English Labrador (Bench) vs. American Labrador (Field): What’s The Difference?

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Comparing the English Labrador vs. the American Labrador? 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 oftentimes referred to as the “American or English” by people that aren’t involved with the breed. There is only one “labrador” breed, and 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 personality. 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. 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.

English Labrador vs. American Labrador History

To confuse the matter even further, the original Labrador Retriever was neither English nor 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 the 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. While 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. The Lab has been the reigning champion for 26 years!

Appearance Differences

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. Females are at the lower end of the spectrum, and males are at the higher end.

The English Labrador is bred purely for show purposes. As such, they are bred to conform to Labrador standards as closely 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. They are also on the higher end of the weight spectrum.

The American Labrador will generally find himself within the above parameters. However, they are not bred for appearance, and on occasion, they may not totally conform to the above standards. The American tends to be slightly taller and slender in appearance. Field Labs find themselves 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.

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Temperament Differences

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 great family pets and are affectionate with their family. Because of their easygoing temperaments, they both love nothing more than to please their master.

Activity Levels

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 exciting 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.

Exercise Comparison

The Labrador is a high-energy dog, whether the English Labrador or the American Labrador. They are both originally working breeds. Both will need at least 60 minutes of exercise a day. This is on top of 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 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. Bench Labs are likely to be a bit calmer and less demanding with exercise requirements. The American Lab will have bundles of energy that he will need to expel. If you use him as a working Labrador, then this exercise will suffice. If you don’t, then you’ll need to invest more time exercising him compared to an English Labrador.

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.

Training Differences

The Labrador is the most common breed selected as an assistance dog 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 as a Golden Retriever. If you plan to train them with a harness while walking, make sure you are looking at Harnesses made for Labs, which tend to be more secure.

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.

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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.

Health Comparison

The Labrador Retriever is a generally healthy dog, and as the English and American Labrador are the same breeds, 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 over time, can cause painful arthritis. This is quite a common health issue in the canine world, 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 over time.

Certain breeds, including the Labrador can suffer from 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 drag 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.

Nutrition Comparison

The Labrador, on average, will consume 3 cups of food daily. You may have to feed a 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. Either way, both the English Lab and the Bench Lab should be eating dog foods fit for Labradors.

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 motivated and 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 only to award them in moderation.

Grooming Comparison

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 bathe 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. Their coats act the same way as a wetsuit does, and as such, they shed. The English and the Americans 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.

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Price Differences

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. 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 no 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 from a reputable breeder. This will help ensure that you have a healthy Lab and not a dog from a puppy mill. Don’t be tempted to save a bit of money on the initial cost. 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. She was adopted at 6 months as a rescue pup. Rescuing can be significantly more cost-effective. But your pup may carry some baggage along that you will likely have to correct.

Frequently Asked Questions

Which breed variant is better for duck hunting?

American or “field” Labradors are better for hunting. While bench Labradors can be excellent hunting companions, field Labs were bred specifically for this purpose. They are slightly leaner and tend to have a little more energy when out in the field.

Which breed variant is easier to train?

They are both equally easy to train. You may have to spend more time and energy training a field lab due to their excitable nature as puppies. Both breed variants are easy to train and pick up on new commands very quickly.

Which one weighs more, the English or the American?

English or “bench” Labradors do end up weighing more. They have slightly thicker builds and will usually weigh a few pounds more than their field counterparts. Weight largely depends on the parents of each dog, so looking at the parents of either type will give you a better idea of what to expect.

Are there any differences in their tails?

There is no significant difference in their tails. They are the same length and girth. Bench Labs may have a slightly thicker tail, but only because it corresponds to their overall thicker build.

Are there any differences in size between them?

There are minimal differences in size. Bench Labs are thicker and may weigh slightly more. Their heads can be thicker and larger. In general, though, both variants are very close to the same size.

Final Thoughts

Overall, when comparing the English Lab vs. the American Lab, they are very similar. They are simply the same breed, with some slight differences. 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. Nor would we say that the American Labrador is less handsome. Both pups are true Labradors and fantastic family companions.

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. They are both built slightly differently, but they are the same dog. Pup sizes and personalities can vary by dog. 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.

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Sean Campbell’s love for hunting and outdoor life is credited to his dad who constantly thrilled him with exciting cowboy stories. His current chief commitment involves guiding aspiring gun handlers on firearm safety and shooting tactics at the NRA education and training department. When not with students, expect to find him either at his gunsmithing workshop, in the woods hunting, on the lake fishing, on nature photoshoots, or with his wife and kid in Maverick, Texas. Read more >>