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Golden Retriever vs Labrador: Which breed is best for you?

Golden Retriever vs Labrador
Labrador (Image credit: Getty)

If you're looking for a dog and you've whittled it down to Golden Retriever vs Labrador then you're in for a very tough decision-making process. There's not a great deal separating these super-friendly, incredibly intelligent breeds so, in putting them head-to-head, you have to get ultra picky.

Do you want a big shedder or an ever-so slightly less big shedder? Do you want a gentle dog that's affectionate, kind and sensitive or a gentle dog that's affectionate, kind but a little less sensitive? As with French Bulldogs vs Pugs, there are some fine margins here. But just as we found with German Shepherd vs Doberman and German vs Belgian Malinois, it's always possible to separate one from the other. 

One thing's for sure, whether or not you choose a Golden Retriever or a Labrador, you are going to be the ultimate winner! Let the battle commence...

Golden Retriever vs Labrador : Origins

Golden Retrievers were established by a dog breeder called Sir Dudley Coutts Marjoribanks who crossbred a gold-colored wavy-haired retriever with a Tweed Water Spaniel on his Scottish estate in 1868. 

With some additional mixing of Bloodhounds, Red Setters and Labradors, he created a trio of yellow puppies which grew up capable of assisting with the hunting of grouse, making for a popular breed both in terms of looks and practicalities.

Labradors, meanwhile, originated in Newfoundland, Canada, in the 1500s. A new breed was created at that time called the St John's Water Dog which was a mix between Newfoundlands and small water dogs from England, Ireland and Portugal. 

These canines were exported to England in the 1830s where they were used as gundogs. They were then crossbred with other dogs to create the Labrador Retriever before being exported to the United States in the early 20th century.

What's the difference between a Golden Retriever and Labrador?

Put these medium-sized breeds side-by-side and you'll find they are similar in appearance. Even so, you'll likely notice that the Golden Retriever has longer, feathery fur while noting the Labrador looks a tad heavier and more stocky.

The key differences lie in their faces and color, however. A Golden Retriever has a long, narrow snout whereas a Labrador's snout is wide. Both can be beige colored but only a Golden Retriever can be red or honey while only Labradors can be black or brown. 

The difference between their coats is also practical. A Labrador was bred to work in water and their thick undercoat repels water. Golden Retrievers were bred for land work (although they are excellent swimmers) and their coat keeps them warm in winter and cool in summer.

One of the best dog breeds for first time owners: Close up of Golden Retriever outside looking at camera happily with tongue out

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Golden Retriever vs Labrador: Temperament

Both of these breeds have a similar temperament. They are sociable, friendly, loving and gentle, which makes either of them cracking family pets. Of the two, however, Golden Retrievers are known to be softer and more sensitive. 

They are super-friendly and amazing with children but while they are certainly patient enough to put up with their demands, they would prefer a more peaceful environment.

Labradors, on the other hand, seem to thrive in a household where kids are lively and loud. They have boundless energy that will more than match a child's enthusiasm and they absolutely adore attention which they reciprocate in bucketloads. 

Their less sensitive and excitable nature means they could be too much for some, particularly because they seem to go on and on and on. But this major difference can definitely help if you're choosing between the breeds.

Which is smarter: Golden Retriever or Labrador?

Fun fact about Golden Retrievers: of the two, Golden Retrievers are the cleverest. In fact, they're so smart, they're capable of learning more than 165 words and they are said to be on the same level as a 2.5-year-old child. 

Often in situations such as this, we bow to Stanley Coren whose 1994 book, The Intelligence of Dogs (opens in new tab), has become something of an authority. He found that Golden Retrievers are the fourth smartest of all breeds. So does that mean Labradors are dim in comparison?

Absolutely not. Labrador Retrievers rank seventh so they're not a million places behind by any means. As with Golden Retrievers, they can learn a new command with fewer than five repetitions and they are also super-obedient. 

They're capable of basic calculations, can count up to five and, again like their “rival”, work out body signals, find places and work stuff out like the opening of latches. These are quiz show candidates!

Golden retriever vs Labrador

Golden Retriever (Image credit: Getty)

Golden Retriever vs Labrador: Exercise needs

You're not going to get away with lazing around if you have either of these dogs. Given their working backgrounds, they need to vent their energy otherwise they can become destructive. As such, both require lots of exercise and, since they have great stamina, you should prepare to travel long distances with them. 

Of the two, however, Labradors are going to be more enthusiastic and energetic. While you should aim for about two-hours-a-day for each of these breeds – mixing walks with play – you'd find a Labrador needs to be kept slightly more active and that the breed may still be raring to go when you get home.

Golden Retriever vs Labrador: Shedding

Both dogs are heavy shedders so you're going to have to invest in one of the best vacuum cleaners for pet hair regardless of which you choose. The major difference is how to seek to control the shedding. 

With Labradors, you can get away with brushing them once or twice a week but you would be better doing the same with a Golden Retriever every day, especially during shedding season. Maybe refrain from wearing black and giving either dog a big hug just before you leave the house!

David Crookes has been a journalist for more than 20 years and he has written for a host of magazines, newspapers, websites and books including World of Animals, BBC Earth, Dogs and Canines, Gadget and The Independent. Born in England, he lives in a household with two cats but he’s also keenly interested in the differences between the huge number of dog breeds — in fact, you can read many of his breed guides here on PetsRadar. With a lifelong passion for technology, too, he’s always on the lookout for useful devices that will allow people to spend more time with their pets.