Do you know the difference between English and American Labrador Retrievers?

My boy Duckie

Misty Woods Ducks on the Pond
Misty Woods Ducks on the Pond | Source
Buccleuch Nell circa 1856 (reportedly)
Buccleuch Nell circa 1856 (reportedly) | Source

American Lab

American Labrador - note the narrow eyes and nose and rounded "dome" head.
American Labrador - note the narrow eyes and nose and rounded "dome" head.

English Labrador

Compare the heavier, block head and thicker muzzle of the English Lab to the American Lab.
Compare the heavier, block head and thicker muzzle of the English Lab to the American Lab.

What? I'm bored and this table tastes good!

The Labrador Retriever is the number one dog in America in terms of registration with the AKC, or American Kennel Club. If you looked at overall numbers, you would be hard pressed to find any other breed with more dogs living in households across the country. Loving, kind, family oriented, and great with kids, they are the perfect pet. Or are they? Did you know there is a difference within the breed? A difference that could result in whether you keep your pet, or find yourself re-homing it. If you go into this little adventure well armed with a few facts, you can make it better for all concerned.

The Labrador Retriever is the all around dog. They will hunt, swim, perform search and rescue, be an assistance dog, be a drug sniffing dog, or just be your lovable dog in the house. Easily trainable, they can and indeed prefer to be a working dog. This is not the dog you want if you are a couch potato! They love to work, and they love to please their master. But not all Labs are the same, and by knowing the difference, you will prevent a possible disaster.

This breed has its beginnings not as far into the past as you might think. Although it can trace its lineage to the St. John's Water Dog of the 16th century, the actual breed by definition did not come into its own until much later. In the early 19th century, a few of the breed then known as St. John's Water Dog were brought to the Poole area of England. The more affluent people of the time who were sportsman quickly came to admire their hard working traits, and their gentle nature. The first and second Earls of Malmesbury, and the fifth and sixth Dukes of Buccleuch were the first to recognise and develop these traits, and thus created the what became the modern breed of Labrador Retriever, first recognised by the AKC in 1917.

While the first of the breed were primarily black, there were some shadings of other colors. Breeding certain types and colors together resulted in the Yellow and Chocolate phases. Along with the Black, these are the only recognised colors of Labrador. Fox, or reddish, is an offshoot of Yellow, as is the Cream, or White; and Silver is thought to be a variety of Chocolate, although the thought has been raised that possibly a Weimaraner slipped into the bloodline at some point.

Some people choose to pick their pet based solely upon the color, thinking the color will influence the behavior. I hate to burst your bubble, but this has nothing to do with it. In addition, just because you have, let's say a black dog, that does not mean that he will produce only black puppies if allowed to breed. Virtually every Lab today has recessive genes of another color other than the exterior coat shown. It is entirely possible to breed two of the same color and have the litter mixed in colors. Casual breeders should know this, and be aware of this fact if and when they decide to breed. Color of the nose and skin can play into the equation, as well. You don't want a Black Lab to come out with a Pink nose; this is cause for disqualification in the show ring.

But maybe you don't want to show your Lab; maybe you just want a pet for the kids. Okay, no sweat; but you still need to be informed. The single biggest difference I have found in close to 30 years of being around Labs is the difference in behavior of American versus English Labs. And this could be the biggest difference of all. Show Labs are primarily English Labs, and the AKC has very stringent rules as to what makes a show-worthy animal. Height, weight, coloration, length all play a factor in this. In addition, these things also have created a variance within the breed itself. AKC states they are to be 22.5" to 24.5" tall at the withers (shoulders) for males, and 21.5" to 23.5" for females; weight for males 65 to 80 pounds, and females 55 to 70 pounds. The UK (United Kennel Club) standards are even tighter, being 22" to 22.5" for males, and 21.5" to 22" for females. But just because a dog is registered AKC or UKC does not mean they meet this standard, and that is where the trouble begins. Not every person wants a dog bred for the ring; maybe they want a dog to hunt with. At some point, a second Lab appeared. The hunting variety, commonly known as the American Lab, is longer of leg, somewhat leaner, often having a more pointed nose and domed head, and it was bred to hunt. And as a result, they are longer, faster, and more "driven" - read more hyper and high strung. These have become the common Lab you see almost everywhere. And this is the dog that ends up being bought for a lesser amount of money and is expected to be just a pet. The problem is, this drive is exactly what most pet owners do not want. Drive means energy, and if you are not providing a release for that energy, you end up with a dog that chews, that runs, that barks, that drives you crazy! And you end up re-homing this dog, because you cannot handle it. The shelters are full of this type of dog; and it is a tragedy.

English Labs are calmer, sturdier, more levelheaded, and much, much easier to train. They tend to be a bit shorter in stature, meeting the AKC regulations; have a heavier build; thicker tail; and a block head. If you have never seen an English Lab, let me tell you they are beautifully put together. But, they are more expensive to buy. This type of dog is more costly in the initial investment, but you will be paid back a hundredfold by the calm and well mannered dog you will receive in return. If you go online and search, you will most likely be shocked by the apparent cost of a puppy. Don't be: although they are more expensive, they tend to be healthier, calmer, more tractable and will become all around better pets and family members. In addition, the breeders will be much more informed and better equipped to answer your questions and help you select a companion for the next 10 to 15 years.

Almost everyone can become a casual breeder; all it takes is a male and a female, preferably AKC registered, and about a year. Then, for as often as twice a year, they will produce puppies. Lots of puppies. Puppies that are cute and cuddly and lovable and just what the kids want. Until. Until they are big and strong and jumping and nipping because they are bored. Then the kids hate you because you took their dog to the pound. People, it can all be avoided. First do not become a breeder unless you truly desire to better the breed by producing quality animals. Also, know this is not an easy road to riches; any money you make you will simply be recovering what you have spent on them. This is not, I repeat not a place to make money! And lastly, be responsible: to the dogs, to the breed, to the people of the world. Do not add to the surplus population already in shelters.

First, I will advise you to not buy from a pet store; or from someone in the paper or on a sales list online. These will primarily be American Labs that come from "puppy mills". If you are a hunter, and you desire these traits, great! But I still wouldn't buy from one of these places. These dogs, I am sorry to say, have been bred to pique your interest and separate you from your money. Nothing else. Research the internet for responsible breeders who care who buys their puppies, and will offer to take the dog back should you choose to not keep it anymore.

I began with a Lab in 1982. I was making a whole $4.50 an hour back then, and a friend that I hunted with wanted to raise Labs. He had purchased a pretty little Black female, and wanted me to get a male. I searched the area, and found a man who had a litter. I knew nothing about the breed. Nothing. I went to the house and spoke with the man. He brought out the Sire, and put him through his paces. All silent, hand signals only. Throw the stick, retrieve, sit, release. He put this dog up, and brought out the Dam. Same thing. Impressive, to say the least. Then he brought out the seven puppies. Six went frolicking away, bouncing and jumping and barking. One little male strode over to the stick the man had used for showing me his Labs, picked up the stick, and came and sat in front of me as if to say "Ok, I'm ready; let's go hunting." Amazing. The price was high for the time: $150.00. Or, almost a full weeks wages at the time.

Ubar, as he came to be known, was a great Lab. Smart, quick on the picking up of training, I sometimes think he trained me more than I trained him. Then, after less than a year, he was gone; stolen right out of my back yard. I have owned a few others in the interim years, some American, some not. My current Lab is an English, born and bred, and I have traced his lineage back into the 1870's, back to the original Malmesbury and Buccleuch stock that began this journey. Back some 40 generations. My wife and I did some serious internet browsing and searching before I made the almost four hour drive to look at the puppies and their parents. Tip #2: visit the breeder and see the parents. DO NOT accept a puppy if you cannot see what the parents look like. This will give you an idea of what they will end up looking, and acting like. I visited with the parents, and viewed all of the puppies available before I made my selection. And I surprised myself. The one I liked online looking at the pictures was not the one I came home with. In person, there were differences in body and temperament that changed my mind on site. I ended up with a male whom we named Duckie, after the doctor on NCIS, my favorite show. Misty Woods Ducks On The Pond is his AKC name, and a smarter Lab I have never seen; we were 3 weeks into a 6 week puppy class before we learned anything he didn't already know. I mean, he is smart! As a matter of fact, we got into "trouble" in one class because we were so far advanced. The drill was "Sit" and "Stay". Well, I would issue the command "Sit" with only a gesture. Oh, he was three months old at the time; I had had him all of 4 weeks. After Sit, I would command "Stay" and turn my back to walk away some thirty feet before turning around and looking at him. A flick of my wrist and he came; sitting at my feet. A pat on the head, and a tidbit of a reward, and we did it over and over again. until the teacher saw I was turning loose of his leash to walk so far away. "No, no, no!" she admonished me. "You must keep hold of his leash in order to control him!" Silly me, I thought that's what I had already trained him to do: respond to the command and come when called. Problem was, the other dogs in the class weren't that advanced and it made them look bad. So sorry! (Not!)

Duckie is smart, happy, playful, and the best pet I have ever had. But he was expensive. And the breeder we purchased him from just raised their prices again this year. But, you get what you pay for. If you want what may end up being a rental, and are happy paying $150 or $200 for a few months worth of pets, fine. Don't be selective. But know you will add to the problem in the shelters all over this country, and know that far too many dogs get euthanized because their owners did not pay attention to what they were buying. But, if you pay more, say $800 and up, you just might get a pet that will make it through those first few months of trial and error, and end up making you both look good to your family and allowing you to form a lasting relationship with a quality animal that can still hunt, play, and take its place in the show ring, which has the added benefit of getting you up off your keester and out, and meeting new friends. Taken in that context, $800 may not be too much of a price to pay.

My Duckie has taken a 1st place in Best of Breed - Male and Best of Breed - Overall in a show at under 6 months of age. It was my first show, and I had no clue what I was doing; but he did. Head up, chest out, striding around the ring like he had been born to it. Which, when looking at his breeding, he was. If you take into consideration only his Father's side, there are no less than 270 champions in the ring or in the field in 10 generations. He knows what to do and he does it.

Duckie: At home in the field.
Duckie: At home in the field. | Source

I hope this little ramble has helped somebody out there make an informed decision on a pet. While it is easier to just look in the paper and see puppies for sale, oftentimes those may not make the best of pets. You have to look at yourself, your lifestyle, your family, your time you can allot to the dog, and what you are desiring in that dog. Will this be just a dog to keep in the back yard, feed once a day, throw a ball around periodically, rarely interact with? If so, you don't want a Lab. In fact, you might not need a dog at all. All too often, I think people become enamored in the idea of a dog: that faithful companion, lying by the hearth with a fire roaring, master in a chair, pipe in mouth and paper in hand. Folks, that's Norman Rockwell; not reality. Reality is jumping, barking, pooping, chewing, slobbering. But, reality is also a loving, adoring look; a smile to meet you at the door; a tail wagging ninety to nothing in sheer joy at your presence. Reality is that with wise decisions and informed choices, you will end up with a companion you will be blessed with for many years to come.

More by this Author

Comments 29 comments

billybuc profile image

billybuc 4 years ago from Olympia, WA

Very, very interesting information! I honestly did not know there were two breeds. Now that you explained it, most of the labs I have been around are English. I have never owned one, but friends have and they are wonderfully friendly dogs with a great personality.

Well done buddy; I enjoyed learning more about this breed.

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri Author

My pleasure, Sir. I find that if you write about something you enjoy and are passionate about, the words just tend to flow, don't you? It is funny how somethings are known, but not known, isn't it? Like Marley, the Lab in that movie. Hands down, that was an American Lab. High strung, hyper, driven. If more people know about this other style of Lab, more people might enjoy them a bit more. Anyway, that was my thought on it. My beautiful wife Tina inspired this hub; she said most of what I said here in the hub in hopes of helping someone out there in the world to know the difference. Thanks for the comment, my friend.

Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 4 years ago from Southern Georgia

Very informative article with good tips on owning a pet and the time it takes to raise an animal properly. Having a good pet means being a good owner as well. Labs are great dogs. Rated up!


Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri Author

Thanks, Randy. You are correct that a good pet usually means a good owner. I always believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well. Those Christmas puppies I see for sale every year just break my heart! I know that within a month or two, a good amount of them will be re-homed because they were a spur of the moment buy, with no thought given to the upkeep and requirements a pet has. Thanks for the rating; I'll take all of those I can get!

Faith A Mullen profile image

Faith A Mullen 3 years ago

Great article explaining the difference between English and American Labs, and awesome advice for those looking to buy a Lab puppy. I personally love the broad head of the English and the temperament that goes along with it!

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 3 years ago from Missouri Author

Thank you. My wife and I love the broad (and sometimes thick!) heads of the English as well. Tina searched and searched the surrrounding area for just what we wanted before finding our Duckie. He is a joy and our entire family loves him dearly.

tammy 2 years ago

Actually the correct terms are bench and field bred Labs.

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 2 years ago from Missouri Author

Yes, you are correct Tammy. Bench and Field are the correct terms, but no one (that I have seen) places ads for Lab puppies for sale using those terms, rather they use English if they are indeed Bench Labs. I wrote this for those who are not aware of the difference in temperament and activity levels between the two. The difference between the two can be the difference between a puppy kept and a puppy rehomed. I have seen far too many American (or Field) Labs that were not a good fit for some families due to the higher energy (drive) levels of this type of Lab. I firmly believe if more people were aware of the English temperament, they would pay the price for the puppy and come away with a lifetime friend and pet. Not that American Labs are inferior, simply that they require a more active owner who will hunt or work them harder than an English Lab would need. Thank you for the stop and comment and have a wonderful day!

Cara 2 years ago

Helpful article but not entirely accurate. English Labs are not more expensive, nor are they "better" as the article clearly implies. A well bred American Lab from a quality breeder will cost just as much as a well bred English Lab from a quality breeder. "Bargains" abound in both types, and are never a bargain in the long run. Yes English Labs are much calmer, but sturdier? With the current trend for shorter, heavier Labs we are seeing more hip and knee problems as well as ligament tears, I would argue that the opposite is true, a well bred field Lab is more athletic and carries much less weight with fewer issues. Do we see more American Field Labs in shelters, yes, definitely! Again, buying from a responsible breeder is key, no responsible breeder of Field Labs would ever send one to a family looking for "just a pet". I compete in agility and do search and rescue with my Field Labs and their energy and drive is key to their success. I have had both types and adored them all, neither is "better", just make sure you get the one that will fit your lifestyle and activity level.

Ashly 2 years ago

I am looking at a lab right now the dad is English and the mother is American. I'm mainly looking for a dog that I can train to be a best friend and do everything with me. I'm just wondering if that would be a good pick with both parents having a difference in the breed. So maybe he will have a little of both. I don't know!

Oscarlites profile image

Oscarlites 23 months ago from Alabama

"tundra" A lab that helped raise my daughters.. labs are wonderful. I must have missed the excitement of finding the wrong lab!

mike 20 months ago

Smartest dog I ever had.

Eleanor Hunt 20 months ago

An interesting article Mr Archer,

I thank you for the time you have allocated to this endeavour.

With regards to the specification of the lineage, e.g. American or English. I would be inclined to obtain the latter. I find they are more pleasing on the eye.

I reside within England, and therefore feel an unsupassed obligation to ensure that this particular trait remains the dominance of choice, in relation to a forthcoming purchase.

Yours sincerely

Ms Hunt.

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 20 months ago from Missouri Author

Why thank you Ms. Hunt. I too prefer the English lines, the stockier body and blocked head are beautiful in my eyes. Their demeanor is much calmer (in my opinion) as well. Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my little hub; my wife was the inspiration behind it, for she feels (as I do) that if a buyer was informed they might prefer to spend a bit more up front in order to gain a lifetime companion, rather than a "rent-a-puppy" as so often occurs. Have a wonderful day and please take care. Mike

camps1970 17 months ago

mr archer; i have a black lab she is 2 years old and 25.5 from floor to shoulder and 130 lbs she not fat and you can see the shoulder muscles and leg muscles like a boxer or a pit bill and she is very strong and smart her father was a large hunting dog, everyone who sees here can't believe she is pure bread, if she doesn't get play she will drive everyone nuts. lond story sorry but why is she so damn big and seems to be getting bigger lol thanks for and advice

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 17 months ago from Missouri Author

Thanks for the read and comment, camps. If she is a registered Lab, try to chase her lineage back. You might find another breed (Newfoundland for instance) in her heritage. 25.5" at the shoulder is huge! With that frame she can carry the 130 lbs but that is very unusual for a purebred Lab. There are several Lab sites you can check out to try to find out who she is bred from. Good luck!

PegCole17 profile image

PegCole17 14 months ago from Dallas, Texas

Retrievers make such great family pets. Your information here is very interesting as to the different types of Labradors and their history. Sorry to hear about that first pup that someone stole from your yard. How heartbreaking.

We now have a mixed breed Lab from the SPCA who is the most affectionate and calm, wonderful dog. He's larger than your specs at one hundred three pounds of sweetness. Over the years, we've had a variety of pets including flat coat Retrievers, Malamutes, Chows, Shepherd mix, and mutts. Each has its own distinct personality and quirks. One lived to be sixteen and others only until fifteen, fourteen and twelve years. Always hard to see them go.

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 14 months ago from Missouri Author

Thanks Peg. They are wonderful family members and my favorite breed of all. The specs on the breed may be what is "desired" but I know for a fact that a well put together Lab can be a comfortable 100 pound dog with no fat to speak of. My Ducky was a flat 95 lbs. at 3 and a previous Lab Muzzy was a solid 105 lbs. The vet told me he was too heavy and I asked him "Where should he take it off?" The vet had no answer because he was solid top to bottom, no fat. Take care and have a wonderful day.

Marlena 13 months ago

Your article is extremely informative. We have a male, black blockhead. Chubbz is 10 years old and looks every bit of it. Because I know he wont be around for long, I've began the process of looking to buy another one.

Here are my questions though... do the "blockheads" come in specific colors only? And also, can they come in female?

We are wanting another black blockhead and would like a female this time. She would be a family pet only: no hunting or show dog.

Thank you for any information you can provide

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 13 months ago from Missouri Author

Marlena, "blockheads" do show up in females as well. And any color phase (black, chocolate and yellow) can be "blockheads" as well. There are some great breeders out there and the trick is to get to know them. Where are you located? If you are in the middle of the country like me, touch base with Misty Woods Labradors in Alton, Mo. She is doing a great job of producing wonderful examples of the breed. Dostaff Labradors in Little Rock, Arkansas is another wonderful breeder who strives for the very best in the breed. Both of them are people I trust and know would do their best to supply a quality, lifelong companion for you. Their websites are posted on the article above. There are others but I have come to know both of these and trust them implicitly when it comes to the breed. Good Luck! And thank you for the read, stop and comment.

Marlena 13 months ago

Mr. Archer,

Thank you so much for the quick response. My family and I, are located in good ole TN. If you have any references for our area (near Knoxville, TN), please let me know. Again, thank you.

Dale 12 months ago

In response to Marlena. I'm not sure what may be wrong with your Blockhead, but Mine just turned 14 years old and still loves to play and go for long walks. Althopuh he doesn't run like he used to he is still very agile and gets around just fine. He has a bit of arthritis in his legs but otherwise is a very healthy dog. I expect mine, barring anything drastic happens to him, to be around for a couple of more years or so. I think the care, diet, and the right compliment of excercise though out their life is key to having a healthy pet and giving them longevity. ( And a whole lotta Love). I couldn't even ask for a better dog.

Mike 12 months ago

I have a BEAUTIFUL male black lab, I rescued 12 years ago when he was around 2 years old.

He'd been the SMARTEST DOG I've ever known!!!!!! He is so incredibly obedient, INTELLIGENT, well mannered, loyal and did I mention SMART?!

I really am amazed at the level of intelligence he shows, he picks up new vocabulary words that we're not even trying to teach him and he learns our habits, mannerisms and so much more with zero training.

He's not at all precocious (except when it comes to anything edible).

Anyway, he was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and we're devastated and sad to be losing such a dear companion and I know some day I will definitely want another dog in my life and we've had such incredible good fortune with Zach that I'd like to try to get a female, maybe chocolate, of the same breed. I'd like one about 2-3 months old to begin training her at an early age. We want to get the same breed that Zach is.

Trouble is, I have no idea what he is exactly.

Can you possibly share any insight based on some of his pictures.

Here are more photos of Zach on his Facebook page...

When the time comes, I'd like to find a high quality, ethical breeder (I can travel ANYWHERE) and get one different than Zach, but as similar in breed and temperament as possible.

THANK YOU all for any advice!!!!

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 10 months ago from Missouri Author

Mike I am so sorry to hear of your news regarding your dog. From the pictures I saw he is definitely a Lab. His head seems to be blockey and his nose does not appear to be too pointy so with that being said I would guess him to be from the English line. How tall is he? How heavy? Is he leggy or stocky? If he looks leggy he might might be Field or American, but if he is stocky that should indicate English or Bench. Good luck with your search!!

the problem with confirmation 7 months ago

I'm sad to see that you Labrador and your mind set are the very examples of the sad state of akc confirmation Labs. If your pup were simply muscle we would see more definition in his form, we would see a waist, and structure. Labs are not Staffordshires, they are not pure muscle. I would take a field champion Labrador over a confirmation champion anyday.

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 7 months ago from Missouri Author

I am sorry you see only the "sad state" of Confirmation. In truth, what Confirmation's aim is to maintain the pure strain and styles of a particular breed, to not allow outside impurities to infiltrate the bloodline. They are a Working Dog and as such they are intended to be muscular in appearance. In my opinion, the English style is a beautiful animal, its somewhat stockier build and appearance being directly relative to its work environment of cold, icy waters. The American style is directly linked to its work environment of field work, having developed the longer legs and increased drive needed to work afield for its owner. Both are beautiful in their own way; my intent here was to educate potential owners in what could be a disaster for a family: namely getting a cute little Lab puppy ad watching it grow into something a family can't handle due to its internal drive making it not be a possible fit for that family.

That's all I have tried to do here. Hopefully, people read this and educate themselves on their particular breed and make good choices so as to not have to re-home a pet, thus creating hard feelings all around. Take care and have a wonderful day.

pls halp 4 months ago

ummmmm...... I have looked everywhere and still have no accurate information..... there are american english and finnish labrador retrievers so i want to know which one has "shorter fur" and looks more slim

pat 4 months ago

Dear Mr. Archer. We had our dark yellow male blockhead English lab for over 12 years, he was a stray who was wonderful and gorgeous...we live in New Hampshire again, can you recommend a breeder to us?

Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 4 months ago from Missouri Author

Pat, unfortunately I do not know anyone from New Hampshire but do know Jenny Helmstetter in New Windsor, Maryland at Lazy Lane Labradors; you might give her a look. Good luck to you!

And pls hlp, I am unaware of a "Finnish" Lab but as for shorter fur the Lab should have a short, dense coat that grows longer (slightly) during cold weather but normally it is roughly 1 to 1 1/2 inches or so. Hope this helps. Good luck.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article