Labrador vs Golden Retriever: 9 Key Differences Explained

Written by Patrick Sather
Published: September 14, 2021


Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers count among the most popular dogs in America. According to the American Kennel Club, in 2020, the Golden Retriever ranked as the 4th most popular dog in America. Meanwhile, the Labrador Retriever won the top spot as the most popular dog in the country, a position it’s held since 1991. With so many lovable breeds out there, some people may find it strange that two similar-looking dogs should both rank in the top five. However, it’s easy to understand once you learn more about these lovable, intelligent, and gentle-natured dogs. Labradors and Golden Retrievers make great family pets and contain enough energy to keep their owners busy without possessing so much that it makes them hard to handle. Yet, for all their similarities, what are the differences that separate Labradors vs Golden Retrievers?

While these cherished pups dominate the popularity polls, many people struggle to tell them apart from one another. Standing side-by-side, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers look strikingly similar, and it seems like a tall order to distinguish the two. However, if you pay close attention and do a little research, you can also discern the details that make them each unique. In this article, we’ll start by comparing Labradors vs Golden Retrievers before discussing the nine key differences separating the two and end with some frequently asked questions about the two breeds. 

Comparing Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers 

Also known as Labradors or simply “Labs,” Labrador Retrievers date back to the early 19th century. While they started as working dogs, they rarely fill that role now and more often fill the role of glorified house pets. Although variations exist among Labradors, they typically fall into three categories; Yellow Labs, Chocolate Labs, and Black Labs. Their names refer to the color of their coats, which range from golden-yellow to black to light brown. Among the three, Golden Labs get confused most often with Golden Retrievers due to their similar coloring. For the sake of this article, when we use the word “Labrador,” we will use it to refer to yellow Labs unless otherwise stated. 

Originally bred in the mid-19th century as gun dogs, Golden Retrievers come in 3 different subtypes. These include American Golden Retrievers, British Golden Retrievers, and Canadian Golden Retrievers. Although the breed originated in Scotland, we will focus on the American Golden Retriever, as it is the most popular subtype for this article. However, we’ve included a brief description of the other two subtypes for comparison. 

British Golden Retrievers

British Golden Retrievers remain popular in Europe and Australia, where they also go by the name “English Cream Golden Retrievers.” This name comes from their light gold to cream color, which is generally less red than the mahogany-gold common in American types. Compared to the other subtypes, the British variety possesses a broader skull and more muscular forequarters. In addition, their hindquarters appear straighter than the slightly angular rear of the American subtype.

Canadian Golden Retrievers

Canadian Golden Retrievers possess a thinner and darker coat than their British kin. They also stand taller on average than other Golden Retrievers from the British and American subtypes. 

Labrador RetrieverGolden Retriever
Size21.5 to 24.5 inches tall
55 to 80 pounds
21 to 24 inches tall
55 to 75 pounds
OriginsOriginated in the United Kingdom
A mix between St. Johns Water Dogs from Newfoundland and British hunting dogs
Originated in Scotland
A mix between Water Spaniels and existing Retriever dogs such as the Russian Retriever
MuzzleBroader and more jowlyLearn and narrow
CoatShorter hair
Water-proof top coat
Dense, wiry, oily hair
Longer hair
Water-resistant top coat
Soft, feathery undercoat along legs and stomach
TailPointyFluffy
ColorYellow, chocolate, and black
Color stays the same
Light gold to dark golden, red, mahogany
Color changes over time
Energy LevelHigh
1 hour or more of exercise per day
Medium-High
1 hour of exercise per day
Health ConcernsObesity
Hereditary myopathy
Seizures
Elbow dysplasia
Skin problems
Cancer
TemperamentKind, pleasant, and outgoing
More boisterous
Kindly, friendly, and confident
Calmer

The 9 Key Differences Between Labradors and Golden Retrievers

Labrador Retriever vs Golden Retriever: Size

Labradors and Golden Retrievers both count as medium-sized dogs. However, of the two, Labradors measure slightly larger than Golden Retrievers. On average, Labrador Retrievers stand between 21.5 and 24.5 inches tall and weigh from 55 to 80 pounds. Meanwhile, most Golden Retrievers stand 21 to 24 inches tall and weigh between 55 to 75 pounds. It’s also worth mentioning that Labradors appear stockier and more muscular than Golden Retrievers. Overall, Golden Retrievers look more sleek and narrow, while Labradors possess a more thick and athletic build. 

Labrador Retriever vs Golden Retriever: Origins

Both Labradors and Golden Retrievers trace their origins back to Europe. Labrador Retrievers date back to the 1830s when European settlers introduced Newfoundlands to Britain. British elite bred these dogs with British hunting dogs to create the Labrador Retrievers that we know today. Of the current color types, the first to appear was the Black Lab. Then came the Chocolate Lab or “Liver” as it was then known in the late 1800s, while the British Kennel Club recognized the first Yellow Lab in 1899. 

Like labs, Golden Retrievers can also trace their origin back to the United Kingdom, but rather than Britain, they originated in Scotland in the mid-19th century. At the time, Scottish elites wanted to create a new breed of gun-dog capable of retrieving game from both water and land. This precipitated breeders to mix Water Spaniels with available Retrievers like the Russian Retriever to create the Golden Retriever. Today, Labrador and Golden Retrievers occur throughout the world. However, the American Golden Retriever remains the most popular subtype of the breed in the United States. At the same time, the Black Lab is the original and still the most common color of Labrador. 

Labrador Retriever vs Golden Retriever: Muzzle

Another noticeable difference between Labradors and Golden Retrievers lies in the shape of their muzzles. Generally, Labrador’s possess a broader, shorter muzzle. Their wide muzzle gives them a full-faced look that enthusiasts often describe as “jowly.” It also may explain why people say that Labradors frequently look like they are smiling. The muzzle on Golden Retrievers, meanwhile, appears more narrow and longer. This lends them a leaner, more slender look. 

Labrador Retriever vs Golden Retriever: Coat

Labradors and Golden Retrievers both have double coats. This feature allows them to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. In the case of Labradors, their hair is shorter, denser, and wirier than the hair on Golden Retrievers. Their outer coat is also waterproof, which allows them to glide through the water easily. Compared to Labradors, the hair on Golden Retrievers is visibly much longer. Their topcoat is water-resistant, while their bottom coat is fluffy. In addition, their coat contains a feathered look along their legs and bellies. 

Labrador Retriever vs Golden Retriever: Tail

Along with obvious differences in their coats, it’s quite easy to distinguish the tail on a Labrador vs Golden Retriever. The tail on a Labrador Retriever is quite pointy and covered in short, wiry hair. Meanwhile, a Golden Retriever’s fluffy tail looks more like the feathery hair that covers their belies and legs. 

Labrador Retriever vs Golden Retriever: Color

One of the most noticeable differences between Labradors and Golden Retrievers lies in their coat colors. Aside from the obvious differences between Chocolate and Black Labs and Golden Retrievers, slight color variations distinguish Yellow Labs from Golden Retrievers. For example, Yellow Labradors generally appear in a straw gold or beige color and rarely exhibit darling markings or colorations. In addition, their color remains the same from infancy through adulthood. On the other hand, Golden Retrievers range in color from white to beige to red to mahogany. In addition, the color of a Golden Retriever’s coat can change during its life, usually starting lighter in infancy before growing darker in adulthood and possibly lightning again in old age.

Labrador Retriever vs Golden Retriever: Energy Level

Originally bred as gun dogs, both Labradors and Golden Retrievers exhibit high levels of energy. If you own a pet Labrador or Golden Retriever, you can expect to spend a significant amount of time exercising your dog to make sure they expend enough energy during the day. Most breeders consider Labradors as slightly higher energy dogs compared to Golden Retrievers. As such, it’s recommended that Labradors get at least one hour of exercise each day and preferably more if possible. That said, Golden retrievers also require a good deal of exercise. As medium-high energy dogs, they require around one hour of exercise each day, although some dog/s may require more. 

Labrador Retriever vs Golden Retriever: Health Concerns

Unfortunately, both Labradors and Golden Retrievers experience similar health concerns like hip dysplasia and eye deterioration. However, they also each face the prospect of unique health concerns. Labradors in particular grapple with obesity as well as hereditary myopathy. In Golden Retrievers, common health concerns include seizures, elbow dysplasia, skin issues, and cancer. In fact, nearly 60% of Golden Retrievers will develop cancer at some point during their lives, making them one of the most susceptible breeds to the disease. 

Labrador Retriever vs Golden Retriever: Temperament

Overall, Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers exhibit similar temperaments. Both dogs get along well with families, including small children, and enjoy other dogs’ company. According to the American Kennel Club, the official description of the Labrador’s temperament is “kind, pleasant, and outgoing.” Compared to Golden Retrievers, Labradors have developed a reputation as the more boisterous and energetic of the two breeds. Meanwhile, the British Kennel Club describes Golden Retrievers as “kindly, friendly, and confident.” People typically consider Golden Retrievers as calmer than Labradors, although individual differences between dogs do exist that can skew this generalization.

Frequently Asked Questions Concerning Labradors and Golden Retrievers

Do Labradors and Golden Retrievers make good guard dogs?

Generally, no, Labradors and Golden Retrievers do not make good guard dogs. While they may bark at strangers, their kind and friendly personalities make them ill-suited to training as guard dogs. 

Do Labradors and Golden Retrievers make good working dogs?

Yes, both breeds make excellent working dogs. They both originated as gun dogs and like to fetch objects. Both breeds make for excellent seeing-eye or therapy dogs as well.