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German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever

Last updated: by Jessi Larson

If you’re looking for a loyal family dog, then you’ve likely thought about the German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever.

Both are prized for their loyalty and energy and are considered strong working breeds.

German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever

Which pup do you pick?

Knowing the differences between a German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever is crucial. And it all starts with their story.

German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever History

The history of a breed can often give you insight into what you can expect from them as a family dog. Let’s see how the breed stories compare for the German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever.

German Shepherd History

Originally bred in Germany in the 1800s, the German Shepherd was a combination of the best sheep herding dog from each German district.

In WWI, the German Shepherd was used to deliver supplies to the German soldiers. Ultimately, this association with the German Nation resulted in a huge decline in popularity during and immediately after the war.

Attempting a rebranding, American dog organizations changed the name to Shepherd Dog, while the British called him the Alsatian. It wasn’t until 1931 that the AKC would revert back to using the official name German Shepherd Dog.

The German Shepherd regained popularity in the late 1900s after several pop culture appearances, like ‘Rin Tin Tin’ and “I Am Legend.” German Shepherds also started appearing in more police films.

Today, they are still the most popular military and police service dogs around the world.

Labrador Retriever

Traditionally the waterdog of Newfoundland, Labrador Retrievers were long used as duck retrievers and as a helper to fishermen.

The Labrador Retriever first rose in popularity 200 years ago when English nobles saw it in action while visiting Canada. The impressed English earls and lords brought back “Labrador dogs” to England and later refined and standardized the breed.

Throughout the years, the Labrador Retriever has retained its status as one of the most popular dogs to own thanks mainly to its temperament and sporting qualities.

It was first registered by the AKC in 1917 and topped the list as the most popular breed in 1991. Since then, they have held that spot, despite other breeds coming up in the ranks.

German Shepherd and Chocolate Lab

German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever Appearance

When it comes to the appearance of the German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever, they look strikingly different at first glance, though they share some similar characteristics.

Both stand at nearly the same height at the shoulder. German Shepherds are about 26 inches tall while Labrador Retrievers stand around 22.5 inches.

Some of the main differences are in the general angularity of the breeds. German Shepherds are all about graceful curves, especially when compared to the boxy and angular appearance of the Labrador Retriever.

As for weight, both breeds weigh anywhere from 50-85 lbs, depending on gender and height.

It’s also worth comparing their coats. The German Shepherd has a medium-length double coat that flows with the curves of the body. You’ll find these dogs in all sorts of colors including – black, black and tan, sable, grey, red and black, and black and silver.

In comparison, the Labrador Retriever boats a thick, water-repellant double coat that sheds quite frequently. Coat colors include yellow, black and brown.

Both possess a strength in their bodies and have unique faces.

The German Shepherd has a pointed, longer nose that creates an elegance in their facial features.

The Labrador Retriever, on the other hand, has a wider head with a shorter nose.

Temperament

Anyone who has had a German Shepherd or Labrador Retriever in their life before can tell you they are both strong personalities.

The AKC says the German Shepherd’s defining characteristic is their character. Loyal, courageous and confident, they can easily learn commands and are highly eager to please, making them great task dogs.

Though they can fearlessly and intensely defend their pack, they are known to be sweet, gentle family pets who will act as another set of eyes on the kids.

And while they are exceptionally loyal to their family, they will treat strangers with aloofness, not one to jump into a friendship without a little time and effort invested.

Labrador Retrievers, on the other hand, are happy to be the life of the party, willing to love anyone with a treat and a little bit of affection to give.

Without a doubt, the breed is defined by their friendliness. They eagerly bond with their whole family, even other pets under the right circumstances. In fact, they’ll socialize well with just about everyone, whether it be the neighbor dog or a person they meet only once.

One thing to note about Labrador Retrievers is that their high energy can lead to some naughty habits if they aren’t exercised regularly.

german shepherd & lab puppies

Training

When comparing how you would train a German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever, you will see there are similarities.

Both breeds have high energy and are excited about making you happy. However, because they’re both larger, it’s crucial that training starts for both of them as a puppy.

Socialization at a young age is especially important for the German Shepherd. With this, they will become more adaptable and well-mannered as an adult.

These breeds will each do well when given tasks to do and when competing in dog sports like agility.

Exercise

Once again, we are reminded that both Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds are high energy.

They require a family that will exercise them daily or you will see them getting frustrated and even destructive.

While a German Shepherd is driven by their need to perform a task, Labrador Retrievers are guided by an unseen enthusiasm for life that can feel limitless at times.

To help your German Shepherd get out their energy and to continue their training, try agility courses, herding activities, practice tracking or dock diving.

A Labrador Retriever, as the name would suggest, will always be ready for a game of fetch. But when that gets monotonous, try agility courses, additional obedience training, tracking activities and dock diving.

Another fun activity for Labrador Retrievers is swimming. They can’t get enough of time in the water.

Grooming

When comparing a German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever, an obvious difference is their coat.

One of the hallmarks of a German Shepherd is their flowing coat. Since they have a medium-length double coat that has a dense, harsh outer coat and softer, fluffy undercoat, they do require more grooming than a Labrador Retriever.

You will need to plan on spending some time every few days brushing out their coat to help with the natural shedding process, though you might be doing it more during shedding season.

Speaking of shedding season, your home might be covered in their hair once or twice a year when they drop their coat. Frequent brushing during these times can reduce the hair around your house.

Also a double coat, the Labrador Retriever’s coat is thick and actually water repellent. It needs to be brushed occasionally, but not as often as the German Shepherd’s.

Watch out for the changing of the seasons, however. When a Labrador Retriever loses its coat twice a year, your entire house will be covered in fur.

Both breeds need regular baths and teeth brushing to prevent dental issues. They must also have their nails regularly trimmed to reduce pain and structural issues.

german shepherd and black lab running

Health

The health of the German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever is actually fairly similar between the two breeds. Both are relatively healthy breeds, though they each h some diseases common to their breeds.

For German Shepherds:

  • Degenerative myelopathy
  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Hip dysplasia

For Labrador Retrievers:

  • Elbow dysplasia
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Hereditary myopathy (muscle weakness)
  • Eye conditions, like progressive retinal atrophy

One thing both breeds can struggle with is bloat, a sudden and life-threatening swelling of the abdomen. It’s important that you educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of bloat if you decide to welcome either of these breeds.

Final Thoughts: German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever

Ultimately, picking either a German Shepherd or a Labrador Retriever means you are getting a loyal, loving companion who will be there for you through thick and thin.

While there are many differences between the breeds, they are also surprisingly similar in ways.

They both need proper training to reign in their strong instincts and lots of exercise to address their high energy.

The German Shepherd is much more aloof and reserved but will prove to be a loyal companion to family.

The Labrador Retriever, on the other hand, loves anyone and everyone.

Regardless of whether you choose a German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever, you’ll have a partner who’ll also be happy to cuddle up after a long day of playing fetch and running free.

German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever Bonus Tip: How to Pick the Right Dog

When you’re looking for a dog but don’t know what breed to get, these nine easy questions can help quickly narrow down your search and find a four-legged friend who perfectly fits your lifestyle.

This guide will help you in the German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever debate and give you a clearer idea of which one is for you.

1. Why Do You Want a Dog?

First things first, let’s talk about why you want a dog. This will guide you more than you realize!

For example, do you love cuddling up on the couch and want a furball to curl up in your lap and keep you company? Or do you want an energetic and enthusiastic dog who fits your active lifestyle?

Stop for a minute, close your eyes and think about it.

2. What Type of Dog Did You Have Growing up?

Believe it or not, the dog (or dogs) you grew up with often have an impact on what type of dog you want when you’re older.

That’s certainly not to say you couldn’t pick a different type of dog by any means. It’s just that people often have a comfort level with the type of canine they were conditioned to growing up.

3. Do You Have Any Allergies?

Dogs can be awful for allergies. But fortunately, there are many hypoallergenic dog breeds that make it easier for allergies sufferers.

Always learn more about the breed before bringing it into your home.

4. Who’s in Your Household?

Another important thing to think about is who is in your household.

Is it just you? Or do you have a partner? Roommates? Children?

This is incredibly important to consider. Especially if you have little ones in the household.

When it comes to the German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever, both are good family dogs but you do have to make sure you’re able to provide adequate exercise.

5. Where Do You Live?

As you think about which dog breed is right for you, where you live is incredibly important.

It goes without saying that certain breeds just aren’t cut out for small spaces. For example, a Great Dane in a tiny apartment would be a disaster!

Also, certain dogs, including both the German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever, need lots of space to run and exercise, so it’s highly recommended you have a larger, fenced-in yard for these breeds.

6. How Much Time and Energy Do You Have?

Dogs are A LOT of work. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. But some dogs require much more effort than others.

Potential pup parents should always make sure they have the time, energy and resources to care for a dog, no matter what the breed. But that level of care can increase depending on the dog.

Before making a decision regarding the German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever, make sure you understand their instincts and just how much mental and physical stimulation they’ll require.

7. What is the Dog’s Temperament?

Just like appearance, a pup’s temperament can vary greatly by breed. And it’s absolutely critical to find out how a dog will act based on their breed instincts.

Both the German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever are smart, active dogs. The Labrador, however, is much more outgoing and gregarious whereas the German Shepherd withholds its affection at first.

8. How Much Does the Breed Cost?

Owning a dog isn’t cheap, but some breeds are more expensive than others. Especially for some of the rarer canines.

Cost is a consideration, and it’s always a good idea to understand the full picture before making a commitment.

Things to consider include the initial expense, vet bills, food, grooming and other expenses like daycare or boarding.

9. Breed Finder

And finally, try out our online breed selector and get a list of the best breeds for you and your lifestyle.

It allows you to enter details like where you live, who’s in your house, your climate, what size of dog you’re looking for and more. You’ll receive a list of breeds that will work for you.

This could settle the German Shepherd vs Labrador Retriever debate once and for all.

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1 Comment

  1. GGof9

    Love the way you described the differences in these breeds. I’m familiar with both and you were spot on. Thanks for sharing.

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