By Laurie Frazer
There is only one Labrador Retriever breed. Within the breed there are two distinct types. The drastic differences in type can make it seem as though there are actually two different breeds. The differences are not only seen in appearance but can be readily seen in temperament and activity level. These differences are very important in selecting a Labrador Retriever to be a life companion. Successful dog ownership occurs when our dog’s temperament and energy level is a good match to our own.
The English style Labrador Retriever is the original lab. They are considered a medium size breed, about 21 to 24 inches at the shoulder. The females typically weigh 65 to 70 pounds. Males should weigh between 80 and 90 pounds. Although these may be considered high weights for a medium size breed, consideration must be given to the short thick body style of the English type. English dogs have heavy bone structures, are very heavily muscled and have wide heads. The head is wide at the forehead and short and thick at the muzzle. They should have big dark brown eyes with a kind expression. The tail should be short and thick, an otter tail that hangs relaxed off the body when not in use.
English type dogs are mellow, kind dogs by nature. They are extremely easy to train as they have a strong desire to please and receive praise. Their drive is at a medium level. They will play ball or retrieve ducks but are just as happy to go on a ride in the car or sit and watch television. They are always happy to let you select the activity and enjoy your company immensely. It is this trait that makes the English type lab the breed most chosen to be guide dogs in both the U.S. and Canada. Their moderate temperament makes them a great dog to have around children and animals of all kinds. These dogs can be maintained with 30 to 45 minutes of exercise per day.
The American, or Field type lab is a tall dog, ranging about 27 to 30 inches and taller at the shoulder. The head is usually narrow and the muzzle is long. The dog will almost have a greyhound appearance, with a long whip like tail. Dogs selected by field enthusiasts or gun dog breeders are most highly prized when they will work all day without tiring. They have a strong drive to retrieve and would be happy to play ball all day.
It is the strong drive to perform that can make this type of lab a challenge to own. If a dog is not provided with stimulation that will satisfy its need to work they can be creative in finding fulfillment on their own. This can be through barking, chewing, and digging. To prevent these traits from surfacing one to three hours of vigorous exercise is needed daily. This lab would be well placed in a home were family activity was very high. They are great dogs to be a running partner for those who enjoy running long distances. Their activity level can be too high around small children.
After the book Marley and Me, became a number one best seller, the English and American differences became known to the general public. John Grogan, frustrated with Marley for all his bad behavior went to the Internet to find out what could be wrong with Marley. He found websites explaining the differences between the two types of labs. It was his conclusion he had the American type which was the wrong type for him. When any movie or book features a breed of dog, that breed becomes popular. Labs of course were already popular, however now the average dog shopper, and backyard breeder was armed with new information. In a nut shell the term "English Lab."
Before John Grogan introduced the term to the dog loving public, very few English type labs were available for sale. I contend that is still true, however since very few would search out field bred dogs after reading the book, the classified ads suddenly became full of dogs claiming to be English labs. These breeders seldom have the true English type physically or by temperament. They will show a litter and Dam obviously the field type but claim the sire, not on the premises is English type. It takes several consistent generations of breeding to produce a predictable type of look or behavior.
To find a true English style lab it is best to go to where the tradition of fine dogs has been prized for generations to the show breeder. Some may think "I don't want or need a show dog, why buy from this type of breeder?" The English type of lab is the type that is prized by judges and exhibitors of the Labrador Retriever for decades. Some have even imported dogs from England were the breed type is most popular. They invest thousands of dollars for the best stock. They have protected the line with contracts prohibiting indiscriminate breeding. They screen their dogs for genetic diseases that affect the Labrador Retriever. Their name and kennel name is at stake every time they sell a puppy. Each breeding is agonized over as new dreams and prestige rest on the outcome. Furthermore they are going to keep a puppy or two from a breeding, good enough for them is good for you! These dogs typically sell as pets for $1200 or so, while their show quality litter mates may be worth many thousands of dollars.
In contrast two neighbors with papered labs may decide to breed a litter. The reason might be the money they will make. Eight to ten puppies for $500 to $800, up to twice a year can produce $10,000 or more in income. Of course these breeders are making pure profit as the puppy’s parents have not undergone expensive genetic screening. The puppies for sale have usually not been seen by a vet and do not have any vaccinations. With money sought as the only viable outcome by the breeder, temperament and proper puppy socialization and habituation are never a priority. Nothing is at stake; no club affiliations, reputations or names to soil.
Both types of Labs are available by people who love the Labrador Retriever and are interested in having their name on a nationally known dog admired by other Labrador enthusiasts. The proper way to shop for a Lab is to arm yourself with information. Know what type of lab will best fit in your life for the next fifteen years. Ask questions, about energy level and temperament. Ask the breeder what activities they participate in with their dogs (show, hunt, obedience, search and rescue...) If they are family pets, that's not enough reason to invest in their program. Your decision will cost you now or later, financial losses are easy to recover from. The suffering of enduring health problems or premature loss of a dog is something we never get over.
Any dog is a financial investment. What suites your needs and lifestyle, lives the longest and healthiest life is the one that can enrich your life to the fullest.