English vs American Labrador – What’s the Difference?

english vs american labrador

Today we are going to compare the English vs American Lab. We will help you to spot the differences in appearance, size and energy levels of these two members of the Labrador breed. This will give you the information you need to work out whether the English or American Labrador is a better choice for you. Or to identify which one of the them you already share a home with!

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.

Welcome to the English vs American Lab debate

If you’ve been researching America’s most popular dog breed, you’ve probably run across the terms English Labrador and American Labrador. Let’s be clear, there is no official distinction between these two dogs. There is only one Labrador Retriever breed. Both the English and the American types are lovable Labs through and through. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some distinctions in their appearance, size, temperament, and energy levels.

Just how different are these two versions of the Labrador? Let’s find out.

English vs American Lab 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.

english vs american labThey 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.

English vs American Lab Size

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.

English vs American Lab – 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.

English vs American Lab Exercise

Labrador Retrievers are a very energetic breed that needs lots of exercise every day. Both the English and American strains can become hyperactive or destructive if they don’t have an outlet for bottled up energy. Although exercise requirements can vary from dog to dog, you can expect the American Lab to require more exercise than the English Lab.

American Labs respond well to lots of human contact and can excel at dog sports such as agility, obedience, and tracking. Walking is a good exercise, but running is a better way to give the dog an aerobic workout. If you only walk this dog on a leash, you’ll need to provide him with other more strenuous workouts to get his heart rate up. This breed’s favorite activities are retrieving and swimming, but he’ll also enjoy playing games that involve spending time with their beloved people.

Exercise-Related Health Conditions in the Labrador Retriever

Over-exercising this dog can cause health problems. Like many large breeds, Labrador Retrievers are prone to the skeletal disease known as hip dysplasia, which can lead to lameness and arthritis. This abnormal formation of the hip socket is genetic, but can also be affected by environmental factors such as exercise.

Specific Genetic Disorders in the Labrador Retriever

Exercise induced collapse (EIC) is a genetic disorder that’s known to affect young Labs. It causes muscle weakness, incoordination, and collapse following periods of excessive exercise. This study found retrieving to be the activity most commonly associated with collapse in Labradors.

Large breeds like the Labrador are also at risk for a life-threatening disease commonly referred to as bloat. The official name for this condition is gastric dilatation volvulus (GVD) and it occurs when the stomach fills with gas and twists, cutting off blood flow. Nobody knows exactly why this is the case. But we do know that bloat can be caused by too much exercise on a full stomach. Therefore, it’s a good idea to always wait at least an hour after a meal before exercising your Lab.

English vs American Lab Health

Whether you have an English or an American Lab you can expect them to live from 10 to 12 years on average. Choose a dog who’s been screened for genetic health conditions that affect the breed. This includes heart disorders and eye diseases such as progressive retinal atrophy.

Hereditary myopathy is an inherited condition believed to be caused by a defect in the muscle tissue that affects Labradors. Canine lymphoma is also fairly prevalent in the breed.

Although almost all dogs love to eat, the Labrador Retriever has a reputation for being a voracious eater. This 2016 study found that about one in every four Labs has a mutation of the POMC gene that prevents them from feeling full. Obesity is a big problem for the breed and it can lead to a number of other health problems ranging from diabetes to orthopedic diseases.

English vs American Lab 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. However, each dog is an individual and there’s no way to say for sure how much or which way they’ll shed.

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.

Which Type of Lab Makes a Better Pet?

When it comes to choosing between the English and American Lab there’s no definitive answer. It really depends on your preferences and lifestyle. An American Lab will require a lot of time and energy to keep them happy. But if you’re a runner looking for a companion, then this may be the ideal dog for you. Those looking for a dog more suited to life as a family pet should probably opt for the English Lab.

Remember, that this will still be an active dog who needs regular activity. English vs American Lab—Which dog is the right one for you? Let us know in the comments.

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References and resources

Lofgren SE, et al., “Management and personality in Labrador Retriever dogs,” Applied Animal Behavior Science, 2014

Ruiz Fadel, F., et al., “Differences in Trait Impulsivity Indicate Diversification of Dog Breeds into Working and Show Lines,” Scientific Reports, 2016

Schachner, ER, et al., “Diagnosis, prevention, and management of canine hip dysplasia: a review,” Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports, 2015

Patterson, EE, et al., “A canine DNM1 mutation is highly associated with the syndrome of exercise-induced collapse,” Nature Genetics, 2008

Taylor, SM, et al., “Exercise-Induced Collapse of Labrador Retrievers: Survey Results and Preliminary Investigation of Heritability,” Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association, 2008

Glickman, L., et al., “Canine Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus (Bloat),” c84.pdf School of Veterinary Medicine Purdue University, 1995

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson

McKerrell, RE, et al., “Hereditary Myopathy in Labrador Retrievers: A Morphologic Study,” Veterinary Pathology, 1986

Wilkerson, MJ, et al, “Lineage differentiation of canine lymphoma/leukemias and aberrant expression of CD molecules,” Veterinary Immunology and Immunopathology, 2005

Jaggy, A., et al., “Genetic aspects of idiopathic epilepsy in Labrador retrievers,”  Journal of Small Animal Practice, 2008

Raffan, E., et al., “A Deletion in the Canine POMC Gene Is Associated with Weight and Appetite in Obesity-Prone Labrador Retriever Dogs,” Cell Metabolism, 2016

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


  1. Our first lab …American Chocolate girl….loads of energy…wonderful disposition…very loving towards humans and other animals. We now have our 2nd chocolate American girl …she’s even smarter! Chocolates are active but worth it! This one catches many fly balls.

  2. We have an English Lab who is 4 years old. Libby weighs 90 pounds, and I think that’s where she’s going to stay. She’s on special food and we run/walk every day. She is active, but would prefer to lay down and rest. She is a wonderful girl and we love her to pieces. She’s very good with other dogs. We had a special needs dog who had seizures and was partially paralyzed. Before he would have a seizure she would get up and leave the room (didn’t want to stress him out), she was our early warning system. My daughter has a 6 month old poodle and they LOVE to play together.

  3. Had an American for 12 years before she passed away from Lymphoma. She was a crazy lady, a serious handful. Insatiable energy, run, bike, climb mountains, skiing, you name it, she was up for it, for hours on end. Great dog and very trainable, but a serious amount or work.

    Now we just adopted a 5 month old puppy who is an english-american mix. Much more laid back and easy going. Loves to sleep at my feet. But is always up for a romp in the backyard. She is very smart, and is easier to train. Is more attentive and less distracted come training time. I love them both, but as I age up a bit, it is much easier to live with our current pup! Of course its up to you, but that is my experience to share!

  4. I currently have a 18 week old English/American mix named Fergus! My sister has his half sister from a previous litter. The female is showing alot of American traits and my boy is showing alot of the English traits. We have always had English/American mixed labs. We love them bc it’s the best of both!

  5. We have one of each and you can definitely see the difference in behavior and physique. They are both amazing dogs with oodles of energy the American loves to run if he gets the chance he’s out. The English likes to run but is not as much willing to sneak out to do so and my grandchildren can’t get enough of them.

  6. I have an American and he runs like the wind…needs two solid long exercise sessions off leash everyday. Fits every example of an American…though his anxiety prevents any grooming and barely trips to the vet. At home lounges around from kid bed to kid bed to finally his bed. An odd duck for sure and hates being pet unless on his terms. He’s a keeper though and even my non dog friends love his disposition and allow him around their houses. He’s my second American in a row had Shaggy for 13 and Hank is coming up on 6.

  7. Hi I have two black labrqdors one “English”and the other “American” this article describes their differences perfectly. I have always had a Labrador in my life (I am now 56) and always will they are perfect family dogs. My English lab is now a grand old age of 15 and the other is 4.

  8. I have a 3yr old Bench/American mix. He’s an odd duck. He sleeps and lounges around a lot and want’s to run to China when he isn’t. lol

  9. I am considering an American Lab male pup to add to my female working line German Shepherd of 6 years. She is intense but with a good off button, well trained and never shown any form of aggression towards dogs or people. She does have a high prey drive that is under control. She adjust her activity level to mine but of course she gets plenty of exercise and play. I am retired as pet dog trainer. I

  10. At the start of the year we had 3 black American labs, all from working parents. Unfortunately, due to age (15 & 13), we now only have 1 left. If I ever take the plunge again it will definitely be American 😊