The Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog in America. The American Kennel Club chose the Lab as the most popular dog breed for a record 28th straight year this year. There is a reason why labs are so popular, they are friendly, fun, outgoing, active, and just adorable. But is there any difference between Labs? What is the great English Lab vs American lab debate?
Truth be told, any Labrador you will get will likely end up being a great companion. But if you are trying to answer the English Lab vs American Lab question, there are few things to consider.
What is the difference between American and English type Labrador?
The distinction between English and American Labrador is not an official one. However, the types are now almost universally recognized with distinct differences.
The main difference between the two is the purpose of breeding. For example, Labradors bred for show and conformation have become commonly known as English Lab. They are more common in the UK. On the other hand, Labradors bred for field trials and hunting have become known as American type Labrador, as they are more common in the USA.
However, there are still American Labs that enter dog shows, and English labs that compete in field trials and used for hunting. The term is not absolute and strict. It is just a useful guide for the probable type of Labrador.
There is only one Labrador breed standard, and all Labs should meet that same standard. And there is only one Labrador Retriever recognized by the American Kennel Club, UK Kennel club, and similar national registry organizations. There is no American Labrador Retriever recognized by the AKC, or English Labrador Retriever for that matter.
However, there is one slight allowable height difference between the two. The American breed standard allows height of 21 to 25 inches, while the English breed standard allows height between 21.5 and 22.5 inches.
With the exception of the height difference, these two dogs are essentially the same. Why do people say there are two types? Well, it is all because of the history of the breed.
Labradors were bred for different purposes in different countries. While their appearance is similar, if not the same, their temperament can differ. And that is because of the history and instincts of the breed.
The history of the breed dates back to the 1800s, when the Labrador history began in Newfoundland. Back then, the St. John’s dog was the traditional waterdog for retrieving ducks and other birds.
But in the 1800s, English nobles took a liking of the Retriever, and returned to England with the dog. There, they standardized the breed, refined him, and renamed him Labrador.
In the 1890s, because of crossbreeding with other Retriever dogs, the existence of the Labrador was threatened. However, thanks to the Earl of Malmesbury and the Duke of Buccleuch, the breed was saved.
The Kennel Club of England recognized the Labrador in 1903, while the American Kennel Club did the same in 1917. Both clubs do not recognize any difference between English Lab vs American Lab.
As mentioned previously, the purpose was the main difference. American Labs were bred mainly for hunting and field purposes. On the other hand, English nobility bred the Labrador retriever for dog shows.
Differences in appearance
The breed standard for both dogs is the same. However, when they are put side by side, there are slight differences between the two breeds. And that is all because of their different purpose and history. Because they were bred for show, English Labs are more close to the typical breed standard. On the other hand, American Labs are slimmer and more athletic looking, as they are breed for hunting, field jobs, and generally more active. American Labs look taller, and they have longer legs.
As mentioned previously, the standard for American Labs is between 21.5 and 24.5 inches, while English Labs are generally between 21.5 and 22.5 inches. The American lab is closer to the top range.
With that in mind, here are some differences in appearance.
English Type Labrador
- Looks more substantial with a heavier look about them
- Looks bigger built with barrel chests
- English Labs are noticeably wider and more solid looking
- They have a wider head with a more pronounced and defined stop
- English Labs have a fuller face and a shorter muzzle
- Have thicker and more powerful looking neck
- English Labs have thicker coat
- They have wider, thicker, and straighter tail
- Because of their shorter legs, they do not stand quite as tall
American Type Labrador
- Has a lighter, slimmer looking body
- Because of their more athletic build, American Labs look more agile
- Their head is not as wide as the one on the English type. For starters, the skull and face are narrower, and their muzzle more streamlined and longer
- They have a thinner and longer neck, further adding to their athletic look
- Their coat is thinner
- The tail of the American Lab is thinner and has an otter-like look, as it is longer and sometimes with a curl to the tail
- Their legs are longer, and their body is generally taller
Differences in energy level, temperament, and activity
Because of their origin and history, there are also differences in temperament and activity. Now, there are exceptions, but generally, there is a slight difference.
For starters, because the American Labrador was bred for field trials and work, he has a higher energy level and drive. They are more active, and they are always on the go. With that in mind, the American Lab also requires a lot more exercise, attention, and mental stimulation.
The American Labrador is also considered more head-strong. They have high intelligence and high energy, and require a more experienced and strong-in-character owner that can assume control and ensure proper behavior. Simply put, the American Labrador is more suited as a working dog, and less as a relaxed family pet.
On the other hand, the English Lab is the calmer and less active cousin. He is described as sweet, extremely relaxed, and quieter in nature. Also, the English Lab is easier to train, and can live with the less experienced and laid back owner. While he is still driven and can handle himself as a working dog, the English Lab is more of a family pet.