It happened again.
With a hand signal, I asked Honey to lie down on the ground quietly. The person I was talking to said the one thing guaranteed to piss off a golden retriever owner: “Aww, aren’t goldens great? My dog would never do that.”
All Dogs Are Great
Well first, all dogs are great.
They are amazing creatures with an astounding ability to understand what humans want more than humans do themselves.
And while Honey might be able to wait calmly while I’m talking (at least for a little while), she can’t do things that many other dogs do easily—pull drowning people out of a river, chase a rat out of the house, or walk two steps without shedding piles of dog hair.
So yes, Honey is great. All goldens are wonderful. And so is every other dog.
Especially if you spend time teaching them.
Goldens Aren’t Born Perfect
And here’s the crux of why I get pissed off when someone tells me Honey is perfect because she’s a golden: it ignores the years we’ve spent working together.
Do you want to know what goldens are like in their natural state? Try to adopt one from a responsible breeder or breed rescue group.
To make sure the potential adopter knows what she’s getting into, they’ll tell you about all the goldens’ most challenging traits:
- high energy needing exercise and mental stimulation every day
- their welcoming attitude toward burglars or door-to-door sales people
- mouthiness with a tendency to bite and chew things
- exuberant jumping on people
- and constant, overwhelming shedding along with frequent matting without regular grooming
When Honey was a puppy, we discovered another challenging trait—a defiant “just you try to stop me” look when she wanted to do something we didn’t want her to do.
I saw it first when she swallowed a whole, dead pigeon at three months old. I saw it again when she ate a plastic squeaky that eventually led to thousands of dollars in vet bills and emergency surgery.
So no. Goldens are great dogs with wonderful temperaments. But perfect without any training or socialization? No way.
How To Get A Perfect Dog
Honey is practically perfect. But it’s not because she’s a golden.
Let’s see how Honey turned out so excellent.
- Honey had the very best start in life. From the day she was born until now, she’s never experienced a moment of trauma. She’s never had to worry about where her next meal was coming from. She’s never been away from people who love her.
- We took puppy socialization very seriously. We introduced Honey to all kinds of people and other animals when she was young. We exposed her to cars, buses, bicycles. If you’re supposed to introduce your puppy to 100 people in their first three months, we introduced her to at least 101.
- We started training the first day Honey came home with us. We enrolled her in a puppy manners class. And we worked one-on-one with an excellent trainer.
- We continually reinforce Honey’s manners and tune-up her training every week.
- Honey goes with us almost everywhere, giving her many opportunities to continually refine her skills.
Yeah, she’s perfect because she’s a golden. None of that other work did a thing for her.
If I Weren’t So Polite…
I knew nothing about the early lives of my first three dogs. They all came from shelters. And they came with their own challenges.
It’s not that rescue dogs aren’t perfect. But when you adopt a rescue dog, especially when they are adults, you have no control over their upbringing and early development.
But I don’t think those people who piss me off by telling me Honey is perfect because she’s a golden are folks who have come up against limitations imposed by their rescue dog’s early life.
I think they’re people who’ve never bothered to socialize or train their dogs and who tell themselves mine is perfect because she’s a golden retriever.
And that pisses me off.
If I weren’t so polite, I’d grab them by the collar and say, “Do you have any idea how many hours we’ve worked for Honey to be this good? Do you know how much money I’ve spent on classes and training?”
And then I’d say, “And do you know how much amazing fun you could have with your dog if you’d do the same thing?”
Actually, I have said similar things to people. It just doesn’t work.
They keep telling me what great dogs goldens are.
I think I’ve gone about this all wrong.
Instead of trying to teach people with my words, I need to show them.
Honey, forget everything I’ve taught you. Jump up on that person. Go ahead, right up. Put your paws on their chest.
Now start mouthing their sleeve. Grab that purse and swing it around like it’s a squeaky toy.
Go knock over that trash can and see if there’s anything yummy in there. Go ahead. Show this nice person how perfect golden retrievers are without training.
I wonder if they’d get it then? And maybe I wouldn’t get so pissed off.