Hunting Labradors, Field Labradors, and Show Labradors - What's the difference?
You know Labs come in three colors, Chocolate, Yellow, and Black. Were you aware there are different types of Labradors, each bred for a distinct purpose?
Due to the many challenges at great distances, these dogs need to be fast, agile, and SMART. They are bred to compete in Field Trials. These are events where up to four birds, one at a time, are thrown and shot before the dog is released to retrieve. Many retrieves exceed 300 yards, some of which are long challenging water retrieves. Much of the success of the dog depends on its marking ability because he/she must take a straight line through quite challenging terrain and water. In addition, the trial includes blind retrieves that require precise handling to keep the dog in a straight line to the hidden bird at distances of up to 400, sometimes 500 yards. On a blind retrieve, the dog must not break into a hunt, but rely on hand signals and whistle blows to find the downed bird. Because of the complexity and difficulty of these trials, breeding dogs must have great marking ability, athleticism, intelligence, retrieving desire and be excellent water dogs. As a result, these dogs are often leaner built, with long legs and a lot of energy, but completely trainable, owing to thier quite amazing intellect.
As only first place through fourth place receive points towards their field titles in each respective division, there became a call in the late 1970's from many hunters/trialers who wanted a test that more closely resembled realistic hunting situations. (At 400 yards out, what are you shooting the bird with, anyway?) This idea lead to the development of the hunt tests.
One of these types of tests is the AKC Hunt Test. The AKC offers three increasingly difficult levels, Junior (JH), Senior (SH) and Master (MH), where you compete against a standard rather than competing for a placement. The hunt tests put greater emphasis on steadiness and honoring which are important in a good duck dog. The marks and blinds were also decreased to realistic distances which should not exceed 100 yards. Also, dogs that "hunt" on blind marks are not usually judged harshly. As these Labs are generally owned by people who may only hunt about 30 days a year, these dogs spend the rest of their days as a family dog. Therefore, Hunting Labrador breeders breed dogs for hunting ability, a calm demeanor, good looks, and intelligence. The resulting dogs are stockier than the Field trial Labs, but not as heavy as the Show Labradors. They also sport a moderately blocky head, with legs in proportion to their body, and a disposition that will allow them to hunt in the morning, then lie down in front of the fireplace at night. These qualities have caused many to term the Hunting Lab as the"classic" Labrador.
These are the starlets and models of the Lab world, at least in some eyes. For while the Hunting and Field Trial Labs can look similar, there are few likenesses between them and the Show Labs. Why? Because for generations and generations, these dogs have been bred with only one thing in mind - appearance. Beauty is closely linked with fashion, and just like fashion, styles change, without any rhyme or reason. Beauty is purely subjective, and in the dog world, changes at the whims of the judges who judge it. When the focus is on appearance, the virtues are a certain coat, head shape, or even tail shape. It doesn't matter if the dog's flaws are a lazy temperament, low hunting drive or fear of the water. And thus show lines are born. Working ability is forgotten and aesthetics are the primary reason for breeding. Great for the people who like to show dogs, but not so great for the people who need them for working purposes or to keep up with an active family. Currently, Show Labs are heavy looking, with short legs, the all-important straight otter tail, and what has been described as a Rottweiler head. They usually have very calm personalities.
Yes! Because Hunting Labradors are bred for a calm temperament, good looks, and intelligence in addition to working ability, they make wonderful additions to families who have no intentions of hunting with their dogs. Furthermore, these dogs excel in Obedience and Agility, for those who want to show their dogs, plus hold titles like Lake Mascot, Hiking Buddy, Babysitter, and Official Ball Catcher, for those who wish to "show off" their dogs.
Due to their Field Labrador backgrounds, which helped to solidify their hunting ability and intelligence, occasionally there will be a puppy or two in a litter which exhibits a bit more "go" than we would like to place in a pet home. It is for this reason we watch our puppies' behaviors so closely, and do not allow people to pick out their puppy until the litter is six weeks old. At this time, their personalities have emerged, and we can better advise the buyer as to which puppy would be best suited for them.
Duck Fever Retrievers is a Central California Labrador Breeder. We are located in Exeter, CA