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German Shepherd vs Golden Retriever: Which Dog to Choose?

The Golden Retriever and the German Shepherd are very different dogs both physically and in temperament. However, they are two of the most popular dogs in North America. According to the American Kennel Club, the German Shepherd is the 2nd most popular, and the Golden Retriever is the 3rd out of 196 dogs.

Their popularity but also the similarities as well as their differences can make your decision difficult when you’re thinking of bringing one of these dogs into your home. Well, we’re here to make your decision an easier one by comparing these two beautiful dogs side by side, which we hope will allow you to figure out which one will be best suited for you and your family.

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Visual Differences

german shepherd vs golden retriever
Image credit | Left: Pxhere; Right: Dirk Vorderstraße, Commons Wikimedia

At a Glance

German Shepherd
  • Average height (adult): 22 – 26 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 50 – 90 pounds
  • Lifespan: 7 – 10 years
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Often
  • Trainability: Intelligent, loyal, eager to please
Golden Retriever
  • Average height (adult): 21½ – 24 inches
  • Average weight (adult): 55 – 75 pounds
  • Lifespan: 10 – 12 years
  • Exercise: 1+ hours a day
  • Grooming needs: Moderate
  • Family-friendly: Yes
  • Other pet-friendly: Yes
  • Trainability: Intelligent, loyal, eager to please

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German Shepherd Overview

black and red german shepherd
Image credit: Osetrik, Shutterstock

The German Shepherd has its origins starting in the late 1800s in Germany as a herding dog and eventually developed into the dog we are familiar with today. It’s hard to imagine that the German Shepherd (also called the GSD) started off herding sheep when we associate them with the myriad of jobs they are currently known for (such as guard and police dogs).

German Shepherd puppies will usually be priced anywhere from $1,500 to $3,500 if you find your dog through a reputable breeder. Another option to consider is adopting a puppy or adult dog through a rescue group. The adoption fee might range from $150 to $600, and you’ll be giving a GSD a second chance at a happier life.

Personality / Character

The German Shepherd is a courageous, intelligent, and brave dog whose loyalty and confidence make him one of the most popular dogs ever. If they have been trained and socialized appropriately, they will be gentle family companions as well as excellent guard dogs.

GSDs are highly protective of their loved ones, but their loyalty and obedience to their owners will allow them to accept strangers onto their property if the GSD observes you welcoming them in. One of their primary purposes is to have a job, so be prepared to keep this breed active and busy.

Training

Training German Shepherds is usually easy thanks to their high intelligence and loyalty to their owner. Training should be consistent and with lots of patience from a very early age, and socialization is super important to temper any aggressive tendencies. It is essential to raise the GSD indoors. He will bond with the family and form a natural impulse to protect the household and everyone in it.

Socialization is crucial, particularly for the German Shepherd, as introducing him to as many new places and faces will allow him to grow into a happy and well-adjusted, confident dog.

german shepherd agility tunnel
Image Credot by: 272447, Pixabay

Health & Care

Start by finding the right dog food for your dog based on his activity level and age, and follow the guidelines on the food bag for how much you should feed your GSD daily.

GSDs require vigorous daily exercise as they are very active dogs that need physical and mental stimulation for their overall well-being. He will need at least 1 hour of exercise every day, and involving your dog with agility or herding trials can prove rewarding for your GSD.

Grooming is moderately easy as the GSD has short to medium-length fur but with a dense double coat. They usually just require a brushing about once a week, but he’ll start shedding profusely in the fall and spring and will need more frequent brushings at these times. They only need a bath on occasion (usually no more than once a month) and will need their nails trimmed, teeth brushed, and ears cleaned regularly.

The German Shepherd is a healthy dog, but there are a number of health conditions he might be susceptible to, such as elbow dysplasiahip dysplasiaheart diseasecancer of the blood cellsbone inflammationvon Willebrand’s diseasespinal cord diseasenarrowing of vertebral canalgastric torsionperianal fistulafatal fungal infectionmelanoma tumors and they can also have skin issues. If you get your dog from a good breeder, the puppy should be screened for most of these conditions before going home with you.

Suitable for:

The German Shepherd will do best with an owner who has experience with dogs. Their herding background makes them aloof with strangers, and males can be potentially aggressive with other male dogs. They will work equally well with active single people or families, particularly if you’re looking for a protective dog that is loyal and gentle. You should have a house with a yard and be prepared to spend a lot of time exercising the GSD.

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Golden Retriever Overview

Golden Retriever
Image Credit: rustyc, Pixabay

The Golden Retriever has his origins in the Scottish Highlands in the mid-1800s by the first Lord Tweedmouth, looking for the perfect hunting dog. A combination of Yellow Retriever, the Tweed Water Spaniel (now extinct) with a bit of Irish Setter, and Bloodhound all contributed to the Golden Retriever.

Golden Retriever puppies can be $2,500 to $4,500 through a good breeder, or if you adopt an adult through a rescue group, you can expect to pay anywhere from $150 to $600. There are breed-specific adoption groups that you can find online that work at finding a great second home for older dogs.

Personality / Character

Goldens are famous for their loving and outgoing nature, and they are one of the best family dogs you can own. They approach life with joy and are essentially puppyish well into their adult years, making them wonderful playmates for the entire family.

Golden Retrievers are excellent with children of all ages. They are smart dogs that can be gentle with the little ones and rambunctious with the older kids. They also get along very well with all other pets as well as strange dogs and are usually friendly with strangers if they were socialized well at a young age.

Training

Goldens are quite easy to train as they are highly intelligent, devoted, and very eager to please and are quite happy to do your bidding. Obedience training is highly recommended as it can strengthen the bond between the Golden and his owner.

Socialization while they are puppies will ensure a well-adjusted and confident adult dog. Introducing your Golden puppy to as many new situations and people will allow your puppy to become a confident and even friendlier dog.

golden retriever
Image Credit: Lunja, Shutterstock

Health & Care

Feeding your Golden a high-quality dog food according to his age and activity level is the first step, and following the guidelines on the dog food bag will help you determine how much you should feed your dog daily.

Goldens are highly energetic dogs and will need at least 1 hour of exercise every day, or they might exhibit undesirable behavior. They can join you on bike rides, runs, or hiking and will excel at field, tracking, agility, and obedience trials.

The Golden has a thick double coat with medium length hair and lots of feathering on the legs, tail, and chest. They will need brushing once or twice a week but expect to brush them daily during the spring and fall. They only need an occasional bath (usually once a month) but be sure the coat is dry before brushing.

The Golden Retriever is prone to bone cancerheart diseaselymphomahip and elbow dysplasiacancer of the blood vessels, and seizures as well as hypothyroidism and skin conditions.

Suitable for:

Active families with children of all ages, single people, or first-time dog owners looking for a devoted and loving dog that won’t necessarily make the best watchdog. If you have a house with a yard and if you’re looking for a sweet-natured, affectionate, and playful dog that loves almost everyone he meets, then the Golden Retriever is the perfect dog for you.

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Which Breed is Right for You?

The Golden Retriever and the German Shepherd are quite different dogs, but they do have some similarities.

Grooming and exercising both of these breeds is comparable as they both need weekly brushing and about 1 hour of exercise every day. They are both very energetic dogs that will require a house with a yard and an owner who can take them out for lots of physical activities.

They are also both amazing family dogs, but the Golden edges out the German Shepherd with his affectionate and patient nature with children of all ages. On the other hand, the German Shepherd edges out the Golden for his protective and steadfast disposition. Goldens might also be an excellent dog for many first-time dog owners. In contrast, the German Shepherd will need a more experienced dog owner.

Whichever one of these gorgeous dogs you end up deciding to bring into your home, both the German Shepherd and the Golden Retriever will be fantastic companions for you and your family.