Golden Retriever vs. German Shepherd: 17 Differences To Help You Choose

Trying to decide between a golden retriever and a German shepherd?

That’s a great (and tough) decision to make because you really can’t go wrong with either of these dogs.

However, they each have their strengths and weaknesses and chances are, one is better for you and your family’s needs than the other.

So to help you make that decision, here’s how they compare in 17 of the most important aspects when it comes to dog ownership, including:

  • Trainability
  • Temperament
  • Protectiveness
  • Shedding
  • Size
  • How good they are with kids, dogs, and other animals
  • And much more

First, you’ll get an overview of what these breeds are like, then we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of how they compare to one another.

Let’s dive in!

Golden Retriever Overview

Golden retrievers are sweet, playful, family dogs.

They’re America’s third most popular breed and love just about everyone and everything.

They have beautiful coats that can range from cream, to gold, to red, and have floppy ears and feathered legs and tails.

Although they’re mostly family pets these days, they were bred to retrieve gunned down birds in Scotland over 150 years ago.

The traits that made them good hunting dogs in the field are still present today, and we’ll talk about how they help or hurt golden retriever owners later in this article.

German Shepherd Overview

German shepherds are herding dogs that like to work.

They’re smart, loyal, brave, and beautiful with their perky ears, bushy tails, and black and tan or red coats.

They’re America’s second most popular breed and are one of the world’s most recognized dog breeds thanks to TV star, Rin Tin Tin.

Like golden retrievers, the traits that made them great herding dogs make them both great and occasionally difficult family companions.

Alright, now let’s talk about how these two breeds compare in specific factors of dog ownership.

Energy Level

Golden retrievers:

Golden retrievers have a lot of energy.

They need 1-2 hours of exercise per day and need to be both physically stimulated (by playing games like fetch and tug) and mentally stimulated (training and puzzle toys help here).

German shepherds:

German shepherds are high-energy dogs, too.

They’re working dogs and need a job to do to focus their energy.


If you’re looking for a dog to sit on the couch with you all day, neither of these breeds are for you.

Both dogs have a ton of energy, so no matter which one you go with, expect to do a lot of training, playing, and working to avoid potential behavior problems and keep your dog happy.

Are They Good For Families & Children?

golden retriever vs german shepherd breed

Golden retrievers:

Goldens are some of the best family dogs around.

They’re sweet, playful, and gentle, and always want to be around their family.

German shepherds:

German shepherds make great family dogs, too.

They’re loving and loyal, but need to be properly socialized to get them used to being around children.


Both of these dogs can make excellent family pets, provided they’re socialized properly at a young age.

But if you have kids, golden retrievers will probably be a better choice to go with.

Are They Easy To Train?

Golden retrievers:

Golden retrievers are easy to train because they’re smart, they like pleasing people, and, perhaps most important of all, they love treats!

However, they can be easily distracted, which may make training a little more difficult.

German shepherds:

German shepherds are the third smartest dog breed (goldens are the fourth) and they’re very loyal working dogs, which makes them excellent students.


Although both dogs are relatively easy to train, German shepherds are the winners here.


Golden retrievers:

Golden retrievers are some of the sweetest, most loving dogs out there.

They like to spend time with their families and are very playful (and often goofy).

They love just about everything and everyone.

German shepherds:

German shepherds are loyal and loving with their families, but usually a little more suspicious or aloof when it comes to strangers.

They’re driven and protective, and like to work.


If you’re looking for a playful pup that will love everybody, a golden retriever is for you.

If you’re looking for a loyal dog who wants to work, a German shepherd is for you.


Golden retrievers:

Golden retrievers shed a lot.

Each time we brush our golden, we’re left with another small puppy.

German shepherds:

German shepherds, aka “German shedders” also shed a ton.


Both of these dogs shed a ton, so if you get either of these breeds, expect to brush them often and have to vacuum up a lot of fur once or twice a week.


german shepherd or golden retriever

Golden retrievers:

Goldens need to be brushed several times per week, but grooming them isn’t just about brushing.

They’ll need baths every month or so, need their teeth brushed often, need their nails trimmed, and need their floppy ears cleaned.

German shepherds:

Like golden retrievers, and all other dogs, German shepherds need their coats brushed, teeth brushed, nails trimmed, ears cleaned, and need regular baths.


All dogs need a lot of grooming care to keep them healthy and looking their best.

However, German shepherds have a slight advantage here because they don’t have floppy ears, so they’re less likely to develop ear infections.

Dog Jobs

Golden retrievers:

Golden retrievers were originally bred as hunting dogs, and many are still used for that purpose today.

However, they also serve in several other common roles, including:

German shepherds:

German shepherds were originally bred as herding dogs, and today they can often be found serving as:

  • Search and rescue dogs
  • Service dogs
  • Military dogs
  • Police dogs
  • Personal protection dogs


Both of these dogs are smart, loyal, and easily trained, so they excel in a variety of jobs.

However, goldens are more likely to be therapy dogs because of their loving personalities, while German shepherds are more likely to have jobs where their bravery and protective skills can be leveraged, like in the military or police force.


Golden retrievers:

Males: 23-24 inches tall at the withers (highest part of their shoulder blades) and 65-75 pounds.

Females: 21.5-22.5 inches tall and 55-65 pounds.

German shepherds:

Males: 24-26 inches tall and 65-90 pounds.

Females: 22-24 inches tall and 50-70 pounds.



German shepherds are typically a little taller and heavier than golden retrievers.

Life Expectancy

golden retriever v german shepherd

Golden retrievers:

The average life expectancy for golden retrievers is 10-12 years.

German shepherds:

The average life expectancy for German shepherds is 7-10 years.



On average, golden retrievers live slightly longer than German shepherds.

Common Health Problems

Golden retrievers:

According to PetMD, some common golden retriever health problems include:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Sub-aortic stenosis (SAS)
  • Eye disorders
  • Mast cell tumors
  • Seizures
  • Lymphoma
  • Osteosarcoma
  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Skin problems

German shepherds:

According to PetMD, some common German shepherd health problems include:

  • Hip and elbow dysplasia
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Hemangiosarcoma
  • Panosteitis
  • von Willebrand’s Disease
  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Cauda equina
  • Malignant neoplasms
  • Pannus
  • Hot spots
  • Skin allergies
  • Gastric torsion
  • Cataracts
  • Perianal fistulas


Both dogs have issues that are common in their breeds, so be sure to choose a good breeder that properly screens their dogs before breeding them and have a good relationship with your veterinarian.

Are They Good With Other Dogs?

Golden retrievers:

Golden retrievers are usually great with other dogs, but you’ll still need to properly socialize them with other puppies and adult dogs.

German shepherds:

German shepherds are also usually good with other dogs, although they can have some issues if they’re not properly socialized or poorly bred.


Both dogs are known for being friendly with other dogs, but golden retrievers are more likely to be a great puppy playmate.

With both breeds, proper socialization will help them get along with other dogs.

Are They Good With Cats?

Golden retrievers:

Golden retrievers love just about anyone and everyone, and that can include cats, especially if they’re raised with them and/or introduced to them properly.

German shepherds:

German shepherds can also be good with cats, although they typically have a little bit higher of a prey drive than goldens, which could occasionally make having a feline roommate difficult.


Although both breeds can be good with cats, goldens have a slight edge here.

With both of them, though, raising them along with cats from a young age and introducing them properly will really increase your odds of having furry siblings that like (or at least tolerate) each other.

Do They Bark A Lot?

Golden retrievers:

Although a golden retriever has the Guinness World Record for the loudest bark, they’re typically moderate barkers.

German shepherds:

German shepherds are also usually moderate to medium barkers.


Neither of these dogs are super-barkers, but the golden retriever typically barks a little less than the German shepherd.


german shepherd dog vs golden retriever

Golden retrievers:

Golden retriever puppies typically cost between $500 to $3,000, depending on the breeder, location, and what the puppies are bred for.

German shepherds:

German shepherd puppies typically cost between $500 to $5,000.

Yes, that is a huge range, but, like golden retrievers, it depends on the breeder, their location, and what the puppies are bred for.


Both golden retrievers and German shepherds have a large range of price, but usually, with puppies, you get what you pay for, so choose a quality breeder.


Golden retrievers:

According to Dr. Stanley Coren’s book, The Intelligence of Dogs, golden retrievers are the fourth smartest breed.

German shepherds:

According the same book, German shepherds are the third smartest breed.


Both breeds are very smart, but German shepherds are ranked a spot higher than goldens.

Common Behavior Problems

Golden retrievers:

Goldens are high energy dogs that were bred to work and carry things with their mouths.

If they aren’t sufficiently exercised, they can get bored and get themselves into trouble.

Here are some common golden retriever behavior problems:

  • Jumping on people
  • Pulling on the leash
  • Destructive chewing
  • Demand barking/demanding attention
  • Digging

German shepherds:

German shepherds are also smart, high-energy dogs that, when bored, can exhibit unwanted behaviors.

Here are some common German shepherd behavior problems:

  • Over-protectiveness
  • Territorial aggression
  • Digging or other destructiveness
  • Separation anxiety
  • Showing dominance


Both goldens and German shepherds can show unwanted behaviors when they’re bored, untrained, or poorly socialized.


Golden retrievers:

While golden retrievers can be protective, that’s not exactly their strong suit.

German shepherds:

German shepherds are one of the most protective dogs around.


If you’re looking for a guard dog, a German shepherd is a far better choice.


golden retriever vs german shepherd

Golden retrievers and German shepherds are both excellent dogs.

They’re smart, easy to train, have lots of energy, and need to be properly trained and socialized to help them become the best dogs they can be.

If you’re looking for a sweet, playful, family dog, then a golden retriever is a great choice.

If you’re looking for a loving, loyal, protective dog, then a German shepherd is for you.

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:

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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5 thoughts on “Golden Retriever vs. German Shepherd: 17 Differences To Help You Choose”

  1. I been having gsd, and I love them. They are super protective and sweet at the same time, recently I got another he is just 5 months old, I wouldn’t trade my dog for nothing! German shepherd dogs 🐕are the best.

  2. A great article full of facts and more. I have had Goldens and miss them so much. I have thought about a GS and this arrival helped me. You know your dogs and I appreciate your sharing what you know.


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