Golden Retriever or German Shepherd: Which is the Better Dog?

Often when people think of a Golden Retriever, they think of a family dog. In turn, a German Shepherd is usually associated with a police or guard dog. So it might be surprising for some to learn that in North America, the second most popular dog is the German Shepherd. The Golden Retriever is actually at number three. 

But, being more popular does not mean better, so it’s natural to wonder which is the better dog, the Golden Retriever or German Shepherd? 

Both the Golden Retriever and German Shepherd are active, intelligent, and devoted family dogs. Each breed differs in personality, physical attributes, and the tasks they were bred to do. The better dog depends on which traits best align with an owner’s lifestyle, purpose, and personal preferences. 

The German Shepherd and Golden Retriever, while sharing some similarities, are distinctly unique dogs. Each dog was bred for different purposes and differ in some key areas, impacting their suitability for a specific family lifestyle. 

Regardless of a person’s choice, they can rest assured they’re getting an intelligent and highly trainable dog. As you’ll discover, both the Golden Retriever and German Shepherd are among the most intelligent and easiest to train dogs. Each dog’s specific traits – especially its temperament and breeding purpose – will largely determine how well each fits into a household.

So, let’s take a more in-depth look at how the Golden Retriever and German Shepherd stack up in each of the main areas. 

Comparing the Traits

Breeding Purpose (Group)SportingHerding
PersonalityFriendly, intelligent, active, playfulIntelligent, confident, courageous, protective
Height23-24 inches (male), 21.5-22.5 inches (female)24-26 inches (male), 22-24 inches (female)
Weight65-75 pounds (male), 55-65 pounds (female)65-90 pounds (male), 50-70 pounds (female)
Good With KidsYesYes
Good With Other PetsYesWith supervision
Activity LevelHighAverage – regular exercise
BarkingWhen necessaryMedium
ColorsGolden, Dark Golden (not red), Light Golden (cream),  Varied: Sable, Black, Silver, Grey, Red, White, and Brown (or a mix of these)
CoatLong – double coat, softMedium – double coat, course
SheddingSeasonal (blow coats twice per year)Seasonal (blow coats twice per year)
BrushingWeekly, except for twice-yearly seasonal sheds, then dailyWeekly, except for twice-yearly seasonal sheds, then daily
TrainabilityEager to please, highly intelligent, easy to trainEager to please, highly intelligent, easy to train
Life Span10-12 years12-14 years
Health IssuesHighVery High
Source: American Kennel Club

Breeding Purpose (Group)

Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever belongs to the sporting group of dogs. Sporting dogs were bred to accompanying sportspeople to retrieve waterfowl or quarry. Of the four types of sporting dogs, the Golden Retriever belongs to the retrievers. Golden Retrievers have a water repellent double coat that is well-suited to water-based activities.

Another hallmark of the retrievers is their “soft” mouths. That gentle trait was developed to ensure downed waterfowl were picked up softly and not damaged during retrieving activities. As such, owners will find Golden’s often love to carry things in their mouth – it’s one of their lovable traits.

Golden Retrievers were bred to have soft mouths so as not to damage waterfowl when retrieving.

Active and intelligent, the Golden Retriever is at home in the outdoors and enjoys the water. Golden Retrievers are perfect companions on hikes, swims, and runs. However, their dynamic nature requires an owner who can match its need for physical and mental stimulation.

German Shepherd

German Shepherds belong to the herding group of dogs. Herding dogs were bred to gather, protect and control the movement of livestock. German Shepherds are natural guardians as a result and are protective of their owners and household. Intelligence and hard work are hallmarks of the herding group. The German Shepherd is a working dog and highly active. Choosing this breed means mental and physical exercise is a must, and the dogs make great companions for active households.

Owner Consideration: Herding dogs such as the German Shepherd have a strong instinct to herd and often gently herd their owners, especially children and other pets. This herding instinct will need to be channeled into other focused activities through training to ensure the herding instinct does not become problematic, e.g., nipping ankles. In turn, Golden Retrievers have a strong instinct to carry things in their mouths. Training that aligns with that nature can help teach other commands, e.g., teaching leave-it, drop it, and let go commands while playing fetch or tug-of-war.


Golden Retriever 

The Golden Retriever is a widely popular dog in North America and has ranked third for a decade or more. The American and Canadian Kennel Clubs have the Golden ranked in third place as the most popular dogs. The Golden’s loving, playful and tolerant nature has made them an excellent choice for families for years. 

German Shepherd

The German Shepherd is the second most popular dog in North America, just behind the Labrador Retriever. In Canada, this spot has been held since 1999, similar to the Golden Retriever. Like the Golden, the intelligent German Shepherd makes a great family dog.  

Owner Consideration: Both the Golden Retriever and German Shepherd are extremely popular dogs, as evidenced by holding down the 2nd and 3rd most popular dog rankings for years. Their high intelligence and trainability make them a great addition to any household. If these dogs weren’t so well-suited to any home, then it’s unlikely they would have held these top rankings for the past 15 years and counting. 


Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever is a highly intelligent, friendly, and trustworthy companion. Golden’s are typically very kind and do well with households that have children or other pets. The Golden is not known to be aggressive but instead tends to share their affection with almost anyone willing to do so. Golden Retrievers are very playful and are known to take their puppylike behavior well into adulthood. The Golden Retriever has a cheerful, sometimes goofy attitude and possesses a genuine love for life and people.  

German Shepherd

Like the Golden Retriever, the German Shepherd is an extremely smart dog. The German Shepherd has a steady personality and is a very loyal and courageous breed. The Shepherd has a natural protective instinct of both its family and household, making them good protection dogs. With its noble character and steadfast personality, there is little wonder why this natural guardian is such a popular choice among families. 

Steady, smart, and independent are just some of the traits of the German Shepherd. Notice the Golden on the right being attentive and focused on the teacher!

Owner Considerations: While both the Golden Retriever and German Shepherd make great family dogs, they have different temperaments. Owners looking for a dog that possesses a well-ingrained protective instinct and a more steady or even personality might be better suited to the German Shepherd. Golden’s are typically not known as a protective or a one-person dog but instead possess a more playful, affectionate, and lively personality. The German Shepherd can maintain a certain aloofness and is more often very discriminating of who they form a friendship with. Golden’s, in turn, usually love everyone. 

If you’re interested in a protection dog and why the Golden Retriever is not the best choice, then check out this article:

Lover or Fighter: Are Golden Retrievers Good Guard Dogs?


Golden Retriever

Female Golden Retrievers weigh 55 to 65 pounds and average 21.5 to 22.5 inches in height. Males outweigh their female counterparts by upwards of 10 lbs with a range of 65 to 75 pounds and stand slightly larger at 23 to 24 inches. Golden Retrievers are considered medium to large dogs. The Golden Retriever’s size makes them well-suited to both an indoor dog and is ideal for outdoor activities. 

German Shepherd

German Shepherds are large dogs. Female Shepherds weigh in the range of 50-70 pounds and males from 65 to 90 pounds. Both female and male German Shepherd can stand almost two inches taller than their Golden counterparts. 

The female German Shepherd stands 22 to 24 inches, whereas males stand 24 to 26 inches. German Shepherds are very muscular and powerful dogs as well, more so than the Golden. Their size and power make the German Shepherd well suited to protection or guard dogs, and they are often used in the police or military. 

Owner Consideration: Golden Retrievers are a slightly smaller and less muscular dog than the German Shepherd. While a female German Shepherd can be smaller than a larger Golden Retriever, they are still a powerful dog. Owners who prefer a smaller, less intimidating dog may find the Golden Retriever better suited to their family. Owners looking for a family companion that can also double as a protector might instead want to consider the German Shepherd.

Good With Kids and Other Pets

Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever is your quintessential family dog. Playful, fun-loving, and kind. The gentle and friendly Golden gets along well with kids and pets alike. The breed is not a natural guardian, and aggressiveness or hostility is not typical of the breed. Instead, its tolerance and friendliness towards people and other animals are what the Golden Retriever is known for. As such, the Golden Retriever is an excellent addition for households with children or other pets such as other dogs or cats. 

German Shepherd 

German Shepherds are highly loyal, noble, and courageous dogs. The Shepherd is a natural guardian and is highly protective of its household, and gets along well with children. German Shepherds were bred to herd and control other animals and may need supervision with other children and smaller pets. Because German Shepherds are also a more steady or aloof personality, they tend to be more of a one-person dog, lending themselves well to that guardian role. 

Some people are often surprised to learn that German Shepherds are actually herding dogs.

Owner Considerations. Households looking for an affectionate, playful, but not naturally protective dog might consider the Golden Retriever. The Golden Retriever’s kind, gentle and tolerant nature and soft mouth lend themselves well to a household with children, dogs, and cats. In turn, homes looking for a fiercely loyal and protective dog might consider the noble German Shepherd. The German Shepherd can possess a strong herding drive and may require more supervision with other pets and children. The Golden has a softer mouth than the Shepherd, which can become nippy if the herding drive is not controlled. 

Planning on adding a cat to the mix with a Golden Retriever, and you are wondering if they will get along? Then check out this article:

Do Golden Retrievers Get Along with Cats? (Plus a Training Guide)

Activity Level

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are highly active dogs. The Golden requires daily physical and mental exercise. An under-exercised Golden Retriever may direct that high energy into mischievous activities if not adequately stimulated mentally and physically. Golden Retrievers are sporting dogs and were bred to retrieve waterfowl and are particularly suited to the great outdoors. Swimming, running and retrieving frisbees, sticks, or balls are just a few of a Golden’s favorite activities. The energetic Golden aligns well with families or individuals who are active and are looking for a companion on swims, runs, or hikes. 

German Shepherd 

While German Shepherds are not as active as Golden Retrievers, they are still highly active dogs that require regular exercise to keep them healthy and stimulated. Like the Golden, an under-exercised and under-stimulated Shepherd will direct that energy into undesirable behaviors. German Shepherds are working dogs that do best in active households and make great companions on runs, hikes, and long walks. 

Owner Consideration: Physical and mental stimulation are a must for those who add either one of these dogs to their family. Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds do well in canine sporting activities like rally, dock diving, and agility. Golden Retrievers are typically higher energy and more active dogs than German Shepherds, yet neither dog is suited to a couch potato lifestyle. Only active families need to apply. 


Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers typically bark for a reason. The breed is not known for incessant barking or barking unnecessarily. Often a Golden barks when curious about something, such as watching people outside the window or responding to another dog barking in the neighborhood. 

German Shepherd 

In contrast, German Shepherds can bark more than Goldens, especially if not thoroughly exercised and bored. The German Shepherd is a very protective dog, and that trait can translate into barking more. As a natural guardian, the German Shepherd may sound a warning at anything it deems as encroaching upon its household and family. 

Owner Consideration: While the German Shepherd may bark more regularly than the Golden Retriever, both dogs are top-tier intelligent. Those smarts mean that owners can control unwanted and incessant barking with early and consistent training. Golden’s typically do not bark without reason, and barking is often directed at something that catches their attention. In contrast, German Shepherds may bark more often due to their protective instinct. Both dog breeds are highly intelligent and active, and if not physically and mentally stimulated, they may bark due to boredom.


Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever color is mostly gold, hence its name, and those colors can range from dark to light Golden. The dark Golden’s are often a coppery Gold but should not be red or mahogany. Cream-colored or whitish Golden Retrievers are also typical, and they are commonly referred to as English Golden Retrievers.

Some breeding clubs, such as the AKC, do not recognize the cream-colored variety. Others, such as the Canadian and UK Kennel Clubs (CKC and UKC), are more inclusive and accept more cream-colored dogs up to a coppery Gold.

These “Golden” Retrievers are cream colored. The AKC would frown on this coloring, but the CKC and UKC would allow them.

German Shepherd 

German Shepherds have a much broader color palette. German Shepherds run the spectrum from the most common sable to black, white, greyish, silver, and red to a mix of those colors. Typically the dark colors, or a combination of them, are the most common in the German Shepherd.  

Owner Consideration: Each of the Golden Retriever and German Shepherd has various colors to choose from. That said, the German Shepherd has more variety over a greater range of colors. Suppose you have already decided on a specific breed. In that case, choosing a color is dependent on researching breeders that cater to your choice. So, if you want a silver or whitish German Shepherd, you need to find a breeder of such dogs. Or, if you’re looking for an English Golden Retriever with its paler or whitish coat, then again, research breeders that cater to that coloring. 

Coat Including Shedding and Brushing

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers have a double coat, and it is typically long. The fur is dense and water repellent and includes a good undercoat. Goldens are seasonal shedders. Meaning they do regularly shed throughout the year and do require weekly brushing. However, they typically “blow” their coats twice per year – spring and fall – and require daily brushing during those times. 

German Shepherd 

German Shepherds, like the Golden, have a double coat. Their coat is shorter, aa medium length, and the fur is typically more coarse. Like the Golden, they also experience seasonal sheds where they blow their coats twice per year. Similarly, weekly brushing is required during normal sheds and then daily or a few times per week during their seasonal sheds. 

Owner Consideration: Both the German Shepherd and Golden Retriever possess double coats and undergo seasonal sheds. While the Golden’s coat is longer and may require a little more brushing during its seasonal sheds, both dogs will require weekly brushing throughout the year. So, be prepared for hair in the house and regularly brushing whichever dog you choose. 


Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are no dummies. Golden Retrievers rank in the top tier of dog smarts. According to rankings by canine researcher Stanely Cohen, top-tier dogs learn commands in 5 repetitions and are obedient 95% of the time. Golden Retrievers, based on Cohen’s research, are the 4th most intelligent dog breed. 

German Shepherd

Not to be outdone, the German Shepherd is also in the top tier of dog intelligence. According to Cohen’s research, German Shepherds are the 3rd most intelligent dog, so they edge out the Golden Retriever. Only the Border Collie and Poodle are smarter than the German Shepherd.

Owner Consideration: why is intelligence such a desirable trait in a dog? Because it makes training so much easier. German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers are not small, unenergetic dogs, and each can be prone to unwanted behaviors if not taught to manage those. But fear not. Their high-level smarts and obedience make teaching these canine pupils a relatively easy and fun task, provided owners do their part.


Golden Retrievers

As discussed in the previous sections, Golden Retrievers are among the most intelligent dogs, and those smarts make training an easier task. Combine those high smarts with the breed’s eagerness to please and a high food drive, and you have a highly trainable dog. That is the Golden Retriever.

German Shepherd

German Shepherds are super intelligent dogs as well and highly trainable. Yes, the German Shepherd is also obedient and eager to please, just like the Golden Retriever. As a whole, these traits make the German Shepherd an easy-to-train dog.

The German Shepherd’s high trainability, combined with its courage, power, and protective nature, is why these dogs are routinely used as canine cops in police departments and soldiers in the military. 

Owner Consideration: if you’re looking for an easy-to-train dog, then look no further than either the Golden Retriever or German Shepherd. Both dogs benefit from positive reward-based training. Each dog is easy to train and possesses high levels of obedience. Because of their protective nature, owners must train their German Shepherds to be well adjusted and not aggressive. In turn, the Golden’s energy and “hyper” playfulness need to be channeled appropriately through training as well.

If you are curious to what is the best training method for your Golden Retriever (and this would apply to German Shepherds as well), then check out this article:

Dog Training Methods: Which One is Best for Golden Retrievers

Life Span and Health Issues

Golden Retriever

The Golden Retriever lives 10-12 years. Common health issues can range from skin allergies and thyroid issues to more severe hip and elbow dysplasia, eye issues, and cancer. Cancer is the leading cause of death in senior Golden Retrievers. 

German Shepherd 

The lifespan for the German Shepherd is slightly longer at 12-14 years. While they suffer from many of the same health issues as the Golden Retriever, they are especially prone to hip problems. 

German Shepherds are high on the list of dog breeds with health problems. Pet insurance may be a good idea if you choose this breed.

Owner Consideration: Both the Golden Retriever and German Shepherd rank high to very high in health problems. Interestingly, according to an article in Mercury News, the German Shepherd ranks higher in health issues than the Golden Retriever. The Golden ranks fourth, and the German Shepherd ranks number two. While other sources rank each differently, most have the German Shepherd slightly higher in the frequency of health issues. Health problems can be costly, and owners should consider pet insurance if getting either of these breeds. According to ValuePenguin, the average price for pet insurance for a Golden Retriever is $40 per month. For German Shepherds, it’s $34. 

If you are interested in finding out what are the most severe and costly health issues in Golden Retrievers, then give this article a read:

The Most Serious and Costly Health Issues in Golden Retrievers

Final Thoughts 

Golden Retrievers or German Shepherds, which is the better dog? That depends entirely on what purpose your dog will fill and its suitability to your lifestyle. In a general sense, all dogs, regardless of breed, are excellent in their own right, and each has terrific traits. 

What determines whether a dog is “better” comes down to how well it aligns with a household’s lifestyle. There are no better dogs, only better fits.

For example, someone who is away and is not active would do better with a breed that does not require much exercise and does better alone. In turn, someone who is physically active and wants a companion to join them on runs and hikes would be better suited to an active dog breed. 

The Golden Retriever and German Shepherd are excellent family dogs, top-tier intelligent, and easy to train. Each is a larger dog, and both are active, so they are well-suited to families that can cater to their physical and mental needs. The Golden is generally considered a more active dog and will require more exercise than a German Shepherd. 

Temperament is the most significant difference between these two breeds. It’s this distinction that might tip the scales for a household to consider one dog over the other. 

The Golden Retriever is more of a family dog in the traditional sense. Meaning, the Golden is not known to be a one-person dog but is friendly with everyone and prefers to share its affection. The Golden Retriever is the epitome of a warm and outgoing personality. Golden Retrievers are valued for their high sociability level towards people, other pets, children, and their kind and tolerant nature.

In contrast, the German Shepherd is highly loyal and devoted to its family. However, the German Shepherd is more discerning about the relationships it forms. The German Shepherd can be more standoffish with others, especially strangers, and it may take some time to warm up to people outside its family.

Germans Shepherds tend to be more of a one-person or a one-family dog as a result. The German Shepherd is a natural guardian and protective of its household, making it well-suited as a protection dog, something the Golden Retriever is not noted for. 

So, ultimately it comes down to what role the dog will fit in your life and which dog best aligns with that purpose. Each is an excellent fit for a family.

Goldens may be more suited to a family with other pets or to a family looking for a playful, active dog that is incredibly gentle and tolerant.

In contrast, other families might be more inclined to gravitate to a slightly more aloof, steadfast, and independent German Shepherd that is fiercely loyal and will protect and guard their home and family. 

Whichever you choose, rest assure you’re getting an active, intelligent, versatile dog that will make a loving companion to any home. Take some time to choose the dog that best aligns with your lifestyle and purpose. And remember, there are no “better” dogs, only better fits.

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