What Makes a Dual Champion Retriever?

A dual champion in the retriever world refers to a dog who has received both his conformation champion (CH) and his field trial champion (FC). Dual champions are very rare, especially in the modern labrador retriever breed.

Over the last several decades, the breeders have diverged into two separate types of labs. On one hand there are the “field trial” dogs who are bred for their marking ability, quickness, sense of smell, and tractability. On the other hand there are the “conformation” dogs who are bred to meet a defined, if somewhat subjective, standard. Although this type of selective breeding has produced some impressive dogs on both sides of the spectrum, it has deviated away from the original purpose of the labrador.

The field trial dogs, as a whole, are very impressive athletes. They are commonly trained to run 400-600 yard retrieves and blind retrieves through cover and water. These dogs can run “quads,” or four marks thrown in a row and then retrieved sequentially after the last mark hits the ground. They are usually thrown at extreme distances that challenge the dog’s vision, smell, determination, and memory. It is not a stretch to say that today’s field trial dogs are more athletically talented than those of forty years ago.

dual champion labrador retriever
1932 British Dual Champion Branshaw Bob

The conformation dogs are bred to meet the official labrador retriever standard, as specified by the Labrador Retriever Club, or LRC. This standard was originally designed to optimize the dog’s physical health, hardiness, and athletic ability. The breed standard states the following:

The Labrador Retriever is a strongly built, medium-sized, short-coupled, dog possessing a sound, athletic, well-balanced conformation that enables it to function as a retrieving gun dog; the substance and soundness to hunt waterfowl or upland game for long hours under difficult conditions; the character and quality to win in the show ring; and the temperament to be a family companion. 

Physical features and mental characteristics should denote a dog bred to perform as an efficient Retriever of game with a stable temperament suitable for a variety of pursuits beyond the hunting environment. The most distinguishing characteristics of the Labrador Retriever are its short, dense, weather resistant coat; an “otter” tail; a clean-cut head with broad back skull and moderate stop; powerful jaws; and its “kind” friendly eyes, expressing character, intelligence and good temperament. 

Above all, a Labrador Retriever must be well balanced, enabling it to move in the show ring or work in the field with little or no effort. The typical Labrador possesses style and quality without over refinement, and substance without lumber or cloddiness. The Labrador is bred primarily as a working gun dog; structure and soundness are of great importance.

Unfortunately, neither version of the modern lab do a perfect job of meeting this standard. The field trial dog has deviated from the physical appearance of the standard and, although retaining and improving upon the athletic ability, trainability, and intelligence. The conformation dogs have also strayed from the standard. Most show dogs in the ring now are overweight, lack retrieving desire, and are bred for subjective physical characteristics that are found pleasing by the judges but may not meet the functional demands of a working dog. Many of these dogs would not make a good hunting companion.

First Labrador Dual Champion Banchory Bolo

Recently the interest in “dual purpose” labs has enjoyed a resurgence. Many message boards are full of posts with breeders and lab owners commenting on the need for a more versatile lab. The last lab to attain the dual champion title was Ch-FC/AFC Highwood Shadow, sired by FC/AFC Highwood Piper, in 1984. Although the next dual champion lab will not appear overnight, it is possible through thoughtful and intelligent breedings. There are some show/conformation lines that are proven producers of dogs with good ability and retrieving desire. Similarly, there are some field trial lines that retain good conformation and desirable physical and personality characteristics. The key will be breeding these lines of labradors to continually develop dogs capable of being dual purpose.

1957 Official Standard for the Labrador Retriever. Credit Labrador Retriever, Richard Wolters.