English vs American Labrador – What’s the Difference?

english vs american labrador

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.


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.

english vs american lab

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.

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson(paid link)

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


  1. I have owned several Labs both English. One named Odin ended up having hip and elbow problems and had to be put down at 12 years old. He was wicked smart though. Our newest lab was born the day Odin was put down. His name is Buddy and it fits him to a tee. He loves everyone!! We had to send him to a trainer for two months of obedience BOOT CAMP to stop the Jumping and pulling. It has been hard being without him but having just seen him, I can say without a doubt that Raney Ranch Labradors in the San Diego area are great Trainers. He is much improved!!! While Buddy shows 0% Interest in Field work, His interest in people will be put to work as a dog visiting patients in the hospital my wife works in.

  2. Isabella is my second lab. She’s American. She’s flown commercially 60 times. Gets on the plane and sleeps for the 2+ hours under the seats on the trip to Mexico. Ella te gusta la playa and that may be an understatement. She had a paw problem a few weeks ago and the vet in Los Angeles took care of it and charged me $640. The same problem happened again in Mexico. It cost me $37. OUCH!

  3. We had a pure-bred black Lab, Cleopatra’s Midnight Diamond (Cleo) who was of excellent field trial stock with both parents being champions. She fits this article for the American Labrador perfectly. She would swim in our pool daily, by herself, playing fetch in the pool by nosing the ball in and watching if float away until she decided to get it. She would dive to the bottom of the 8-foot end to retrieve a toy and loved to swim side-by-side with me. As a retriever, there were none better taking directional commands when I would try to launch a ball out of her site. She knew the colors of her toys including identical ones and if she wanted to play with one that day, don’t throw the other.

    Cayenne (for her coat color) was a pure-bred Norfolk Terrier (floppy ears) which is described by some as the Lab of the Terrier group. With the exception of the water where she was a very reluctant swimmer, she too exhibited much of the American Lab’s traits. Unlike so many Terriers who must be on your lap, she was happy to lay by my feet, sleep under the bed, and played fetch until she would happily fall over in a slump. Cayenne also knew her toys and the funniest one was 3 tennis balls from the same can which I had marked with dots to tell them apart. If she wanted to play with ball #1 that day, don’t throw ball #2 or #3. Sometimes I would present one ball to go outside and play and that one was not “the one” that day so she would hunt and hunt in the house until she found “the one” for the day.

    Our current dark chocolate American Lab, Henry, was a failed foster. He too exhibits all of the traits. I just came in from the back yard having thrown the ball with the ChuckIt(R) as far as 50 yards. It is amazing how he “turns it on” if I throw the ball just beyond him down low. Conversely, it is amazing to see him jump as much as his whole-body length into the air to catch a fly or bounced ball. He too knows his colors and I tell him the little orange ball he will get it when there is a slightly larger orange ball or a yellow glow in the dark ball of the same exact size from the same manufacturer. He loves to play with the Kong(R) flying disk as well leaping into the air to catch it. As with Cleo, if he loses the ball in the field he will stop and look to me for commands and upon seeing my arm in the direction he must head, then goes about searching in that area. Sometimes he gets so “on a mission” that I have to call his attention to get him to stop to take the next directional command. He is a bit ornery in that he will get on the bed at bedtime with wistful eyes saying to you: “tonight, daddy, may I sleep in the bed?” He gets 5 minutes of loving and then is ready to go to his bed on the floor on my side.

    As a failed foster, Henry has helped us bring 15 other fosters to our home and ultimately to their forever homes. He helps teach them to ring the bells hanging on the door handle to let us know they/he wants to go out. He has even walked a puppy by holding the puppy’s leash in his mouth and stopping to let him use the bathroom and then bring him back to the house. Henry loves to swim and run the entire block with my son who rides his One Wheel(R) alongside.

    Henry also has a big heart towards cats and other dogs but suffers from some PTSD having been raised by a breeder more interested in profit than the dog. Gunshots, suspenders, and straw or wide brimmed hats cause him to cower and shudder. He was very tentative going into the barn for the longest time. Unfortunately, while he could be a great field/hunting dog, I don’t think the PTSD would allow him to be. He also sits on the floor for long rides as opposed to in the seat or head out the window like so many other dogs. I also attribute this to his foster ride in the back of a van with 7 other puppies who had not yet been sold for Christmas from Pennsylvania to Ohio where we met him. My wife had to climb into the kennel in the back of the van to retrieve him at 4 months old. It was a sad beginning but now he is a happy member of our family.

    While I wasn’t certain that I wanted another permanent dog after Cayenne’s death and thus we decided to foster temporary dogs, God had different plans for me and gifted me the best dog I could have ever wanted.

    As I have taken some time to write this, Henry is now asleep at my feet slightly dreaming of something.

  4. In hot temps of summer, at night my guy Dash tends to get very warm on our bed. Pants heavy. I wet towel in cold water & put on him. Seems to help. Husband says with the type of coat they have, is possible cold, wet towel creates steam & may make Dash even hotter. Dash is English lab, weighs 115, 10-1/2 yrs old & more of a house dog now. What do you think?

  5. I had an English Lab. I ended his bought of cancer about a year ago. Buck was an English/British Lab. Laid back, but one of the fastest labs I have ever seen. He was a beast in the field in SD, great nose! Broad chested with a block head. That boy was very trainable and had professional field training. I am now awaiting the birth of a distant relative of his in late April.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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

  14. 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

  15. 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 😊

    • I have an American 5 yr old the Vet says he should weigh 85# he weighed that at a year!! he’s 5 and weighs 112# he runs like the wind everyday how much should an American mail weigh im 5′ and when we stand at a window he is the same height as me!! People tell me he’s the biggest Lab they ever seen! I wish I could post our pic