Critter Culture
What's a Retriever, and Why Are They Awesome?

What's a Retriever, and Why Are They Awesome?

Critter Culture Staff



Retrievers are a class of dogs that have been working with humans outdoors for hundreds of years. Bred initially for help with hunting, retrievers are highly energetic, very fast runners who love to fetch. If you have a retriever, you have a pal who's perfectly happy to take a subordinate role in your family pack for the 7-14 years their lives typically run.

Don't look to a retriever to put up a fight to protect your property since their cartoonishly good nature gets in the way of actual guard dog aggression, though several of them are decent at barking and not too scared to confront strangers. Retrievers are generally great with children and other pets in the house, though some breed differences do creep in. The American Kennel Club recognizes six official breeds of retrievers and a handful of related breeds that share many of the same traits.


Golden retrievers

Golden Retriever cmannphoto / Getty Images

By far the biggest, happiest, goodest doggos in the world, golden retrievers are some of the best-natured pets you can get. Goldies have soft mouths and easygoing dispositions, making them ideal for families with small kids and other pets. If you have a golden retriever in your house, you also almost certainly have a big pile of gently chewed toys and a doggie bed covered with tufts of blonde fur.


Labrador retrievers

Smiling Labrador dog in the city park sanjagrujic / Getty Images

Like their golden cousins, Labrador retrievers are generally good-natured and great for families. Bred for duck hunting, fetch is the lab's favorite game. Labs are characterized by their color, with black, chocolate, and other varieties readily available from registered breeders around the country. Labs aren't great guard dogs since they're usually either scared of burglars or they want to play with the new friend breaking in, but otherwise, these are fantastic family pets.


Honorable mention: Great Pyrenees

Great Pyrenees dog relaxing under a tree. Kathryn Schauer / Getty Images

The Great Pyrenees is not strictly a retriever, but these huge mountain dogs are close relatives who were bred for similar work by Spanish breeders hundreds of years ago. Adult Pyrenees can get up to 120 pounds, and the purebred members of the breed sport a huge shaggy mane over their chests like a lion. Great Pyrenees are good retrievers, great herders, and tons of fun for cuddles. They need outdoor time and frequent runs.


Chesapeake Bay retrievers

Chesapeake Bay Retriever sitting in a field ktatarka / Getty Images

Chesapeake Bay retrievers are smart, friendly, and very sensitive dogs who need lots of love and companionship to be happy. Some chessies get nervous when their humans leave for work, so you might come home to wrecked paper and some disturbed furniture from time to time, but this can be managed with a dog or cat friend. Chesapeakes are a little big for lap dogs, but there's nothing they like better than petting and attention.


Flat-coated retrievers

Purebred flat-coated retriever dog Bigandt_Photography / Getty Images

Flat-coated retrievers have been a recognized breed since 1915. First bred for land and water retrieval, they're super high-energy and always on the go. These are very affectionate puppers who need lots of room to run around, and it's a good idea to invest in a jogging leash if you have one. Brush their coat weekly to fight the inevitable tangles, and don't worry about keeping them in a house with cats or other pets.


Honorable mention: Bernese mountain dog

Bernese mountain dog Beton studio / Getty Images

Bernese mountain dogs are strong working dogs in the retriever group that physically resemble smaller St. Bernards. Super affectionate and everybody's friend, the Bernese gets along with other dogs extremely well and tolerates cats like a champ. This is one of the safest dogs to have around young children, and they generally know when to back off with the roughhousing. These are good barking dogs for home security, but they're not much for confrontations.


Curly-coated retrievers

curly coated retriever dog lying down outdoors

Looking like a black lab that just got back from a hair appointment, curly-coated retrievers have tight curls all over their coat that almost perfectly resemble a perm. These are really smart and confident dogs, with a proud attitude that serves them well as guard dogs. Like all retrievers, curlies are perfectly loyal and always in the mood to cuddle. These pups don't need as much attention as others, but they appreciate all they get.



Leonberger Dog Sitting In Forest Katerina Skokanova / EyeEm / Getty Images

Leonbergers can grow up to 175 pounds and sport an almost comically floppy tuft of hair over their eyes and snout. These are friendly and very gentle companions who love to play and will wear your arm out with fetch. Leonbergers generally have a seven-year lifespan, which is shorter than some retrievers, but these can be great family pets, especially for large families with a lot of land to run around on.


Honorable mention: English springer spaniel

English springer spaniel dog standing in field

English springer spaniels were bred in Spain, like the Great Pyrenees, but these sniffer dogs were developed for tracking and light-duty on hunting trips. English springers are smaller dogs, with males topping out at 55 pounds, and they have a very kid-friendly 14-year lifespan. Like many spaniels, these are less team-oriented dogs than retrievers, but they are fairly close relatives with a positive disposition. They're also good barkers if you need an alarm.


Nova Scotia duck-tolling retrievers

Nova Scotia Duck-tolling Retriever RvDam / Getty Images

Nova Scotia duck-tolling retrievers are the smallest and newest retriever breed so far recognized. First registered in 2003, these retrievers top out at 50 pounds. Happy and outgoing, Nova Scotias are almost indecently eager to please, especially their human family. These are very affectionate puppers, and they're never happier than when they can curl up in the warm spot between a couple of their human companions. This breed is outgoing and very smart.



Funny Moments: A Hilarious Journey into My Little Pony

Funny Moments: A Hilarious Journey into My Little Pony

Get your paws on the latest animal news and information