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Show vs Field Lines of Labrador Retrievers

Some people called them “English Labs” and “American Labs” while others refer to them as “show” and “field” Labradors. Regardless of what you call them there is no mistaking the fact that there is a definite split between types of Labradors with the ones found in the show ring bearing little to no resemblance to the ones found at field trials. In many ways, this is a real shame. A good Labrador should be capable of working in the field as well as competing in the show ring but that is no longer the case.

Show Type Labs

Also erroneously called “English” Labradors, the type of Lab seen in the show ring looks quite different from the dogs typically seen in field trials. Show bred Labs tend to be stockier dogs with heavier bone, broader skulls, a thick otter tail, and shorter muzzle. They often have a calmer temperament and are less energetic than their field line counterparts.

The calmer nature can make them easier for a pet home to handle, particularly if they are not equipped to deal with a high energy dog. The tendency to be stocky to begin with though is exasperated by the lesser amount of exercise received in many homes due to work schedules. This tends to result in obese Labs which is extremely unhealthy.

Field Type Labs

The field trial lines tend to produce a dog that is leggier, leaner, and often has a longer and pointier muzzle. They have lost the trademark otter tail and often lack a double coat as well which would serve them well when retrieving from cold water. Because the field dogs are bred with speed and field ability in mind, rather than to a specific breed standard, they can vary more in general appearance.

Field bred Labs are often much higher energy dogs and need lots of daily exercise. They’re a good choice for a family that is quite active but would likely drive a quieter family crazy. Additionally, exercise induced collapse (EIC) is seen more often in field trial lines than in show lines although all breeders should be testing for it, regardless of which type they prefer.

Is There an Ideal?

There are pros and cons to both types of Labs and both can be good pets and hunting companions in the right circumstances. As with any dog, knowing your lifestyle and how much of a commitment you can make to get your dog out and exercised should play heavily into your decision. It would be healthier for show type Labs to be leaner and carry less weight. There is nothing wrong with their overall proportions but the obesity issue has many long term consequences to health, not least of which is exasperating arthritis and having it cause pain and discomfort at an earlier age.

The loss of the otter tail and double coat in field lines is very unfortunate. They are trademark aspects of the purebred Labrador and to lose them is to lose part of what makes a Lab a Lab versus a Golden Retriever or Weimaraner. There are many gundog breeds including the Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, German Shorthaired Pointer and Brittany Spaniel where field lines and show lines do not differ much. It is possible to maintain a dual purpose dog but it takes an active desire to do so by breeders and a demand to do so from the public and judges of both field and show events.

Regardless of which type you prefer, it is important to ensure that all breeders are testing for known health issues in the breed including hip and elbow dysplasia, EIC, cardiac and eye issues.

Photo credit: Andreas/Flickr