Golden retrievers vs Labrador retrievers; two of the most popular breeds in the United States, and they both make fantastic pets. They are loving, loyal and playful dogs, who will meld into most families with ease.
But while many people have no trouble deciding that they want to add a Labrador or Golden Retriever to their family, it isn’t always easy to decide which one is the best.
Both Labs and Goldens are undoubtedly similar in many ways, but they also have a few key differences, which you’ll want to consider when making your choice.
You’ll likely prefer one of the breeds over the other, so you need to learn about these differences, so you can make the most informed choice possible.
We’ll try to help you do this below, by discussing the history of each breed, as well as their personalities, physical characteristics, health issues, and grooming needs.
We’ll also explain some of the strengths and weaknesses of the Labrador vs Golden Retriever, as well as some of the things that make both dogs such great companions.
Golden retrievers and Labrador retrievers were both bred to work. And while the vast majority of Labs and Goldens in the modern world are kept solely as pets, many continue to work for a living in the modern world.
Both breeds have high energy levels and a strong work drive, and they’re both incredibly loving and gentle with their families.
They don’t make especially good guard dogs, as they’re simply too friendly. They will bark to alert you of unusual events (like the strange guy who shows up to bring the mail or the people who steal your garbage every Tuesday), but that’s the extent of their protective instincts.
Most Labs and Golden Retrievers are very smart and easy to train. They excel at a variety of different games, sports and contests, including agility trials, as well as retrieving and obedience contests.
They both have pretty high energy levels, so you’ll find it necessary to take them on long walks and play games of fetch at the park almost every day.
Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers tend to get along well with other dogs, and most are very gentle with children.
In fact, Goldens and Labs are both outgoing breeds, who’ll usually go out of their way to make friends with the people you meet during walks or other outings.
Both breeds have been popular for several years, but the Golden’s popularity is a bit more recent.
We’ve created the following table to help you familiarize yourself with the similarities and differences of Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers.
You’ll note that both breeds are remarkably similar, but there are also a few important differences.
21.5 to 24 inches
21.5 to 24.5 inches
55 to 75 pounds
55 to 80 pounds
10 to 12 years
10 to 12 years
Light to Dark Gold
Black, Chocolate or Yellow
Friendly with Other Dogs?
Gentle with Children?
Common Health Problems
Hip dysplasia, cancer, at risk for bloat
Hip dysplasia, obesity, at risk for bloat
As you can see, the differences between the two breeds are relatively minor, but we’ll delve into the subject more deeply below.
Golden and Labrador Retrievers are both sporting dogs, who have relatively similar histories. We’ll explain each in more detail below.
Despite being used extensively as a bird dog in the modern world, Labrador Retrievers – who were originally called St. John’s Dogs – were originally tasked with entirely different game. Instead of being expected to retrieve ducks and other birds downed by their owner, these early Labs were employed by fishermen.
Among other things, the dogs would accompany their owner aboard boats, help their owner haul in and retrieve lines, and catch fish that escaped from a hook or net. Some people suspect that modern Labs descend from a variety of different water-loving breeds, including the Newfoundland.
Eventually, hunters started noticing the incredible retrieving skills and sweet disposition, so they began employing the dogs in bird-hunting contexts. And while they excelled at most types of gun-dog work, they showed the most aptitude for retrieving ducks and other waterfowl.
Golden Retrievers were originally bred in the 19th century, by a Scottish animal breeder named Lord Tweedmouth (go ahead and chuckle – I did).
Tweedmouth was trying to create a talented, water-loving retriever, which would bond more strongly with its owner than many of the other bird dogs used at the time. He also selected for pet-like traits, such as a gentle disposition.
The breed’s history is a bit murky, but it appears as though Tweedmouth created some of the original dogs by crossing an un-specified black-coated retriever with a Tweed Water Spaniel (a breed that is now extinct).
Several other sporting dogs were later incorporated into the breeding project, including the Bloodhound and Lesser Newfoundland.
In the ensuing years, the dogs made their way to the United States, becoming an AKC-registered breed in 1925. Their popularity grew steadily and hit a fever pitch in when President Gerald Ford’s Golden Retriever “Liberty,” became known to the public.
The above chart should help you see some of the primary similarities and differences between Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers, but we’ll discuss these and other traits of the two breeds in greater depth below.
Goldens and Labs both have the same basic head and face shape, which seems to carry a perpetually friendly expression. Yet despite their similar appearances, you can learn to distinguish between the two pretty easily with practice.
Among other differences, Labs often have wider, blunter faces than Goldens do, and Goldens typically have smaller, narrower eyes than labs.
Labs also possess very prominent eyebrow ridges, while Goldens have rather subtle eyebrow ridges. Some people think that this makes Labs more “expressive,” but Golden Retrievers certainly make plenty of adorable (and informative) facial expressions that are just as easy to note and decipher.
Both breeds have a relatively similar athletic build, although some individuals are heavier or thinner than others.
There is plenty of variation in size among both breeds, but most Labrador and Golden Retrievers are big dogs, who weigh between about 50 and 80 pounds or so.
Nevertheless, Labs are a bit larger than Goldens on average; exceptionally large or overweight individuals may approach 90 pounds or more in weight.
Both breeds reach similar heights, but the largest Labs may grow about 1 inch taller than the largest Goldens do.
Labrador Retrievers come in three color variations: black, chocolate and yellow. By contrast, golden labs are, well, gold.
However, Golden Retrievers come in a wide variety of golden shades, ranging from nearly white to strawberry blonde, so they don’t all look alike.
Note that while it won’t matter to pet owners, white fur is considered a fault for Golden Retrievers, according to the AKC breed standard.
The hair length is variable in both breeds, but goldens tend to have moderately long hair, which far exceeds the length of most labs’ coats.
Golden Retrievers also have lots of “feathering” on the neck and shoulders, as well as the tail. Some Golden Retrievers also have significant feathering on their legs and belly.
Both Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers have webbed feet and otter-like tails. Accordingly, both are excellent swimmers – they’re likely among the best of all canines.
Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are both very intelligent dogs, who excel at a wide variety of jobs and roles, including service, police and search-and-rescue work.
But their gentle, affectionate nature also makes them remarkable therapy dogs, who can quickly relieve their owner’s anxiety, stress and depression.
Both breeds are also occasionally used to monitor biological signs in their owners.
For instance, some are used to detect changes in blood sugar for diabetic owners. Once the dog appreciates the drop in blood sugar, he will alert his owner, who can then take the necessary steps.
Golden-Labrador mixes have even been employed in trials designed to determine if dogs can detect cancer in humans.
Because of their high intelligence, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are both very easy to train – trying to draw distinctions between the two with regard to intelligence or trainability is an exercise in futility.
Even first-time dog owners should be able to teach either of these breeds basic obedience, and most are very capable of learning amusing tricks.
Most Labs and Goldens love learning commands and pleasing their owners, so they’ll often approach training sessions with the same enthusiasm and vigor that they do for play time.
Both breeds will bark at odd sounds or unfamiliar visitors, but they aren’t terribly suspicious, and generally make quick friends with anyone they meet.
Don’t select either of these dogs if you want a watchdog – they’d probably greet an intruder with their tennis ball in hopes of an impromptu game of fetch.
Because they are bird dogs, both breeds were bred to have a “soft mouth,” meaning that they typically bite down gently when carrying things. This was important to ensure that these dogs wouldn’t mangle a downed duck while retrieving it.
This trait often makes parents more comfortable with these (and other bird dogs) than Terriers, Rottweilers and other breeds who typically bite down on toys (and prey, when applicable) very hard.
One of the few relatively common distinctions between the two breeds with regard to personality is the level of sensitivity exhibited by the two. There are certainly exceptions and plenty of cross-over, but generally speaking, Golden Retrievers are generally the more sensitive of the two breeds.
Labradors tend to let negative or troubling events “roll off their backs” more readily than Golden Retrievers do. They’re also less likely to withdraw or flee loud or rowdy situations than Labs are.
Don’t misunderstand: Both breeds are generally outgoing and adventurous. But Goldens are generally the more retiring of the two.
Many people view Labrador Retrievers as the more energetic of the two breeds. This may be true, but the difference between the two is subtle at best. Both are high-energy breeds, who will require at least 30 minutes of vigorous play every day.
It is also important to note that both Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers tend to bond strongly with their owners. They will rarely feel completely comfortable when separated from their “pack,” and they require a lot of attention from their owners.
Both breeds have similar average lifespans of between 10 and 12 years, and they are both susceptible to many of the same illnesses and health problems.
Golden Retrievers appear more likely to suffer from skin problems (especially food allergies) than Labs are, and cancer appears to be much more common in Golden Retrievers and Labradors.
Both breeds are very susceptible to joint problems. Hip dysplasia (and to a lesser extent elbow dysplasia), is common in both breeds.
Both of these conditions are caused by malformed joints (and potentially exacerbated by environmental factors), and they can lead to lameness and chronic pain if left untreated.
However, conscientious breeders will usually screen their breeding stock for these conditions, so be sure that you inquire about the health status of any dog’s parents before picking out a specific puppy.
Osteoarthritis is also very common among Golden Retrievers and Labs.
You can help prevent this from occurring, however, by keeping your pet’s weight in the appropriate range and employing a sensible and safe exercise schedule.
It is also wise to prevent your dog from repeatedly jumping great heights (such as into and out of the car).
Labrador Retrievers tend to struggle with obesity more often than Golden Retrievers do, although both breeds are susceptible to the problem.
A genetic anomaly is part of the reason Labs are more likely to gain weight than Goldens. Approximately 12% of all Labrador Retrievers have a genetic mutation in the POMC gene, which increases their food drive and makes them more likely to gain weight than dogs without the mutation.
Fortunately, there are genetic tests available that can detect this mutation. This allows breeders to screen their breeding stock for the mutation. With time, it may be possible to completely eliminate the mutation from the gene pool.
Like most other large breeds (particularly those with deep chests), Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are also susceptible to bloat.
Bloat is a life-threatening medical emergency, which occurs when a dog’s stomach fills with air.
The stomach also twists on its axis in many cases, which traps the air inside the stomach.
Bloat is very painful for dogs, and it can quickly prove fatal. Emergency veterinary care helps to save many dogs, but others will perish, even with high-quality medical care.
Accordingly, it is important to be observant for the symptoms of bloat – including abdominal swelling or pain, unusual body postures, and pacing or panic.
It’s also a good idea to ensure that your dog eats at a reasonable pace and that you do not allow him to exercise for about 20 to 30 minutes following meals (or anytime he drinks a lot of water).
One of these breeds is likely the very best breed for families, and the other one is certainly the runner-up. But we’ll have to leave it to you to decide which one is which. They’re both fantastic breeds, with plenty going for them.
We’ll try to draw a few key distinctions between the two to help inform your decision-making process, but some of these distinctions are incredibly subtle. In truth, most families that would love a Lab would also love a Golden, and vice versa.
Labs and Goldens are among the friendliest breeds in existence, and they are generally trustworthy with children and other dogs. Many of them will even tolerate cats living in the home.
However, Goldens are probably slightly more magnanimous than Labs, so they may be ever-so-slightly better suited for families with lots of kids and pets than Labs are.
Both breeds are clearly family dogs, who do not tolerate being left alone for long periods of time. However, Labs may be slightly better able to deal with your absence than Goldens, so they may be preferable for those who work long hours or travel frequently.
Nevertheless, you’ll still need to give either breed plenty of attention, and you should try to involve them in as many family activities as possible.
While neither of these breeds requires the amount of grooming as Poodles and other high-maintenance breeds do, Golden Retrievers require much more grooming than labs do (Labs don’t need any grooming other than regular baths and nail trimming).
So, be sure you won’t mind visiting the groomer regularly (or learn to how to groom yourself) before selecting the long-locked Golden Retriever.
Golden Retrievers will be harder on your home than Labs will, thanks to their propensity to shed heavily.
However, Labs will still coat your home in shed fur twice a year; so, neither is a great choice for allergy sufferers. Goldens also drool a bit more than Labs do, which may be off-putting to some owners.
Generally speaking, Labs are likely the better option for owners who prefer a tidy home than Goldens are.
Labs are a little more intense and independent than Goldens are, so they may benefit from a little more “serious” playtime than happy-go-lucky Goldens will.
But understand that both breeds require a lot of exercise to keep them happy and help prevent the development of problematic behaviors.
Additionally, while you should always keep your dogs leashed when not in an enclosed space, Labs are more likely to wander off and explore the world than Goldens are, although both dogs prefer to hang out right beside their owners.
Labs and Goldens are both awesome dogs, so, unsurprisingly, they make pretty good mixed-breed mutts when combined.
Lab-Golden mixes generally exhibit a mixture of traits from both parent breeds, but they’ll usually favor one parent or the other. This means you’ll usually end up with a Lab-like mix or a Golden-like mix.
The problem is, it isn’t always easy to tell which breed a given puppy will resemble more closely. But because these breeds are both very similar, you’ll usually be happy with the result.
Unlike purebred Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers, mixes of the two will rarely fetch prices comparable to either breed. In fact, you’ll often be able to obtain a Golden-Lab mix for free or nearly so.
If you are considering getting a Golden Retriever or Labrador Retriever, you may want to consider some of the breeds closely related to the two as well.
Most are quite similar to Labs and Goldens, but they will exhibit subtle differences in personality, appearance and grooming requirements.
Just make sure to research each of these breeds carefully before deciding to add one to your home.
Again, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are very similar dogs – you probably needn’t stress yourself out trying to pick one or the other. They’re both great breeds, and their differences are very minor.
If, after reading the information presented above, neither breed appears to be an obvious choice, you should probably just listen to your gut.
Personally, I’m a bit fonder of Labs than Goldens, but you may favor Goldens over Labs. They’re both awesome dogs, so you really can’t lose.
Does your family count a Golden Retriever or Labrador Retriever among its members? Let our readers know a little about your pet.
Tell us about his personality, habits and health, as well as some of your favorite (and not-so-favorite) things about the breed. Your stories may help others select the perfect option for their family.