Field Labrador – The Hardest Working Labrador Retriever Of All

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field labrador

Field Labrador is another way to describe a working, or American-type, Labrador. Field Labs are taller and longer than English, or show-type, Labs. Some field Labs and their owners take part in field trials, and earn championship titles which can be included on their pedigree.

Different Types Of Labrador

There is only one Labrador Retriever breed. But selective mating choices in different breeding lines have gradually created two distinct types of Lab. This is frequently confusing for prospective owners researching their first Lab. Not least because each type of Lab is known by multiple names! The two Labrador types are:

    1. English Labradors, also known as show Labradors, or bench Labradors (after the show bench)
    2. and American Labradors, also known as working Labradors, or field Labradors.

What Is A Field Labrador?

Field Labrador is another name for the American Labrador.

field labrador

 

It’s used because these Labradors are most often seen out working in the field on a hunt. And that’s where they’re bred to excel. The better known name ‘American Lab’ is used because they were developed in the United States. Of course, that doesn’t mean you won’t meet them in other areas of the world today, or that every Lab you meet in America is necessarily American-type!

How Does A Field Lab Compare To A Show Lab?

So how can you tell a American-type field Lab and an English-type show Lab apart? Well, there are tell tale differences in the way they look, and also in their temperaments. They can seem subtle at first, but if you’re lucky enough to meet a lot of Labs, you’ll soon discover that you can tell them apart quickly – like meeting human twins.

Field Labrador Looks

Field Labs are taller, longer, leaner, and more athletic looking than show Labs. Front-ways on, their face and neck tend to look more slender and elongated. Of course, these things are all relative, and the field Lab is still a robust and sturdy looking dog! At the back, working lines are increasingly losing the classic Labrador otter tail too, in favor of a much slimmer tail.

By comparison, show Labs are bred to exemplify the physical description in the breed standard, which is shorter, stockier, and still in possession of a wide-based otter tail. The field Lab’s drift in appearance from the breed standard is an indirect result of basing mating decisions primarily on working ability rather than looks. But field Labs which don’t perfectly match the physical description in the breed standard are still purebred Labs, if they have the pedigree to prove it.

Field Labrador Temperament

All Labs are energetic, but field Labs have more stamina than show Labs, and need more daily exercise. Field Lab owners also tend to believe that their dogs are smarter than show Labs, and quicker to learn new commands. They usually have greater confidence working at a distance from their handler. People looking for working Labs value these qualities when it comes to long days retrieving on game shoots. But outside of a working context they can also make field Labs seem stubborn compared to show Labradors. But it’s simply that they find making their own decisions rather rewarding!

Field Lab owners have to make more effort to be sufficiently fun, stimulating and rewarding, that their dog will always be more interested in looking to them for cues, than making up their own mind about what to do next. Which is why many people think that modern field Labs are great working dogs, but  the comparatively sedate modern show Lab makes a better family pet.

Field Labs And Field Trials

Field Labs are smart, enthusiastic and tireless. Even if they’re not going to work in the traditional sense, most owners participate in agility, scentwork, and retrieving activities with their field Lab. These give them an outlet for their energy and ability.

One of the most popular activities for working field Labs and amateur field Labs alike are field trials. Field trials replicate all the requirements of a day out on a hunt – following commands from a distance, and completing retrieves on land and from water, under different levels of distraction. They’re co-ordinated and judged by kennel clubs. Dogs who enjoy success in several field trials can earn titles to include alongside their name on the kennel club’s pedigree record.

U.S. Field Labrador Titles

U.S. field Labrador titles are awarded by the American Kennel Club (AKC). There are two possible titles to work towards: Field Champion and Amateur Field Trial Champion. Labs with these titles can have the prefix FC or AFC placed before their name on their pedigree.

U.K. Field Labrador Titles

In the UK the only field trial title is Field Trial Champion. Dogs with field trial champion status can have the letters FTCh placed by their name on their Kennel Club pedigree. In theory, it’s also possible for working Labs in the U.K. to hold the title of Dual Champion (DC). This is automatically awarded to dogs who achieve both Field Trial Champion and Show Champion Titles. However, the difference between field- and show-type Labradors is now so great that it’s been many decades since one held the title of Dual Champion.

Alternatives To The U.K. Field Trial Champion Title

If you’re looking for a litter of working Labs in the U.K., you might also come across dogs described as FTW. This stands for Field Trial Winner. It’s not an official title, but it indicates that a dog has completed some of the milestones on the way to becoming a Field Trial Champion.

UK field Labs can also take part in gundog working tests organized by The Gundog Club. These graded tests are a fun way for working and non-working Labs to develop the skills they were bred for and have fun together. Certificates from these tests aren’t entered on a dog’s pedigree. But they’re an enjoyable entry point to field trials for people with Labradors from working lines.

Australian Field Labrador Titles

In Australia, the field Labrador titles are Novice Retrieving Ability, and Open Retriever Ability. These titles are earned by completing the relevant Retrieving Ability Test For Gundogs, administered by the Australian National Kennel Council.

The Significance Of Field Labrador Titles

Field titles are an indicator of excellent field work in retriever breeds. Labradors don’t have to be field Labs to secure them – English or show type Labs can work towards them too. The judging criteria are intended to cover innate qualities of well-bred working retrievers, and learned abilities of well trained dogs and accomplished handlers.

If you’re looking for a field Labrador because you want to work with them, or participate in field trials yourself, then looking for litters with field trial champion parents is a good way to set yourself up for success. Even as an amateur, if you catch the field trial bug, putting yourself forward for titles is a fun way to challenge yourself and celebrate you and your Lab’s progress. But it doesn’t matter if you ultimately choose to enjoy the training, but forego the assessments.

Earning Field Labrador Titles

If field trials are something you’re interested in doing with your Lab, visit your regional kennel club website and look for local events to attend as a spectator first.

field labrador

Organisers are usually happy and enthusiastic to show you what they’re all about and encourage new people to get involved! Kennel Clubs also run training courses to prepare new competitors for what to expect. Don’t forget that in the U.K. the Gundog Club is also a great place to start learning these skills. Your trainer will help you judge when you’re ready to start entering field trials.

Field Labradors – Summary

Field Labrador is simply another term for an American or working type Lab. Unsurprisingly, field Labs are best known for their field work, but field Labs and show Labs can both participate in gundog training, and both compete for field titles. These activities are fun ways to engage a Labrador in the kind of work he was bred for. He gets the satisfaction of doing what he was meant to do, and you get the pleasure of watching him at his finest!

Do You Have A Field Labrador?

Do they hold any field titles, or have you considered working towards them? Let us know in the comments box down below!

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson

References And Further Resources

American Kennel Club

The Kennel Club

The Australian National Kennel Council

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

17 COMMENTS

  1. My boy was 9 mos when I adopted him and he will be 8 soon and he is more energetic now than ever. He looks like an otter when he swims. He keeps me young!!!

  2. Field labs are so beautiful and elegant and so full of fun and energy….we are lucky to have a young one ( 1 1/2 years who is black ) and an older one ( 8yrs. old who is a chocolate.) They have the run of the yard and the house, the furniture and the bed ( we bought a king bed when we got Willow so there would be room for all 4 of us ). We would not have it any other way. Just Joy!

  3. My Yeller was a fantastic Field Lab. The breeder I bought him from nearly begged me to let him train Yeller for trials. I wanted no part of it. I wanted to train him as a gun dog…period. Yeller was a fantastic hunting partner! I think people should work them however they choose, as long as they honor the dog by working them. If you’re not a hunter, trials are a great way to work their friend. Work them however you want, but work them. You won’t regret it!

  4. I love field Labs. They are eager to please and train easily. My field labs have titles in Freestyle dance, draft work, water rescue, agility,3venues of dock diving, rally, scent work, barn hunt, tricks, fast CAT, CGC and are calm and sweet enough to put their Therapy Dog Certification to work helping children learn to read. A Lab can do almost anything.

  5. I like English/American cross Labs. I haven’t owned one personally, but after spending an extended amount of time with two of them owned by my cousin, I think they’re the perfect blend of athleticism, hard-working without being obsessive, good health, good looks, and a reliable temperament that can work well for a variety of families.

  6. Love our field labs. Beautiful looks, loving and yes VERY high energy. I’d say a tad on the stubborn side for sure. Their intelligence can be both great and a struggle. These beautiful dogs need a lot of room to run and are not for the faint of heart. Never had better dogs though.

  7. I’d never considered an English lab as just a show lab. I thought they were breed differently because of the different hunting style in England.

  8. ” than one that will bring the bird back in one minute but is so wound up he eats the table legs”

    My first hunt lab was somewhat frantic but she could hunt and would bring back a pheasant
    cradled in her mouth as if it was a newborn baby. She absolutely loved birds & hunting. She’d
    sit in my kitchen gently holding a duck in her mouth for 15+ minutes. She’d also hold an egg in
    her mouth 15-20 minutes without cracking it. She was wonderful in our house and never chewed
    anything except her toys. All my dogs (6 total to date over 20 years now) have been better behaved
    in the house than my husband!

    So I believe it’s all in the training, the love and the bonding, isn’t it?

    Reply

  9. “Field labs being bred away from the breed standard”? Not any more than show labs are. Go look at any historic photographs of Labradors from the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, 1950s etc. and you will see those dogs looked almost exactly like “field labs” do today — lean, athletic, slim face, long muzzle, less pronounced stop, leg length:depth of chest ratio 1:1. Even show Labs in the mid 20th century were beautifully proportioned and healthy looking, although slightly less rangy than working labs. The current fad in the Labrador show dog industry is towards a dog who looks like it has the FD2 dwarfism gene — incredibly short legs, thick neck, short tail, heavy shedding, overweight, barely able to retrieve a ball much less hunt a bird in the field. Show labs today look nothing like Labradors have traditionally looked.

    Of course, a field lab isn’t a good option for a family pet unless you live on a big piece of property and can give your dog a job. They are elite professional athletes of the dog world and will shred your home if they aren’t fetching or swimming or hunting or running free for 4-5 hours a day. The ideal Lab to me is one who can do the job for which it’s bred but also has an off-switch.

    • An off switch! That’s what we are missing in our youngest. She is 1 1/2 years old and when she is on she is ON!
      Right now she is napping behind me but her tail is wagging and hitting the floor,,,,so many good dreams.
      Our older one 8, is so laid back we were spoiled…….
      But, they are both so much fun, and get along really well.
      Lucky us.

  10. I am sorry to say that I find this quite misleading. Certainly show dogs are very different from working dogs, but to pretend that American Labs are working dogs and British Labs are show dogs is insanity. I have owned many of both. A Field Trial Winner from the UK can be just as accomplished in the field as ANY American dog, and they usually are much calmer, better pets. It is all what one is bred for. The American dog is bred for speed, endurance and “go get it”, just like most things American. The English dogs are bred for calmness, without any lack of hunting ability or eagerness. Personally I am happier with a dog that takes two minutes to bring back a long retrieve but is calm in front of the fire, than one that will bring the bird back in one minute but is so wound up he eats the table legs.

  11. I adopted my field Labrador from the animal resource center here in Dayton. I was looking for a replacement for my retiring mobility dog. I estimated his age around 3 because he had not started really filling out much.
    A year later, he is a bit stockier now, his ribs seemed to have sprung and he has put on a good amount of muscle now. He is learning new tasks very quickly, he is already public access tried and true. I could not ask for a better partner.

    • Thank you for saying this. My field lab is training to be a service dog and this site scares me half to death! Reading your comment makes me believe that he and I will be fine.

  12. I adopted a Black Field Lab, no pedigree, from Leader Dog for the Blind at the end of 2009. He’s story is amazing. He was adopted by LDB at 2 years old and flow through their program in 4 months and was leading a person around for a month, but that person wasn’t a good person. My Lab quit his job, not one trainer could get him to work again. So, they put him up for adoption. This is when we because family. I learn what a field lab is by reading about two different field lab breeders, comparing picture, size, temperament, etc., to my Lab. I came to the conclusion he is very well bread. I would be surprised if he came from one of those breeders. I just don’t have the pedigree. He is an incredible dog, that fits all that is written about field Labs.

  13. I have a Chocolate Lab with yellow eyes. No pedigree or anything but has all the characteristics of a Field Lab but shorter legs. She is smart & was so easy to train…we didnt’t have to use treats just positive reinforcement. She loves the bush and especially the water & such a joy to be around. I came across your website & enjoyed it. That was why I wanted to share about Coco – Thank you for all the information.

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