Difference Between Golden Retriever & Labrador Retriever Dogs

By Jane Meggitt

One slight difference between the golden retriever and the Labrador retriever: The latter has remained at the top of the American Kennel Club most registered breeds for many years. The golden retriever has to settle for No. 3. While these two very popular dog breeds have much in common, they aren't interchangeable apart from coat color. Particular traits may help you decide which breed is the dog for you.

Breed Origins

The Labrador retriever originated in the New World, although he was refined in the Old World. First developed in Newfoundland, Labs were imported to England in the early 19th century and were bred by the Earl of Malmesbury into the water-loving sporting dogs known today. In 1917, the AKC recognized the Labrador retriever.

An even more recent breed, the golden retriever descends from wave-coated and flat-coated retrievers, along with setters. Britain's Lord Tweedmouth set out to create a yellow sporting dog in the late 19th century, and in 1932, the golden retriever was recognized by the AKC.

Size Differences

At maturity, male golden retrievers stand between 23 and 24 inches tall at the top of the shoulder, with females slightly smaller at 21.5 to 22.5 inches high. Males weigh between 65 and 75 pounds, and females 55 to 65 pounds.

When full-grown, male Labrador retrievers stand between 22.5 to 24.5 inches, weighing between 65 and 80 pounds. Female Labs range between 21.5 to 23.5 inches tall, weighing between 55 to 70 pounds.

Coat and Color

While you wouldn't mistake a black or chocolate Lab for a golden retriever, the yellow Lab is a different story. The breed standard for a yellow Lab states that the dog may range in color from "fox-red to light cream," with shading variations on the back, ears and abdomen. The golden retriever's coat is a "rich, lustrous golden of various shades." If the coloring doesn't help you decide which is which, observe the coat. While dense, the Lab's coat is straight and short. The golden's coat is either wavy or straight, with feathering on the back of the front legs and the abdomen, and heavy feathering under the tail, the neck front and the rear of the thighs.


The American Kennel Club describes the golden retriever as "devoted, friendly and intelligent," and the Labrador retriever as "active, friendly and outgoing." In addition to friendly, all of the other adjectives apply equally to either breed. Both Labs and goldens get along with kids, other dogs and cats. They're both easy to train and love to please. Both need a lot of exercise. The golden tends to be somewhat calmer than the Lab, but that varies between individuals. Since their temperaments are so similar, other considerations may sway your choice. For example, while both dogs shed, the golden sheds more profusely and requires more grooming than the Lab.

Health Issues

Both dogs have similar life spans, roughly 10 to 13 years, with the Lab more likely to live a bit longer. While cancer occurs in Labrador retrievers, it's very common in the golden. The breed has earned the unfortunate nickname of "cancer retriever." Types of cancer most frequently affecting goldens include osteosarcoma -- or bone cancer -- hemangiosarcoma, a cancer of the blood vessels and lymphosarcoma.

Both breeds are prone to the congenital conditions of hip and elbow dysplasia, which may require surgical correction. Epilepsy also occurs in both breeds, as do cataracts and progressive retinal atrophy, which renders dogs blind. Some Labs are born with the heart ailment tricuspid valve dysplasia, which may or may not cause problems. Some dogs appear unaffected, while others succumb. Goldens may inherit subvalvular aortic stenosis, which can result in fainting spells, or can kill the dog.