English vs. American Labs

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There are times when a big decision falls into your lap, a life-changing one, and you have a choice to make. In this moment, everything you have worked for comes to a climax and you must decide: What kind of dog do you want to get?

No, seriously! Getting a dog is a big decision, and must be considered carefully. One of these considerations should be what breed of dog you want.

difference between american and english labs

Every breed has unique qualities and needs; some require lots of exercise and a strict training routine, others are incredibly intelligent and need mental stimulation throughout the day.

But clearly, you have already thought through the above and have narrowed your choices down to two breeds: the English Labrador or the American Labrador.

In your research, you have come across these two dogs and want to know the difference between English and American Labs, so that you can make the final decision.

Well, here’s the thing…

English Labradors and American Labradors are the Same Breed

Yep. They are the same breed! Due to the names, many people mistakenly believe that there are two breeds of Labrador. In actuality, there is one breed of Labrador.

The names, English and American, refer to their ancestry, where the breeding line hails from – England or America.

There are minor differences that breeders might ascribe to one line more than the other; in England, Labradors were bred to be show dogs, whereas in America, they were bred to be hunting dogs.

Breeders would have favored certain traits over others, and thus these differences resulted in separating the breed into two categories – and contributing to the misconception that there are two breeds of Labrador.

Now that that’s out of the way…

What Is The Difference Between American and English Labs?

Getting a dog is a commitment! It is super important, and very much worth it, to do your research on the behavioral, physical, and mental traits of the breed.

Minor as they are, English Labs and American Labs do have slight differences in their physical appearance and temperament.

Let’s go into a little more detail.

Physical Appearance

American Labradors are taller and slimmer, built for running and spending long days tracking through wild terrain. At a glance, they have a very athletic, streamlined build, with the narrow face attributed to many hunting dogs.

Their coats are typically shorter and thinner. Curiously, their tails are thinner too, and American breeding lines have developed a slight curl to them over time; nothing as dramatic as Malamutes or Huskies, but still noticeable.

English Labradors were bred according to show standards and thus do not have the athletic build of their American counterparts.

They’re shorter and stockier, with barrel chests, thick necks, pronounced jowls, and thick, fluffy coats, English Labradors are certainly the cuddlier-looking Labs.

Their tails are largely straight, and their bone structure, as well as musculature, is far heavier than American Labs.

english vs american lab

Temperament

Again, breeders favored certain traits over others. This does not mean that one type of Lab cannot have the traits of the other, but overall, these are traits common of each type.

American Labs are the more intelligent half. They are high energy, high-strung, and need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation.

These are working dogs. They were bred to spend hours, if not days, out in the field with hunting parties.

English Labs are calm, social, and docile. They are still fairly smart, but sweet and gentle temperaments were preferred for show dogs and thus were favored by breeders.

While they’re still active dogs that need exercise, they are more laid-back than American Labs and require less active lifestyles. English Labs are incredibly friendly, even to strangers, and have very little in the way of guarding instincts.

Both kinds of Labs are sociable and eager to please their owners.

Trainability

There is a good reason why many “guide dogs” are Labradors or Lab mixes. They are highly trainable, intelligent enough to master complex commands, and have temperaments that require the mental stimulation that training provides.

Due to their more laid-back nature, English Labs are easier to train for those new to dog ownership. In contrast, training American Labs requires more patience and routine, as they are high energy and will benefit hugely from staying on a training schedule.

English and American Labs both enjoy training due to their eager to please nature; positive reinforcement works absolute wonders with Labradors!

Like with training any dog, owners need to be patient and consistent. Labradors are fairly easy to train and are a good first dog for many people.

Needs

One of the most important things to consider when getting a pet are their specific needs. If you cannot give an animal the appropriate care and maintenance it requires, you should not own that animal; that’s just common sense.

Labradors, in particular, need lots of attention and exercise. If they don’t get enough mental and physical stimulation, they are inclined to act out, like barking, destroying furniture, digging, and general restlessness.

American Labradors need daily exercise, and a walk around the block won’t do it. They need a hard run or a long walk each day, or to play fetch for a good hour with the kids.

If you live near a body of water that is safe and legal for a dog to go in, then water-play is a great form of exercise for both kinds of Lab – they love the water!

english vs american lab

As for mental stimulation, a strict training routine is needed, as are other forms of mental exercise. One way to do this is to let the Labs sniff around and explore a little during walks. Other ways are to buy a few puzzle toys – which are particularly good for indoor dogs and those left alone during the day.

A great training tool that will burn up some mental and physical energy are obstacle courses. It’s easy to set one up in your yard, and many dog parks come equipped with a few different obstacles.

Both Labradors require enclosed yards, but American Labs have a greater tendency to wander and go exploring – so secure fences are a must.

Owner Suitability

The above traits highlight the biggest factors towards whether or not an English Labrador or American Labrador is suitable for your lifestyle.

Coming back to the English vs. American Lab debate, those with a very active lifestyle that want a Lab that can keep up with them are more suited to American Labradors.

After a working dog? American Labs are a great choice! Though not explicit herding dogs, like the Australian Cattle Dog or Sheep Dog, they are still a great companion to have out in the field, and are good at tracking down stray animals.

English Labradors still need regular exercise, but are more docile family pets. Their gentle nature and sweet temperament make them great for young families, and they’re a wonderful first-pet for kids.

Obviously, these are great service dogs, and with the correct training, English Labs will make a wonderful companion for any owner.

It is worth pointing out, though, that American and English Lab puppies are excitable and clumsy, so it may be better to adopt a grown Labrador if you have toddlers or live with an elderly person that isn’t very steady on their feet.

Also, the breed has an unusually long ‘growing up’ period. Most Labradors won’t leave the puppy mentality until they are about three years old; training will help, but patience is critical on your part.

English Lab vs American Lab Aggression

Not necessarily. American Labradors can appear more aggressive due to their high-energy nature, especially if they are not getting adequate exercise to burn all that energy off.

In general, Labradors are friendly and tolerant dogs from the start.

Of course, poor socialization and genetic predisposition can affect a Labrador’s temperament – just like with any other animal.

Do your research and be sure to ask the breeder, shelter employee, or previous owner as much as you can about your new dog’s parentage; it can help prepare you and influence your final decision.

Getting a Labrador

Proper, licensed breeders will keep detailed records of each litter’s ancestry. They likely won’t let you get your hands on it, but they will be able to tell you the traits and personality of the parents.

At the very least, you should be able to have a meet and greet with the mother and gauge her personality.

Pay close attention to how she behaves. Does she approach with a wagging tail and happy demeanor? Or does she keep back and remain aloof? The former is what you want, for both English and American Labs.

Checking out the puppies is a good way to judge their immediate personality, but as they mature, they will lose some of that puppy eagerness.

english vs american lab

Of course, you can always adopt too! Shelters and animal rescues often end up with Labradors in their care, as they are an incredibly common breed and, sadly, their surrender rates are high.

Popping into a shelter and checking out any Labrador is a great way to feel out their personality and health.

Or, even better, you can apply to be a foster caretaker! This way, the pet can live with you short-term, and you can see how they fit in with you, your family, and any other pets.

Final Thoughts

This guide has explained that, while American Labradors and English Labradors are actually the same breed, there are differences between them that make each more suited to different people.

The TL;DR is: American Labradors need lots of exercise and mental stimulation, best suiting people with a very active lifestyle.

English Labradors are calmer, more laid-back, and though they still need plenty of exercise, they make for the perfect family pet!

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