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Choosing a Family Dog: Golden Retriever vs. Labrador

To decide between golden retrievers vs. Labrador retrievers, it’s key to compare their behaviors, shedding habits, and health issues. Let’s take a look.

Golden Retriever vs Labrador: happy Golden Retriever walking

To decide between golden retrievers vs. Labrador retrievers, it’s key to compare their behaviors, shedding habits, and health issues. Let’s take a look.

Are you looking for an active, loyal, friendly dog to add to the family? Two dog breeds that may top your list are the golden retriever and the Labrador retriever. They’re two of the most popular dog breeds for good reasons. They’re both wonderful companions and tend to make great family dogs.

The Labrador originally hails from Newfoundland, Canada, where it was used as a water dog to help fishermen and hunters. Breeders from Scotland crossed a wavy-coated retriever with a water spaniel to create the golden retriever. Today, pet owners all over the world enjoy both of these dogs.

There are several factors to remember when choosing your next family pet. What kind of time commitment will you be able to give? Do you have young children? Does a member of your family have pet allergies? Getting to know the golden retriever and Labrador is essential if you are considering one or the other.

Let’s compare these two breeds — the golden retriever vs. Labrador — and learn more about their appearance, personality and trainability, grooming needs, and health and lifespan. That way, you can be well-informed when making the best choice for you and your family.


Golden Retriever vs Labrador: Labrador lying on the floor

At first glance, it can be hard to distinguish between a purebred golden retriever and a purebred Labrador (especially a yellow lab). They can look very similar, sharing traits like:

  • Enthusiastic, engaged expressions
  • Folded ears
  • Long tails
  • Webbed feet
  • Similar height — about 22-24 inches for adult golden retrievers and Labradors, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC)

So, how can you determine a golden retriever vs. Labrador retriever? The golden retriever has a longer snout, while the Labrador’s is shorter and broader. And golden retrievers tend to be a little shaggier, with longer hair compared to the lab’s shorter, sleeker coat. And the golden’s tail is fluffy, while the lab's tail is pointed.

Another key difference between these breeds is the coat color. The golden retriever’s coat is usually — as the name suggests — golden in color, trending toward a honey or reddish hue. Labradors come in a wider variety of coat colors. There are black labs, the brown-colored chocolate labs, the beige-colored yellow labs, and cream-colored labs too.

Personality and Trainability

Golden Retriever lying on a bed beside a bottle of Native Pet's Relief

When it comes to their personalities, the golden retriever and the Labrador have more in common than not. Both are classified as sporting dogs — they are retriever breeds historically used as working dogs, and that instinct remains today. So both breeds have high energy levels and do best when they have a “job” to do, whether fetching a ball or performing a trick. It’s also why both breeds do well as service dogs and guide dogs.

A golden retriever or Labrador won’t do well if they’re not properly socialized, ideally early on in life. Both breeds are likely to develop separation anxiety and could act out by digging or chewing if socialization and training are lacking. That’s why prospective pet parents looking to adopt either of these breeds should prepare to put in the time for training and socialization from the start.

If you’re dealing with an anxious dog, try giving them Native Pet’s Calm Chicken Chews, which can help reduce general anxiety and relax your stressed pet’s muscles.

Here’s the good news: Both breeds are highly trainable, as they’re very intelligent dogs that are willing to please. In a trainability showdown of the golden retriever vs. Labrador, it’s a toss-up. Remember, though, that training doesn’t happen overnight — owners need to set a solid foundation early on and keep up with training efforts on an ongoing basis.

When properly trained and socialized from a young age, the golden retriever and the Labrador grow into wonderful adult dogs who tend to love everyone they meet. They’re incredibly loyal to their human families and get along well with most other pets, and they’re usually great with young children as well. Of course, parents should always teach their kids how to interact safely with dogs of any breed.

Grooming Needs

Labrador running in a shallow creek

Do these breeds shed? Yes. Both golden retrievers and Labradors have what’s called a double coat. It consists of two layers: a dense undercoat and a softer outer coat. Like other double-coated breeds, these dogs “blow their coat” twice a year, and you’ll see even more shedding than usual during these periods.

The winner for the heavier shedder is the golden retriever. The lab’s water-repellent coat is smoother and sheds less. Still, both of these breeds are moderate to heavy shedders, so expect to clean up some dog hair if you own them. And because all that loose hair carries pet dander around your home, neither breed is hypoallergenic — these may not be the best dogs for the allergy sufferers in your family.

Both dogs will benefit from regular grooming sessions at home with a quality dog brush. Weekly brushing removes loose and dead hair from the coat and spreads natural skin oils through the fur to keep it properly moisturized. Pay special attention to the longer feathering around the golden’s tail and back legs to avoid matting.

Another way to improve your golden retriever or Labrador’s coat health? Give them Native Pet’s all-natural Omega Oil. Our targeted formula uses omega-3 fatty acids to promote healthy skin and fur and helps alleviate joint pain too.

Health and Lifespan

Golden Retriever lying on a couch

How long can you expect to own golden retrievers vs. Labrador retrievers? Both have an average life expectancy of about 10 to 12 years, although many can live longer. Of course, certain health issues can also shorten these dogs’ lifespans.

Because both golden and Labrador retrievers are considered large dogs, they have a predisposition to hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia like other large breeds. Eye health problems like progressive retinal atrophy (an inherited disease that slowly causes blindness) are also likely. And, like any breed, these dogs are at risk for obesity if not exercised regularly and fed well. Make sure you give your golden or lab a well-balanced, nutritionally complete dog food and plenty of daily exercise.

If you plan on adopting Labrador or golden retriever puppies outside an animal shelter, make sure you visit a reputable breeder. This ensures that the puppies are well treated, and that inherited health conditions are bred out, so you bring home a happy, healthy dog.

Golden Retriever vs. Labrador: Who’s the Winner?

Golden Retriever vs Labrador: black Labrador lying on the ground

It’s hard to pick a clear winner between the golden retriever and Labrador retriever. That’s because there isn’t one! Both breeds are outgoing, loving, loyal dogs that make excellent pets for most families.

Aside from slight physical differences, these two breeds share a lot in common. They both need plenty of exercise, socialization, and training, although they’re both highly trainable. They both need regular brushing because they’re moderate to heavy shedders. They have similar lifespans and are susceptible to many of the same health conditions. But these problems can be managed or avoided entirely by using reputable breeders and seeing your veterinarian regularly.

If you’re choosing between a golden retriever and a Labrador, you really can’t go wrong. Either way, you’re getting a great pet your family will love for years to come. But knowing the slight differences between these two popular dog breeds can help you make the tough choice.

Would you like to keep reading about your dog’s health and wellness? Check out the Native Pet blog for more articles.

illustration of dog's tail & the dog is digging

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illustration of dog's tail & the dog is digging