The Different Retriever Breeds

There are a number of gundog breeds that were created specifically to work as retrievers in the field with a hunter. Some were bred for work on land, retrieving upland game birds. Others were created to retrieve birds from the water. Most will retrieve a bird, regardless of whether you are on land or water but they have some areas they excel at more than other.

In general, gun dogs are companionable dogs that do well in family situations. They are easy to train and live to please their owners. There are differences in temperament, coat, and exercise needs between the six basic retriever breeds.

Labrador Retrievers

America’s most popular breed for decades now, the Labrador Retriever is an all-around great choice for a family pet. They require little grooming beyond the basics of trimming nails and cleaning ears. They love children and are generally pretty happy go lucky dogs. They are known for some health issues including hip dysplasia, allergies, and skin issues. If you choose to get a Lab, you need to make sure you research your breeder carefully. Choose someone who does the recommended health testing and offers a written health guarantee. They come in chocolate (brown), yellow, and black. Silver is the result of a dilution gene and is not considered acceptable by the national breed club.

There is a general split between Labradors bred for shows versus Labradors bred for hunting trials. This is not to say that show dogs lack instincts but they don’t always look the same as hunt bred Labs. If you are interested in hunting with your Labrador and especially if you are interested in field trialing your Lab, you need to make sure you choose a breeder that either works their dogs in the field or routinely produces dogs that hunt for their owners.

Golden Retrievers

Golden Retrievers were called the “gentleman’s hunting companion”. They’re more sedate than some other retrievers. Like the Labrador, they are known for their exceptional disposition and love of children. The longer coat is quite beautiful but does take a little more care including regular brushing. Like the Lab, Goldens are prone to several health issues and it is important to research your breeder carefully. Goldens range in color from a very pale cream to a rich mahogany golden color.

This is another breed with a definite split between show and hunting lines. They don’t always look alike and hunting instinct may not be priority with some breeders. If you intend to hunt with your Golden, make sure that you look for a breeder that does working tests, field trials, hunt tests, or actively hunts their dogs to prove that the instincts are there.

Flatcoated Retrievers

Flatcoats are less well known in North America than in their native Britain. They are slighter than Labradors and Goldens but equally good natured. They were bred for upland bird retrieving. They are smart, friendly and fairly active dogs. Although they have fewer health issues than Labs and Goldens, you still need to do your research. Flatcoats come in solid black or solid liver (brown). There is no split between field and show lines and most breeders produce dogs capable of excelling in either arena.

Chesapeake Bay Retrievers

Chessies were created to retrieve sea ducks out of the frigid waters of the Chesapeake Bay. They are hardy, active dogs with strong hunting instincts. There is no difference between field and show lines and the hunting instincts tend to be very strong in them.

Chessies come in a range of shades of brown that are often referred to by names such as dead grass, sedge, and tan. They are generally larger than Labradors and Goldens. Although they are very devoted to their families, they do not have the same “love everyone” attitude of the Labrador and Golden Retrievers. They have more guarding instincts and can be protective.

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers

Up until relatively recently, Nova Scotia Duck Tollers were not well known outside of their native Canada. They are smaller than the other retriever breeds, usually weighing less than fifty pounds. Their coat is longer than that of a Labrador or Chessie but shorter than a Golden’s. It is a combination of red-brown and white. They were bred to lure the duck into the shore by tolling. Like all retrievers they are happy go lucky dogs that live to please their owners. They are high energy dogs that need lots of exercise. There is no split between field and show lines and most breeders produce dual purpose dogs.

Curly-Coated Retrievers

Curlies are far less common than the other five breeds. Their coat is a mass of short, tight curls that dry quickly. They come in solid black or solid brown. They are a little more reserved than the other retriever breeds but can make fine family pets. Like the Chessie, they can be more stubborn than a Labrador or Golden. There is no split between field and show lines and most breeders produce dogs capable of excelling in any arena.

Photo credit: Sarah/Flickr


The article, The Different Retriever Breeds was originally posted on February 18, 2015 and was last updated on February 18, 2015. It was posted in the category, General with the Tags: , , , , , ,

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