The American Labrador is a working bred strain of the world’s most popular breed, the Labrador Retriever. They tend to have a slim build with a narrow face, slim chest and finer tail than the typical show bred English Lab. This Labrador type has an enthusiastic, active temperament and a strong prey drive. They are very clever, but can be a little more nervous and anxious socially than their English cousins. Although they are frequently bred, raised and trained as bird dogs, retrieving game for the handlers and working hard during the day, they are also sold as family pets, therapy dogs and even service animals for the police and military.
American and English Labrador aren’t official terms. More accurate descriptions of these two dogs would be working type Labrador and show type Labrador. This is because their differences have more to do with the roles they were bred for than where they came from. American Labs were bred for working ability, and English for show quality.
American Labs are built for endurance, speed and loyalty. While English Labs are calmer around game but more friendly around other people and dogs. For this reason, the American Labrador excels as a working dog. But, the English version makes a great family pet. However, this doesn’t mean that the American Labrador won’t make a good pet. Or that the English Lab will be low-energy.
Origins Of The Labrador Retriever
The ancestor of the lovable Lab is the St. John’s Dog of Newfoundland, Canada. This hard-working dog worked as a fisherman’s mate. He was tasked with retrieving game without damaging it. In the 1800s, visiting English nobles brought these dogs back to England, where British breeders refined and standardized the breed. But, the split between American and English Labs didn’t come until much later.
As exhibiting dogs came into fashion on both sides of the Atlantic, the bloodlines for showing and working lines began to separate. Breeders started to create two different varieties of the breed.
American Lab Appearance
One of the first things you’ll notice about these two dogs is their difference in size. American Labs are both larger and leaner with a more athletic physique. Standard height varies from 21.5 to 24.5 inches, compared to the smaller English Lab which measures from 21.5 to 22.5 inches.
Generally, male Labs weigh between 65 to 80 pounds and females from 55 to 70 pounds. But, English Labs can be as much as 20 pounds heavier without being overweight. This is due to their shape and structure. They have a stockier, heavier build and bone structure than their American cousins. The working type Lab has a finer bone structure, longer legs, and a lengthier muzzle. Plus, they have a narrower head and neck. Their famous otter tail is also thinner and less “otter-like.”
Even the American Labrador’s double-layered water-resistant coat, which comes in yellow, black, or chocolate, is less dense than that of the English Labrador.
Typical Temperament and Training
Both types of Labs are outgoing and active dogs who aren’t prone to aggressive behavior. But there are some differences when it comes to temperament. Although all Labradors are known for being energetic, American Labs are working gundogs with strong instincts to hunt and retrieve. You can expect their energy and stamina to know no bounds. This means they need lots and lots of physical exercise and mental stimulation to keep from becoming bored and destructive.
These dogs are also typically more independent, intelligent, and adventurous than the English variety.
In addition to their many other desirable qualities, Labs are also known for their trainability. One study of Labrador Retrievers found working dogs to be more trainable than show dogs. But others claim that they’re more difficult to control due to their high energy levels, nervousness, and natural instinct to hunt. Luckily, both types are intelligent, eager to please, and highly food motivated when it comes to rewards during training sessions.
The American Lab can excel at competitive sports such as agility. These dogs are also well-suited to a wide variety of service dog roles. Regardless of the type of Labrador, they will require proper training and socialization.
American Lab Exercise
There’s no question that any Labrador Retriever is going to need lots of daily exercise. It’s just that the American Lab will likely need more than the English Lab. Although the amount of exercise can vary from dog to dog, an athletic American Labrador typically needs approximately two hours of daily exercise.
As long as mental and physical requirements are met, these dogs are relaxed companions. But even the best trained American Lab can turn to unwanted behavior if they have no way to release pent-up energy. Walking briskly offers mutual benefits for both dog and owner. But this athletic canine will need some off leash time for aerobic activities. Running, swimming, playing Frisbee, retrieving a ball, and other games are all great ways to keep an American Lab in shape.
Exercise-Related Health Issues
It should be noted that the Labrador breed is prone to some serious health problems that are related to exercise. Young adult Labradors are genetically at risk for a condition called exercise induced collapse (EIC). This causes loss of muscle control after periods of extreme exercise. Bloat is a life-threatening stomach condition that can be brought on by vigorous activity before and after eating. Labradors are also at risk for hip and elbow dysplasia which can be made worse by excessive exercise.
American Lab Health
On average Labrador Retrievers will live from 10 to 12 years of age. One strain of the breed isn’t known to be healthier than the other. When buying a puppy, it’s important to choose a breeder who has done DNA tests that ensure their breeding stock have been cleared for inherited diseases. Quality nutrition, adequate exercise, and proper veterinary care will also help your pet live a good long life.
Inherited conditions that affect the breed include the muscular disease hereditary myopathy. Puppies present with an abnormal gait and their growth can be stunted. Generalized weakness often gets worse with exercise and cold temperatures. Labradors are also at risk for eye conditions such as progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts, and heart conditions, like tricuspid valve malformation.
Do American Labs Make Good Family Dogs?
Famously friendly and affectionate. Both the English and American Labrador can make a great family pet. These dogs bond with the whole family and will get along with other dogs as well. Choosing between a field or show dog really comes down to personal preference. Since American Labradors have so much energy, they do best with active families that enjoy spending time outdoors.
Both of these dogs need a daily commitment to exercise. But, the American strain can be more hyperactive, especially if they don’t have enough to do. First time owners and those with a less energetic lifestyle may find the English Lab easier to handle.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website
Oh my Tucker boy- how I love my American Black Lab. He’s 7 now, and currently sharing my pillow in bed. I’m a veteran, after I was medically discharged I suffered from PTSD. My parents got me Tucker when I graduated college at 23. They anticipated he would be an English lab, and boy they were incredibly wrong haha. But he’s perfect, if it were for him teaching ME to fetch I don’t know if I’d be here today. He is swims in the pool in my yard for about 4-6 hours a day, he’s very active and it’s hilarious, my favorite hiking companion. I wouldn’t change a thing about my boy, I love him from the tip of his big webbed paw pads to the top of his remarkably soft ears.
I am having a difficult time finding American lab breeders – can you recommend some from NJ, PA areas?