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Labrador Retriever vs. Golden Retriever: Which Loyal Companion is Right for You?

Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are two of the most popular dog breeds in the world.

But what are the key differences? Some people are often confused by similar looks and personalities. How do you decide between a labrador retriever versus golden retriever? 

But those who dig a little deeper will discover that the two retriever breeds have as many differences as they do similarities. Both are in the top rankings regarding family dogs and service animals. Yet one is slightly friendlier and more patient than the other. One is more energetic, and one is also more prone to certain illnesses than the other.

Many owners insist that these are among the most beautiful dog breeds in the world – in terms of look and personality. So, which is which? Let’s take a look at these two breeds and their distinct differences. You’ll find that there are in fact clear differences in background, physique, and personality.

Here are 8 factors to consider when you’re weighing up Labrador Retriever versus Golden Retriever

two labrador retriever blond and brown outside labrador retriever versus golden retriever


8 Factors to Consider: Labrador Retriever versus Golden Retriever

1. Isn’t a Golden Retriever Just One Type of Labrador?

No, although some might argue that the only difference is the long hair. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Now, there are apparent similarities, besides their resemblance to each other. But to put that in context, let’s first note their obvious similarities and shared traits of each breed standard:

They are Both Sporting Dogs

This means that they are both used for the purposes of hunting and sport in the modern-day. That said, they are also exceptionally social and make for great family pets, as they seem to get along socially with just about anyone and anything.

They are Both Excellent Retrievers.

It’s kind of in the name and in the history, as noted above. They do not mind water and woodsy terrain, and they are full of energy, happy to go and get whatever is deemed prey.

labrador retriever brown fetch

Both are Highly Intelligent Breeds

Their ability to be trained to retrieve specific objects and animals indicates a strong learning ability – it also accounts for their use as other service dogs such as guide dogs.

2. What Are the Main Differences Between a Labrador Retriever versus Golden Retriever? 

In many respects, the differences start at the beginning, so to speak, with the breeds’ origins and history.  If you’re on the hunt for great family dogs, these differences may subtly influence your decision somewhat, so let’s dig in.

The Labrador Retriever is a Fisherman’s Dog

First off, let’s address a strange inaccuracy: Labrador retrievers are not from the Labrador region, and we’ll get into why that became a false fact in a moment. The dog can be traced back to Newfoundland, Canada, where it accompanied fishermen in their daily work.

The dog would assist their masters with collecting fish and ducks from the water or wetlands. It turns out they are excellent swimmers and have no issue with the cold waters on account of their thick double coats.

two labrador retrievers whtie and brown

English visitors discovered that these water dogs were great workers and superb companions and promptly exported them back to England, falsely reporting them to be from Labrador. And that’s how the breed became known as a Labrador, strangely enough. It is unclear why the English fans believed the dog to be from Labrador.

The Labrador retriever was officially recognized as a breed in the UK in 1903 and the US in 1917 and became known and famous for its love of water (fishermen’s friends, remember?) and ability to retrieve water-borne prey in their soft mouths.

The Golden Retriever was Custom-Bred in Scotland

The modern-day Golden retriever story involves a more intentional, purpose-driven breeding background. Its origins are traced back to 1868.

It is said that a Scottish Lord (Lord Tweedmouth) was keen on breeding a gun dog that combined all the desired traits of the more traditional retriever. These include the Tweed Water Spaniel, the Irish Setter, and the Bloodhound.

This meant that the hunting dog was not gun shy and that it should be able to retrieve prey without damaging it, presumably from the rain-heavy wetlands of the Scottish Highlands. One specific trait to accomplish this was a focus on the mouth.

golden retriever yellow tongue

The need to retrieve prey without causing additional damage accounts for Goldens’ relatively soft mouth. As such, they are surprisingly safe (ish) when playing with kids despite their size.

The breed was officially recognized by the UK Kennel Club around the same time as the Labrador Retriever. They were recognized in 1911 as the Yellow or Golden Retriever and revised in 1920 to Golden Retriever.

In the US, the AKC recognized the breed a bit later, in 1936. After being established in the UK, the dog found its way to America, becoming hugely popular in the mid 20th century.

A boost to the Golden’s status came when President Gerald Ford came to own one while occupying the White House. The dog was regularly featured in the media, and America simply fell in love with the adorable pooch and its friendly nature.

golden retriever yellow tongue side

3. There are Further Differences Between English Labradors and American Labradors

Not to complicate the issue further, but there are also some differences between the English version of the Labrador Retriever and its American cousin. In summary, the English version of the dog is essentially bred from show stock, making it stockier.

The American version comes more specifically from working dog descent. This makes them leaner, more agile, and noticeably sleeker, especially in the chest. The differences in the show and working dog breeding stock are far less notable when it comes to Golden Retrievers.

4. Personality Profiles

Much like their appearance, these dogs are relatively similar in temperament. They are known for being easy-going, very fun-loving, and very welcoming of people, kids, and even other pets.

They are, in summary, the perfect and most popular family dog in many parts of the world.

Golden Retrievers are More Patient

If there was a nitpicker aspect to hedging between these two wonderful breeds, it might be argued that Golden retrievers show more patience and kindness.

golden retriever yellow smile

Some insist that this makes them better for socialization with young children. These friendly dogs seem to have a more gentle approach, and are less likely to react to accidental oopsie behavior from young kids that other dogs might take for aggression.

Labradors May Clinch the High Energy Award

On the other hand, a Lab retriever’s boundless energy may be interpreted as having slightly less patience for some slowpoke individuals. For example, they will insist on playing games and running on their walks. It is critical that they have an active lifestyle.

Both dogs need sufficient space and exercise – experts recommend at least an hour a day. They will both enjoy long walks and playing out in the park, forest or yard.

labrador retriever white leaves

5. Differences in Appearance, Color, and Coat Types

Labs and Goldens are both classified as medium-sized dogs. Labradors, on average, are fractionally taller and heavier, but not many people will notice these slight differences casually. There really is an average difference of about an inch or so and not more than five pounds in it at most.

Goldens vs. Labs: The basic rundown.

 Golden RetrieverLabrador Retriever
Weight: 55 to 75 lbs55 to 80 lbs
Height:21” to 24 “21.5” to 24.5”
Length:22” to 25 “22.5” to 25.5”

It’s worth noting that in both breeds, males are generally larger than females.

Labradors Come in Many Colors

Lab retrievers can be found in the customary yellow coat color (the notorious color that causes confusion with Goldens), chocolate, and black. There are also red Labs, but they aren’t typical as breeders don’t acknowledge them as purebred Labs.

It has a double coat which means one dense undercoat and one outer coat, which helps with all the galavanting in icy water.

While both dogs can withstand cool waters, the more tightly packed coat of the Lab suggests that it may actually be resistant to ice – Canada gets cold, after all.

labrador retriever brown fetch

There is some confusion around yellow Labs, which are sometimes incorrectly called Golden Labradors. At least, it is an incorrect term as far as breeders are concerned. Most casual owners aren’t bothered by the distinction, though. So, when you’re around kennel club members, avoid the term “Golden Lab” – you may incite a riot. 

Golden Retrievers are Only Golden

Goldens have yellow (or golden) coats. They do come in various shades of that color, though. Golden coats can change color in old age, either turning lighter or darker. Lab coats mostly remain the color of youth.

They also have an under and outer skin, but the outer layer is waivier and they have longer coats. Combined with the sleeker body of the Golden, this gives the dog a more defined contour. Regular brushing is important to keep them healthy dogs.

golden retriever running

The Tails of the Tape: Goldens vs Labs

One potentially easy way to tell a Golden and a Yellow Lab apart is the tail. As Lab hairs are generally shorter, the tail tends to be less bushy and even pointier. By contrast, a Golden’s tail reflects the longer, wispier hair of its coat and can be bushier or even have longer strands of blond hair flowing from it.

Retrievers and Shedding

There are some large dogs that don’t shed. The Golden and the Lab are not among them. If you decide to adopt one of these breeds, learn to love grooming and shedding. Both breeds shed all year round.

If you prefer to keep your home hair-free, you will need to be prepared to vacuum and brush regularly – even daily. Remember that undercoats also need an excellent rake comb from time to time.

The best suggestion is to invest in good grooming brushes. If you want to take advantage of the doggy playtime (your dog won’t object), try these novel deshedding gloves. You can combine some physical playtime with practical de-shedding.

labrador retriever blond

Does one require less grooming than the other? The difference is so marginal as to be meaningless, but Labs may get away with slightly less grooming. And if that is the case, it only applies in some parts of the year, depending on where you live.

A Lab will require a brush at least once a week. Anything less than three times a week for a Golden will create hairy problems for your home and a tangly mess for your pup.

Note: Even following all these guidelines, you’ll need to deal with hair wherever your dog likes to sit or move around. Think carpets, sofas, and clothes. It’s just a retriever owner’s life.

6. Keeping Retrievers (Relatively) Clean

These are active and playful dogs. When retrievers are outside, they’re likely to find things to roll in, wade in, and generally cover themselves in when they’re outside. On the upside, their love of water makes it easy to get them into a tub, so bathing may not be a huge issue.

It’s a good idea to get these dogs used to some sort of cleaning routine, even when they are young. The younger the pup gets used to baths and grooming, the easier they are to manage as they get older.

golden retriever puppies

As a matter of course, a bath every four weeks or so should suffice for a Golden or Lab. In the case of the Golden especially, using a good doggy shampoo will bring out those luxurious sheens and colors.

As mentioned, combining grooming time with play will be most welcome, so it shouldn’t be too much of a hassle to get doggo to participate enthusiastically. You may want to consider talking to a local professional groomer for a regular (quarterly, perhaps) trim and clean, especially during the peak shedding season.

7. Labradors, Goldens, and Trainability

As mentioned, these dogs are highly intelligent. As a result, they are highly trainable as well. Sure, they have a history of hunting and retrieving, but they can also be easily trained to fit in with a family’s particular habits and needs.

They are also prime candidates as support animals. You will regularly see Labs and Goldens serve as seeing-eye dogs and emergency services canines.

Bear in mind, though, that they are dogs that have high energy levels and enjoy lots of attention. So they are not ideal pet choices if you have a busy schedule and they need to spend a lot of time on their own. Also, a large living area or outdoor element to your home – a big yard, for example – will benefit their mental wellbeing.

golden retriever in field

Of the two, the Golden is a medium-energy dog and probably more capable of adapting to your lifestyle. A Lab tends to be more high-energy or at least demanding of activity. If you live in an apartment and spend most of the day away at work, though, a Lab or Golden may not be the ideal choice for you.

Leaving these dogs alone for too long may result in behavioral issues like destructive chewing or other unwanted behavior. In that regard, they also love a good chew toy to get rid of excess energy.

You might enjoy reading my article on the golden retriever french bulldog mix dog breed.

8. Health Problems and Lifespan

Labs and Goldens enjoy relatively long lives, provided they remain well cared for and healthy. Unfortunately, every breed has some predispositions towards specific health issues.

It is not a guarantee that your Lab or Golden will inevitably suffer from them. It’s simply a statistical note that if these breeds do suffer from an affliction, the chances are that it may be one of these:

Labrador Life and Health Concerns

Statistically, Labradors live an average of 10 to 14 years. Many of the breed’s predisposed illnesses can be identified through genetic testing and managed somewhat.

labrador retriever blond in leaves

Labs suffer from a gene that predisposes them to obesity. As they get older, they may pick up weight and tend to eat more unless properly managed. This genetic mutation isn’t commonly found in other breeds.


This is a condition that affects the eyelids. In essence, the lid rolls inward and causes pain and irritation of the eye.

Laryngeal Paralysis

This is a strange affliction that causes the vocal muscles of the dog to atrophy in a sense. It can also cause labored breathing and impact the vocalizing of the dog’s barking.

Dysplasia of the Elbows and Knees

Dysplasia doesn’t directly affect a dog’s longevity, but it is painful and uncomfortable and makes the dog resist too much movement. The bones of the elbows and knees do not fit together perfectly, affecting motion and causing stiffness or even partial paralysis. Sadly, this condition is genetic. 

labrador retriever blond on grass

Labs are more prone to lymphoma than most other breeds. In some studies, neutering is believed to increase the chance of cancer in some dogs slightly. Note that there are conflicting studies or differently-interpreted findings on this subject and research is ongoing. Notably, Golden Retrievers are one of the breeds in which some types of cancers are more common .

Exercise-Induced Collapse

A notable condition that has come under research in recent decades, exercise-induced collapse occurs after a period of high energy exercise and over-excitement. The dog will typically lose coordination or eventually simply lose strength in its back legs.

While most dogs appear otherwise unaffected and do recover after a while, episodes with more serious consequences have been recorded. In very few isolated cases, the dog in question succumbed to what appeared to be the condition.

PRA and Other Eye Problems

Progressive retinal atrophy can afflict Labs. An adult Lab can be tested for it, and breeders often do tests before breeding from the specimen. Labs also suffer from cataracts sometimes, and even glaucoma, which eventually causes blindness. 

Golden Retriever Life and Health

Statistically speaking, Goldens live 10-12 years, so slightly shorter than Labs. Their particular predispositions are a bit different from Labs, though they share some commonalities:


Cancer is one of the major illnesses affecting Golden retrievers. As with labs, some studies suggest that neutering plays a role in increasing the likelihood of cancers in these dogs. That said, an unusually high percentage of Goldens (around 38%) develop some form of cancer at some point in their lives.


Sadly for our Goldens, they seem more susceptible to allergies and irritations of the skin, like rashes and infections. Hot spots and flaky skin can occur, and lesions can become infected and possibly lead to more serious issues. So don’t ignore allergies and try to identify the causes.

Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia

Similar to Labs, dysplasia can cause painful stiffness and lameness, especially in older dogs. Weight management and vet advice around neutering can help to some degree.

golden retriever lying in field
Heart disease

A particular condition called subvalvular aortic stenosis seems to be inherited in the bloodlines of Goldens. It is a congenital disability and affects the heart and blood flow. The most common management tool for this condition is the prescription of beta-blockers.

Eye problems

Aside from the same PRA that affects Labs, Goldens, in particular, can develop pigmentary uveitis. This is an inflammatory condition that is likely caused by a number of sub-conditions. In many cases, the resulting inflammation can be treated or at least managed. Some dogs may eventually experience blindness.

golden retriever bed toy

Fun Facts About Labs and Goldens

It’s important to note that none of these possible health conditions are guaranteed to afflict your dog. And there is much more to life than fearing illness. So let’s round off our look at Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers with incredible and delightful fun facts about these wonderful dog breeds.

Labrador Retrievers: Did You Know…

  1. Labs are the most popular breed for guide dog work, as well as as therapy dogs, for tracking, and even search and rescue.
  2. Endal the Labrador was awarded the bravery medal by the People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals in 2002. Edal dragged his unconscious disabled owner into a safe position, covered him with a blanket, and even got the cellphone.
  3. Labs are the most popular family breed in both the US and the UK.
  4. Labradors have webbed toes! Are they part fish? No, but it does mean they swim really well. 
  5. We mentioned the colors of Labradors – yellow, chocolate, and black. But did you know that Labs of different colors can even be found in the same litter?
golden retriever pale

Golden Retrievers: Did You Know…

  1. Golden Retrievers are not far behind the popularity stakes – they rate in the top three in the US and UK consistently.
  2. How amenable are Goldens to training? Consider this: Golden retrievers won the first three American Kennel Club Obedience Championships.
  3. Goldens like to dock jump. Dock jumping is a sport in which dogs leap from docks, competing for height and distance. It should come as no surprise, given the Golden’s love of water.

The Last Word on Golden Retriever vs Labrador Retriever

The fact of the matter is that, as a companion, either of these superb breeds is terrific. There is little doubt that a Lab or Golden will bring love and light to your home, whether you are alone or with a family, younger or older.

You’ll likely find that whenever you encounter one of these pooches, you’ll fall in love with their loving eyes, enthusiastic and infectious happiness, and willingness to play.

Which do you prefer? Is it even worth trying to decide? Drop us a comment with your thoughts.

labrador retriever blond

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