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  • Writer's pictureFabiola Frederico

English Type Lab VS American Type Lab

Around the world, the Labrador Retriever has been split into two very different types of Labs.

One branch of Labradors has been developed into a strain of amazing family pets. The other has been developed into a strain of incredible, athletic, hunting companions.

This split in the breed has happened in many countries, not just in the US.

This article focuses mainly on one side of that split—the English Lab. But we will also refer to our American Labs as we go.Why Did Labradors Split into English and American Labs Dogs typically produce a litter each year. As such, it doesn’t take long for the effects of selective breeding to show.

In the second half of the twentieth century, exhibiting dogs became increasingly popular. So for the first time, multiple Labrador generations never required to work as retrievers, were bred.

But over time when dogs are bred for the show ring, exaggerations in type begin to creep in. A certain look becomes fashionable and breeders select for that look. That’s how heavier bodies, bigger heads, and shorter legs can quickly become established

At the same time, those working their dogs were increasingly breeding not just hunting companions, but dogs aimed at succeeding in competitions known as field trials.

In both the US and the UK, the field trial community is the main breeding pool for Labradors. Here, breeders’ dogs compete for the coveted title of Field Trial Champion. Such a title enables the breeder to earn stud fees from their champions dogs.

In field trials, speed and drive are rewarded, less than the steadiness and endurance of old. Overall, dogs are often rewarded for special skills—appearance counts for little. Thus our American labs were selected for their retrieving and marking skills and for their athleticism and speed. Little to no consideration was given to their appearance.

The split happened over a relatively short time in history, and was almost complete within five decades.

Of course not all Labradors are an extreme example of one type or another. You can see examples of dogs like this moderate black English Lab, in American Labs lines too.Why Are They Called English Labs? The name English Labrador, is a bit of a misnomer. And somewhat confusing for some of our European readers.

Most English Labs living in the US are as American as their American Lab cousins. It’s simply that the breed was divided into these types of Lab, based on their roles as either pets or hunting companions.

Both strains were named differently in the US from their UK names. In England, the English Lab is called a Show or Bench Labrador. To those living in Britain, however, “English Lab” simply means a lab that was born in England.The American Lab is called a working or field-bred Lab in Britain. And an American Lab to an Englishman, is simply a Labrador born in America.

Where Did English Labs Come From? The Labrador breed was established in Newfoundland by pioneering English settlers. These settlers who bought their hunting and fishing companions with them from England.

So in a sense, all Labradors are “English,” despite the fact that all early Labradors were working dogs.

I’ve written about the history of the breed in some detail, and it’s a truly fascinating story. The split between the English and American labs came later, when the Labrador grew in popularity as a pet during the twentieth century. And as we have seen, it is a division based not on geography, but on role.

Until the 1940s, the breed was essentially one strain, and one type. The breed standard was based on this type, and on the role of the Labrador as a working retriever. Then, over the next few decades, two different types of breeders emerged, and with them, the two different strains of dog.

For the purposes of this article, we’ll be sticking to the terms English Lab for show or bench Labradors, and American Lab for working or field Labradors. And we’ll be looking at the key differences between these two strains of the same breed of dog.

Let’s look first at the physical differences between the both Labs.

English Labrador Retriever Appearance You don’t need me to tell you what the world’s most popular breed of dog is.

A Labrador is an instantly recognizable breed the world over.

But there are some distinguishing features of the English Lab to tell him apart from his working bred relatives.

Two very classic features are his handsome chiseled head and his thick tapering otter tail.

English Lab Head The English Lab has a larger, heavier head than the working type Lab.

American Labs will often have a narrower skull with a less distinctive “stop”—that’s the point where the skull rises upwards quite steeply from the base of the muzzle.

You can see the marked “stop” nicely on this yellow English Lab.The English Lab has large kindly eyes, set well apart in his broad skull while his American cousin’s eyes may be a little closer together.

English Lab Body Shape The “broad” theme continues as we leave the head of this beautiful dog down towards his tail.

His neck is strong and in proportion to his head, his chest is broad and deep, and his hindquarters well-muscled and powerful. And that classic tail that we all love so much is heavy and sweeps downwards behind him.

In contrast, the American Lab, when viewed from the front, is often a more narrow dog with a leaner appearance. He gives the impression of a dog built for speed and agility, as well as strength and power.

Are English Labs Shorter? The deep broad chest of the English Labrador may give the impression of a much shorter legged dog than the American strain.

This isn’t far from the truth. In some cases, these show line dogs are actually slightly shorter in the leg, in proportion to their spine, than working strain Labs

English Lab Otter Tail The thick otter tail tapering to a point may be a hazard to the china on your coffee table, but it is a beautiful thing. It’s usually something that enhances the appearance of a Labrador.

In some cases, the American Lab seems to have dispensed with the otter tail altogether. Such ones possess a more whippy appendage with a curve or upward sweep rather than the low carriage of their show bred cousins.

These then are the key features of the English Lab distinguishing him from his working strain or American relatives:

Broad head and neck with strong features Deep broad chest and slightly shorter legs Thick tapering tail carried low Generally this show bred dog is a stockier, chunkier dog than the Lab bred to work as a hunting companion. And it is this stocky, chunky, and let’s be honest, cuddly appearance that many people find so very attractive.

English Labrador Coat It’s no surprise that a dog originally bred to withstand the icy waters of Newfoundland is endowed with an amazing waterproof, double coat.

And while they may never be expected to swim in sub-zero temperatures, English show labs have retained their wonderful coats to this day.

At the same time, some of our working lines of Labrador have lost this thick coat.Not all American Labs have the double coat that you find on Labs in the show ring.

It may seem slightly odd that the working dog should have lost his working coat. But it shouldn’t. You’ll realize why when we consider where the breeding pool of American Labs comes from. We’ll look at that in a moment. But now, let’s talk weight.

English Lab Weight The build of the show line Lab is often reflected in his weight. He may be heavier than an American Lab of the same age. Starting from early puppyhood and going right up to maturity.You can find plenty of information and growth charts in my article on puppy development, but remember that your English Lab puppy may be at the higher end of the weight spectrum.

Provided that he is not “fat,” that doesn’t matter. And you can find out whether or not your dog is fat rather than just “big” using this guide.

English Lab Temperament There are differences in temperament between English and American Labs, but they are not always as distinctive and well-defined as we might like.

Both strains are friendly, kind-natured dogs. However, the English Lab may in some cases be less energetic and driven outdoors. He isn’t rushing here there and everywhere looking for something to hunt. And in some respects, this may make him easier to control.On the other hand, the English Lab may also be more playful and distractible. He may be more inclined to play with other dogs than to fetch a ball for you. In some ways, this can make him harder to control.

American Labs are very tenacious, athletic dogs with powerful hunting and retrieving instincts. They need a lot of exercise, and if provided with this exercise and the mental stimulation from training and working, they can make relaxing companions at home.

However, if these mental and physical requirements are not fully met, they can be restless and destructive housemates.

The English Lab, on the other hand, may be more relaxing company, even if he doesn’t get a full work out each morning. He may be quite bouncy when young but often matures into a very gentle and loving dog.

Comparing English Lab with American Lab Puppies From quite an early age, an experienced breeder or Labrador enthusiast will be able to identify an English Lab puppy from an American Lab puppy.

Here you can see a comparison of two of my Lab puppies at the same age

English vs American Lab puppies. There are some strong differences between the two types. The puppy on the left is 3/4 English Lab and 1/4 American Lab. On the right, however, is an American type Lab.

The American Lab puppy has a narrower face and larger eyes and ears in proportion to her skull. If the chocolate puppy did not have some working genes, the difference between them would be greater.English Lab Colors It is common knowledge that English labs come in three key colors: black, chocolate, and yellow. The yellow variety can range from a pale cream to a rich deep golden color.

But most yellow English Labs tend to be a paler yellow or cream. The richer, darker fox-reds tend to be from working lines Grooming English Labs Thankfully, English Labs are not high maintenance where grooming is concerned. These active dogs will get themselves in anything from dirt to mud. But with their nearly dirt-resistant coat, you needn’t worry too much.

For Labs, you can bathe them when they’re smelly or have got themselves into a murky play situation. But overall, it’s best to bathe them at least once in three months. You can also use a grooming brush to make that lovely coat shine. They’ll thank you for the massage!

English Labs, like all Labs, are shedding pros. So you’ll need a Furminator to stay sane during molting season. We have an entire post on grooming your fur baby right here: Grooming Labs.

Is There a Different Breed Standard for English Labs? As far as the breed standard is concerned, there is only one Labrador Retriever. So in theory, all Labrador Retrievers should meet the breed standard, or at least come pretty close to it.

Dogs exhibited at dog shows are judged against that breed standard, so you would assume that any divergence would be on the part of the working dog lines.

In reality, however, breed standards are open to interpretation. And because of that, there have been changes on both sides of the divide. Show dogs have become more heavily built, whereas working dogs have become more “racy.”

We’ve also seen show dog heads becoming bigger with looser skin. On the hand, working dogs have lost their wonderful otter tails, and in some cases their double coats too.

English Lab Health Like all pedigree dog breeds, the Labrador Retriever has its fair share of genetic diseases. Many of these inherited conditions can be avoided by choosing puppies from health tested parents.

Some other health troubles may affect English Labs and Labs in general. But keep in mind that these are things you can prevent by regular medical check-ups. Or at the very least caught early enough. No breed is free from medical issues, and Labs are some of the best breed you can find.

The most common health issues with English Labradors include:

Joint issues: English Labs deal with everything from joint dislocations to hip dysplasia. Eye troubles: They also are known to suffer with cataracts and issues with their retinas. Cancer: This is a big one for Labradors in general. Diabetes: Labradors can develop diabetes, but with proper care can live long healthy lives. You can learn more about Labrador health and lifespan in this linked post. And find out which medical checkups are helpful for Labradors. Let’s discuss another health issue especially for show line dogs: obesity.

Obesity in English Labradors – How Chubby Can You Go? This isn’t because these dogs inherit an obesity gene, or are lazy. Rather, it is more likely due to overfeeding since the English Lab community is accepting of higher weight levels. Basically, it’s easier to let your dog get a bit chubby if your friend’s dogs are all overweight.

English Type

American Type

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