This is from the Golden Retriever Club (of the United Kingdom).
Basically, the findings and analysis on this page are pretty much what I’ve found in my experience with the various retriever breeds, although I think the flat-coat is a highly underrated dog. And the Labrador is a good dog, but it’s not for me. They have a houndish side to them that pops up every once in a while. However, it is easier to mold the houndish Labrador into an obedient dog than to build the confidence of a golden that is totally shut down. Of course, if you wind up with one of those man-eating goldens, you have the exact opposite problem on your hands.
Labs tend to mature very early. They have been selected for early maturity and rapid development of retrieving instincts. That’s one reason why they clobber all other retrievers in working trials. However, I don’t think that most of them ever develop the same sort of working temperament that the golden has. I actually can’t describe the difference in words. You just have to experience them both to get a feeling for it. I feel much more comfortable with the setterish characteristiics that pop up in goldens, whereas I’m sure Lab people like the houndish characteristics in their breed.
One of the most important lines for working goldens in the Holway line. An important sire for working goldens in this country was a Holway, AFC Holway Barty. The Holway dogs are invariably dark to mid-colored and lightly built. Some of them are also little 40 pound rocket goldens. They are strictly field dogs in Europe. Some of their progeny have been shown in the AKC ring before the show golden in this country became a blond Newfoundland. These Holway dogs are depicted on that page from the British Golden Retriever Club.
Perhaps my bias against the Lab is my bias against large scent hounds in general, especially the big pack hounds. I grew up where everyone had a coonhound, which are really good at their purpose. I like a dog that you can talk to. And hounds are always sniffing things.
What amazed me about goldens is that they tend to pay very close attention to your voice, even at a tender age. My current dog would sit there and listen to my voice, even before she had any training.
I think that what makes goldens trainable is nothing more than this tendency to listen to human voices. I don’t think they are especially more intelligent than any other dogs. In fact, I find the whole discussion of dog intelligence a nebulous arena. I don’t think that this term means much to a serious dog person. I’m far more interested in biddability and trainability, which are very distinct from the qualities one is looking for an good ol’ bluetick. But a bluetick can figure out all the tricks of a raccoon, working as far as several miles from his handler. That’s something that goldens really can’t do. And biddability is a worthless characteristic in a coonhound, as much as scent fixation is an undesireable characteristic in the retriever.