Both the English vs American Lab are members of the Labrador Retriever breed, but they have become established as different types. English Labradors tend to be stockier, whilst American Labs are more slender with a finer coat. American Labs are the favorite of field trials, and have enormous energy. English Labs are more likely to occupy the show bench, and are said to be more laid back though in my experience their cheeky side and overly social nature outstrips the working bred dogs in the enthusiasm stakes.
- Historical differences
- Variations in appearances
- Temperament traits and training
- Grooming and feeding your dog
Having raised and trained both types of Labrador, I can confidently say these dogs are both very clever, active, cooperative and loving. I’ve never met a Lab that didn’t love to eat, or take a surprisingly long time to groom during shedding season. They all have some prey drive, although the American Labradors is stronger. And their attention is harder for the average owner to get outdoors. But the main differences really are skin deep, with that distinctly different build and size.
Differences Through History
The Labrador Retriever originated in Newfoundland, Canada, where their ancestors, the St. John’s Dog, worked alongside fisherman in icy waters and harsh conditions. These hearty working dogs caught the attention of visiting English nobles in the early 1800s. A few of these dogs returned to England with them, where breeders refined and standardized the Labrador breed.
Essentially there was only one type of Lab until the 1940s, when exhibiting dogs became popular. Over the next few decades, two different strains of the dog emerged due to specialized breeding.
One type was bred for the show ring where appearance matters. These dogs were not required to work and embellishments in their conformation began to emerge. They became known as English Labs. At the same time, working type Labs began flourishing in competitions known as field trials where speed and agility were the most desirable qualities. These are now what we know as American Labs.
Despite the fact that the nicknames English Lab and American Lab are commonly used, more accurate descriptions of these two dogs are show or bench type Lab and working or field type Lab.
English vs American Lab Appearance
Put the English Labrador and American Labrador side by side and you’ll see some obvious differences between these two dogs. The English Lab’s head is wider with a more pronounced stop. Their muzzle is shorter and the face is fuller. A thick neck and barrel chest create a more powerful appearance than that of the American Lab.
They also have the famous thick Labrador otter tail and their double, water-resistant coat is also thicker. The American Lab’s head is narrower and the muzzle is longer than the English Lab’s. Their neck is longer and thinner, as is their tail. American Labs also have a coat that is noticeably thinner. These labs aren’t bred to a specific breed standard. They often vary in appearance.
Which Type Is Bigger?
Although the English Lab stands slightly smaller, measuring between 21.5 to 22.5 inches, they’re heavier, with a blockier build and shorter legs and body. The American Lab stands from 21.5 to 24.5 inches, but with a slimmer, more athletic physique and finer bone structure. Legs are also longer, giving them a more agile appearance.
Male Labs weigh between 65 to 80 pounds and females from 55 to 70 pounds. English Labs tend to tip the scales on the higher end. In fact, they can weigh as much as 20 pounds more than an American Lab due to their conformation without being considered overweight.
English vs American Lab Temperament
Remember that both strains are Labradors and either of these dogs will be loving, friendly, intelligent, dependable, and outgoing, with a strong desire to please their humans. However, as with appearance, there are some fairly distinct differences between American and English Labs when it comes to temperament.
You should expect the American Lab to be more active. People originally bred these dogs for working and field trials. That doesn’t mean that the English Lab is a lazy dog by any means. All Labs are known for their high energy, but American Labs are like elite athletes. This is a dog with stamina and energy to burn. They’re also considered to be more intelligent, headstrong, and excitable, while English Labs are typically more laid back and less excitable than their American cousins.
Which One Makes a Better Family Dog?
Either type of Labrador Retriever is sure to make a wonderful addition to your family. These friendly dogs not only get along with all kinds of people, they’re also amiable with other dogs and pets. So choosing between the two types of Lab is simply a matter of personal preference.
If you’re looking for a family pet that’s more relaxed and less demanding, the English Lab would be the better choice. First time owners would also be better off with the show type since their temperament tends to be less overwhelming and demanding. Families with an active, outdoor lifestyle who want a dog that can keep up with them, are sure to meet their match in the exuberant American Lab.
English vs American Lab Training
A keen intelligence, combined with a strong desire to please, makes the Lab very trainable. You should socialize your dog early. Expose the dog to a wide array of people, places, and other animals. This is important for any dog. But it’s even more crucial for a dog that has the physical strength and high energy levels of the Labrador Retriever. Dragging their owners on the leash and jumping up on people are the types of behavior you’ll want to curb before they become fully grown.
When it comes to trainability, field dogs are typically considered to be more trainable than show bred dogs in any breed. This 2014 study found working dogs to score higher for fetching and trainability than show Labs. Working Labs also scored significantly higher on responsiveness than show Labs in this 2016 study. However, these differences could also be the result of working dog owners training them for work purposes, while show dog owners are less demanding of their dogs.
Grooming and Feeding
Thanks to their double coat, Labradors can be big-time shedders. Some will blow their coat twice a year, others tend to shed more regularly in smaller amounts. If you have an English Lab who lives indoors throughout the year, they may tend towards the latter.
Although their hair is short, regular daily grooming can reduce the amount of dead hair accumulation in your home. There are no hard and fast rules about how often you should bathe a Lab. If you start to notice an unpleasant smell, it’s probably time for a bath. This article will give you a lot more information about grooming your Lab.
Since so many Labs are prone to becoming overweight, you may need to monitor their calorie intake. Because English Labs tend to be less active and naturally heavier, they may also be more prone to obesity.
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