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The differences between American and British Labs

By Rick McConico – Pro Trainer at Old Oak Retrievers

There is considerable debate regarding the superiority of American Labrador Retrievers or British Labrador Retrievers. Often the opinions are based on which type of dogs a particular breeder or trainer personally sells. While I have my own preferences, I have been fortunate enough to train many very good dogs of both origins. Both American and British are capable of providing you with a top notch hunting companion. Rather than giving you my preference, I’m going to explain the different characteristics of each type and let you decide which is right for your hunting or training style.

While appearances may vary regardless of American or British, there are some general differences that you can expect to see with some consistency.

American Labs generally run larger (weight wise) than their British counterparts American Labs probably average 10-20 pounds heavier than British Labs. The British Labs will generally run 50-70 pounds depending on whether you have a male or female, while American Labs are typically 60-90 pounds.

While both come in Black and Yellow, Chocolate is a common third color for American Labs. British lines often include dogs with a dark (fox) red coat as their third color. Show lines will also have the very light yellows or “ivory” as a color.

The major difference here is one of apparent energy. Both American and British lines produce very social dogs that are playful and intelligent and make excellent companions. My experience has been that the British Labrador generally tends to be somewhat more calm and relaxed. They typically need a softer training hand with less pressure required. American Labs, tend to be able to handle more pressure in a training environment. They are naturally more boisterous and tend to exhibit a higher energy level and, consequently, may require more firm correction.

Hunting Ability
Hunting ability may be the largest point of contention between proponents of American or British Labs. My opinion on this is pretty simple. Anyone that tells you one or the other won’t produce excellent bird dogs is just not being honest. Field lines of both American and British Labs possess all the natural characteristics to be tremendous hunting companions for both Upland and Waterfowl hunting. The American dog may be a better choice for someone needing a dog to do big water waterfowl hunting.

The difference between the two is as much about style as it is about ability. Both will exhibit the toughness, agility, and natural retrieving ability that make a great bird dog. The American dogs have been bred for higher energy to meet the demands of our style of trial or test which rely on eyesight, whereas the British dog has been refined for their type of trial which demands the dog have a keener nose to track fallen game along with a quiet calm demeanor. The question here is really more about whether you prefer an American Lab which is generally a more high energy hunting machine or a British Lab which is a more calm and thoughtful hunting machine. They’ll both hunt and retrieve, whether on land or water, and they’ll both do it very, very well. British dogs may appear to be laid back when you are just observing them around the house or yard, but once in the field they will perform with the best.

No Hard & Fast Rules
Overall, both American and British lines are capable of providing you with the household or hunting companion of your dreams. While American or British types may be more predisposed to one characteristic or another, both are very well rounded dogs. I would encourage you to do your research and then pick the type that is best suited for your personal needs.

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To learn more about Rick’s training methods, visit