Golden retrievers are certainly a much-beloved breed of dog.
According to the American Kennel Club, they’re the third most popular dog breed in the United States, just barely falling behind Labrador retrievers and German shepherds.
They’re known for their affection and loyalty–but what about their ability to guard your home and family?
It’s not as easy a question to answer as you might think.
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On the one hand, they share many traits with other dogs bred for home defense, including intelligence, obedience, and loyalty.
It’s these same traits that make them the most popular breed to train as guides for the blind, for first-time owners, alarms for those prone to seizures and companions for people who require physical assistance.
On the other hand, a golden retriever’s gentle and friendly demeanor means that they’re more likely to greet a stranger with a smile than with growling suspicion. So, are Golden Retrievers good guard dogs?
Many dog breeds are known to make good guard dogs. Goldens are not one of them. Being naturally trustworthy and friendly with everyone (strangers, children, dogs, cats, smaller pets) will no doubt make them less effective guard dogs. Golden Retrievers were never bred for guardian or protection work.
Still, it’s good to learn as much as possible about the breed so you can make your own informed decision about whether you would want to attempt to train one for guard duty.
Let’s look more closely at the pros and cons of training Golden Retrievers to defend the home.
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Few dog breeds are as loyal as the golden retriever.
These dogs squeeze a lot of love into their hearts, and their affectionate nature means they bond with their owners fast and hard.
Are Golden Retrievers Protective?
You don’t have to look far to find story after story of golden retrievers fighting against the odds to be reunited with their owners after being separated or protecting their masters from danger.
Take, for example, Yogi, the golden retriever who saved his owner, Paul Horton, just like something out of an episode of Lassie.
After suffering a tragic accident, Horton found himself unable to move and had Yogi go fetch help.
Even then, Yogi’s loyalty to Horton made him reluctant to leave his master’s side, but ultimately Yogi listened to his command and got the help Horton required.
Although Horton still ended up paralyzed, he would have died had it not been for the help of his loyal pet.
The unparalleled loyalty of golden retrievers makes them instinctual protectors.
Golden retrievers were bred in19th century Scotland specifically to be a biddable breed that could aid in hunting (the “retriever” part of their name refers to the dogs retrieving a downed bird after their masters had successfully shot one).
This selective breeding makes them naturally calm and obedient dogs.
The biddability of a golden retriever means that they’re very eager to please and they want to follow commands.
Being aggressive may not be in their nature, but dogs can be taught any order, including to defend the home.
Thanks to their famed obedience, golden retrievers take to learning new commands faster than most other breeds.
Golden retrievers are about more than just a pretty face.
Their intelligence makes them one of the most popular choices both for service dogs as well as for obedience training competitions.
Paws With a Cause and Seeing Eye love golden retrievers because they’re smart enough to navigate their humans through complicated physical situations, including cars, crowds, and corridors.
As you can see from the example with Paul Horton mentioned above, golden retrievers are also smart enough to know when danger is present.
In addition to being popular as seeing eye guides for the blind, golden retrievers are also frequently used as service dogs for people with epilepsy who suffer from seizures.
This incredible dog breed knows instinctively when a seizure is about to come on, and how to get help for their masters when one does.
A golden retriever’s intelligence means that not only can it sense danger, but that it can also take steps to alleviate that danger before its owner comes to harm.
While this usually means neutralizing a threat from an inorganic source, this strong intelligence can help golden retrievers identify human threats and take steps to protect their masters from intruders.
Okay, so here’s where things get tricky.
On paper, golden retrievers may seem like great candidates for guard dogs.
They’re big enough to do the job, they’re super easy to train and ready to obey commands, and they’re fiercely loyal to and protective of their owners.
What could possibly be the downside?
Well . . .
Instinct to Protect
Sometimes it seems like golden retrievers may as well be doctors because they instinctively follow the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm.
It may be in a golden retriever’s blood to protect its owner from harm, but there’s a big leap between guiding a human out of the path of speeding, oncoming car and attacking another human brandishing a weapon head-on.
What do you do with a pacifist dog?
In this case, the answer may be: not much.
A golden retriever has no desire to harm any human, no matter how evil, and asking one to do so is to go against its instincts.
Can a golden retriever be taught to attack?
Any dog can be put through the wringer have its desire to protect humans from harm reduced or depleted.
But doing so to a golden retriever is cruel at best and may be traumatic to the dog at worst.
For a breed of their size, golden retrievers are remarkably quiet dogs.
Not prone to excessive barking, golden retrievers are very popular for families with young children.
Their quiet nature helps children rest without being disturbed in their sleep.
While this means you’ll probably sleep through the night without any trouble with a golden retriever in your house, it also means that they won’t act as natural alarms the way other dogs who are bred to be guard dogs do.
A burglar could waltz right through your home, and there’s a good chance your golden retriever wouldn’t make a single peep.
The biggest trait working against using a golden retriever as a guard dog is their sweet and affectionate nature.
A dog may be a man’s best friend, but the golden retriever takes that adage to the extreme.
Golden retrievers are often considered the all-American family dog.
They’re goofy, lovable, gentle with children. They play and lick and love their owners.
All they want is to shower humans with affection, and maybe be showered with some of their own in return.
At the end of the day, most golden retrievers don’t have a suspicious bone in their bodies.
Humans are good; why would any want to do harm to another?
Until a person actually commits an act of violence against someone else, a golden retriever would have no reason to suspect them of malicious intent. A golden retriever is far more likely to kiss an intruder than intimidate one.
These dogs have been bred to love and be loved.
Don’t ask them to be something they’re not.
RELATED ARTICLE: Golden Retrievers Pros and Cons
So Are Golden Retrievers Good Guard Dogs, or Not?
To be an effective guard dog, a dog must be inclined towards distrust of strangers.
Golden retrievers will NEVER BE born with that. ❌
MUST READ: “Read what real owners say about this topic” ?
Of course, an animal’s trust in humanity can always be broken; it only takes so much abuse before a dog learns to bite the hand that feeds it, if the same hand also hits it.
Even affectionate and friendly dogs like golden retrievers can be trained to see humans as threats first and allies second–but why would you want to oppress a dog?
If you’re looking for a good guard dog, there are plenty of breeds out there designed to get the job done.
German shepherds are as obedient as golden retrievers and known to defend their masters to the death.
Bullmastiffs were also bred to help hunters, but rather than retrieving downed prey; they were built to guard their prizes from poachers.
Akitas are every bit as loyal as golden retrievers, but their natural alertness makes them warier of strangers and more prepared to guard against intruders.
At the end of the day, golden retrievers are eager workers and smart friends, but natural guard dogs they are not.
Better to let sweet dogs be sweet and leave the guard duty to a breed better suited for the line of work.
1. [^] Walther, Sandra, et al. “Assistance Dogs: Historic Patterns and Roles of Dogs Placed by ADI or IGDF Accredited Facilities and by Non-Accredited U.S. Facilities.” Frontiers in Veterinary Science, Frontiers Media S.A., 19 Jan. 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5243836/.
3. [^] S127 Australian & New Zealand Assistance Dogs Inc. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/images/stories/committees/fcdc/inquiries/57th/Disability/Submissions/127_Australian__New_Zealand_Assistance_Dogs_Inc.pdf.