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What is the difference between "English" and "American"?

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. This is very much true when it comes to a person's idea of the perfect Labrador. As you have probably noticed, there appears to be two different types or styles of Labradors in America today. Many refer to these two types with the terms English Labrador or "how lines and American Labrador or field lines. There are drastic differences in the two and although both are uniquely wonderful they are certainly different and the becoming familiar with the differences will help you determine the best fit for your family when you are looking for the right Labrador. One Lab certainly does not fit all!

Frankly, an “English” Lab is one born in England. An “American” Lab is one born in the USA. The proper terms are Show/Bench bred and Field bred Labradors. There are actually English dogs which run field trials and American dogs that are shown in dog shows. Here are some differences in appearance.

English “Show” are different from the American “Field”:

1. Shorter on legs
2. Heavier bone
3. Stockier bodies
4. Thicker tail
5. Thicker coat
6. Broader head/skull and a shorter muzzle
7. More layed back temperament

Reason for the Differences

For better than a half-century, the sporting dog breeds have gone in two separate directions when it comes to qualities sought after by professional breeders. With most sporting breeds, the “dual champion”, a dog that has attained the champion title in both the show and the field, is harder and harder to come by.

Why, you may ask? Simply put, both areas have become so competitive in recent years that breeders in both the show ring and the field have changed what traits they breed for in order to be competitive. To be successful in the field, professional breeders must focus on breeding traits that are highly desirable during your typical day of shooting. In contrast, a show breeder must focus on traits that relate to the confirmation and structure of their breed. 

Champion show or bench breeds must adhere to a strict confirmation standard and are nearly perfect physical specimens. Per the confirmation standard, male show Labrador Retrievers should stand 22 ½ to 24 ½ inches at the withers, 21½ to 23½ inches for bitches. Males in working condition should weigh approximately 65 to 80 pounds, while females should weigh 55 to 70 pounds. Typically speaking, show Labrador Retrievers' torso should measure no longer than their height at their withers, giving them a very balanced appearance. In contrast, by breeding strictly for performance over the past 30 plus years, the field-bred Labrador Retriever has resulted in a dog that can look different from their counterpart, the show Labrador Retriever. Simply putting the two side by side can be an education in itself. The field-bred Labrador Retrievers physical make-up is athletic and very functional for field activities. They tend to vary in size and structure.

There can be drastic differences in the temperaments and energy levels of these two types.  Because of the working demands placed on the American Labs, high-energy and “drive” are qualities required in field Labs. In terms of temperament, though some are head-strong and require an experienced hand for training, these dogs are extremely intelligent and develop strong bonds with their human companions. Unfortunately, however, the average pet owner may not have the experience or tolerance required to achieve such a companionable relationship with these dogs. Its counterpart, the English Lab, is much calmer and laid back, lacking the energy or speed that the field Lab has. In terms of temperament the English Lab is eager to please, highly intelligent and easily bond with humans. The temperament of the English Labs make them widely known for their ability to work as leader dogs for the blind, therapy dogs and outstanding family companions.

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