’t tie the effect with the cause and won’t be encouraged to bark to meet his needs.
You can also train your dog to the “QUIET” command.
Why Does My Golden Retriever Bark at Night?
Daytime barking bothers remote workers working from home. Nighttime barking bothers everyone except those working the night shift. A one-off occurrence can be chalked up to an illness. But this can become a regular habit. And for social reasons alone, it is essential to understand and fix the cause for your Golden Retriever barking overnight.
Your Golden Retriever might bark at night to alert you of a danger or if he is anxious, fearful, or wants attention. Other causes are if he sees or hears other animals in the yard, hears another dog also barking, feels lonely or bored, or has not had enough exercise.
Other than rightly alerting you to a threat or naturally barking at the sound of other nearby animals, you’ll want your dog to sleep well and not bark. Here are some tips to prevent your Golden Retriever from barking at night:
- Use a crate from the first night you bring your pup home. Choose something like the all-inclusive Midwest for Pets icrate from Amazon. It comes with everything you need, such as a divider and a removable wipe-clean tray. This crate also gives you the option of a single or double door, which is pretty handy.
- Don’t allow your Golden Retriever to sleep in your bed, and reverse the privilege! He won’t be able to understand why and will feel lonely.
- Never go to your puppy when you hear him bark in the night unless you believe he is alerting you to danger – you’ll soon learn his different types of barking. You’ll inadvertently teach him that you’ll come running if he barks! You have to ignore him. It can be hard to do this on the first night you bring your new puppy home, but you will undoubtedly thank me for this advice!
- Ensure your dog is comfortable whether you leave him in his bed or crate. Have water and plenty of toys handy.
- Make sure your Golden Retriever is exercised sufficiently throughout the day. Most well-exercised dogs are desperate to go to bed at night to enjoy a sound sleep.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Howl?
Most people associate howling with the wolf-like Siberian Husky. But did you know your Golden Retriever also manifests this wolf-ancestry behavior once in a while?
Golden Retrievers howl to warn you about a danger they can sense or to respond to another howling dog in the neighborhood. They also howl when reacting to high-pitched sounds such as music or sirens, when seeking attention, if in pain or distress, or if suffering from separation anxiety.
Usually, howling is a form of communication that dogs use outside their usual barking, groaning, or whining. When responding to high-pitched sounds, your dog merely acknowledges he’s heard the sound and is willing to answer. Unless it is incessant, you have a normal dog.
If your Retriever is howling to get your attention, treat this behavior similarly to demand barking. You must ignore and teach him that howling at you will not work. When he stays silent and stops howling for a few seconds, use positive reinforcement, such as treats, toys, and lots of praise.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Cry?
Have you ever taken your dog on a car trip and heard the most horrendous crying or whining as you park up somewhere? You may wonder why your Golden Retriever is crying.
Golden Retrievers cry or whine when they’re excited, such as going to a new place. They may cry when they’re looking for attention or trying to get something from you, or when they’re anxious or stressed, ill, suffering from separation anxiety, or when trying to appease you or another dog.
Identifying health problems that may cause your Golden Retriever to cry is important. Here are some tips on how to identify and deal with your Retriever’s whining:
- Anxious whining usually goes hand in hand with other nervous behaviors, such as licking, pacing, or circling. Many dogs suffering from severe anxiety can’t control their whining. Consult your vet if stress and anxiety have become an issue for your dog, as anti-anxiety medication may help.
- Separation anxiety. If your dog starts to cry, bark, pace, drool, or follow you around just before you’re ready to go out, he likely has separation anxiety. Treatments include counterconditioning that focuses on developing an association between being alone and good things, like treats. Desensitizing techniques can also help, along with medication. Again, consult your vet or a professional animal behaviorist. Learn all about leaving your dog alone in this article, How Long Can Golden Retrievers be Left Alone?
- Attention-seeking whining. This is similar to demand barking, as mentioned in the section above. You must teach your Golden Retriever that remaining quiet will lead to a more positive outcome.
- If your dog whines due to excitement, such as greeting someone, keep greetings short and don’t make any fuss. Divert your dog’s attention to other things, such as his favorite toys, or train the “QUIET” command.
- Recognize appeasement whining is normal canine behavior. This occurs when your dog tries to appease people or other dogs when they perceive aggression or a threat. Try to build your dog’s confidence through socialization, obedience training, or dog sports such as agility or dock jumping.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Groan?
You will undoubtedly have heard your dog groan, moan, or sigh. My dog often groans after eating a meal and flopping down with a full belly! Sometimes, it can be really amusing. But why do they do this?
Golden Retrievers groan or sigh to show contentment when sleeping, during petting, or when disappointed, such as when it’s not quite time for their walk. Medical reasons can also cause groaning, e.g., arthritis or abdominal problems, especially if your dog suddenly groans when lying down.
Behavioral groaning is of no concern and is normal canine behavior. However, consult your vet if you suspect your Retriever is groaning due to a medical reason.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Dig?
A little digging can be expected from a Golden Retriever or any dog. But sometimes, you’ll find your Retriever digging a series of shallow holes in your garden or bottomless holes on a grassy patch. You might think he is looking for something, but that’s not true.
Golden Retrievers dig to relieve stress or get rid of excess energy. If your Golden Retriever is digging many holes, then he is excited and has too much energy. If he is digging fewer holes but is going deep, he is anxious.
Whatever the reason, this behavior needs to be reigned in. You can establish a digging zone, interrupt your Golden Retriever whenever he is digging outside of it, and take him to the acceptable digging area. “No Dig!” command can be used alongside this act so the behavior can become automatic.
Since digging can be tied to excess energy (boredom), you can engage your dog in a game of fetch or take him for a long walk.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Circle Before Lying Down?
You may wonder why your Golden will circle his bed, an area of the rug or carpet, before lying down.
Golden Retrievers may circle before lying down as they mimic innate wild behavior, such as for security – by checking there’s no nearby threat. Dogs may also assess their laying spot for anything harmful, such as vermin, or anything that could cause them injuries before making a comfy nest.
However, despite centuries of domestication, there is little scientific data to prove the above – except for the understanding that canines circle before lying down to make a comfy nest.
This small study of 62 dogs suggested that dogs are more likely to circle before lying down when presented with a soft, uneven surface to make a temporary nest to sleep.
A Golden Retriever’s circling behavior may also be due to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but this is pretty rare. OCD is a psychological condition that often has a genetic tendency. Stricken dogs will repeatedly perform normal canine behavior and often fail to respond to therapy.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Sleep on Their Back?
Dogs worried about predators and protected their bellies by sleeping on them in the wild. Sleeping belly-down also allowed them to get up quickly if needed. So why do Golden Retrievers sometimes sleep on their back?
Golden Retrievers sleep on their back with their paws in the air to cool down or when they feel very relaxed with their environment and are at ease exposing their belly. They feel safe and secure and don’t feel threatened.
This shift is the result of thousands of years of dog domestication.
One of the cutest sleeping positions of puppies is when they sleep upside down – they are just more comfortable sleeping on their backs! Adult Golden Retrievers who sleep on their back for a while are also adorable. They are trusting of you and will no doubt sleep anywhere.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Roll on Their Back?
Golden Retrievers may roll on their back for many different reasons. This behavior might occur when your dog is alone, playing with you, or with other dogs.
Golden Retrievers roll on their back when seeking attention from you, e.g., longing for a tummy rub. Or to groom or scratch themselves, mark their territory, change their body smell (e.g., to get rid of a shampoo aroma), show confidence or contentment, or regulate body temperature.
A roll on the back is often interpreted as being submissive during canine play. However, research has shown that lying face upward is a combat tactic, not an act of submission.
Your Golden Retriever may roll over when playing with other dogs for two key reasons:
- To avoid a bite on the side of the neck (be defensive).
- To launch an attack (be offensive).
Golden Retrievers often roll over to scratch their back – since they cannot reach it with their paws. This could be normal scratching, but it could also be due to a flea or tick infestation.
Dogs will roll on their back to get a rub or tickle on their tummy when playing. Granting his desire reinforces your dog’s behavior. So, avoid it if you do not want him to always ask for it!
Your dog may also roll on his back to cool down. The fur on your Golden Retriever’s tummy is thinner, so exposing his stomach may help him cool down.
Why Do Golden Retrievers Roll in Poop?
One of the weird dog behaviors that I find a little difficult to grasp is rolling in stinky things, such as fox or badger poop or bird droppings! Some dogs love to cover themselves in foul smells that leave you spluttering in disgust. So, why do Retrievers roll in poop?
Golden Retrievers roll in poo, such as fox poo, due to instinctive canine behavior. Dogs like pungent scents, and they encourage rolling action. They may also want to naturally disguise their smell, leave their scent behind to mark their territory, or communicate with the “pack.“
Although there isn’t conclusive proof as to why your Golden Retriever rolls in feces, there are some theories:
- Your Retriever is trying to mask his smell. Wild dogs had to hunt to survive. By rolling in their prey’s poop, they could disguise their scent and hunt without alerting their target.
- Your Golden Retriever is leaving his scent behind. Your dog might be trying to leave his scent, similar to marking or spraying behavior. He’s letting other dogs and animals know that he is around and this is his territory!
- Your dog is interacting with you, his pack! One theory is that by rolling around in poop, your dog communicates with you (you are his pack) to tell you what he’s found! Other packmates would track the scent back in the wild, which helped their hunting.
So, now you know why your Golden Retriever rolls in poop, how do you prevent him from returning with a foul, pungent stench?
When walking with your dog, stay alert and limit his poo-rolling activities. Learn to anticipate it right before it begins. For example, I know the parts of the woods where the foxes frequent, so I’ll put my dog on the leash when passing.
If I notice my dog sniffing or tracking the ground with greater intensity, I know she can smell the strong scent of the fox. I’ll distract her and move away from the area. You can also teach your Retriever the “LEAVE IT” or “COME” command.
Why Does My Golden Retriever Chase His Tail?
Do you find it funny when your Golden Retriever chases his tail? Well, maybe, you shouldn’t! It seems that the reasons behind it aren’t at all amusing.
Golden Retrievers may chase their tail due to boredom, insufficient mental or physical exercise, or attention-seeking behavior to get something from you. Medical reasons can also be the cause, such as being irritated by fleas or ticks, infection, or in cases of OCD.
If you don’t exercise your dog, YOU are to blame. Eventually, your Golden Retriever will figure out a way to occupy himself, which can entail engaging in a game of “chase my tail.”
Golden Retrievers are high-energy dogs, and most behavioral issues stem from monotony and insufficient exercise. Healthy adult dogs need at least two hours of daily activity, including various walking, off-leash running, fetch, frisbee, agility, or swimming – Retrievers love to swim!
Retrievers are eager to please you, and your encouragement acts as positive reinforcement. He will, therefore, keep doing it, especially if he needs you to notice him!
Now that you know the common Golden Retriever behaviors, you’re less likely to be alarmed by the natural ones and will respond quickly to the harmful ones. For the most part, Retrievers’ actions are attention-seeking, affection-seeking, exploratory, and defensive.
But the ones that are territorial or signal an illness require immediate action. With the information in this article, you’ll know which actions to discourage and when to visit a vet.