Home About Labradors The Difference Between English Labradors and American Labradors

The Difference Between English Labradors and American Labradors


Do you know there exist an Atlantic divide among Labs too? If you have been reading about Labradors, you might have come across subtypes, such as English Labradors and American Labradors. One type is different from the other in many respects and this makes the division beyond the mere geographical separation.

American Labradors and English Labradors

This breed of dogs originated in the Newfoundland and Labrador region of Canada and traveled to different parts of the world. Labradors found a great deal of patronization in England and other European countries. Dog lovers there took a keen interest in these dogs and bred them bred for show and conformation albeit keeping their purebred characteristics. Based on their breeding and local conditions, a new Lab subtype called English Labradors emerged.

But, is really the English variety different from the American one and to what extent? Let’s examine.

A layman considers a Labrador born in the United States as an American Lab while England or Europe is the birthplace of an English variety. It is believed that this assumption rooted in the fact that the Labrador originated in North America and was patronized overwhelmingly in the Great Britain. While the physical features of an American subtype look more focused on hunting and field trials, the British variety is a dog for show and conformation.

The Official Words

The truth is the terms American Labradors and English Labradors are not official. However, they are universally recognized and the distinction is visible in the body built of dogs.

In a statement, the Labrador Retriever Club, the only organization officially recognized by the American Kennel Club, as the national parent club of the Labrador Retriever breed, clarified this issue.

“Within Labrador Retriever breed type there are variations in body style which have evolved to suit the use of the dog, as well as the preferences of individual breeders and owners,” the LRC website says. It further elaborates, “In the United States the general public has begun to label these variations mistakenly as ‘English’ or ‘American’ style. Perhaps a better description for variations in style is ‘show/conformation’ or ‘working/field’ styles.”

Although the LRC noted that “show/conformation” and “field/working” are the better terms to distinguish these dogs, dog lovers widely use the terms American Labrador and English Labrador as labels or nicknames for Labradors with lineage from their respective countries and there is a reason for that due to some physical variations.

The History of Labradors

The original Labrador Retriever was neither English nor American. The breed originated in Canada’s Newfoundland, where their ancestors the St. John’s Dog, helped fishermen pull nets and retrieve fish escaping from fishing lines, as stated by the American Kennel Club.

The English colonial officials saw the robust ability of the dog to work in the cold environment and water. Impressed with these qualities, they took a few the St. John’s Dogs to England, refined, and developed the breed through interbreeding with spaniels, setters, and other retrievers in the early 19th century.

The American Labrador

The American Labrador is for field work and hunting. The subtype earned the title “American Labradors” since they are more common in North America.

When compared to English Labrador, the American Labrador has distinctive physical traits, such as

  • taller with a standard height varying from 21.5 to 24.5 inches
  • slimmer and more athletic build
  • finer bone structure
  • more agile look
  • narrower head
  • longer muzzle
  • longer and thinner neck
  • thinner coat
  • thinner, less ‘otter-like’ tail
  • longer legs

American Labradors or field-type Labradors are bred for better working ability. This indicates the lack of willingness on the part of American Lab breeders to strictly follow the breed standards set by kennel clubs. They focused more on the their needs than set parameters.

The English Labrador

These Labradors have been labeled English since they are more common in the United Kingdom. English Labradors are more suitable for show and conformation.

Compared to the American Labrador, the English Labrador has following diverse physical features:

  • shorter body and legs with a standard between 21.5 and 22.5 inches
  • stockier, blockier, and heavier built and bone structure
  • thicker and straighter tail
  • barrel chests
  • wider heads with a more pronounced and defined stop
  • thicker neck
  • thicker fur
  • fuller face
  • shorter muzzle

Since English Labradors were bred for conformation, they look a lot closer to Labrador breed standard set by various kennel clubs.

English and American Labradors: Difference in Temperament

Aside from the physical variations mentioned above, the difference between English Labradors and American Labradors is also visible in their temperament, energy levels, and activity.

  • Temperament: The English Labrador is generally calmer, sweeter, and more docile than the American Labrador, which is a field dog. American Labs are also smarter and more headstrong.
  • Energy Level: Since American Labradors are working dogs, they have a higher energy level than their English counterparts. However, this does not mean that the latter are lazy. Both types need regular exercises to stay fit and get adequate physical and mental stimulation.
  • Activity: Because it is a gun dog and more suitable for hunting, the American Labrador is more high-strung and in constant need of activities.

Generally, English Labradors are show dog while American Labradors excel in hunting and field work. But there is no restriction when these dogs swap their jobs. The terms “American Labradors” and “English Labs” are not official and absolute. Those terms are a mere guide in determining the type of Lab available. As long as an American Labrador meets the breed standards set by the AKC or any other kennel club, he can join a dog show. Similarly, English Labradors may also work in field trials and hunt without any constraint. These dogs love to eat as they have high energy levels.

Are They Different Breeds?

No. They are not two different breeds. As The Labrador Retriever Club states, “There is only one breed of dog known as the Labrador Retriever, described by the standard of the breed.” These two types are mere subtypes of Labs.

The distinction and difference between English Labradors and American Labradors exist because of decades of specialized breeding. American Labradors were selectively bred for their working skills. Their higher energy and drive, agility, athleticism, and slimmer built make them better working dogs. The breeding focused more on their ability to work than the different kennel clubs breed standards.

The English Labrador were selectively bred for their looks and temperament, key considerations to participate in conformation competitions. Breeders were very careful in selecting the lines they wish to interbreed their Labradors with to end up with offspring that could perfectly match the breed standard and win awards in the ring.

Should I Go For an American Labrador or an English Labrador?

Are you planning to have a Labrador as your pet but confused on what type to get? You should consider your living condition and the level of activity.

American Labradors are very active and will need lots of mental and physical stimulation. If you like a higher level of activity or hunting games, the American Labrador is the best for you. The three most common colors are the chocolate lab, yellow lab, and black lab. However, if you want a Lab that does not too much activity, an English Labrador is the most suitable.