Labrador vs. Golden Retriever: What’s the Difference?

Labradors are retrievers, too.
Labrador (left) and golden retriever.
Labrador (left) and golden retriever. / (Lab) Cris Cantón/Moment Open/Gett Images; (Golden) DebbiSmirnoff/E+/Getty Images; (Vs.) Justin Dodd/Mental Floss

Labradors and golden retrievers are enough alike to get mistaken for each other fairly often, but they’re not impossible to tell apart once you know what to look for. Here’s a guide to the similarities and differences between these dogs—and how other retriever breeds fit in. 

Labradors and Goldens: Similarities

Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers are both, well, retrievers. Historically, they were hunting dogs that located fallen game and brought it to the hunters. (Some still do.) Both breeds are known for being friendly, gentle, trainable, and sociable with humans and other dogs—which makes them a popular pet for families. They also both shed quite a lot, and their size and lifespan ranges are almost identical.




Life Expectancy

Labrador retrievers

21.5 to 24.5 inches

55 to 80 pounds

11 to 13 years

Golden retrievers

21.5 to 24 inches

55 to 75 pounds

10 to 12 years

Yellow Labrador vs. Golden Retriever

happy chocolate lab panting in a field of dandelions
It's easy to tell it's a lab when it's brown. / Johnny Johnson/The Image Bank/Getty Images

There is some overlap in the coat colors of Labradors and golden retrievers. Labs, as breeder Dr. Frances Smith told the American Kennel Club (AKC), “can shed hair in three colors—yellow (ranging from pale cream to fox red), black, and chocolate.” Goldens’ coats, meanwhile, can only be “from very pale cream to nearly fox red.”

So you can’t always be sure you’re looking at a yellow Labrador or a golden retriever based on color alone. But coat length can help: Labs’ hair is typically shorter, while the hair on goldens is often longer and feathered along the edges. Their faces and body shapes are a little different, too—Labrador retrievers have shorter muzzles and ears than their golden counterparts, and their build is a little stockier.


Coat Colors

Coat Length

Facial Traits

Body Type

Labrador retrievers

Yellow (cream to copper), black, or chocolate

On the shorter side

Shorter muzzle and ears

Stockier with a rounder rib cage

Golden retrievers

Pale cream to light copper

Longer with some feathering along the edges

Longer muzzle and ears

On the slimmer side

Golden Labrador vs. Golden Retriever

a goldador panting with a blurred lawn in the background
An 18-month-old goldador named Holly. / State Farm, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0 DEED

Though people sometimes use the term golden Labrador to describe a lab with a relatively dark yellow coat, that’s not technically correct. And it can even make it unclear what kind of dog you’re talking about, because golden Labrador is also used to describe a mix between a Labrador and a golden. The best way to mitigate confusion is probably just to call those dogs “goldadors.”

As labs and goldens are so similar to begin with, it’s unsurprising that their crossbreed is pretty close to each purebreed. But that’s not to say all goldadors are gold: They can have any combination of their parents’ visual characteristics, so some goldadors end up with chocolate or black coats. In short, if you see a dog with the face of a golden retriever but the dark chocolate coloring of a lab, there’s a fairly good chance that it’s a goldador.

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever and Other Retriever Breeds

Labs and goldens aren’t the only two types of retrievers: The AKC recognizes six breeds in total.

a Chesapeake Bay retriever looking majestic on an unpaved path with trees in the background
Chessie. / Christopher Kimmel/Moment/Getty Images

The Chesapeake Bay retriever, known for its wavy brown, waterproof coat and stellar swimming skills, has a particularly interesting origin story. In 1807, a ship en route from Newfoundland to England wrecked off the Maryland coast, and the two St. John’s water dogs (a now extinct breed) aboard were rescued and sold separately to two families in the Chesapeake Bay region. Each was bred with various other dogs in the area to create the “Chessie.”

There’s also the curly-coated retriever, which may include Newfoundlands, poodles, and Irish water spaniels in its breeding history; the flat-coated retriever, whose flat coat and long head helps distinguish it from other retrievers; and the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, or “toller,” a smaller retriever whose playful behavior helps attract ducks to the shoreline (where hunters can more easily target them). Toll in the Middle Ages meant “to attract, entice,” per the Oxford English Dictionary, and by the 19th century people had started using it specifically to describe attracting wild animals for capture.

Curly-coated and flat-coated retrievers both have black or liver coats, while tollers are reddish or copper-colored.

triptych of a curly-coated retriever, flat-coated retriever, and toller
(Left to right) Curly-coated, flat-coated, toller. / (Curly) Catherine Ledner/DigitalVision/Getty Images; (Flat) xxmmxx/E+/Getty Images; (Toller) MATTHEW PALMER/Moment/Getty Images

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