Labs are American; Goldens are Canadian

Great family dog. Intelligent. Trainable. Friendly.

Am I talking about the Labrador retriever or golden retriever? Who could tell?

A lab and a golden go for a walk.

Many people think of labs and goldens as interchangeable. I did.

But then I figured out the subtle differences: labs are American; goldens are Canadian.

Americans and Canadians Abroad

Canadian mittensIn the 1980s, Americans were advised that if kidnapped overseas, they should ditch their passports and pretend to be Canadian. Today, American tourists believe they’ll get better service if they impersonate Canadians. (Yeah, improve your manners and get better treatment – duh.)

For their part, Canadians are sick of being confused with Americans.

Visit any youth hostel in the world and the national symbol you’re most likely to find on a backpack is a maple leaf. It’s not that more Canadians travel. Or that they have greater national pride than anyone else. They’re just sick of everyone assuming they’re American.

But Americans and Canadians are similar. We speak English with a flat accent. We’re capitalists. We both own lots of guns.

People who don’t look too close have trouble telling us apart. Just like they do with labs and goldens.

Are Labs and Goldens the Same

I wanted to try something new.

My first dogs, Agatha and Christie, couldn’t handle being around other dogs. Neither could my second dog, Shadow.

I wanted to raise a puppy from a breed that was likely to be friendly to people and other dogs. With this dog, I’d volunteer as a puppy raiser or foster dogs for my local shelter.

But what dog should I choose? A lab or a golden?

Both had great reputations for being trainable, good with people, friendly toward other dogs. Both shed tons of hair. Both work as service dogs. Just what was the difference?

Honey the golden retriever is polite on the sofa.

I’m so polite. I even share the sofa.

Anecdotally, labs seemed a little more prone to mischief involving food. Goldens were slightly softer in their temperament. More polite, perhaps? More like Canadians?

Aha! That’s it.

Labs and goldens do have many things in common. But they’re just different.

Honey and Mr. Handsome

Honey and I have made new friends. As a result, we get occasional visits from a happy, friendly Labrador retriever I’ve nicknamed Mr. Handsome.

Mr. Handsome is so lovable. So friendly. So sweet.

Mr. Handsome the chocolate lab on the bed.

The bed is mine. All mine!

And as you can tell from the name and the pictures, very easy on the eyes. Mike is especially smitten with him. So is Honey.

But Mr. Handsome and Honey are so different.

Mr. Handsome has a level of determination I’ve never seen in Honey. I see it in the way he snatches food off the counter. Or pushes his sister away when he wants human attention. It’s the doggy version of invading a country and trying to convince everyone it was for their own good.

Honey approaches and pulls back. She’s easily turned away from bad behavior. She also pushes her own interests. But she’s more likely to do it as part of a U.N. peacekeeping force.

Chocolate lab photo bomb.

Things are awfully quiet around here. Time to drop a bomb. A photo bomb.

Vive la Différence

I adore labs. But I think I made the right choice. I love Honey’s “politeness.”

Or maybe I just have a Canada fixation. After all, I honeymooned in Montreal. And although the British Virgin Islands are famous for delightful and easy sailing, I’m signed up for a weeklong sailing charter in Kingston, Ontario.

I live a few miles from the Erie canal, but kayaking up the Rideau is my dream.

I even like the graffiti in Canada.

So I’ll stick with my well-mannered “Canadian-ish” dog. Even if she behaves like a hockey player where salami sandwiches or lovies from strangers are involved.

Honey is a golden retriever puppy on the beach.

Even as a puppy, I had very good manners. Everyone in Cape May says so when I visit.

Best City for Pet Travelers

How awesome is Canada? Two Canadian cities are marching forward in the brackets to find the Best City for Pet Travelers: freaking cold Edmonton with its 41 off-leash dog areas and rainy Vancouver with its adorable cafes and beautiful views.

Show Canada some love and vote for them both.

On a personal front, I’m disappointed to say that Cape May is falling behind Key West in the competition. It’s almost as if zombie cats were coming forth to vote.

So let me just give you a few more reasons to vote for Cape May:

  • Cape May is not just pet-friendly. It’s animal friendly. Cape May is a vital stop for birds and butterflies in their annual migrations.
  • Your dog is welcome to watch dolphins with you from the Cape May ferry or one of the specialized whale watcher tours.
  • Great restaurants. You won’t be limited to dining on boardwalk fries and hot dogs when you find that great pet-friendly deck.

Please vote for Cape May as the Best City for Pet Travelers.

Don’t vote for that other place filled with aging Jimmy Buffet wannabe’s. You’ll just encourage them.



photo credits: (dog walk) johnlemon via photopin cc. (Canadian mittens) Camera Eye Photography via photopin cc. Click on images to learn more about the photographers.

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  1. Hmm…I”ve never had a Golden, so I can’t speak to the differences with authority. I can say that Labs do have a sense of entitlement when it comes to things they want or think they deserve…similar to Americans 🙂

    • Entitlement is a good word. I would never have thought of it.

      But it’s certainly true of my neighbor’s elderly lab. At 14 years old, she was the matriarch of the block. Very mild. And yet… entitled. Yeah, that’s it.

  2. Interesting. I would never think that a golden and a lab are similar except that they like or love to retrieve. We know lots of both breeds and they are so very different in more ways than just their nationality!

    • When I first started thinking about getting a pure breed dog, I did a lot of reading. I didn’t know lots of actual retrievers.

      But the written descriptions were so similar to each other.

      You’re right. Once you get to know them, they are very different doggies.

  3. This is one of the best posts I’ve read on the differences between Canadians and Americans. And it was written by an American, something – I am sad to say – many Canadians do not think is possible.

    Really, when it comes down to it, there are probably more differences in the dogs than there are between Canadians and Americans, but don’t tell my compatriots that. 😉

    Wanna know a secret? I’ve always kind of preferred labs. There is just something admirable about the way they approach life. I guess, in a way, they are everything I am not. But don’t tell anyone I said that. 😉

  4. Oh I’ve definitely been voting for all the Canadian locations! And Cape May, of course.
    I liked this run down between the two. Craig Ferguson does a bit on Canadians, saying how he always likes to joke about them because they don’t get mad – because we realize it’s a joke, he says. “And, they’re just happy to be included,” he adds. So true! lol
    Funny how the Canadian breed “acts” American – I never thought of it that way. But I do know they get confused – especially when people start talking about “yellow retrievers” and “golden labs”.

  5. I have a cousin who travels abroad with Canadian groups, so I know what you are talking about! Your distinction between breeds and nations is quite striking. Having never had a Lab or Golden, I found the differences really interesting. Of course, this got me thinking–what about a comparison with Sage’s breeds–Kelpie (Australia) and Border Collie (UK).

  6. my lab mix get into everything…everything. Causes all kinds of trouble…but we wouldn’t want her any other way.

  7. Hmm… I have a 5 year old yellow Lab who is the best dog I’ve ever had in my life. She’s always been polite, quiet and sweet tempered. And she certainly doesn’t have a sense of entitlement! LoL! Some of the Golden Retrievers in this neighborhood are lunatics! I think, just like with humans – we’re all different! 🙂

  8. Not sure a comparison of two individual dogs is really enough to base the behavior of an entire breed on but I get your point. There’s a reason for the existence phrase “ugly American” after all. Guess my own experience would often place Goldens as the Americans and Labs as the Canadians.

    Perhaps better we should just learn to assess everyone, both dogs and people, on their own merits and ditch the stereotypes once and for all.

  9. I’m a lab/golden noob and didn’t know the differences at all, thanks for sharing!

  10. Oh, but I like Key West! It’s warm and beachy, two things I really need (especially this time of year). I’ve never been to Key West with a dog, though. That might change my tune!

  11. I had no idea that Golden’s were a Canadian breed. Interesting!

  12. I love this post. I think the breeds seem so similar in comparison to other dogs in general. I also think there are similarities and differences between the American and English types of both breeds. My understanding is that the English line of both goldens and labs are the shorter, stockier ones, and my experience has been that those tend to be very mellow dogs. (For example, my black lab–not my only experience with them–is a couch potato.) The American line of both are taller and lankier and more energetic–the stereotype of the crazy, hyper lab. Of course, that’s talking about pure breds and most of the dogs we run into are likely mixed.

    • You’re right that different breeding lines will emphasize different traits as well. Here in the U.S., goldens from hunting lines have darker, redder coats. Because they’re being bred to work as retrievers instead of couch potatoes, they tend to have much higher energy levels. A few that I’ve met were really horrible in the house because they needed much more to do than they were given.

      And, of course, every dog is different no matter what her breeding. Just like people. 🙂