In 2018, the golden retriever was ranked as the third most popular dog breed in the United States. Their popularity lies in their loving, goofy nature, their adaptability to families with children or active, youthful singles, and of course, that lush, golden coat.
If you’re looking to purchase or adopt a golden retriever puppy soon, here are seven ways to find a quality golden retriever puppy.
How to find a quality golden retriever puppy? Your standards for quality in a golden retriever puppy will depend on whether you are adopting from a rescue or purchasing from a breeder. Either way, the seven ways to find a quality golden retriever puppy are:
- Finding a reputable breeder (or shelter/rescue)
- Identifying a safe breeding facility
- Knowing the breed standard
- How to read a pedigree
- Learning breed-specific illnesses
- Understanding golden retriever temperament
- Researching with past customers of the breeder/shelter
Remember that it’s not all in a breeder, though! You can find an amazing golden retriever puppy in a shelter, too. When looking for a golden retriever puppy, whether from a reputable breeder or shelter, keep at the forefront of your mind what you’re looking for in your new furry friend: what type of behavior, energy level, and appearance.
Finding a Reputable Golden Retriever Breeder or Shelter
One of the most important things you need to keep an eye out for when buying any breed of dog is the reputation and dependability of the breeder you’re purchasing from. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) has developed an outline on how to decode “puppy mill doublespeak.”
In recent years, the public has become increasingly informed on the plight of dogs that are abused and exploited for their entire lives for the profit of an endless supply of puppies. These puppies are sold across the country, even in puppy stores that claim to have responsibly sourced their puppies.
A responsible, humane breeder will put the needs of their puppies before any conveniences for you (in a healthy way).
They will always be concerned first and foremost with the future of their puppy, in terms of health, safety, and overall well-being.
If a breeder or shelter is a bit too keen on providing quick service and lacking in discussion of their dog’s future forever home, you might want to move on.
To help you avoid getting caught up in such atrocities, here are a few notes to help you decipher between reputable breeders and puppy mill operators.
1. Distinguishing Reputable vs. Inhumane Breeders
First and foremost, one of the biggest tell-tale signs of an inhumane or shady breeder is one that sells to you in any way other than in person.
Of course, there can be exceptions to those breeders that reside in a different state than you or similar distant locations.
Still, for this reason, if it’s possible, avoid purchasing your golden retriever online. Phrases that should immediately raise red flags include:
- “My place is hard to find. Meet me in/at [site separate from breeding facility or shelter].”
- “My puppies come with a health guarantee.”
- “Our puppies come with a health record…”
- “I am USDA approved.”
You can find more phrases to watch out for on the HSUS Website.
No reputable breeder will ever try and discourage you from visiting the breeding facility or shelter. In fact, responsible dog breeders will actively do the exact opposite: because they care about the future of their animals, they want to make sure that they match the right dog with the perfect human. Additionally, the breeder needs to make sure that you’ll provide a safe environment for your future pup!
All of the above phrases and more listed on the HSUS website are meant to deflect any probing questions from the prospective dog owner and provide vague assurances to concerned clients.
Ask directly if you can see the facility at which the dogs are bred, or to take a tour of the rescue shelter, and to see the medical history of puppy and parents. Vague or deflective answers are an immediate red flag.
Knowing what to questions to ask a dog breeder will ensure that you will not unknowingly get pulled into an abusive system and ensure that you don’t purchase an animal with ongoing health conditions.
More Examples of Questions to Ask a Breeder
Here is a brief list of questions that you will want to ask a prospective breeder. Apart from the health and origin of your future pup, directly ask about the parents and methods of puppy care as well.
Where do the puppies sleep, eat, and play? Some will warn that a reputable breeder only keeps their puppies in the home with themselves and/or their family.
However, this is not necessarily true. What you can be sure of is that a proper breeder will always make sure that their animals are provided with a comfortable, warm space that provides shelter from harsh weather.
How often are the puppies handled? Methods of litter care? Truly experienced and responsible breeders will understand the importance of socializing their puppies. Introducing them to being held and spoken to will greatly contribute to socialization in the future.
Additionally, various breeders will have adapted a structure to litter care: exposing the puppies to sounds and textures early on.
May I meet the parents? Keep in mind that it may not be possible to meet the sire or male. This is because some breeders share ownership of males, so the male may be at another facility during the period you are searching for a puppy. A responsible breeder will more than happy to show you the puppy’s parents.
How many litters do you produce in a year? This is a critical inquiry to illustrate the manner in which the breeder cares for their dogs.
A female should not be bred more than once per year, as it is a very exhausting experience, and she needs time to recuperate. Dogs are not machines and should not be treated as puppy factories.
Can I have a copy of the health clearances? Normally, a reputable breeder will have already offered the health clearances before having to be asked by you.
It is likely that they have the clearances of the mother and father displayed clearly on their website. Puppies that are AKC registered will also come with their registration papers.
Surely there are more questions to ask a breeder, however, these are questions that will immediately alert you to unacceptable breeding habits if answered incorrectly.
When choosing to adopt or purchase a golden retriever, one of the most important aspects to be attentive to is the conditions from which the puppy is coming.
2. Important Things to Look for in the Shelter or Home
As an extension of knowing what to look for in the breeder’s behavior and in-person interactions, you should also be aware of what to look for when you are allowed access to the breeding facility or shelter.
Be vigilant in the conditions not only of the facility but the animals living there, as this will provide you with more insight into any claims of health and behavioral patterns.
That said, take note of any abnormalities you find in the dogs’ living conditions. All of the dogs should have ample space to run and play.
They should have continuous access to areas which allow the puppies to release excess energy, preferably outdoors at the appropriate age.
Perhaps more importantly, all of the dogs should have constant access to water. It may seem obvious, but it needs to be said, as a backyard breeder can dress themselves up nicely for visitors, but noticing small signs such as low water levels (or none at all) can alert you early on.
It is ok if there is not constant access to food – the breeder may have a set schedule for feeding that doesn’t fall at the time you visit.
There should be distinct locations in the household or shelter/rescue (humane kennels in the yard that are well insulated and comfortable) in which the puppies are given designated sleeping and potty areas.
Take note of the absence of warm blankets, cushions for mom and puppies, or possible exposure to challenging weather conditions.
What to Look for in a Golden Retriever Puppy
After you’ve determined that the breeder is providing safe conditions for your future puppy, it’s time to confirm what you are looking for in your golden retriever puppy. Ask yourself: are you looking for a high energy individual?
A sports dog, or a leisurely companion? Would you like your Golden to fall on the heavier or lighter side of the weight expectations?
Although there is an established breed standard to which golden retriever breeders should aim, there will be subtle differences between individual dogs that make them more suitable to one person versus another.
Consider the specific personality traits you’re looking for in a dog, what activities you’ll be bringing your dog along for, and whether you intend to breed or show your dog in the future.
Providing this information to your local golden retriever rescue or breeder will also help them in matching a dog with you.
Trust that they know their pups well enough to reliably choose your soon-to-be best friend. Aside from personality, there are some aesthetic characteristics that you may prefer over others.
3. 50 Shades of Gold: Different “Types” of Golden Retrievers
Golden retrievers come in a range of colors, from a light, yellow golden color to a rich, dark reddish tone. Of course, this matter will certainly be more pressing for those who intend to breed or show their pups, but it can do your breeder well to be informed ahead of time of any preferences you may have, no matter your future plans.
Normally, breeders will not be able to reserve a dog based on physical appearance, as the matching of yours and your dog’s personality traits are more important than aesthetics.
However, for those who intend to breed or show in the future, physical traits such as coat color may be taken into consideration more seriously than they would otherwise, so be upfront about your needs with potential breeders!
It is also important to understand that, no matter what coat color you get, a responsibly-bred golden retriever will adhere to breed standards: The standard golden retriever can be expected to weigh between 55 to 65 pounds for females, and 65 to 75 pounds for males. They can reach 21.5 to 22.5 inches (females) and 23 to 24 inches (males) at the withers.
If you notice a significant lack of conformation to the breed standard, this may be a sign that this is not the right breeder for you.
Note, though, that all dogs’ lives are equally valuable! Rescued Goldens who deviate from the breed standard is just as wonderful of companions if you’re not too strict about your goals with your golden.
4. How to Read a Pedigree
Another way to verify the lineage of your golden retriever is by its pedigree. This is an important piece of documentation that will help you in verifying information given to you by your breeder (this is specific to those who want to ensure that their dog is purebred. It should not be a worry for rescued and adopted dogs).
AKC provides a sample pedigree to help future Golden owners in knowing what to expect from this document. Know that this information is completely separate from that of an individual or litter registration, though, if that is in your interests as well.
Owners should be able to readily identify sires and dams in the history of their Golden’s line, and information on those individuals should be available in the form of health screenings and even titles they may have accumulated over the years. Not all breeders will freely offer a pedigree, so you may want to ask directly if you are in need of such information.
Learning the Lineage of Your Rescue
Of course, if you are still interested in knowing the genetic history of your rescue, there are still options for you.
Although the AKC does not accept DNA test results as sufficient documentation for registration, you may still fancy the opportunity to learn more about the history of, and health implications for, your pup.
Embark Dog DNA Test is just an example of the many test kits out there on the market.
5. Know the Breed-Specific Illnesses
Sadly, every dog breed has its list of ailments, and the golden retriever is no exception. Knowing what to expect ahead of time can prepare you for any health concerns that may arise once you purchase or adopt, and what to look for in the parents’ health screenings.
Golden retrievers are prone to
- Elbow dysplasia
- Hip dysplasia
- Juvenile cataracts
- Pigmentary uveitis
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Heart diseases
- Ear infections
It is recommended by The Golden Retriever Club of America® that golden retrievers are given the following screening tests at the specified ages:
- Hips: Report from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHIP at 24 months of age or older
- Elbows: Report from OFA at 24 months of age or older.
- Eyes: Report of an examination by a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists conducted within 12 months prior to breeding.
- Hearts: Report from a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine (Cardiology) at 12 months of age or older.
Don’t be afraid to ask your breeder about whether screenings have been performed for their puppies and breeding stock.
As mentioned before, reputable breeders will typically have this information posted on their website or freely available in another form.
A vague promise of a “health guarantee” should serve as a red flag and a responsible breeder will never intentionally breed an unhealthy or substandard dog.
Note for Rescues
It will be more than likely that these screenings will not be available for dogs adopted from golden retriever rescues. However, this information can still serve you well in that you can be aware of what to look out for in future veterinary care.
If you like, ask your veterinarian about potentially having these screenings performed for your dog if you are concerned about his or her health.
Lastly, well-informed expectations about your Golden’s health will aid you in daily maintenance as well: Shaping your pup’s diet based on bone support, for example, can improve your dog’s physical well-being for years to come, and work as a preventative method for anything that may come up in the future.
6. Golden Retriever Temperament: What to Expect
Golden retrievers are an incredibly versatile breed. They are used in sports such as agility and hunting, active hobbies like obedience training, as service dogs, and, of course, as companion animals.
The wide range of uses for this breed stems from their well-adjusted, adaptive disposition and spunky yet people-pleasing attitudes.
Above all, a golden retriever desires to please its human (such is true of all retrievers). They are bred to work! Even the smallest job can make your Golden happy.
A breeder whose females or males have no titles, especially in sporting venues, could be indicative of either a lazy line or a not-so-enthusiastic breeder.
On the other hand, it is completely understandable that Goldens from shelters or rescues may be low-energy, perhaps even withdrawn at first. Don’t worry – with time and a growing relationship with you, your pup will come around.
Additionally, it may be difficult to determine a puppy’s temperament at such a young age as 8 weeks old. Here are some tips to feel out your Golden puppy’s temperament:
Observe the puppy’s interaction with siblings: Note how the puppy interacts during play. Posture, vocalization, and positioning of his or her body during playtime will tell you a lot about a puppy’s energy level, personality, and confidence.
Handle the puppy: Touch the puppy’s tail, ears, and feet. This will let you know not only how often your breeder has been handling the pups, but how your prospective puppy responds to being placed in a submissive role.
Gently holding the puppy on his or her back in your arms tends to be a good indication of submissive behavior. Having clear expectations of what you’re looking for in a dog will help you in filtering through certain behaviors.
Offer a toy to play with: Typically, you shouldn’t see behavioral problems arise at such a young age, but do not if you see possessive behaviors such as an unwillingness to share valued items such as toys or treats.
Additionally, take note of any growling or other vocalizations when attempting to take or share a toy or treat with the puppy. This will clue you in on some behavioral traits you may need to work on in the future.
Practice retrieving! You’ll want to know your puppy’s ability to retrieve, of course! Goldens are specifically bred with this behavior as a priority, so tossing a fun toy should initiate a retrieval from your prospective puppy. It’s also just super cute to watch a little ball of fur waddle over to bring you a stuffed animal to play with!
Problems With Aggression
A few years ago there was widespread concern over growing aggression in some golden retriever lines. The rise of this behavioral trait was – and is – largely due to bad breeding practices, so you should take care to in assessing a puppy’s attitude for yourself, alongside a trusted breeder or trainer.
For rescued Goldens, if you begin to notice signs of aggression, there could be a plethora of reasons as to why this behavior developed – especially if it is defensive in nature.
You can work on this with leash training, obedience courses, and more. Give yourself time to get to know your dog and him or her time to acclimate to his/her new forever home.
7. Research, Research, Research!
Any breeder you ask will tell you that their Goldens are the best in the world. And why not! They are proud of their stock and genuinely love their dogs.
Many have a hard time seeing their puppies go to new homes, as they bond with the litters before sending them off. Their puppies may indeed be the most amazing puppies in your area – still, you have to know for sure.
Everyone’s cop-out line is “I’d like to research it for myself.” Yet, this has a lot of truth to it. There is tremendous value in asking the breeder for information directly and some information you can’t get any other way.
However, there is value also in connecting with past clients of a prospective breeder and asking them what their experience has been.
Have they seen any significant health issues arise? Has the dog developed behavioral issues? Has the breeder been available for communication long after purchase? (You don’t want a breeder who will disappear after you bring your dog home.
A sign of a responsible breeder is that they will strongly encourage you to keep in contact so they can watch their pups grow up.)
If past customers have had negative experiences over time after purchase, or worse, no one has ever been on-site with the breeder, this should be an immediate red flag, and you should move on.
Alternatively, shelters that have had repeated negative reviews as far as the health and temperament of their animals may be indicative of neglect or trauma in that facility.
Where to Find a Golden Retriever Puppy
There are numerous locations where you can locate a quality golden retriever puppy. This, of course, depends on what you are looking for.
Those with the heart to rescue will be looking in entirely different places than those who are looking for a sporting, breeding, or show dog.
For instance, you may wish to adopt from a rescue, but find that your heart is drawn to an animal stuck at a puppy mill or kill shelter.
In these cases, it will be difficult to know how to navigate the search process, and you may want to enlist the help of reputable rescuers in your area.
It must be emphasized again that every single golden retriever is valuable and is of high quality for their destined human.
Try not to get too caught up in the superficial standards that humans have created and base your pup’s worth only on that.
The AKC Marketplace “Find A Puppy” system is a dependable source on locating the best, most reliable breeders in your area.
Petfinder is also an amazing resource for those looking to adopt: search results can be filtered based on age, sex, breed, and more, so even with adoption, you can get the puppy you truly desire.
Purchasing or adopting a puppy is a journey one should not enter lightly. Do your best to do as much research as possible before stepping into the process, so you are equipped with the most accurate, up-to-date information on this breed.
This will help not only in protecting yourself from scam artists and abusive systems, but also ensure a vibrant future for both you and your new Golden.