The Golden Retriever is often considered to be an ideal choice for a first time dog owner that wants a larger sized, very friendly and very intelligent dog. This is not to say that a Golden Retriever will be a good match for every family since they are a high maintenance breed when it comes to grooming and somewhat to exercise. However, they don't have the dominant temperament associated with many of the larger dogs that can make training and socialization a challenge for first time dog owners.
Ideally all puppies, regardless of their breed, should go through some type of puppy obedience training. This provides both a structured approach to the basics of obedience work, plus it also provides tips to the owners as to how to more effectively work with their dogs. In addition the socialization aspect of the puppy obedience classes is hard to match unless you have several friends all with puppies that are willing to arrange for doggy get-togethers for socialization.
If you are considering a puppy obedience class it is important to work with a trainer that has experience in using only positive training methods with the dogs. You do not want to take a Golden Retriever through an obedience class that is more focused on punishment than they are on rewarding the dogs for the right thing. As a highly intelligent breed that is sensitive to the owner's voice and body language, negative training methods can actually cause this breed to become turned off from any type of response. Positive training methods that reward the dog for small and large steps in training are the best methods for the Golden Retriever.
You may wish to consider a training class that uses the clicker method of training. This is a positive reward system in which the owner uses a small plastic clicker to signal the dog that they are on the right track. Since you can click much faster than you can speak, the dog makes a very fast connection with the sound and the activity they are supposed to do. Over time the clicker can be faded out, but can always be used again when teaching another new command.
Socialization, despite the calm and dog friendly temperament of the Golden Retriever is still an essential component of the early months and years of the dog's life. Since they are so dog friendly, the Golden Retriever is a great dog for an off-leash park and there is rarely any concern with aggression. Male Golden Retriever will be naturally aggressive towards other males if females in heat are present, but neutering males will prevent this from being an issue. Typically Golden Retriever will bark at other dogs approaching their territory, but once the dog is introduced they will not be territorial or possessive of their toys or space.
Golden Retrievers make outstanding obedience dogs at all levels. It is interesting to note that the first three grand champion American Kennel Club obedience winners were all Golden Retrievers, and the breed continues to be well represented in the standings each year. The high level of attention that the Golden Retriever is able to focus on their handler combined with their thinking abilities and outstanding disposition and willingness to follow commands makes these dogs idea competitors.
Occasionally younger Golden Retrievers may be a bit distractible for obedience work, however proper exercise, lots of socialization and continued work with the dogs will correct this very minor issue. Working with the dogs in a quieter, distraction free environment may be a consideration until the dog has mastered the command. Typically high strung or highly distractible Golden Retriever are poorly socialized dogs that have not been provided the attention and exercise that the breed requires. Retraining and building a trust relationship between the owner and the dog will often correct this problem relatively quickly.
Another great way for the Golden Retriever to shine in competitive events is in agility competitions. Even though they are a larger dog they can easily weave through the poles, take the obstacles and jump, climb and run through the courses with ease. Again the dog's ability to problem solve and think as well as follow commands makes them a great match for the event.
One lesser known dog competition the Golden Retriever really stands out in is dock jumping. This event is popular in the United States, Canada, Germany, Australia and the United Kingdom. In this event a specially surfaced dock is designed over a body of water that is not less than four feet deep. Dogs run down the length of the dock and jump out over the water, attempting to jump the farthest distance from the dog. Owners can use a chase toy that is thrown into the water to encourage the dogs to jump. The jump is measured from the dock to the part of the body that enters the water closest to the dock, typically the dog's tail or hind legs. The distance is measured just like a human long jump, but typically digital photographs are used to provide an accurate measurement. Some of these dogs jump an amazing distance before hitting the water, with distances of over 24 feet airborne not considered unusual.
Golden Retrievers are also ideal candidates for other types of dog competitions. They are now seen in Flyball and Frisbee type events where their speed and agility is well paired with their hard working and focused behavior. They are also starting to come to competitions of canine freestyle dancing and heelwork to music, both events that require intense focus as well as outstanding communication between the dog and the owner.
Finally, the Golden Retriever can also go back to its roots as a hunting breed and compete at championship levels in field dog trails. Their incredible swimming ability combined with their scenting and tracking skills ensures that they will place high in the competition. Training Golden Retriever to hunt does require specific skills, however the natural instincts of the dog are still evident and they often are very gifted without a lot of training requirements.