Fun-Loving Pal vs. Ultimate Protector: Golden Retriever vs. German Shepherd

German Shepherd or Golden Retriever? This may be one of the hardest decisions you make as a prospective pet owner. Both are amazing dogs that are great for families, but deciding between the two will come down to your specific needs.

If you live in a small neighborhood with young families, walking around with a German Shepherd could be alarming to the neighbors.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you could be living in an area where it’s preferable to not have an overly social dog, like the golden retriever. In this case, the guarding instincts of a German Shepherd may be better suited.

Maybe you want your children to grow up with a dog in the house, that will become the family’s best friend. You want to be able to take your dog to the dog park, and allow it to socialize with others without worry.

In this article, we’ll help you understand the important things to keep in mind when choosing between the German Shepherd and Golden Retriever.

German Shepherd vs Golden Retriever: Can I Only Pick One?

The German Shepherd and Golden Retriever are the second and third most popular dog breeds in America, according to the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Both of these dogs are great working dogs that have been great additions to countless households over the years.

They also have strong genetic histories that have been well preserved over the centuries. Thanks to the dog breeders that have maintained these amazing bloodlines, today’s GSDs and Retrievers closely resemble the original versions of these breeds.

They are both high energy breeds that are known to need a lot of playtime and exercise. These dogs are both great as service dogs and, would be awesome additions to any family.

Breed Histories: German Shepherds & Golden Retrievers 

German Shepherds were originally bred as herding dogs. They were utilized as dogs that could guide and protect herds of sheep, among other animals needing protection.

The breed originated in the Alsace region, which is now split up between Germany and France. The GSD bloodline has been preserved over the years via selective breeding, producing consistent looks and character.

Golden Retrievers are of Scottish origin, and were originally hunting dogs. They excelled at swimming through marshes to retrieve game, and bringing it back to the hunters – to this day, they’re known for their fetching abilities.

NameAppearanceBreed HistoryPersonality & TemperamentCoat CareSizeExercise & TrainingHealth & Life ExpectancyKid Friendly?
German ShepherdGerman Shepherd resting on the grassBred in Germany by Max von Stephanitz in the late 1800s. World class K-9 dog. 2nd most popular dog in America. Working livestock herding & guarding dog.3rd most intelligent of all dog breeds. High energy levels. Keen desire to stay active or ‘work a job’. High prey drive and chase instinct. Extremely loyal to their owners.Sheds heavily year-round and seasonally. Medium-length double layer coat. Needs regular brushing and the occasional bath.50-90 pounds, 22 to 26 inches tall. Females will be 10 to 15 pounds lighter and two inches shorter.Needs 1-2 hours daily exercise. Start puppy socialization & training ASAP.Lives 9-13 years. Has known serious genetic (heritable) health issues: Dysplasia (hip, elbow), Eye issues, Cardiac issues, Autoimmune thyroiditis, Degenerative myelopathy.Yes - IF properly trained.
Golden RetrieverGolden RetrieverOriginated in Scotland as hunting dogs. 3rd most popular dog breed in America. Great working dog, family dog, and service dog.Outgoing, highly intelligent, loyal, and sociable. Eager to please nature. Very easy to train. Social butterflies.Thick topcoats and undercoats. Will shed year-round. Regular brushing is needed.WEIGHT: Female: 55–70 lbs, Male: 66–75 lbs. HEIGHT: Female: 20–22 inches, Male: 22–24 inchesHigh energy breed that needs a lot of exercise & playtime. They need daily activity to stay in prime mental and physical health.Lifespan of 10-12 years. They commonly suffer from canine hip dysplasia, hyperthyroidism, skin problems, allergies, eye disorders, seizures, and tumors.YES!!! This is the prototypical American family dog.

Breed Character

Golden Retriever

According to AllGoldenRetriever, Golden retrievers are known as fun-loving family dogs. They are the prototypical American family dog, with puppyish and eager to please natures.

A Golden Retriever puppy may not be the type to snarl at your new neighbor, but they will definitely run-up to any stranger and ask for pets and belly rubs.

In general, these aren’t bad characteristics to have. However, if you wanted a more assertive dog, this may not be the one for you.

According to DogTime, Golden retrievers are very easy to train. This, along with their natural people-pleasing nature, make them great service dogs.

They also enjoy fetching and other activities with their owners, and are considered to be highly intelligent, loyal, and sociable. Golden retrievers are the social butterflies of the group, and do well with visitors.

German Shepherds

German shepherds, on the other hand, are known as the more protective dogs, and are commonly recognized for their respected roles as police dogs.

These are loyal and confident dogs that are among the most intelligent dogs on earth. It’s important to know that German shepherds don’t do well when left alone – separation anxiety is a common problem with this breed.

A German shepherd will stay by your side as much as possible, and people often joke that someone who owns one will never truly be alone. Some even call them velcro dogs – they just stick to your side!

When meeting a stranger, a German shepherd will tend to be more cautious. They won’t immediately run-up to the new person and greet them.

They will tend to be more aloof and hesitant. It is only when they see the person as ‘safe’ that they will approach, and allow for the new person to greet them. However, these high levels of intelligence also have their downsides.

German Shepherds’ stubborn ways can make them more difficult to train, and requires a firmer approach that is well structured. With that being said, they are able to learn many tasks and commands.

Impressively, they’re able to recognize commands spoken in different languages. In fact, many international German shepherd trainers still use German commands.

German shepherds are known to be more aloof and suspicious when it comes to strangers, and are definitely more on the protective side.

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Personality & Temperament 

German Shepherds

German shepherds are considered to be the first all-purpose canine workers, according to the AKC. They can be found serving as the protective family dog, on the police force in the K-9 unit, or even in the military.

German shepherds have distinguished looks and, unfortunately, a controversial public perception. They’re perceived as overly aggressive and vicious which is highly untrue, since they can actually be calmer than other breeds.

Sadly, the agility and speed of German shepherds has been used in unfortunate ways. These methods have tainted the image of the German shepherd as being vicious and undomesticated, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

Golden Retrievers

Golden retrievers are also great service dogs that can participate in search and rescue missions. They’re the fun-loving, loyal family pet that plays great with the kids, and fetches your slippers when you come home from work.

Golden retrievers are considered to be highly outgoing, trustworthy, and very eager to please. When training, positive affirmation is highly recommended in order to achieve the best results.

Exercise & Training

Both dogs are considered to be highly energetic dogs. They were both bred to be working dogs, so they must “work” every day in order to stay in prime mental and physical health.

It is also important that both of these breeds eat well, and get enough exercise every day. A lack of exercise may cause restlessness and other behavioral issues.

In addition, a lack of exercise can cause unnecessary weight gain. This could accelerate issues that commonly plague these breeds. For example, hip dysplasia may be a lot more painful for an obese golden retriever than a normal-sized one.

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Daily Exercise Is Needed!

You will find that a German shepherd not burning energy will be increasingly restless and more destructive. They will also tend to be more on edge, and eager to get outside.

Golden retrievers also thrive with large amounts of physical activity. Ideally, they’ll want a bit of exercise every day that involves fun playtime with their owners!

While golden retrievers can spend longer periods alone, this isn’t always advisable as they can become quite mischievous.

Golden retrievers typically enjoy long games of fetch, while German shepherds prefer games with toys such as tug-o-war. Depending on the personality of your pet, you could easily see which type of play your dog does well with.

What About The Health Of My Dog?

Golden Retriever

According to PetFinder, While golden retrievers are always happy on the outside, they’re still prone to some health concerns.

They commonly suffer from canine hip dysplasia, hyperthyroidism, skin problems, allergies, eye disorders, seizures, and tumors. They also typically have a lifespan of ten to twelve years.

German Shepherd

According to PetMD, German shepherds also struggle with canine hip dysplasia, as well as elbow dysplasia, cardiomyopathy, cataracts, and perianal fistulas. They typically have a lifespan of nine to thirteen years.

Regularly visiting your veterinarian is one of the most important things you can do for your dog’s long-term health. On top of diet and exercise, this can help reduce the likelihood and severity of these issues.

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Grooming

Another important part of maintaining your dog’s health is grooming. German shepherds and golden retrievers require similar grooming, but their actual fur is a little different.

Both breeds generally have very thick topcoats and undercoats.

German shepherds may have softer hair while younger, but it will become more coarse as they age. German shepherds have a strong tendency to shed, especially as the seasons change from spring to summer.

Regular brushing is a huge necessity. Without it, there will be fur all over your home!

Golden retrievers have a thick undercoat, and also have a strong tendency to shed year-round. Since their hair is even longer than the German shepherd’s, brushing becomes even more important in preventing matting.

Experienced owners tend to keep the hair cut short in order to prevent matting and tangles. Matting – very tight knots within a dog’s fur that form as a result of long-term tangles – can be a pretty serious issue.

Mattes hold a lot of dead hair, dirt, water, and microbes which can be bacterial or fungal. Most mattes, if left unattended, tend to have a smell.

When this happens, there is typically something growing in there, as this can be home to parasites such as fleas. The best way to avoid mattes, for all dogs, is regular brushing and grooming at the very least.

In cases where that is not possible, you’ll have no choice but to spend money on grooming services that include hair cuts. This is for the health of your dog’s skin, especially since golden retrievers have a tendency for allergies.

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Wrapping It Up: German Shepherd vs Golden Retriever

These are two of the best types of dogs that money can buy – owners should consider themselves very fortunate. Their uniqueness is evident in the fact that the two very distinct bloodlines have withstood the test of time.

For the most part, choosing between the two breeds is really dependent on personal preference, as well as the environment you may be trying to cultivate in your home.

A potential German shepherd owner should be a very active person that enjoys being outside with pets. They should thrive in structure, value loyalty, and respect a consistent schedule.

You may want a German shepherd if you are the type that enjoys dogs that are more introspective, as opposed to overly extroverted. GSDs definitely get along with more introverted people due to their thoughtful nature.

You could be the type that is all about being social and outgoing, and want a pet that is friendly, fun, and kind of goofy!

A golden retriever owner will hopefully be a very energetic person that loves tossing the ball, stick, or frisbee for hours, all the while knowing your dog will always bring it back.

This person should also value loyalty, while recognizing your dog’s need to play and socialize with everyone they meet. You should also love showing love through affection and affirmation.

Whatever the case may be, The German Shepherd and golden retriever can both be great family dogs!

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