Well, since you are looking at a wide variety of breeds... the important first step is understanding the difference between groups.
"Naturally active and alert, Sporting dogs make likeable, well-rounded companions. First developed to work closely with hunters to locate and/or retrieve quarry. There are four basic types of Sporting dogs; spaniels, pointers, retrievers and setters. Known for their superior instincts in water and woods, many of these breeds enjoy hunting and other field activities. Many of them, especially the water-retrieving breeds, have well –insulated water repellant coats, which are quite resilient to the elements."
"Up until 1983, the breeds in the Herding Group were part of the Working Group. All Herding breeds share an instinctual ability to control the movement of other animals. These breeds were developed to gather, herd and protect livestock. Today, some like the Belgian Malinois and the German Shepherd Dog are commonly used for police and protection work. The herding instinct in these breeds is so strong that Herding breeds have been known to gently herd their owners, especially the children of the family. In general, these intelligent dogs make excellent companions and respond beautifully to training exercises."
"Quick to learn, dogs of the Working Group are intelligent, strong, watchful, and alert. Bred to assist man, they excel at jobs such as guarding property, pulling sleds and performing water rescues. Doberman Pinschers, Siberian Huskies and Great Danes are part of this Group, to name just a few. They make wonderful companions but because they are large, and naturally protective, prospective owners need to know how to properly train and socialize a dog. Some breeds in the Working Group may not be for the first-time dog owner."
"Feisty and energetic are two of the primary traits that come to mind for those who have experience with Terriers. In fact, many describe their distinct personalities as “eager for a spirited argument.” Bred to hunt, kill vermin and to guard their families home or barn; sizes range from fairly small, as in the Norfolk, Cairn or West Highland White Terrier, to the larger and grand Airedale Terrier. Prospective owners should know that terriers make great pets, but they do require determination on the part of the owner because they can be stubborn; have high energy levels, and require special grooming (known as “stripping”) to maintain a characteristic appearance"
^^^^ What all that means is that if you want an attentive, highly trainable, eager to please, wants to be with his owners all the time... look to the sporting group and herding group. Those are going to have the trainability and desire to please or
work. You have highly social breeds who rely on being with their "pack". And they enjoy having jobs to do.
I've excluded both the nonsporting and toy groups because the breeds in those groups are so varied. For the above groups though, you have very typical traits that you might expect for individual breeds within a group. It what they have in common.
Goldens and labs are separate breeds in the sporting group - they are both retriever breeds and typically in style and type are very similar.
Labs were generally a more all around rugged dog. They descended from a fisherman's breed (St. John's Newfoundland) whose purpose it was to go out and drag boats in, retrieve ropes and other things, and even jump in and retrieve fish. It was rich guys in the UK who took that rugged mixed type breed and used it to create a hunting breed (or shooting breed) that was more readily recognizable by appearance. Mainly it was rich people back then who had the luxury of going the extra mile to not just breed for an excellent working dog, but they also wanted a certain look to the dogs.
A lot of people assume they are related to goldens and goldens are just a long haired variety of retriever. But technically speaking, goldens were never interbred with labs. They are closer related to flat coated retrievers and probably more distantly curly coated retrievers. As well as Irish Water Spaniels and even setters. Goldens "may" have some distant relation to St. John's Newfoundland, but based on the written history and clear breeding evidence they aren't closely related to today's labs at all.
Anyway - comparing the two breeds is about the same as comparing golden retrievers to english setters. Because they are in the same group, you will find similarities between the breeds.
Me personally - labs are more "doggy" than golden retrievers and I mean that in many ways.
Goldens are more focused on their owners and strongly desire to please and interact with their people. They typically are softer and easier to train with minimal corrections. They can take corrections and are not supposed to be fearful or anxious. They should be confident and boisterous dogs.
Both breeds should have a love of water and swimming.
And both breeds should have a love and need for running.
Both breeds are very social and outgoing - which means you as the owner need to work on building a connection with your dog to get them to focus on you. Easier to do with goldens...
Both breeds should want to have things in their mouths. And they should not clamp down to such an extent that they damage what have in their mouths. And they should be willing to open their mouths and surrender what they have to their owners.
There's a bit in a book I read (White Fang I think) about pit bulls and how one used to fight White Fang and clamped down on his neck and locked his jaw. Even the owner of the pit bull could not get the dog to release and they were ready to shoot the dog to get him to open his jaws. <= That type of thing should not be what you experience with a retriever breed. Not fighting of course, but also not the clamping down behaviors.
Labs, that I've seen in training tend to be not as sharp and pliant as golden retrievers. As long as an owner is clear, the golden retriever should learn something new within a single training session. With labs, you get more of a steam off the dog's head because he's just not as sharp. That doesn't meant they are stupid. It's just you don't have them thinking overtime about what their owner wants and trying to be "right".
Labs excel in "big work" that's more reliant on their instincts. A friend's lab is a cadaver dog. And he's an OTCH dog in the works. I believe he's related to one of top labs in obedience. But he's like a bull in a china shop to see him working in obedience. And he's about 2-3 years old now and still hasn't figured out how to contain himself. This is a dog that still takes down ring gaiting while nailing go-outs. But he's a very good working dog in his real job as a cadaver dog. He goes the extra mile while working his butt off.
Goldens excel in all the same fields, but for obedience a golden is just a lot of fun to work with. You are talking about a breed that typical knows where all his feet are, who knows he has a rear end, doesn't need to be handled roughly at all ever, who shines every time he works no matter how small the ring. No matter how green he is.
With goldens you get dogs like mine who will work just to get attention. I have my guys milling around the room in front of me, frequently making eye contact and are ever ready to DO SOMETHING if I say the word or give them a hand signal. I had a dog who HATED sits and down stays, except at home when he was working for attention. And he would get super amped up and HAPPY just from getting to do stays with my other boy. <= That's a golden retriever.
Other huge difference between the breeds which is more the typical difference that most people already notice and recognize.
I know people who only brush their labs in spring. They never brush the dogs the rest of the year.
When they brush the dogs you get MOUNDS AND MOUNDS of dead fur coming out of that coat.
With goldens you could not get away with that. Not unless they want to sit down with a dematting blade and work out all the mats that will be behind the ears, on the chest, and in the trousers. That's field and show bred goldens alike.
Likewise, goldens seem to be more prone to skin problems. It's probably thickness and length of coat + poor care, but they are more prone to hot spots or other skin ailments. All which could be avoided with proper diets + proper grooming on a routine basis.