Do Amazing Golden Retrievers Bite?

They may be one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States, but…

Do Golden Retrievers Bite?

The answer to this question is: YES

Although famous for their gentle and playful natures, at the end of the day, golden retrievers are still dogs.

Even in situations when they feel safe and secure, a golden retriever may nip or snap at approaching hands.

Fortunately, true to their reputation, golden retrievers are some of the least likely dogs to display aggressive behaviors.

In the rare incident that you do find yourself with a golden retriever that tends to bite, here is some information to help you figure out your next steps.

Why They Bite

Golden retriever biting a female hand

No matter how well-trained or naturally calm, dogs are still animals.

Like people, no two dogs will ever react to the same stimulus in the same way, and every dog has the potential to be a biter.

Don’t mistake your golden retriever’s sweet face for absolute innocence.  Once a dog picks up a behavior, whether positive or negative, it will take some time to train it out of them.

Many of the golden retrievers that do bite learn to do so as puppies.

During the early years of a golden retriever’s life, gentle biting is actually quite a healthy behavior—it helps relieve the pain of teething for young pups.

The problem is when golden retrievers take this behavior with them into adulthood.

Although it may hurt to hear your puppy whine, biting should be discouraged starting early in a golden retriever’s life.

Golden retrievers may also bite when they fall back onto their natural instincts.

Let’s not forget that the “retriever” in the golden retriever name comes from the fact that these dogs were bred to help hunters find downed prey.

Golden retrievers may be sweet and gentle, but deep down, they still have the instincts of a hunter.

Finally, any dog that has undergone abuse is more likely to display aggressive behaviors.

If your golden retriever is a rescue dog, don’t be surprised if it reacts to humans with fear and anger at first rather than love and devotion.

In these cases, your dog will learn to love you with time, but it won’t happen overnight.

Golden Retriever Biting Statistics – How Likely Are You to Get Bit?

It’s difficult to get an accurate picture of dog bite statistics by breed.[1]  Especially when talking about damaging attacks. Most media reports mention only that a dog caused the injury and not which breed.

Dog attack deaths & maimings, U.S. & Canada, 1982-2016

Dog attack deaths & maimings, U.S. & Canada, 1982-2016-edited

Still, with what data we do have available, the numbers clearly show that golden retrievers are some of the least likely dogs to bite the hands that feed them.

From 1982 – 2016, a period of 34 years, there were only 14 confirmed attacks in the United States from golden retrievers. (see reference/image above)

The only breeds that showed such low hostility rates were Airedale/Boxer mix and Australian shepherd mixes.

Golden Retrievers’ Bite Force

Golden retriever fetching a duck

In the unlikely circumstance that you do get bitten by a golden retriever, the good news is that it’s not likely to do much—if any—damage.

Remember how golden retrievers were bred to help hunters?  Well, they were bred to retrieve fallen prey, not fell it themselves.

Although they have a keen sense of smell to locate downed marks, they also have been bred to “soft mouth[2] items between their teeth.

Prey makes for a poor trophy if it’s been mauled by a dog’s fangs; golden retrievers have been bred and trained to carry things gently in their mouth.

The fact of the matter is, regardless of capability, due to instinct, golden retrievers have one of the softest natural bites amongst all dog breeds.  They’re not likely to bite you, but even if they do, it shouldn’t hurt.

Besides just not hurting, the gentle bite of a golden retriever comes with several benefits, all of which can protect your beloved dog and strengthen the bond between the two of you.

Most dog owners are in it for love, and knowing that even if your dog does bite, it won’t hurt. This may be the difference between you being able to take care of your furry friend and being stuck in a difficult position without any obvious solutions.

Imagine, for example, that your dog has injured itself—gotten its leg caught in a trap.

In more aggressive breeds, the pain would cloud their judgment.  A Doberman snapping and biting at you is a threatening image even for the most loving of owners.

How would you be able to free an aggressive dog like that from a trap without risking injury, yourself?

With golden retrievers, however, you would be able to get up close to help, all while knowing that, even if you were bitten, you’d walk away without injury.

Third on The Bite List?

Some people may point out that golden retrievers were named the third most prevalent biters on Animal Planet’s Dogs 101.[3]

If golden retrievers are so unlikely to bite, you may ask, then how can they be so high up on the list?

The answer is a simple matter of numbers.

Golden retrievers are the third most popular breed in the United States according to AKC. With so many around, you’re going to see a significant number of bites, (no matter whether it is in their nature to do so.)

Remember, as well, that a golden retriever’s bite is soft and unlikely to cause damage.

The incidents used to place them so high up this list are likely due to self-defensive nipping or playing, neither of which are probable to do any real harm.

After all, golden retrievers are still the breed to cause the lowest number of serious reported injuries.

Warning Signs

Angry golden retriever dog.

Trying to identify when a golden retriever is getting ready to bite can be difficult, especially for those unused to aggressive behavior from such a notoriously sweet and mild-mannered dog.

Luckily, their natural reluctance to cause harm to their owners means that golden retrievers often give clear signals of when they’re being pushed past their comfortable limits.

Look out for snarling, growling, barking, or agitated behaviors like pacing and circling.

These are the most common warning signs that a bite is on its way.

When encountering another dog—especially an aggressive one—golden retrievers may also stiffen their ears and tails as a show of dominance. But more often than not, that’s to avoid physical conflict, not initiate one.

The Thin Line Between Affection and Aggression

Golden retriever jumping to its owner in winter

Golden retrievers are energetic and playful creatures.

When they get excited, they want you to get excited too, and they try to do this by showing you their excitement in the most exuberant ways possible!

Unfortunately, some people mistake these excited behaviors for aggression.

A golden retriever that jumps at you isn’t attacking—it’s saying hello.

While this behavior may not be desired, it shouldn’t be seen as an act of aggression.

You can, and should, still train your golden retriever to refrain from leaping at people, but keep in mind that when they do so, it’s an act of love, not anger.

A jumping golden retriever doesn’t want to bite you; it just wants to get to know you.

Play vs. Pain

setting boundaries to a golden retriever

As dog breeds go, golden retrievers are never all that likely to be frequent biters. But if they do get into the habit of biting, it’s one that develops while they’re still puppies.

Nibbling and soft mouthing are all par for the course.  Luckily, for a breed prized for its obedience and intelligence, it’s as easy to teach a golden retriever to stop biting as it to show one to sit down or shake.

Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with your golden retriever.  Their bite may be softer and less malicious than other breeds. While it may not hurt you much, small children and smaller dogs and other animals may not be so fortunate.

If your golden retriever does show signs of being a biter, make sure to train them while they’re still young to avoid more serious biting consequences in their future.

Bottom Line

Golden retrievers have well-earned their reputations as gentle and friendly dogs.

Do golden retrievers bite their owners and others?

Occasionally, sure.

But compared to other dogs, both the frequency and force of a golden retriever’s bite is remarkably low.

If you’re looking for a dog whose bark is worse than its bite, a golden retriever may be a great choice (especially if you’re a first-time owner) —and since they’re also well-known for being quiet, that’s saying something!

REFERENCES:

1.[^] Clifton, Merritt, et al. “Dog Attack Deaths & Maimings, U.S. & Canada, 1982-2016.” 7, 26 Aug. 2018, www.animals24-7.org/2017/01/03/dog-attack-deaths-maimings-u-s-canada-1982-2016/.

2. [^]Soft Mouth.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 15 June 2018, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_mouth.

3.[^] Planet, Animal. “Dogs 101 – Golden Retriever.” YouTube, YouTube, 21 May 2009, www.youtube.com/watch?v=kI4EbABtJQ0.

 

Audrey Silverman About The Author: Audrey Silverman is an experienced editor and writer based in New York. Previously, she worked for Penguin Random House, editing books by Anne Rice, Art Garfunkel, Toni Morrison, and more. She is also a lifetime dog-lover and has been the proud owner of two rescue pups. When not writing or editing, she can be found working in non-profit development.