9 Critical Steps to Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy

A Veterinarian’s guide to the basics of raising a Golden Retriever puppy to be healthy and happy. Congratulations on bringing home your newest family member. Here are some tips to keeping your puppy and your family happy during this precious time.

So, you want to know how to keep a Golden Retriever puppy happy? Following the basic tips below will get you off to a great start. In addition, reading the other articles mentioned in the sections below can give you a deeper understanding.

Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy

#1 Step to Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy: Feed The Right Food in the Right Amount

Puppy Food for Golden Retrievers

The right puppy food is critical for the development of your Golden Retriever puppy. Your Golden pup should be eating a commercial dry puppy food formulated for large breed dogs. Puppies have very different needs from adult dogs, so you should always feed puppies puppy food rather than adult food, even if the food is labeled for “all life stages” (many of them are).

Slow consistent growth is absolutely essential for the proper development of bones and joints in larger breed dogs. Large Breed dog foods are made especially to provide the right balance of nutrients to achieve that. Golden pups should never be given any supplements or vitamins intended to increase growth or increase their adult size.

Golden retrievers are susceptible to diseases such as elbow and hip dysplasia (improper formation of the hip and elbow joints), panosteitis (painful inflammation of bones), and hypertrophic osteodystrophy (inflammation and swelling of growth plates). Feeding a large breed food in the proper amounts can help to prevent or decrease the possibility of getting these diseases as they grow.

Recommended Puppy Foods for Golden Retrievers

We have compiled a list of the best puppy foods in our article: Best Puppy Food for Golden Retrievers. In this article we rank a number of foods and give you more detail on the ingredients in each food and the value they provide.

There are a few really great foods on the market for large breed puppies, but to skip to the conclusion, here is our pick for the best food when raising a Golden Retriever puppy.

Our Pick

Purina ProPlan Large Breed Puppy

As a veterinarian, I do not recommend homemade diets. It is very difficult to balance the nutritional needs of a puppy with a homemade diet. Here is a report on a puppy where a homemade diet went very wrong. If cooking for your puppy is something that means a lot to you please consult a veterinary nutritionist for recipes and recommendations, and have your puppy evaluated regularly by your veterinarian.

Raw food diets should never be fed, even the ones you can buy in stores. Cooking removes bacteria and parasites from food that can be very harmful especially to puppies who don’t have the immunity of adult dogs. I have seen many brands of commercial raw food diets recalled over the years for contamination, and this contamination sometimes kills dogs.

So stick with a puppy food for a large breed dog made by a reputable company. There is even a good one specifically made for Golden Retriever Puppies, Royal Canin Golden Retriever Puppy.

People food and table scraps

We know how hard it is to refuse those adorable puppy eyes. Golden puppies are arguably the cutest pups on earth and when they ask for just a bit of what you’re eating it’s really hard to refuse. So I will not tell you to never feed your puppy people food, but you should use caution and follow these guidelines:

  • Limit the amount to less than 10% of the total food on any one day
  • If you give more than a couple of treats subtract the amount from their next meal.
  • Choose foods that are low in protein and fat. Your Golden pup will be just as happy to get a slice of carrot or pea pod as they would to get a piece of hamburger. If it comes off your plate they will think it is a treat.
  • Keep the food bite size and never feed bones to avoid choking hazards. Giving smaller pieces also lets you give a few more treats.

Pro Tip:

Use dry puppy food kibbles as training treats rather than high calorie treats available from stores. This way you can feed a meal and train at the same time. Save the best treats (like small bits of string cheese) for the most important or difficult lessons.”
Dr. Anne Traas
President of Golden Retriever Society

Feed your Golden Retriever puppy the right amount of food

Feeding just the right amount of food is essential. Too little and your Golden puppy wont have the right amount of nutrients to grow, but too much is just as harmful. We have a complete list of feeding charts for both puppies including those for individual foods in our article: Golden Retriever Feeding Chart: Puppy and Adult. Remember the charts are only a starting point, you should adjust it up or down depending on your puppy’s level of exercise, age, size and body condition (more on that below).

Golden Retriever Puppy Feeding Chart

Puppy AgeAmount of Food
Two Months Old1 ½ Cups Per Day
Three Months Old2 Cups Per Day
Four Months Old2 ½ Cups Per Day
Five to Six Months Old3 Cups Per Day
Six to Seven Months Old (males only)3 ½ to 4 Cups Per Day (Females stay on 3 cups)

I know the vision of a rolly polly fat puppy is adorable to some, but as a veterinarian, chubby puppies make me sad. The reason is that science has shown that feeding less food and keeping puppies lean is much healthier and results in a lower chance of developing bone diseases.

#2 Step to Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy: Socialization

Socialization is absolutely critical to raising a Golden Retriever Puppy. Give your Golden puppy the chance to meet all kinds of people and animals as well as experience different situations while they are young. Research has shown that the critical age for socializing is between 7-12 weeks of age, but the whole first year is important.

If you plan to train your puppy to be a therapy dog, socialization and environmental exposure are even more important.

People

Puppies need to meet all types of people so that they don’t become scared or concerned when they meet someone different later in life. Carry treats on all your walks and ask strangers to say hello and give your pup a treat.

Look for people who are different from you and your family. If you don’t have young children, introduce your Golden Retriever puppy to those in your neighborhood. Do so carefully because an enthusiastic young Golden pup can knock a toddler down. Consider people who are wearing raincoats, hoodies, holding umbrellas, in wheelchairs or pushing strollers. Introduce your pup to people of different skin colors, heights, and weights than yours. The more people your puppy meets now, the more confident they will be with people as adults.

Other Pets

Many dog training centers offer a puppy class, sometimes called puppy kindergarten or puppy obedience. These classes are an excellent way to socialize your Golden puppy to other puppies in a safe environment. Local dog parks are another place that can help introduce your puppy to other dogs. Consult your veterinarian about important vaccinations before you take your puppy where there are other dogs.

Environments

I once met a 2 year old Golden that was afraid of grass and would pick his feet up extra high when he was made to walk on it. Why? Because he had grown up in a desert where there was no grass in the neighborhood. So he had only ever walked on rocks, dirt and pavement. When faced with the unfamiliar environment he became uncomfortable.

Exposing your Golden Retriever puppy to as many different environments as you can is really important. Consider which types of places and environments you will need to visit based on where you think you will take your dog in the future. Here are some possibilities:

  • Loud places: ball games, concerts in the park
  • Walking surfaces: rocks, boulders, grass, dirt, mud, tall grass, snow, sand
  • Places with cars and bikes
  • Water: Lakes, streams, surf
  • Downtown city areas
  • Farms
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • The veterinary clinic. Many vets encourage pups to just come in for an occasional treat so that they don’t learn to fear the hospital. Plus puppies are a great stress relief and your puppy may be just what the staff need to get through a hard day.

#3 Step to Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy: Exercise

Making sure your pup has enough exercise is an important part of raising a Golden Retriever puppy. Not only does it keep them healthy but it may also decrease the tendency toward poor behavior and helps them sleep.

There are many things you can do with your Golden Retriever beyond just neighborhood walks, here are some suggestions:

  • Swimming. Even puppies can swim, just take the time to introduce them slowly to deep water. Throwing a toy helps.
  • Playing catch. Playing ball is great exercise, just avoid tossing things like discs where they may try to jump and injure them selves
  • Tug of War. Gentle tug of war is a great game that most Goldens love.
  • Playing with other puppies or similarly sized dogs
  • Chasing the kids around the yard. Have them drag a rope toy and run (let your pup catch it every once in a while). This has the added benefit of exercising your kids too.

#4 Step to Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy: Training

Puppies, like children, need to understand boundaries and know the rules of the household. Training your Golden Retriever puppy is essential, he or she needs to understand what is good behavior and what is not. Golden Retrievers are very smart dogs who learn quickly and enjoy training with their people.

House training and teaching basic commands is an essential part of raising a Golden Retriever puppy. Additional training, whether that is advanced obedience or training them to do tricks, can be a great way to enjoy your puppy and creating a lasting bond.

Golden Retriever puppies are able to learn as well as adults by 8 weeks of age. Even younger pups can learn basic behaviors like sit with just a little patience. Here we give a few suggestions, but we have a fantastic article on Training your Golden Retriever that goes into detail. Here are some commands every dog should know.

5 Commands Every Dog Should Know

  1. Come. I can’t stress enough how important this one is. Your Golden Retriever puppy should come right away every time you call. Carry treats in your pocket and practice this command everywhere you go. Coming when you call could save your dogs life one day.
  2. Sit. This one is critical for when you want your Golden to stop jumping on guests or when you want your pup to calm down.
  3. Off. “Off” can be used when you don’t want your dog on the bed, couch, tarp you laid out in the backyard, etc. It can also be used in place of sit for not jumping on guests.
  4. Leave it. This one is important to get them away from that dead animal they want to roll in, the goose poop they want to eat, or the pacifier that your neighbors toddler dropped in front of your pup. I could write a complete article on this alone, and all the crazy things I’ve had to tell my dogs to leave, maybe I will someday.
  5. Wait. Yes wait not stay. Although “stay” is a really important one too. I use stay when I plan to return to my dog and “wait” when I might call them to come later.
  6. Heel. This means walk by my side without pulling on the leash. In the competitive obedience world this means a very specific spot right next to your left leg, but you don’t need to be that strict. If you think you might want to compete in the future, consider teaching both “heel” in it’s strict form and something like “walk nice” for the more relaxed version. When a young Golden Retriever puppy pulls on the leash as a pup it is not a big deal, but when you see your neighbor’s 1 year old Golden Retriever dragging them around the neighborhood, you will be patting yourself on the back.

Some Fun Tricks and Commands to Teach Your Dog

One of the best parts of raising a Golden Retriever puppy, is seeing first hand how smart they are and how much they love learning new things. Here are a few just for fun things you can teach your dog.

  • Bring it. Dogs are able to follow your pointed finger (interestingly this is one of the things that separate them from wolves who can’t even when raised by people). Point to a toy or object and have them bring it to you.
  • Turn off the light (once they are big enough to reach the switch). Off is easier than on but they can learn that too.
  • Jump through the hoop. All you need is a simple hula hoop and a partner. Note Golden Retriever puppies should not jump higher than a 1-2 inches before 6 months. They should not jump more than shoulder height before 1 year of age when their growth plates are closed.
  • High five. Yup this is exactly what it sounds like, having your pup give you a high five. You can do “fist bump” too. Be careful not to use the same hand signals for other commands. For example holding your hand up by your shoulder usually means sit, so you should hold your hand in a different spot for high five.

If you are loving teaching these tricks, AKC has a Trick dog title you can earn with your dog. In fact, a Golden Retriever named “Gryff” won the very first National Trick Dog Competition (2019), check out the article.

Also, check out canine agility, Golden Retrievers excel in this fast paced dog/human partnership competition. Or if you love dancing, canine freestyle, dancing competitions for you and your dog might be fun for you.

House Training your Golden Retriever Puppy

House training is an unavoidable part of raising a Golden Retriever puppy. Again, this could be an entire article on its own, but since I have not written one, I have included a link to a video that I think will be helpful. What I like about this trainer is his emphasis on positive reinforcement (rewards) and NO punishment (negative reinforcement). This is exactly the technique I used to train my own dogs. I strongly recommend the 6 foot leash technique at first, but I don’t recommend using potty pads unless you live in an apartment where you cannot run your pup to the door. See what you think.

For other helpful tips see our article on article on Training your Golden Retriever. Also, you will discover while raising your Golden Retriever puppy, that they can be a bit exuberant (or really hyper in the case of some field bred lines), check out this article on How to Train your Golden Retriever to be Calm.

#5 Step to Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy: Sleep

I strongly encourage you to crate train your puppy. Dogs are by instinct more comfortable sleeping in a den (a confined space with only one opening). Staring crate training early will make sure everyone in your household gets the right sleep. Even if you plan on letting your Golden pup sleep in your bed (again I remind you they will be big dogs, so prepare for a bed hog), crate training can be helpful as a safe place for your pup to stay while you are not able to watch them. This is especially important if you plan on raising a Golden Retriever puppy while working. See our article on How to crate Train a Golden Retriever for tips.

#6 Step to Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy: Play

So I’ve already covered the fun things you can do with your Golden Retriever Puppy for exercise, but your pup will need some solo playtime as well. That is where some really great dog toys come in. This critter is on of our favorite toys for Golden Retriever Puppies.

Best Stuffed Toy

goDog Dragons Squeaker Plush

This stuffed dragon comes in a lot of colors and sizes. It is fairly sturdy so it can handle a lot of shaking and a little bit of tugging. Plus it is just really cute and will pose well with your pup for all sorts of photos.

Make sure to watch your puppy carefully. You may need to change types of toys as your puppy gets older. Some Goldens can be toy destroyers, and part of raising a Golden Retriever puppy is accepting that you may be cleaning up a lot of “fluff” from stuffed toys. Ripping up toys and scattering the “remains” is fine and lots of dogs find it fun. But if your puppy is eating his “kills” then you will need to switch to other types of toys. Many companies claim their toy is chew proof but there is no such thing. However if your puppy becomes a moderate chewer, here are two that my dogs enjoy.

Best Ball Toy

ChuckIt! Pet Toy Ball Launcher

This ball is made of tough rubber and is a different texture than the ever ubiquitous tennis ball. My dogs can pop, skin and take apart a standard tennis ball in about 5 minutes, making it both a hazard and a waste of money. These Chuckit balls last a long time and my dogs don’t seem to be able to pop or chew them.

They come in a couple of sizes so you can get the larger ones as your puppy grows. Here I have recommended the 3.5″ size for older Golden Puppies and adults because a ball that is too small can be a choking hazard. It comes as a set with a ball thrower and a ball but you can get the balls separately if needed.

Best Toy – Mild to Moderate Chewers

KONG Wubba Dog Toy Large

The Wubba from Kong is made of sturdy material that is harder to chew through, but if your puppy is dedicated they will get through it. The good news is that inside is a regular Kong toy so even after they remove the fabric, your pup will still have a toy to play with. The Wubba is great because they (or you) can throw it around, play tug, or just fetch it. They do come smaller for younger puppies.

For more dog toy ideas and recommendations, check out our article on the Best Dog Toys for Golden Retrievers.

#7 Step to Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy: Grooming

If you are raising a Golden Retriever puppy, you need to be prepared to deal with that beautiful coat. This needs to start early with letting them get used to normal things like brushing, bathing, and dental care.

You should gently brush your Golden Retriever puppy as often as 2-3 times a week for just a few minutes. It is not that they need it, as much as you are training them that the brush is nice and feels good. Wait until they are sleepy and treat it like a petting session at first until they get used to the idea. Here is our favorite brush for Golden Retriever puppies:

Best Puppy Brush

Hertzko Soft Dog Brush

This Hertzko Soft Dog Brush is gentle so your puppy can learn that brushing is a great experience. For the rest of the list of recommended brushes here is the Full article, Best Brushes for Golden Retrievers.

When to bathe and groom your puppy might become obvious. I find that there is not much of a need to put dates in the calendar because they find something to get into that necessitates a bath every couple of weeks.

#8 Step to Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy: Veterinary Care

I would be remiss, as a veterinarian myself, if I didn’t mention that proper veterinary care, including vaccinations against common puppy diseases, is essential. The first veterinary visit should be right after you bring your puppy home even if the breeder or shelter has already started their puppy shots.

At that visit your veterinarian will make sure your pup is healthy and recommend the preventative care your pup needs. This may include a series of vaccinations to protect against common infectious diseases, heartworm and intestinal worm preventatives, and flea and tick medication.

#9 Step to Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy: Spay or Neuter

Raising a a Golden Retriever puppy to be a breeding animal is very hard. It takes tons of time, money and dedication. If you are not a professional breeder or are not willing to do all of the things necessary to become a responsible breeder, then your puppy should be spayed or neutered.

For detailed information in this required surgery and when do have it done, see our article on Spaying and Neutering Golden Retrievers.

Conclusions on Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy

Following these essential steps when raising a Golden Retriever Puppy will help you to have a happy, healthy family member for years to come.

And then of course don’t forget Step 10…

take a ton of photos, this amazing stage in your Golden’s life is short, but so rewarding.

Raising a Golden Retriever Puppy, end

References

Juvenile Orthopedic Disease in Dogs & Cats, Part 1: Musculoskeletal Development and Pediatric Bone Diseases, Drs. Balsa and Robinson, Today’s Veterinary Practice

Nutrition and Exercise for Growing Puppies, Dr. Larsen, Veterinary Partner

Puppy Behavior and Training – Socialization and Fear Prevention, Drs. Horwitz and Landsburg, VCA

Dr. Anne Traas

Anne Traas, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACT is a veterinarian and the new President of Golden Retriever Society. She is board certified (a specialist) in canine reproduction. In her day job, she is a leader in a small biotech where she and a team of veterinarians and scientists work to develop new medications for pets. She enjoys sharing her knowledge of this wonderful breed of dogs. She and her husband have 2 children, 3 dogs and one cat. They love camping and hiking and she can often be found with her head in a good book.

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