6 Dog Breeds That Are Retrievers

Labrador retriever dog with toy duck in its mouth

The Spruce / Kristie Lee

Two retrievers have ranked in the top three dog breeds in the U.S. for decades: Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers. These breeds have historically been used for hunting birds (particularly ducks and other waterfowl), but they are also well-known for being excellent family pets. Retrievers are incredibly popular for their sweet demeanor and energetic personalities.

What is a Retriever Dog?

Retrievers include six breeds of dogs recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC). Classified as sporting dogs, retrievers are bred to assist hunters by bringing back small game during the hunt.

Golden retrievers and Labs may be the most well-known types in this group, but there are several other dog breeds under this classification. They are similar in look and temperament but have some distinct differences.


If you plan to introduce a dog into your family life, seek out a reputable breeder or dog rescue organization. Be honest with the breeder or organization about your home life situation, including the time you can spend with the dog. They can help you determine if the dog's traits will fit well with the lifestyle you lead.

Breed Characteristics

Retrievers are hunting or gun dogs. When a hunter shoots down a bird, the dog spots it in the air and retrieves it. Retrievers have webbed paws that enable better swimming ability. They also have soft mouths, which means when they grab a bird with its mouth, they don't bite down on it, which could render it inedible for their human companions. Retrievers are great at following directions and are eager to please their people. They are patient, intelligent dogs that learn quickly. These qualities make them suitable as working dogs for assistive service, therapy, detection, and search and rescue. And, if you plan to play fetch with your dog, as you can probably guess, these dogs are always game.

Here are the six main retriever dogs to consider.

  • 01 of 06

    Labrador Retriever

    A chocolate Labrador retriever

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    Labrador retrievers are the most popular dog breed in the U.S. since 1991, according to the AKC, Labrador retrievers are high-spirited and sweet-natured. They have yellow, black, or chocolate brown coats and weigh between 55 to 80 pounds, males usually weighing more. This type of retriever is known for its short, dense fur coat, an otter-like tail that's incredibly strong, and a good temperament. Labrador retrievers have a long history as the canine friend of Newfoundland fishermen and women. Their quick rise to popularity began in the early 1800s when English nobles brought the breed back to the U.K.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting (AKC)

    Height: 21.5 to 24.5 inches

    Weight: 55 to 80 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short, dense double coat comes in black, chocolate, or yellow

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

  • 02 of 06

    Golden Retriever

    A golden retriever

    The Spruce / Kevin Norris

    Golden retrievers are the No. 3 most popular breed in the U.S. The breed's hallmark physical characteristic is its broad head and straight muzzle. It's also full of energy and a friendly family pet. Goldens were first bred in Scotland in the mid-19th century. There are three breed variations—British, American, and Canadian, and they all feature a golden-yellow shaggy coat. Goldens require regular grooming. Their water-repellant double-coat regularly sheds, particularly during the twice-a-year major shedding event. Daily or weekly brushing reduces shedding around the house.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting (AKC)

    Height: 21.5 to 24 inches

    Weight: 55 to 75 pounds

    Coat and Color: Medium-length, double coat; light to dark gold

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

  • 03 of 06

    Chesapeake Bay Retriever

    Chesapeake bay retriever

    Christopher Kimmel / Getty Images

    Also known as "Chessies," the Chesapeake Bay retriever is a powerful, stout dog. This breed is larger and sturdier than the other retrievers. Its coat is dense, wavy, and waterproof. They come in three colors—chocolate brown, sedge (red-gold), and dead grass (straw). Their eyes are always a yellowish or amber hue. The name comes from the breed's popularity among wealthy owners of duck clubs along the Chesapeake Bay during the 19th century. Sporting an oily, thick double coat, these retrievers could withstand the chilly waters of the Bay. Chessies are the third most popular type of retriever in America and have a similarly bright, happy disposition and noted intelligence as goldens and Labs.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting (AKC)

    Height: 21 to 26 inches

    Weight: 55 to 80 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short, wavy, waterproof coat; comes in solid shades of brown, deadgrass, and sedge

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 12 years

  • 04 of 06

    Flat-Coated Retriever

    flat coated retriever in the snow


    Nikki O'Keefe Images 

    The gentle, cheerful, and energetic flat-coated retriever has, as the name suggests, a flat-lying coat that's either black or liver and feathers at the legs and tail. Like golden retrievers, you should brush this breed weekly to mitigate shedding. Flat-coated retrievers were first bred in the mid-1800s and called the "gamekeeper's dog" until the Lab and golden took over in popularity. Flat-coated retrievers had been the top retriever in Britain. Their numbers plummeted during WWI and WWII when it looked like the breed would go extinct. Their popularity began to rise again in the 1960s. Flat-coated retrievers are usually quick to train, but they don't reach full maturity until 3 to 5 years old. They're known as the "Peter Pan" of retrievers because they seem never to grow up, showcasing their puppy ways into old age.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting (AKC)

    Height: 22 to 24.5 inches

    Weight: 55 to 70 pounds

    Coat and Color: Moderate length coat that lies flat; comes in solid black or brown

    Life Expectancy: 8 to 10 years

    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06

    Curly-Coated Retriever

    Curly coated retriever on a carpet

    Jennifer Boggs / Getty Images

    The curly-coated retriever is the oldest of the retriever breeds. It first appeared in the late 1700s. Their coat, either black or liver, consists of tight, waterproof curls. Unlike other retrievers, the curly-coated type features a tapered, wedge-shaped head. Although this type of retriever is friendly and playful with loved ones, they're more independent than other varieties and a little less friendly to strangers. Curly-coated retrievers reportedly descended from two extinct dog breeds, the English water spaniel and the retrieving setter. Some suspect that the distinctive, low-shedding curls may come from a cross with poodles too.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting (AKC)

    Height: 23 to 27 inches

    Weight: 65 to 100 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short, tight curls lying close to the body; solid black or liver

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 13 years

  • 06 of 06

    Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

    A Nova Scotia Duck Tolling retriever playing

    @Hans Surfer / Getty Images

    The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever is the smallest of the retrievers. but it's a beautiful, compact dog with a dense double coat that's golden red to dark copper red on the body with white markings on the face, chest, and paws. The tolling retriever requires weekly brushing most of the year and daily brushing during the shedding season because of its double coat, This retriever was bred in Nova Scotia. It has a curious nature and quick movements to catch waterfowl. The term "tolling" refers to drawing waterfowl toward the hunter in the style of a fox, which the breed is known for. Nova Scotia duck tolling retrievers joined the AKC sporting group in 2003.

    Breed Overview

    Group: Sporting (AKC)

    Height: 17 to 21 inches

    Weight: 35 to 50 pounds

    Coat and Color: Short to medium length coat, usually straight; copper, crimson, and golden-red

    Life Expectancy: 10 to 14 years

Breeds to Avoid

Dogs that are harder to train, seem more aloof or stubborn, and are the exact opposite of retrievers. These dogs aren't "bad," they're just more independent (like spitz breeds), and in most cases, some of the smartest dogs since they seem to have a mind of their own. These dogs include Akitas, shiba inus, and chow chows.

Another characteristic that's indicative of retrievers is their soft mouth or gentle bite. Dogs like terriers and ratters have a contrary form of hunting style, they catch, roughly shake, mangle, and destroy the rats or other vermin they were tasked with dispatching. You'd likely want to avoid Jack Russell terriers, rat terriers, Cairn terriers, or Westies.

  • Are retrievers good family dogs?

    Yes, retrievers are active, energetic dogs that get along well with family members of all ages.

  • What are retrievers known for?

    Retrievers are known for being loyal, affectionate, trustworthy, and eager to please.

  • What's the difference between a golden retriever and a Labrador retriever?

    While they are both fantastic dogs, the biggest difference between the two is that the golden retriever is more relaxed, needs more grooming, and can be less expensive than the Labrador. On the other hand, labs are easier to train (and quicker to pick up new tasks) and tend to have a more muscular build, leading them to weigh a bit more.