6 Types of Retrievers From Waterfowl Wizards to Family Favorites

types of retrievers

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve heard of Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers. But did you know other types of retrievers are just as calm, cool, and collected?

Retrievers do more than hunt for waterfowl. They have a myriad of talents and were selectively bred to complete the job of the hunter’s bidding. And they’re not just all larger dogs. There are some shorter retrievers, like the Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, who can hunt with the best of them. 

We’re taking a “pond dive” into six types of retrievers – their size, temperament, lifespan, and more. So come along, won’t you?

What is a Retriever Dog Breed?

Retrievers are dogs that were bred primarily to hunt birds and other prey and return them to the hunter unharmed.

The overall diversity of sporting breeds can claim that trait from different parts of the world while the US made significant contributions to their development, such as the:

  1. American water spaniel – In the 1920s, Wisconsin gunners desired a smaller yet determined water dog that could fit better in duck skiffs and canoes.
  2. Boykin spaniel – Also in the early 1900s, but in South Carolina, they were used in waterfowl hunting to retrieve and hunt turkeys.
  3. Chesapeake Bay retriever – They were the first retriever to be recognized by the American Kennel Club which was in 1878. 

What Makes Retriever Dog Breeds Special?

What’s not to love? Retriever breeds are:

  1. Intelligent
  2. Loyal
  3. Active
  4. Responsive
  5. Able to take instruction
  6. Affectionate
  7. Friendly
  8. Trusting
  9. Athletic
  10. Versatile
  11. Adaptable
  12. “Soft” mouths (grip)
  13. Sporting group (classification)
  14. Double-coated

Types of Retrievers 

Let’s explore the world of retrievers, where each breed brings its unique blend of loyalty, intelligence, and an unwavering love for fetching!

1. Labrador Retriever

GroupSporting dogs
Weight55-80 lbs.
Fur and colorDouble-coated – Black, chocolate, yellow
Lifespan11-13 yrs.

Lovey-dovey and good with other dogs and children, this type of retriever is one of America’s favorites. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has a list every year of the most popular dog breeds, and the Lab has been #1 since 1991 (31 years)… (that is, until 2022, when the French bulldog took the top spot).

Sometimes goofy and always affectionate, the Labrador retriever has many talents:

  • Retrieving
  • Tracking
  • Hunting
  • Agility
  • Obedience
  • Dock diving
  • Police work
  • Service dogs
  • Nose work (Bomb and human remains detection)
  • Military dogs
  • Rescue dogs

Whew. They’ve been busy!

They’ve existed since the 1500s or before and were developed in Newfoundland, Canada. A mainland sector of Newfoundland is named Labrador. They were developed by fishermen to retrieve fish that had escaped the hooks. (What? No birds? That came later.)

In the 1830s, the breed was seen and desired by British nobles and taken back to Great Britain, where they officially became the Labrador retriever in Poole, England.

In England, the second Earl of Malmesbury established a Lab breeding program in the early 1800s, and in Scotland during the 1930s, the fifth Duke of Buccleuch developed a Lab kennel. Both of their contributing breeds began with St. John’s water dogs. 

They were recognized by The Kennel Club (UK) in 1903. The American Kennel Club (AKC) soon followed suit and recognized the breed in 1917. An instant star was born.

If you’re not comfortable with training them yourself, Petsmart has wonderful obedience classes that will simultaneously socialize your dog, too. This is a great time to talk to other pet guardians to compare notes, learn training techniques, and make playdates.  

Labs shed consistently and have a waterproof and weather-resistant coat to insulate heat while they work. They’ve insulated a lot of hearts over the years, too. 

2. Golden Retriever

types of retrievers
Weight55-75 lbs
Fur and colorDouble-coated – Dark golden, golden, light golden
Lifespan10-12 yrs.

One. Big. Mushball. That’s what I think of my nephew’s golden, Jack, who drips love and wants to make sure you wipe it up. He’s gentle, kind, obedient, and so affectionate. He does shed like it’s raining hair, but do you think I care?

The golden’s coat is dense, and since they shed like gangbusters, weekly brushing with a slicker brush is necessary. That, along with a monthly bath, should do the trick to have a real beauty.

Golden retrievers plus children equals a lot of happiness. They’re incredible with kids due to their good-natured temperament. But don’t expect them to be good guard dogs of the home since they welcome strangers with open paws. They also get along with cats, dogs, and even other small animals.

Due to their loyalty, desire to please, and stability, Goldens are excellent service dogs. They started out more sporty though.

Records show that in the 1800s, Dudley Marjoribanks developed/bred goldens in the Scottish Highlands to be waterfowl retrieving dogs. He wanted the perfect gun dog in sporting and temperament, a dog that could work in inclement weather and one that was agile enough to traverse the rugged environment. 

So take them on hikes, swims, or runs daily, not only to help them have their best lives but also to solidify your relationship. Golden retrievers adore having a job, so teach them how to retrieve your slippers or, better yet, bring you the chips. 

These dogs are everything you want in a pet and more. I say, golden retriever for President! 

3. Chesapeake Bay Retriever

retriever breeds
Weight55-80 lbs.
Fur and colorDouble-coated – Brown, dark brown, dark dead grass (faded tan to dull straw), dead grass, light brown, light dead grass, sedge (red), tan
Lifespan10-13 yrs.

Also known as “Chessies,” this type of retriever is loyal and intelligent. They can have a dominant streak, so make sure in training they know who’s in charge, giving only positive reinforcement.

They’re also protective and need time to learn which strangers are okay to have around. Providing early socialization (being around all types of people, places, and things from the time they’re puppies) should help them with that hurdle.

They were originally bred in the 19th century in Maryland, US, to hunt ducks and other waterfowl and have a penchant for swimming. These dogs worked in icy waters off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, and since 1964, they’ve been Maryland’s official state dog.

The hardiest of all gundogs, the Chessie was once known as the Chesapeake Bay ducking dog.

These types of retrievers are medium shedders, so brushing them weekly and bathing them every 2-3 months should keep that waterproof coat looking snazzy. 

Chesapeake Bay retrievers are quite talented and perfect for:

  • Retrieving
  • Hunting
  • Search-and-rescue
  • Police work (drug-sniffing)
  • Show dogs (conformation)
  • Agility and obedience sports

And more.

All-in-all, the Chessie is one incredible dog who will be by your side whether hunting, playing, working, or relaxing.

4. Curly-Coated Retriever

retriever dog
Weight60-95 lbs.
Fur and colorDouble-coated – Black, liver 
Lifespan10-12 yrs.

These retriever breeds have curls similar to Poodles; however, they cover the body and not the face. They can look a bit like British Parliament members with the obvious demarcation line. Surprisingly, their coats are generally easy to care for and don’t shed a lot. 

Curly-coated retrievers are uncommon but cherished by their guardians, are highly trainable, and unusually smart. They’re one of the oldest retriever breeds, with written records going back to 1803.

Developed in England, they were popular on large estates as water-retrieving hunting dogs, and it may be no coincidence that they walk with a stately gait.

With family members, curly-coated retrievers are gentle and protective, so you’ll have a superb watchdog on your hands. They love exercise and excel at agility sports, which means you’ll have a best buddy to take along on outings. Just remember, without enough socialization, he can be suspicious of strangers.

Curly-coated retriever is an excellent companion animal for a myriad of reasons, and if you can find one, you may never want to go back to another breed.

5. Flat-Coated Retriever

dogs like golden retriever
Weight60-70 lbs.
Fur and colorDouble-coated – Solid black or liver
Lifespan8-10 yrs.

This cutie-pie is a soft-mouthed fowl hunter on land or water and excels at both. With agility, speed, and keen noses, this type of retriever found and retrieved birds that were missed during the hunt in the early years. 

Developed in England to work on the estates of the nobility, their ancestry includes a mix of water spaniels, setters, St. John’s water dogs, wavy-coated retrievers, and possibly others.

They’ve achieved huge success in most of the AKC’s dog sports. The flat-coated retriever is determined on the hunt and in the home when they want your attention.

Flat-coated retrievers want to be part of whatever you’re doing, and especially if it’s a swim, camping, or running in a large backyard. They also love to have fun, are outgoing, and will make you laugh with their antics.

6. Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever

different types of retrievers
Weight35-50 lbs.
Fur and colorDouble-coated – Red, buff, red gold
Lifespan12-14 yrs.

This little guy, the smallest of the AKC’s retrievers, is strong, agile, alert, and highly active. With top endurance, they play in full view of a flock of ducks, luring them (tolling) within gunshot range towards him. They then retrieve the downed bird. (Sounds unfair to me, but who’s asking.)

Developed to hunt in Nova Scotia in the early 19th century, they’re wonderful swimmers and the perfect hunters on land and in water. As dedicated as they are to hunting, they are just as loyal to their human families.

These types of retrievers are tenacious, so be prepared for a dog who wants to get his way. However, with early training and socialization, all will be well. Their endurance is a little over-the-top since they can make Speedy Gonzales look like he’s slow. 

If you’d love a strong swimmer with an IQ that’s off the charts, this is your dog.

Looking for a Retriever Puppy

  • AKC Rescue Network 
  • Petfinder
  • Google breed-specific rescues in your area or anywhere in the country to find your perfect retriever.
  • Google “Rescue a retriever”
  • Last, and most certainly least, is to buy one from a reputable breeder. Do your research to find fair, honest, and transparent businesses. 

Breeds To Avoid

Some breeds just aren’t as amiable as retrievers are. If you’re interested in retrievers, you might want to stay away from:

(Both of these are talented, eager to please, and fabulous breeds to have but maybe standoffish or stubborn. More so than types of retrievers, anyway.) 


Are Retrievers Suitable As Family Dogs?

Retrievers might be the very best dogs out there for families. 

What Are Retrievers Known For?

Types of retrievers have many fantastic qualities, and here are a few:

  • Intelligent
  • Loyal
  • Active
  • Responsive
  • Able to take instruction
  • Affectionate
  • Friendly

What’s the Difference Between a Labrador Retriever and a Golden Retriever?

The question might be, what exactly do they have in common which would be they’re retrievers, loving, talented, and eager to please. They do look and behave differently, though.  


If you’re looking for an aloof, stoic breed, these types of retrievers wouldn’t be the best choice for you. Retrievers are excellent family pets since they’re fun, outgoing, and love to get as close to you as humanly possible.

So let’s hear it for the retrievers of the world! They may turn into the biggest lapdog you’ve ever had.

Jen Flatt Osborn
Born with a pen in her hand and a deadline (and probably a tail), Jen considers writing a vocation, an art, and a release. She’s a freelance copy/content writer who specializes in the pet industry. Previously, she was the founder/director of an animal sanctuary for 12 years, taught classes to middle school students about dog behavior, and has lived a life full of devotion to animals and their welfare. As a vegetarian, Jen advocates for the humane treatment of every living creature. She currently lives with one delightful canine who encourages her to put her head out the car window more often.

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