Types of Retrievers

Labrador running with toy
Labrador. Stefan Cioata / Getty Images

Holding two of the top three dog breeds in the U.S., retrievers are incredibly popular due to their sweet demeanors and energetic personalities. They're grouped by the American Kennel Club (AKC) as sporting dogs, as they're historically used for hunting birds, particularly ducks and other waterfowl.

While Labrador Retrievers and Golden Retrievers are the most well-known types in this group, there are actually six types of retrievers. They are similar in look and temperament but have distinct differences, too.

Labrador Retriever

The most popular dog breed in the U.S. since 1991, according to the AKC, Labrador Retriever sare high-spirited and sweet-natured. They have yellow, black, or chocolate brown coats and weigh in at 55 to 80 pounds, depending on the sex of the dog. 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 fishermen in Newfoundland but began their quick rise to popularity in the early 1800s, when English nobles brought the breed back to their home country.

Golden Retriever

Although Golden Retriever might not reach the same heights of popularity as labs, they're still a beloved breed in America, coming in as the No. 3 most-popular breed, says the AKC. The breed's hallmark physical characteristic is its broad head and straight muzzle, while the dogs are known for being energetic and friendly pets.

Golden Retrievers were first bred in Scotland in the mid-19th century, and while there are three breed variations—British, American, and Canadian—they all feature some sort of golden-yellow shaggy coat. Goldens require regular grooming, as their water-repellant double-coat sheds regularly, particularly during the twice-a-year major shedding event. Daily or weekly brushing lessens the amount of hair that naturally falls out.

Chesapeake Bay Retriever

Also known as "Chessies," the Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a powerful, stout dog. This breed is larger and sturdier built than the other retrievers, with a coat that is dense, wavy, and waterproof. They come in three colors—chocolate brown, sedge (red-gold), and dead grass (straw), but their eyes are always a yellowish or amber hue.

The name comes from the breed's popularity among weather owners of duck clubs along the Chesapeake Bay during the 19th century. Chesapeake Bay Retrievers did well at retrieving ducks in the chilly waters the of the Bay because of its oily, thick double coat.

Chessies are the third-most popular type of retriever in America, but their rank is far below that of the Lab and Golden. Despite that, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers have a similarly bright, happy disposition and noted intelligence.

Flat-Coated Retriever

The kind, happy 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, this breed should be brushed weekly to discourage shedding.

Flat-Coated Retrievers were first bred in the mid-1800s and were referred to as the "Gamekeeper's Dog." Before being overthrown in popularity by Labs and Goldens, Flat-Coated Retrievers were the top type of retriever in Britain. During the First and Second World Wars, breeding reaching dangerously low levels to the point where it was uncertain if they would survive. However, their popularity began to rise again in the 9160s.

Although Flat-Coated Retrievers are usually quick to train, they don't reach full maturity until 3 to 5 years old. Because of this, they're known as the "Peter Pan" of retrievers because they seem to never grow up, showcasing their puppy ways into old age.

Curly-Coated Retriever

The curly-coated retriever is the oldest of the retriever breeds, first appearing in the late 1700s Their coat, either black or liver in color, 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, as well as a little less friendly to strangers.

Curly-Coated Retrievers reportedly descend from two extinct dog breeds, the English Water Spaniel and the Retrieving Setter, but there's also suspicion that the distinctive, low-shedding curls come from a cross with the Poodle.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

The Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever might be 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. Because of its double coat, the Tolling Retriever requires weekly brushing most of the year and daily brushing during shedding season.

As the name suggests, this type of retriever was bred in Nova Scotia to have a curious nature and quick movements to catch waterfowl. "Tolling" refers to drawing waterfowl toward the hunter in the style of a fox, which the breed is known for. However, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers weren't recognized by the AKC until 2003.