What's the difference between Labradors and Golden Retrievers?

What's the difference between Labradors and Golden Retrievers?

At the start of 2019, ITV’s Top 100 Dogs Live revealed the very long list of our nation’s most beloved breeds. The results were based on a poll of 10,000 people, combined with live voting from the viewers at home.

The super Staffordshire Bull Terrier was crowned Britain’s most-loved dog. And for good reason: Staffies are gentle, loyal and immensely lovable pooches.

But look a little further down the list to number three and you’ll find one of the UK’s most popular breeds, especially when it comes to family ownership – the amazing Labrador.

Just in case you missed the programme, Rover shares the list of the full top 10 breeds, which were:

  1. Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  2. Cockapoo
  3. Labrador
  4. Springer Spaniel
  5. Cocker Spaniel 
  6. Boxer
  7. Border Collie
  8. German Shepherd
  9. Golden Retriever
  10. Mixed Breed

But let’s take a closer look at why Labs make such good family pets, and what the differences are between them and their Golden Retriever counterparts.

A woman hugging a Labrador puppy

Labs versus Golden Retrievers – is there a difference?

Labrador Retrievers (or just Labradors) and Golden Retrievers both made the top ten list.

These two breeds often get confused with one another – but, while they may share certain traits as well as the title of retriever (a type of gun dog originally used to retrieve game for hunters) there are in fact many differences that make each breed unique.

Maybe you’re considering giving a dog a furever home and you’re trying to decide whether a Labrador or Golden Retriever would make the best pet for you.

If this is the case, it’ll be very useful to know the distinguishing characteristics of each type of hound, to help you make the right decision for you, your home and family.

Whichever breed you end up choosing, we can compare dog insurance to help you find the provider that suits you and your pet, for a price that’s right.

Go Get It is the UK’s only dedicated pet insurance comparison website. This means that we can help you to navigate the minefield that is pet insurance, saving you time and money by comparing quotes on your behalf.

We work with a carefully-selected panel of leading insurers, with cover helping to protect your finances in the event your pooch becomes ill or injured and requires treatment.

So, without further ado, let’s take a look at some of the main differences and similarities between Labradors and Golden Retrievers.

A Golden Retriever laying in a grassy meadow panting

Appearance and coat

One of the reasons why Labs and Goldens get confused is that they’re pretty similar in appearance. Rover shares the list of shared traits, which include:

  • Height of 55-61cm
  • Folded ears
  • Long tails
  • Soft mouths (i.e. a behavioural tendency to pick up, hold and carry items gently)
  • Webbed feet
  • Happy expressions

The main thing that differentiates the two breeds in appearance is Golden Retrievers’ coat, which tends to be long and/or wavy, while Labs have short and straight coats.

They are also different in colour, the Happy Puppy Site points out; the Golden Retriever’s name speaks for itself, though the coat can range in shade from near white to a dark golden red. Labs have three main coats: black, yellow or chocolate (brown).

Golden Retrievers also have a longer snout and tend to be more smiley than their counterparts, while Labs have a medium, non-tapered muzzle, a more muscular build and a broader head with pronounced eyebrows.

A Labrador Retriever standing in a field panting at sunset

Activity and temperament

Both breeds belong to the sporting dogs group, as they were initially bred to be companions for hunters. This means they were designed to be active all day long – to run, swim and retrieve the catch for their human owners.

Due to this, these dogs need an active lifestyle and will make great pets for similarly active people who enjoy walking, running, jogging or exploring.

Both Labs and Goldens are highly-intelligent dogs, hence why these breeds are used as guide dogs, service dogs and search and rescue dogs. They’re easy to train, learn things very quickly and will be very keen for your praise and affection.

If you adopt a younger Lab or Golden who needs some training, their willingness to learn (and be rewarded for their efforts) should make it a pleasant, rather than a stressful experience.

Both of these breeds are family dogs through and through, thanks to their friendly and docile natures. However, because they’re so relaxed and friendly, they’re not a great choice if you want a good guard dog!

Because both breeds are very loyal, they like being around their owners as much as possible (all of the time if they could) and don’t tend to cope very well with being left alone.

So, either a Lab or Golden could make the ideal breed if you or a family member is home for a large part of the day, and is happy to exercise them on a regular basis.

Of course, you can always get a trusted dog sitter or walker to give you a helping hand on the days you’re not at home. Make sure you do your research and observe the person with your pet before deciding if they’re the right sitter for you and your dog.

A Golden Retriever jumping on a sandy beach

Grooming and shedding

Both Labs and Goldens are serious shedders. They shed all year round, with two ‘big sheds’ in the space of 12 months.

Because the fur on Goldens is typically lighter and longer, it can be more of a nuisance when they shed around the home, over the carpets and furniture, and on your clothes.

So, they may not be the best breed if you’re super house proud, nor if you or someone else in your home suffers from pet allergies.

For Goldens, you’ll need to use an undercoat rake on their long fur to prevent any matting, and regularly trim feathery areas like the tail, ears and neck.

Labs’ coats may be shorter, but they still require maintenance. A once-weekly brush down should be enough (unless they’re grubby from playing outdoors), whereas Goldens’ coats will need attention several times a week.

A Golden Retriever in a bath being groomed professionally

Health problems

All dog breeds are susceptible to developing a number of health issues.

The possible health problems Labs and Goldens share include cancer risk, obesity, ear infections and hip dysplasia (an abnormal formation of the hip socket that could lead to arthritis).

There are, things that owners can do to prevent these conditions from developing.

For instance, feeding your pooch a healthy and balanced diet and ensuring it enjoys plenty of daily exercise will stop them from gaining too much weight.

Specific health problems Labs can encounter include:

  • Malformation of elbows and knees.
  • Entropion – an eyelid abnormality where the lid rolls inward and irritates the cornea.
  • Laryngeal paralysis – an illness that can affect older labs that part-paralyses the voice box, leading to a muffled bark and breathing problems.

Then, health problems linked to Goldens include:

  • Skin problems like hot spots.
  • Elbow dysplasia – similar to hip dysplasia, this is caused by an abnormal growth in the elbow joint.

Ensuring your pooch leads a healthy lifestyle can play a part in preventing certain doggy illnesses, but you can’t prevent them from happening altogether.

That’s why you need to make sure you have a good dog insurance policy in place – it can help you recoup costs of treatment, so you can focus on nursing your pet back to full health without worrying about money.

A Labrador swimming

Cost of ownership

The cost of buying either breed can obviously vary. But on average, you’d be looking to pay around £670 for a Golden and around £490 for a Lab.

You’re likely to pay less if you choose to adopt a dog from a rehoming centre.

But what about lifetime costs? The PDSA writes that owners should expect their pets to cost them £6,500 to £17,000 at the very least over their entire lifetime (meaning it may cost you less if you decide to rehome an older pet).

As well as breed and how long they live, the cost of a pet will largely depend on its size – specifically:

  • Small dog breeds: £6,500 to £12,000
  • Medium dog breeds: £8,500 to £13,000
  • Large dog breeds: £7,400 to £17,000

Both Labs and Goldens are classed as medium-large breeds, meaning the estimated cost is between £8,500 and £17,000.

The PDSA points out that these estimates are the absolute minimum you’ll need to care for your pet over their lifetime.

You could end up paying as much as £33,000 over their lifetime if you decide you need to spend more on their continuing care.

In terms of life expectancy, it’s pretty similar between Labs and Goldens – the former having an average expectancy of between 10 and 12 years, while Goldens tend to live between 10 and 13 years.

A golden Retriever with its tongue out in-front of a hedge

So, what next?

If you’ve decided that a Lab or Golden would make the perfect pet, one of the main decisions you’ll need to make is whether to adopt or rehome a dog.

Rehoming means giving a pooch another chance at a happy life. The PDSA website shares some more benefits of adopting:

  • Respected rehoming centres have stringent adoption processes in place, including homechecks and contracts.
  • They carefully match dogs to the adopter’s circumstances and lifestyle.
  • Pooches are typically ‘temperament tested’ before adoption and undergo a health check.
  • You’ll receive good advice on adoption and looking after your new Lab or Golden.
  • Dogs tend to be neutered as part of the adoption process.
  • You’ll be playing your part in helping to limit the number of dogs that need rehoming in the UK.
  • Good rehoming centres will always give you post-adoption support.

The PDSA lists some of the most well known and respectable rehoming centres:

  • Dogs Trust
  • Blue Cross
  • Battersea Cats and Dogs Home
  • Wood Green The Animals Charity

Depending on where you live, there may also be some reputable local rehoming charities where you could find Labs or Goldens in search of their furever home.

A chocolate coloured Labrador licking its lips

Things to bear in mind when picking a pup

If you’ve decided to purchase a pup over rehoming an older Golden or Lab, it’s really important to make sure that you pick a good breeder.

Check the Kennel Club website as it lists all of the assured breeders for both types of dogs.

When you’ve chosen a breeder, here are some things to bear in mind:

  • Ask about the health history of the puppy’s parents – this includes any vet checkups or screenings
  • Ask to see the record of vaccinations
  • Stay to observe the parents’ temperament, behaviour and personalities
  • Pick a pup that looks healthy (check the ears, eyes and coat)
  • Pick a pup that doesn’t seem scared or anxious, or that seems good-natured.

A litter of Golden Retriever puppies feeding

Pet insurance comparison from Go Get It

Whether you pick a Lab, Golden or other breed, and whether you choose to rehome or buy from a breeder, compare with Go Get It.

As the UK’s only dedicated pet insurance comparison website, we compare a range of cover types and levels, all provided by leading insurers. The types of cover our insurers provide include:

  • Accident Only covers vets fees for unexpected injury. These policies meet the demands of owners who want cover for injuries and accidents only.
  • Time Limited covers any new conditions for 12 months. These policies are suited to owners who want to cover the cost of vet treatment for one year only for each type of illness or injury.
  • Maximum Benefit has no time limit for new conditions during the policy. These policies are suited to owners who want to cover the costs of any vet treatment up to a specific limit for each type of illness or accident.
  • Lifetime Cover covers new conditions, even at renewal. These policies are perfect for owners who want peace of mind that the ongoing costs of any vet treatment for injuries or illness are covered for the lifetime of their pooch.

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