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Australian Shepherd vs. Labrador Retriever: Breed Differences & Similarities

Considering a Labrador Retriever vs. Australian Shepherd for your next four-legged friend? Find out what to expect from both breeds before welcoming either into your home!

Kelly Wilson

Last Updated: February 2, 2021 | 10 min read

Australian Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever at Beach

Are you considering an Australian Shepherd vs. Labrador Retriever for your next canine companion? If so, it’s not an easy choice! These two similarly sized breeds crave an active lifestyle and work well as family pets, but they have many differences to consider.

While both breeds can make excellent family companions, they are both high energy and need to be placed with active families. They have different personalities, nutrition needs, and grooming habits. Learning more about how the Australian Shepherd and Labrador Retriever’s needs differ should help you figure out which breed better meshes with your lifestyle.

So whether you’re considering a four-legged addition to the family now or just want to know for future reference, read on for a full comparison between Australian Shepherds vs. Labrador Retrievers!

Breed Comparison

Australian Shepherd

  • Height 20-23 Inches
  • Weight 50-65 Pounds
  • Temperament Smart, Work-Oriented, Energetic
  • Energy High Energy
  • Health Above Average
  • Lifespan 13 to 15 years
  • Puppy Prices $1,000 and Up

Labrador Retriever

  • Height 21-24 Inches
  • Weight 55-80 Pounds
  • Temperament Friendly, Hardworking, Intelligent
  • Energy Energetic
  • Health Above Average
  • Lifespan 12-14 Years
  • Puppy Prices $1,000 and Up

Breed History

When it comes to comparing dog breeds, it helps to learn a little about their history first. Many pet owners focus on looks or size when choosing a dog and fail to take the breed’s heritage into account. But heritage is important as it determines where your dog’s strengths and weaknesses will likely display. Let’s take a deeper look at the history of each breed.

Australian Shepherd

Young Aussie Dog Outdoors
Aussies are one of the most popular farm dogs across the world.

California cowboys have long favored Australian Shepherds on their ranches. In fact, they were the ones to coin this breed’s name. But it’s a bit of a misnomer. Australian Shepherds, also known as Aussies, come from interbreeding Pyrenean Shepherds and Collies in Australia. Australia is nowhere near the Pyrenees, of course, and both areas are a far cry from California.

So how did Aussies come to be known as the cowboy favorite?

The answer lies in the indigenous Basque people. A sheepherding culture, the Basques hail from the Pyrenees, between France and Spain. There they bred Pyrenean Shepherds to help with their flocks.

In the early 1800s, several of them sailed to Australia seeking greener pastures. Once there, they interbred their beloved Pyrenean Shepherds with Collies that were also brought to Australia in the 1800s.

It wasn’t long before several of the Basque immigrants decided California might be an even better landscape. They packed their bags again and set out for the west coast of North America, their Shepherds, of course, in tow.

In the golden state, cowboys and ranchers fell in love with this new breed of herding dog. They named the dogs assuming their Basque owners had found them in Australia alone.

To this day, Aussies work as ranch dogs throughout the United States. They also retain roles as service dogs, search and rescue canines, and therapy animals.

Labrador Retriever

Young Male Lab Dog
Labs are the most popular dog breed on the planet.

Labrador Retrievers come from Newfoundland, where they were bred to do exactly what their name suggests. A favorite of hunters, Labs originally retrieved ducks and other waterfowl from frigid waters.

They also worked on fishing boats, where they would retrieve fish that came off the trawl net. Thanks to their short but very dense, water-resistant coat, Labradors have no issue with the icy waters of the far north.

As retrievers, they were bred to be outgoing and eager to please. Breeders also encouraged the dogs to be friendly to other animals. That way, they would retrieve rather than eat a hunter’s prize.

These traits led to their steady rise in popularity. The upper classes of Britain and Canada took to the breed in the 1800s, and Labs have been in high demand ever since.

In 1903, the Kennel Club in England officially coined the name Labrador Retriever, though they had long been called Labradors at that point. And today, this happy, fun-loving breed bears the title of the most popular dog in the United States.

Since the breed was been established, there are two different types of Labs bred in different areas of the world. They are the same breed, but one is bred for show and the other for sporting, or field events. Field dogs are known to be more active than show dogs.

Besides being excellent pets, Labs also make steadfast service animals. Today we often see them in search and rescue jobs, service jobs, and therapy positions.

Appearance

Two Dogs Sitting on Fence Outdoors
These two breeds look completely different from one another.

It’s easy to tell the difference between a Labrador and an Australian Shepherd when it comes to appearance. While Australian Shepherds often have mottled coats with traces of red or even blue, sable, white, and black or brown, Labradors are almost always single-colored.

Labradors have broad, otter-like tails that help them take turns in the water. They also have recognizably broad skulls with round, friendly eyes to fit their high-spirited personalities.

Meanwhile, Australian Shepherds typically have their tails bobbed. If left natural, their tail and coat are feathered and longer than a Labrador’s. They have a muscular gait and attentive gaze.

Labs can grow to be larger than Aussies, but not all do. In general, female Labs reach about 60 pounds. Female Aussies get up to 55 lbs. Male labradors can reach up to 80 lbs, while male Aussies cap out at 65 lbs.

Both breeds are beautiful, but the difference in sizes may be significant when picking a new pet! Lifting 65 pounds might be much more attainable than lifting 80 pounds should your dog ever need a boost!

Temperament

Two Young Dogs Playing in Grass
Both breeds are excellent family dogs.

When deciding on a new pet, temperament counts for quite a bit. Picking a breed that fits well with your family and lifestyle is vital for both you and your new four-legged friend.

When it comes to both Labs and Aussies, it’s crucial to understand how much energy these dogs need to exert. Both dog breeds are known for their energetic, exuberant personalities.

Labradors, especially, are outgoing and high-spirited. They tend to love large or active families where there’s plenty of people to please. Attention is crucial for labradors, and without it, they can become destructive.

The Aussie may not be as outwardly friendly, at least if strangers are around, but they are energetic and incredibly smart. They require stimulation through work or puzzle play. And they tend to bond tightly to their owners.

Without their companions around, Australian Shepherds may act out. So working long hours without them or leaving them alone for long periods isn’t an option.

Deciding which breed is right for your family and lifestyle is personal. But with either of these breeds, you should know that plenty of playtime and energy is required.

Exercise

Aussie and Labrador Playing Outside
Plan to spend at least 60 minutes per day exercising either breed.

Both the Aussie and the Lab will fare better in a home that has a large yard with room to roam. These breeds are high-energy and were bred for active tasks.

Labradors, in particular, love water. Any sort of access to a lake, pool, or pond will put a Labrador in doggie paradise. They also love retrieving, of course, and do well in canine tracking competitions. Australian Shepherds love big spaces where they can run for hours on end. When trained, they make excellent running companions.

Both breeds excel when given a formal job, too. Many Aussies and Labs work as search-and-rescue and service canines. Labradors also do well as drug and bomb-detection dogs.

To put it plainly, these dog breeds need daily exercise for long periods. Or, they need to have a specific task, be it training for agility competitions or working as therapy pets. When owners overlook exercise or mental stimulation for either breed, the dogs tend to indulge in destructive behaviors.

To help satisfy mental stimulation, consider a wide variety of dog toys for either breed. Labs typically enjoy a wide variety of different dog toys, with their favorites usually being something they can fetch. While Aussies enjoy a game of fetch, they are also well known as chewers, so consider a few different Aussie sized chew toys to keep them properly entertained.

Training

Black Lab and Brown Aussie Dogs
Both breeds are very trainable and are quick to learn new commands.

Early and often is the name of the game when it comes to training either breed. Both need obedience training classes to thrive, and starting young is recommended. Committing to puppy training and obedience classes is a must for either breed. If you don’t have time in your schedule to train and play, adopting a Labrador Retriever or Australian Shepherd may not be the best idea.

Labs especially benefit from early socialization with other puppies. They are typically high energy as puppies, and this can be challenging for households with small kids. They are highly intelligent though, and usually don’t take more than a few repetitions to learn a new command.

Aussies¬†are smart, and obedience classes will help them to learn boundaries. They’re intelligence and eager-to-please nature make training the basics easy. Teaching them to avoid destructive behavior is sometimes more challenging. Professional obedience training helps Aussies learn what’s off-limits.

Both dog breeds should be crate trained. Aussies need a medium-sized dog crate (36 inches), while Labradors need a bigger crate, especially if your dog is male. A crate that’s 42 inches in length should do for Labs. Both breeds are known to suffer from a bit of separation anxiety, so you should only use the crate as a training tool a couple of hours per day, and at nighttime.

When it comes to neighborhood walks, both breeds leash train quite easily. We recommend harness training when young. Use a no-pull harness if your dog decides to try pulling you along during walks. Labs should stick with a large harness meant for active breeds, while Aussies will usually fare well with the same types of harnesses in a medium size.

Health

Two Healthy Dogs Running on Beach
Both dog breeds are quite healthy, with a few potential genetic health problems.

Overall, both Labrador Retrievers and Australian Shepherds are healthy breeds. That said, both also have their fair share of common medical ailments. Of course, breeders can screen for most of these issues in order to avoid them.

Labs, like all heavy dogs with large chests, are subject to a condition called bloat. It’s serious and life-threatening, so should you choose to adopt a Labrador Retriever, it’s essential to educate yourself on potential symptoms.

Besides that, Labs are prone to hip dysplasia, certain eye disorders, and heart conditions. They’re also at risk for exercise-induced collapse, or EIC. Breeders typically screen for EIC, though, and won’t breed dogs who have it in their bloodlines.

Aussies are prone to hip dysplasia too. They’re also at risk for epilepsy and cataracts. Certain types of cancer are common in Australian Shepherd bloodlines, as well.

As noted, though, reputable breeders screen for known conditions. They won’t breed a dog who has cancers, cataracts, or hip dysplasia in their genes. That’s why buying from a breeder is ideal, even if it costs slightly more than other options.

Nutrition

Aussie and Lab Eating Dog Food
Both dog breeds should be fed a high-quality kibble that’s suited for their age range.

Taking care of a dog means providing the highest quality nutrition possible. Always seek out vet-approved kibble that’s specific to your dog’s age and activity level.

When it comes to specifics, a good diet for Labradors tends to focus on joint health. Seek out Labrador appropriate dog foods that include glucosamine and chondroitin, and be sure to watch out for weight gain. Labs typically eat around 3 to 3.5 cups of dog food each day depending on their size. This should be broken up into two to three different feeding sessions to avoid bloat.

Treats are popular tools for training labradors, but Labs also tend to become overweight. Excess weight is especially detrimental to them because of the extra strain it puts on their joints.

Australian Shepherds benefit from a dog food formula that focuses on omega-fatty acids and Vitamin E, which encourages a shiny, healthy coat. Aussies will typically consume about 2 to 2.5 cups of dog food each day but may eat more depending on their activity levels.

They too respond well to treat-based training, and they also can become obese. This is something you’ll want to monitor as your Aussie ages.

Grooming

Yellow and Tri Colored Dogs
Both breeds have double coats and will need to follow a consistent grooming schedule.

If shedding is a problem for your lifestyle, you might want to reconsider your choice of breed. Both dogs shed a fair amount, and require a consistent grooming schedule.

With Labradors, shedding is constant. Their waterproof coats, though, only need occasional baths, and they will likely love to take them!

With Australian shepherds, the shedding is seasonal. Using an undercoat rake during the shedding season makes it manageable. Otherwise, they only need to be brushed once a week and require an occasional bath.

Both breeds need their nails trimmed regularly. When larger dogs run, long nails can become painful. And both these breeds absolutely love to run!

Puppy Prices

Australian Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever Puppies
Expect purebred puppy prices to start around $1,000 and up for both dog breeds.

When it comes to the cost, Labrador Retrievers tend to be more expensive than Australian Shepherds. That’s probably because Labrador Retrievers are so popular! Puppy prices start around $1,000 and up for a purebred puppy from a reputable breeder. Expect to pay double, or even triple that if your Lab has a rarer coat color, or comes from championship breeding lines.

Popularity comes at a cost. Every year, many people adopt Labrador Retrievers without realizing the time and energy required to raise one. Many Labradors end up in rescues and shelters. Adopting a rescued labrador is always an option, but remember, Labradors require socializing young. Adopting an older rescue may come with unforeseen challenges.

Australian Shepherds may be a little less expensive, but litters may be less widely available too. Puppy prices start around $1,000 and up from a reputable breeder. Aussies with rarer colors can also fetch a higher price, but they typically won’t run more than $1,500 unless bred from championship breeding lines.

Whether you choose to adopt an Australian Shepherd or a Labrador Retriever puppy, choosing a reputable breeder is the most important part. That way, you avoid potential health issues and can be sure the puppy is well taken care of before you take it home.

Final Thoughts

Both Labrador Retrievers and Australian Shepherds are medium to large dogs with active, eager to please, personalities. If you’re comparing Australian Shepherds vs. Labrador Retrievers for your next pup, the choice may be difficult!

After all, both breeds have a lot to offer with their happy demeanors and exuberant personalities. Perhaps you prefer the steadfast loyalty of a shepherd with their keen intelligence and problem-solving capabilities. Or maybe you’re all about the Labrador’s high-spirits and companionable nature.

If you still just can’t pick between the two of them, there’s always the option of going the designer dog route. Aussiedors combine both breeds, in an effort to get the best of both worlds.

Bringing home a new dog is a big decision, but you can’t go wrong with either breed. As long as you’re ready for the time and energy commitment required with either, it’s likely they’ll quickly become part of your family!

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