Labrador Retrievers are a loveable dog breed that have been welcomed home by millions of families. Some Lab owners describe their dog as being cuddly, a bit lazy and chunky. Other owners love how athletic, tall and lean their dog is.
If both of these dogs are Labrador Retrievers, how can they be so different?
There are two different types of Labrador: the English Lab and the American Lab
Selective breeding in different countries has created two Labrador Retrievers. Both of these Labs share the wonderful traits of being goofy, playful, and snuggly. But, these dogs are quite different in appearance and energy levels. In many ways, these dogs are so opposite they might as well be separate breeds.
Read on to see what are the top 10 differences between these two Labradors.
Table of Contents
1. Breed History
English and American Labrador Retrievers were originally bred from the Newfoundland St. John’s Water Dog. This formidable breed was a loyal, working dog that pulled heavy fish nets into fishermen’s boats in Canada in the 1800s.
Visitors from England quickly fell in love with this breed and took many back home. In England, the breed evolved into the beloved Labrador Retriever and was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1917.
Until the 1940s, everyone agreed there was only one type of Lab.
But, selective breeding slowly led to what we now recognize as the English Labrador and the American Labrador. This breeding has introduced a difference in appearance and temperament.
In England, larger, stockier Labs were bred for dog shows and occasionally game hunts. The upper class valued their calm demeanor because they were patient in large game hunts. They also had a regal quality about them so easily won dog shows.
Meanwhile in the United States, Labradors were bred for field hunting and working purposes, so they had to be leaner and more athletic. Hunting was much more widespread and popular in the United States.
The American Lab was much more powerful during canine sports and hunting trials, but not as calm and sophisticated as the English Lab. They had higher energy levels and were harder working than their English Labrador cousins.
Because of their energy, American Labs are commonly referred to as Field Labs. They are often seen hunting or working in the field. English Labs are called Bench Labs because they are more likely to sit on the sidelines and watch other dogs run around tirelessly.
2. Size Difference
The most noticeable difference between English Labs and American Labs is their size and build.
English Labradors are known for being stocky. Everything about this type of Labrador is large. They have thick, short legs to carry their giant bodies. They have a very large barrel chest that hangs low on their body. They even have a thick neck.
Their tail is also thick and straight, and is known as an otter tail because of its shape, use and size.
It is like an otter’s tail in shape and because they use their tail when swimming like an otter does.
American Labs have a much different appearance.
These dogs are leaner and taller, giving them more of an athletic build. Their faces are narrower, their muzzles are longer, and their tail is thin and may even have a slight curve to it. American Labradors look like a thinner and taller Lab.
These differences in body size were not an accident. Labrador Retriever breeders selectively bred for the body type that would best suit their dog:
- Thinner, leaner dogs are more agile and athletic, making the American Lab a great dog for field hunting.
- Rounder, plumper dogs are more easy-going and so are more suited for dignified retrieving and dog shows.
Many people mistake English Labs for just an overweight Labrador Retriever, but that is what they are supposed to look like! English Labradors were not bred to be as thin as American Labs. They are meant to have a barrel body shape.
3. Color Similarities
Yellow, black, and chocolate are the only three colors that are recognized by the American Kennel Club for Labrador Retrievers. Other colors like fox red and Silver Labs are possible, but these colors are very rare and not recognized by official kennel clubs.
It is very common to see all three colors in American Labs, but chocolate English Labs are very rare.
Typically if you see a chocolate Lab it will be an American Labrador, and not an English variation.
It is not known why there are fewer chocolate English Labradors, but there are a few theories:
- English nobility found this color less desirable so it never became popular in England.
- Dog shows had biases against chocolate Labs so breeders decided not to breed for them.
Regardless of whether you are mating American or English Labs, many breeders avoid crossing two chocolate Labs. These breeders believe that crossing two chocolate dogs could lead to significant health problems and a shorter lifespan.
The reasoning and evidence behind this idea are unclear. This is a health issue that is still being studied and investigated amongst Lab breeders. Possibly, it is because chocolate puppies inherit two recessive genes.
Some studies have been conducted to see if the color of a Labrador Retriever changes their personality. It was concluded that yellow, chocolate and black dogs all have the same mannerisms and their coat color does not change that.
4. Energy Differences
The energy levels between an English Lab and an American Lab are very different.
English Labradors are not sluggish, but they are calmer and more mellow. They tend to not be as easily excitable and have a very easy-going nature. Older owners are better suited to this type of Lab because they have a relaxed nature. They enjoy playing with toys and going for walks, but also love long cuddles and rest.
American Labs are high energy dogs. These dogs love to play fetch, run, swim, hike, and race through agility courses. These athletes are very similar in energy to Mini Australian Shepherds so they need to be exercised constantly.
Active families love American Labrador Retrievers because they have the enthusiasm and ability to keep up with their owners on long hikes and high intensity adventures.
The energy levels of both dogs are still well suited to their original purposes.
English Labs were, and still are, show dogs that were occasionally used in royal hunts to calmly retrieve fallen birds at the end of a hunt. They were instructed to have a calm personality and chaotic bursts of energy would not have been tolerated.
American Labs are quite the opposite! American hunters wanted explosive dogs that could chase down game, soar through the woods as if they were flying, and swim for hours.
American Labradors were built to work, so it is no wonder that they have a limitless source of energy. At times their endurance and stamina can be overwhelming. Although American labs have plenty of energy, they are not impossible to tire out. These dogs love a long hike during the day, a trip to the local dog park, or lengthy fetch sessions at the park. Meanwhile, the English Lab is quite happy with a moderate walk and some fetch in the backyard.
5. Breed Standard
The Kennel Club has a very detailed breed standard for the Labrador Retriever. They do not recognize a difference between American Labs and English Labs, but American individuals are often not ‘suitable’ dog shows because of their size.
According to the breed standard this is a medium sized dog with a large head, a thick otter tail and a dense coat. They should also have a deep chest and broad hindquarters. This description fits the English Lab almost perfectly.
The perfect height for a Labrador Retriever is 21.5 to 22.5 inches tall, but this was recently revised to include dogs as tall as 24.5 inches because American Labs tend to have longer legs. Dogs shorter than 21.5 inches are considered Mini Labs.
American Labs are allowed to compete in dog shows, but they are not likely to win. Their narrow head, thin tail and long legs do not fit the breed standard.
English Labs vs. American Labs are very different in height, weight and body proportions.
It has been suggested by breeders that kennel clubs should have two different breed standards for these dogs because neither of them can fit into the same category. However, kennel clubs are devoted to maintaining this breed standard among purebred Labrador Retrievers.
The Labrador Retriever breed standard is really just a description of the English Lab.
6. Breed Club Comparison
The most well-known breed club associated with the Labrador Retrievers is the Labrador Retriever Club and was established in 1931. This club is responsible for maintaining the traditional appearance and purpose of Labs. For example, many clubs strongly oppose the recognition of Silver Labradors.
Their website explicitly states that they do not identify Labradors as American or English Labs. Rather, they distinguish these dogs as working and show dogs. The Labrador Retriever Club would describe American Labradors as working dogs and English Labradors as show dogs.
They believe the terms American and English should only be used when referring to the country of origin, any other uses of the word are considered incorrect.
There are many more Labrador Retriever breed clubs associated with many places in America:
- Central California
- Golden Gate
- San Diego
- Greater Denver
- Greater Boston
All of these clubs either do not have an opinion on American vs. English Labs or believe that this identification of the breed is false.
Regardless of what official breed clubs say is correct, the terms English and American Lab are commonly used by many dog owners and rescue shelters. It is important you know the difference, especially when adopting a dog.
7. Price Difference
If you are buying a Labrador Retriever from a recognized breeder, English Labs and American Labs typically cost the same. These puppies can range from $800 to $1,200 when adopted from a reputable breeder.
There are instances where English Lab puppies may be more expensive.
English Labradors are often used as show dogs, so if your puppy has a parent with a ‘show’ bloodline, then it will be much more expensive. If you want a puppy with ‘show dog genetics’, you can expect to pay closer to $2000.
American Labs are not commonly seen in show rings, because of this you will not see American Labrador puppies that have show quality parents.
Because of their athletic build and high exercise demands it is not uncommon to find American Labs in shelters as owners struggle to tire them out. Adopting a dog is much cheaper than buying from a breeder and will likely cost $100 to $300. You can find both puppies and adults in shelters.
English Labs do not end up in shelters as often, but it is still worth looking for a rescue dog before paying a breeder a significant amount of money.
There are also lots of Lab hybrids! These are great dogs, just as great as purebreds, and you can find all sorts of Lab mixes in shelters that are cheaper and unique. The Labrabull is a type of Pitbull and Labrador cross that is one of the most loveable mixes you can commonly find in a shelter.
8. Suitability for Families
Labrador Retrievers are beloved family pets that have earned the title of most popular dog breed for 24 consecutive years. Both types of Labs are known for being extremely friendly, loving and outgoing with everyone they meet.
English Labs have a calmer disposition and are a bit more relaxed than American labs. They like to exercise and run around with their family, but also love cuddles on the couch. Because of their personality, English Labradors are best suited to relaxed families with young children.
Families with young kids love how gentle and tolerant Labs are of children.
English Labs are also well suited to older owners who are not as active. They are not as addicted to running, swimming, hiking, and other strenuous activities as the American type.
American Labs need an active family. They have a much greater stamina than English Labs and are not suited for couch potatoes.
These dogs were built to run, hunt and swim for hours and hours. They have incredible endurance and bundles of energy that needs to be burned out during the day. If you have an adventurous family that loves going on mountain road trips and hikes, the American Labrador is definitely for you.
American Labrador Retrievers still have the wonderful qualities of being gentle and patient with children. Younger families can still welcome home one of these pups… just make sure you are active.
9. Coat Differences
Both types of Labrador have a double, weatherproof coat. This coat was important to their ancestors, the Newfoundland St. John’s Water Dog. This dog needed a fur that could withstand icy waters, enabling them to keep warm and prevent ice buildup. This required a short, dense, and tight coat.
The coat differences between the English Lab and the American Lab are minimal, but still worth discussing.
English Labs have retained a dense coat and have lots of fur on their body. This dense fur adds to their hefty appearance. These dogs are better suited to heavy coats because they are not as active but need to be kept warm in cold temperatures.
American Labradors have a thinner coat. Having less fur makes them more agile while they are running and swimming. Speed and endurance are important to their active lifestyle. A dense, heavy coat would limit that.
You can tell English Labradors look a bit fluffier. When you pet them, they feel softer than an American Lab, but this difference is small. It is just a slight difference that alters their appearance and feel.
Despite the difference in density, both Labs still have that characteristic short, stiff fur along their entire body. They do not have the long coats that dogs like Golden Retrievers have, but this makes their grooming routine much simpler.
10. Grooming Comparison
One of the reasons Labrador Retrievers are so easy to care for is because their grooming routine is very simple. They do not need fancy haircuts from a professional groomer, or expensive grooming tools, all they need is brushing twice a week.
English Labs shed more than American Labs because they have a thicker, denser coat. American Labradors still shed quite heavily, but it will not be as frequent and heavy. Both Labs shed fur all year around, so invest in a good vacuum before you bring this dog home.
Both types of Labs will need monthly bathing. They love to swim, but swimming can leave a very foul stench on their fur that you will want to wash out.
If you need to bathe your Labrador more than once a month, which is likely because some cannot resist a lake or pile of mud, you will need to use warm water and sensitive, rehydrating dog shampoo. This will help to make sure you do not dry out their skin.
Their love of swimming also makes cleaning their ears a very important activity. Both Labs have floppy, large ears that make the perfect home for bacteria. If you do not regularly clean their ears, they could end up with ear infections that are quite uncomfortable.
English Lab vs. American Labrador: How To Tell The Difference
|21.5 to 22.5 inches
|21.5 to 24.5 inches
|55 to 80 pounds
|55 to 70 pounds
|Yellow, black, and chocolate (rare)
|Yellow, black, and chocolate
|Rounder and stockier
|Leaner are more athletic
|Calm and relaxed
|Limitless source of energy
|$800 to $2000
|$800 to $1200
It should now be clear when you next see a Labrador Retriever if it’s the sporty American or the stocky English Labrador.
American Labs are lean with a narrow head, long snout, and thin tail. They also tend to weigh less and can be three to four inches taller. English Labs are stocky and short with a larger head, round eyes and a thick otter tail.
Their activity levels and personalities can be quite different too.
An English Lab is calmer and more relaxed. American Labradors are likely to be jumping around with an abundance of energy!
Both types of Labrador Retrievers make wonderful pets and family dogs. But, it is important to know the difference between the two so that you can make a better decision about which best suits your lifestyle.
Less active families may not want to welcome home an American Lab and active owners may be bored by the English Lab.
Despite the kennel club’s refusal to acknowledge the difference between English and American Labs, they are quite different, but equally loveable. Let us know which Lab you have below…