It’s not uncommon when a prospective dog owner is in the market for a “Retriever” that they will inevitably compare the Golden and Labrador Retrievers. Both breeds share many similarities, and each breed has its pros and cons.
It’s normal to wonder then; which is better, the Golden or Labrador Retriever?
Both the Golden and Labrador Retriever are intelligent, friendly, and lovable dog breeds. These dogs share a common ancestry and many similar traits. Determining the better dog is highly subjective and depends solely on which breed characteristics best fit a person’s lifestyle and personal preference.
The Golden and Labrador Retrievers are sporting dogs and were bred to retrieve waterfowl. They’re friendly, loyal, and make great family dogs. Each is energetic, playful, and easily trainable. Each dog is a popular choice among families. But, unless you have already made up your mind, it can be tricky or challenging to decide between these two dogs.
However, the decision can become a more straightforward process if prospective owners understand each breed’s characteristics—both the similarities and differences. Understanding each breed’s traits can help a protective owner determine which dog best complements their unique lifestyle and which traits may be deal-breakers.
Comparing the Traits of the Golden and Labrador Retriever
|TRAITS||GOLDEN RETRIEVER||LABRADOR RETRIEVER|
|Personality||Friendly, intelligent, active||Friendly, intelligent, active|
|Height||23-24 inches (male), 21.5-22.5 inches (female)||22.5-24.5 inches (male), 21.5-23.5 inches (female)|
|Weight||65-75 pounds (male), 55-65 pounds (female)||65-80 pounds (male), 55-70 pounds (female)|
|Good with kids||Yes||Yes|
|Good with other dogs||Yes||Mostly|
|Activity Level||High, need lots of exercise||High, need lots of exercise|
|Barking||Not without reason||Medium|
|Colors||Golden, Dark Golden (not red), Light Golden, Cream||Yellow, Black, Chocolate|
|Shedding||Seasonal (blow coats twice per year)||Regular|
|Brushing||Weekly, except for twice-yearly seasonal sheds, then daily||Weekly|
|Trainability||Eager to please, highly intelligent||Eager to please, highly intelligent|
|Life Span||10-12 years||10-12 years|
According to the American Kennel Club, the Golden Retriever is the 3rd most popular dog breed in America and has held the number three spot since 2013.
Similarly, the Canadian Kennel Club ranks the Golden Retriever in the same number 3 position, and it has held that position since 1999. So, in North America, the Golden Retriever proudly takes the bronze medal in the popularity competition.
The friendly Labrador Retriever has held the number one spot as America’s most popular dog since 2013 (and long before that as well). The Lab is also the most popular dog in Canada and has held that spot for the past 25 years, making it the most popular dog in North America.
The Winner: The labrador Retriever. The Lab is the more popular dog holding the #1 spot for years. The Lab is also the most popular dog in the world. If popularity is a factor in your decision, then this is a clear win for the Lab.
The Golden Retriever is a highly intelligent, friendly, and trustworthy companion. They are few dogs that are as well-suited to families as the Golden Retriever. Although the Golden is very easy-going, it is a high-energy dog and requires plenty of activity.
Goldens are best suited to active households who can meet their exercise needs. Golden Retrievers are very playful and are known to take their puppylike behavior well into adulthood.
Labrador Retrievers are friendly, outgoing, and smart dogs. Much like the Golden Retriever, they make great family dogs and bond closely with their family.
And like the Golden Retriever, the Lab is high energy. Therefore, it requires an active household to provide the necessary exercise to keep the Lab mentally and physically stimulated.
The Winner: a tie. Both dogs are great additions to any family. Loving, loyal, friendly, and active. Good with kids and strongly bonded with their families. Few dog breeds can rival the friendly Golden and Labrador Retrievers as family-friendly dogs. So it is not surprising that these two cousins continually rank in the top three most popular North American dogs.
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.
Labrador Retrievers are similar in size to their Golden cousins. However, labs can weigh upwards of five pounds more at the top end, with female Labs ranging from 55-70 pounds and males from 65 to 80 pounds.
Female labs can stand an inch taller than their Golden counterparts. In contrast, male Labs only stand a maximum half-inch taller than their Golden cousins. The female Lab stands 21.5 to 23.5 inches. Males stand 22.5 to 24.5 inches.
The Winner: a tie. Both the Labrador and Golden Retrievers are similar in size – both weight and height. While male and female labs can be slightly larger, the difference is negligible, with weight and height similar in both breeds. Therefore, both dogs are considered medium to large breeds depending on individual size and gender differences.
Good with Kids and Other Dogs
The Golden Retriever is renowned for its suitability to families. The gentle and friendly Golden has a tolerant and patient disposition and does well with both kids and pets alike. Easy-going is a phrase that is well suited to the majestic Golden.
Again, much like their Golden cousin’s Labs make great family dogs and socialize well with humans and other animals alike. However, the AKC notes on their breed comparison table that Labradors require supervision with other dogs. I suspect that has to do with their exuberant personalities, and they may get jealous of other dogs once bonded to their humans.
The Winner: the Golden Retriever. While both dogs are great with families, including kids, the Labrador Retriever can require a bit more supervision with other dogs, according to the AKC. In contrast, the Golden Retriever is known to get along with everyone, including adults, kids, dogs, and cats.
Golden Retrievers are sporting dogs and were bred to retrieve waterfowl. The Golden is a highly active dog that is particularly suited to the great outdoors. Swimming, running, and retrieving are Golden’s favorite activities, and the breed aligns well with families or individuals who are active.
It’s like looking in a mirror at times. But, again, the Labrador is very similar in activity levels to the Golden Retriever.
The Winner: A tie. Both the Lab and Golden are sporting dogs bred to accompany their human sportspeople to retrieve waterfowl. Highly active and well suited to the water, they love to swim, retrieve and run. Exercise and activity are a must when adding either one of these dogs to a family.
If you’re looking for some activities to keep your Golden Retriever both mentally and physically engaged, then check out this article:
According to the AKC, the Golden Retriever only barks when necessary, and I suspect this is consistent with what most Golden owners would report, including our own Golden. Rarely does a Golden Retriever bark for no reason.
Common situations in which a Golden may bark can range from someone being at the door to watching a person or cat through the window or at a noise that may have startled them. The common thread – there is a reason for their barking.
Labs can bark more incessantly, especially if not thoroughly exercised. That pent-up energy needs to be exhausted in physically and mentally stimulating ways. Labs generally don’t bark a lot but can bark more than their Golden cousins and often don’t need a reason.
The Winner: The Golden Retriever. Golden’s are not known to be barkers and generally do not bark without reason. Labs are medium barkers, and while not excessive, they do bark more than the Golden.
The Golden Retriever color is mostly Gold, hence its name. The Golden Retriever comes in dark Golden, Golden, and Light Golden. The dark Golden’s are often a coppery Gold but should not be red or mahogany.
However, cream-colored Golden Retrievers are also typical, commonly referred to as English Golden Retrievers. Some breeding clubs, such as the AKC, do not recognize the cream-colored variety; however, the Canadian and UK Kennel Clubs are more inclusive and accept more cream-colored dogs up to a coppery Gold.
Labrador Retrievers have a broader color palette and come in black, yellow, or chocolate. In addition, yellow labs can range from a darker yellow to a paler/cream color.
The Winner: a tie. Color preference is a highly subject thing and entirely personal. Moreover, color doesn’t make one dog better or worse, just a different shade. So while Golden runs the spectrum of pale and light gold to dark gold, the Lab has at least three distinct colors: black, yellow, and chocolate.
Coat, Shedding, and Brushing
Golden retrievers have a long coat that is waterproof and two-layered. The fur is ideally suited for the water and retrieving waterfowl. Goldens blow their coat seasonally, once in the spring and again in the fall. These two big seasonal sheds require daily brushing. Weekly brushing will suffice the rest of the year in between the big semi-annual sheds.
I wrote an article on the maintenance requirements for Golden Retrievers, and if you’re interested, you can find it here:
Labrador Retrievers, unlike Golden, do not have seasonal sheds. Instead, they shed regularly throughout the year. However, they can shed slightly more than Golden’s, except for the Golden’s semi-annual sheds. Labs should be brushed at least weekly.
The Winner: The Labrador Retriever. The twice-yearly big sheds for the Golden Retriever require daily brushing as shedding can be excessive at those times. Labs may shed throughout the year, but the lack of seasonal sheds gives the Lab a slight edge in the shedding and brushing category.
Golden Retrievers are highly intelligent, eager to please, and overall very easy to train. Golden Retrievers are also very food motivated. Taken together, the Golden’s food drive, combined with its smarts and desire to please its family, make it an easy-to-train canine buddy.
Labrador Retrievers are also very food-driven, smart, and eager to please their family. Like the Golden Retriever, the Lab is typically an easy-to-train and obedient dog, and training should not be difficult with this smart breed of dog.
The Winner: a tie. Both the Golden Retriever and Labrador Retriever make outstanding students and typically learn very quickly. In addition, their friendly nature, top-tier smarts, and food drive make these dogs highly trainable and an excellent fit for therapy and assistance dogs.
Golden Retrievers are top-tier intelligent. According to research by canine researcher Stanely Cohen, top-tier dogs learn commands in 5 repetitions. In addition, they are obedient 95% of the time. Golden Retrievers, based on Cohen’s research, are the 4th most intelligent dog. Border Collies, Poodles, and German Shepherds are ranked one to three, respectively.
Labrador Retrievers are also in the top tier of dog intelligence. According to Cohen’s research, Labs are the 7th most intelligent dog, so while not as high as their Golden cousin, they are the smart dogs and rank in the top ten.
The Winner: the Golden Retriever. A Golden’s intelligence makes it well suited to learn more quickly and often more complex commands. Their intelligence also lends itself well to training as therapy and assistance dogs. That’s not to say the Lab is a dummy. It is not; however, on the intelligence scale, the Golden does edge out his cousin.
Health Issues and Life Span
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. Unfortunately, cancer is the leading cause of death in senior Golden Retrievers.
If you’re interested in reading about the most common serious health issues in Golden Retrievers and their cost, then check out this article:
The lifespan for the Labrador Retriever is also 10-12 years. Therefore, while they suffer from many of the same health issues as the Golden Retriever, they are less prone to many of the same problems. Golden Retrievers typically rank about four and Labs about 7 when it comes to health issues.
The Winner: the Labrador Retriever. Not only do Labs suffer from a few fewer health issues, but insurance costs are less as well. According to ValuePenguin.com, the average price for pet insurance for a Golden Retriever is $41. For Labs, it’s $37. The slightly lower cost reflects the somewhat more healthy Lab. The life span for each dog, however, is the same at 10-12 years.
Are Golden and Labrador Retrievers Closely Related?
Both the Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers share a common ancestor, the St. John’s water dog.
The St. John’s water dog also called the Lesser Newfoundland, is an extinct dog breed originally from Newfoundland, Canada.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the Lesser Newfoundland was exported to England. The St. John’s water dog was then bred with other dogs to create the Flat-Coat, Curly-Coated, Golden, Labrador, and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. The St. John water dog is also the ancestor of the gentle giant Newfoundland dog.
It’s not surprising that the Golden and Labrador Retrievers share a common ancestry. These two dog breeds share more similarities than differences. In fact, aside from coat length, there is very little between these two dogs.
Each breed lives about 10-12 years, and each shares many of the same health issues, albeit the Golden is prone to slightly more. Goldens blow their coats twice per year and require daily brushing during those times, while
Labs can bark more and be slightly more energetic than their laid-back Golden cousin. As a result, labs may not get along with other dogs; whereas, the Golden known for its tolerant and patient disposition towards kids and other pets.
So, how do you choose between these two dogs? Usually, matching a dog breed to a family’s unique lifestyle is often the best approach. However, in this case, both dogs are so similar that the home environment they are best suited to would be pretty much the same.
Both dog breeds require an active home that can meet their exercise needs. Because both the Golden and Lab bond closely with their family, they do not do well with long periods alone. A social family is a must, as well.
So, lifestyle match aside, then the decision comes down to preference. For example, a person may have an affinity for a longer coat over a shorter coat or a chocolate color over a golden one. Or maybe you grew up with a particular dog and had a childhood bond with that specific breed.
Ultimately, you can’t go wrong with either dog breed. One is not better than the other. It’s like comparing two twins where the differences are slight, but the similarities are vast. Unless someone has a clear preference, it would be wise to visit breeders of both dogs and spend some time with them to determine which resonates with your family the most.
Because ultimately, the decision between these two dogs comes down to one of the heart. So, trust your heart, and no matter which dog you pick, you certainly can’t go wrong with the Golden or Labrador Retriever.