What’s the Difference Between a Working and Show Labrador? Detailed Guide

When you’re looking at buying a labrador, you might be surprised to know there are more types than you had expected. Before you decide on black, yellow, or chocolate coat labs, you might want to decide what type of dog you are looking for.

Show Labradors are bred to come as close as possible to the breed standard, which means they are built more stocky and solid, whereas working labradors are leaner and a slighter build. Show labradors also tend to be of a calmer temperament than the more energetic working labradors.

While both types can make great pets, they have quite different requirements from their owner. In this article, you will learn more about the differences between those two types and be equipped with everything you need to know to decide whether a working labrador or a show labrador is right for your lifestyle.

Do Working Labradors and Show Labradors Behave Differently?

It is important to note that there is just one breed of labradors – both working labradors and show labradors are genetically the same kind of dog.

Over centuries of selective breeding, though, specific physical and behavioral differences suited for different purposes have been favored by breeders.

This means that if your dog comes from a long line of pure-breed labs, there are certain ways in which it will be obvious whether it was bred for work or show.

Working labs have been bred to cooperate very well with humans. This makes them generally easier to train, which is good for less experienced dog owners.

On nature walks, they are more likely to pursue local wildlife, though, since their job as working dogs is to retrieve game or fowl that has been shot.

This is why it is very important to pay attention to your dog when going for a walk – this is not the right kind of dog when you want to focus on chatting with friends or family while your dog runs free.

Show labs, with their heavier build and shorter legs, are often less agile. They are also often more playful and distractable, though, which makes them more difficult to train.

While they do not tend to run after wildlife, they are more likely to greet every person you come across on a walk.

Both types of dogs are very friendly, loyal, and affectionate, making them such beloved family pets. As large – and, admittedly, rather clumsy – dogs with a comparably high amount of energy, they are happiest in a house with a garden and at least two off-leash walks a day. This is not the kind of dog you want to keep in an apartment or urban area.

In general, it is important to note that, no matter whether you are looking at working labradors or show labradors, there can be great differences of personality even within a litter.

Therefore, you should always ask the breeder or the shelter staff what kind of dog you are looking for so that they can help you make the right decision for both you and your future dog.

Do Working Labradors Make Good Pets?

Working Labradors are intelligent, have been bred to work well with humans, and, as gundogs, to remain calm amidst the excitement of shots being fired.

While they are thus quite obedient and easy to train, they also are best suited to an energetic and athletic lifestyle. As pets, they are very happy when you run long jogging routes every day or take extensive hiking trips regularly.

It is also a very good idea to take up a dog sport like agility training with a working lab.

On the other hand, Show labradors are calmer and have a patient temperament, which makes them so good for families.

They do not require as much exercise, but they are still large dogs – even the calmest show labrador will not be happy when kept as an indoor dog without any long walks.

And a bored, unhappy lab tends to get destructive and chew on furniture and anything else they find.

While labs from a working line are often sold at lower prices, it is not a good idea to adopt a working labrador unless you plan to work with him or have a very active lifestyle.

What Do Working Labradors Do?

As working dogs, labradors pretty much have the same job they always had. They belong to a subgroup of gun dogs, the retrievers, which means that they are bred to retrieve game from water that has been shot.

In the UK, working labs are called gundogs, whereas, in the United States, they are called sporting dogs. While their task is the same in both cases, the hunting practices in these countries look different.

There are still many shooting estates or farms in the countryside in England that the landed gentry has specially developed to provide an excellent location for driven game shooting. There are large free spaces with copses nestling into hillsides.

In the United States, the landscape doesn’t have a backdrop for the hunting endeavors of the nobility. Hunting wildfowl is very popular, so retrievers like labradors often retrieve birds from lakes, rivers, or flooded (water) areas.

Can Any Labrador Be Trained to Be A Working Dog?

Can Any Labrador Be Trained to Be A Working Dog

While this is not unheard of, a labrador from a show lab line is only likely to be turned into a good retriever if the training starts while he is still a puppy.

Aside from obedience training, a dog also must be trained to remain calm in the middle of a hunting party. There will be loud noises like gunshots all around.

A show lab is likely to be made very nervous or, at the very least, it can get distracted during situations like these.

Since training like this is more likely to be successful when the dog is still a puppy, it makes a lot more sense to buy a working labrador puppy in the first place. For an adult show lab to acquire all the skills necessary to work as a gundog is rare.

What Is the Difference Between an English and an American Labrador?

This terminology is mainly used in the US and Canada (specifically Newfoundland), where fisherman also uses the working labrador for fishing.

It does not have anything to do with the location or heritage of the labrador. In some resources or websites written for an American audience, “English” is used for the show type and “American” for the working type.

Since this use of words can be quite confusing – after all, labradors work as hunting dogs in the UK at least as much as in the States – it is mostly avoided in favor of the more clear distinction between “working labradors” and “show labradors.”

What are Typical Labrador Health Problems?

Unfortunately, there are some health conditions that labradors are prone to.

Probably the easiest to counteract is their propensity for obesity. Labradors are almost always hungry and will eat any food they find lying around unsupervised.

If you have a labrador, you should make sure that all snacks and other food items are stored out of reach for your dog. You should also make sure not to feed them more than they need, even if they ostentatiously beg for you to refill their bowl – labradors are always motivated to eat and would go on devouring treat after treat.

Keeping your labrador at a healthy weight is important to avoid the early onset of arthritis, common in large dogs due to their size and the strain on their joints.

Consequently, labradors are also at risk for joint disorders like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, or osteochondritis dissecans.

When looking at a litter, make sure the parents of the dogs and the puppies themselves have had the relevant health checks. In this case, that their hips and elbows have been scored by X-ray.

A breeder that will not provide documentation of these tests cannot be trusted. Joint conditions like hip dysplasia, which is common for large dog breeds, can lead to early signs of arthritis, like limping or pain when walking.

Another genetically inherited health problem of labradors can be PRA or progressive retinal atrophy, an eye condition that leads to blindness. This should be tested in the parents and the puppies, too.

Unfortunately, labradors also have a predisposition to seizures. Sometimes, the causes can be discerned, for example, when the seizures point to masses in the brain or sign that a dog has been exposed to certain toxins.

In other cases, the seizures have no apparent cause – then, the labrador is diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy, which is treated with antiepileptic drugs.

When you notice your labrador displaying any signs that they may be sick, like unusual lethargy, significant weight gain, or weight loss, lumps on the body, or hair loss, it is always best to contact a vet.

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