Sunday, 5 December 2010

Lab or flab?

A reader sent me the link to this US show champion Masti... oops, sorry, Labrador.

© Riverlane Labradors

Compare this to a typical UK working Labrador, which actually does the job for which it was bred.

What are the show breeders thinking?

I wrote about the supersize problems in show Labradors in the June 2010 issue of Dogs Today Magazine:

Illustration: Kevin Brockbank
"Afficionados of working Labs believe the show dogs are far too lumbering to do a proper day's work. They refer to the show dogs as 'Rottadors'. The show fraternity, meanwhile, call the working Labs 'Whippets'. believing them far too slight to be 'proper' Labradors and that their type is more true to the revered standard.

"The big question is: does it matter? Is there anything inherently wrong with simply having the two different types, as long as both types are able to emjoy long and healthy lives? I think the answer is probably no - with a couple of caveats.

"First, I believe it is a general kindness to Labradors to keep them lighter on their feet, given their propensity to hip dysplasia/arthritis - and I mean structurally, not just in terms of keeping them lean. I have seen too many show-type Labs slowed to hobbling, stiff-legged painfulness as they grow older.

"And second, I think it matters because of the continuing delusion among show breeders that they are breeding the 'correct' dog despite the fact that it doesn't do the job it was bred to do and looks absolutely nothing like the dogs that the original breed standard was written to reflect."

A pdf of the whole article is downloadable from here. It can be reproduced for non-commercial use as long as myself, illustrator Kevin Brockbank and Dogs Today Magazine are credited.


  1. There would be no problem with having two types should they both be healthy. The problem with show labs is that they do carry excess weight, whether that be bone, fat or whatever. This increase weight predisposes them to arthritis and other weight related issues. What is wrong with the working type dog? Why are breeders aiming for a more heavily built dog? It would be wonderful to see breeders aim for a lighter, healthier lab. They would be a joy to watch in the ring.

  2. The UK Labrador Retriever is beautiful.

    Have you heard about how different fractions of the Labrador Retriever breeders in America wound up arguing in court over which type of Labrador Retrievers should be the show type?

    I've forgotten how it ended, but by the photo, it seems not very well.

  3. UK show labs are still on the heavy side. Comparing the Crufts BOB winner this year with the Westminster KC dog show BOB (and group) winner, I can't see any real difference.

  4. Sorry, my prev. comment should read 4th in Group at Westminster.

  5. Give me a UK working Lab any day! Seriously, that American show Lab does look like a Mastiff and it also looks overweight to. Are show people really destroying the natural look of a Lab to now?


  6. LOL..the man who came to fix my gas line yesterday told me he has two labs.. and then he said.. "you know the nice ENGLISH ones.. heavier and more blocky?" I told him yes I did know as most American labs look like cross breds.. which I am sure is ok with you.. most people here think an "English style " lab looks like the top photo.. not the bottom.. just goes to show you.. a photo can lie.. and often cannot take just one example by a photo and either praise or malign a whole group.. but of course you do exactly that..

  7. and once again you have taken a photo of a dog.. and compared it with a idea of age or even anything about either dog..sort of hard to tell what the breeders are thinking.. bet you have not asked them.. and you could as Riverlane Labs are pretty easy to find on the internet..

  8. The fad of breeding excessively heavy Labs is disgusting, but if you think about the history of the Labrador Retriever today's working Labs would be unfit for the original working purpose that Labs were created for: water retrieves in the frigid waters of Newfoundland. You can't compare the conformation of a dog that's selectively bred for field work with a dog that's selectively bred strictly for cold water retrieves. Different working purpose requires different conformation.

    It would be nice to see show bred labs weighed down by excessive fat and too large of heads, but I'm not much a fan of of the most field either Labs either, especially those of American lines.

    1. The Labrador was never bred for this purpose, the st johns dog was! The Labrador retriever we know is the result of a large scale breeding program, undertaken in the UK by two gentlemen whose names escape me.

  9. It's not just the Labs that are a bit off. I am amazed a how a nearly white dog can be called a golden retriever.

  10. All photos and text on this site Copyright © Riverlane Labradors unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. Reuse or reproduction of any kind, electronic or otherwise, is prohibited and also not very nice.


  11. I can tell you that in goldens have such a sequestered gene pool among several different types has not been very good.

    I have not seen looked at Labs, but in goldens, the lines are concentrated around a few sires:

  12. You can probably find more variations of lab that other breeds, the difference are very pronounced. One lab person is claiming that there is dwarfism in the breed. The legs have shortened and the torso has enlarged.
    But overweight is overweight and those extra pounds may not hurt a younger dog, but they are hard to remove as the dog ages.

  13. The American show lab has an enormous head and thick shoulders, like the UK show labs. You could, I suppose, slim it down a bit but it would still be a fairly massive dog.
    The working lab in the picture below is beautiful and in proportion.
    Julia Lewis

  14. Apropos of Anon's complaint of your use of the Riverlane photo, here is the applicable section of the U.S. Copyright Act:

    TITLE 17 > CHAPTER 1 > § 107

    § 107. Limitations on exclusive rights: Fair use

    Notwithstanding the provisions of sections 106 and 106A, the fair use of a copyrighted work, including such use by reproduction in copies or phonorecords or by any other means specified by that section, for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching (including multiple copies for classroom use), scholarship, or research, is not an infringement of copyright. . . .

  15. A starved hog would still look like a hog.

  16. oh yawn I contacted the Riverlane people.. they said ..boring.. who cares .. and I agree... one picture does not a dog kennel make.. nor a breeding program...especially when the blog author cannot tell a dog from a bitch..?? Jemima .. how many litters have you bred and whelped 20.. 30.. 100 . or any at all

  17. I wonder what's the relevance of the above post to "flab or lab"?

    Does the poster really mean that an in-depth knowledge of any breed is simply acquired by breeding & whelping umpteen litters? :D

    - Gosh, I started it all wrong... ;)

    Jemima, good work & best wishes for 2011!

  18. Neither of these two dogs look like the one in the link, right? ORIGINS AND TIMELINE

  19. The dog in the first photo is horrible, I agree.
    However, the second photo of the "working" labrador... the terminology is slightly incorrect.
    The original labradors were bred for swimming and retrieving from water, while these "working" labs, or field trial labs, are bred for being fast on the ground (not water) and are thus mixed with border collies, lurchers, hunting breeds etc.

    So my opinion is, NEITHER of these dogs is what a labrador should look like.

    I like your blog, but in this case, you got it wrong.

  20. There are puppy farmers a plenty that have bred 20, 30 or a 100 litters, annonymous maybe we should ask them to impart their knowledge of the correct lab type !

  21. lol.. perhaps you should ask the riverlane people and the judges who put their dogs up.. Jemima has not bred ANY Labradors that i know of.. nor does she have a judges license..nor any credibility to write about dogs at all.

  22. I own a showline Labrador and sometimes I can really see that he would like to run and jump, but it's hard for him, because he is way too heavy.

    I don't think that's the way the breed should go.

  23. Too late....its already gone

  24. @ Anonymous who wrote 31 december. That statement is actually more of an old wifestale then fact. The dog which were imported looked infact very similar to the workingdog today after that it was bred to be a gundog for several decades before it formed a breed. As each breeder had a limited amount of dogs to breed from they used the gamekeepers nightdogs to prevent problems caused by inbreeding. An extreme outcross if you will. This was before the breed was a breed hence the same for all labradors. The split between working and show labrador came gradualy. You can see hints of it in the 30ies, more in 40ies and 50ies until you see the first labradors looking like show labradors in the late 50ies to mid 60ies.

  25. Important issue, but impossible to change? Some quotes from The Labrador Retriever Club's yearbook 1991: Susan Scales: «Another factor militating against the production of dual purpose dogs is the fact that the majority of present day show judges have no involvement with work and no idea of how a working dog should be built. They put up dogs which are too heavy and often too short, with thick stuffy necks and upright shoulders. These would be incapable of working on a shoot for more than half an hour without getting exhausted, still less with the speed and style demanded for trails».
    Mary Roslin Williams, Mansergh Kennel: «So i feel that unless the tide turns soon, we are going into an aera of over-fat, over-ponderous, coarse, heavy shouldered dogs quite unssuited for their job. I was wey shaken two years ago, when the President of the Three Counties Agricultural Show, a gentleman who has very decent Labradors himself, came to do his tour of the dog section and sat down beside me. He looked at Limit Dog and said «These dogs ar far too fat, 100% of them. They are nothing short of disgusting», and with those, to me, true words he got up and left. I felt ashamed, but also glad that somone had the courage to say so».
    Some more foto's at
    showing norwegian showlabs of 2010 vs their ancestors.
    What are the show-judges thinking?

  26. Some people wrote about how the champion is a male and the working dog is a bitch, which is highly unfair..
    Are you kidding???? Are you people blind? Do you honestly believe the difference wouldn´t show if they were of same sex? Is there no end to your denial?

  27. Statistics do not bear you out in saying Labs are prone to dysplasia. See data at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. Labs are in the middle of the pack. Almost all the other gun dogs are worse, as are breeds listed as 'Labradoodle' and 'hybrid'. Yes, there is room for improvement, and yes, extra weight doesn't help. But I think Lab breeders deserve credit, in general, for selecting for health. The UK stats are not as good as the OFA stats . . . and UK show labs do have a reputation for epilepsy. I refer to Pamela Davol's treatment of Labrador health/genetics/colouring and everything else, which is the most authoritative source I can find on the web. Eg., and for differences of type as related to health.


  28. The lawsuit in the U.S. was to prohibit a deviation in standards that would have allowed short coupled, short necked, and short legged British show types from meeting the height standard of the AKC. The Labrador Retriever Club of the U.S., which promotes field and show Labs with dual qualities won the suit. If you look at the OFA records, compare, on your own, the average hip scores of those Labs with field trial parentage to those with show parentage. And also be aware that dogs whose X-Rays have not been submitted are not included--there is a self-selection bias. Do the same for the published data bases from the UK, which uses a more refined hip rating scale, mesuring each hip, left and right, from deviation from perfect fit, which is a zero. Then, look at the same data for eyes, and for elbows. Make your own conclusions. Search the records by leading sires for show Labs and for field trial labs in the U.S. and the U.K., and look at the percentages in the U.S. of dogs rated Excellent, Good, Fair, or without a hip dysplasia rating. One of these strains has a higher proportion of Excellent.

  29. I have a labrador mix bitch and I'm very very happy that she's not in the 'show' type. She looks like this:

    and the bitch in working class (FCI, Poland)on left and mine Zmora in right

    I'm terrified about what happened to this breed.. In future I will had a working lab to do some agility and frisbee. :)

  30. My male Rotty is leaner,and longer legged then the American Lab.
    Original Rottweilers where smaller also.

  31. The show judges must take a considerable amount of blame for this. If the chunky dogs did not do well and the working leaner strain won, the working dog would be the show dog.

  32. I have a lab cross that I do fun showing with, amd I would NEVER take even onto a show ground if he was fat! It was the same with my highland pony....they are usually put into the show rinb obese and cranked up on oats to give them energy. Yet I would put in the work of getting her fit and healthy, and in return she didn't need to be pumped full of energy rich foods because she could actually move easily and had the strength to do it naturally, and would shock people when she could easily spend a whole day out hunting when most would be gone half way through!
    I think show dogs should be judged on being fit for purpose with the breeds that originally had a purpose. No need for them to actually work, but if someone with a kennel club lab that is fit, healthy, and anatomically correct, it should not be placed below a lab that has the right anatomy but is obese.....reward hard working owners and breeders who take pride in the health of their animals over the ones who over feed and under exercise because they are to cowardly to break a ridiculous fashion to create unhealthy dogs for the purpose of showing off a totally useles animal!
    nothing wrong with just having them as pets of course, but I still have no idea why they decided to create 2 types as only a few will be good enough for showing, so why not give the show bred ones the structure needed to be a healthy working dog, or pet that will live a long happy and active life =/

  33. The trend among some breeders is for `chunky` Labs. It`s what they prefer, and we have to like it. My Polly, like my previous Lab, was bred in the West of England, and has a lighter build, with a smaller head, although still from show stock. She is quite tall and weighs 26kg. (58lbs.). The `stop` of the muzzle of the top dog is too pronounced,and yes, very much like that on a Mastiff.