What Is So Fascinating About English Labs?

What Is So Fascinating About English Labs?

Author WDF Staff | Last updated: May 02 2023


If you researched Labrador Retrievers, you probably stumbled upon the term “English Lab” or “English Labrador Retriever.” At least that’s what happened with us. Naturally, we got curious and decided to look closer into this topic.

English Lab is not the only name used to describe this breed; there is also American Labrador. At first, we assumed this name is used for dogs bred explicitly in one of these countries, but the truth goes a bit deeper. Here are a few things you should know about the English Lab.

What is an English Lab?

The English Labrador, or English Lab, is a strain of Labrador Retrievers that has been selectively bred with a specific purpose in mind. This strain is still a pureblooded Labrador Retriever; it is just a dog bred with dog shows in mind.

wnglish lab puppyEnglish Labrador

Breeders wanted to create a bloodline with the best possible physical features and focus less on their gun dog abilities. This selective breeding process started to show in the 20th century when hunting started to lose its popularity, and dog shows started gaining it. At that time, two strains were “recognized,” although no kennel club mentioned or acknowledged this split. It is a widely known fact among dog breeder circles.

Interested in learning more about Labradors? Check out this article - Black Lab - 10 Fun Facts.

Two strains

Like we already mentioned, there are two strains within the Labrador breed; one strain is the English type, and the other one is the American type Labrador. English-type Labs were focused on companionship, physical features, and conformation, while the American strain was focused on power, endurance, and working ability.

three black american labradorsBlack American Labradors

Labradors are natural gun dogs, and it is a role they have fulfilled for many years. They are skilled retrievers with very soft jaws. Having a soft jaw was very important because hunters did not want their prey damaged during retrieving.

Standard of the English Lab

To understand the English Lab’s standard, we need to understand that cynology associations do not recognize the difference between the American and English Labradors. They only have one standard for this breed, and all Labs should fall in that category.

These two terms are used loosely to describe individual dogs within the breed. Some argue that American Labs are better service dogs and English Labs make better pets. It is a useful thing to know if a breeder breeds dogs for a specific purpose. The American strain might be better for work, but if a breeder is looking to breed the best possible pet, they should focus more on the English strain.

english lab portraitEnglish Lab

Both strains should conform to the standard that says Labradors should be between 21. 5 and 24.5 inches tall and weigh between 55 and 80 pounds. If you are interested in learning more about their standard, check out the Labrador Retriever’s full profile.

English Labs should make great family pets. Here is an article that describes their relationship with children - Labrador Retriever and kids.

The origin of the name

Although these two terms mark slightly different types of Labradors, the reason behind the names of each strain is pretty apparent. English-type Labradors were commonly found in the UK, and American types were mostly found in the United States. The name doesn’t mean that Brits prefer having Labs as pets while Americans prefer having Labradors as hunting dogs.

The physical difference between the strains

As you can see, all Labradors should have pretty similar physical features, and like any other pureblooded dog breed, all dogs should look pretty much the same. That is one of the defining things within a breed - common characteristics.

young chocolate american labYoung chocolate American Lab

However, some slight differences are pretty subtle, yet owners and breeders can spot them easily. Here are the main differences between the English and American Labs.

1. English Lab

English Labrador is the strain whose development was focused on dog shows, and these dogs have:

  • Thicker necks
  • Shorter bodies
  • Closer to the standard
  • Thicker, more substantial coats
  • Shorter legs
  • Thicker, stronger, and straighter tail

It is quite clear that the focus was on the English Labrador’s looks and not its physical capabilities.

2. American Lab

American Labs were carefully bred to be the best possible working dogs. Their breeding has completely different goals, and as a result, these dogs have:

  • Narrower head
  • Leaner, thinner, and more muscular body
  • Thin, long neck
  • Longer legs
  • Thinner tails that can have a slight curl
  • A lighter, thinner coat
  • Further away from the standard

Getting a pureblooded, well-bred Lab is important. Here are the allowed coat colors according to the Lab standard - Labrador Retriever - coat colors.

Psychological difference

Just like having some physical differences, there are some psychological differences between these dogs. That is entirely expected since they were selectively bred with different goals in mind. There are two main things we should focus on - energy levels and overall temperament.

adult english labAdult English Lab

Their physical appearance should complement their psychological profiles, and here are the main differences between English and American Labs.

Energy levels

As expected, American Labs have much more energy than their English counterparts. They are always ready to go and seem more focused. Higher energy levels combined with traditional Labrador intelligence make American strain more strong-willed and a lot better suited for work. English Labs are calmer and more suited for being a semi-active family pet. These dogs can still be shaped into great service dogs, but their goal is to become the ideal family pet.


Even though there are slight temperament differences, these two strains share many things in common. They are still Labradors and have a strong will to please their owners. These dogs are loving, intelligent, affectionate, biddable, kind, confident, friendly, and outgoing. These dogs love having company and will make ideal friends with other dogs and pets.

However, American types have a higher prey drive, so they will require a bit more socialization while they are young. The main differences in their temperaments are their energy levels and activity requirements. Both types are relatively active, but the American type Lab wants a lot more daily activities.

Now you know the main difference between the two Labrador strains, and if you are looking to get one for yourself or your family, you can be sure you will make the right choice.

World Dog Finder team

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