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German Shepherd vs Labrador

There are two breeds currently dominating the dog world, and that would be: the German Shepherd and the Labrador Retriever. 

Labradors have been America’s favorite dog for the past 30 years. However, German Shepherd is not too far behind: In 2020, they ranked #3 on the list of most popular breeds in the country. 

So when it comes to choosing between these great breeds to add to your home, it can be a tough choice. While both dogs make excellent pets, it is essential to know which one would be best suited for you before you make your decision. 

That’s why it’s a good idea to do your fair share of research which is why we’ve compiled all you need to know about the differences between German Shepherds and Labradors. 

German Shepherd vs. Labrador: What’s the Difference?

Every dog has an origin story that explains where its breed came from and how it came to be. 

The history of German Shepherds and Labradors is no different in terms of timing, since both breeds were bred in the 1800s. But they came from opposite parts of the world. Labradors were bred in the cold regions of Canada and German Shepherd dogs in the rural country parts of Germany. 

Origin of the German Shepherd Dog

In the late 1800s in Germany, ex-cavalry officer Max von Stephanitz created the German Shepherd breed. He carefully selected the most intelligent and hardworking sheepdogs from rural areas and crossbred them to create the German Shepherd. 

Von Stephanitz’s goal was to create a working sheep herding dog that could trot for long periods, and so the new German Shepherd was trained as a sheep herding dog to protect their flocks from predators. 

German Shepherd Side Profile

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Unlike Labradors in their early years, German Shepherds were not considered pets by their masters. Instead, they were more like work companions. 

But it didn’t take long for those working with these brilliant dogs to form a deep bond with their loyal and protective ways. By the beginning of World War I, German Shepherd dogs gained popularity because of their courageous and intellectual personalities and were welcomed as police and guide dogs and, eventually, house pets and companions. 

Origin of the Labrador Dog

The Labrador Retriever is a breed of sporting dog that originated in Newfoundland near Labrador and was brought to England in the 1800s. 

Fishers originally bred them with St. John’s water dogs (now extinct) and early Newfoundland dogs to create a breed that could swim well, had a water-repellent coat, and a loving and friendly personality.

Vintage Photo of Lab Retriever Bird

A vintage photograph of a wet Labrador Retriever retrieving a bird.

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As working dogs, the Labrador was a friendly companion that assisted fishers and hunters in retrieving their game and materials, like hauling nets, fetching ropes, and retrieving fish and birds. 

This breed quickly became such a popular breed in the Newfoundland area that they were transported back to England. Many wealthy people adopted them as pets and eventually introduced them to the Americas. 

German Shepherd vs. Labrador: Which Is Better?

Dog lovers and owners know that each breed has its own set of benefits and downsides. Some dogs don’t play well with other dogs, while others are great running buddies but not as good at fetching. 

This sentiment is especially true for two popular dog breeds: German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers. While both breeds have their positives, they often come up in conversations about which dog is better for certain activities or lifestyles. 

There is no true answer to which breed is better because it all depends on your personal preferences and lifestyle. To gauge which breed is more appropriate for you, your household, and your family, it’s a good idea to learn the basics of both the German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever. 

Let’s take a look at some of the differences between these two breeds. 

Appearance: German Shepherd vs. Labrador Retriever

German Shepherds are medium-to-large herding and guard dogs with a prominent domed forehead, a black nose, brown eyes, and a long neck with a bushy tail. Their long, straight double-coat hair is typically brown and black, with a brown underbelly and side and a black top from the head to tail. 

White LabGerman Shepherd

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Labrador Retrievers are also medium-to-large dogs, but they are of the sporting group and have a short double-coat that is typically yellow, black, or brown. They are sturdy dogs with a square or box-shaped body and head with a muscular torso and legs. 

A Labrador Retriever’s eyes are dark brown and expressive, much like a German Shepherd’s. 

Size: German Shepherd vs. Labrador Retriever

Although the German Shepherd’s and Labrador Retriever’s appearances couldn’t be more different, their size is similar. As medium-large-sized dogs, both German Shepherds and Labradors are around 22 to 26 inches in height. 

German Shepherd and White Lab Side by Side

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However, German Shepherds are long, rather than tall, which puts them at around 50 to 90 pounds, depending on genetics. The American Kennel Club recognizes a standard weight of 65-90 pounds for male German Shepherds and 50-70 pounds for female German Shepherds.

Labradors are bulky and muscular, and typically weigh between 55 and 80 pounds, with females between 55 and 70 and males between 65 and 80. The type of Labrador also influences the size: American Labradors are much smaller than English Labradors and stockier in build. Learn more about the difference between American and English Labradors.

Temperament and Personality: German Shepherd vs. Labrador Retriever

Both the German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever have terrific personalities and patient, curious temperaments. Temperament is a dog’s general attitude towards other dogs and people from birth, whereas their personality is formed over time depending on the dog’s life experience. 

The American Kennel Club describes the German Shepherd as:

  • Confident
  • Courageous
  • Smart
  • Stubborn
  • Loyal 
  • Alert
  • Obedient
  • Curious 

Similarly, the AKC describes the Labrador Retriever as: 

  • Friendly
  • Active
  • Outgoing
  • Intelligent
  • Kind
  • Agile
  • Even-Tempered 

Because of the German Shepherd’s naturally curious, loyal, and obedient nature, they make excellent service dogs, guide dogs, police dogs, and military dogs. Labradors are famous for their reputation as family pets because of their gentle and kind nature. 

Intelligence: German Shepherd vs. Labrador Retriever

Dog enthusiasts constantly praise both the German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever for being among the most intelligent dog breeds in the world. Currently, German Shepherds rank at #3, and Labradors rank at #7 for most intelligent dog breeds.

Because of the German Shepherd’s intelligence, trainability, and obedience, they were initially bred as working dogs to herd sheep for farmers. They quickly grew in popularity for working jobs worldwide, including search-and-rescue, disability assistance, and even acting. 

Labradors are very loyal, obedient, and people-pleasing dogs, placing them high on the intelligence list. They are highly trainable, and because of this quality, they come in as the fifth-most popular as the most popular dog breed for those who need service animals and guide dogs. 

Coat and Grooming: German Shepherd vs. Labrador Retriever

The German Shepherd’s grooming needs are not too different from that of a Labrador. Both have unique double coats made up of a harsh exterior topcoat and a soft interior undercoat. This helps with the dogs’ water-repellant nature and keeps them warm in the winter and cool in the summer. 

Undercoat Infographic

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These two coats grow separately and at individual lengths, and the undercoat is shorter and grows much faster than the topcoat. For some owners, maintaining the double-coat is extra work since a lot of shedding and brushing are involved, especially during the spring and fall seasons when the coat releases completely. 

Although they’re not considered high-maintenance dogs, German Shepherds and Labradors should have weekly grooming and brushing (about two to three times a week) to protect them from mats or subsequent skin problems.

Training: German Shepherd vs. Labrador Retriever

Both German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers are highly trainable animals thanks to their curious instincts and high intelligence. 

The German Shepherd dog is a willing and capable partner, so they’re often chosen as service, guard, and police dogs, with a devotion to their master that is unmatched by any other breed. Although they can be stubborn, they will work to please the head of their pack endlessly. 

Labradors are also in the business of pleasing their masters, and it’s because they gain joy from working alongside their favorite people. These intelligent dogs were bred to work alongside fishers and farmers, so obedience is an instinct. They have a desire to hunt and an eagerness to please, so they’re often chosen as service and family dogs. 

Exercise: German Shepherd vs. Labrador Retriever

The German Shepherd is a high-energy breed that likes to be kept busy, so they require at least two hours of exercise every day, including walks, playtime in the backyard, and training sessions. 

Similarly, Labradors are also high-energy dogs and require a minimum of 80 minutes of exercise each day. Still, they’re also very playful and social, so they will benefit most from their exercise if interacting with another dog or another person. 

But remember that you should cater an exercise schedule to that specific dog: It’s not unheard of for a German Shepherd or a Labrador to have more relaxed and laid-back temperaments, meaning that they might not require as much exercise or as many walks. 

Some dogs need even more activity than the 80 to 120 minutes per day, so be sure to gauge what kind of schedule works for your dog the best. 

Health: German Shepherd vs. Labrador Retriever

As with many medium-to-large breed dogs, German Shepherds and Labrador Retrievers may face many different health issues. 

An average, healthy adult German Shepherd dog has a typical lifespan of 7 – 10 years. Here are some of the most common health problems that the German Shepherd breed experiences:

  • Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
  • Bloat
  • Epilepsy
  • Hemophilia
  • Diabetes
  • Cataracts and Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Degenerative Disc Disease

An average, healthy adult Labrador Retriever has a lifespan of 10 to 12 years. Here are some of the most common health problems that the Labrador breed typically experiences: 

  • Obesity
  • Hip and Elbow Dysplasia
  • Osteochondritis Dissecans 
  • Eye Disease
  • Epilepsy
  • Bloat
  • Cancer/Tumors

The best way to prevent these health problems is to practice healthy dieting with plenty of exercise. You can also better predict your dog’s future health by getting genetic and health papers from your puppy’s certified breeder. 

Any good German Shepherd or Labrador breeder will have all the necessary information you need on your puppy’s and their parents’ health that goes back several generations.

Cost: German Shepherd vs. Labrador Retriever

There are hundreds of German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever breeders in the United States, and the broad range of price for these popular breeds vary greatly depending on essential factors, such as: 

  • The breeder’s reputation
  • How long the breeder has been in business
  • Types of pedigree 
  • Health guarantee 
  • Important genetic records 

The cost of a new German Shepherd puppy or a new Labrador puppy is about the same and ranges between $1,000 to $3,000. It is possible to find cheap puppies for around $500, but these bloodlines typically come from backyard breeders who typically don’t do health or temperament testing. 

In other words, you get what you pay for—so the more expensive a puppy is, the healthier and friendlier he will be. 

The Showdown of the German Shepherd vs. Labrador Retriever: Which Breed Is Better For You?

Both the German Shepherd and Labrador Retriever are intelligent, loyal, and sweet dogs that would do anything to please the head of their pack. However, they also experience common health conditions prevalent in medium-to-large dog breeds, like hip dysplasia.

Child playing with lab puppyadult owner playing with german shepherd

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If you can’t decide between the two, here’s how you can narrow down which breed might be better for you. 

If You Have Children: Labrador Retriever 

Labradors are friendly and welcoming of just about everybody, making them a great family pet. They’re known to make friends with other dogs, pets, and especially visitors of their home. They are not too cautious of strangers but instead welcome them with open arms.

Labradors are also so kind and gentle that they can tolerate a lot of roughhousing and playtime which is why they’re such a popular family dog, especially for families with young children.

If You Only Want One Dog: German Shepherd

German Shepherds have a one-track mind, and that’s all about their master. That’s why they do better as a solo dog in your household. They also do very well when “bonded” with a sibling or another dog from a young age.

They are the perfect dog for those seeking a companion at home and out on the road. Since they’re high-energy dogs, they are ideal hiking partners or guide partners. A German Shepherd is ideal for single-dog, all-adult households, while a Labrador is better for homes with children.

If Size Is a Consideration: Labrador Retriever 

Both German Shepherds and Labradors are medium-large dogs, but due to the German Shepherd’s longer physique, that dog breed is a little heavier and more prominent in size than Labradors are. So if you’re looking for a dog truer to the medium-breed dog size, then the Labrador might be for you.

Their stocky build makes them look larger at first glance, but you’ll quickly see how agile and flexible they are with their movements. Plus, you can also choose between English and American Labs, where the American counterpart is slightly smaller than their English one.

If You Want a Guard Dog: German Shepherd 

A German Shepherd is your classic guard dog. Their innate nature tells them to be a little standoffish and protective of their homes and owners, so they’re especially popular in the military and the police force. 

They’re also excellent guard dogs and service dogs. No matter where you are, if you want a dog that will have your back any time of the day or night, then the German Shepherd is the breed you’re looking for. 

If You Want a Loyal, Dedicated Companion: Both! 

There’s no question why these two dogs are among the most popular breeds in the country: German Shepherds and Labradors are both loyal, dedicated companions that will do just about anything to please and be near their masters. 

So while it all comes down to preference and your lifestyle, there’s no doubt that the Labrador and German Shepherd will adapt to your way of life, especially if they’re brought into your home at a young enough age.

Conclusion

German Shepherds and Labradors are among the most popular breeds in the United States, and there’s no question as to why: Both breeds are obedient, loyal, and willing to please their master, making them trainable and easy to live with. 

But when it comes down to deciding between German Shepherd vs. Labrador, knowing which breed is right for you requires some research. 

When it comes to choosing a family dog, you want one that is loyal and friendly. Labradors are the perfect choice for families with kids because they get along well with children of all ages. 

German Shepherds can be highly confident dogs, requiring an experienced owner. However, if you’re looking for a more independent dog breed, then the Labrador Retrievers may be your best bet. 

If you need help finding the right Labrador puppy for your family, it’s time to meet the experts at Snowy Pines. We are an AKC-certified breeder with generations of experience breeding the healthiest bloodlines of pure white Labrador Retrievers. 

All of our puppies and their parents live and roam freely on our 120-acre Ozark Mountains home alongside their siblings and other dogs and people. 

We welcome visitors any time, so come visit us today, check out our facility, or learn more about our available puppies if you’re ready to adopt!

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About the Author

tom-massey

Tom Massey

Tom Massey has owned and operated Snowy Pines Labradors for over a decade. They have become the leaders in English Labradors in the US. He and his team serve customers all over the US and Europe. They house their "dog family" in a state of the art facility on a large farm in the Ozark Mountains. With an obsession for genetics and temperament they raise and train dogs known across the globe for health and personality. Tom serves the pet industry in many forms campaigning for ethical breeding, training, and pet ownership.

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