Labrador vs Golden, The Battle of the Retrievers

If you’ve set your heart on getting a dog and you’ve done your research, you may find that you have a difficult decision Labrador vs Golden which to choose?

When you’ve whittled down your choices to a few suitable housemates, it wouldn’t be a surprise if you found both the Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever on your short list.

With both the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever consistently being in the top 10 most popular dog breeds in both the UK and America, it can be difficult deciding between the two.

Labrador vs Golden, how do you choose? We’ve rounded up the all the relevant information in one handy place to help you decide on the perfect doggy partner for you.

Breed History

If you’re not a history buff you may find reading about the breed history a bit of a bore. But the history of any dog can give you vital clues to understanding the natural instincts of your dog.

For many people; looks play a major role in choosing a dog. However, this often ends up with a mismatch between what the human wants from the relationship and what the dog wants from the relationship.

Knowing what your dog was initially bred to do can help you avoid making a mistake and save both you and your new friend a lot of communication issues and distress.

Labrador Retriever


The Labrador didn’t start out as the breed that we know today. Originally called the St. John’s dog after the capital city of Newfoundland where it originated in the 1700’s.

Famous for its love of water and its natural desire to retrieve, the Labrador was used by fisherman to help retrieve fishing lines, nets, ropes and by diving under water, recover any fish that may have escaped. Its great work ethic, cooperative nature and ability to withstand the icy water made it perfect as a working dog.

The St. John’s dog eventually became extinct in its homeland. During the 19th century taxes and heavy restrictions were placed on owning a dog in an attempt to encourage sheep farming.

Bitches were taxed particularly severely and a limitation of only one dog per household meant that any litters of puppies were often destroyed. Also around the same time the UK had introduced strict quarantine laws in a bid to get rid of rabies.

This had a devastating effect on the export of the St. John’s dog as the UK was the biggest importer of the breed at the time. Unfortunately, the last two known St. John’s dogs were both male and died in the 1980’s effectively ending the line.

The modern dog;

If you’ve ever wondered about your lab’s ancestry, then you can thank the work of two English Aristocrats who between them established the modern day Labrador.

James Harris, the second Earl of Malmesbury and Walter Scott the fifth Duke of Buccleuch. The Earl of Malmesbury brought some of the first St. John’s dogs over from Newfoundland and started to breed them.  He was the first to call them Labradors referring to the mainland portion of the province rather than the island of Newfoundland.

As well as being a Member of Parliament, the Earl of Malmesbury enjoyed shooting and fishing, making the St. John’s dog an ideal choice of companion. Several years later The Duke of Buccleuch followed suit. He established a breeding kennel and bred from the original St. John’s dogs imported to Scotland.

However, it was a chance meeting between the sons of these men that began the current breeding program of the Labrador in the UK. Two male Labradors were given by the third Earl of Malmesbury to the sixth Duke of Buccleuch who bred them with the bitches descended from the original dogs imported to Scotland by his father, so the Labrador as we know it now was created.

The UK Kennel Club recognised the Labrador Retriever as a distinct breed in 1903 with the American Kennel Club following suit in 1917.

Golden Retriever


Golden Retrievers or Goldies as they are often called have a much simpler history and can be traced back to 1864 and just one man.

Dudley Marjoibanks, the first Baron of Tweedmouth wanted to produce the ultimate hunting dog, a dog that was powerful, energetic and yet kept a soft mouth in order not to damage the game that it retrieved. He wanted a dog that could cope with difficult terrain including marshes and rivers but was cooperative and gentle.

Lord Tweedmouth bred dogs as a hobby and kept detailed breeding records that show that the origins of the golden retriever are a cross breeding between a yellow Flat-Coated Retriever dog and a female Tweed water spaniel.

This Pairing produced a litter that became the foundation of the Golden Retriever breeding program. These pups were bred with Irish Setters, Bloodhounds, water spaniels and wavy-coated black coated retrievers to get the perfect retriever.

The modern dog;

The Golden Retriever as a breed came to the public eye when they were exhibited at the Kennel Club show in 1908. Lord Harcourt, was a fan and the one commonly believed to coin the name Golden Retriever, entered them as Yellow Flat-Coated Retrievers in the class of ‘Any Variety Retriever.;

Interest in the breed grew but it wasn’t until 1911 that the Golden Retriever was recognised in its right as a separate breed by the Kennel Club in England and another 14 years before it was recognised in America and accepted by the American Kennel Club in 1925.

Appearance – Labrador

Labrador vs Golden

Labradors are considered to be medium to large dogs with an average full grown male weighing between 29-35 kg.

Typically Labradors come in one of three colours, black, yellow and chocolate. Although you may hear people talking about Silver or Red Fox Labradors too, these colours are rarer and not currently recognised as a standard breed colour.

This is because silver Labradors are chocolate Labradors with an additional gene that dilutes their coat colour to a silvery brown/grey. Red Fox Labradors used to be very common with their dark golden or reddish coats. However, the darker colours went out of favour and breeders began to breed specifically for a much paler coat.

Labradors are often referred to as English Labs or American Labs. English labs or ‘show labs’ tend to be stockier, with a thick tail similar to an Otter. They have broader skulls and shorter muzzles and tend to be heavier set. American labs or ‘field labs’ have longer legs, are more athletic looking, have longer muzzles that are more pointed and look sleeker.

Despite significant variations in appearance, there is no breed distinction made by either the UK  Kennel Club or the American Kennel Club. They are not considered to be different breeds just a variation of the same dog although they do come from different breeding lines.

Labradors have webbed toes that should give you an idea of where they like to spend a lot of their time. They have a double coat which is relatively waterproof with a dense outer coat of short, straight hair and an under layer of soft downy fur. Their outer coat is oily making it waterproof while the soft undercoat insulates the dog, trapping heat and protecting it from the chill of cold water.

Labradors shed their coats twice a year or if you are in a warmer client, regularly throughout the year.

Appearance – Golden Retriever

Labrado vs Golden retriever

Goldies are medium to large dogs with an average full grown male weighing between 27-36 kgs.

Golden Retrievers come in a variety of shades from gold through to pale cream. The Kennel Club standard splits them into three categories: dark golden, gold and light golden. Although red and mahogany colours do exist too.

Just as with Labradors, Golden Retrievers are often referred to as being different types including; English Cream, British White Golden, American Golden and the Field / Hunting Golden. Although these are not official titles there are variations in look just as there is in the different breed lines in Labradors.

The English Cream / British White Golden tend to be the palest of the three types. They are usually larger than average, with block heads and big bones. In contrast, the American Golden are smaller with sleeker heads and a lighter build. Their coats range from pale to dark gold. The Field / Hunting Golden sometimes referred to as the Canadian Golden has the darkest fur of all three and tend to be on the smaller side with higher energy.

Just like the Labrador, the Golden Retriever has webbed toes for swimming. They have a thick, long, double coat that is water resistant. While their outer coat is slightly wavy with feathering on the front of their necks, backs of their thighs, forelegs and tail. In contrast, their undercoat is soft and downy keeping it cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

They shed twice a year with small amounts of shedding throughout the year especially in warmer climates.

Labrador – Temperament and characteristics

Labradors have a reputation for being even-tempered, outgoing, kind and friendly. Because of their friendly, easy-going nature, they are not the best guard dogs. They are reasonably quiet, barking infrequently.

They are ranked as one of the top ten most intelligent dog breeds in the world and their intelligence and adaptability has made them a favourite choice for search and rescue, detection and therapy work.

However, they can be boisterous, especially dogs from the working breed line and do like to chew. With voracious appetites combined with hard to resist pleading eyes are prone to obesity.

Labradors have an incredible sense of smell. This tendency to follow a scent means that they may wander off while on a walk if they find an interesting trail. However this desire to follow their nose also gives them the ability to be highly successful detection dogs.

With an excellent reputation as both a family dog and a working dog; they mature reasonably late. Because of this be prepared to have a dog behaving like a puppy until around three years of age. Patience and continual training are needed to ensure that any bad habits do not persist into adulthood.

The breed history will give you a good idea of how much they love water and most will take any opportunity to explore it. They won’t be fussy, whether it be the sea, a river or a muddy puddle any water will do. If you are a clean freak, stay away from the wet stuff, or you may want to consider a different breed!

Golden Retriever – Temperament and Characteristics

The Golden Retriever is described as kindly, confident and friendly. Although, just as with Labradors their friendly nature makes them bad guard dogs. Goldies do make good alert dogs as they will react with a very loud bark.

They are highly intelligent, co-operative and willing to please which makes them a very popular choice as a service dog as well as a great family pet.

Golden Retrievers are known for their patience and ability to focus, this coupled with their quick minds means that they are a versatile dog that can fit into many situations.

They have a love of food, so caution is needed as they are great at finding opportunities to open cupboards. And are not above stealing from the fridge.

Golden retrievers often like to carry things in their mouths and present them to you, so if you want a Golden you may want to consider not leaving anything laying around.

As their breed history indicates, Golden’s love water, they are not fussy as to what type – a muddy puddle is as good as a mountain stream. If wet dog is not on your list of the qualities you like in a dog then you may want to reconsider.

They are ranked as one of the top ten most intelligent dog breeds in the world so need mental stimulation as well as physical exercise to keep them the adaptable, even tempered and kind dogs that they are known to be.

Labrador vs Golden Health Matters


If you do choose a Labrador for your companion, you can expect to share your life with him or her for around 10 -12 years. There are several health issues that tend to be more common in Labradors although breeding programmes are now trying to address these.

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers typically live between 11-12 years. If you choose one as a companion, then these are the possible health issues that you may be facing together.    

  • Hip dysplasia
  • Cancer commonly hemangiosarcoma
  • Cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy
  • Allergies especially skin allergies
  • Obesity

Although these lists may seem a bit scary, both the Labrador and Golden Retriever are generally considered to be strong, healthy breeds.

Ongoing Care – Exercise

Both the Labrador and the Golden are descendants of working dogs. As such they need a fair amount of exercise to keep them happy.

Depending on the breed line you choose, i.e.Working line or show line you will need to adjust accordingly. With working lines requiring more exercise than the show lines.

As long as you provide additional mental stimulation for your dog. You should be aiming for a minimum of two hours of physical exercise a day. If you find that your dog is being destructive, uncooperative or just plain ‘naughty’ then try upping the exercise or provide more mental stimulation and see if it reduces the unwanted behaviour. 

As all dogs are different some will prefer a much longer exercise period than others but an hour to begin with for an adult dog is a good guideline.

Labrador vs Golden ongoing care

Ongoing Care – Grooming

The Labrador is marginally easier to keep well groomed than the Golden Retriever. The Labrador has a wash and wear coat that needs to be brushed at least once a week to keep it looking good.

In contrast the Golden retriever should be groomed every day as their feathered fur is more prone to tangles. Most Goldens also need the tufts of fur between their toes trimmed to prevent any problems especially in the winter when the fur can become frozen.

Both breeds are relatively heavy shedders.  They will ‘blow’ their coats twice a year with some continuous shedding throughout the year. Grooming can help with the management of shedding and during heavy moulting, you can help both yourself and your dog by grooming them daily with an undercoat rake.

At a Glance – Labrador vs Golden Retriever

Labrador Retriever

Golden Retriever


29-35 kg

27-36 kg


21.5-22.5 inches (at withers)

20 - 24 inches (at withers)


Black, yellow, chocolate

Dark golden, gold, light golden

Grooming Needs

Light to Moderate






Even tempered, outgoing and friendly

Kindly, confident and friendly

Energy Levels

Moderate to high

Moderate to high

Suitable as a family pet



Suitable as a working dog




10-12 years

11-12 years

Exercise needs

Minimum 2 hours a day

Minimum 2 hours a day

Labrador vs Golden? It’s a tough choice as both dogs have excellent reputations. Not only as outstanding working dogs but also as tolerant and co-operative family pets.

Which is why both these breeds have consistently been in the top 10 most popular breeds in the UK and USA year on year. Whichever you choose you are sure to get a friendly and intelligent dog that is willing to please and is highly trainable.