My golden retriever

Four years ago, I owned a purebred dog.

This was before I owned a mutt, before I got involved in dog rescue and before I knew what a blog was. I’d never even thought about dog agility, starting a dog running business or fostering a pitbull.

But each dog that enters my life really does seem to open a new chapter, and Ace has introduced me to a whole new world with dogs.

Still, my life would not be the same without my golden retriever, Brittni.

Although this blog is primarily related to my mutt Ace, countless other dogs are intertwined throughout my posts including family members’ dogs, foster dogs and readers’ dogs.

Brittni is a dog I’ve failed to write much about.

A good dog

golden retriever

If each dog represents a new phase in my life, Brittni was my high school and college years. She appeared during my freshmen year of high school and died right when I started my first job after college. Just as those years seemed to go by in a blur, Brittni’s life seemed unfairly cut short.

In a matter of days Brittni went from being a healthy, energetic 7-year-old to a deathly ill and suddenly old dog.

Euthanasia and dogs is something I’ve touched very briefly in my dog blog, probably because it’s a difficult subject. Plus, the dog I own is still very young, so I don’t think about the end yet.

The vet’s best guess for Brittni’s illness was an autoimmune disease (autoimmune hemolytic anemia). Basically her own immune system was destroying her red blood cells.

My only advice to other dog owners is to think ahead about the final decisions you’ll have to make for your dog. Don’t wait until shock and emotions play too much of a toll.

A dog’s anxiety

golden retrieversBrittni was the first dog I trained through formal obedience classes. Although I was teaching her, in reality she was training me about dogs, their behavior and the thrill I get from working with them.

The bond she and I formed was very strong, and anyone who’s ever owned a golden retriever knows all about their loyalty, devotion and love.

Brittni challenged me and got me thinking about dogs in a new way. Her many “issues” showed me the importance of socialization and exercise. Brittni was an extremely anxious dog, letting out shrill screams every time we met someone new, visited somewhere new or pretty much every time we did something out of her usual routine.

There’s no way to describe these crying fits Brittni did other than to maybe picture a full-grown husky put into a kennel and having a panic attack, howling and squealing to get out.

I remember one time my trainer was fed up with Brittni’s behavior and said to me in a hushed, scolding voice, “She needs to know that this is not acceptable!” All I thought was: Well, hello! That’s why I’m here!

Many of the suggestions I tried with Brittni did not work: Shaking a can filled with change at her (made her more anxious), leash pops (she literally could not control herself, correction or not) and telling her she was bad (also added to her anxiousness).

What worked best with Brittni was patience, long walks, ignoring unwanted behavior, praising her for being quiet and slowly bringing her to more and more places and introducing her to more people and dogs.

Anxiety or not, Brittni and I got to do a fair amount of traveling and hiking. I will always remember my long walks with her along the Luce Line trail west of Minneapolis and how she would run off leash at my side, never bothering to venture too far. We could walk for miles in all seasons, often going an hour without seeing anyone.

Had Brittni and Ace been around at the same time, I’m sure they would’ve been great friends. Brittni had that classic, happy-go-lucky retriever personality I now see in Ace. And like him, Brittni had an immeasurable desire to please, be with her pack and follow me from room to room.

I just wanted to share a bit about my wonderful and beautiful dog from my past. She helped me get where I’m going today. Thank you, Brittni, “the babe,” you were a good girl.

Please share with me your stories of dogs now gone.

In memory of Brittni


golden retriever

19 thoughts on “My golden retriever”

  1. It never ceases to amaze me how totally different dogs’ personalities can be. Even litter mates from the time they open their eyes seem to say, “I’m special.” People with little dog experience have to learn to listen to the individual dog.

  2. It’s so hard to lose a member of the family like that. My story is…

    I met Moca, a mutt, when she was about 4. Her person became terminally ill and I “inherited” her at age 7. I was in college and concerned about having enough time for her. Lucky for me, she was an extremely well-behaved girl and I could bring her with me almost everywhere. After about a year, she was diagnosed with Cushing’s and became very ill. She couldn’t control her bowels and wouldn’t eat. Luckily, I had access to a vet that didn’t try to take all of my money and the patience to feed and clean up after her. She came out and was healthy again after medication and some very stressful months. She didn’t get sick again until age 15 and this time it was renal failure. I had her in the hospital and got the feeling the young vet was merely interested in performing more tests on her for her own curiosity. I told her to take all of the tubes out of my dog and I was picking her up. She replied that I would be back in a few hours and I told her that she didn’t need to be concerned with that. Moca lived another 2 years and passed away at home, with family who loved her and not in a cold cage. She was such a remarkable girl.

  3. Holly, my dog from High School junior year until we sadly put her down at age 14, was just one of those incredible push-button dogs that are so hard to get over. She was a Heinz 57 mix of husky, lab and shepherd, about 65 pounds, golden yellow with dark eyes and dark tail. Holly had an amazing ability to adapt and manage herself properly in any situation and while not overjoyed with new people, was always trustworthy with everyone. Made me lazy!!! I never had to correct her for anything!! We did do the dog training group classes, that was a lot of fun. When we found Holly at the animal shelter she was a very obese backyard dog, age 3, calm and quiet, that had never been inside a house. She was not at all sure about what happened inside of houses! She was to spend the rest of her life with us as a real household family dog. I recall having her inside with us at breakfast on a morning soon after her adoption, and when the toaster popped up two slices of toast – Holly dashed off into another room like she had seen a ghost! It was easy to be with Holly, she was a real genuine lady, but could really take care of herself with other dogs if they wanted to push her around! I took her to work with me every day when I was an Animal Control Officer and she helped me attract dogs that were loose on the freeway several times. She was such a good girl. I miss her terribly to this day and will probably never really get over losing her. She was my angel.

  4. Lindsay Stordahl

    Thanks for sharing your story about Moca, Apryl. She sounds like a tough dog! I’m glad you were able to recognize what was best for her.

    Holly does sound like an Angel. There’s something special about training a rescue dog to understand our strange, human world. I know what you mean about never getting over losing a dog.

  5. The first dog that Scott and I had together as a married couple was a four year old GSD named Chelsea. She had been surrendered to a veterinary ER clinic as her owners could not pay for her treatment for myasthenia gravis. We met her at the clinic and when we saw that big doggie smile and those warm brown eyes, we knew she was coming home with us. She was our constant companion and was (mostly!) very patient with us as we learned daily about what it was like to live with such a beautiful, loyal and intelligent dog. We lost Chelsea very suddenly to cancer at age 9, but she will always live on in our hearts as our “special”.

  6. Lindsay Stordahl

    Chelsea sounds like such a sweet dog. I love German shepherds. I hope to have one someday when one will fit better into my lifestyle.

  7. I just lost my Springer Sam two weeks ago. She was 15 and he hips were giving out on her. It took a lot to realize that she was tired and ready to “go home.” I got Sam when I was 10 years old. She was a great dog from the start. It took her 4 days to potty train and 2 weeks to pick up sign language, although she was not deaf it came in handy when I wanted her to do something form across the room or the yard. She went rollerblading and running with me and was there for all the growing pains I had while becoming an adult. She was so full of life and energy up untill the end which is why it was so hard to let her go. Her mind was there but physically she couldn’t do it any more. I will always remeber that little girl and she will always hold a special place in my heart.

  8. Lindsay Stordahl

    I’m so sorry to hear about Sam. She sounds like she was one of those once in a lifetime dogs. Thanks for sharing a bit about her. My mom’s springer loves to run too!

  9. Hi,just reading your story about Brittni. We are waiting for the vet to come and put our BONZO to sleep.
    BONZO is fifteen and we had him from a puppy. A beautiful, loving and loyal friend. He has rapidly gone down hill over the last few months. We know he is going to doggy heaven.

  10. Lindsay Stordahl

    I’m so sorry to hear about BONZO. It is so hard to put a pet to sleep. I’m glad you got to spend 15 years with him. Thanks for sharing a bit about your golden. I still miss mine.

  11. What amazes me is how Dogs and Humans as so attached to each other. I no longer have a dog. Mine died when I was 17…but now I am thinking about getting a dog again. I am in my middle years now and a little afraid that I will not keep up with a dog…but I just want one so bad!

  12. We are currently on our third golden retriever and could not imagine life without them. They have been so loving and provide such unconditional love. Our first dog, tolerated three young girls spaced two years apart. She was great with them no matter what they did – dress her up like a granny or crawl over to her peaceful space. Our first golden, Kahlua, acted like a puppy always being playful and lived to 12 years old and died of cancer. Our second golden, Sundance, was a very anxious dog. I think she could predict a storm coming before the weatherman as she wouldn’t let me leave the house without her. She was scared of everything from a vacuum cord to a balloon. She would have a quiet “roof” that she would do if she was afraid to walk over the vacuum cord and would repeat it patiently until someone would move the cord or balloon for her. Thunderstorms and fireworks were a nightmare. We moved to London when they still had the quarantine law. We did not want to give up our golden retriever. An organization called Passport for Pets eventually worked out a law with England that if a dog lived in a country that did not have rabies, such as France, for six months they could be brought into England. My husband flew to France with Sundance and sh lived in the north of France with a wonderful English couple who had a golden of their own. They never left the house without taking the two dogs. We would travel to France from England through the chunnel in our SUV spending weekends visiting our dog. Eventually she made it into England and lived with us. When we came back to the U.S. for six weeks in the summer, she would go back to live with her friends in France. We eventually moved back to the U.S., and after one year Sundance didn’t seem herself and she lost her appetite. After a few days of this behavior, we took her to the vet who told us she was loaded with cancer and we should put her down that same day. Boy, can I relate to losing a dog unexpectedly way too early. It was horrible. We now have our third golden, Riley, who has another unique personality and is just as lovable and kind as the previous two dogs. I’m sure my husband and I will continue to have goldens until the day we die. They bring so much pleasure and company for us.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Awww. Thanks for sharing a bit about each of your goldens. They are all so special in their unique ways. I’m so sorry to hear about Sundance. But what a great story about her time in Europe! What a lucky dog! Give Riley a pat on the head and a hug from me!

  13. I have had the pleasure and pain of loving and loosing two Golden Retrievers. My First Gunga was exactly like the nanny dog in Peter Pan, she was 3 when I was born, there are many pictures of my brothers and I learning to walk with her assistance. I have no childhood memories that do not include her, from bringing us live pheasants on walks (following a past as a gun dog) to Surfing on waves. She died at the age of 13, I was ten and could not imagine life without a dog, but at the same time couldn’t imagine loving another. My mother gave us the choice, we could get another dog, love her for as long as we could but that we would one day have this pain again, or not. We chose to have another, Gemma, luckily from the same breeder and of the bloodline of Gunga.

    Gemma was put down this week at the great age of Fifteen years and 3 months. Her body was no longer able to cope, though not distressed (she had dementia for the last 2 years of her life) she lost the ability to walk; it became the only option to give her the dignity she had demanded her whole life. I had her since I was ten, 10-25 and she has been the only stable thing within that, my confident, my friend and my foot warmer. I am still at that forgetting she has left us stage; finding myself in the dog food aisle, waking up early to let her out and have a walk before I leave in the morning, looking at where her bed was and being overcome with shock when I remember she has left.

    These current feelings and pain will fade, though I will always miss and love her, just thankful to have had her in my life. Reading these stories has helped, sending Big Hugs to all those who have loved and lost a Golden.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      You made me cry! Happy/sad tears. I’m so sorry to hear about your loss, but so glad you got to share your life with those two wonderful dogs. Thank you so much for sharing.

  14. I desperately need some help! My husband and I, (both 41yrs.) finally decided to give up trying to get pregnant, and faced the facts that we would never be parents. We then decided 2 years ago, we’ll rescue a dog. We found our golden retriever at our local shelter and fell in love. We were told that at that time she was around 2 or 3yrs. Old. She was crazy! Had been neglected, never been walked on a leash and not good with other dogs. So, we brought the lunatic home and began the training process. We’ve now gone through 3 sets of training courses, each consisting of 4 months, and she’s come such a long way! She still gets excited when people come over, but once they give her a rub and talk to her, she buggers off and lays down like a perfect pet. Now….the problem is being able to do anything away from home as a family! She is obsessed with other dogs. It looks like she wants to play with them, they sniff each other and then she turns into a complete nightmare. She attacks them even when not being provoked. Even when we’re camping, if she sees another dog anywhere, or walking by, she’s a maniac! She pants, drools, paces, whines, and trust me…..we’ve done the whole diversion thing….we’ve done treats, and made her focus on us, but she’s not getting it! We have the zapper coller (doesn’t work) prong coller(doesn’t work) clicker training(doesn’t work) you name it, we’ve tried it! And we’ve been consistent. I am having anxiety attacks every time I see another dog! We are living around this dog right now, and can’t go anywhere or do anything and I find myself being angry at her. I know it’s not her fault and don’t know what’s happened to her in the past, but I can’t continue this. I love her so much, and wish there was some sort of magic pill I could give her every morning to mellow her out. She’s now had incidents with pretty much every dog in our neighborhood, when we walk her every day, x2 !!! She’s always on leash, but these other dogs come up to her off leash and provoke her. Especially the happy little ones. Now we have to muzzle her when walking and a couple of them have threatened to have her destroyed. As you can see, my hands are tied. She needs to be walked, and we need our lives back. I feel like I’m in prison! I sure hope someone has some advice for me before I lose my mind. And I really don’t need to hear I have to go do more training classes, she needs more excercise, or socialize her with another calm dog. It’s all been done!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Well I’m sure she does need more training classes, exercise and socialization, but you know that!

      Gosh, it’s hard to offer advice since you have tried so many things. Out of everything you’ve tried, when have you seen any progress? Like, even minimal progress?

      Have you tried walking her with a Gentle Leader type of collar?

      You could check out the book Feisty Fido by Patricia McConnell. It has some useful tips for working with leash aggressive dogs. She knows her stuff. However, her approach is all positive and she uses treats and teaches a “watch me” command. So if that is not something you are interested in, that book won’t be very helpful.

      Keep in mind I don’t know you at all and this is not fair of me to suggest, but how is your own behavior around your dog? Are you making sure to be as calm as possible? I know it is very hard to remain calm and not tense, but the more relaxed you can be, the more you can help your dog. You said you are having anxiety attacks every time you see another dog. I realize that is probably an overstatement, but what kind of message is this sending your dog? I also suggest letting go of your dog’s past. Do not make excuses for her since she was potentially neglected. Focus on the now.

      When I work with dog-aggressive rescue dogs, a friend and I will take two dogs walking together. We don’t need to use muzzles since we don’t let them get that close, but just the act of walking together as a group is really beneficial to the dogs. We don’t let them greet head on or sniff each other until we’ve walked for at least a half-hour. Then we MIGHT let them sniff a little or walk side by side. The key is to make slow progress and to end on a good note. The dogs are kept at our sides during the walk, not out in front. We always have at least one person between the dogs.

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