Why Goldens Get Scared

Even before his eyes are open — at about the two-week mark — a puppy is taking in the smells and sensations of his environment through his other senses.

The ideal environment is in the heart of the household, where the sights, smells, and sounds of the family are part of the puppy's early experience. Hearing and seeing the normal sounds of human interaction and other household chaos (people talking and laughing; kitchen sounds; vacuums; kids arguing, roughhousing, and playing; phones ringing) is essential for a puppy to accept these things as a normal part of his world. Carefully orchestrated visits by friends and neighbors, including children, should also be part of this puppy's early experience.

Visiting new places within the house or yard, going for a car ride, or taking a walk apart from littermates will make a puppy more willing to explore and adapt to changes in his environment.

If a puppy never has these experiences, he will experience a tremendous amount of stress when he is placed in his new home. Suddenly, all familiar sights and sounds are gone. Because he hasn't learned to adapt to change, he will cry and drive his new family crazy until he settles in.

The right amount of social experience started by the breeder or caretaker of the puppy from an early age is crucial to the puppy's adaptability and sociability as a growing puppy and adult dog.

People who talk to and handle puppies during the first several weeks of their lives help to develop an attachment to — rather than a fear of — people. The more diverse and varied the early social experience, the better a puppy will be able to cope with life.

The most common phobia in Golden Retrievers is a fear of loud noises. Handlers call this trait “gun shyness,” but a dog that is phobic of noise is usually afraid of a lot more than gunshots. Most of these dogs are also afraid of thunder, cars, traffic, or motor-cycles — anything that makes unusual or unpredictable noises.

The recovery time from startle to feeling relaxed again can last anywhere from several minutes to several hours. Owners of dogs with sound phobias often report that a dog reacting to a loud noise or scary situation cannot be comforted with petting or sweet talk.

Other common phobias in Goldens include fear of new people, new situations, or unfamiliar objects. Most of these problems have their origin in a lack of enough early socialization or a less-than-desirable early puppyhood. With training, and sometimes the careful application of medication, many Goldens can be taught to be more confident and less fearful of their environment. Any improvement in this problem improves the dog's quality of life and the families' overall enjoyment of their beloved companion.

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