Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular family dogs in America. Labs have been number one in AKC registrations for about 16 years now. So what's the difference between the two breeds, from an owner's standpoint?
There is NO SUCH THING as a Golden Lab, unless someone has bred the two breeds to each other! Then it is a Golden/Lab mix. Labs are either yellow, black or chocolate. Goldens only come in one color, which can range from pale cream to deep red. Yellow labs also can have great variation in the color, from palest cream (almost white) to deep "fox red." There are no truly white labs, they are just very pale yellows. Also beware of the "rare" silver Labrador. This is a serious genetic defect, or the result of breeding to a Weimaraner.
Labs have a short coat, but they shed a ton-- probably more than goldens. A golden's long luxurious coat needs more brushing, and can tangle and mat easily. Goldens are larger, heavier dogs. I've always thought they are a little sillier than Labs-- wiggly-goofy when young.
Both breeds are active, bred to be hunting dogs, and need a lot of exercise. As puppies, they are tremendous chewers. Training should start as soon as you bring them home, otherwise once they hit the teenage months, you'll have way too much dog on your hands. Both breeds are easy to train and eager to please, which is why so many are service dogs for people with disabilities. This goes back to their purpose, hunting, where they must work alongside their handler and follow his direction out in the field.
Goldens seem to dominate obedience competition, and I am told it is because they are easier to pattern train, and don't mind the repetition like a Lab does. A Lab is more likely to make up his own routines if he gets bored! I've owned a Lab and can attest to that! Although I haven't owned a golden, I have been in classes with many, have several as pet sitting clients, and have trained several when I was working at a training facility.
Show or Field?
I think if you want a retriever, either a golden or a Lab is a good choice, and it's more a matter of personal preference which you prefer. The breeds aren't tremendously different to live with. Whatever you get, it is more important to decide whether you want a dog from show or hunting lines, because the temperament can be very different. Hunting, or field bred, goldens and Labs can be much lighter weight and be more high-strung and active. Some of them can be downright hard to live with if they don't get enough exercise every day.
It's a shame that there are almost two breeds within the breed, but there are very real differences. You'll hear about English Labs, which are supposedly shorter, stockier and heavier. That's what a show-bred Lab is going to look like, American or English. A show bred golden retriever will have a magnificent coat, often be a lighter color (not always), and will generally be larger and have heavy bone structure.
Many show breeders train their dogs and show them in hunting tests, to be sure that the original purpose of the dog is not lost while striving for a pretty profile in the ring. Field trials are a much higher level of competition that hunting tests, and you usually won't see show dogs competing in these.
The hunting photos shown here are by Susan Wing. All photos are copyrighted and not to be reproduced without permission.