Why Do Golden Retrievers Like to Hold Stuff in Their Mouth?

Golden retrievers like to hold stuff in their mouth because this is ultimately what this endearing breed was bred for. No, it's not like goldens were purposely bred to carry stuffed toys around or bring you the mail or a beer from the fridge, rather, it's the other way around, golden retrievers love to carry stuff simply because they were selectively bred to retrieve back in the days when they were primarily used as hunting partners.

A Look Back in History 

The Golden Retriever dog breed is believed to have originated from Scotland in the mid-19th century. This dog breed was selectively bred to fill a niche at a time when hunting birds such as pheasants and mallard ducks was quite popular among the wealthy of Scotland. 

At that time though, no dogs were found to be suitable for retrieving downed game from land and water as typically occurring in Scotland back in the days when the area hosted various marshy ponds and rivers scattered throughout difficult terrain. 

The golden retriever perfectly fit the bill, having been obtained by crossing water spaniels with some existing retrievers. These dogs were blessed with double coats making them particularly suitable for Scotland's rainy climate and their biddable temperaments made them motivated fellows eager to follow directions. 

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Golden retrievers were selectively bred to bring downed game to the hunter

Some Specialized Tasks 

Golden retrievers were required to carry out some specialized tasks. Patience was a strong virtue, as these dogs were expected to spend countless hours just waiting for waterfowl to be detected and shot. Often, this meant standing still in a small boat with the hunter.

Once the birds were shot, retrievers as highly intelligent animals, were required to "mark downed game." In other words, they were expected to look up (mark) where the birds were flying and remembering where each bird fell once shot. Once on the ground, the hunter then sent the dog to retrieve the birds.

Now, upon the birds being shot, retrievers didn't always see where they would fall so they also had to sometimes carry out what were known as "blind  retrieves." Blind retrieves entailed following hand, voice, and whistle commands coming from their hunters with the purpose of directing them to the downed game's location for successful retrieval. 

A Golden retriever's job didn't end there. On top of remembering their location, golden retrievers were expected to carry birds in their mouth with such gentleness that no teeth marks were left on the bird, so not to spoil the meat destined for the table.  Once they reached the hunter, they were then instructed to deliver the bird into the hunter's hand.

Carrying "Fake Birds" Around

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This Golden retriever is carrying a stuffed animal as if it was a real bird

 Still as of today, golden retrievers retain strong instincts that are reminiscent of the old days when they were used as gun dogs. When your golden retriever carries around a stuffed toy or a slipper with his head high and a proud look on his face, he is mimicking what he was selectively bred to do. 

Just as children's play entails games that mimic chores observed in adults (cooking, playing doctor, typing with a type writer), golden retriever puppies often engage in games from an early age that involve the enactment of hunting moves such as chasing, mouthing and carrying around a feather or toy as if it was a prized possession.

A Word of Caution 

Although retrieving is an activity that retrievers seem to enjoy, it is not without risks. Researchers in a study indeed have found that, when dogs retrieve, they shift their body weight onto their front legs which can lead to additional strain on their joints.

While dogs are known to place 60 per cent of their body weight on their front legs and 40 percent on the hind legs,when carrying objects, they tend to shift their weight more forward to compensate, and this translates into placed more on their front legs. 

While generally, small items such as tennis balls are unlikely to be a problem, things get more challenging with heavier items. This warrants some caution, and therefore, owners and dog trainers should be careful especially when training young hunting dogs ensuring that retrieval weights do not over stress their developing musculoskeletal systems and those delicate puppy growth plates. 

  "The training of developing dogs should be performed with special attention to the immature skeletal system, and dogs carrying weights on a regular basis should undergo routine orthopaedic examinations". ~Bockstahler, B., Tichy, A. & Aigner, P. 

Now That You Know...

As seen Golden retrievers have their very own good reasons for liking to hold stuff in their mouth and carrying their "treasures" around! Whether it's a ball or a leather glove, goldens are just practicing behaviors they were bred for. If your Golden loves to carry things around, here are some tips to put his mind and body to work in productive ways. 

  • Provide mental stimulation and training. Golden retrievers are intelligent dogs who need to have their minds engaged so to prevent boredom and potential destructive behaviors. 
  • Add the element of water.  Many Golden retrievers love water and swimming and will be more than happy to retrieve a ball tossed in a pool or lake. 
  • Avoid having your retriever jumping in water in cold weather though as this can predispose your retriever to a condition known as limber tail syndrome in dogs which causes a flaccid, painful tail
  • Put your dog's retrieving skills to work. For instance, you can train your retriever cute tricks such as to pick up his toys and place them in a basket, stack plastic rings on a pole or even fetch you a beer.
  • Buy your retriever a bumper. Also known as a dummy, a bumper is used to simulate a bird. The rope attached is meant to toss it in a high arc to simulate a bird flying up and being shot.
  • Bring in some competition. Enroll your retriever in retriever hunting trials allowing him to do what he was bred to do. 
  • Consult with your veterinarian before starting any exercise regimen or dog sport just to play it safe.
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Adrienne Farricelli
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