The British Labrador Retriever

Originating in England in the 1880s, the modern Labrador retriever's characteristics have
diverged into two distinct types of dog. Where the American Lab has been bred to be very
driven and high-energy at all times, the British Lab continues to be very driven in the
field yet quiet, calm, and steady, also serving as a loyal and loving family dog.


Many people find it hard to believe that there is such a difference in temperament and
hunting ability between the American Labrador and the British Labrador. What we've
discovered is that a Labrador with a good pedigree, whether British or American, is
typically bred from a line that contains many field trial champions. A British Labrador
will have more calmness and hunting drive bred into it, while an American Labrador
will be bred to be "amped" and to withstand high pressure. This is due in large part to the
way field trials are conducted in the UK versus in the US.

 

Much of the difference between the two types of Labs stems from their training history
and the type of hunting they do. The nature of British field hunting comes from a
tradition of huge shoots involving hundreds of birds, put on over several days. In the UK,
field trials involve live game and real-life hunting and shooting scenarios. The
fundamental premise is that the dogs must be quiet and controlled at all times – civility is
paramount. The dogs are expected to be alert but not nervous, even if hundreds of
pheasants are being shot over him or her in a driven shoot. Dogs are not allowed to even
whimper when on the line waiting or they'll be disqualified. Once sent, British Labradors
must retrieve game that is either killed dead or crippled, requiring them to be excellent
game finders. Game finding or using their nose is of primary importance in a British trial
because the dogs are engaged in an actual live hunt with various types of game. No dog
gets the exact same retrieve, giving each a chance to perform uniquely; therefore, British
Labradors are bred for strong hunting and scenting abilities as well as a calm
temperament.

 

Across the pond in the U.S., field trials and hunt tests put on by the American Kennel
Club require the dogs to run hard, fast, and mechanically obey commands - some of
which are counter-intuitive to the dog - and retrieve dummies or dead game. Game
finding, or use of the nose, take a backseat to crisp handling and marking (remembering

where the bird fell) because the “game” used are dummies or dead game. Different types
of terrain, including water, are part of the trials and each dog gets the same retrieves at
each event. The dog’s obedience to commands and the handler, marking abilities and
perseverance in the field are of greatest importance to receive passing scores in an AKC
trial.

 

Above all, the British Labrador's scenting ability is extraordinary and far superior to other
breeds. They are exceptional upland game bird dogs and strong swimmers, making them
excellent waterfowl dogs. Considered a “gentleman’s gun dog,” British Labradors are
easy to train and, once trained, become an exceptional hunting and family companion.

 

Physical Characteristics

 

British Labs are shorter, slimmer, and have finer features than American Labs. They are
also smaller than the show lines of the English Lab. A finer boned, smaller framed dog is
able to hunt longer in the field due to a decreased oxygen demand from a smaller muscle
mass, get through thicker cover effortlessly, and more easily enter/exit boats during
waterfowl hunts. Their smaller stature does not effect the ability to retrieve larger birds in
the field. Females typically run 45-60 pounds and males run 50-75 pounds. British
Labradors come in three colors: black, yellow, and dark reddish-yellow (fox red).

 

Temperament & Hunting Ability

 

British Labradors are a highly intelligent breed of dog that analyzes situations more so
than other breeds. They have been bred for centuries to have a calm and relaxed
temperament and to be hard charging with a huge motor in the field. These athletic,
sweet, loving, and even-tempered dogs are easy to train and need a soft hand both on the
field and at home. The easy-going disposition and playfulness of the British Labrador
makes it the perfect choice for a family dog, as well as a hunting companion. The British
Labrador has more of an “off-switch” than their American Lab counterpart, making them
easier to live with in the home, and they’re especially good with kids.

 

Along with their calm nature comes a very strong drive to hunt, retrieve, and use their
nose. British Labradors are kind of like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - they’re mellow dogs
that just hang out around the house, but put them in the hunting field and they turn into
hunting machines. They're calm enough to hunt with handicapped hunters, yet have

enough heart and drive to hunt for groups of 6-10 hunters releasing over 200 birds in one
day.

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