The Tucker Files: Golden Retriever Aggression?

I have to admit, Tucker has been more of a challenge than my previous dogs (except for a male alaskan malamute)  He is very dominant and I am pretty good at keeping him in check.  He has never shown aggression meeting another dog, and has never growled or snapped.  I can take a raw beef bone from his hands and stick my hand in his food bowl.  He hasn’t had a lot of exposure to young children, and when he did he approached them with a little too much “zest”

I managed to capture Tucker making his “killer face” tonight. (bared teeth, crinkled up nose)  At first I thought it was cute and was trying to teach him to smile, but as you can see, he actually sort of snapped at my finger, even though he didn’t bite hard.

On our last visit to the vet, when the vet reached for Tucker’s head, he made this face.  Needless to say, the vet immediately went for the muzzle.  Tucker took it well, and it was removed before the end of the exam.  I told him Tucker sometimes makes this face while we are playing.  The vet set he couldn’t take the risk.  I told him I didn’t blame him one bit.  I think it had something to do with the high strung vet tech who tried to weigh Tucker and backed him in a corner and he peed on the scale.  She continued to try and force him on the scale and you could tell he was avoiding the pee and not wanting to step in it.  I eagerly offered to clean up the pee and told her he wouldn’t get on the scale like that.  She shoved us into the exam room and told me we were “holding up progress”  This made me both irate and embarrassed, and our visit had not started off on a good note.  I’m not making excuses, but the place was literally packed and I think it was a bit much, even for Tucker.  I ended up crying on the way home and thinking that I was a failure in terms of having an obedient, well trained dog.  (When I have a treat in my hand Tucker is actually extremely smart and obedient!)

I am curious as to your thoughts golden experts!  Is this a sign of aggression?  If so, any suggestions on correcting this behavior?

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29 thoughts on “The Tucker Files: Golden Retriever Aggression?

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  1. The negative vet experience of being rushed and shoved in an over-crowded space may have made your pup reactive (fearful) in those situations – not necessarily aggressive. Here is a great post on a blog I follow and love…third letter down: http://loveandaleash.com/2013/02/14/dear-doodlebug-the-humpty-dance-death-to-vacuum-and-non-eating-craziness/

    I’m not a trainer (and I highly recommend you consult a pro), but I consider it very good advice. It will require a patient partnership with your vet however. The right one will put in the effort with you.

    Best to you and Tucker.

    1. Thank you! I mentioned it to the vet and he said “it’s a busy time of year” I actually like the vet, but some of the girls out front are something to be desired. Tucker approaches most situations with gusto, and is rarely skittish. I’m not too concerned, I think next time will be fine as I will approach things differently and be a little more aggressive myself at the scales. I won’t let Tucker sense my weakness.

  2. My male golden really scared me when I brought a new puppy into the house. He actually put his mouth around her head. It had been an “exciting” day with lots of new things and people so I think he was a little stressed because he has never done anything like that again. He is 9 now and is a little less apt to put up with my girls so he will occasionally give a low growl when he is at his limit, but otherwise he is my laid back boy. From the video, it looks like Tucker is responding to your finger being on his nose, and sometimes Goldens can be mouthy when they are still young. All of my dogs will do that when they are playing with each other.

    1. Thank you. “Mouthy” is a good way of putting it. Tucker is very mouthy, and I don’t think this is “red zone” There is no tension, just crinkled face and bared teeth. Still disturbing though!

  3. My Sasha crinkles her nose up with teeth bared when she is excited and greeting me but no growling goes with it. It is just a kinda nervous thing. My male Yolo growls occasionally when some of his siblings lay near him and he does not want them in his space. He MAJORLY growls at his brother Lassen if they have been separated for awhile and then meet again. But nothing more has ever come of it. I think you did the right thing with the vet but if I were you I would look for another vet. I can’t tolerate poor treatment of my animals no matter how busy it is.

  4. Reblogged this on dogdaz and commented:
    Neither of mine are Goldens, but Sofie is yellow, but anyway… I think that you need to not reinforce a behavior that is unacceptable. Lulu plays like that and it can be very scary. Distract as soon as it starts. Good luck

  5. It seems like Tucker might have some confidence issues (submissive peeing) – “warning” a human is not acceptible but it also doesnt mean he is aggressive. The vet tech sounds like she needs to spend some time with horses so she learns that a calm atmosphere will get things done a lot faster than being up tight. The video shows that he thinks this is a game – so I would change the “game” and use a bumper for retrieving (the knobs on the bumper help teach a soft mouth) , and I would also not engage him on the sofa (even if it is outdoors)- for him to play he should be on the ground. A lot of dogs go through the mouthy phase but they need to be taught strict boundaries. If he makes an ugly face at you while on the couch, he immediately goes on the ground, no “human” privileges. If he does what you might consider playful behavior to the wrong person, it will not end well for you – so it is easier to set your boundaries with him – stricter and more black and white than what you might have done. Some Tellington touch will also help him get in touch with his body – I am guessing he is about 18months?

    1. Thanks Chris. I totally get the sofa thing. This was a rare moment we were trying to make him go inside for digging and he jumped up on the couch and started to look cute. He was in a playful state at the time. Haven’t had any “submissive peeing” thankfully. And you are correct. He is 19 months old and due for his surgery. I was considering a new vet’s office but have decided to stay where I am for now and booking his procedure today 🙂

  6. I took my dog to the vets, he has fear agression which I have worked very hard on and recently I am seeing some huge changes in his behaviour which I am thrilled about, the highlight is watching him play with dogs which he always wanted to but didn’t quite know how to! Anyway back to the story, my dog had to go and spend the day at the vets and when I collected him he was still woozey from the treatments. The first thing I did after saying hello was put his muzzle on him to which there was a comment of “well he didn’t need that when we had him” from the vet tech I felt like a total and utter failure. However on the way out of the vet we had to walk past a very bouncy black lab that proceed to jump on my dog and my dog growled etc. I am now torn, should I feel like a complete failure because my dog didn’t feel like I would protect her (one of the people I asked advice from says that it is a fear thing and my dog doesn’t feel safe and protected so thinks he has to step up to the plate) or should I be pleased that I know my dog well enough to know that he would need the muzzle in this high stress situation and that I prevent a situation?!

      1. Thank you! It feels one step forward two back, took him to a country show which has a dog show the other day (just for a look around, keeping a distance from other dogs) and this one dog took a dislike to mine and ran across the field, past other dogs, to bite mine! grr

  7. Curious to see peeps opinions but why would the tech try to have him stand in a pee scale?!? I would not be returning there! To say you are holding up progress too? They are supposed to make the visit as pleasant and comfortable as possible not more scary!

  8. This post has generated great conversation and advice. I’m super relaxed when I visit my vet (except when they take my temperature; I do not like that), but my late canine sister Lexi felt very uncomfortable. She always had to wear a muzzle. We can’t tell our humans when things make us uncomfortable, so we just have to show you through little actions. It’s a great thing that you are so attuned to Tucker’s behavior and that you are considering changes that will make him more at ease. You’re a great Golden mom. 🙂

  9. Since most people interpret bared teeth as aggression, you should probably discourage that expression; even if it is in play. It could result in people over-reacting and causing an actual aggressive response. This can be done either through stopping the play and making your corrective noise (we all have them) and/or doing that little “bite” gesture on their necks a la Cesar Milan. But, either way, I think this would be worth investing in at least a little time with a trainer to check on this and other behaviors so you can correct them early.

    As for the vet, I had great success working with my vet phobic dog by working with the vet. I would find times when the clinic was expected to be quiet and bring her in for a petting session with a calm vet tech. She would get treats for responding well to the pets and calming down. There would be no exams, just petting. If the vet had time, he would come in, too. And then we’d leave.

    She has never become a big fan of the vet, but she doesn’t get panicked, anymore.

    Not all vets are as accommodating as my vet is, though. It might have to be a conversation with the clinic office manager to make it happen.

  10. First I must comment on the vet tech, IMO that is very unprofessional. I would hope someone working in that field would have a bit of understanding on how stressful the vet’s office can be for some pets. I see that you are looking into finding a new vet and I would make certain to let your old vet’s office know why you are moving. It may or may not make a difference but if enough people complain…

    I’m not an expert on Golden Retrievers, but my Sampson is half Golden. He makes that face sometimes when he is playing with me and his dad as well as our other dog. I know him very well and don’t take it as a sign of aggression. Do you think Tucker is being aggressive? When he takes your finger in his mouth, is his mouth soft or is he trying to warn you?

  11. I’ve only watched the video of the golden on the sofa without reading the whole article, but I need to react.
    In the video your golden is NOT being aggressive. The crowling up his nose and showing his teeth is very typical golden retriever behavior when playing. Along with the “throwing the paws”. I have 2 goldens with no aggressive behavior whatsoever, but I watch them play together with their teeth showing (they bite very softly or don’t even touch at all) every day, accompanied with some heave breeding and sneezing of excitement. When you watch the video you can clearly see your dog is in a playfull state and simply wants to play with your hand.
    Check out a golden retriever forum and search for their typical way of playing with their teeth.

  12. Hello, I read your Tucker files and watched your video. I am also the owner of a male Golden Retriever (Taylor, 5 years old). Although I have never experienced what you are going through, If I were you, I would consult a professional trainer. If you go to Cesar’s website(The Dog Whisperer) you will find a list of professionals or you can email the Dog Psychology Centre and they will supply names of Professionals according to where you live. One session and you will know if it is normal or not to show teeth and growl. Best to you and Tucker.

    Sent from my iPad

  13. It’s not “aggressive” because you’re going to him; but it’s disturbing. What bothered me more was that you didn’t correct it and you let him stay on the couch and then you stroked his face and left him alone. He is a dog. You are a human. Being “off” at the vet’s is one thing; being “off” at YOUR home on YOUR furniture when YOU touch him…? That’s a nice way to create all sorts of drama and Tucker looks to me like he’s afraid of you and is just trying to protect himself. Boundaries between alpha human and omega dog need to be relearned and reestablished.

    While the commenter above me, “H” makes a good point, about it being playful between DOGS, the issue is whether Tucker thinks it’s OK with a small visiting child or a kid who wants to pat him while he’s on a walk. Dog on dog is one thing; dog on human feels like quite another.

    Best of luck to you and Tucker. There’s a sweet dog in there for sure, but right now, he’s not sure of it, he needs you to remind him he’s a dog.

  14. First, can I just say, I love your blog! Very interesting post. My Golden, Bentley, is exactly the same age as Tucker and shows exactly the same behaviour when playing with my husband – never with me. My inclination is to agree that it’s not aggressive behaviour but inappropriate boisterous behaviour which could backfire on us if we allow it to continue. It wouldn’t be as cute if he ended up doing it to a vet, child or visitor to our home.

  15. Just found your blog — I have a rule with my goldens: no teeth with people, doesn’t matter if they are playing or what. After watching the video, you let your golden put his teeth on you. I have a rescue golden that I have had for 2 years now, she is 5. When she gets too excited while playing she starts to nip and bite (recently found this out) and the no teeth command is what she is learning right now. Dogs that are adults should already know bite inhibition and that they can never bite or put their teeth on people.

  16. I have a Golden Retriever that actually turned on me, and pinned up against the fridge. She is a one year old and have gone through training with her. When I got her to focus “Annie Look up!” she sat down and looked at me like nothing happened. I got down on the floor and pet her, and she was like a different dog. About 4 hours later she attacked our Havaneese out of the blue. I jumped on the Golden and pinned her. Again when I got her attention, she sat down like nothing was wrong. She literally snapped. Scared the hell out of us. Any thoughts, or have you heard of other similar cases?
    Cheers, Riter

  17. I had a Golden retriever for a few years, raised him since a puppy, but he was never aggressive sweet as can be, but, eventually, that changed he started getting more aggressive, for instance, one day I was in my bed room and he got into my spot after I got up, and I told him to get up several times, snapping and pointing at him, directly saying his name, that did not work, so, I started pulling him down by his collar and he started to growl and eventually snapped at me, I was very irritated and intimidated at this point, I left my room until he calmed down. I didn’t know such a beautiful breed could be so aggressive, even after he’s been treated like a king, I don’t know if I blame the owners we bought him from, but, maybe, when we got him when he was a puppy, they had the “dad” dog, tied up in the back and wouldn’t let him come near people, they said it was because he was hyper and would jump on us, but I sometimes assume it was for other reasons?

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