Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Labradors: English (Bench) and American (Field)

A registered Labrador is a registered Labrador...right?
Yes. With qualifications.
All Labradors are not built the same.

The Labrador known as the "British type" is what is typically seen at bench trials, i.e. the show ring like Westminster Kennel Club. What is sometimes called the "American type" is the hunting field trial Labrador.

Sometimes the two types are referred to as British and American Labradors. When I was much younger this distinction wasn't made. Over the years however, as hunters who used their Labs more for upland game hunting then water retrieving began to adjust what they bred for, the "field" Lab became a longer leg, longer tailed, narrower headed dog.

 Compare these two yellow females for example.
Notice the longer legs and lighter build of the one, the shorter, stockier overall build of the other.

These are two more examples of the difference between a field Lab and a bench Lab. The chocolate above is of field breeding, the black Lab is of bench lines.

 Even when they're sitting down you can see some basic differences between the two types. Notice the narrower build of the chocolate compared to the husky build of the yellow Lab. From longer leg, to longer, narrower neck and slightly longer, more slender muzzle...these two Labs are not built the same.

 Notice there is also a shorter, stockier tail on the bench trial version of a Labrador, compared to the longer, thinner tail on a field lab.

With each type prone to being too extreme in some bloodlines -- far too heavy with mastiff type heads in the extreme bench lines, too over sized tall in the extreme field lines -- more breeders are interbreeding the two distinct lines trying to once again recreate the kind of Labs that were around when I was a child - dogs that were fit for bench or working.

Lil comes from this kind of inter-mixed blood line. Her dam, on the left in the above picture is of field lines and of a visibly taller line than her sire, on the right, who is shorter, stouter, and heavier from tip of tail to snout.
Lil is beginning to show more of the outcome and purpose of this kind of line mixing - an attempt to breed a moderate Lab that is neither too heavy nor too leggy.

She's starting to fill out although she still has a way to go - at still under a year she will continue to physically mature until about the age of two. When she's sitting down, her appearance can literally change depending on the angle of her head.

Notice that from above and down you can see the field Lab in Lil, but from straight in front and up you can see some of the bench influences. An increasing number of Labs are once again starting to show both parts of their heritage rather than just one or the other.

For the Lab owners out there, if you want to share photos of your own labs just send them in and I'll post them.


  1. Hi. Great post, beautiful pics, always interesting to think of breeding. Lil is gorgeous.

    In the 70's when we had a springer spaniel kennel, our dogs were Canadian and English types. But clearly field bred - short, stumpy, energetic with lots of short curly fur, not so much long feathers. When I was given Ben, my springer pup, he was from very good, champion bench lines. What a difference! He was much taller, with smooth fur and lovely long feathers and a much calmer temperament. Not nearly as nose- oriented. Almost like different breeds.

    I loved your point about angles. I notice this so much with Ruby and Gus. Ruby, with her lab torso, bit more collie/golden structure, can look like a stout dump truck (she's actually skinny) or a svelte husky like body. Gus' s body can look slim or square. His head can look very long and elegant or very blocky. All in the angles, but it never ceases to amaze me.

    Gilbert, on the other hand, pretty much always looks similar although from the side he does look blocky with those neck rolls - his top look is skinny. I think because he is so low to the ground below me his side angles don't vary too much. Kathy

  2. Another point - you helped me understand the drastic differences I have seen in labs these days. I almost adopted a 110 lb, somewhat overweight lab a couple years ago but he ate cats so I got Ruby instead. There was a Gorgeous, lanky, but muscular, lab in my neighborhood- the prettiest I had ever seen. And then there are the fairly small chunky 60-70 lb labs. To me, labs should not be more than 70-80 lbs (i would say this for any "large" breed). Weights of 90 plus lbs properly belong to extra large breeds and put any dog on the road to near certain hip problems.

    By the way, my vet now recommends cosequin for life to any large or extra large dog starting at six months or so. I think lil is already on it tho, K

  3. Thanks so much for the compliments - particularly about the pup's looks :-) I am becoming increasingly fond of her physical appearance as she matures. I believe I have more than hinted here at how her wacky growing phases sometimes blew my mind ;-)
    [Have always loved the personality though.]

    I think you also make a great point about the difference angles can make in looking at a dog. This is something to keep in mind when adopting a dog through pictures (something I've done several times.) If you want an honest visual appraisal of what a dog looks like you need pics of at least all the following: both sides, front, and back -- all with the dog standing, and taken with the camera on level with the dog's height...this may mean putting the dog on a table if they are particularly small.

    Some Labs have decidedly become too large - I've known several who were closer to the size of giant breeds - 26-27" and 110-120 pounds. This is the extreme of the field lines, and often dogs this big aren't actual working dogs, but offshoots of field lines that are being bred for size. Just like the 23" labs that get to 90 lbs. because they're being bred too heavy, this is outside what the standard indicates is desirable - some buyers, however, are drawn to these kinds of extremes and I'm glad to see more responsible breeders deliberately moving back towards the center.

    And I agree with the idea of having larger dogs on either supplements or food with joint support built in from a young age. Jenny has started taking supplements; Lil has taken them since she was injured and also is fed a salmon/fish based kibble to increase Omega 3 which may also help with joints. Most days it is impossible to tell that Lil has a permanent joint injury but occasionally she does sleep on her leg in such a way that when she first gets up she limps slightly.

    The changes in what are available to help us support our canine's health are pretty remarkable. If one looks around they can also find less expensive supplements compared to the biggest brand names (still not really cheap, but less expensive.) I suppose I should write about that this winter, since winter can bring on joint issues for aging dogs.