Side-by-Side: The Difference Between English & American Labrador Retrievers


image of english labrador standing in the water

Labrador Retrievers are one of the best breeds of dogs on earth! They’re fun, funny, friendly, intelligent, dependable, outgoing, and totally loving.

For the 28th year in a row, Labradors have claimed America’s heart as the most popular dog in the United States. With a strong desire to please whoever they’re with, Labradors are a joy to have in your home and they’re bound to be your family’s companion for life.

Today we’re going to explore the history of Labradors and shed some light on the differences between English and American Labrador Retrievers.

A Little Backstory on Labrador Retrievers

With a name like “Labrador,” you may think this dog breed comes from Labrador (Canada), but the breed actually originated in Newfoundland in the 1500s. Smaller water dogs were bred with Newfoundlands, those large, strong working dogs known for pulling wood from the forest. Those puppies, known as the “St. John’s Water Dog” (or “Lesser Newfoundland”), became known as the dogs that would plunge into the icy water and help fisherman bring in nets of fish or swim back to shore those fish that had almost gotten away by wriggling off the hook.

There could not have been a better dog for the job! Their coat repelled water and their webbed paws made them excellent swimmers.

Years later, in the early 1800s, an Englishman, The Earl of Malmesbury, brought some of these dogs back to Poole, England. Their work ethic and soft mouths made them useful companions in shooting sports and the Englishmen referred to these dogs as their “Labrador Dogs.”

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In 1903, Labradors were recognized by the English Kennel Club. In 1917, the American Kennel Club began recognizing Labrador Retrievers as a breed.

Today, English Labs are loved for their friendly, active, and outgoing personalities. They’re wildly popular. In fact, based on breed popularity, Labrador Retrievers rank #1 out of 195 breeds in American Kennel Club Breed Popularity.

What Colors are Labrador Retrievers?

Labradors come in a surprisingly wide range of shades.

You may know of Black Labs (all black), Yellow Labs (fox-red to light cream to even), or Chocolate Labs (light to dark chocolate).

Have you ever seen a White Lab in-person before? If you have, then you’ve met a polar bear lab! (That’s what we specialize with here at Snowy Pines White Labs.) Both polar bears and White Labs share that same pure, iridescent white coat and the black pigmentation around their nose, mouth, and eyes.

Want to see some Polar Bear English Labs in action? Check out our Puppy Livestream here for a little pick-you-up in your day!

To be clear, there’s no official distinction between English and American Labradors. They’re both still Labrador Retrievers. But when you compare these dogs side-by-side, you’ll notice some physical differences and there also happens to be a slight difference in temperaments.

American Labs are known for being field trial and hunting dogs. English Labs are known to be a bit calmer and laid back. If you choose to add an English Labrador Retriever to your family, this doesn’t mean your English Lab pup will be dozing around the house all day. Labrador Retrievers are known for enjoying their exercise and having an enormous amount of energy, whether that’s taking hikes in the wood with you and your kids or playing games of fetch in the backyard.

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As we mentioned above, you can also see some body and structural differences in American and English Labs. American Labs are slender and slightly taller. They have a thinner, finer coat and more of a hunting dog’s body. Their longer legs give them the appearance of agility. English Labs have a blockier head, a shorter and stockier build, and a thicker coat. Their muzzle is slightly shorter and their face is fuller. That barrel-chestedness they’re known for gives them a noble and powerful appearance. English Labs also have a thicker, water-resistant coat and more of that “otter-like” tail that really propels them in the water. When they’re happy to see you, that “otter-like” tail can really give you a solid “whack!”

These two different strains of dogs emerged due to specialized breeding. One type (the English Lab) was bred for the show ring where appearance was everything. They weren’t required to work and their bodies changed throughout the decades. Labs that were working or participating in competitions (field trials) were encouraged to move swiftly and with great agility. These are the dogs that we now know as American Labs.

Since people originally bred American Labs to be working or in field trials, think of these Labs like elite athletes. They’re built for speed, known to return “shot game” to their handler in a fit state to eat, and have enormous stamina. English Labs are a tad bit more relaxed and less excitable than their American cousins.

Are you thinking about adding an English Lab to your family? Then, you’re in the right place! Snowy Pines White Labs is a state-of-the-art facility that specializes in breeding the best of English Labradors. We are one of the most respected and ethical breeders of white English Labs in the country. We take care of our dogs as #1. We always guarantee great temperaments, health records, and of course, a gorgeous white coat.

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Any questions? Let us know! If you’re curious, you can get to know all of our polar bear lab puppies here!

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