If you’ve been interested in getting a Labrador dog, and have looked into the different kinds of Labs, you’ve probably come across the terms “American Type Labrador”, or “American Lab”, and “English Type Labrador”, or “English Lab.” These are terms that are commonly used to describe the difference between English and American Labs.
What exactly do these terms mean? How did they become common? Is there really that much of a difference between English labs and American labs, or is it merely to indicate the country that they were bred in? The distinction is not an official breed standard; it is not officially acknowledged by organizations such as the American Kennel Club. It is however almost universally recognized. There are indeed visual and distinct behavioral differences between American Labs and English Labs.
No matter which type of Labrador you find is right for you, however, Labs are well known for their infectious energy, their loyalty, and their sweet disposition. Whether they are yellow, chocolate, black, or red, Labs make great family pets, as well as great hunting companions. It all depends on your lifestyle and which activities you would like your dog to join you in. As you conduct research, make sure you are also study what kind of nutrition either American or English Labs need, and be aware of the health conditions that they may be prone to.
The History of Labradors
The original Labrador Retriever that both the American and English types derive from was neither English nor American. The breed actually originated in Canada’s Newfoundland. There, the dog helped fishermen pull nets and chased after fish that escaped from fishing lines. The breed was always intended to be a companion and to aid its owners in their daily activities.
English colonial officials saw the dog’s ability to work in cold environments and in water, and they were impressed by its hunting and chasing abilities, as well as its loyalty and companionship. They took dogs back to England, where the dogs encountered a great deal of patronization.
While the dogs were refined and developed through interbreeding with spaniels and setters in Europe, Labs in Canada were bred with other retrievers. In the early 19th century, Labradors were introduced to America, and a new subtype emerged as people bred them to be hunting companions. They quickly became popular hunting dogs in America, while they became family pets in England.
The General Difference Between English and American Labs
The English and American types of Labradors are generally distinguished according to their breeding purposes. English Labs are typically bred for show and are known as conformation dogs. American Labs are typically bred for hunting and are known as field dogs. This follows the history of the breed.
Labs bred for show have become known as English type Labradors, because they are very common in the United Kingdom. American Labs have gained their namesake because they tend to be more common within the United States.
Of course, there are English Labs who help with hunting, and there are American Labs bred for show; the breeds are interchangeable, which is why the difference hasn’t been officially made standard. The terms “American” and “English” aren’t absolute or strict, and instead should be used as a guide for the probable type of Lab you have or are looking for. Keep in mind that there are always exceptions.
In general, no matter what type of Lab you have, the breed tends to be friendly, affectionate, and playful. They are known to have good natures and to make great companions, whether you need a hunting partner or want a show dog. They are also popular as service dogs and are very loyal.
Are the Official Breed Standards Different?
Officially, no national registry or parent club recognizes a difference between American and English Labradors. These include the UK Kennel Club and the American Kennel Club. They simply don’t differentiate; there is one Labrador breed standard, and that’s it. To these registries and clubs, there is simply the “Labrador Retriever” (Cannis familiaris).
The difference between American and English Labs is regarded more as a distinction of subtypes. However, official organizations agree and allow that there is a difference in the height between the American and English breed standards:
- The American breed standard allows a height of 21.5 to 24.5 inches
- The English breed standard allows a height of 21.5 to 22.5 inches
This allowance recognizes that American Labs do tend to be taller and have longer legs. With the exception of this difference, the two Lab breed standards are essentially the same, and officially, they are the same dog. So why do people tend to distinguish the two types anyway?
Reasons for the Difference Between English and American Labs
The reason for the difference between English and American labs is due to decades of specialized breeding. American Labs are selectively bred for their working abilities, and Labradors who have higher energy and a more athletic, slimmer build are favored. English Labs are bred for show and are selected for their looks and temperament alone.
In the past, conformation and working ability were equally important, and the dogs were bred for both. Many breeders aimed to achieve a prestigious “double champion,” a dog that would win in both the ring and out in the field during competitions.
Over time, the two disciplines have become very specialized and competitive. Double champions have become more and more rare, leading breeders to concentrate on just one area in order to achieve any success. This is what has led to the separation of the two distinct types of Labs. The trend is likely to continue, and in the future, the differences may become more pronounced to the point where official organizations may eventually accept that there is a distinct separation.
A Visual Difference Between English and American Labs
Although the breed standards are the same, the visual difference between English and American Labs is especially noticeable if they stand side by side; visually, there are obvious and startling differences.
Since English Labs are bred for conformation rather than hunting, they are closer to the official breed standard than the American type, and are more of what a “typical” Lab would look like. Compared to their counterpart, English Labs have:
- A shorter body
- Shorter legs; therefore, they don’t stand as tall
- A wider, thicker, and straighter tail
- A coat that is noticeably thicker
- A thicker and more powerful-looking neck
- A wider head with a more pronounced stop
- A fuller face and shorter muzzle
Generally, English Labs look more substantial and are blockier and bigger. They’re built with barrel chests and have a heavier, more solid look about them.
Due to their breeding for hunting and being in the field, American Labs tend to have lighter, slimmer bodies and to have more athletic builds. They are lithe and finer boned, look more agile, and are ready for anything. Compared to the English type, American Labs tend to have:
- A head that’s not as wide and is narrower, with a more streamlined and longer muzzle
- A thinner coat
- A thinner and longer neck
- A tail that is thinner, longer, and curlier
- Longer legs and a longer body, which lends to their look of athleticism
Since American Labs are bred for working ability, breeders don’t aim for the breed standard. This is why the English type is closer to the standards.
Difference Between English and American Labs: A Look at Temperament and Disposition
Generally speaking, there is a difference not only in the look of American and English Labs, but also in their disposition, energy levels, and temperament. Keep in mind that this is not always true and there are always exceptions.
Regardless of type, both American and English Labradors are loving, affectionate, and have a large desire to please their owners. They are all highly intelligent as well. No matter which type you choose to include in your own life, you will end up with a dog that is naturally very kind, bold, and loving without any hint of aggression.
American Lab Temperament
Since they’re bred for work and for hunting, American Labs tend to:
- Have a higher energy level
- Have more “drive”
- Are always on the go
- Are noticeably more active
- Are more high-strung
- Are more headstrong
- Require more experienced and strong-in-character owners who achieve control
American Labs are this way because higher energy levels are required for a dog who works all day, and has tough demands placed on them. Their higher energy levels do make them more high-strung, because they are always active and need constant attention, as well as a large amount of exercise. These dogs don’t just want a walk; they need to run in fields, go on hikes, and swim. Ultimately, American Labs are more suitable for hunting and working than for a life as a relaxed family pet.
If you are looking for a dog that was especially bred to be a successful working dog, the American Lab is perfect. They have boundless energy and the stamina to match their strong minds and adventurous attitudes. These dogs were bred for high drive and physical performance. If you need a hunting partner, want a dog to match your active outdoor lifestyle, or you want to begin to be involved in field trial competitions, American Labs are the dog for you.
English Lab Temperament
In general, the English type of Labrador is considered to be a calmer, less active, and quieter Lab. These characteristics come naturally. This type tends to:
- Have a lower energy level
- Be content with hanging out at home all day
- Are noticeably less active
- Have sweet and mellow temperaments
- Less high-strung
- Less headstrong
- Owners don’t need to be as experienced or in control
English Labs are sweet and mellow and are considered easier to train and live with, especially for owners who may not be as active or as able to take their dogs on hikes. If a mellow family pet is what you’d like, or you’re looking for a dog that can be more of a sweet friend, the English lab may be more suitable.
Or, if you wish to go into breeding or want your dog to compete in conformation shows, English Labs are bred to match the looks and temperament of the official breed standard. They are calm, eager to please, and easy to train.
Nutrition for Labs
Whether American or English, Labradors are friendly, devoted, loyal, and playful. They also have lots of energy—the American type especially. To take care of your Lab no matter the type, it is important that they’re getting the nutrients they need. By giving your Lab great dog food that contains the right ingredients, you can help extend their lives and ensure that they are consistently at their best health.
When purchasing either wet or dry food for Labradors (they will eat up both varieties), look for ingredients that include:
- Meat as a leading ingredient
- High-quality protein
L-Carnitine and protein will help your Lab develop and maintain the lean muscles they need if they hunt with you or are very physically active. EPA, chondroitin, and glucosamine help maintain healthy joint function and overall mobility, which also play into their energy and working abilities.
Having meat listed as a leading ingredient will help ensure that your Lab is getting the protein and fuel they need. Ingredients in pet food are listed in order of the percentage of the food they make up, so if meat is near the top, you know you are getting protein-packed food. Also look for wheat and grains among the top ingredients.
No matter what type of food you buy, look for at least 20% protein and no less than 10% and 3% fiber for adult dogs. This will help your Labrador continue to be a happy and healthy dog with boundless energy, and they won’t be weighed down by their meals.
Difference Between English and American Labs: The Importance of Protein for Both Breeds
If dogs do not get an adequate amount of protein in their diets, they typically become \ unhealthy. Labs especially need meat to thrive, and without this substantial source of protein they may become overweight, have itchy and flaky skin, or have brittle coats. Their energy level will become very low, which will negatively impact American type Labs especially. Their resistance to infection will decrease, and it’s important for English types to be healthy as they enter shows.
It is easy to allow your dog to consume a grain-based diet because those foods are cheaper. Grains are important, as they provide the carbohydrates all dogs need, but just as you ensure a balanced diet for yourself, ensure a balanced diet for your pet. While protein-based meals are more expensive, the money will be worth it for your Lab. Find a dog food your Lab enjoys, and make sure it contains meat and meat by-products.
If your Lab is puppy, it is also ideal to feed them an adult formula, as most Lab puppies don’t need the extra fat that is found in many puppy formulas. This can be unique, so keep it in mind if you end up getting or adopting a younger Labrador.
Specific Health Concerns for Labs
Like all dogs, Labradors have their own set of challenges that come with their specific breed. Labs have specific nutritional requirements that will help keep them happy and healthy. Owners should spend some time to conduct research and select the right food.
There are also certain health conditions you should watch out for, but if you make sure they are meeting their nutrition needs, your dog will keep feeling and performing at their best. The health conditions that Labradors are prone to include:
- Weight gain
- Upset stomachs
- Hip Dysplasia
- Joint inflammation
As a larger breed of dogs, Labs are prone to weight gain and joint inflammation. When they gain weight, it can be difficult to lose, and difficult to shed hair. You don’t want to leave your Lab feeling hungry, so feed them a diet that has a mix of low fat and mid to high levels of protein, as well as carbohydrates. This mix will give them full bellies while also helping maintain their energy.
A great diet can also help your Lab when it comes to their joints. Adding extra glucosamine and chondroitin can help prevent joint damage. If your Lab is a little overweight or spends all day running around, make sure that their meals include these.
How Often to Feed Your Lab
Since Labradors have so much energy, regardless of whether they are of the American or the English type, it can be difficult to provide them with sufficient nutrients. A proper amount of fat can be a great source of energy, and you can balance a low amount of fat with high protein. No matter what exactly constitutes their meals, it is recommended that you feed your Lab twice a day.
The meals for your English or American Labrador should be in smaller portions. If your Lab has been helping you hunt all day, it’s perfectly fine to feed them small meals throughout the day, if you feel they’re expending more energy than normal. Since Labs are prone to weight gain, smaller portions will help prevent them from overeating and will prevent gas from building up in their stomachs, which can lead to further health problems.
Bloating is a serious risk for many dogs and can turn life-threatening. It affects all kinds of breeds, but larger dogs with deep chests, such as Labradors, are especially at risk. Labs also tend to eat in a desperate manner, because they’ve expended so much energy and are so hungry. By feeding them smaller portions, you can get them to calm down and take a longer time to ingest their food.
Differences Between English and American Labs Concluded
Although it has not been officially accepted, the difference between English and American labs is very ingrained among dog owners. The terminology is accepted within the Labrador world in general, even if it is not yet accepted with official parent clubs or kennel clubs.
The difference between English and American labs is undeniable. The breeds look different and act different, and this is becoming more and more prevalent the further time goes on. The breeding lines for show Labs and working Labs are becoming ever more separated. Perhaps one day, the separation will be officially acknowledged.
There is a lot of debate about splitting the breed into two types, despite the differences. Some breeders who have American Labs feel that show rings no longer give their dogs the recognition they deserve, and so they resent the separation. Often, the more true to standard and calmer English labs win in the ring.
Time will tell as to whether the two types will ever be officially separated. For now, the distinction lies with owners. Depending on your lifestyle and what you want from your dog, you may choose American Labs, who are more athletic and have higher energy. If you hike, swim, or hunt, this is an excellent choice.
If you are more about looks and want a calmer dog who will relax at home with you and make a great family pet, English Labs are a good choice. They have less energy and are calmer and more docile.
No matter which type you’re leaning toward getting, make sure you also have an idea of the type of nutrition they will need. Your loving Lab will have abundant amounts of energy, so they’ll need a lot of protein. Labs are also prone to certain health conditions, such as being overweight and joint inflammation. If you prepare, you can help prevent some of these conditions, and by feeding them smaller portions, your Lab will stay in good health as they stay by your side all day.
As you make your decision, conduct research and be honest with which would fit best into your lifestyle. If you know what you want before you approach a Labrador breeder, you’re more likely to end up with a dog that you prefer and who is better suited for your needs. The distinct types can be a good guide and provide a great place to start for differentiation.