Labrador Retrievers vs. Golden Retrievers: What’s the Difference?

Despite their similar sounding names, there are many keen differences between Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. For instance, Labs are from Canada; Goldens are from Scotland.

Jun 15, 2024byEmily Weigel
labrador retrievers vs golden retrievers difference

Many people confuse Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers because they were bred for similar purposes—to retrieve game for hunters and fishers. However, there are many differences between these two dogs, from their countries of origin to their maintenance requirements. Here, we discuss the nuances of these large-sized dogs, including what you can expect as a new pet owner.

Labs Are from Canada; Goldens Are from Scotland

labs playing in water
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers have very different origin stories. Here’s what to know.

Labradors were bred in the 19th century to be working dogs for fishermen in Newfoundland, not Labrador as the name suggests. Labrador Retrievers were selectively bred to have water-resistant coats and webbed feet that help with swimming. They also have long tails that act as a rudder in the water, allowing them to steer.

Golden Retrievers hail from Scotland and were bred to be gun dogs. This means their owners would shoot birds, then expect their Golden Retrievers to bring the prey back. To avoid puncturing the birds’ flesh, these dogs were bred to have “soft mouths”—similar to Springer Spaniels, another type of gun dog.

Today, while some sportsmen may use Labs and Goldens for retrieving game, these very intelligent dogs are commonly used as service dogs. These canines are also used in search-and-rescue missions to help people in distress. When they’re not working, these dogs make great family pets.

Labradors and Goldens Have Different Physical Traits

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If you placed a Labrador Retriever and a Golden Retriever side-by-side, you’d notice many physical differences.

For instance, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC), Labrador Retrievers come in three colors: black, yellow, and chocolate. Black Labs are the most common, while chocolate Labs are the rarest. While Labs have short fur, as a double-coated dog, these dogs shed a lot—particularly when the seasons change from fall to winter and winter to spring.

Golden Retrievers also come in three colors—although they’re all variations of gold. Accepted breed standard colors for Golden Retrievers include dark golden, golden, and light golden. They have long, flowing coats that need regular brushing with specialized combs to avoid matting and tangles.

When it comes to commonalities, both Labradors and Golden Retrievers are large dogs that shed frequently. Both also need regular teeth brushing and nail trimmings to stay in tip-top shape.

Labradors Are More Zealous Than Golden Retrievers

golden retriever in the fall
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If you’re looking for a low-maintenance dog breed, steer clear of Labradors and Golden Retrievers. These dogs need a lot of exercise to avoid common behavioral problems associated with boredom. Yet, if you have children, live an active lifestyle, or spend a lot of time outdoors, you could love bringing one of these breeds home.

Labs have an extremely high energy. They are also boisterous. Since they bark a lot and need a lot of exercise, they’re not generally recommended for pet owners who are looking for quiet dogs to laze around with. For those looking for an apartment dog, consider a French Bulldog or ex-racer Greyhound.

While Golden Retrievers aren’t known for their excessive barking, they can still become destructive if not properly exercised. A bored Golden Retriever may chew on shoes, eat drywall, or develop separation anxiety. By regularly exercising your dog and socializing them properly, you can ensure your dog lives a well-balanced, stimulating life.

Labradors and Goldens Have Different Health Concerns

golden in the snow
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Every dog is susceptible to common health problems. For instance, both Labs and Goldens are prone to ear infections because water can get trapped under their floppy ears. If you notice your dog sticking their foot in their ear and smelling it, this could point to an infection. Keeping your dog’s ears dry after swimming or bathing can prevent infections.

Yet, there are some ailments that affect Labs and Goldens more than other breeds. For instance, Labs are vulnerable to hip dysplasia, a condition where the hip bone doesn’t fit properly into its socket. Dysplasia can be very painful, so ensuring that you keep an eye on your Lab’s mobility as it ages is vital. Luckily, swimming is a helpful therapy for hip dysplasia, and since these dogs love swimming so much, it can be a great remedy and source of fun.

chocolate lab
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Golden Retrievers can be prone to common skin conditions (such as atopic dermatitis and hot spots) due to their thick fur. If not bathed frequently enough, bacteria can multiply on their skin and lead to redness, itchiness, and open sores.

Sadly, Goldens are more prone to certain types of cancer than many other breeds. Research suggests this results from a genetic mutation present in North American Goldens. Regular vet visits and blood tests can help ensure that your Golden stays healthy for as long as possible.

What Labs and Golden Retrievers Have in Common

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While there are many differences between Labs and Goldens, ultimately, these canines make wonderful companions for many people. There’s a reason why these dogs constantly rank amongst the most popular breeds!

Both Labs and Goldens are wonderful pets for many people. There’s certainly a lot to love about both breeds. They’re beautiful, fun, lovable dogs that are sure to add excitement to any home. Still, knowing the differences between the two can help you decide which breed to bring home.

Emily Weigel
byEmily Weigel

Emily has a master’s degree in marine sciences, and if you know a remarkable aquatic fact or story, she wants you to share it! She’s enjoyed her jobs as an aquarist at Bass Pro Shops, educator and caretaker at several aquatic science centers around the U.S., and veterinary assistant and client services coordinator at her local pet hospital. Her pets are Alyeska, a watchful bull boxer pit; Miki, a squat-jumping Chihuahua-Jack Russell; Coral, a tortie with a ‘tude; and Bonnie, a calico gymnast. She doesn’t have enough space to tell you about her many fish, but she loves them too!