Labrador: Pet, Show Dog, or Hunter? Advice for Knowing the Best Labrador for You

Wondering whether you should get a Labrador as a pet, show dog, or hunter?

Labrador Retrievers are a very versatile breed that serves a lot of purposes depending on the owner’s preference.

However, there are some ‘types’ of Labs that have slowly formed over the years. 

Choosing the specific type of Labrador that you want to have is a serious choice to make. It will determine, in a way, part of their temperament and energy levels.

While Labrador Retrievers are more or less the same, there are some markers that differentiate a hunting Lab, a show Lab, and a pet Lab.

For this article, we will go over the various types of Labradors and their differences as a pet, show dog, or hunter.

What are the different types of Labrador Retrievers?

The differences among the types of Labradors mostly lie in what purpose you want for the dog.

For example, due to the rigorous nature of their work, field Labs are usually more agile, leaner, and fitter than their show counterparts.

Before we get into the different types, it is crucial to understand where the Labrador comes from so that you can understand how they have developed to have the look and temperament that they have today.

Labs came from a line of fishing dogs in Canada before they were imported to England to become a gun dog.

It is important to note that at this point, they were not yet the Labrador Retrievers that we know of today. 

Over time, they developed to become an excellent hunting dog.

At around the same time that show dogs started becoming commonplace, they also started to become popular as a household pet.

While this is not the exact point when the types diverged, it’s a good starting point to look back on how the Labrador slowly started to exhibit changes depending on what type of Lab they were.

Along the way, breeding a Lab as a pet, show dog, or hunter became a common practice. This is how the differences between show and field Labs manifested.

1) The show Labrador Retriever or the English Lab

Many people usually breed the show Labrador, otherwise called the English Lab in some circles, to be a show dog.

Consequently, their characteristics are leaning towards a more exaggerated version of the classic Labrador Retriever appearance.

In contrast, English Labradors are usually of a stockier build and have shorter legs. This bulky appearance is actually a representation of the breed standard, but in a slightly more exaggerated manner.

Show Labs are also usually less agile then field dogs due to the differences in their line of work.

However, this does not mean that a show Labrador is lazy or is not energetic.

On the contrary, they still have the trademark energy that Labrador Retrievers are famous for, although they might turn out to be more subdued or relaxed as they get older compared to the American Lab.

2) The field Labrador Retriever or the American Lab

The American Labrador is the field counterpart of the English Lab. They do traditional Labrador Retriever work in the field, such as retrieving game and fulfilling other gun dog duties. 

The field Labrador is leaner than a show Lab and is usually not as chunky. Instead, they have slender bodies that enable them to move around quickly, which is necessary in their work.

There are even anecdotes saying that field Labs have begun to lose their characteristic otter tails.

Field Labradors have high levels of energy that are required for them to train and do the work they have to do.

That said, American Labs might be best for people who can handle their high energy levels. 

What type of Labrador Retriever is the best? Pet, hunter, or show dog?

There really is no best type of Lab out there because each type has its own unique set of characteristics.

All types, in a way, still share many characteristics with each other. Nonetheless, in their own unique way, they are also different.

Take, for example, Labs that have been bred as gun dogs. They are more likely to be agile or have higher levels of energy compared to other Labradors that have been bred as show dogs.

There’s really no one thing that Labrador Retriever is better at in an objective sense.

So, you can’t really compare a hunting Lab to a show Labrador to a household Labrador pet because they’re all in different categories.

They all have different purposes and their own unique specialties, not to mention their own unique temperament and personality.

In the past, owners used to breed Labradors to be all different kinds of things.

For example, they were bred to be both hunters and show dogs all at the same time.

However, as time went by, breeders became more inclined to breed specific Labradors according to what they were good at.

For instance, Labs that showed potential in being show dogs were bred with other show dogs.

This is also likely due to the increasingly rigorous requirements in competition that meant concentrating breed lines as much as possible to get the appropriate Labrador.

The result was that, over time, the different kinds of Labrador Retrievers and their differences slowly became more apparent.

So, instead of a Lab being just one type to become all kinds, there became smaller subsections, such as the American and English Labs for field work and shows. 

Take note that both of these kinds of Labrador can become a pet Lab. It all depends on what the owner’s preference is, which leads us to our next point. 

The best type of Labrador for you

All in all, the best type of Labrador for you is one that fits your lifestyle and personality.

Since there is no direct answer to the question of which type of Labrador is the best, you will have to make it your own.

It is important that you make this choice wisely, as it could determine the quality of the relationship that you have with your Lab.

As an example, you can’t choose an overactive field dog if you know that you won’t have time or energy to go out and let them get some exercise. 

In the same way, if you want to have a Labrador that mirrors the classic Lab’s appearance of stockiness and bulk, then you are better off buying a Lab of the show lines.

If you do want your Lab to serve a particular purpose, however, then you might want to watch out for certain characteristics.

Both show dogs and field dogs are highly trainable, but some would say that field dogs command more trainability. 

This study, in fact, actually states that Labrador gun dogs exhibited more trainability than their show or pet counterparts.

An English Lab is the better choice if you want a Labrador that is more playful.

Overall, it just depends on what you need and want in your Lab. Just make sure that you are making a wise choice that you will not regret.

Of course, you could also want a Labrador just as a household pet, and not necessarily for shows or hunting.

The most important part of choosing your Lab is checking health certificates and ensuring that they are healthy.

Remember that each Labrador is different. Sure, there may be common and different characteristics between the types.

But, the fact is that Labradors have unique personalities, which plays into how they act and what they excel at.


Labradors are not better at being gun dogs than being show dogs. Furthermore, being a gun dog does not make them any less of a pet.

It all boils down to what specific characteristics you are looking for in your Lab and the amount of time you can dedicate to their care.

Authored By

John Lab

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