Know What You Want
As you learned in Chapter 1, the Lab is a versatile dog that shines in many areas, but there can be marked differences in structure, retrieving ability, and birdiness in Labs that are bred for different things. Show dogs are bred with the aim of producing a dog with perfect conformation. Field dogs are bred strictly for working ability, not looks. However, either type can make a good companion dog as long as your personality and lifestyle are compatible with the Lab's high energy level and love of fun.
Many people who compete in conformation say their dogs are every bit as good in the field as hunting-type Labs, while people who breed for field competition often say their Labs have more stamina and better retrieving skills. Whatever the case, it's hoped that the latest revisions to the breed standard will bring the two types closer together.
In a perfect world, there would be no substantial difference among Labs bred for conformation, field trials, or as companions. A Lab from a responsible breeder with a high-quality breeding program should be able to perform all three jobs without batting an eye.
Many Labrador breeders aim for versatility in their dogs, and they produce Labs that meet the breed standard and maintain the retrieving skills for which the breed is famous. Nonetheless, some breeders place more emphasis on form than function, and vice versa. Know which type you're dealing with and meet the breeder's adult dogs before you take a pup home.
Labs that are bred primarily to be show dogs tend to have more laidback temperaments than those bred to be hard-driving field dogs. If you think you want to show your Lab — but might enjoy trying field trials or hunt tests — you're better off getting a Lab from show lines. These dogs have the looks required for the show ring (shorter legs, heavier bones, and a broader head), but in most cases they haven't lost the nose and retrieving ability that make them stars in the field.
Look for a Lab from field lines if performance is your main interest and you don't plan to show your dog. These dogs have the high energy levels, drive to retrieve, and conformation (longer legs, leaner body, and a more narrow skull) necessary to compete and succeed in difficult, day-long field trials. Whether you're looking for a show or field dog, ask what titles the pup's parents have earned. Reputable breeders prove their dogs' qualities in the show ring or field.
What if your Lab's main job will be as a family companion? The laidback Lab from show lines will best suit your needs. He will still have plenty of energy to play with kids, but he will be less likely to run you off your feet.