The Labrador Retriever is an active dog, which has a long history of serving people in diverse roles. Originally bred to work alongside fishermen, it helped to retrieve ropes and lines by easily swimming in cold waters protected by its oily coat of fur. In later generations, it became a sporting dog, used to track fallen game and gently carry it in its jaws to the shooter without biting. Respected as the best retriever, Labs continued in popularity and expanded to new jobs as society changed.
Labs have served as military, therapy and companion dogs for years. As such, Labs are sturdily built, with powerful legs, muscular torso and large muzzle. Their sleek coats, like their ancestors, are water resistant. They are excellent swimmers and equally fit for exercise on land. Labs come in three colors, black, chocolate and yellow. Due to genetics, it is possible for several of these colors to appear in a single litter of puppies, though breeders do not always know why and are not completely able to control the colors that result from pairings.
Labs have gentle mouths for carrying objects, and love to find something to carry. Their urge to carry is strong and they have trouble resisting picking things up. Labs have highly developed tracking abilities due to excellent sense of smell. Their breeding makes them have a strong urge to fetch and return items. Playing games can help to satisfy this urge, and keep them from chewing poor choices.
Their tail is described as an “otter tail” due to its shape and the way it is carried.
Families and owners who have time to devote attention to a Labrador will find it to be an intelligent, humorous and generally good natured companion.
The ancestor of the modern Labrador Retriever is the St. John’s Water Dog from Newfoundland. These dogs were brought to the island by deserters from the British fishing fleet. This history was documented in 1981 by Richard Wolters, an American Labrador trainer, using special access to the following:
- Documents provided by Her Majesty the Queen’s Sandringham Kennels
- Archives from The Kennel Club
- Information from families whose ancestors established the breed
The majority of Newfoundland settlers were from the Southwest of England. These were fishermen and hunters who brought their dogs with them. The island was first used as a colony supporting fishing in the summer, supplying fish to Britain. Though it was forbidden to settle there, some ignored British authority and stayed. The St. John’s Water Dog helped the fishing communities to work. These dogs were comfortable in the water, and excellent at retrieving fish, ropes, lines and nets from the water. Their coats were short and oily, making them water resistant. Early paintings and photographs of these dogs show that they look very much like their descendant, the Labrador Retriever.
In the 1880s, the St. John’s Dog had almost become extinct. Two English aristocrats met by chance and bred their imported St. John’s Dogs together. The two kennels produced the puppies that were to become the Labrador Retriever breed in the United Kingdom. They were bred to be working dogs, helping with hunts and retrieving downed waterfowl.
The Kennel Club in England recognized the breed in 1903. Soon after, wealthy Americans imported the Labradors from English kennels. The dog’s reputation for friendliness and hunting skills spread rapidly. By 1917 the American Kennel Club had also recognized the breed.
Today, the Labrador Retriever is noted as the most popular dog in the United States, and highly popular around the world.
Labradors are known for their outgoing and kind nature. They are gentle and eager to be with their owners; preferring to please them. Their intelligence and adaptability is noted by the American Kennel Club. Two traits which are considered unacceptable include shyness and aggressiveness toward animals or humans.
Size and Exercise
- Males are 22-1/2 to 24-1/2 inches in height at the withers
- Females are 21-1/2 to 23-1/2 inches in height at the withers
- Males weigh from 65 to 80 pounds
- Females weigh from 55 to 70 pounds
Labradors are high energy in terms of exercise. They need lots of activity, such as running, swimming, and playing outdoors. They do well on fishing and hunting trips because they are genetically wired for retrieving things. Their mouths are typically soft from generations of focused breeding. They can be trained to pick up things, such as downed birds, without biting.
Labs need daily exercise. Many owners bicycle with their labs jogging alongside. A brisk, long walk is necessary for labs who live in apartments. They also enjoy playing with their owners outside in a fenced yard.
Health Issues and Living Conditions
The Labrador Retriever has several problems that are common to the breed:
- Allergic skin disease
- Anterior cruciate ligament tears
- Broken toes and nails
- Exercise induced collapse – a muscle abnormality
- Heart disease
- Hip and elbow dysplasia – malformation in the hips and elbows
- Obesity – Labs love to eat
- Osteochondrosis – an orthopedic condition
- Panosteitis – growing pains
- Progressive retinal atrophy
- Prone to intestinal obstructions from eating objects
Labrador Retrievers can live most anywhere as long as they have access to daily exercise. They are very active dogs, and need time to run and play. They also like to accompany their owners on outdoor excursions. What they need most wherever they live is to be with people. When left alone for too long, they can become bored and will chew on things they should not.
Labrador Retrievers have an average lifespan of approximately 12 to 13 years.
Labs have double coats. The outer coat of fur is short in length and hard to the touch. It serves as protection from the elements. The undercoat is soft and provides insulation. Labs need their outer coat combed once a week, and when they are shedding, they often need brushing twice each week, or more.
Any lab who has had a good swim needs to be rinsed off with fresh water to remove chemicals, dirt or mud. Their ears need to be completely dried to avoid infections, and cleaned with a vet approved ear wash.
Labradors need their nails trimmed about every two weeks, and their teeth brushed often with dog toothpaste.
Caring for Labrador Retriever Puppies
Labrador Retriever puppies will need plenty of care when they are young. They must be potty trained, and this takes considerable effort because most puppies need to empty their bladders in 15 minute intervals. As they grow older, they will be able to wait longer periods to eliminate. But, during the initial months, their owners must take them to the place where they will toilet, and clean up after many accidents. It takes patience to help the puppy learn where to go, but diligence will pay off with time.
Puppies also need to practice basic commands, such as sit, stay, no, come and stop. These should be done at home until the puppy has completed its vaccinations. Regular training and rewarding with lots of praise and healthy protein treats can make things easier.
Labradors are very loving with their owners and family. They need lots of attention every day. They must not be left alone for long periods, or they will become anxious, fearful and insecure. They must learn while young to chew on their toys rather than other things. Once they grow to their adult size, they will be hard to control. Training young avoids adult dog problems. Never allow them to be alone for more than three to four hours at a time. They like to dig holes in yards, so provide other activities to distract them and they will be happier. Ultimately, they can be wonderful companions when trained and included in family life from the very beginning.
Before Taking Your New Labrador Retriever Puppy Home
- Choose a sleeping area for your new puppy
- Buy a Labrador puppy sized crate for sleeping and resting
- Buy a roll of veterinary bedding for puppies to use in the crate
- Ask the breeder what kind of puppy food your puppy eats and stock a supply for home
- Buy a puppy food bowl that is stainless steel
- Buy a puppy water bowl that is ceramic with steep sides
- Buy and read a puppy potty training book
- Buy puppy health insurance
- Stock up on puppy rope and chew toys
- Buy a puppy barrier to keep your puppy safe and away from off limits areas
- Buy a collar and leash for walks
- Find local puppy obedience training courses
When You Bring Your Labrador Home
- Feed your 2-month old puppy dry puppy kibble 4 times daily, 2 ounces per serving
- Feed your 3-month old puppy 3 times daily, 3 to 3 and ½ ounces per serving
- Feed your 6-month old puppy 2 times daily, 6 to 8 ounces per serving
- Always be certain to have fresh water available
- Take the puppy for a veterinary check up to set a vaccination and care schedule
- Keep the puppy at home until after his vaccinations are complete to avoid infectious diseases
- Start puppy socialization and obedience classes when the puppy reaches 14 weeks of age
Labrador Retriever Types
The AKC breed standard for the Labrador is strict. There are only three coat colors accepted as types:
- Black – the coat must be completely black, without brindle or tan markings of any kind
- Yellow – the coat may be fox-red ranging to a light cream, and the ears, underparts and back may have variations in shading
- Chocolate – the coat may have variations from light to dark, without any tan or brindle markings
No other colors or combination of colors are recognized. Some outliers are breeding Silver Retrievers, which are not recognized by the AKC and have caused considerable controversy in the breeding world. In addition, some Labs have a small white spot on their chests, this is not considered a desirable marking.
The distinctive Labrador coat is to be short in length and straight. It is quite dense. The undercoat should be soft, and is seen as protection from weather, water, ground cover and cold temperatures. The coat can have a minimal wave along the back, but woolly, spare, slick and silk coats are not considered true to the breed.
Other Nicknames and Names
The only AKC Recognized and Named Colors:
- Black Labrador Retriever
- Yellow Labrador Retriever
- Chocolate Labrador Retriever
The Labrador Retriever is officially a Sporting Group member breed of the American Kennel Club (AKC) as of 1917.
The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. is the official breed club of the AKC.
- American Canine Association Inc. (ACA)
- American Canine Registry (ACR)
- American Pet Registry, Inc. (APRI)
- Australian National Kennel Club (ANKC)
- Canadian Canine Registry (CCR)
- Canadian Kennel Club (CKC)
- Continental Kennel Club (CKC)
- Dog Registry of America, Inc. (DRA)
- Fédération Cynologique Internationale (FCI)
- Kennel Club of Great Britain (KCGB)
- National Kennel Club (NKC)
- New Zealand Kennel Club (NZKC)
- North American Purebred Registry, Inc (NAPR)
- United Kennel Club (UKC)