Labrador Retriever

British Labrador Retriever vs American: What’s the Difference?

Reading Time: 9 minutes read

Not all Labradors within the breed are the same. Over the years, working lines and show lines have emerged. Over time, breeders have come to describe Labradors of all types as American Labrador (working line), and English Labrador (show line). You can read here the comparison between British Labrador Retriever vs American – and how they originated.

Do you want to know more about Labrador Retrievers before getting one? A good book is always an excellent idea to prepare yourself and your family for the arrival of a dog. For example, read the bestselling book ‘The Complete Labrador Handbook' by Linda Whitwam.

The Original Purpose of Use for a Labrador Retriever

All Labrador Retrievers descend from the St. Johns Dog from North America. These dogs were likely descendants of the NewFoundland dog and were used by fishermen. Today's Labrador got his love for water and retrieving from the St. John's dog.

The Labrador Retriever was first recognized as a purebred dog in 1903 and from then on it started to become one of the most popular dogs in the world. The Labrador Retriever was then mainly used by hunters as a ‘gundog', or bird dog.

They helped the hunters find and return the shot game. Despite the fact that this hunting method is not used that often anymore in the Netherlands, Labradors are still used for this.

Most Labradors still enjoy hunting with their owner and therefore hunting training. Some dog owners practice it recreationally with a dummy or other retrieving material. Others still do the real thing with a Labrador.

If you also want to practice hunting, your Labrador can join one hunters association. Here, experts can guide you and your dog so that you make good use of your Labrador's talent.

However, due to their versatility, Labradors are also great for many other dog sports!

Separation between British Labrador Retriever vs American

In the past, all Labrador Retrievers had to meet the same requirements, and it was mainly about doing their job well. The Labrador's appearance was mainly based on hunting functionality.

The Labrador had to have stamina, speed and agility. Its thick water-resistant coat, otter tail and webbed toes make the Labrador also a very good swimmer.

Some time ago it was exactly this that made a Labrador Retriever characteristic. A working, or American Labrador also won prizes at dog shows at the time.

After a while, as the hunt became less popular and the showing of dogs actually gained in popularity, there was a split between the working dogs and the show dogs. They started to look less alike.

The show dog had to meet the ideal external requirements of a Labrador Retriever. Functionality was less important, the Labrador had to have very typical external characteristics.

At dog shows, dogs with more exaggerated traits are often rewarded with more points. For example, if the head needs to be wide, the breeders will ensure that the head is as wide as possible.

This way you get a Labrador that looks as typical as possible. Hunters, however, still continued to breed their dogs for hunting and with qualities that came in handy for that.

So it's no surprise that work and show Labrador Retrievers look slightly different, and often have some different character traits.

Today we call Labradors with a sportier appearance American Labradors, and Labradors with a typically coarser show appearance English Labradors (or British Labradors).

What is an American Labrador Retriever?

American Labradors are bred for speed, agility and their willingness to work with the owner. They are energetic and masters of retrieving. Their body is usually more slender than that of English Labradors and they are often higher on their legs.

british labrador retriever vs american
Typical Working Line / American Labrador

The head of an American Labrador also looks a bit more streamlined. These working dogs have a lot of energy and they can jump well in front of a large dog. They have a great motivation to work for their owner and a strong natural retrieving instinct.

Sarah Lofgren and her team investigated many personality traits of Labrador Retrievers and found important differences between working and show Labradors.

For example, they found that the working hunting dogs demand more attention from their owners and are more enthusiastic when it comes to retrieving.

In addition, they barked less than regular house or show dogs and were less irritable. Finally, they turned out to be more trainable and showed less strange behavior.

However, every dog ​​that was used by its owner as a hunting dog belonged to the category ‘working dogs'. It is therefore also possible that there were show dogs that were used as hunting dogs. Being active with your dog can of course also ensure that it is more trainable and less irritable.

In short, with an American Labrador, you can expect to give the dog more exercise and mental stimulation to keep it happy. A Labrador Retriever from working lines is therefore perfect for the dog owner who likes to be active together a lot.

For those owners who want an easy-going quiet dog that adapts flawlessly to a quiet family life, an American Labrador might be a bit too much work.

What is an English Labrador Retriever?

English Labradors often look a bit different from American Labradors. Usually they have a somewhat rounder barrel-shaped body, shorter legs and a thick short otter tail. The head is often a bit wider.

british labrador retriever vs american
Typical Showline / English Labrador

They are often less flexible and have less stamina than their counterparts from working lines. They can also be less enthusiastic when it comes to retrieving, and are often a bit more stable and calm.

However, these are not completely predictable properties. An English Labrador can be just as good in the field as an American Labrador. Despite their slightly less streamlined body, they are often used successfully for this.

So an English Labrador can be just as energetic and enthusiastic as an American Labrador, and enjoy the real thing just as much. Being active with your Labrador will also do a Lab from show lines a lot good, so don't let that put you off.

Is an American Labrador a Good Family Dog?

As we compared English versus American Labrador Retriever above, an American Labrador can be a bit more active and demanding than an English Labrador. However, there are plenty of active families who will enjoy such a dog.

Whether a Labrador from working lines is a good fit for your family depends entirely on your own requirements and preferences. A working Labrador is better suited to families who have had a dog before and where the dog is an important part of the sentence.

Labradors like to be with you and they like to be active. This trait is even more present in American Labradors. So you have to be well prepared for this.

If you are willing to put a lot of time into training your Labrador, you do not have to be prevented from taking an American Labrador into your home.

The most important thing is to take a good look at the Labrador's parents and ask the breeder many questions about the dogs' character. Often a breeder can tell you better if his dogs could be a good fit for you and your family.

Is an English Labrador a Good Working Dog?

Also among English Labradors there is a great variation in physique and aptitude for work. Some English Labradors will not be suitable as working dogs, others will do their job just as well as a Labrador from working lines.

However, if your ultimate goal is to use your Labrador for hunting or other sports, you better go for an American Labrador. The chances are simply greater that you will find a Labrador that suits you and your requirements well.

Of course, this does not mean that an English Labrador cannot be a good hunting dog. However, it is often not a good idea to choose a Labrador from a line that does not suit your purpose.

Again, there is a lot of variation between the dogs of different breeders. And these breeders can best tell you if the dog of your choice will be a good fit for you.

Furthermore, it is of course the case that a working Labrador does not always have to be a hunting dog. A showline Labrador can be just as good a service or tracking dog. For this they often do not need an extremely lean and flexible body.

The Labrador must be obedient and eager to work with his owner. Most Labradors, whether American or English type, can do this very well.

Are There any Labradors that Do Not Belong to a Show Line or Working Line?

These Labradors are definitely there, and often these dogs are great for families. Not every breeder wants the top prize in a show, or the very best hunting dog. There is a large gray area in between.

The main goal of these, often hobby breeders, is to breed healthy breed typical Labradors. Good health and a nice character are usually more important than appearance or performance as a working dog.

However, these family dogs usually simply fall under the English Labrador type.

They simply want to breed fine, healthy family dogs that are suitable for many people. Take a good look at the puppies' parents to assess whether the character is right for you.

There are also breeders who breed Labradors without a pedigree. You do not always know for sure whether it is a real Labrador or a Labrador cross. Nevertheless, such a dog can also do well as a family dog.

However, with a breeder who breeds dogs without a pedigree, it is advisable to be extra careful. A good breeder tests dogs, even without a pedigree, for genetic eye diseases and abnormalities such as Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia.

It is also important to watch out for bread breeders. These often come with attractive prices, and you can usually pick up a puppy immediately. However, these dogs have never been tested for genetic abnormalities, and you are likely supporting animal suffering.

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