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While the Labrador Retriever has been the most popular dog breed in the United States for 28 years, the German Shepherd has been holding steady in 2nd place, and the Golden Retriever remains the third-most-popular dog breed.
Let’s talk about these runners-up in popularity. What makes them such amazing family dogs? What are the main differences between the two breeds? And which would be better for your family?
Here’s what you need to know about the Golden Retriever vs the German Shepherd.
Golden Retriever Vs German Shepherd: The Basics of Each Breed
While both Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds were bred to work, they were bred for very different purposes.
The Golden Retriever was developed in Scotland to be a gundog and retrieve birds that had been shot by hunters in wet weather and rugged terrain.
The German Shepherd, despite its current popular use as a police dog, was originally bred in Germany to herd sheep.
Thanks to their different purposes, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers are both friendly family dogs, but they have very different personalities.
Golden Retrievers tend to be playful and friendly with everyone including strangers and other dogs, while German Shepherds tend to be friendly with their family but reserved and wary around strangers and other dogs.
German Shepherd Vs Golden Retriever: Info at a glance
We created this simple table so you can see some of the similarities and differences between Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds in just a glance before we go into more detail.
|Golden Retriever||German Shepherd|
|Height||21.5 to 24 inches||22 to 26 inches|
|Weight||55 to 75 pounds||50 to 90 pounds|
|Lifespan||10 to 12 years||7 to 10 years|
|Coat Color||Light to dark gold||Brown and black|
|Friendly with Other Dogs?||Usually||Not usually|
|Gentle with Children?||Usually||Usually|
|Common Health Problems||Cancer, hip dysplasia, bloat||Hip dysplasia, bloat, Degenerative myelopathy|
As you can see, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds have a few things in common, but they are actually quite different in several important areas such as size and friendliness with other dogs.
Origins: The History of the German Shepherd and Golden Retriever
As you can imagine, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers have very different origins since they were bred for very different tasks in different countries.
Golden Retriever History
Dudley Marjoribanks, the first Lord Tweedmouth in Scotland, developed the Golden Retriever over the course of 50 years from 1840 to 1890.
He kept meticulous records of all of his breeding practices, so we know that he crossed his “Yellow Retriever” with the now-extinct Tweed Water Spaniel and added in some Bloodhound and Irish Setter to create a gundog that would work well in the rainy climate and rugged terrain of the area.
The Golden Retriever was refined a little more after Lord Tweedmouth passed, and the first Golden Retriever was shown at a British dog show in 1908.
The popularity of the breed really took off after President Gerald Ford took office with his Golden Retriever, Liberty, in the 1970s, and the breed has been a staple in American homes ever since.
Golden Retrievers have also made appearances in many movies and TV shows, including Full House, Air Bud, and Homeward Bound.
Apart from just being a family pet, Golden Retrievers excel as hunting dogs, service animals, therapy dogs, search and rescue animals, and drug or explosives detection dogs.
They’re also excellent at dog sports like agility, flyball, obedience, rally, tracking, freestyle, and dock diving.
German Shepherd History
There were originally several different types of herding dogs in the various districts of Germany until a German cavalry officer, Captain Max von Stephanitz, decided in the late 1800s to combine the different types of shepherds from the northern and central districts into one unified German Shepherd Dog breed. Von Stephanitz spent 35 years refining the breed and co-founded the first German Shepherd breed club.
Many of the qualities that made the breed such a good sheepdog – like agility, stealth, intelligence, and speed – make them excellent at other types of work such as police and military work.
As Germany became more industrialized and relied less on sheepdogs, von Stephanitz convinced the German government to use German Shepherds as working dogs.
In fact, they’re now one of the most popular dog breeds for police and military work all around the world. They’re also used in search and rescue and as service dogs.
Additionally, German Shepherds have been popular in films like Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart.
Important Similarities and Differences
As you saw in the above chart, there are almost as many differences between Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds as there are similarities.
Let’s look at those similarities and differences a little more in-depth.
While Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are roughly the same size, they don’t have many other physical traits in common.
Let’s start with the head. German Shepherds have pointy noses and erect ears, while Golden Retrievers have blunt noses and drop ears (which makes them more prone to ear infections).
Golden Retrievers tend to be more on the stocky side, while German Shepherds tend to have a long, lean body shape.
Male German Shepherds can be taller and heavier than Golden Retrievers, although females of both breeds may be similar sizes. With that being said, both breeds are prone to obesity, and even a stocky Golden Retriever shouldn’t be barrel-chested.
German Shepherds usually have short, dense fur with an undercoat that sheds a little bit all the time and A LOT seasonally, although there are some long-haired German Shepherds.
Golden Retrievers have medium-length fur that may range from thin with little undercoat to thick with a lot of undercoat. They typically shed a little bit year-round and a lot during season changes.
German Shepherds should not have any of their fur trimmed, while some people choose to trim the butt, belly, legs, and tail of their Golden Retriever.
Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are both extremely intelligent, have boundless energy, and are driven to work. They are both employed in a wide variety of “careers,” although they typically have very different careers.
Golden Retrievers are gentle, kind, and eager to please. They love people, although that can translate into the bad habit of jumping on people to greet them.
Since they are retrievers, they are the ultimate “fetch” dog and will bring you a ball to throw all day long, given the opportunity. Luckily, since they are so intelligent and want nothing more than to please people, they are easy to train.
It’s important to keep in mind that Golden Retrievers are very much family dogs and don’t respond well to being left home alone a lot.
They feel the need to be around their people as much as possible and don’t do well if they’re left outside all day. They’re also happiest when they have a job to do, even if that’s just bringing in the newspaper every day.
Some jobs that Golden Retrievers are trained to do include field trials, service dogs, obedience, therapy dogs, and hunting.
While German Shepherds are also intelligent and loyal to their families, they are more protective and won’t welcome strangers as easily as the Golden Retriever.
If you’re looking for a dog that will help protect your family, the German Shepherd is the better choice, but if you’re highly social and want a dog that’s just as social, you may want to go for the Golden Retriever instead.
Like Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds need a job to do. They have a ton of energy coupled with plenty of intelligence, and they can cause chaos if they don’t get enough physical exercise and mental stimulation.
With proper exercise and socialization, the German Shepherd can make an excellent family pet.
Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds share some of the same health problems.
For example, both breeds are prone to hip dysplasia, a condition where the thigh bone doesn’t fit properly in the hip joint, causing arthritis and chronic pain. Both breeds are also prone to epilepsy.
However, many other health conditions are more prevalent in one breed than the other.
One sad example of this is cancer.
While German Shepherds are prone to hemangiosarcoma, one type of cancer, Golden Retrievers are prone to several different types of cancer and are sometimes nicknamed “Cancer Retrievers” by veterinarians due to the fact that more than half of all Goldens die from cancer.
Golden Retrievers are more likely to develop cancer than just about any other dog breed.
Another common health problem that is more common in one breed than the other is bloat or its more severe cousin, gastric torsion.
While Golden Retrievers can be afflicted by bloat or gastric torsion, it’s much more common in German Shepherds.
Bloat and gastric torsion are medical emergencies that can kill a dog in a matter of hours without surgery to relieve the problem.
If your dog shows any of the following symptoms, especially after a meal, get them to a vet right away:
- Lip licking
- Pale gums
- Pacing and restlessness
- Signs of pain
- Trying to vomit without anything coming up
German Shepherds are also more likely to develop degenerative myopathy (DM) than Golden Retrievers.
DM is a condition similar to multiple sclerosis (MS) in humans. It’s an untreatable neurological disease that causes gradual paralysis of a dog’s back end.
German Shepherds are also prone to things like:
- Bleeding disorders
- Vision problems
- Immune problems
- Digestive issues
While Golden Retrievers are prone to issues like:
- Ear infections
- Skin infections
READ MORE: 18 Common Health Issues in Large Breed Dogs
Perfect Families for Each Breed
Both Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds do best with very active families since they need plenty of exercise. Owners of both breeds should be committed to socialization and training, also.
Golden Retrievers are very friendly dogs, so they are great for families who are social, as well.
If you love activities where you’ll be around other dogs and people, like going to the dog park, hiking, or camping, Golden Retrievers are an excellent choice.
German Shepherds tend to be more reserved around unfamiliar people and dogs.
If you prefer solo activities like jogging, playing fetch in the backyard, or keeping an eye on your kids at the park, the German Shepherd might be perfect for your family.
One Possible Compromise: Just Get a Golden Retriever German Shepherd Mix
While a hybrid dog may take after one parent breed more than the other, a German Shepherd Golden Retriever mix would ideally have the best traits of both breeds and would hopefully be healthier than either parent breed.
Ideally, a Golden Retriever German Shepherd mix would have fewer aggressive tendencies than German Shepherds and a lower risk of dying from cancer than a Golden Retriever.
Just because you’re looking for a mix rather than a purebred dog, that doesn’t mean you can get out of searching for a reputable dog breeder – they should still do health tests on each parent dog to ensure they’re producing the healthiest puppies possible.
Other Breeds That Are Similar to Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds
Not sure the Golden Retriever or the German Shepherd is quite right for your family? You may be interested in one of these other dog breeds.
Breeds that are similar to Golden Retrievers include:
- Labrador Retriever
- Flat-coated Retriever
- Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
- Chesapeake Bay Retriever
- Irish Setter
Breeds that are similar to German Shepherds include:
- Belgian Malinois
- Swedish Shepherd
- Belgian Shepherd
As you can see, both Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are amazing large breed dogs that can make excellent family companions. While they may have some similarities in their personalities, they are quite different breeds and will do better in different types of families.