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Retrievers and spaniels are two types of dog breeds that are fairly popular among families. How do retrievers and spaniels compare?

Retrievers and spaniels are both sporting dogs, so they are both energetic and strong. The most noticeable difference between the two types of dogs is that spaniels are much smaller than retrievers. Retrievers are also generally easier to train.

In this article, we will go over the major differences and similarities between retrievers and spaniels. We will also discuss the various breeds within the retriever and spaniel categories, since there are many types of both. We will help you decide which breed is best for you and your family, and we will advise you on how to adopt one of these dogs.

I have owned and loved dogs my entire life. For my most recent dog adoption, I did a ton of research about different breeds to find out which type of dog would be best for me and my lifestyle. This is an important part of pre-adoption research that many people don’t fulfill. I hope that this article can help you understand these two types of dogs so that you can choose the breed that is perfect for you. Let’s get started!

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What Are the Differences Between Retrievers and Spaniels?

Retrievers and spaniels are both great companions and are popular among American families. There are many breeds within each type, but the most common dog of each is the golden retriever and the cocker spaniel. Both of these dogs are known to make great pets, but the best way to know which is best for you is to understand their differences.

The table below summarizes some of the most important differences between the two types of dog breeds:


As far as intelligence goes, retrievers and spaniels differ. Retrievers are known to be highly intelligent and trainable. You can easily teach tricks to a retriever and they grasp the idea of obedience commands quickly. This makes it very easy to train them, but it also means that they require a lot of mental stimulation in order to test and expand their intelligence.

Spaniels, unlike retrievers, only have average intelligence. They can be trained, but it will take a lot of patience. Training a spaniel will take time and practice repeating each command until they get it. Spaniels don’t need as much mental stimulation as retrievers, though it is still an important part of daily enrichment. No matter what the intelligence level of your dog is, you should be playing a variety of games with them and taking them to experience new things to mentally stimulate them.


Next, retrievers and spaniels differ in size. Even though both are sporting dogs, retrievers usually weigh between 55 and 80 pounds and are 21 to 24 inches tall. Spaniels are the smallest sporting dog. Cocker spaniels typically weigh between 24 and 28 pounds and are 14 to 15 inches tall.

Energy and Strength

Finally, retrievers and spaniels have different energy and strength levels. Any dog that you adopt will require regular exercise. Usually, it is recommended that any dog is taken for walks a few times per day and is given occasional opportunities to run and play in a yard or park. Spaniels are usually satisfied with this basic level of activity.

Contrastingly, retrievers have a lot of energy and require a lot of exercise. Retrievers are great companions to go along on jogs, runs, or long walks with their humans. They love to play fetch with toys in a yard or field. If you adopt a retriever, be prepared to give it a lot of exercise every single day.

What Are the Similarities Between Retrievers and Spaniels?

Now that you know what sets retrievers and spaniels apart, we can focus on their similarities. Retrievers and spaniels, in general, are very similar. They may look completely different, but they have similar ancestral traits and temperaments.


The first similarity between retrievers and spaniels is that they are in the same group. Both of these dogs are known as sporting dogs. Retrievers were bred to accompany hunters. Their job would be to retrieve the game that the hunter killed. Spaniels were also bred to accompany hunters, but they usually had a different job. Spaniels would “flush” out the animals, usually birds. That means that they would run towards the bird until they flew into the air where the hunter could then shoot them.

Although both of these dogs are hunting dogs, they had different purposes. The different jobs that these dogs had translated into activities that they still enjoy today. For example, retrievers love to play fetch because it is a game that reminds them of the task that they were bred to do. Similarly, spaniels like to chase animals around and usually have a high prey drive. This is directly linked to their past where they would chase and hunt birds.

Temperament and Friendliness

Another important similarity between these dogs is their temperament. Both retrievers and spaniels are friendly with both their families and with strangers. Both retrievers and spaniels are dogs that you can have in a home with small children. Though, you should make sure that your kids know to respect your dog’s personal space. Kids can be great companions for dogs as long as they understand the potential dangers involved.

Because of their temperament, retrievers and spaniels are dogs that you can take to dog parks and out in public without having to worry. They are not likely to get into a fight with another dog or bark or growl at other people when out and about.

Both retrievers and spaniels are dogs that would enjoy going on active outdoor adventures with the family. If you like to take your dog on hiking trips, camping, or other outdoor activities, then a retriever or spaniel would be a great dog for you.

Preferred Living Environment

Finally, both retrievers and spaniels have similar preferred living environments. Both dogs can technically be fine living in an apartment but would prefer a larger house. No matter what, they should be indoor dogs. Both dogs prefer warmer temperatures, and they can both live in temperatures up to 80°F. However, they will much prefer to live in a home with air conditioning.

Both dogs also need some kind of yard to play in. Your dog should have access to your backyard every day. If your home doesn’t have a backyard, then you need to make sure that you are taking your dog on frequent walks, playing with them inside, and taking them to a fenced-in dog park when you are able.

Types of Retrievers

Many people might not realize that there are six types of retrievers. Golden retrievers and labrador retrievers are probably the two types that come to mind for most people. Other types of retrievers include:

  • Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever
  • Flat-Coated Retriever
  • Curly Coated Retriever
  • Chesapeake Bay Retriever

While each of these dogs are retrievers and share many of the same characteristics, they do have their differences. Each of these types of retrievers looks slightly different and was bred for different purposes. Because of this, these dogs might act differently from each other while still keeping most of the overall retriever characteristics.

Consider looking into the characteristics and temperaments of each type of retriever if you are interested in this type of dog. Everyone has heard of golden and labrador retrievers, but you might find that a unique retriever breed is perfect for your family.

Types of Spaniels

Like retrievers, there are many different breeds of spaniel. Most people probably think of cocker spaniels and cavalier King Charles spaniels, however, there are 15 spaniel breeds recognized by the AKC. Other types of spaniels include:

  • American Water Spaniel
  • Boykin Spaniel
  • Brittany
  • Clumber Spaniel
  • English Cocker Spaniel
  • English Springer Spaniel
  • English Toy Spaniel
  • Field Spaniel
  • Irish Water Spaniel
  • Nederlandse Kooikerhondje
  • Papillon
  • Sussex Spaniel
  • Welsh Springer Spaniel

Each spaniel breed is special and unique in its own way. All spaniels are sporting dogs and share the same overall characteristics that we have discussed in this article. The major differences among these breeds are in size and coloration. Some may have slight tendencies toward different temperaments. However, as a breed, all spaniels are friendly and loveable.

Before choosing a spaniel breed, make sure you research all 15. Some less popular breeds that you might not be familiar with could be a perfect fit for you.

Should My Family Get a Retriever or a Spaniel?

Now that you have basic knowledge of both retrievers and spaniels, it is time to decide which to adopt. At the end of the day, retrievers and spaniels are very similar. They have similar energy levels, temperaments, and are even both sporting dogs. These are important similarities. These make retrievers and spaniels perfect pets for many of the same families.

If you are looking for a dog that you and your kids can play with all the time, bring on adventures with you, and who will love you endlessly, then you can’t go wrong with their breed. Retrievers tend to have a bit more energy than spaniels and are easier to train. Other than these small differences, the choice for which breed to adopt will come down to personal preference.

The biggest difference between retrievers and spaniels is in their appearance. Retrievers are bigger than spaniels and are recognizable with their athletic build. Spaniels are smaller and have a distinctive look with their long hair and ears. A large part of your decision between these dogs will be based on appearance.

Where You Might Have Seen a Retriever or a Spaniel

When trying to learn about different dog breeds, it can be helpful to think about where you might have heard about or seen the dogs in your daily life. Retrievers and spaniels are common dogs, so you have probably met them at a dog park or out walking in your neighborhood.

Retrievers are so friendly, loveable, and trainable. This makes them great service dogs. Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers are some of the most common service dogs out there. They can be guide dogs for their visually impaired owners or provide service to their owners in another way. If you have ever encountered a service dog, the dog was likely some kind of retriever.

One of the most recognizable spaniels is Lady from the Disney movie Lady and the Tramp. Specifically, Lady is a cocker spaniel. She has the characteristic long hair and ears and is very recognizable as a spaniel breed.

How To Adopt a Retriever or Spaniel

Once you have decided which type of dog you want to adopt, you will need to find one that is available. You will generally have a few options when it comes to adopting either a retriever or a spaniel. The decision of where to adopt your dog from will be based on a few personal preferences. Does your dog need to be purebred? Does your dog need to be a puppy when you adopt it? If you answered yes to these questions, then you will likely need to adopt through a breeder. If you are flexible about these questions, then we recommend that you adopt your dog through a rescue organization.

Adopting a dog through a rescue organization is always a great choice. These groups are often filled to capacity with dogs that just need loving homes. In many places, there are breed-specific rescue groups. These would be a great place to start your search. Purebred dogs and puppies also show up in general rescue groups, though not often.

Oftentimes, dogs available at a rescue group won’t be purebred, though you can search for mixed breed dogs that have spaniel or retriever blood. Sites like are great for this type of search. Dogs in these groups are also likely to be adults. Many people don’t want to adopt an adult dog because they would prefer a puppy. However, consider that puppies require a lot of work and training. An adult dog will likely already be house trained and will be calmer than a puppy.

If you are set on adopting a purebred puppy, then you might need to get one through a breeder. If you choose to do this, make sure you are adopting through an ethical breeder. You can do several things to ensure this. First, you should ask to see the mother dog. Make sure she is well cared for and in good condition. Then, ask for documentation of health testing for both the puppy and mother. Any reputable breeder will have this testing done before letting the dogs get adopted. Lastly, you should check with your vet to see if they know of the breeder.

Ultimately, the most important part of adopting a new dog is making sure that all family members are a part of the decision. Every person in your home will have some interaction and responsibility for the dog. By making sure that everyone wants a dog and gets along with the dog, you can make sure that your adoption is successful in the long run.