The Canadian Labrador is not an officially recognised strain for the Labrador Retriever breed like the American or English Labrador. But, all of our modern Labs descend from dogs that lived and worked in Canada. Dogs referred to as Canadian Labradors are usually puppies that have been born and raised in Canada, and can be working, show or pet bred dogs. They are all affectionate, active, friendly dogs that make great family pets for homes that have lots of time for training and attention. They can also make excellent service animals, hunting companions and therapy dogs too.
- Where do Canadian Labrador Retrievers come from?
- Is there an official Canadian Labrador?
- Canadian Labrador vs American Labrador
- Which Labrador type is right for me?
The Labrador Retriever is one of the world’s favorite dog breeds. Labs are friendly, intelligent, family-oriented dogs. They make wonderful pets. But, they are just as skilled as working dogs! Labs have existed for a long time, but have developed a lot since their earliest days, bred by aristocrats in the UK. These developments have led to the emergence of different strains and types. But, does the Canadian Labrador qualify as one of these types?
History of the Labrador Retriever Breed
The Labrador Retriever breed was standardized in the UK. But its roots stretch further back, to dogs that lived and worked alongside fishermen. These early ancestors of the Labrador breed lived in Newfoundland, an island on the Canadian coastline.
Some of the earliest Labrador ancestors were the St John’s Water Dog. This breed is sadly now extinct, but was once an energetic, clever, and people-oriented dog. Pictures show us St John’s Water Dogs with sleek black coats that very closely resemble the modern Lab.
These dogs, in turn, descended from dogs brought over by the island’s earliest settlers. These were mostly hunters and fishermen from Devon, England. These pastimes continued in Newfoundland, where the St John’s Water Dog worked closely alongside fishermen to retrieve equipment and fish from the water for them.
Standardizing the Breed
Though the earliest ancestors to the Labrador lived in a Canadian province, the development of the breed happened in the UK. Aristocrats James Harris and Walter Scott were each breeding St John’s Water Dogs in kennels in England and Scotland.
A chance meeting between the two men led to further development in breeding at their kennels. Harris gifted two retrievers to Scott, who went on to breed them. The subsequent puppies became the start of the official Labrador breed.
Over time, the Labrador became a popular sporting dog. It worked alongside owners to retrieve game on hunts. The Labrador breed quickly became popular in the UK. But this popularity took longer in the USA and Canada, where people preferred other retriever types and spaniels as hunting dogs.
The Emergence of Labrador Varieties
So, where do terms like Canadian Labrador, American Labrador, and English Labrador come into things? As we know, Labrador ancestors hailed from a Canadian province, but the breed was standardized in the UK. Once the breed became established in both the UK and America, variants began to emerge.
The two types of Labrador are called the field and show type. However, many people call them American and English types. Body conformation and appearance is a priority in show/English labs. Whereas, working ability is more important for field type or American Labradors.
Is There a Canadian Labrador Variety?
There are only two generally accepted varieties of Labrador. These are the English Lab and the American Lab, also known as the show and field types. The Labrador is a popular breed in Canada, and has been an accepted breed in the Canadian Kennel Club for a long time.
But, there is currently not an officially accepted Canadian variety of the Labrador breed. Instead, you are more likely to find the American and English strains in Canada, though they may be distinguished as field and show types.
Labradors in Canada will be bred to meet the Canadian Kennel Club’s breed standard, rather than the AKC or Kennel Club. However, the Canadian Labrador breed standard is very similar to the AKC’s. So, there will be little variation in American and Canadian Labradors that are bred to suit these breed standards.
Canadian Labrador vs American Labrador
The American Labrador is more often referred to as the working type, or field type Labrador. These Labs are intelligent and very energetic, particularly compared to show type Labs. Traits like these make the American Lab better-suited for working life than English Labs. Their working ability is prioritised above all else.
Their overall appearance will also reflect this. They are leaner and larger than show-bred Labs. They will look more slender than the stockier English Lab, and may have a thin tail, rather than the traditional otter tail.
Since there is no official Canadian Lab variety, some Labradors bred in Canada can be very similar to the American Lab. It will depend on whether a Canadian Labrador is bred for show or work. Those bred for show will more likely resemble the English Lab (the show type Lab), since the three kennel clubs have such similar breed standards.
Which Labrador Type is Best for Me?
There is no official Canadian Labrador variant, but you can still choose between the working and show types. These will be available in Canada, just as they are in other parts of the world. But, breeders may call them English and American types.
The show type Lab is stockier and more family-oriented than the working type. Working types are much more driven, and have a lot more energy to burn. Both types can make great family pets. But, the show type is more often recommended for first-time owners, as their slightly lower energy and mental-stimulation needs can make for easier training.
All types of Labrador are prone to the same health issues. Owners should familiarise themselves with these, no matter which Labrador variety they choose. All Labrador types are prone to joint problems, such as hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis. On top of this, weight related problems can be an issue. As can eye problems, and bloat. The average Labrador lifespan is 12 years. But, owners can extend this by choosing a reputable breeder and providing the best care possible.
The Canadian Labrador – A Summary
There is no official Canadian Labrador variant. But, all modern Labrador Retrievers, whether they’re the American type or the English type, hail from ancestors that lived in Newfoundland. These original dogs passed on some key Labrador traits, such as a water-resistant coat and a great working ability.
The Canadian Kennel Club breed standard is very similar to the AKC standard. But, over time, perhaps we will see more divergence that will lead to another Labrador Retriever strain!
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References and Resources
- ‘Retriever (Labrador)’, Canadian Kennel Club Official Breed Standards (2021)
- ‘Official Standard for the Labrador Retriever’, American Kennel Club (1994)
- Clements, D. (et al), ‘Dogslife: A Web-Based Longitudinal Study of Labrador Retriever Health in the UK’, BMC Veterinary Research (2013)
- Keijser, S. (et al), ‘Quantification of the Health Status of the Dutch Labrador Retriever Population’, Preventive Veterinary Medicine (2019)
- Adams, V. (et al), ‘Methods and Mortality Results of a Health Survey of Purebred Dogs in the UK’, Journal of Small Animal Practice (2010)
- Farrell, L. (et al), ‘The Challenges of Pedigree Dog Health: Approaches to Combating Inherited Disease’, Canine Medicine and Genetics (2015)
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