The Labrador Retriever originates from Newfoundland in Canada and was originally known as the St John’s Dog, after the capital city of the province. These dogs were used to drag fishing nets and ropes to shore, and were powerful swimmers.
Some of these St John’s Dogs were taken to England in the early 1800′s. They were crossed with setters and spaniels, and the resulting dogs were the foundation of the breed we now know as the Labrador Retriever. They no longer work alongside fishermen, but are now relied on to retrieve game birds over both land and water.
The AKC recognized the Labrador Retriever as a breed in 1917, and it is now one of the most popular dog breeds in the world. Because they are very trainable and have a good work ethic, they are used as assistance dogs for disabled people, drug detection dogs, and rescue and tracking dogs. Endal, a yellow Labrador Retriever who was a service dog for a disabled Gulf War veteran could understand and obey over 100 commands!
The average Lab is a medium sized dog, weighing up to 70lbs and growing as tall as 25 inches at the shoulder. Some labs,informally known as field labs can be taller and have a longer muzzle. They have a solid build, and are very well muscled. Their body is well adapted for the work they did, with webbed toes and a short water resistant double coat. Their thick tail acts as a rudder when they are swimming. These dogs have a very noble head carriage, with dark expressive eyes and pendulous ears.
There is a choice of three colors in this breed – black, yellow and chocolate. Yellow dogs can range from a very light cream color to a “fox red” shade. Some Labradors are a “silver” color, but these are considered to be a variant of the chocolate coat.
Labrador Retrievers are an even tempered, kind and friendly breed, and often appear to be wearing a smile. They love to play, and get on very well with children. If there is water nearby, they’ll be drawn to it like a magnet, and will take every opportunity to go for a swim.
These dogs are known for their intelligence and loyalty. This intelligence means that they can create mischief if they aren’t given enough mental stimulation, especially when they are adolescent. Regular exercise and obedience training will turn your “naughty” dog into a companion that is a pleasure to own.
Anyone who lives with a Labrador will agree that they love their food, and will eat almost anything. This allows you to easily train them with tasty treats, but it also means they have a tendency to gain weight. Those beautiful brown eyes are hard to resist, and just a few extra tidbits a day can add up to extra pounds on the scales.
There is no aggression in the Labrador’s nature, and they aren’t very effective as a guard dog. They will let you know if someone is approaching your home with a deep bark, but they are then very likely to welcome the visitor with a big grin and a wagging tail. Unfortunately, unscrupulous breeders have seen how popular these dogs are, and are cashing in on it. They are less careful about only breeding from the best animals, so veterinarians and dog trainers are starting to see more biting Labs.
Labradors love companionship, and aren’t happy unless they have company, either their human family or another dog.
As a breed, Labrador Retrievers have some hereditary health concerns that you need to be aware of. Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia can cause sore joints and prevent a dog from enjoying its favorite activities. There is no specific gene that is responsible for these diseases, so they are known as polygenic disorders. The best that breeders can do is x-ray their breeding animals and then only breed from those with good hips and elbows. Even this is no guarantee that the offspring won’t be affected.
Genetic eye disease is also a problem. Progressive retinal atrophy, retinal dysplasia and cataracts can all affect a Labrador’s vision. Again breeding stock can be checked for these problems before they are mated.
To reduce your risk of buying a puppy with any of these genetic disorders, only buy your Labrador Retriever from a registered breeder, and ask them for the results of the tests they have performed on their breeding stock.
Their pendulous ears, coupled with their love of water, mean that Labradors may develop ear infections due to moisture and a lack of air circulation. Therefore, regular ear inspection and cleaning (if necessary) is a must.
The Labrador’s short coat is very easy to take care of. They only need an occasional bath, and a weekly brushing will keep their coat in good condition. They often shed hair throughout the year, but more so in summer. Be prepared to sweep up some dog hair if your Lab lives inside with you.
The real challenge in owning a Labrador is keeping them physically and mentally active. These dogs love to work, and will thrive if you give them a job to do. In some parts of the country, you can train your dog in search and rescue, or put it to work as a “pets as therapy dog” If this isn’t an option for you, then it’s worth looking into the various dog sports. Labradors excel in obedience and agility competitions, and these activities let them use their brain at the same time as they are burning up excess energy.
Whether you participate in dog sports or not, your Labrador will need a good walk every day. Even better, take your Lab for a jog; they make great running buddies.
The Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog in the United States for a reason. They are the ideal breed for many people. Families enjoy their gentle playful nature, and active people like them because they can accompany them on their runs or walks.
It could be argued that the Labrador is the perfect dog for any person – a great nature, good sense of humor, easy to train and loves to be with people. If you choose your pup carefully from a reputable breeder, and meet your dog’s needs with respect to training and exercise, your Labrador Retriever will bring you up to 12 or more years of canine companionship and pleasure.