Field Labrador is another way to describe a working, or American-type, Labrador. The term field Labrador is used because these Labs are most often seen out working in the field on a hunt. And that’s where this type of Labrador is 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!
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:
- English Labradors, also known as show Labradors, or bench Labradors (after the show bench)
- and American Labradors, also known as working Labradors, or field Labradors.
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.
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!
References And Further Resources
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