Preparing Your Home for a new Golden Retriever

The following is an excerpt from "The Complete Guide to Golden Retrievers" by Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVM. For more information visit the books Amazon Page.

Author Credit: Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVM

Whether you are ready to welcome an eight-week-old puppy into your home, or an older dog from a shelter, the weeks leading up to this exciting day should be used to make sure your home is ready for the new arrival.

If you already have a dog or dogs, you may already feel perfectly prepared. There will, however, still be a few things to consider. When securing your yard, you need to consider the size and life-stage of the dog you will be welcoming. If you will be bringing a puppy home, your yard may not necessarily be secure even if you have a dog already. Puppies, obviously, are small, and may wriggle underneath your fence or through small holes that would not present an escape route to your older dog. They also do not yet have any sense of territory, and their natural curiosity will make them more inclined to break out. This also applies to an older dog from a rescue. He does not yet know where he belongs and may seek to return to the place he last knew. So, with an older dog, be sure your yard fence is sufficiently high to stop him leaping over. Six feet is recommended. If your existing fence is not that high, use the weeks before your dog arrives to replace it or add trellis or chain-link fencing. Also remember that dogs will dig, so be sure that the fence goes right down to the ground. If your new dog turns out to be a determined digger, you may have to sink the fence into the ground, or set paving stones around the perimeter of your yard.

A Golden Retriever is a pedigree dog, and as such is a target for thieves. Be sure to place two bolts, top and bottom, on the inside of your yard gate if it does not already have them. A lock is even better. While these measures will not stop a determined thief if your dog is left unattended in the yard, it will prevent an opportunist theft.

Golden retriever stretched legs
Photo Courtesy – Angie Wrightstone

Your dog will be using your yard for his toileting and whether you have children or not, clearing up the mess daily is very important for the health of yourself and your family. Think of where to dispose of it, and whether you may wish to divide your yard so that your children may play in a section to which the dog never has access. You may also wish to fence off areas such as a pool or pond as your Golden Retriever will be drawn magnetically to any water. Also, be sure to remove any potentially dangerous items and repair any broken glass in a greenhouse, for example.

If you are a keen gardener, check that the plants in your yard are not poisonous to dogs, and if so, consider removing them, or replanting in an area to which the dog will not have access. Also, if you use slug pellets or rat bait you will need to remove these and look into more natural methods of pest control.

Inside the home, think about the areas of the house to which your new dog will have access, and where your new dog will sleep. Some owners prefer that their dogs do not go upstairs, in which case you may wish to install a stair gate while your dog learns the boundaries. Stair gates can also section off certain rooms, as you may wish to keep your living room free of dog hair, since Golden Retrievers are such profuse shedders. It is always best to restrict your dog’s access from the outset so that he never misses what he has never had, rather than decide later on that you would prefer not to share your bed with a dog.

Chapter 4 discussed how puppies will chew everything. It is in their nature and soothes the pain of teething, as well as providing comfort and alleviating boredom. Therefore, now is the time to remove every movable item that you do not want destroyed, and if you have any expensive items of furniture in the rooms to which your dog will have access, you might consider putting them into storage for a while and refurnishing with cheap or secondhand items. The puppy stage does not last forever, and your dog should not be punished while he is still being taught what he may and may not chew.

Your new dog will also inevitably have accidents indoors while he is being housebroken. If you have hard floors, these will be easy enough to deal with, but if you have carpets and wish to keep them, you may consider investing in a carpet shampooer so you can calmly and promptly deal with any mess on the carpet. This is not only a hygiene issue, but a dog will return to areas that smell of his own urine, so it is worth being prepared.

Golden retriever soiled
Photo Courtesy – Travis Brady

If you have decided to crate-train your dog, think about where to position the crate. This should be somewhere out of drafts and somewhere the dog will feel comfortable. If you will be allowing him in the living room, then a cozy corner where he can feel a part of the family in his own safe space is ideal. If he is to be more restricted, then choose a warm but not too hot part of the kitchen, where he can watch everything going on but will not be too tortured by the smell of cooking bacon. Or a spot in the hallway away from drafts, as dogs often like to settle near the front door. You can put a blanket over the crate to create more of a den for your dog, and cover the front at night so he has some cues about when to settle.

The next thing to consider is how you wish to travel your dog, and for most people, this will be in the car. Chapter 7 deals with all aspects of traveling your dog, and when you have made the decision whether to use a crate, a dog guard, or a harness, you will need to get your chosen accessory fitted in advance of the day when you pick your new dog up. Put some towels and wipes in the car too, in case your dog turns out to be car sick, or in the case of a puppy, to have an accident on the way home. Also, if you have a longer journey to make, be sure to have a lead and collar or harness, a bowl, and a bottle of water so you can stop on the way to give your dog a drink and a comfort break.

If you invest time in the weeks before your new dog’s arrival in preparing your home, it will provide a smooth transition for the dog, and any potential stresses from bringing an animal into a human living space will be foreseen and minimized.

Shopping List

It can be fun shopping for a new dog, but when you step into the pet store, the array of accessories can be quite overwhelming! So, what do you actually need for your new dog, and specifically for a Golden Retriever?

Crates will also be discussed in Chapter 7, and whether or not you decide to crate-train your dog, it is still useful to have a crate. This can provide an optional den for your dog in the house, it can be used for travel, for separating your dog in certain situations, to protect your home during short absences, and for hospitalization, for example if your dog needs to rest an injury. You can buy wire or fabric crates, either of which pack down for storage or travel. Wire crates also come with covers, but you can use any blanket or towel for the same purpose.

An adult Golden Retriever will require an extra-large crate, which may in any case be too large for your car, but to purchase a crate of this size for a puppy may leave him feeling insecure. So, a medium-size crate that you can use in the car and that will see him through his first nine months is a good start.

Golden retriever leash
Photo Courtesy – Ryan Pierce

The item that is the most fun to choose is your dog’s bed. Be aware that your dog may destroy his bed in the early stages, so it may be best to choose a more budget bed as long as the cover looks durable. You may prefer a plastic bed, as these are resilient to chewing and you can make them comfortable with old blankets or towels which are easily washed. If you are buying a puppy, you may be thinking ahead to his fully grown size, but in reality, he will probably have destroyed his bed by the time he reaches maturity, so he may feel more secure in a bed that is not much bigger than his present requirement. Once he has lost his sharp puppy teeth and learned about inappropriate chewing, he may graduate to that expensive, luxurious bed in an extra-large Golden Retriever size!

When you pick up your dog, chances are, he will not already have his own collar and leash, so this is something you will need to pick out. Choose a collar with a wide range of adjustment if you do not already have your dog to know his size. However, do not pick out a check chain; this is too harsh for your puppy. You will also need a short clip-on leash. At this stage, you will not want a flexi-leash. These leashes are popular but controversial as they can fail to lock, or cause entanglements, and they do not encourage proper training. They have their uses for certain small adult dogs with poor recall, but your Golden Retriever is intelligent enough to learn not to need a flexi-leash, and in any case, his size, strength, and exuberance are not suited to running to the end of a long leash.

A harness is always a good idea because it is more secure than a collar and leash. A dog may back out of its collar, and if the leash is attached to the collar it can cause strain on the delicate bones of the neck. A harness diverts and spreads that strain across the chest area, which is better equipped to deal with it. When training your dog, you will use a collar and leash, but when taking him out into insecure environments, especially near roads, a harness is recommended. You will need a harness appropriate to his current size. Although there is a fair range of adjustability in a harness, you can expect to have to buy larger sizes as your Golden Retriever grows. With a trained adult dog, you will probably find you no longer need a harness for your Golden as they have excellent recall and are generally exercised off-leash.

Your new dog will need at least one food bowl and a separate bowl for water which should be available at all times. These do not necessarily have to come from the pet store; any heavy bowl in the kitchen will do the job.

If you are buying food for your new dog, be sure to have checked what food he is already on, as any change should take place very gradually. The breeder may send you home with some of your dog’s current food. If you wish to change him onto something else, wait a few weeks while he settles in, and only then should you mix a little of the new food with his current food, gradually increasing the ratio over a period of a few weeks. This will guard against any tummy upsets from a sudden change of diet.

Although it’s fun to shop for a new dog, the cost may seem daunting, but there are ways to keep this to a minimum. For a start, not everything you buy needs to be new. As long as you wash secondhand items thoroughly, you may find the things on your shopping list at yard sales, online auction sites, classified ads, or from friends and family. As already mentioned, you can also use old towels and blankets. Your dog has no concept of what you have spent on his comfort. As long as it is safe and clean, he will appreciate it whether it comes from a designer store or a yard sale! These preferences are purely your own choice.

Introducing Your New Golden Retriever to Other Dogs

If you already have a dog or dogs in your home, bringing a newcomer into the family might not go down quite as well with the resident dogs as the excitement you feel yourself. But there is a right and a wrong way of approaching this.

If you are adopting a dog from a shelter, he may have already met your existing dog at a “Meet and Greet,” but as this will probably have been on neutral territory, the interaction between the dogs will possibly have been more accepting than when your new dog enters the home environment of a resident dog.

If your new dog and the resident dog have already had a chance to get to know each other on neutral ground, such as a dog walk, this is a good start. However, in most cases, the first time they will meet is when you bring your new dog home.

Golden retriever grass
Photo Courtesy – Brandon Short

To begin with, it is a bad idea to open the front door with your new dog and let them meet for the first time inside the home on the resident dog’s territory, even if your resident dog is used to visiting dogs. To get off to the best start, you should take your resident dog into the yard and distract him for a while, while your partner or a helper settles the new dog inside the home. Once the new dog has calmed down to a reasonable level, allow your resident dog inside to meet his new friend. Try to avoid the temptation to intervene too much in their initial contact with each other and give them plenty of space. The atmosphere may seem charged, and there may even be some scrapping; this is all part of sorting out the new dynamics. You should be there to monitor the situation and separate the dogs if necessary, but a heavy-handed approach will not help the dogs establish their own relationship, so you should only step in if you have to. Letting the dogs into the securely enclosed yard together is a good next step, as they will be better inclined to get along in a less confined space.

If your resident dog is an adult and you have brought a puppy into the home, you may expect your existing dog to teach the little upstart some manners in the early weeks, so you should not be too alarmed if your older dog reacts negatively to the puppy’s exuberant invasion of his personal space. Using a crate for the puppy can give your older dog some time out. They will sort things out between them in time, and it can be an advantage to the puppy to receive an education from your adult dog as well as the training and socialization with which you will be providing him.

Introducing your new Golden Retriever to other dogs outside the home is a vital stage in his life if he is a puppy, as the first 14 weeks of his life are critical for socialization. If during this vital period he has not been exposed to many different environments and to other humans and dogs, it may cause him to be fearful throughout his life. So, if you get your puppy at eight weeks of age, you have six important weeks to fill with as many social opportunities as possible. As your puppy will not yet have full immunity from his first course of vaccinations, he will not yet be able to go out into public places where unvaccinated dogs will have been; however, vets often run puppy classes that are open to dogs as soon as they have had the first of their initial vaccinations, so you should inquire about these with your veterinarian. Your puppy may of course meet your friends’ dogs as long as they are fully vaccinated.

If you have taken on a rescue dog, he will naturally have had a lot of exposure to other dogs, but if he has had bad experiences in the past, there may be some psychological barriers to be overcome. Your rescue dog may even have a phobia of certain breeds if he has been attacked in the past. Although most rescue dogs do not come with this sort of baggage, if it is something that arises, you may need to carefully re-socialize your dog by setting up good experiences for him, allowing him play dates with selected docile dogs amongst your circle of acquaintances. Golden Retrievers are especially attracted to their own breed, so if you know someone with a calm and gentle Golden, this will be an asset in helping your dog overcome their fear. When you are out in public in uncontrolled situations, however, you will always need to stay one step ahead in anticipating negative situations and averting them without any sense of panic that may transmit to your dog. Learn to read the body language of other dogs, and always walk your dog away if things are looking like they may turn ugly. You need to build up good experiences for your fearful dog and he will learn to trust you and grow in confidence. It is your responsibility, however, to muzzle your dog in public if he is the potential aggressor.

Introducing Your New Golden Retriever to Children

If you are adopting a Golden Retriever from a rescue, the organization will have assessed the dog first and will not place a fearful dog with a family that has children because of the risk that the dog will bite, and will also be very stressed. Consequently, if you have children and a reputable rescue has allowed you to adopt a Golden Retriever from them, the dog will have been child-tested, and your work is partly done. At least from the dog’s perspective. The other part is in educating your children.

In the weeks leading up to the arrival of your new dog, whether it is a puppy or an adult Golden Retriever, you should take your children to meet as many child-friendly dogs as possible, especially larger dogs, as your Golden Retriever will grow rapidly if he is not already an adult, and your children need to know how to respect a dog.

Golden retriever waiting for food
Photo Courtesy – Nathan Howland

Show your child how to approach the dog gently, offering a closed fist for the dog to sniff. Then allow your child to stroke the back of the dog’s neck. Teach them never to poke the dog or pull its ears, tail, or coat, and never to shout at the dog, or touch it when it is eating, chewing, or sleeping. Make sure the child knows that the way to play with a dog is with safe toys, as rough play encourages aggression. If your child is older, show them how they can be involved in the dog’s daily care, feeding, grooming, playing, walking, and training the dog with you.

The dynamic between a child and a dog is not the same as with an adult. A dog may attempt to dominate a child, in establishing its place in the pecking order between the adult carer and the subordinate child. This can lead to the dog snapping or snarling at the child, which is a major barrier to a happy relationship. Fortunately, the Golden Retriever is renowned as a perfect family dog, as well as being very trainable and eager to please, so teaching the dog its place in the pack should not be too difficult. However, if problems persist, it is worth consulting a behaviorist to see if anything could be done better before the undesirable behavior becomes too entrenched.

It is worth bearing in mind in a family situation with young children, that allowing the dog to sleep in the bedroom with its adult humans, or even on their bed, may encourage delusions of superiority in the dog. Therefore, from the outset, if there are young children in the home, the dog should be trained to sleep downstairs. Involving the children in training and feeding the dog also helps to establish their position of authority above the dog so they are less likely to be challenged.

For a child, growing up with a dog is a unique education. It teaches care and respect, gentleness, and responsibility. It encourages physical exercise, and studies even show that exposure to dogs decreases allergies and asthma in young children[1]. It also teaches a child how to cope with the heartbreak of bereavement, a tough but necessary lesson for later life. The choice of a Golden Retriever not only provides your child with a best friend, but will shape his or her character and set them up for the future.

[1] Ownby D. “Exposure to Dogs and Cats in the First Year of Life and Risk of Allergic Sensitization at 6 to 7 Years of Age”. Journal of the American Medical Association, 288(8) (2002): 963-72.

To read more from "The Complete Guide to Golden Retrievers" by Dr. Joanna de Klerk, DVM, or purchase on Amazon, visit the link below:

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