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How to Discipline a Golden Retriever: And What Not to Do!

Last Updated: December 10, 2023

When disciplining a Golden Retriever, many people wrongly assume it means punishment alone, such as beating or refusing food. However, this is simply animal abuse. When disciplining a dog, we refer to redirecting him to the correct behavior and teaching him rules. So, how do you discipline a Golden Retriever?

To discipline a Golden Retriever, use positive reinforcement to reward good behavior, such as giving treats, toys, affection, or attention. You can also use negative reinforcement by removing something the dog finds unpleasant. We aim to increase the frequency of response in both methods.

Discipline is not a negative thing. The word originates from the Latin word “discipulus,” meaning pupil, student, disciple. A disciple follows, so we want our Golden Retriever to follow what we teach and learn good behavior.

In this latest guide, you’ll learn:

  • How to discipline your dog; two crucial moments.
  • Five reasons your Golden Retriever misbehaves.
  • Understanding positive and negative reinforcement – with examples.
  • What not to do when disciplining your dog.

To indicate what not to do when disciplining your Golden Retriever, physical punishment and yelling cause fear, distrust, and often aggression in your dog and ultimately hurt the bonding phase between you.

A naughty Golden Retriever after ripping up a toilet roll. How to Discipline a Golden Retriever

Read on to learn how to discipline your Golden Retriever, especially what not to do. Let’s dive in!

Disciplining Your Golden Retriever: Are You Doing It Right?

Owners often make mistakes when it comes to disciplining their dogs. If you frequently use the wrong methods to reprimand your Golden Retriever, your training may be inadequate or inappropriate.

There are two crucial moments when disciplining your Golden Retriever is most powerful and effective. 

The first is when your dog is still a puppy during core obedience training. 

Golden Retrievers are an intelligent breed having a well-mannered temperament. They are also relatively easy to train, showing outstanding initiative, especially in working roles, and are incredibly social and loyal. However, any dog can be stubborn if you don’t assert yourself as the alpha leader. 

For this reason, the early weeks and months are vital in training your puppy to learn the differences between acceptable and bad behavior. It’s your job to continue the excellent work he’s already learned from his mother and littermates.

Although young Golden Retriever puppies have short attention spans, the ideal time to start teaching basic commands is at 8 weeks old, as soon as you bring your pup home!

Training sessions should only be up to five minutes long at this young age but can be repeated many times throughout the day. Check out my survival guide on How to Train an 8-Week-Old Golden Retriever for better insight into puppy training.

The second effective discipline moment is at the precise moment your puppy performs the unwanted behavior.

When your Golden Retriever misbehaves, you should immediately communicate to him that his conduct is unacceptable. This should be done with a firm “NO!” or “AHH AHH!” message and the withdrawal of a reward. 

Expressing your disappointment and denying a reward immediately after an improper action is performed helps your puppy associate his poor behavior with the experience of no reward. If this message is given later, a disciplinary moment is lost. 

Why? Because scolding your Golden Retriever long after any wrongdoing is crazy as dogs only have a 2-minute short-term memory. They aren’t able to associate something that has happened hours or even minutes before.

An excellent example of this is when your Golden Retriever will be excited when you walk through your door, even if you were with him 10 minutes earlier! It’s because he doesn’t remember!

However, dogs can recall your training commands through associative memory, meaning they form associations between commands, events, and behavior. It’s their brain’s way of forming a relationship between two things, such as when they see their leash, they know it’s time for a walk.

You can change your dog’s associative memories over time. It’s a massive part of canine training.

Here are 5 Common Mistakes When Scolding a Dog…

Why Your Golden Retriever Misbehaves: 5 Reasons

Behaviors that require disciplinary action may not be due to the dog’s short-term memory or improper training. Instead, your Golden Retriever is deliberately doing bad things, whether he knows it or not!

Here are five reasons your dog will defy the principles of good behavior that you’ve trained him:

1. Your Golden Retriever is Seeking Attention

If you’re too busy and don’t have time to spend with your Golden Retriever or leave him in his crate too often, he’ll find ways to get your attention. If good manners don’t work, your dog will figure out how to get a response from you, and it may be by disobeying the good things you taught him!

Responding negatively to your dog’s behavior won’t prevent him from acting up. It might even strengthen it! At least if he barks at you, he gets some attention from you! This is referred to as demand barking and is when dogs have learned that barking serves to get them what they want.

Instead, ignore the bad behavior and reward him only when he has resumed the learned positive behavior. 

Here’s the deal. If we take our example of demand barking, ignore your Golden Retriever by not reacting to him or yelling at him. Don’t even look at him! But as soon as he goes quiet, quickly reward him. Timing is vital as you must offer the reward, such as a tasty treat when he stops barking.

And of course, find time to be with your dog!

2. Your Golden Retriever Hasn’t Been Exercised

In this alarming 2012 survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP), 62.7% of Golden Retrievers surveyed were classified as overweight or obese by their veterinary healthcare provider.

A more recent study by the Morris Animal Foundation to understand juvenile obesity in Golden Retrievers is currently ongoing.

Dogs with no outlet for energy will also engage in destructive behavior because they need to find a way to entertain themselves. Chewing, biting, barking, digging, jumping up on people, pacing, urinating at home and general hyperactivity are examples of destructive behavior.

Cute Golden Retriever after ripping up paper, lying on a bed. Disciplining a Golden Retriever
“I just found it like this, honestly!”

In this study, investigators found that dogs undertaking physical activity exhibited fewer undesirable behaviors than a group of sedentary dogs, suggesting they were less frustrated and stressed.

Rather than punish, find time to exercise your Golden Retriever.

3. Your Golden Retriever is Confused

If your discipline skills are inadequate, your Golden Retriever may be confused. If you consistently chastise your dog and perhaps do so well after the event, you are missing the discipline moment. You will only cause confusion, fear, anxiety, distrust, and aggression in your dog.

So, what’s the deal with my dog’s guilty look?

Suppose you come home after leaving your dog for an hour or two, and you see that he has misbehaved, such as chewing your table leg, and he is sitting there cowering, ears pinned back, and showing the whites of his eyes while looking up at you.

In that case, you may be wondering, if my dog can’t remember what he did a few minutes ago, why is he sitting there looking all guilty?

This study showed that your dog’s guilty look is a reaction to your behavior. It’s not necessarily indicative of any understanding of his wrongdoing, but he’s showing signs of fear.

If you are present at your Golden Retriever’s misdemeanor, discipline him by withdrawing the reward as soon as the bad behavior is displayed, whether it’s treats, toys, affection, praise, or attention. Then quickly redirect the unwanted behavior to the desired one and always reward good conduct.

4. The Behavior Was Not Mastered in the First Place

If your dog is inadequately trained and the behavior is not perfected, your Golden Retriever will neglect good behavior.

If you bring home a new dog that has already learned unacceptable behavior, you’ll have to re-introduce the rules of his new home. On your side, this will take patience and consistency.

Similarly, if the training was left uncompleted, the dog may regress, which means starting all over again. This time, make sure to complete the learning process and avoid inefficient techniques, such as command nagging.

Command nagging is when your dog doesn’t obey a command, so you keep repeating it. But by repeating the cue, you’ve inadvertently taught your dog that he doesn’t have to respond immediately. Teach your Golden Retriever to respond to a single cue every time.

Sometimes puppies are removed too soon from the litter; they haven’t learned specific social behavior skills properly, such as their bite inhibition.

Puppies shouldn’t be removed from the dam before they are 8-weeks old, as she is still teaching them good canine etiquette and disciplining them when they bite too hard or cross the line. As detailed in this study, removing a puppy too early from its mother can affect the dog’s future behavior.

Check out this video on how an experienced Golden Retriever mother teaches her excited puppies to calm down before feeding them! When puppies are removed too soon from their mother, they miss out on this vital learning. This video is incredible – it has over 77 million views!

5. Your Golden Retriever May Have Separation Anxiety

Your Golden Retriever might also be exhibiting signs of separation anxiety. It means that he is stressed, overwhelmed, or anxious due to being separated from you. However, sometimes it can be caused by a former family member no longer being around.

If you regularly leave your Golden in his crate for hours, he may also suffer from this distressing condition.

Common behavior problems of dogs with separation anxiety include excessive barking, howling, whining, urinating, or defecating in the home despite being house-trained, digging, escaping, chewing, and destroying things. Your dog simply cannot cope with being alone.

Use behavior modification techniques, counterconditioning, and desensitization to reduce separation anxiety. 

Counterconditioning changes the dog’s outlook or emotional response by associating it with a stimulus and positive things, like food or high-value treats.

For example, you can condition your dog to look forward to being alone when he learns to associate the sound of your keys with getting a special treat.

Another technique is desensitization. This is where you gradually teach your Golden Retriever to cope with being alone by leaving progressively. For example, you can start by making progressive departures of 1-5 minutes and slowly increase.

Related: How Long Can Golden Retrievers be Left Alone?

If your Golden Retriever’s unfitting behavior is outside your disciplinary skills, then seek the help of a professional trainer or behaviorist. If they are experts, they’ll know that correcting dog behavior is not achieved through punishment. 

You might be wondering…

How do you discipline your Golden Retriever without punishment? Find the solution to that in the next section.

Positive and Negative Reinforcement

Discipline is how dog owners communicate that some behavior is acceptable to their pet and others not. A dog must understand what actions his master likes and those he does not to succeed.

If training has been done correctly and the dog misbehaves, a “don’t do that” message should be given, or as we usually say, we should discipline our Golden Retriever. 

A Golden Retriever Puppy chewing a blanket. Golden Retriever Puppy Discipline
“Do you think they’ve noticed?”

As already indicated, the most effective way of disciplining your Golden Retriever is through positive and negative reinforcement. Here’s what that means.

Positive reinforcement, also known as reward-based training, means using a reward for desired behaviors. As the reward (treats, attention, toys, praise, etc.) makes your dog more likely to repeat the action, positive reinforcement is the best technique for defining your dog’s behavior.

For example, when you command your Golden Retriever to “lay down,” he won’t initially understand what you mean, and that’s normal. You’ll need to use additional gestures to make him understand the meaning of “lay down.”

Once that is understood, rewarding him communicates that lying down should be done every time he hears the command. Your puppy will quickly learn nice things happen when he does the right thing.

In positive reinforcement, rewards include:

  • Treats: These should be healthy and given in moderation. You can give small pieces of meat, such as chicken, turkey, or ham, or you can try safe fruits or vegetables. 
  • Expression of physical attention: Your Golden Retriever will enjoy a hug, a gentle pat, or a stroke behind the ears. 
  • Verbal praise: “Good dog!” or an enthusiastic “yes!”
  • Toys: Reward him with his favorite toy.

Negative reinforcement means taking something away or removing the reward to increase the frequency of the behavior. It often confuses, but it does not mean “bad” or “to punish.”

If we take the same example of training your Golden Retriever to lay down, negative reinforcement is when you gently push your dog’s bottom down towards the ground, followed by his front paws. Once he is lying down, you reward him by releasing the pressure.

You have removed something the dog finds unpleasant (the negative part) to increase the desired behavior. If you keep doing this, the behavior is reinforced.

Another example of negative reinforcement is if your Retriever is pulling on the leash, you may decide to stop walking. The straining on the leash is a negative feeling for your dog, but the negative feeling goes away when he stops pulling.

Now that you know the best way to discipline your Golden Retriever, we’ll look at what not to do when reprimanding him.

Disciplining Your Golden Retriever: 5 “Don’ts!”

We’ve already indicated that discipline does not mean punishment. On the contrary, it means reinforcing good behavior and deterring unbefitting behavior. In other words, you should not punish your Golden Retriever. 

Punishment here implies “what not to do.” Here are five “don’ts” when it comes to disciplining your Golden Retriever:

1. Don’t Use Physical Punishment

Golden Retrievers should never be physically punished, whether that means hitting, kicking, spanking him on the muzzle, shaking, using a shock collar, forcing the “alpha roll,” or grabbing the cheeks or back of the neck.

It also includes other forms of punishment that would cause the dog physical harm, such as withdrawing food and water, and psychological punishment such as over-crating or tying him outside for days on end.

This kind of punishment doesn’t do anything positive. Dogs do not have the logical ability to associate punishment with their action and, therefore, are unlikely to change.

Instead, your dog will develop fear and aggression towards you, ultimately destroying your relationship, as he will no longer trust you. Animal abuse is also a crime that constitutes violent acts, neglect, and failure to provide general welfare.

2. Don’t Yell at Your Golden Retriever

Dogs have impeccable hearing skills and can detect the highest and softest pitch sounds. They know the difference in your voice’s tone and that screaming and shouting are signs of your anger or frustration.

Yelling also causes fear and aggression in Golden Retrievers, making them rebel against you, possibly with a bite, or they may try to run away. Over time, dogs can take a kind of indifference to your yelling and learn to ignore it. You will not get anywhere with them in training and achieve very little.

This scientific research showed that dogs trained using aversive-based methods experienced poorer welfare in both the short and long term than dogs trained using reward-based methods (positive reinforcement).

Specifically, they displayed more stress-related behaviors and body language during training and increased amounts of the stress hormone cortisol.

Rather than shout at your Golden Retriever, you will achieve far greater results if you use a calm voice and make concise, consistent commands in a confident tone.

3. Don’t Rub Your Golden’s Nose In His Dirt!

It’s not instinctive behavior for your new Golden Retriever puppy to potty outside; it is only natural for him not to go where he sleeps. Some inexperienced dog owners believe that rubbing their puppy’s nose in their urine or stools after an accident will make them never repeat it. Yuk!

And wrong! This is a misconception, and it will only teach your pup to fear you. It’s also gross, unnecessary, and filthy. You have to toilet-train him!

We know dogs learn by association, and your puppy may associate your disapproval with trying to hide where to “go.” He may poop under the bed or behind the couch if he thinks you will be angry.

Instead, if your Golden Retriever pees on your carpet, quickly correct his behavior and redirect him outside. Reward him when he finishes off by giving lots of verbal praise and a training treat.

4. Don’t Encourage Bad Behavior

Sometimes, new puppy owners will chuckle at their dog’s bad behavior in the name of “oh so cute!” If your pup is ripping up the toilet paper and dragging it down the hallway, and you find it hilarious and cute, you will have difficulty commanding him not to chew your slippers!

Likewise, if you find it fun when your puppy sinks his razor-sharp teeth into your ankle and bites, I’m sure you won’t have a good giggle when his teeth are bigger and stronger and his jaws faster!

If you don’t want your Golden Retriever biting or destroying everything he finds, you should always tell him “no!” Ignoring it once will only confuse your puppy and the expectation that you will forget it next time.

Instead, have a good selection of chew toys handy, and be ready to redirect your dog’s unwanted behavior. Most pet stores have tons of choices regarding chewing and teething toys, or you can always find a great selection on Amazon. I’ve always found the KONG range of chew toys to be the best as they keep your pooch entertained for ages, and they last forever! Choose something like the KONG Classic Toy.

5. Don’t Reward Negative Behavior in Remorse

As the proud owner of a Golden Retriever, with lots of love for your pet, you might feel remorseful that you denied him a treat for disobeying a command and then decide to give him three! Never reward poor behavior because you feel sorry for your puppy, as he’ll presume it’s what you want him to do!  

As much as I value your true love for your Golden Retriever, I’m sorry to tell you that you just failed your dog trainer’s test!

If, as a new dog owner, you realize that you cannot be firm with disciplining your Golden Retriever and you are just too “soft,” seek the help of a professional trainer without delay. You may also want to learn a few toughening-up tips, so you don’t undo everything your dog’s trainer achieves! And don’t forget, dogs are good at “playing you!”

Let’s Wrap This Up!

Disciplining your Golden Retriever is an essential aspect of dog training, and it’s crucial to differentiate discipline from punishing. While punishing will cause harm, disciplining is intended to teach and reinforce positive behavior.

Correcting unwanted behaviors always works better than punishment. Use effective positive and negative reinforcement as these have proven to be the best training methods for your doggo.

Adverse training techniques are counterproductive and will only harm the intense connection between you and your dog. In some cases, you could lose it forever, which would be pretty sad. I hope you’ve found this article helpful, and I wish you good luck with your training!

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Sharon Waddington
Sharon Waddington is the founder of World of Dogz. With over 30 years of experience working with dogs, this former Police Officer has seen it all. But it’s her trusty German Shepherd, Willow, who steals the show as the inspiration behind this website. As Sharon’s constant companion Willow has played a pivotal role in shaping her passion for dogs. Recently, Sharon has become deeply passionate about the plight of rescue dogs and is an active advocate for dog rescue, striving to make a difference in the lives of dogs in need.

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