Golden Retriever vs. Australian Shepherd: 10 Differences Between Them

You’ve narrowed down your search for a dog to a Golden Retriever or an Australian Shepherd.

Need a little more help to make the final decision?

Both Golden Retrievers and Australian Shepherds are very smart dogs, historically developed to work closely and cooperatively with people, though in different ways.

They also have qualities that make them pretty different from each other, so you’ll want to look closely at each breed’s traits so you can determine the best match for your lifestyle and personality.

This article will start with an overview of each breed, and then compare the two on a variety of categories, including:

  • Energy levels
  • Lifestyle
  • Trainability
  • How much they bark
  • How good they are with kids
  • How good they are with other dogs and other animals
  • And more!
golden retriever vs australian shepherd

Golden Retriever Overview

Goldens are friendly, intelligent dogs who live for the companionship of their people.

Golden Retrievers were originally bred to retrieve shot birds to a hunter, so they are genetically inclined to bond and work closely with humans.

While some people still use Golden Retrievers as hunting dogs today, most are now beloved family pets, therapy dogs, service dogs, and dog sport partners.

They are athletic medium to large-sized dogs, with a feathered golden-colored coat, which can range from light cream to deep red.

Goldens are known for their people-oriented, eager-to-please vibe, and tend to retain their cheerful, puppy-like demeanor all through their life.

As an active breed, they require consistent physical and mental exercise, or else they may develop unwanted habits around the house and yard.

A well-bred Golden Retriever should be friendly, confident, trustworthy, and up for anything alongside their family.

Australian Shepherd Overview

Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent, very energetic dogs who enjoy being active with their owners.

This breed was developed to herd sheep and cattle, following the instruction of their handler to work cooperatively together.

Many Aussies today are still helpful farm companions, continuing their long herding tradition, but others excel in dog sports, such as agility, obedience, and dock diving, or as active companions.

They are medium to large dogs with a moderately long coat that comes in a wide variety of coat colors including black, red, tri, and merle.

Even though most Aussies are pet dogs, they still have herding instincts so it’s important for that behavior to be properly directed.

This is a high-energy breed that needs lots of exercise and mental stimulation to feel content and be well-behaved.

They do best when they have appropriate outlets to channel their intelligence and athleticism.

Sometimes they can be reserved toward strangers, but they are very affectionate and playful with their families.

As with most herding breeds, they can be sensitive dogs and are very alert and intuitive.

Energy Levels

Golden Retrievers

Golden Retrievers need about an hour of exercise per day.

They enjoy walks, hikes, and playtime in the yard or park.

Most Goldens also love water and so swimming can be an excellent, low-impact exercise too.

Consistent exercise, especially time outdoors in nature, helps these dogs be relaxed and content around the house.

Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherds are more energetic, requiring one to two hours of exercise per day.

For most Aussies, a neighborhood walk isn’t going to cut it.

They love to accompany their owners on hikes and bike rides, as well as play interactive toy games with their owners.

These are dogs that love to work, and so activities like agility, disc, obedience, and of course herding can also be great outlets for their physical and mental energy.

It is possible to overdo the fun and games though, and you can easily create an energizer bunny who doesn’t know how to stop.

Balance all the fun, high-energy activities, with teaching them how to simply settle and chill out around the house, as this skill isn’t always second nature.

Conclusion:

While both breeds are energetic and require consistent exercise, the Australian Shepherd takes the energy factor up a couple of notches above the Golden Retriever.

Neither breed is a lazy, homebody-type of dog, but just be aware of the extra commitment Aussies need in order to meet their exercise requirements.

Trainability

Golden Retriever

Goldens are very people-oriented, which makes them easy to train.

With their high intelligence and desire to please, they are a blast to teach new skills.

They can be sensitive souls, and do best with positive reinforcement-based training.

Australian Shepherd

Aussies are whip-smart and love training with their owner.

With that big brain, they can sometimes outsmart you, and they need a lot of mental stimulation.

Training, whether it’s a cute trick or teaching them to go get your shoes, is an excellent outlet for their smarts.

While it may seem like a super-smart dog might make your life easier, sometimes it can actually be more work because they have a lot of mental energy to burn (in addition to the physical energy).

Conclusion:

Both breeds are star students when it comes to trainability.

Because both of their historical purposes (hunting and herding) required them to work together with their handler as a team, they are genetically wired to want to engage with you, which makes training easy.

However, Golden Retrievers are probably a bit simpler to train for the average dog owner.

Australian shepherds are super smart and energetic, which can make them more complicated, especially for a less experienced owner.

But if you really enjoy working with your dog, an Aussie could make an amazing companion.

australian shepherd vs. golden retriever

Barking

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers don’t bark very much.

They might bark to let you know that the Amazon delivery person is approaching the door, or that the neighbor’s cat is in the yard, but generally, they’re fairly quiet.

Australian Shepherd

Aussies can be a vocal breed.

As herders, they used their voice to help move the livestock around, so it’s in their DNA to be barky.

They might bark to alert you to something or when they’re excited, frustrated, or just because.

Conclusion

If you value your peace and quiet, a Golden is probably the better fit for you, as Aussies are known to be a chatty breed.

How Are They With Other People?

Golden Retrievers

Goldens are known for their “never met a stranger” attitude, complete with a wiggly butt and wagging tail.

Most Goldens are happy to meet new friends and receive pets and attention.

Golden Retrievers should be social and confident with people who are outside of their families.

Australian Shepherd

Aussies are often more aloof with people they don’t know at first.

Once they get to know the person, they are affectionate and sweet.

This does not mean that they are aggressive, but they may not be as eager to meet new people as a Golden Retriever.

Conclusion:

Goldens are very outgoing with people, while Australian Shepherds tend toward more reserved behavior with strangers.

Neither is better, it just depends on what kind of personality you prefer in a dog.

Are They Good with Kids?

Golden Retriever

Goldens can be great dogs for families with kids, with their even-keel personalities.

They are easygoing, cheerful dogs who enjoy the fun and games that kids offer.

With their larger size and general enthusiasm for life, they can sometimes knock over a small child, so supervision is always recommended to ensure safety.

Australian Shepherd

Aussies can make good companions for kids, but their hard-wired herding instinct can also be problematic at times.

The motion and excitement of kids can trigger herding behavior. 

It’s common for Australian Shepherds to chase, circle, and nip at children.

While this may not be aggression, it can still be a challenge, and sometimes even scary for kids.

Aussies are loving, loyal dogs and can bond closely with children, but will also need extra training and supervision to avoid any issues with the herding instinct.

Conclusion

If you’re looking for a stereotypical nice family dog, a Golden is probably the more natural fit.

Aussies can be wonderful with kids too, but the whole herding thing can make the dynamic with children a bit more complicated.

Regardless of the breed, children always need to be taught how to interact with dogs respectfully and supervised to make sure both the kids and the dog are safe and happy.

How Are They With Other Animals?

Golden Retriever

Goldens usually have low prey drive, meaning they don’t have a strong desire to chase or grab smaller animals, like cats.

Many Goldens form close connections with their family’s cat, which is heart-meltingly adorable.

It’s still a good idea to give a Golden Retriever a slow and proper introduction to any other pets to help them get off on the right foot together.

Australian Shepherd

Aussies can get along great with other pets too.

They may try to herd a cat, but generally have a low to moderate prey drive and will not grab at smaller pets.

Again, it’s important to set all pets up for success with the right introduction.

Conclusion

Once again, the herding instincts of the Aussie can make coexisting with other pets a little bit more complicated, but plenty of Aussies share space with other pets just fine.

A Golden Retriever is probably easier to integrate with other pets because of their easy-going nature and lack of herding drive.

golden retriever vs australian shepherd personality

Temperament

Golden Retriever

Goldens have sweet, affectionate, friendly personalities and they form close bonds with their humans.

They are playful and silly, while also being very loyal and intuitive.

A well-bred Golden should be a stable, trustworthy dog and a versatile companion.

Australian Shepherd

Aussies are good-natured, exuberant, hardworking dogs who need a purpose.

As more Australian Shepherds are kept as pet dogs, rather than working dogs, some breeders are breeding more easy going dogs, so there can be some variety.

They are extremely smart and keen to apply themselves to whatever task is given to them.

Aussies are incredibly devoted and eager to please their owner, and can also be protective of their family.

Conclusion

Goldens and Aussies have very different temperaments, so this is a key difference to explore when making your decision between the two.

Neither temperament is better, it just comes down to which better suits your lifestyle.

The Aussie is more intense and it will require more time and energy to ensure their innate drives are properly channeled in order for them to feel content.

Goldens, while still an athletic breed, are more happy-go-lucky, easygoing and social.

Lifestyle

Golden Retriever

Golden Retrievers are a very adaptable breed and can suit a variety of lifestyles, so long as their physical and mental exercise needs are met.

From an apartment to a farm, Goldens can be incredibly versatile, thanks to their stable, even-keel personality.

They usually aren’t fazed by the different sights and sounds of various environments, though early socialization is also important to help them grow into a confident dog.

Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherds are very alert and active dogs, which can make life in a more urban or crowded location harder for many.

They need a lot of exercise and leashed walks on the sidewalk are usually not enough to satisfy them.

They may be stressed out by all the commotion of city life, and most Aussies tend to do better in a quieter, more spacious setting.

Again, there are some breeders who are selecting for more docile, even-keel Aussies with less energy, so some may be more flexible than others in terms of lifestyle.

Conclusion

It’s important to consider your living situation when deciding between these two breeds.

The Golden Retriever is typically more adaptable, but they still need consistent exercise and mental stimulation or else they will become hard to live with.

Both breeds are well-suited for active owners, though Australian Shepherds do have more endurance than Goldens, so if you’re an avid runner or hiker, the Aussie could be a great choice.

Be aware that some Aussies can be sensitive to noise and that their herding instinct can make life in crowded areas stressful.

Life Expectancy

Golden Retriever

According to the American Kennel Club, Golden’s life expectancy is 10 to 12 years.

Australian Shepherd

The American Kennel Club states that the Australian Shepherd’s life expectancy is 12 to 15 years.

Conclusion

Golden Retrievers are such delightful dogs, and it’s such a shame that their life span isn’t longer.

Aussies offer more longevity, and usually stay active even into their later years.

Behavior Problems

Golden Retriever

No dog is perfect, and even the lovable Golden Retriever can have behavior issues such as:

  • Sound sensitivity or phobias
  • Resource guarding
  • Jumping on people
  • Counter surfing
  • Barking
  • Destructive Chewing
  • Grabbing things with their mouths, such as the remote or your arm
  • Pulling on leash
  • Reactivity
  • Separation Anxiety

Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherds can experience behavior issues such as:

  • Behavior associated with herding
  • Reactivity
  • Escaping
  • Destructive chewing
  • Resource guarding
  • Barking
  • Hyperactivity
  • Separation Anxiety

Conclusion

It’s important to ensure that you can meet your dog’s needs, and some dogs have higher needs than others.

Unmet needs often result in unwanted, problematic behavior.

Additionally, both Goldens and Aussies need early socialization and training to help bring out the best in them, and prevent behavior issues from developing.

While neither breed is known for aggressive behavior, it can sometimes happen.

Behavior has a genetic component and so it should be no surprise that dogs who were bred to carry things in their mouths to their owners will be mouthy, especially when excited.

And it won’t come as a shocker that a herding dog may chase and nip at kids, other dogs, cats, and even cars.

It’s also important to talk with the breeder and find out about the temperament and behavior of your potential puppy’s parents, as behavior traits can be passed down for better or worse.

Even better, see if you can meet the breeder’s dogs, or talk with people who have gotten puppies from them before so you can get a sense for any behavior issues that may exist with this line of dogs.

Final Conclusion

golden retriever vs australian shepherd puppy

Golden Retrievers and Australian Shepherds are quite different breeds and depending on your own lifestyle and desires, either one could be the better fit.

Both are smart, energetic dogs, but the Aussie kicks it up a notch, with their high energy, exuberance and drive for work.

If you’re very active, both breeds could be a good fit, but if you have a more sedentary lifestyle, a Golden Retriever is probably a better fit.

Goldens still need plenty of exercise, but they’re just not as intense and hyper as an Aussie.

Golden Retrievers are a very versatile breed and can generally do well in a variety of living situations, while Aussies can be more sensitive and may not do well in chaotic or cramped environments.

Another big difference is that Aussies are usually barky by nature, whereas Goldens tend to be quieter.

Goldens are generally social and get along well with other people, dogs, and animals.

Aussies are good-natured, but are often reserved around strangers, and may try to herd kids, dogs and other animals.

As you weigh out the similarities and differences, be realistic with the time and energy you can offer a dog, and what traits are important to you.

Remember that whatever dog you choose, it’s a 10 to 15 year commitment, so it’s best to choose the dog that meshes well with your own personality and lifestyle.

Do you have one of these two breeds?

What’s your experience been like?

Let us know down in the comments!

See other breed comparisons here:

To learn more about whether or not a golden retriever is right for you, take the Golden Retriever Quiz!

And if you’ve decided on getting a Golden Retriever, check out this article on how to raise a Golden Retriever puppy.

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About the author:

Alisa Healy is a professional dog trainer in the Chicago suburbs, with a wide range of training experience from shelters to in-home training to dog sports. She is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner and is passionate about helping people and dogs live fulfilling, harmonious lives together.

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