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German Shepherd vs. Golden Retriever: Breed Differences & Similarities

Two of the most popular dog breeds are the German Shepherd and the Golden Retriever. How is it possible to choose between the two? Learning about each breed's temperament, training expectations, nutrition needs, and health is a good place to start! Find out which breed is a better fit for your home.

Michelle Schenker

Last Updated: September 29, 2021 | 10 min read

German Shepherd vs Golden Retriever

German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers are among America’s most popular dogs to have as pets. Although you might think of the Golden Retriever as the quintessential family dog, German Shepherds ranked higher in popularity in 2020, according to the American Kennel Club. In fact, since at least 2013, the German Shepherd has been listed at #2 or #3, while the Golden has come in just behind.

What makes these dogs so desirable? They have different temperaments and appearances. They also have distinct histories. Both have outstanding attributes that make them a great addition to any home. These dogs are loyal, fun-loving, and great with children. In this article, we’ll describe their characteristics in more detail so that you can decide which type of dog is best for you or just learn more about the different breeds.

Breed Comparison

German Shepherd

  • Height 22-26 Inches
  • Weight 50-90 Pounds
  • Temperament Confident, Courageous, Smart
  • Energy High
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 12-14 Years
  • Price $1,200 and Up

Golden Retriever

  • Height 21.5-24 Inches
  • Weight 55-75 Pounds
  • Temperament Friendly, Intelligent, Devoted
  • Energy High
  • Health Average
  • Lifespan 10-12 Years
  • Price $1,200 and Up

Breed History

Understanding a dog’s history goes a long way to understanding what type of dog they are and what they’ll be like as a family pet. It’s not all just fun facts! Let’s take a look at these guy’s history and see how they compare.

German Shepherd

Four Dogs With Tongues Out
German Shepherds are some of the most iconic military and police dogs.

German Shepherds were first bred in Germany for herding sheep. Despite what many people think, they were not created to be law enforcement doggos straight away. Although the shape of their bodies and ears are similar to wolves, German Shepherds are a relatively new breed. Before the breed was standardized, any herding dog in Germany was referred to as a shepherd.

In the late 1800s, however, breeder Max von Stephanitz was impressed by a dog at a competition. He purchased the dog and began to breed it to maintain the intelligence and distinguishing features of what we now recognize as a German Shepherd. He was more interested in breeding dogs that were intelligent, hard-working, and useful than producing a gorgeous specimen. He managed to create all these things when he made the German Shepherd.

After a while, it was realized how loyal and protective they were of their humans. As a result, they were used in the World Wars as police and military dogs. It is believed that a few German Shepherds came to America with returning soldiers. They became popular thanks to German Shepherd celebrities such as Rin-Tin-Tin and Jerry Lee in the hit movies K-9.

Golden Retriever

Happy Dog Walking Toward Camera
Golden Retrievers are one of the most popular family dogs.

The Golden Retriever is a sporting dog that originated in Scotland and England in the 19th century. The breed was developed by gamekeepers who wanted them to help hunt waterfowl. Their ambition was to create the ‘perfect gun dog’ who was gentle enough to collect the fowl in their mouth without damaging it in any way. The breed is likely a combination of the now-extinct Tweed water spaniels, Newfoundlands, and Irish setters.

The Golden Retriever first came to America in the early 20th century. But it wasn’t until the 1970s that their popularity shot up. Former President Gerald Ford’s pet Golden, named Liberty, showcased the breed’s best attributes to the nation, and it’s safe to say that we fell in love. Not only do they make awesome family pets, but they are also a leading pick for assistance and therapy work.

Appearance

Serious Dogs in the Snow
Each breed has distinct looks that separates them.

German Shepherds are medium to large dogs. The average weight for a male German Shepherd is 66 to 88 pounds. The height at the withers, the area where the neck meets the shoulder blades, is about 24 to 26 inches for male shepherds. Females may be a little smaller. These dogs have long, square muzzles and medium-sized eyes. Their large, pointed ears stand upright and face forward.

Some puppies have floppy ears until the cartilage develops completely. The ears may move back when the dogs are moving. They have long, bushy tails and long necks. Their double-layered coat is usually of medium length, but it can be long. It provides warmth during the cooler months, but the underlayer sheds so that the breed can better handle the warmer seasons.

The Golden Retriever is a medium-large breed is built for strength. British Golden Retrievers are more muscular than the American type, which is lankier. A male Golden Retriever should weigh about 65 to 75 pounds. They also have a greater tendency than other dogs to become overweight. That may be because these dogs have mastered the art of begging. These dogs love to eat.

Most commonly, German Shepherds have tan or reddish fur with black along the muzzle, back, and tail. However, they can be all sable, white, or black. Rare varieties are silver, blue, or liver-colored.

Golden Retrievers come in many shades, including light cream, golden, dark gold, and red gold. A Golden Retriever’s coat is usually medium or long. These canines have a wavy, water-resistant topcoat that sheds moderately. The fur feathers at the chest, tail, and hindquarters.

Temperament

Smiling Dogs Among Flowers
Both have sociable and loyal personalities.

German Shepherds make great guard dogs and family dogs. They’re extremely loyal and protective, and they may not warm up to strangers immediately. To ensure that they do not become over-protective, it’s important to socialize them properly. This way, they’ll learn that new people aren’t always threats, and they’ll be more well-balanced.

Golden Retrievers are known for their friendliness and confidence. They’ll bound up to anyone, wagging their tails and hoping to play. This makes them less than ideal guard dogs. However, they are known to bark and will often let you know if someone is at the door. Making them great watchdogs. If you’re forever having guests and new people over, this more sociable pooch will probably be the better option.

If you want a dog that loves to play, the Golden Retriever will keep you busy. They have natural retrieving instincts. Therefore, they’ll play fetch incessantly. Golden Retrievers also love the water. If you enjoy fishing, boating, or going to the beach, a Golden can be a great companion. Even though Golden Retrievers can be so enthusiastic that they’re goofy, they’re not dimwitted.

Although the German Shepherd loves to play too, they much prefer the challenge of training sessions and learning new tricks. They are the more serious out of the two dog breeds. When they aren’t training, they’ll be by your side. Or guarding the yard, ensuring that the family is safe indoors. For this reason, the Golden Retriever is the more cuddly of the two breeds too. And he won’t feel guilty slacking off guarding duties to cuddle on the sofa.

Similarly, they are both loyal and devoted to their family and would do anything for them in their own way. If you are seeking a dog that will stick to you like glue, both breeds fit that doggy bill. They are both likely to suffer from separation anxiety. So they’ll both appreciate a family who can spend most of their day with them. If you’re a family who work long hours away from home, neither of these guys make a good fit.

Exercise

Dogs Standing in the Snow
Both should be exercised for at least an hour a day.

Both the German Shepherd and the Golden Retriever have high exercise needs. They both need active families who can commit to their high exercise needs. They should be walked at least twice a day for 30 minutes or more. Both breeds could happily exercise for much longer than this and would be super happy if you’ve got the time. Without this level of exercise, they’ll both become bored and destructive.

Golden Retrievers love to play fetch and frisbee. They may even be more motivated by this type of play than they are by their dog food. This is important to note if you’re trying to train them by rewarding them with something that they like. The German Shepherd is likely to be more motivated by praise from their master, although they’ll never turn their nose up at a treat.

For the times when you cannot provide them with constant entertainment, investing in a bunch of dog toys is a great idea. The German Shepherd will need a strong, durable toy that can withstand his powerful jaw. And the Golden Retriever, with his gentle mouthing, is much more likely to prefer a crunchy, squeaky toy to satisfy his gun dog needs.

Training

Dogs Sitting in the Snow
Both have a desire to please their masters and are highly trainable.

German Shepherds are considered to be the third smartest dog breed, after the Border Collie and Poodle. In his book “The Intelligence of Dogs,” Stanley Coren reported that German Shepherds will follow the first command given 95 percent of the time.

The Golden Retriever ranks just below the German Shepherd in intelligence. What makes up a dog’s smarts? It’s a combination of instinct, adaptability, and obedience. Thankfully, because they are both eager to please, they’ll follow your commands.

Although both types of dogs want to please their owners, the German Shepherd is probably easier to train, in general. They learn commands quickly, and you don’t have to repeat orders frequently. The Golden Retriever is easily distracted as a pup, and they’re slightly less focused than German Shepherds.

Obedience training is one way to keep the German Shepherd working hard all day. You can also easily teach most German Shepherds tricks or lead them through agility drills.  White German Shepherds are bred to be calmer than those with variations in their coat color. If you’re worried about adopting a high-energy dog, you might consider looking for this mellow variation.

Barking is a form of communication, and both of these breeds are known to be fairly vocal. German Shepherds tend to bark because they’re bred as guard or herding dogs. Barking placates the German Shepherd’s guarding instinct. Golden Retrievers usually bark to get attention. They may be telling you that they want to play or that a stranger is at the front door. Learning the ‘quiet command’ will be a key part of their training.

Socializing is important because it curbs undesirable behavior, builds a dog’s confidence, and prevents them from being overprotective. Working with a professional who understands the breed can ensure that your guard dog does its job when you’re not home but doesn’t try to attack your friends when they come for a visit.

Health

Young Dogs at the Vet
Both breeds have several potential genetic health concerns.

Purebred dogs are more likely than mutts to have health problems. That’s because they inherit genetic disorders from their bloodline. Breeds have been standardized based on their appearance, and line-breeding can heighten health complications. Both German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers can lead healthy lives as long as they get plenty of exercise, regular exams, and lots of love. The German Shepherd has a slightly longer lifespan than the Golden Retriever.

German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers are also fairly large dogs. Many canines of their size are predisposed to joint issues. Both of these breeds are likely to have hip dysplasia or looseness in the hip joints. The condition can lead to arthritis in these dogs. This is more common in the German Shepherd, especially in those who have sloping backs.

In the U.S., Golden Retrievers also have high cancer rates. Approximately 60 percent of Golden Retrievers will develop fatal cancer. European-bred Golden Retrievers don’t get cancer as much as American-bred breeds. That’s because they have different DNA. Still, Goldens don’t have the highest rates of cancer among dog breeds. Just a bit more than German Shepherds.

Nutrition

Dogs Looking Up from Eating
We recommend a natural dog food that is formulated for your dog’s life stage.

The Golden Retriever and the German Shepherd are similar in their size and energy levels, meaning they consume roughly the same amount of food. They’ll both eat around three cups of kibble a day. Remember that every dog is different, so it’s important to work out exactly how much your dog needs according to the feeding instructions on the packaging. They both need a kibble designed for large breed dogs.

The Golden Retriever’s eyes are bigger than their bellies. They are more at risk of obesity than German Shepherds are. So, keep the treat tin out of paws’ reach! If you notice either dog breed putting on too much weight, it’s time to get them moving more and/or eating less. Switching them to a weight management kibble is an additional option. It’s important to keep them trim as they are both at risk of joint concerns.

Both the Golden Retriever and the German Shepherd are at risk of gastric torsion, also known as bloat, more so than other dog breeds. This occurs when the stomach twists and the risk is higher when eating immediately before or after exercise. It is life-threatening, so please take the time to learn about it and what symptoms to look out for.

Grooming

Faces of Happy Dogs
Both breeds shed quite a lot.

Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds both have thick, double-layered coats, and both shed. So, if you don’t like dog hair in the home, stay well clear of these guys. However, the Golden may shed more and require additional brushing and bathing with specially formulated shampoo. Their undercoat is dense and fluffy. It sheds copiously in the spring and fall. Brushing the dog regularly will help control the shedding.

You should also bathe both dogs occasionally; once every eight weeks or so is the ideal frequency. With his love for water, mud, and crazy adventures, the Golden Retriever is more likely to get dirty than the more serious German Shepherd. Try not to use products on him more than every eight weeks, a simple hose down should suffice in between baths. When using products, ensure that they are designed for dogs and are made from natural ingredients.

Puppy Price

Puppies Running in Grass
Expect to pay $1,200 or more for a purebred German Shepherd or Golden Retriever.

The price of a German Shepherd and Golden Retriever puppy from a reputable breeder starts around $1,200. Puppies from a popular breeder, a high-cost area, or from award-winning bloodlines are often more expensive. Puppy mills lure customers in with low puppy prices. But it’s important to work with a reputable breeder. Otherwise, you risk buying an undersocialized and sick puppy.

There are also additional puppy costs to take into consideration. You’ll need to puppy-proof your home and buy all the things a puppy needs. There are also ongoing life costs such as food, medical bills, and insurance, to name just a few. Although it’s difficult to predict, the price comparison between the two breeds is likely to be similar. Considering their similar size, food consumption, and medical costs.

Final Thoughts

Two of the most popular dog breeds in America have similar strengths. They’re intelligent, playful, adaptable, and friendly. German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers are generally good with children and other pets. If you’re looking for a working dog, a German Shepherd probably has more endurance and agility than a Golden Retriever. However, that’s not always the case.

Golden Retrievers tend to be trusting of many different people. They would be ideal for a larger family or a therapy environment requiring frequent meetings with strangers. German Shepherds are excellent guard dogs. They’re just as loyal as Golden Retrievers, but they may be more protective of their owners. You need to make sure to socialize them properly so that they don’t become overprotective.

Give both of these dogs plenty of attention. When they’re bored, they may exhibit undesired behaviors, like barking, chewing, and scratching. But either breed would be ideal for a family. You just need to decide which pooch better suits your family and lifestyle.

Health Disclaimer: The information provided through this website should not be used for diagnosing or treating a health problem or a disease. It is not a substitute for professional care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider.

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