American Labrador vs. English Labrador | Explained


According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), Labradors have been the most popular dog breed for 28 years. This breed is intelligent, friendly, and very good-looking, but what are the differences between an American Labrador and an English Labrador?

American Labrador vs. English Labrador

The American Labrador is bred to be a working dog, while the English Labrador is bred to be a show dog. American Labs are taller, slimmer, and have more energy. English labradors have a stockier build, fuller face, calmer temperament, and are bred closer to the AKC breed standard.

Labrador Breeders choose to breed dogs for one of two purposes. The first, being labradors that can be field or working dogs. The second being labradors that can compete in dog show competitions. They are the same breed but much different.

There is only one type of labrador, but the decades of breeding have caused this breed to drift in two separate directions. The breed standard set by the AKC & UK Kennel club is the same, with a minor difference in height requirements. (See chart below)

Commonly Misunderstood Terminology

The phrases “American Labrador” and “English Labrador” are used mainly by people unfamiliar with the breed. The terminology you should use instead is “field labrador” when referring to an “American Labrador” and “bench labrador” when referring to the English Labrador.

This language better describes the labrador’s function since it’s only one breed, not two. Using “American” and “English” suggests two separate breeds, which there aren’t. A better way to differentiate them is by their function.

If you are talking with someone that works with this breed, using improper terminology will tell them that you are unfamiliar with the breed, which is ok. Still, it’s helpful to know the correct language.

I will be using both variations on this site. Many people who come here are unfamiliar and searching for specific terms, and it helps them find my site.

Height Differences

Remember, they are the same breed but bred for different purposes. This breed is changing from decades of breeding. The labrador is either a field (working) lab or a bench (show) lab.

The only official differences are the American Kennel Club’s height standard vs. the UK Kennel Club. Though, you’ll find that there are many more differences than this if you read below.

AKC (Male)AKC (Female)UK MaleUK Female
Height ()22 ½ – 24 ½ ins21 ½ – 23 ½ ins22 – 22 ½ ins21 ½ – 22 ins
Weight65 to 80 lbs55 to 70 lbs65 to 80 lbs55 to 70 lbs

Appearance Differences

Even though the breed standard is mostly the same for the two, there are noticeable physical characteristics that are different. The American Lab is has a slimmer and taller build, while the English Lab is bulkier, shorter, and has a fuller face. Telling the difference between the two is pretty easy once you know what to look for.

American LabradorEnglish Labrador
Height (Male)22 ½ – 24 ½ inches (M)21 ½ – 23 ½ inches (F)Slightly Taller22 – 22 ½ inches (M)21 – 22 inches (F)Slightly Shorter
Weight65 – 80 lbs (M)55 – 70 lbs (F)Same65 – 80 lbs (M)55 – 70 lbs (F)Same
Energy LevelExtremeHigh EnergyBuilt for workNot suitable for everyoneHigh, but less than American LabradorBred For ShowGood For Families
LifeSpan10 – 14 years10 – 14 years
Coat TypeThinnerThicker
Grooming DifficultyEasyModerate

American Labrador Appearance

  • The features of their head and face appear to be more narrow. Their head, skull, and face is narrower than the English Lab. This difference is noticeable if you compare them side by side. You can often tell the type of lab by looking at the face. They have a longer muzzle than the English lab.
  • Has a slimmer build when compared side by side with an English Lab. They have a leaner, more slender body. They may be bonier than their counterparts. They were designed as working dogs, have a lot of endurance, and are more active. They have an athletic build and can be compared to Elite Athletes with finely toned muscles and very little fat.
  • They have a thinner coat that tends to not get as much dirt trapped in it, making grooming a little easier.
  • They have a thinner neck that is usually longer than their counterpart.
  • They have longer legs and can stand an inch or two taller than English labs.
  • They have a thinner tail that can appear to have a curl to it at times.
  • Their athletic build makes them best for work and physical activities. They have more flexibility and agility than their counterpart.
  • It is less in line with the breed standard since breeders focus on work function and workability. They care less about appearance and temperament than English Labrador Breeders.

English Labrador Appearance

  • They have a broader head and a fuller face. You can often tell the type of labrador by looking at their facial features. They have a shorter muzzle. English labs have full faces that appear wider than the American. 
  • They have a sturdy look to them, with wider bodies. Their chests take up more mass, and it’s fuller and thicker than the American lab. They do not have an athletic look as the American has.
  • They have shorter legs that add to their sturdy look.
  • They have a thicker coat that is noticeable when compared side by side with their counterpart. This can make grooming more difficult as the coat can collect more dirt.
  • They have a thicker tail that can often be shorter. It does not have the curl that some American labradors have.
  • They have a thicker neck that is in line with their full and broad features.
  • They have a broader head and a fuller face. You can often tell the type of labrador by looking at their facial features. English labs have full faces that appear wider than the American. 
  • Their good looks make them suitable for dog shows. Their appearance is closer in line with breed standards. They are better looking in my opinion.
  • Breeders focus more on appearance and temperament. They don’t care about work performance which is not bred into them.

English Labs Are Rare In The United States

These two types of labradors have the same breed standard. They are the same breed, not different, so they have many similarities. American labs are the most common in the United States, while the English Labs are the most common in the UK. 

If someone in the U.S. says that they have an English labrador, ask them where they got it. There is a good chance it’s not an English labrador. There is a good chance they got it from a pet store or a backyard breeder that sold it to them as if it was one. 

English Labradors are rare in the United States. The people that have them, not always, but usually purchase from a Breeder in the United Kingdom. I work with English Labradors and know where their owners acquired them. There may be some breeders in the States but not as much as in the U.K.

Temperament & Activity Level

I’ve worked with both American (field) labs and English (bench) labs. I can tell you from experience that there can be quite a difference between the two besides just appearance. 

If you are considering getting one, you should consider their different energy levels and personalities. They are the most popular breed of dog in the U.S. but aren’t suited for specific lifestyles.

American Labrador Temperament

Field labs (American) can have more energy and be higher maintenance. They aren’t suitable for people who live inactive lifestyles. They have extreme energy demands that require a lot of daily exercises.

Their high energy is like octane, bred into them as they’ve been bred to be working dogs.

  • They have extreme energy. I like to call it octane energy, bred to have high amounts of energy to get them through their tasks as working dogs. If they don’t get enough exercise, they can become highly anxious.
  • They have a strong work drive and constantly want to be doing something active, from walks to playing fetch. They have high-energy demands and can misbehave if those demands aren’t met.
  • A study showed that working labs had higher scores for fetching tendency and trainability than their bench counterparts.
  • They can be high-strung.
  • Less independent and may develop stronger bonds with their owners
  • They can be stubborn and refuse to obey commands if something interesting catches their attention.
  • They are good pets for many people but a wrong choice for some.

English Labrador Temperament

Bench labs are bred not only for their physical features but their temperament. They match the breed standard as close as possible. Generally, a show lab (English Labrador) is much calmer than a field lab (American Labrador). 

The bench (English) lab can be more calm and collected. They can be high energy but not as much as the American. Many English labs have soft and gentle personalities that make them suitable as show dogs and even therapy dogs. 

  • They are calmer. This is the biggest difference, in my opinion. It affects their trainability and helps them to focus better.
  • They are more independent than the American. When dogs compete in shows, they are trained not to seek affection from people unless given permission. Dogs that walk up to judges in dog shows score lesser points, so this is not a quality good for a show dog. That’s not to say they can’t be affectionate. They are just more independent at times.
  • They can make better therapy dogs. Even though they can be more independent, their calm and gentle manner is more suitable in settings where a therapy dog is needed.
  • Some people think they make better family pets than American Labs. The reason being that they can be more gentle and less of a challenge to deal with as far as energy level goes.

Similarities

I love Labradors. I think they’re one of the best breeds out there. There is a reason they are the #1 most popular dog breed, according to the AKC. They make lovely family pets, especially active families that can give them lots of love.

Most of the standard Labrador personality traits will apply to both types. The differences I listed above are noticeable, but when compared to other breeds, both types of labradors have consistent characteristics that make them good pets.

I’ve observed English labs to be more independent than American labs. Still, that’s not to say there aren’t American labs that are more independent than English labs. 

Much of their personality and temperament will depend on how they are trained. Traumatic situations and improper training can produce negative personality traits that aren’t typical. This is important to understand, especially if your lab was adopted from a shelter.

  • Both types of Labradors are intelligent. They are quick to learn new tricks, but their high energy can sometimes distract them. So it’s best to exercise them before training.
  • Both types of Labradors are kind. They are high energy, but they love attention. They need social interaction and thrive in environments where lots of attention is given. 
  • They love people. This makes them popular as service animals. They are frequently used as therapy dogs too. It’s common to see labradors helping people with disabilities or visiting kids in children’s hospitals. This breed does not make a good guard dog.
  • Both types need at least an hour of exercise every day. A walk, tug of war, swimming, and playing fetch are things that both breeds love to do. Though, some English labs don’t like to fetch at all.
  • Both types of Labradors respond well to positive reinforcement training. There are different training methods but lavishing affection, praise, and treats when a labrador obeys a command or learns a new trick works well.
  • Both labradors can be kid-friendly but need to be careful around small children. This isn’t due to aggression but because they tend to be hyperactive. They may not understand they need to be calm around small children, but this can be taught when the Lab is young but requires patience.
  • Both Labradors have the tendency to bark frequently. They are not shy when it comes to voicing their opinions. They can be an emotional breed, which shows in the amount of barking they can do. If they are unhappy, they will be sure to let you know.

Common Health issues

Each breed has specific health issues associated with it, including labradors. Health problems are most common in labs from puppy stores, puppy mills, backyard breeders, and animal shelters. The lab has less chance of having a health problem if he comes from a good breeder.

Responsible breeders only breed their healthiest dogs. They make sure any dog that shows health problems is spayed or neutered and unable to breed. They do this because they want to produce the highest quality pups and keep the breed standard healthy.

If you are going to buy a labrador, please buy one from an established breeder. I know it can be more expensive, but if they are healthier, they will live longer, and you’ll have much more time to spend with your dog. It’s worth the extra expense.

  • Hip Dysplasia
    • This orthopedic condition makes it painful for a dog to walk and go up or downstairs.
    • It’s a genetic issue caused by the lab being born with an abnormal hip joint. This leads to there being an irregularity in the placement of the thigh bone into the hip socket.
    • In some cases, it can be treated by surgery.
    • In cases where surgery is not an option, it can be managed by pain medication.
  • Elbow Dysplasia
    • This is also an orthopedic condition. It can make it painful to walk, but the pain is isolated to the elbow joint.
    • It’s a genetic defect caused by the lab being born with an abnormal elbow joint.
    • Can be painful and treated with surgery (in some cases) or managed with pain medication/
  • Exercise-Induced Collapse (EIC).
    • Loss of muscle control that occurs from too much physical exertion
    • Causes the Labrador to collapse suddenly
    • This happens when a labrador is overworked or unintentionally exhausts himself.
  • Eye Disease
    • Cataracts 
      • Progressive Retinal Atrophy
    • Usually not a problem until later in life
    • The labrador will begin to bump into corners and objects when it becomes a problem.
  • Epilepsy
    • A disease that is characterized by the presence of recurrent, unprovoked, seizures caused by abnormalities in the brain.
    • It’s the most common neurological disorder in dogs.
    • A study in Switzerland found that male labradors have higher rates of epilepsy than females.

Study Finds Chocolate Labradors To Be More Fearful Of Noise

Do you have a chocolate lab or thinking of getting one? A study found that chocolate labs tend to become more agitated when ignored. Chocolate labs also showed lower trainability and higher noise-induced fears.

I love chocolate labradors, and I have experience with them too. I haven’t noticed this to be true, but I thought it was interesting. If you have a lab and agree or disagree with what the study found, let us know in the comments section.

Are English or American Labs Better?

Wondering which labrador is best? Well, both breeds are wonderful. It’s not that one is better but that they are both bred for different reasons. 

It depends on what you are looking for. If you want a show dog (to compete) or a working dog (like for hunting), then you should choose one over the other. If you want a pet, I think both are good.

Some people will tell you that English Labradors are better suited as pets, but that’s not what the statistics say. The number one dog breed in the United States is the Labrador Retriever. The American Labrador is the most common type living in the U.S.

English Labradors can have calmer personalities and generally be more “chill.” If I were to get a labrador, I’d go with the English Lab, or “bench lab,” but that isn’t to say that American labs aren’t good pets.

If I needed a hunting dog, I’d get an American Lab for sure. If I were into showing dogs, which I’m not, I’d get an English Lab. Both are good. 

Are English or American Labs Bigger?

Each breed is built differently. Generally, English labs are bigger, bulkier. They have more mass, but they can be an inch or two shorter than Americans. English Labradors are sturdy in appearance. They have full-featured faces, chests, and bodies.

The American lab is taller than the English lab but is also more slender. They have an athletic build that makes them more agile. They are thinner and not as thick. They are a bit bonier but similar to elite athletes who have toned muscles and a low-fat percentage.

Which Lab is the smartest?

They are both brilliant, but English labs might learn faster because they aren’t as high-strung as American labs can be. It’s not that one is smarter than the other, but that one has more energy needs. 

English labs can be more calm and collected, which can help them focus better than their counterparts.

American labs can have extreme energy that can distract them and make it more challenging to teach them things. It’s not that they aren’t intelligent but have more energy.

American Labrador vs. English Labrador

So, Is there a difference between a labrador and a labrador retriever? Hopefully, by now, you have a good understanding and understand that there is only one breed of a labrador. Due to the breed’s two functions, breeders have gotten further away from the breed standard, which they both share.

Andrew Sharpe

Andrew

I am a dog trainer and passionate about canine health and behavior problems. I train dogs of all ages but specialize in training dogs with behavioral issues such as aggression or anxiety. My favorite part of my job is watching the transformation that takes place when an owner starts to understand their pet’s needs and how to meet them.

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