Should there be a difference ?
No, of course not. Both the field dog and show dog should have exactly the same conformation and condition.
Ever since the early 1800s the Labrador Retriever was meant to be a working retriever. Its hunting and retrieving qualities was the reason the Labrador Retriever was imported to England in the first place, and to many other countries subsequently.
Dr. B.W. Ziessow wrote, “By definition, conformation in any breed is the symmetrical formation and arrangement of (body) parts; conforming to a model or a plan (i.e., the breed standard). The first question that must come to mind in judging any breed or evaluating an individual specimen is “Can the dog do the job he was originally intended to do?” It is axiomatic that proper conformation is basic to the survival of any breed and is equally important to both the show dog and the hunter. It is ludicrous therefore, to think of type as something extra to breed conformation and/or soundness (which is tantamount to proper movement). Without them you can’t have true breed type.
Accordingly, there is one (and only one) correct type of Labrador Retriever.”
A Labrador Retriever should be able to excel in field work and have the quality to win in the show ring. After a hard day’s work in the field, under difficult conditions, he should be able to be a nice companion and friendly, relaxed family dog.
Being a Labrador breeder I aim to breed multi-purpose Labradors – Labradors that are wonderful family dogs, good looking Labradors, Labradors that can work in the field. Yet I have always kept a certain distance from the pure field bred, because I don’t like the way they look and I don’t like the way they behave in the living room.
Labradors are NOT right for everyone. Labradors are a breed that need a lot of exercise, and if you cannot provide that, then forget about this breed. Labradors from show lines tend to gain weight easily because they do not have such a high drive as field bred Labradors, but dogs from both strains need plenty of exercise.
Even if you want to acquire a Labrador mainly for working purposes, it’s safer to get it from show lines with working abilities (applies to most show bred Labradors) than from pure field lines.
Also I need to stress that we breed different types of field Labradors in South Africa than British and Americans breeders, and that they train their dogs differently.
Because the British absolutely must train retrievers that are steady and quiet under considerable pressure — say while 200 or more pheasants are felled in a driven shoot — they believe that starting a dog too soon on field work tends to create a dog whose retrieving expectations will rise to intolerable levels, and with them the amount of maintenance required to keep a Labrador steady, quiet and otherwise well-trained.
Again, the best of the South African Labrador breeders produce animals of kind and quiet temperaments because we are highly discriminating breeders. And again, steadiness and quietness are qualities of temperament, and temperament can’t be trained, it must be bred for.
We have long known, however, that certain training techniques and philosophies accentuate these desirable genetic qualities. A dog that inherently is capable of being steady and quiet in the field can be assured of fully developing those traits if certain training techniques are followed. Conversely, the same animal can be developed into a much more excitable, less quiet and less steady dog if training techniques are used that — intentionally or not — tend to hype up, or excite, a dog. So there certainly is an aspect of environment, too.