Whether you're looking for a hunting dog or family pet -- or a combination of both -- the Labrador retriever and English springer spaniel both fill the bill. They're both athletic, versatile, good-natured canines who love their people. The springer, with his longer, wavier coat, requires more grooming than the short-haired Lab. If size is a consideration, there's a difference in the mature height and weight of the two breeds.
English springer spaniels fall into two distinct lines -- showing and hunting. While either type makes a good companion dog, if you're interested in field sports, find a dog from a hunting line. Although Lab breeders might concentrate on certain canine abilities, the distinction between showing and hunting lines isn't as clear-cut in the breed. If you're not interested in hunting, both breeds do well in canine activities such as obedience, agility, therapy and search and rescue. While you might see more Labs engaged in these activities, that's probably because they significantly outnumber springers. The Labrador retriever has been the most popular breed in America for many years, according to American Kennel Club registration numbers.
Labrador retrievers come in three basic shades: black, yellow and chocolate. The AKC standard allows a small white spot on the chest, but that's it. Acceptable coat colors for the English springer spaniel include liver or black with white markings, or mostly white with liver or black markings. Tricolors -- those with additional tan markings beneath the tail, above the eyes, on the cheeks and inner ear -- are permitted, as are liver or blue roans. Roan consists of gray hairs evenly distributed on the black and liver sections of the coat. Ticking -- those dark flecks in the white coloring -- is permissible.
Height and Weight
The Labrador retriever is larger than the English springer spaniel. While Labs are considered large-breed dogs, springers are considered medium-sized. Male Labs mature between 22.5 to 24.5 inches tall at the shoulder, with females slightly smaller at 21.5 to 23.5 inches. Male Labs weigh between 65 and 80 pounds, with females ranging between 55 to 70 pounds. Meanwhile, the breed standard's ideal height for the adult male English springer spaniel is 20 inches at the shoulder, while the female is 19 inches. Male springers weigh approximately 50 pounds when full-grown, females weigh considerably less at 40 pounds. Dogs from show lines are slightly heavier than field springers.
The Lab is bigger-boned than the springer. The Lab has a wider skull; the springer's head is smaller and more refined. Both have muzzles that are about as long as their heads. The Lab's ears are much shorter than the springer's: If you pull the Lab's ears forward, they should reach to the inside of the eye. When you pull the springer's ears forward, they can reach his nose tip.
Both springers and Labs are generally good with kids, cats and other dogs. Neither is particularly outstanding as a watchdog. Although it's possible your dog will bark if someone approaches the house, an attack on an intruder by either breed is unlikely. Labs are somewhat easier to train than springers, especially for advanced work. Both breeds possess abundant energy and require regular exercise. Labs loves the water -- expect canine companionship when you take a dip in the backyard pool.
- American Kennel Club: Labrador Retriever Breed Standard
- American Kennel Club: English Springer Spaniel Breed Standard
- Petfinder: Adopt an English Springer Spaniel
- English Springer Spaniel Field Trial Association: Versatility
- Vetstreet: Labrador Retriever
- American Kennel Club: Get to Know the Labrador Retriever
- Vetstreet: English Springer Spaniel
- Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images