English Lab vs American Lab: Which is the best for you?

Labradors are America’s darling, but you might have heard that there are two types, the English and the American.

There is no official distinction between the two types. One was simply bred for work, the other for the show ring. Despite that, all Labradors fall under the same breed.

English Lab and American Lab portrait
American vs English Lab – Image source

If you’d like to learn more about the two classes of Labradors, you’ve come to the right place.

Are there two types of Labrador Retrievers?

Yes, there are two types of Labradors. They fall under the same breed but are referred to as the English Lab and the American Lab.

In spite of the categorization, Labradors are neither English nor American. Labradors originated in Newfoundland, Canada, and are descended from St. John’s water dog or the lesser Newfoundland.

They were first brought to England somewhere in the 1800s as gundogs and hunting companions.

Around the 1940s, showing dogs became popular and breeders began to breed them for their appearance and nicknamed them English Labradors. A more accurate description would be bench-type Labradors.

As for what is known as the American Labrador, they are the field type Labradors. Selectively bred for their endurance and efficiency, these dogs may deviate slightly from the breed standard and be scrawnier.

Young American Labrador in the woods
Meet Bandit, an American Lab (Field type Labrador) – Image source

How did the nickname come about?

It could be because showing dogs were more popular in England, whereas America used Labradors mainly for hunting. 

This doesn’t mean you cannot show your field dog or that your English Labrador will be useless in a hunt. It is more of a description of the dog rather than a definitive categorization.

Funnily enough, a Labrador cannot be a show dog in England unless she has a working certificate, essentially making her both an American and English Lab.

With the specialization of these two types, double champions are extremely rare. 

Interbreeding can happen because they are the same breed. There are just some slight differences between the two – quite invisible to the untrained eye.

Take a look at Jameson, the English Lab on his first day home: 

What does an English Labrador look like?

Since the English Labrador is bred to be a show dog, they should embody the breed standard.

This powerful-looking dog has well-defined heads with a pronounced stop. This is a ridge between their skulls and muzzles. Their faces are filled out and they have a snout that’s rather short.

Two English Labrador retrievers lying on the floor
A portrait of two English Yellow Labs – Image source

Show ring dogs often exhibit exaggerated features because breeders will select certain, more desirable features.

This is evident in their thick and dense coats, blocky heads or blockhead, otter-like tail with no feathering.

The English breed standard states that Labs should not exceed 22.5 inches (57 cm) nor be smaller than 22 inches (56 cm). They generally weigh around 60 – 85 lbs (27 – 38 kg)

English Labs can run anywhere from the deepest red to the lightest cream, this will fall under the Yellow categorization. There’s also the Chocolate and Black Lab.

English Labrador hunting squirrels
Meet Bella, an English Black Lab dog –Image source

English Labs are known to be sweet and calm. They do need to be mentally stimulated and exercised. You’re looking at spending 60 minutes to two hours a day exercising her.

When it comes to eating, all Labs are gluttons so you will need to feed her on a routine. Don’t let her free feed and don’t let her have too many treats. 

Since they are considered a large breed dog, make sure you give them a proper diet formulated for large breed dogs. This is to promote healthy joint health. 

Large breed dogs are vulnerable to hip dysplasia and a good diet, along with proper exercise, can help prevent it.

You will need to feed her a large breed puppy kibble until she’s at least 18 months old, although you can stretch this to 24 months.

English Labs can live anywhere around 10 – 12 years. 

What does an American Lab look like?

Two American Labrador dogs looking afar
Two American Labs as ‘working gundogs’ – Image source

American Labradors are more slender, with a sleeker snout, creating a streamlined profile, with no obvious ‘stop’.

In the American Lab, the skull is tapered seamlessly into the muzzle.

They often have thinner coats and their otter tails might (in rare cases) have a little curl to it. Their eyes might also be slightly closer-set.

The working dog is allowed to have slightly longer legs, with the AKC breed standard stating that they can be as tall as 24.5 inches (62 cm).

Here are Scott and Lotus, both field type dogs:

Yellow and black American Labrador dogs
American Yellow and Black Labs – Image source

As you can see, American Labs also come in the standard color categories of Yellow, Chocolate, and Black.

American Labs need to be exercised for at least 60 minutes a day. You’ll find that these working dogs are tireless. But, just because they can keep going forever doesn’t mean they should. 

Labs are genetically predisposed to exercise-induced collapse, so you should care not to push her too hard. 

Just like humans, active dogs will require more calories. You need to feed them a special formulation for active large breed dogs. You will also need to determine how much to feed your dog with a calorie calculator.

Not every dog requires the same amount of kibble. It depends on their weight and activity level. On average, they should be getting 3 cups of kibble daily.

American Labs are expected to live 10 – 12 years. 

What is the difference between English and American labs?

When compared to the working type, the English Lab has shorter legs, a bigger head, and a fuller face, their muzzles are also shorter. 

English Labs look much bigger than American Labs, but they are not. Their stockiness gives the illusion of being bigger than they really are.

The show-type are often thicker overall and look more powerful. Their coats and tails are also denser.

American Labradors are often on the taller end of the spectrum whereas English Labradors are heavier.

Do note that every dog is unique, and you also have to take into consideration their pedigree. Certain working dogs have the qualities of a show dog and vice versa.

Look at Sky, an American Lab, that is as stocky as a show dog: 

An American Yellow Labrador
Meet Sky, an American Yellow Labrador – Image source

Both types of Labs come in yellow, chocolate, and black colors. They can only be solid-colored. Red and cream are accepted under the ‘yellow’ color characterization.

The differences between English and American Labs at a glance

  English Lab American Lab
Temperament Calm, friendly Energetic
Build Otter-like tail, blockhead, shorter legs, and stocky Whiptail, tapered heads, long legs, and slender
Male Weight 70 – 85 lbs 65 – 80 lbs
Male Height 22 – 22.5 inches (56 – 57 cm) 22.5 – 24.5 inches (57 – 62 cm)
Female Weight 60 – 70 lbs 55 – 70 lbs
Female Height 22 – 22.5 inches (55 – 56 cm) 21.5 – 23.5 inches (54 – 60 cm)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Want to know more? We’ve got the answers to some of the most commonly asked questions.

This will help you better understand the differences between the two types of Labrador and decide which is best for you and your family.

Which Labrador is the calmest?

Labradors are all people-pleasing, loving, and obedient. It’s important to know that all Labs have boundless energy, which can easily turn destructive if not channeled properly.

It has been noted that field dogs are generally more boisterous. They can’t help it! Lots of energy equals more work done. American Labradors are also known to be more high strung.

You’ll have a better chance of getting a calm Lab with an English line.

Are English or American Labs better for hunting?

Not at all – both types can be trained to be hunters, retrieving is in their nature, after all.

If you’re determined on getting a specific type of hunting dog, you should pay more attention to the breeder and their line.

Some breeders specialize in duck hunting, for instance, where another might breed for bigger prey.

American Labrador hunting pheasant
Working Labrador

That being said, since American Labradors are normally bred for working, they are normally more high-strung than their English cousins. They are also bolder and more adventurous. Challenges excite them.

Are American Labs good family dogs?

Both types make wonderful family dogs!

It is advised for novice dog owners to get an English Labrador because they are less headstrong or demanding.

This may not always be the case, as it is entirely possible to get an energetic show dog, although that’s rare.

The American Lab is much more suited to a busy life, and will not be content to be just a family pet. They need a job to be truly happy.

If you’re adventurous and are often outdoors, the American might suit your needs.

These kind and loving dogs need to have the appropriate training to know how to act. For example, if you have children in the household, it’s important to train both dog and child to play nice with one another.

Don’t expect yours to perfectly behave from the day you bring her home.

Are English Labs smart?

There are certain misconceptions about show dogs about their intelligence. It’s believed that they are slower and not as intelligent as the working Lab.

Now, if you were to put the two types to a test, the American Labrador is more likely to come out on top.

The reason being that they are bred to follow commands, whereas the English Lab was bred for appearances only.

Since American Labs were used in the field, only the most responsive dogs were bred. This makes them extremely adept at following commands.

Here’s Oreo showing off his obedience: 

While American Labs are more receptive to training, they might actually be harder to train than English Labs due to their excitability.

Socializing is extremely important, even if you intend to use her as a hunting dog. This can prevent your dog from developing fear or aggression. 

Neither are traits you want in your hunting companion, show dog, or house pet. It can also stop them from being distracted since a well-socialized dog will be desensitized to her environment.

Labradors are synonymous with guides or service dogs. Which type is more commonly used? The answer is both! 

Flare, an American Lab, is training to become a guide for the blind: 

American Labrador trained to be a guide for blind
Meet Flare, an American Lab undergoing a service puppy training –Image source

Tanner is an English White Labrador that works as a certified therapy dog: 

English Labrador working as therapy dog
Meet Tanner, an English Lab working as a therapy dog – Image source

Regardless of which type of Labrador you go for, they are reliable when properly trained

Do English Labs shed a lot?

Being show dogs with a thicker coat, you might think that they will shed more. But, both types shed the same amount. 

You can expect them to shed moderately every day and heavily twice a year. However, there are Labs that shed profusely all year round. This is likely due to the temperate settings it’s kept in.

Since shedding has to do with the seasons, if your Lab is kept in consistent temperatures, she will likely shed less than a Lab that is kenneled outdoors

Labs are notoriously low maintenance though. You only need to brush them once or twice a week to keep their coats in tip top condition. When they are molting, you might want to brush them daily.

The Labrador has a special coat that insulates her against the harsh winters of Canada. It is waterproof so if your dog gets muddy, you can use wet wipes.

You shouldn’t bathe her too often, try to stretch at least 6 weeks between baths. Bathing your Labrador too frequently could dry out their coat and lead to sensitive skin and other problems.

Which Labrador is more prone to obesity?

Obese Labrador Retriever lying on the ground

Both types are predisposed to obesity, but housepets are more prone to the disease. Working dogs are often healthier due to their activity levels.

Being obese can shave two years off your dog’s life. Obesity is common in Labradors. 1 out of 4 Labs have a disorder that prevents them from feeling full.

Instead of constantly using treats to reinforce training, you can use verbal rewards or even a game of tug-of-war instead.

Always make sure your dog gets the exercise she needs in order to stay fit and healthy.

What is the best dog food for labs?

When it comes to feeding, they should both be fed a high-quality kibble formulated for large dog breeds.

Wellness CORE Grain-Free Large Breed Chicken & Turkey Recipe Dry Dog Food is rated as the top dog food for Labradors and other large breed dogs because it has meat listed as its first ingredient.

As we all know, meat is essential to a dog’s diet. A bonus for Wellness CORE’s kibble is that it is chock filled with minerals derived from natural sources.

For puppies, we suggest Wellness CORE Grain-Free Puppy Chicken & Turkey Recipe Dry Dog Food because it has a better ratio of calcium and phosphorus in its formulation.

Which Labrador is more expensive?

That depends on what line you’re purchasing from.

If you’re buying from a litter that’s sired by a champion, whether a show dog or a field dog, you should expect to be paying upwards of $2,000.

Normally, you should get a puppy for around $1,200 from a reputable breeder.

Make sure to vet the parents for health problems.

The breeder should be concerned about the welfare of their puppy, so don’t be put off if they ask you a bunch of questions.

If you feel like something is off about a breeder, you should look elsewhere. You should take choosing your breeder very seriously. Find someone that puts you at ease.

Sleeping Labrador Retriever puppy
A Lab puppy – Image source

Labrador Breeders

You can find dual purpose puppies from breeders, or you can tell them exactly what you’re searching for.

To get started on your search, you can check out Deeprun Retrievers (Somerville, TN) for American Labradors. If you’re after an English Lab, Wildrose Kennels (Oxford, MS) might be your best bet.

For those who are interested in getting a dual purpose Lab, you can head over to Bayside Labs (Three Forks, MT) and let them know what you’re after.

Rescuing a Labrador

There’s always the option of rescuing a Labrador. If you’re open to rescues, you’ll find yourself immensely rewarded.

They don’t cost as much but still have as much love to give. You also have the added bonus of knowing their personality or behavioral problems. 

They won’t take more work than raising a dog from a puppy because contrary to popular belief, you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Most of the time, they come partially trained or housebroken so it saves you the trouble.

List of shelters you can check out:

Finding the perfect companion for you

Labrador Retriever in a beautiful flower garden
Black Labrador – Image source

Whether English or American Labrador, they will make a wonderful addition to your family.

Before you make a choice, consider the type of lifestyle you have and choose a dog based on their personality. Your breeder or shelter can help you there.

When it comes down to it, all Labradors are just dogs that need a dedicated owner and a loving family.

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