It’s not new for women to compare men to dogs — a comparison that usually isn’t made fondly. But on TikTok, women are highlighting their loving, laidback and easy-to-please partners by calling them “golden retriever boyfriends.” Like the breed, the golden retriever boyfriend is gentle, playful and loyal. And like dogs in general, he might also be a little bit silly and innocent, and not necessarily the smartest of creatures, but that’s all made up for by his sweetness and lovability.
Most often, the term “golden retriever boyfriend” is used as a compliment — when someone makes a TikTok about it, the most common response from viewers in the comments is jealousy. Women have made videos with the #goldenretrieverboyfriend showing their partners catching snow with their tongue, sending their girlfriend lots of cutesy texts or being ultra-appreciative of basic tasks and favors like cutting up an apple for them. Overall, it’s used to describe a boyfriend who is affectionate, happy to see them and excited by simple things.
Obviously, some dogs need a bit more training than others. And for some, the trope more accurately describes the labor and responsibility that comes with pet ownership — which isn’t necessarily always how one wants to look at a romantic relationship. “My boyfriend is technically a ‘rescue golden retriever,’ I think,” says Jessica, 25. “He’s very try-hard, sweet and a big pleaser for sure, but he gets easily upset sometimes from bad past experiences, much like a rescue.”
For example, she cites his tendency to be on high alert for other people’s feelings as one of his less positive traits. But like a rescue dog that might need a little help learning how to love again, she knows that her guidance can help him. “I try to be patient and understanding mainly, and not to take outbursts personally. This is all stuff he also does for me to help me with my own issues, too,” she says. On a positive note, her boyfriend also happens to love head pats.
Another woman, Naomi, 28, just got out of a six-year relationship with a man she describes as “golden retriever-like.” “It wasn’t necessarily an easy-going relationship, but he was very easy to please,” she says. “If I went to Target and grabbed him a bag of chips, he was happy. If he got a new shirt, he would immediately put it on, which always reminded me of a dog showing off a new toy.”
But he was also somewhat impulsive and irresponsible, albeit in an innocent way. He was easily distracted and persuaded by whatever objects were for sale at a checkout counter, for instance. “If I didn’t grocery shop, he’d have just eaten cereal and cold-cut sandwiches for every meal,” she says. He also never realized a chore needed to be done until she reminded him to do it.
All of these are minor flaws, of course, but point to the reality that being in a relationship with a golden retriever boyfriend can, for some women, be more akin to a responsibility than a partnership.
From time to time, TikToks appear that highlight some of these pitfalls. One popular example shows a girl ice skating with her boyfriend, who’s terrible at ice skating and gets “easily flustered.” It’s an endearing video, but she also speaks about him as though he’s completely annoying as well.
But by and large, like a puppy, the term “golden retriever boyfriend” is meant to be cute, not to encompass every detail of a relationship. As with the actual dogs, not every golden retriever boyfriend is going to behave in the exact same way because of his breed, nor should we expect him to be perfect. Not to mention, a golden retriever isn’t right for everyone, and might require some training. And so, we should probably look at the golden retriever boyfriend in much the same way.