German Shepherd VS Golden Retriever: 19 Differences

Updated June 8, 2023

The primary difference between German shepherds vs. golden retrievers lies in their temperament and purpose.

These breeds have a lot in common, including exceptional intellect, trainability, intense shedding, and high energy levels.

However, one is better suited for guarding, while another is perfect for hunting and emotional support. Both golden retrievers and German shepherds make excellent family dogs.

Neither of the breeds is low maintenance. If you’re considering getting a golden retriever or German shepherd, be ready to invest the time and effort into exercising, grooming, and training your pet.

To pick a breed that suits you best, evaluate your personality and lifestyle. Visiting kennels and interacting with dogs helps to determine with which breed you feel more comfortable.

Size & Weight

Golden retrievers are a medium-sized breed. Males reach 24 inches in height and weigh 65 to 75 pounds. Females are typically smaller, reaching 21-22.5 inches in height and weighing 55 to 65 pounds.

German shepherds are slightly taller and stockier. German shepherd males are 24-26 inches tall and weigh 66 to 88 pounds, whereas females are 22-24 inches tall and weigh 50 to 70 pounds.


Golden retrievers have double coats – a dense, fluffy undercoat and a long overcoat. They shed year-round, but in spring and autumn, they go through intense shedding phases as they blow out their undercoat.

German shepherds also have double coats, which leads to intense shedding. Both breeds aren’t the best choices for people with allergies to dog fur or those who do not have time for frequent vacuuming.


Golden retrievers are the extraverts of the canine world. They are curious, confident, friendly, always up to play, and rarely aggressive. Goldens retain their goofiness in adulthood and are very affectionate.

German shepherds are loyal, protective dogs that genuinely love their owners. They may be a bit aloof with strangers, so socialization is essential. German shepherds are confident, courageous, and energetic. They are more independent than goldens.


Golden retrievers are some of the best family dogs. They are patient and gentle, so they are unlikely to hurt a child even if they get loud and are getting on the dog’s nerves.

A golden retriever is a perfect playmate for older children and can comfort a crying kid with cuddling. German shepherds are another child-friendly breed. These dogs are intelligent, loyal, and protective of their young owners.

However, German shepherds aren’t as affectionate and patient as goldens, so the child must know how to behave with the dog.


Golden retrievers have no problem with other pets in the house. They want to be friends with everyone and will never start a confrontation first.

Goldens have a low prey drive and won’t chase a cat or rabbit. However, friendship goes both ways, and if the second animal is aggressive, the dog will have to defend itself.

German shepherds are fine with other dogs and cats provided they are introduced correctly, but they have a higher prey drive and may chase smaller pets.

Barking Level

The barking level is among the most significant differences between golden retrievers and German shepherds. Goldens bark rarely, only when there’s a valid reason, such as danger or excitement.

German shepherds are a guarding breed, so frequent barking is rooted in their genes. Owners can train their German shepherds not to bark for no reason, but this trait is certainly something to keep in mind when choosing the breed.

Intelligence & Trainability

Golden retrievers are one of the most intelligent dog breeds, ranked fourth among 138 study participants by canine researcher Stanley Coren. German shepherds are ranked third.

Both breeds excel in obedience, memory, problem-solving, and communication with people. These dogs can memorize commands from five repetitions, compared with the average result of 25 to 40 repetitions.

Unlike most dogs that only obey the owner’s commands 50% of the time, golden retrievers and German shepherds have a 95% obedience rate.

Common Behavior Problems

An intelligent dog isn’t always a good thing. Golden retrievers and German shepherds require plenty of mental stimulation and strict training. Otherwise, they may engage in destructive habits or develop other behavioral problems out of boredom.

The most common golden retriever behavior problems are separation anxiety, phobias, digging, pulling on the leash, jumping on people, chewing, and hyperactivity.

German shepherds are prone to aggressive behavior, excessive vocalization, chewing, urine marking, and hyperactivity.

Exercise Needs

Neither golden retrievers nor German shepherds can spend their lives on a couch. Both breeds are energetic and require much physical activity to maintain their health and prevent behavior problems.

Golden retrievers need at least an hour of exercise daily in adult age, and German shepherds need at least two hours of exercise daily. The exercise duration may vary depending on its type, the dog’s age, and health state.

Grooming Needs

Both golden retrievers and German shepherds are notorious shedders and need daily brushing to prevent tangling and mat formation. Regular baths are essential, but how often to bathe a golden retriever or German shepherd depends on the dog’s lifestyle.

Overbathing is equally dangerous as a lack of bathing. On average, these dogs need to be bathed every four weeks. Goldens and German shepherds shouldn’t be shaved but will benefit from light feather trimming.


One of the similarities between golden retrievers and German shepherds is their lifespan. Both breeds live for 10-13 years on average, although there can be exceptions.

Some golden retrievers and German shepherds can live for over 18 years. A dog’s lifespan largely depends on its diet, lifestyle, and inherited conditions.

If the owner is aware of potential health issues and keeps an eye on abnormalities to provide their pet with timely veterinary help, the dog is more likely to live longer.

Health Issues

Golden retrievers and German shepherds share some common health conditions, including hip dysplasia, epilepsy, diabetes, obesity, cataracts, and progressive retinal atrophy.

Golden retrievers are more prone to skin conditions, hypothyroidism, and ear infections than other breeds, whereas German shepherds often suffer from degenerative disc disease, panosteitis, pancreatitis, and Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (GDV).

Some of these conditions can be prevented with genetic screening and a healthy lifestyle, so buying a puppy from a reputable breeder and providing the dog with sufficient exercise is crucial.


Golden retriever and German shepherd puppies lie within the same price range, $1,500-$3,000 on average. Show-quality puppies may cost over $5,000, whereas some puppies are available for under $800.

A puppy’s price depends on its bloodline, breeder’s reputation, health state, and compliance with the breed standard. Sometimes, the price includes basic training.

Rescue golden retrievers and German shepherds usually cost under $500, whereas service dogs that require special training are priced at $25,000 and upwards.

Suitability for Inexperienced Dog Owners

Golden retrievers make excellent pets for first-time dog owners. Although they are energetic and require frequent grooming, they are easy to train and are unlikely to behave aggressively.

German shepherds, too, are a popular choice among inexperienced dog owners. They are loyal, obedient, and intelligent, which eases the training. However, owners must be ready to invest time into exercising their dogs.

If you’ve never had a dog before and aren’t sure you will handle the training, consider seeking the help of a professional canine trainer.

Suitability for Apartments

Contrary to a popular misconception, large and energetic dogs can live healthy and happy lives in apartments, but with several caveats.

Golden retrievers and German shepherds need room to run freely, so an apartment in the city center isn’t a good fit for these breeds. Ideally, the flat should be situated within walking distance of a park, stadium, or forest.

Owners should also train their dogs not to bark for no reason – this is particularly relevant for German shepherds. Socialization is essential to prevent destructive behavior while the owner is away.

Suitability as Service Dogs

Golden retrievers and German shepherds are among the best service dog breeds because of their intelligence, obedience, loyalty, and physical strength. They can perform tasks smaller dogs can’t and don’t pose a threat to strangers if properly trained.

German shepherds are commonly used in the military, police, and rescue operations, whereas golden retrievers are perfect emotional support animals.

Suitability as Guard or Protection Dogs

What makes a good guard dog? Obedience, intelligence, physical strength, protectiveness, loyalty, cautiousness with strangers, and the capacity to be aggressive.

German shepherds perfectly fit the description. They are natural-born guard dogs and will never let an intruder surpass your territory. They can also serve as protection dogs for children and adults.

Golden retrievers can be trained to be protection dogs but make poor guards. They are way too friendly and credulous. Furthermore, everyone knows about their loving nature, so strangers are unlikely to be scared.

Suitability as Hunting Dogs

Golden retrievers were bred as hunting dogs, so their suitability for the purpose is quite obvious. They are best suited for retrieving but can be trained to chase small animals or track smell.

German shepherds can also make good hunting dogs with proper training. They have a high prey drive and are best suited for tracking, chasing, and retrieving small animals.


Both breeds are widespread in the U.S. Golden retrievers are the second most popular dog breed, and German shepherds are the third.

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