Why Is My Golden Retriever Puppy Aggressive?

Sylvie (R) aged 5 months with her grandmother. As if butter wouldn’t melt?!

This is a very personal article about aggression in golden retriever puppies. You see it is something that I have had to deal with and at times it was horrible. 

But at the end of it all, I am so thankful for my experience because it made me a much better dog owner. I had  to learn a few totally new approaches and appreciate how wonderful a dog with a slightly different temperament was. And we have an extremely close relationship.

Sylvie is her name and we “rescued” her at the age of four months after some of her behaviour was too aggressive for the family who owned her,

But Sylvie came from us. You see we owned her mother and grandmother and in all those years of being with them, we had never seen the merest hint of aggression.

After all, these are golden retrievers right? 

Nature or Nurture?

The nature vs nurture argument (which we hear about in so many different contexts), is alive and kicking when it comes to dogs. Are dogs born to be aggressive or is it a learned behaviour? 

Well, there are good arguments for both. On the nature side, is the fact that dogs are one of the most varied species on the planet, and most breeds of dogs up until recently were all bred to fulfil some working function. 

Golden Retrievers were bred to retrieve birds from land or water. German Shepherds were originally bred to herd sheep and Doberman Pinschers were bred to protect property but both of these breeds have a fearsome reputation.  

I am much more of a nurture man myself as I hate to label any breed of dog so negatively. 

There are millions of dog owners who own breeds such as german shepherds or doberman pinschers who will tell you what “softies” they are. 

And we probably have all experienced that vicious smaller dog as we are in the park or at an elderly relative’s house that is threatens to take a chunk out of your ankle

And the arguments put forward to support the assertion that how a dog is brought up and trained (or not) is the decisive factor in whether they turn out to be aggressive, are compelling.

This article lists 9 behaviours, devices and contexts that will make any dog more aggressive. 

Two of these behaviours that particularly stand out for me are:


*dogs picking up on nerves

I have yelled at an aggressive dog before. It is one of those instinctive and in some ways understandable reactions to aggression that we must learn to control.

When we had to rescue Sylvie from her original owners because she was displaying some very aggressive behaviours, my first “set to” after bringing her home resulted in me yelling at her.

The incident revolved around food. Within a few minutes of returning home I fed her and then I went to take the food bowl away, which resulted in her baring her teeth at me. 

I immediately shouted at her and continued to take the food bowl away from her and she then snapped at me. 

Where did yelling get me? Or should I say where has yelling ever got me? Nowhere. Sylvie’s anxiety levels were sky high when I brought her back and by yelling at her only increased her options. 

The article also mentions nerves as a trigger for aggression, in terms of a dog picking up on their owner’s nerves. 

The article relates specifically to dogs reacting to a nervous owner whilst they are out on a leash walk. 

My experience of this is not that my dogs respond to my stress levels with aggression but on an almost daily basis I am reminded how in tune my dogs are with my state of mind.

If I am slightly stressed, my dogs will pick up on it and they will become slightly more stressed themselves.

And this isn’t just when we are out on a walk together, it is when we are together anywhere. 

My dogs don’t need to hear my voice to know when I am getting stressed, it can be just from the way I move. 

And although aggression can manifest itself in different ways and in different situations, fear or anxiety seems to be at the base of it all. 

How do dogs display aggression?

This article discusses 8 forms of aggression of which many are overlapping.

These include;

*Fear (lack of proper socialisation and bad experiences with previous owners or with other dogs)

*Possession guarding (such as toys, balls or sticks)

* Changes- of the physical environment or in the members of the household.

*Pecking order: this is where dogs live in groups and the dominant dog needs to discipline the other dogs. 

*Leish aggression



*Pain & illness

Is aggression in puppies different than aggression in adult dogs?

This is an interesting question  and on the whole I would say that the types of aggression displayed by puppies and adult dogs is the same. 

Aggression in adult dogs is often seen to be worse because the dogs are bigger and they have probably been aggressive for longer. 

But generally the 8 forms of aggression described above apply to youngsters and adults. 

However there is an interesting exception, explained in this article that describes another type of aggression which happens between puppies from the same litter. 

Nicknamed littermate syndrome, this condition describes a range of fear based behaviour that can sometimes be displayed when two or more puppies from the same litter are kept together beyond eight weeks of age. 

The first aggressive behaviour can come when the puppies are separated from one another, which at times can lead to a massive increase in anxiety and can also lead to one or both of the puppies becoming aggressive.

The second aggressive behaviour comes when the two siblings are a little older, reaching maturity and at times their play becomes so aggressive it can be dangerous.

How to calm an aggressive dog

There are two ways to calm an aggressive dog- firstly in the here and now when you need to calm an aggressive dog which is misbehaving in front of you.

A get out of jail card if you like. 

Secondly is when you dedicate the days and weeks to extinguish an aggressive behaviour in your own dog.

And this article sets out six steps you could try to improve aggressive behaviour.

Among the six steps are visiting your vets, creating a plan and avoiding punishment.

The advice about creating a plan is very helpful and the way that it tells you to make sure that you make your aims achievable- take small steps. 

Success can breed success, just as failure breeds failure.


You need to think about sticking to a plan for weeks and months and not just days. It is unlikely that you will stop any aggressive behaviour overnight.


Even if you are in for the long haul, you won’t see improvements everyday. Some days it will seem as if you are going backwards…

Love It

Another important thing that I learned is to love the process. 

Getting rid of an aggressive behaviour in a dog means that you will be spending more time with them and it won’t be like the time taking your dog for a walk, it will be more focused and intense and just brilliant!