Karen B. London
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Beyond Friendly
Dogs with extreme social enthusiasm

It’s almost a cliché—Golden Retrievers who are so friendly, so eager to greet people that they seem in danger of wagging their entire back ends off. Such behavior is by no means confined to this breed, and it’s not exhibited by all Goldens, though it is undeniable that some of them do typify it.

I recently met a Golden Retriever who was as lovable and friendly as any I’ve known. It was fascinating to watch him control himself because although he could do it well, it was obvious that it took a lot of effort. He is a well-trained dog who behaved beautifully, but without that high level of training and lots of practice with self-control, it probably would have been a very different social experience for the both of us.

I suspect that if he had not received the training to back away, to sit and lie down on cue, and to settle and stay, he would have looked like a cartoon dog—leaping high in the air with all four paws extended and a cartoon bubble over his head with the word “Wheeeeeeeee!” in it. As it was, he was wagging his whole body so hard I really did wonder if he had ever hurt himself doing so, and he was looking at his guardian repeatedly as though asking permission to launch himself at me. Despite the restraint he showed, there was something in his expression that made me feel as though he was bursting with desire to leap into my arms or on my lap. It’s to his credit and that of his guardian that he did not do so.

Dogs with extreme social exuberance and their guardians have been criticized. Of course, that’s only when the enthusiasm leads to behavior such as knocking over small children (or even adults) and it is excused with the remark, “He’s just so friendly!”

I love a friendly dog and I don’t consider any dogs TOO friendly. However, I have met dogs with an excess of enthusiasm who would benefit from some training in basic manners. If dogs are prone to boundless social fervor, they need to be taught self-control and to perform acceptable behaviors during greetings rather than being allowed to plow into or over people.

Do you have a dog who is socially enthusiastic?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

Photo by Sami Köykkä/Flickr

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Submitted by Erica Vanessa Fox | November 12 2013 |

Surprisingly, while exploring our new neighborhood, my Rough Collie Service Dog & I were almost attacked by a golden retriever. My dog and I were walking along the sidewalk (standard 6ft lead), and the Golden was indoors, barking and and growling something terrible. I quickened my pace to the extent that I could, but the dog burst through the screen door meant to contain him! HE THEN REFUSED TO LET MY DOG AND ME PASS, NO MATTER THE BEARTH WE TRIED TO GIVE HIM! I started yelling for the owner (s) to come get their dog..no one was home. I started really screaming when the Golden began advancing on us (I'd frozen and put my dog in a down stay, in the hope that we might avoid being bit. My fear wasn't so much for me as it was for my beloved old collie boy. He was a lover, NOT a fighter.) Thankfully, a neighbor heard me screaming and ran out of her house. She was well acquainted with the dog (and his owner), and luckily had no problem grabbing him by his collar and securely into her home. After a frantic cell phone call, the owner (and another neighbor) emerged from across the street. I was badly shaken but unharmed. I told her what her dog did and she was extremely apologetic, but not surprised. Apparently, it wasn't the first time her dog had been so (ahem) territorial. I just offer this true account to show that ALL DOGS ARE INDIVIDUALS, and and should be treated as such-not according to their breed's "reputation".

Submitted by Karen London | November 13 2013 |

I so agree that it is important to understand that each dog is an individual! Over the many years that I have worked with dogs with aggression issues, I've had many people express surprise about some of the breeds that I have worked with. I always tell people, "Name a breed, and I've probably met an aggressive member of it," but I also say, "Name a breed that you think is aggressive and I will tell you about some of the angels I know from that breed." On the other hand, certain breed generalities don't come out of nowhere. Nobody should be surprised by a Lab or Border Collie who enjoys fetching, a Great Pyrenees or an American Eskimo who barks, a Vizsla or a Weimaraner who needs a lot of exercise or a Golden Retriever who is enthusiastic about greetings, though certainly none of those traits are owned by any one breed or group of breeds. I'm sorry to hear that you and Collie had such a frightening experience. Though you thankfully escaped physical harm because of your quick thinking, your dog's great training and the help of a neighbor, I know that doesn't take away from the horror of being threatened like that.

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