It’s important to note that in this comparison, the types of Labs we are referring to are the “bench” lab and the “field lab.” They are often times referred to as the “American or English” by people that aren’t involved with the breed. There is only one “labrador” breed, and the both the field & bench labs are bred across the world, but most commonly in the US and the UK.
It’s also important to know that while we can make generalizations based on experience, every single dog can be different based on their own individual personalities. No two dogs are the same, but there are some generalizations we can make about the labrador types based on how they are bred.
The English Labrador is more of a term for show, or conformation Labradors, whereas the American Labrador is a term for working Labradors. Ultimately these labels are a result of years of specialized breeding dependent on what purpose you wanted your Labrador to serve.
They differ in their looks, generally the English Labrador is shorter and stockier, and the American Labrador is taller and more athletic. The English is calmer in his temperament, and the American is much more energetic. Generally, they are similar in every other way.
Breed Comparison Chart
21.5 – 23.5 inches (F)
21.5 – 23.5 inches (F)
55 – 70 pounds (F)
55 – 70 pounds (F)
English Labrador vs. American Labrador History
To confuse the matter even further, the original Labrador Retriever was neither English or American, and nor was he from Labrador!
The Labrador Retriever’s journey began in the 19th century in Newfoundland, Canada, although back then he was originally called the St. John’s dog.
The St John’s dog was originally bred as a working pooch, primarily for working on water to collect ducks, fish and many other small water creatures. He is best known as being the fisherman’s friend with a natural affinity for water.
St John’s dog rose in general popularity when visiting English nobles sailed him back to Great Britain. It was in England that they standardized, refined and renamed the breed; it is still unknown to this day why he is called Labrador Retriever and not a Newfoundland Retriever. Ever since then they have become a firm family favorite across the world.
The Canadian fisherman continued breeding him for his work abilities, and whilst the English gentleman was impressed by his work ethic, they were particularly fond of his handsome looks. It is here that the two sub-species were created and why the perfect show Labradors are known as the English Labradors, and the traditional working Labradors are known as the American Labradors.
The Labrador was first recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1917, and since then he has been one of the most popular dogs across the world. The AKC has currently ranked him as the most popular dog in America out of a huge 193 breeds and has been the reigning champion for 26 years!
The English and American Labrador differ slightly in their appearance. Although the official kennel clubs do not recognize the distinction, there is a subtle difference between the two. Both the field and bench variations of the lab typically eschew red-coated pups or silver coated dogs for competition purposes.
The breed standard as per the AKC is 21.5 to 24.5 inches tall, and 55 and 80 pounds in weight, with the females being at the lower end of the spectrum and the males being at the higher end.
The English Labrador is bred purely for show purposes, and as such they are bred to conform to Labrador standards as close as possible. They have a stockier frame compared to their American cousin, with deep barrel chests and shorter legs. Surprisingly they have thicker fur and a thicker otter tail than the working Americans. English Labradors tend to find themselves on the lower to middle end of the height spectrum, and the higher end of the weight spectrum.
The American Labrador will generally find himself within the above parameters, but is not bred for appearance, and on occasion he may not totally conform to the above standards. The American tends to be slightly taller and slender in appearance and as such he will find himself at the higher end of the height spectrum, and the lower end of the weight spectrum. He is more muscular and less chunky. He has a thinner coat, with a longer neck and longer muzzle, both of which contribute to his working abilities.
The English and the American Labrador may differ in their temperament compared to their looks, and their temperament is normally the deciding factor in regard to which type of Labrador to get if their purpose doesn’t decide it for you.
The Bench Labrador can be calmer in temperament compared to the American. The Field Lab was bred for his working ability and higher energy levels. The Field lab can be a bit bolder than the English and he enjoys a good challenge, whereas bench labs can be less active and easier to train, depending on your experience levels. . The American has more stamina and as such he is harder to tire out.
Both the Bench and Field labs enjoy a good cuddle, and they both make a great family pet and are affectionate with their family. Because of their easy going temperaments, they both love nothing more than to please their master.
The American Labrador is more active, which means they can seem harder to train because of their energy levels. Our managing editor at this site owned a field lab for 13 years, and she was a puppy until she was four years old. She was always in search of a more exiting task to undertake and would run herself ragged swimming in the pool for hours on end. When thinking of which type of lab you’d prefer, it’s important to take energy levels into consideration and make sure that regardless of the bench or field type, you give your pup plenty of outlets to exercise properly.
With all that being said, you have to remember that EVERY dog is different. In general, both the field and bench labs are both amazing family pets, and labradors in general are the #1 family dog in the United States for good reason.
The Labrador is a high energy dog, be that the English Labrador or the American Labrador. They are both originally working breeds and they will need at least 60 minutes of exercise a day, as well as playing in the garden or having a good tug of war match with their master. Don’t let their angelic face fool you, if you don’t cater to their exercise needs, they will return the favor in the form of destroying your house and damaging your homely possessions! A bored dog is a destructive dog, and this is very true of the intensely energetic Labrador.
The English Labrador, due to his show personality, may be slightly less demanding than the American Labrador, and is likely to be a bit calmer and less demanding with exercise requirements. The American Labrador will have bundles of energy which he will need to expel; if you use him as a working Labrador then this exercise will suffice, but if you don’t then you will need to invest more time exercising him compared to the English.
As they both have a working background in the water, they love to retrieve sticks or balls from the water, so if you live near a lake, or even happen to have one in your garden, this is the perfect way to physically and mentally stimulate their bodies and minds.
The Labrador is the most common breed selected as assistance dogs for the blind and search and rescue dogs amongst many other canine professions. This is because they are super intelligent and reliable! Labs are on the same intelligence level of a Golden Retriever.
The American Labrador is said to be a little harder to train than his English counterpart. This is because he is more independent and distracted when it comes to picking up commands and would rather be out fishing, and as such needs a firmer master. However, they are both very intelligent pooches and with consistent training, they will pick up commands in no time.
Early socialization is key to ensure that they grow into a well-behaved family addition, and that they are also comfortable in a variety of situations, with unfamiliar humans and animals alike. Exposing them early on to noises such as moving cars whilst walking on the sidewalk, or the hoover in the house, is a great way to ensure they are comfortable with everything. Ensuring that every experience is a positive one through positive reinforcement training makes this journey a lot more enjoyable, and of course quicker, for everyone.
The Labrador Retriever is a generally healthy dog, and as the English and American Labrador are the same breed, they share the same health problems. It is common for Labradors to develop Hip and Elbow Dysplasia, which is an abnormal formation in the elbow and hip joints, which overtime can cause painful arthritis. This is quite a common health issue in the canine world, but particularly in medium to large dogs.
He is also susceptible to vision issues such as Cataracts or Progressive Retinal Atrophy, which is the degeneration of the retina that can cause vision loss overtime.
Certain breeds, including the Labrador can suffer with Exercise Induced Collapse, which is characterized by a sudden loss of muscular control following a period of intense exercise. In rare cases the pup can die immediately, but the average episode can last up to 25 minutes. Symptoms can range from being totally unable to move, to dragging their limbs behind them whilst they are running.
As with any pup be sure to research the breed and look out for any important symptoms. If you are in any doubt, then speak to your Veterinarian. The best way to keep your pooch healthy is to keep up to date with all vaccines and attend yearly check-ups.
The Labrador, on average, will consume 3 cups of food a day. You may have to feed an Field Labrador slightly more if he is out working all day, or maybe slightly less for an English Labrador, depending on his energy levels. This truly varies by dog and activity level, no matter if it’s a bench or a field lab.
As with any dog, good quality food is an easy way to keep your dog healthy to ensure they get all the best nutrients. In addition, the food should always be age appropriate to avoid unnecessary calories. As your pup ages, it’s likely you’ll want to feed them food that’s rich in Glucosamine or Chondroitin.
The Labrador is also known for being food orientated, borderline obsessed, so make sure that you monitor their snack intake otherwise they can easily become a porky pup. Treats are great to reward good behavior or used in puzzle treat toys to keep them mentally stimulated but be sure to only award them in moderation.
The Labrador will need a bath every six weeks or so, which is the same as the average pup. This will be the same for both the English and the American Labrador. Be sure not to bath him more than every 6 weeks as you risk damaging their natural coat oils, which can cause a multitude of skin issues. If he gets dirty whilst out playing, then you can use doggy wipes and doggy perfume from your local pet store to keep them fresh.
The Labrador’s natural defense against the cold Canadian elements takes the form of a double coat and acts the same way as a wetsuit does, and as such they shed. The English and the American will need brushing once or twice a week. Their undercoats grow thick and dense in the Winter to keep them warm, and then when Spring and Summer arrive their undercoat sheds. A Labrador living in colder conditions will naturally grow a thicker coat. During shedding season, they will both need to be brushed every other day, if not every day, to keep their fur manageable.
The English and the American Labrador cost, on average, upwards of $1,200 from a reputable breeder. Expect to pay a premium if you are purchasing a bench lab that you plan to use for shows. Show dogs are bred for their parent history and lineage that will provide them with certain traits, and as such – they are more expensive.
If you would like a pup who is from a winning bloodline, be that a working bloodline or a bench bloodline, then you can expect to pay a little more, upwards of $2,000. Generally, however, there is not a significant difference in the price between the field and bench labrador – it truly depends on the breeding lines.
Whether you decide to buy a field lab or a bench lab, remember to buy him from a reputable breeder to ensure that he is a healthy pup, and not from a puppy-mill. Don’t be tempted to save a bit of money on the initial cost, because this will undoubtedly cost you thousands of dollars, if not more, on future Veterinarian bills.
There’s always the option to Rescue as well. Our managing editor had a field lab for 13 years, and she was adopted at 6 months as a rescue pup. Rescuing can be significantly more cost effective – but your pup is going to carry some baggage along that you will likely have to correct.
Overall, when comparing the English Labrador vs. the American Labrador, they are very similar, quite simply as they are the same breed. There are slight variations in their appearance and their temperament as one is a show dog, and the other is a hunter. This is not to say that the English Labrador would be useless as a hunter, and nor that the American Labrador is less handsome. They are both one of the most intelligent and friendly canines on the planet.
Regardless if you are looking at a field or bench lab, just realize that it’s the same breed. One type of lab has slightly different energy levels than the other, and is built slightly different but they are the same dog. Pup sizes and personalities can vary by dog, but overall – you can’t go wrong with either one for a family companion. Either way, whatever side of the pond your pooch comes from you are sure to have a worldwide superstar in your midst.