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Retriever puppies playing together

Both the Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriever are intelligent and strongly attached to their people.

© Christian Mueller - Shutterstock

Golden Retriever vs. Labrador Retriever: Which breed should I choose?

By Greta Inglis Dog Behaviourist | Animal Behaviourist

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The Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever rank among the most popular dog breeds in the UK. Here we take a look at how these wonderful cousins compare.

Similar in so many ways, Labradors and Goldens are often confused with each other. Both good-natured, intelligent sporting dogs, they make excellent family pets and are often a top choice when it comes to service and assistance work. 

When it comes to choosing the best dog for you, there are key differences in both physical characteristics and behaviour that you need to be aware of.

Origins of the Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriever

Originating from the Canadian coast, the Labrador Retriever's ancestor is thought to be the 'St John Dog'. This was a smaller version of the Newfoundland, used as a water dog. Quickly becoming popular in the 19th century in the UK, the Labrador excels as a companion dog and hunting dog in equal measure

All the way across the pond, the Golden Retriever's roots lie firmly in Great Britain, with the breed first becoming officially recognised in 1931. Not much is known of the history of the Golden, but legend has it this dog originated from the crossing of a sandy-coloured dog from St. Hubert (Bloodhound) and a Tweed Water Spaniel, now extinct. 

Classified by the FCI in group 8 as flushing and water dogs, both breeds are known for their 'soft mouth', enabling them to carry animals and objects without causing harm. 

Physical characteristics: How are the Labrador and the Golden Retriever different? 

There are key physical differences when it comes to telling the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever apart, from coat type to bone structure. 

While these cousin breeds share many similarities, the Labrador has a denser bone structure, and is slightly larger in size. With a deeper chest and a wider head, these dogs are typically heavier. Males can reach up to 40kg, compared to the 32kg of a Golden Retriever. 

Both breeds have webbed feet, making them the perfect swimmers. When it comes to their tails, these dogs do differ. The feathered tail of the Golden arches slightly, in comparison to the rounded 'otter tail' of the Labrador. This is used as a powerful rudder, helping them balance and move through water.

Labradors have a dense undercoat, with a shorter overcoat designed to repel waterThe Golden Retriever's coat, in comparison, is longer and more elegant in appearance, with moderate feathering to prevent brambles from harming dogs during their work. Both breeds are double coated, and this means frequent shedding is to be expected

When it comes to coat colour, there is no such thing as a Golden Labrador! Labrador coat colours come in yellow, black and chocolate. For Golden Retrievers, their coats can range from pale cream to dark golden. With their wavy and longer coat, these dogs require considerable grooming compared to the Labrador, particularly around the head and neck to prevent matting. 

Labradors come in three different colours and have shorter coats than Goldens ©claire norman - Shutterstock

According to several dog trainers and breeders, the Chocolate Labrador is thought to be more prone to hyperactivity than yellow or black coated dogs.

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Which breed is healthier?

When it comes to health issues, both the Lab and the Golden can suffer similar conditions. Hip and elbow dysplasia, and eye problems are unfortunately common with these breeds if adequate testing is not carried out by breeders. Progressive Retinal Atrophy can cause the deterioration of the retina over time, so it's important to make sure your puppy's parents have been PRA and hip and elbow tested before your new friend comes home with you.

Exercise Induced Collapse has been known to affect both breeds, but is thought to be more common in Labradors. This occurs when, following a period of exercise, the dog experiences a loss of muscle control. In severe cases, it can lead to a collapse. 

Labrador Retrievers can be particularly prone to obesity if their diet is not controlled. This is less common in the Golden Retriever, but care should still be taken to manage food quantities carefully.

Unfortunately, in recent years, studies have shown that the Golden Retriever has an increased risk of cancer. It's currently thought that around 60% of Goldens develop cancer at some point in their life, which is one of the highest of all breed types. 

When it comes to choosing between the Golden Retriever and the Labrador, take some time to consider all the health issues the breed is prone to, and be sure to search for a reputable and experienced breeder. 

Which breed needs more exercise?

In reality, the exercise needs of the Labrador Retriever are very similar to those of the Golden. Both breeds have been created to work tirelessly in connection with their people, and they both possess a high activity level and a need to please. 

Interactive games and mental stimulation are important to these dogs. They do best in a home with outside space in which they can run and play. Agile and intelligent, they will need a fully fenced and secure garden.

How can I mentally tire my dog? Check out five brain games you can try.

Which breed is easier to train?

The Labrador is perhaps one of the most playful and jovial dogs ever created. Gentle, easy to train and always happy, there will never be a dull moment with a Labrador in your home! 

Golden Retrievers are slightly calmer and quieter than their fun-loving cousins, and they can be more sensitive when it comes to training. A gentle approach with lots of positive reinforcement will work best.

Goldens are a little more sensitive than Labradors, but just as intelligent!©SasaStock - Shutterstock

Both breeds are equally loving, affectionate and friendly, both breeds adore spending time around their people. They can suffer separation anxiety and may even become destructive if left alone without proper training, so it's advisable to start this from a young age. 

Training should begin from a young age, with a particular focus on recall and manners. As strong, large dogs with a propensity for a high prey drive, it's important that your dog is under control in public spaces and around new people. Keep training sessions short but consistent for best results.

Golden Retriever vs Labrador puppies

Labradors and Goldens have many characteristics in common as puppies: They are both as active, curious and loving as they are adorable, and both breeds require mental and physical stimulation as they learn and grow. 

It's important to bear in mind that these dogs are workers at heart, with a high drive for retrieval and a desire to please. If you don't want things picked up and carried around the house, take the time to teach your retriever a consistent 'leave it' from a young age. 

Good natured and friendly, both the Lab and Golden Retriever need to be around their people. They are not dogs that do well being separated from their family, so start separation training early! Both breeds will need lots of interaction and play throughout the day, especially in their earlier months.

Deciding whether the Labrador or the Golden Retriever is best for you, comes down largely to personal preference and what you're looking for in your canine companion. Would you enjoy the company of a cheerful, goofy and loveable Labrador? Or is the sensitive, good-natured and gentle Golden the dog for you? 

With remarkable similarities in exercise levels, temperament and size, we feel confident that whether you choose a Lab or a Golden, you'll have a wonderful friend for life. The choice will ultimately depend on the appearance and personality you feel will suit you best. Both breeds are beautiful, and make some of the best family pets out there!

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