The Stages of Golden Retriever Development


Although human groups are called families rather than packs, some experts feel that domestic dogs adapt very well to humans because we also live in groups. However, to compare our families to wolf packs isn’t a very accurate comparison. Our human lifestyle is far more complicated than that of the average wolf pack. As humans, we are extremely inconsistent with our social rules and rules for behavior. For example, we let the dog up on the couch when he’s clean but yell at him when he jumps up with muddy paws. To the dog, our communication skills are confusing. Our voices say one thing while our body language says another. To our dogs, people are very complex and confusing creatures. We can say that both dogs and humans live in social groups and we can use that comparison to understand our dogs a little better, however, we must also understand that our families are very different from a wolf pack.


For the first three weeks of life, the family and the pack are unimportant as far as the 

At four weeks of age, the puppy’s needs are still centered on his mother but his littermates are becoming more important. Littermates provide warmth and security when mom leaves the nest. During this period he will learn to use his senses to follow sounds and to focus his eyes. His curiosity about the world around him is developing and he will start exploring his whelping box or nest.

Mom will also start disciplining the puppies now and her instinctive training is essential to the puppies’ future acceptance of discipline and training. A lot can be learned by watching Mom take care of her puppies.

During this period, the breeder should be handling the puppies by gently touching and massaging them. This helps the puppies to learn the difference between their Mom’s touches and people’s.

baby Golden Retriever is concerned. The only one of any significance is the pup’s mother. She is the key to his survival and is the source of his food, warmth, and security.



While a puppy should never leave its litter this early in life, this is a good time for the puppy to meet other people. The breeder should ensure that the puppy isn’t handled too roughly or frightened. Friendly handling and play will help with the puppy’s socialization skills.

If the puppy is taken from his mother and littermates during this period of his life, he may have lasting behavioral problems. He may have problems dealing with other dogs, may have problems accepting rules and discipline, or may become excessively shy or aggressive because of fear.




The eighth week of life is one of the scariest times for most puppies. Although puppies go through several scary periods while growing up, this is the first major one. Despite the fact that this seems to be a traditional time for most puppies to go to their new homes, they would actually benefit greatly by staying with their Mom and littermates for one more week. If the puppy leaves his home during this week of life and is frightened by the car ride, he may keep this fear of cars forever. The same applies to any new sounds in his new home, the trip to the veterinarian’s office, or anything else that scares him.







Teach him his name by calling him in a high pitched tone of voice, but never use his name to scold him. Encourage the puppy to follow you by backing away from him while patting your leg or clapping your hands. At this time of his life, pack instincts are developing and you can use this stage of growth to teach the puppy his position in the family. Each and every day, have every member of the family roll the puppy over and give him a belly rub. This exercise may seem somewhat silly, but by exposing his belly, he is assuming a submissive position to family members. When his Mom corrected him, he would roll over and expose his belly to her; so here, he is doing the same thing for you.

When the baby Golden is 11 to 12 weeks old, discipline becomes more important. Love, attention, and security are still essential, but the puppy is now ready to learn basic household rules. Do not allow him to do anything now (such as stealing food, jumping on people or furniture) that you are not going to want him to do when he is fully grown.

Puppies with dominant personalities may start mounting behavior with small children or toys. This should be consistently discouraged; do not allow it to happen!

During this fear stage, don’t reinforce his fear. If you cuddle him and soothingly tell him, “It’s okay,” he will assume that you are praising him for his reaction to the fear. In other words, you are telling him that his response to the fear was correct. Instead, walk up to whatever is scaring him and touch it, as you tell him, “Look at this.” Without scaring him too much, try walking him up to the object. The point is to help him overcome his fear instead of reinforcing it.

The teenage phase for Goldens strikes at any time between eight and fourteen months of age. You will certainly know when it happens. One day you may ask your previously trained young dog to sit, but he will act as though he has never heard the word before in his life. Your previously well-socialized dog may start barking or growling at other dogs, or may start pushing your children around. You may have taught your Golden to stay off the furniture, but during this stage he may climb up there anyway. And when you tell him to get off, he will either ignore you, or in extreme cases, may even growl at

Make sure your dog thinks of you as his leader or the alpha wolf. You can reinforce that idea by some things that you do around the house. For example, you should always go through doors first. The alpha wolf or leader of the pack always goes first. You should eat first, too. You should go up the stairs ahead of your dog; don’t let him dash up the stairs and turn around and stare at you.

Something else you can do is to give him permission to do things, even if he was going to do them anyway. For example, if he picks up his ball and is bringing it to you to throw, tell him, “Good boy to bring me your ball!” If he lies down at your feet, tell him, “Good boy to lie down!” By giving him permission and praising him, you are telling your dog that you are in control.

During this stage of life, household rules will need to be consistently and firmly enforced. Hopefully, you have already started obedience training, but if not, start it now.

It is very important you understand that your dog’s adolescent behavior is natural. It is just a part of growing up and is not personally directed at you.

As an adult, there may be a time when your Golden acts somewhat territorial, protective, or even aggressive. Handle this just as you did when he was younger. Turn him away or distract him, but don’t overreact. If you do overact and correct him too hard, he may get the wrong message.

When your Golden reaches 3-years-old, he is generally considered to be all grown up.

However, grownup to a Golden does not necessarily mean he will be taking life too
seriously. He’ll be serious when he wants to be, but your Golden knows that life is still great fun! 

Please note: This article is part of a collection of dog-related content that we purchased the rights to. Opinions expressed may or may not agree with those espoused by Master Dog Trainer Adam G. Katz. When in doubt, please refer to the advice given in Adam’s dog training book.  This article is provided for your enjoyment, only. It’s relevance to real world working dog training may be limited.