Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd: 5 Key Differences

Written by August Buck
Published: March 31, 2022
© iStock.com/Prystai
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There’s nothing more classic when it comes to dog ownership than the golden retriever vs German Shepherd. Both of these dogs are incredibly popular throughout the United States, but what are the differences and similarities between them? Why are these dog breeds so popular, and how can you get to know them better? 

In this article, we will compare and contrast two dog breed greats: the golden retriever and the German Shepherd. We will discuss the differences in their sizes, appearances, and why they were originally bred. We will also discuss the differences in their lifespans and behaviors as well. Let’s get started!

Comparing Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd

Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd
German Shepherds are larger than golden retrievers in both size and weight.

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Golden RetrieverGerman Shepherd
Size55-75 pounds; 20-24 inches tall75-90 pounds; 22-27 inches tall
AppearanceShiny and long silky coat in a yellow red, or white shade; floppy ears and luxurious furBlack, white, and brown coat in a coarse and thick appearance; erect and alert ears with long snout and huge paws 
Originally Bred ForGun and hunting dog activities such as waterfowl retrieval Herding and workplace activities such as police and service work
BehaviorIncredibly friendly and playful; needs an abundance of exercise and sheds frequentlyIndependent and aloof, but incredibly loyal and intelligent; sheds often and may be prone to bouts of separation anxiety
Lifespan9-12 years10-14 years

Key Differences Between Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd

Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd
A young Golden Retriever posing in flowers. The breed’s friendly, tolerant attitude makes them great family pets, and their intelligence makes them highly capable working dogs.

There are many differences between golden retrievers and German Shepherds. For example, German Shepherds are larger than golden retrievers in both size and weight. The lifespan of the German Shepherd is longer than the lifespan of the golden retriever. The golden retriever was originally bred for hunting and game retrieval, while German Shepherds were bred for herding and other workplace activities.

Let’s discuss all of these differences in more detail now.

Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd: Size

Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd
The lifespan of the German Shepherd is longer than the lifespan of the golden retriever.

©Barat Roland/Shutterstock.com

There are some subtle size differences between golden retrievers and German Shepherds, though they are both considered large sized dogs. However, the average German Shepherd weighs anywhere from 75-90 pounds, while the average golden retriever weighs 55-75 pounds depending on gender.

This also means that German Shepherds are taller than golden retrievers. For example, golden retrievers measure 20-24 inches tall at most, while German Shepherds measure 22-27 inches tall more often than not. German Shepherds are larger than golden retrievers, which you may not notice upon first glance!

Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd: Appearance

Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd
The average German Shepherd weighs anywhere from 75-90 pounds, while the average golden retriever weighs 55-75 pounds depending on gender.

©iagodina / freepik – License

There are some obvious differences in the appearance of a golden retriever versus a German Shepherd. For example, golden retrievers are found in yellow, white, and red coats only, while German Shepherds are found in black, white, and brown patterned coats. Given that these are both purebred dogs, very little overlaps in their colorings or markings. 

Another difference between these two dogs is the texture of their coats. Both the golden retriever and German Shepherd are known for their long and luxurious fur, but the fur of the German Shepherd is coarser compared to the silky and long fur of the golden retriever. Finally, German Shepherds have erect and pointed ears, while golden retrievers have long and floppy ears. 

Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd: Original Reason for Breeding

Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd
Both the golden retriever and German Shepherd are known for their long and luxurious fur, but the fur of the German Shepherd is coarser compared to the silky and long fur of the golden retriever.

©dezy/Shutterstock.com

The original reason for breeding golden retrievers and German Shepherds is different. Golden retrievers were originally bred as hunting and gun dogs, while German Shepherds were bred as herders and working dogs. While both of these dog breeds are lovable family companions nowadays, golden retrievers are still useful for retrieving waterfowl on a hunting trip, while German Shepherds are often employed in police or service activities. 

Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd: Behavior

Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd
While both of these dog breeds are lovable family companions nowadays, golden retrievers are still useful for retrieving waterfowl on a hunting trip, while German Shepherds are often employed in police or service activities. 

There are some behavioral differences between golden retrievers and German Shepherds. For example, golden retrievers are beloved for their friendly and playful personalities, while German Shepherds are more aloof and intelligent overall. There is something that both of these dog breeds have in common however: they both shed frequently and heavily! 

You could also say that both of these dog breeds suffer from separation anxiety if not properly exercised and cared for, but the root of this anxiety is different depending on the breed. For example, golden retrievers require regular and frequent exercise to avoid becoming anxious, and German Shepherds often grow destructive if left alone due to their high intelligence. 

Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd: Lifespan

Golden Retriever vs German Shepherd
Golden retrievers are beloved for their friendly and playful personalities, while German Shepherds are more aloof and intelligent overall.

©TanyaCPhotography/Shutterstock.com

The final difference between Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds is their life spans. The German Shepherd lives longer than the golden retriever on average, and is widely considered an exceptionally healthy breed of dog. In fact, the average lifespan of the golden retriever has been declining over the past few years, though all dog life spans depend on the care and lifestyle that it receives from its owners.

The average golden retriever lives anywhere from 10 to 12 years old, while the average German Shepherd lives 12 to 14 years on average. While this may be extremely similar, both dog breeds have had dogs that far outlive this number. A well rounded diet and regular exercise and affection are key to a long and healthy dog life, no matter the breed!

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The Featured Image

golden retriever under blanket
golden retriever under blanket
© iStock.com/Prystai

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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