Many people get confused on what the difference is between the English Labrador Retriever and an American Labrador Retriever.
Usually the first question is "I am looking for a British Lab, but you have English Labs. What is the difference?" This can also be confusing, so let's start with understanding that the English Lab and the British Lab are the same, it's just how people refer to them. That also goes with the American Lab or the Field Lab! They are also the same, just different parts of the country and people refer to them as either or.
Both the English and American Lab are members of the Labrador Retriever breed, but they have become established as different types because of the specified breeding.
I can say both dogs are very friendly, intelligent, active and loving breeds. I have yet to this day meet a Labrador Retriever that doesn't love to eat, play or shed hair all over your house! They are both loving in nature and both the English and American love to hunt. So, you ask, if they are both Labrador Retrievers, how can they be so different? Well, let's get into that!
The History of the Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever originated in Newfoundland, the St. John's Water Dog. The geography is a little confusing because the Labrador Territory, after which the breed is named, is northwest of the island of Newfoundland. They worked with the fishermen in harsh weather conditions in the icy waters, pulling heavy fish nests into the fishmen's boats. They pulled the heavy fish nets into the fishmen's boats. They had an infatuation with water and were known for their diving abilities, along with their overall water skills. These hearty dogs caught the interest of visiting English noblemen in the early 1800s. The English returned to England with them, where they called these dogs the Labrador Retriever. The American Kennel Club recognized the Labrador Retriever in 1917.
Essentially there was only one type of Labrador Retriever until the 1940's, that is when show dogs became popular. Over the next few decades, the two different bloodlines of the dog materialized due to specialized breeding and became known as the English Labrador and the American Labrador.
In England the upper class valued the English Lab's calm temperament along with their demeanor and due to their conformation quality, they easily won dog shows, and large game hunts because of their patience. Their differences started to become noted that this is why they also became known as the "British Lab".
However, in the United States, the American Lab was being bred for working purposes, especially for hunting and field trials. For the American Lab to be successful at this, they had to be leaner and more athletic. Hunting was much more popular in the United States, so the American Lab had to have higher energy levels to compete, hence the other title "Field Lab".
English vs. American Lab in Appearance
If you were to put the American Lab and the English side by side, you would see some noticeable differences. The English Lab has a shorter, stockier build while the American Lab has a more lean, taller look to them.
English Labrador's biggest conformation difference is their stocky appearance, with their wide head. Their muzzle (nose) is shorter and wider, and they have a wider neck. The English Lab is shorter and wider across the back. Their beautiful thick otter tail and double thick coat makes the English Lab a very attractive dog.
The American Lab is just the opposite. Their build is taller and thinner, giving them more of an athletic build. Their muzzle is longer and narrower, and their tail is thin, as is their coat. The have a longer thinner neck as well. Given this conformation you can see how they are better built for a working dog.
Unless specifically being bred for one over the other, the English and American Lab can vary in appearance.
Who is Bigger?
Normally I would have to say the English Lab is going to be bigger when it comes to weight. The English Lab is shorter, measuring around 21.5 to 22.5 inches tall vs. the American measuring around that 21.5 to 24.5 inches. The American lab with a slimmer, more athletic physique and fine bone structure gives them a more agile appearance that makes them look smaller compared to the stocky, shorter English Lab. On average I would say the English Lab could weigh anywhere from 10 to 20 pounds heavier than the American Lab. Your female labs are going to weigh between 55 to 70 pounds and your male labs are going to weigh around 65 to 85 pounds.
Many people, especially veterinarians, make the mistake of thinking the English Lab is overweight, but that is what they are supposed to like. Again, going back to the original foundation of the Labrador Retriever and when coming over from Newfoundland, the English Lab was meant to look like that. They call the English Labrador's tail an otter tail for a reason. It was named this because they use their tail for swimming, just like an otter does.
Yellow, black, and chocolate are the only three colors that are recognized by the American Kennel Club. Both the English and the American Lab come in all three colors, but the Chocolate English Lab is rarer to find.
English vs. American Labrador in Temperament
As I stated in the beginning, your Labrador Retriever, either bloodline, will have a strong desire to please their human. Both dogs are loving, friendly, intelligent, outgoing, and dependable dogs. That is why the Labrador retriever is the #1 chosen dog in the United States for 30+ years and welcomed into millions of homes a year.
However, with that stated, the energy levels between an English Lab and American Lab are very different. English Labs are calmer and tend to have an easier-going demeanor. They are not lazy by any means but just quieter. The American Lab is more active because they are built for more athleticism, so that energy level comes with it.
Both labs shed all year round, so invest in a good vacuum! That is probably the #1 negative attribute to being a lab owner.
English Labs, due to their double coat (not all English), do tend to shed a little bit more than the American Lab but if groomed consistently on a regular routine, you will reduce the amount of shedding. This goes both ways for the English Lab and the American Lab.
There is no absolute rule to when to bathe your lab. Most give their labs a bath about once a month, but if you start to notice an unpleasant smell, it is probably time to give your dog a bath!
White Spot on the Labrador Retriever
Many people are under the belief that if their Labrador Retriever has a white spot on their chest, that the dog is genetically not sound or not a purebred lab. That cannot be further from the truth. A white spot can be found on a purebred lab and is NOT a sign of any sort of health condition. You will find more white spots on the English Labrador, especially the closer they are to their true foundation breeding from the St. Johns Water dog. AKC accepts a certain size of white spots on the Labrador Retriever when in the show ring. So do not be afraid to purchase a puppy or dog with a white spot. It simply is a matter of choice and whether you find it attractive or not.
Which One is Right for your Family?
Either type of Labrador Retriever will make a wonderful addition to your family.
If you're looking for a family pet that's more relaxed and has a calmer disposition, the English Lab would be the better choice. Many first-time owners of a dog or families with children would be better off with the English since their temperament tends to be less overwhelming and demanding. A lot of individuals that are looking for that Therapy or Support Dog will choose the English Lab because of their patience.
If you are looking for that extreme hunting partner and or you and your family are very active and want a dog to keep up with that active outdoor lifestyle, you may want to look more to the American Lab. The American Lab was built to run for hours and hours and that is why individuals that want to win that Field Trail will choose the American Lab.
Again, either dog will make a great family pet, but it is what you are looking for that will drive that decision on an English Lab vs American Lab.
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