The Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular dog breeds out there, but did you know that even within the single breed, there is an English and American variety? And funnily enough, the Lab didn’t originate from either the US or the UK. It came from Canada!
While there is no official distinction between these two varieties that are recognized as a single breed, the English and American Lab have some unique traits and appearances.
The two types of Labrador were bred for different purposes, and differ ever-so-slightly in their temperaments and appearances.
In this blog post, we’ll look more closely at the Labrador Retriever and where they came from, as well as explore the difference between American and English Labs.
The English and American Labradors both developed out of the Labrador Retriever that originated in Newfoundland, Canada. The ancestor of the Labrador Retriever, first known as St. John’s Dog, worked alongside fisherman in the icy waters and often harsh conditions.
Labrador Retrievers absolutely love water, perhaps due to the nature of the work they would help their owners with back in the day.
In the early 1800s, English nobles that were visiting took a few Labs back with them, further refining the breed.
Through the next few decades, two different variations of the Labrador developed from specialized breeding.
However, in 1940, dog shows gained popularity, and the English began to breed Labs for aesthetic value.
These show-bred Labs weren’t required to work, while other Labs continued to be bred for their working drive, athleticism and agility.
The Labs bred for shows are now known as English Labs.
The upper class highly valued the notably calm demeanor and regal quality that the breed possessed, which both made winning dog shows an easy feat for English Labs. This type of Labrador is often characterized as calm and sophisticated.
The other Labs bred for more physical activities, such as work or field trial competitions that required speed and agility were then known as American Labs.
American Labs are often leaner and more athletic dogs, bred for the widespread popularity that hunting has in the United States. This type of Labrador is more powerful when it comes to events in canine sports and hunting.
The names English and American Labradors do not fully describe the difference between the two dogs, and they are better described as the show or bench type Labrador, and the working or field type Labrador.
The Labrador Retriever was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1917 and has been one of the most popular dogs worldwide, reigning as the AKC champion for a solid 26 years and counting.
While there are many differences between the English Lab and American Lab, they are not separate breeds and both fall under the breed of Labrador Retriever.
English vs. American Labradors
Appearance and Size
The differences between the show type and working type Labs are most illustrated by the differences in their appearance. The English Labrador often is stockier, with a wider head, shorter muzzle, and fuller face.
They typically have a thick neck and large chest, giving English Labs a more powerful appearance. The double, water-resistant coat of the Labrador breed is thicker in English Labs than in their American counterparts. On average they range from 21.5 to 22.5 inches and are heavier with an overall blockier build.
The American Lab has a more agile appearance, which relates to its working and field-type nature. They have a more narrow head, with a longer muzzle. Their neck and tail are both thinner than the English Lab, and their coat is also thinner.
While the English Lab is bred to more of a standard, the American Lab can often vary in appearance since less importance was placed on their appearance.
The factor that influenced the breeding of American Labs was their agility and performance in the field or in working environments, making their appearance vary from dog to dog.
They typically range from 21.5 to 24.5 inches, slightly taller and slimmer than the English Lab. Their long legs and finer bone structure add to their more agile appearance.
Both types of Lab range from 65 to 80 lbs, with the English Lab typically on the heavier side. The main colors that the Labrador Retriever comes in are yellow, black, and chocolate, with chocolate being very rare to see in English Labs.
English Labs are more prone to obesity, but both types need their calories monitored because they can become overweight easily. English Labradors can actually weigh up to 20 pounds more than an American Labrador, while not being considered overweight due to their stockier build.
The English Labrador was bred to meet and maintain the standards of the Labrador Retriever breed, which makes them more likely to have a consistent appearance in comparison to the American Labrador.
The double-coated nature of Labrador Retrievers makes them culprits for a lot of shedding. The particular kind of Lab can somewhat impact their shedding, as English Labs who live indoors often shed regularly in smaller amounts instead of large amounts a few times a year.
Regular brushing of both types of Lab can help reduce the amount of hair that ends up in tufts of fur all over your home and furniture.
In addition, they are clean dogs that will require a bath every now and then. They might have sensitive skin, so be sure to use hypoallergenic dog shampoo made with natural ingredients.
Regardless of the type of Labrador, they both share some of the same personality traits. Labradors have a desire to please and are dependable, outgoing, intelligent, friendly, and very loving dogs.
American Labradors tend to have higher energy levels and have a lot more stamina and energy to burn than their English counterparts. American Labs can be more intelligent, headstrong, and generally more excitable than English ones.
While the American Lab is a high-energy dog, the English Lab is laid back and much less excitable. If your family is one that leads a more active and outdoorsy lifestyle, an American Lab may be better suited for you.
First-time owners and those who want a more relaxed and less demanding pet would probably prefer an English Lab.
As with any dog breed, it is important to socialize your dog early and train them, especially if they have high energy levels like the American Labrador.
Generally speaking, the American Lab is more trainable than the English Lab. Working type dogs have been known to score higher in comparison to show Labs in fetching, trainability, and overall responsiveness.
These differences could lie in the various ways that their owners may train them, and less with the breed itself. With the agile and working build of the American Labrador, it is not too surprising that they may be a little more intelligent than the English Lab.
Both types of Labrador Retriever make excellent companions and benefit from training from a young age. If you are interested in training a dog for dog sports and activities focused on agility, the American Labrador would be the better choice.
If you want a show dog, the English Labrador is a great option, as their strong and regal appearance combined with their calm temperament makes them easy to train for the show.
The Labrador Retriever, whether American or English, requires exercise on a daily basis. Labrador Retrievers are prone to becoming overweight and by having a regular exercise routine and monitoring their food intake, you can prevent them from becoming obese.
These dogs can become hyperactive, or in some cases even destructive, if they do not have a healthy output for their energy. Since the American Labrador was bred with work in mind, they have a higher energy level that requires more exercise than the English Lab.
They can excel in dog sports and will do better with running rather than walking, as it is an actual exercise for them to run and burns a lot of that energy.
In addition, Labs are likely to be water-lovin’ dogs that won’t get out of the water! Pair some beach or lake time with a vigorous game of fetch and you’ve got one happy Lab.
It is important not to over-exercise your dog, as both the American Lab and English Lab are prone to hip dysplasia, which can be affected or worsened by overly exercising.
When you place the English Lab and the American Lab side by side, while different, they still have numerous similarities. After all, they are the same breed!
Households with a more active or outdoorsy lifestyle may prefer the American Labrador because of its high energy and trainability. They can also be used as hunting dogs or to compete in dog sports.
Families that have children, or just want a dog with a quieter and calm temperament may prefer the English Labrador. Regardless, the Labrador Retriever is an amazing dog breed that will suit almost all households, which is what makes it the number one breed in both the US and UK!