The faithful Labrador Retriever truly lives up to the moniker of man's best friend. This sturdy breed was originally developed to retrieve waterfowl and participate in hunting upland game. The breed's name is a bit of a misnomer, having more likely originated from the Newfoundland breeds who later found their way to England and were crossbred with other retrievers of the time.
Origin and History
Labrador Retrievers come from the island of Newfoundland and were originally called St. John's dogs. Labs were originally companions to the local fisherman in the early 1700s. The dogs retrieved fish that escaped hooks and returned home to spend time with their families.
Labs, who are now known as America's favorite dog breed, almost went extinct in the 1880s due to government restriction and taxes in England. Families were not permitted to have more than one dog, and if they owned a female, they were heavily taxed.
Fortunately, the breed survived the hardship and was recognized as a distinct breed by the American Kennel Club in 1917. Breeders began working with Labrador Retrievers heavily in the 1920s and 1930s to make them what they are today.
The lab is a popular breed for a reason. Their affectionate, loving demeanor, along with their joy for family life, doesn't go unnoticed.
According to the American Kennel Club breed standard, the average Lab weighs in around 70 pounds, which makes them quite solid for medium-sized dogs. They stand 23 inches tall at the shoulder, on average. The breed's tails are also very recognizable for their "otter-like" appearance.
Labs come in three recognized colors:
- Solid Black, with a small amount of white permissible on the chest
- Yellow, perhaps the most popular color
- Chocolate, a rich reddish brown
The Labrador Retriever is highly valued for their easy, outgoing nature. Stability is the hallmark of the Labrador personality, and these dogs make wonderful family pets who get along well with most dogs and other animals, as well. Labradors love to please their owners and require a lot of affectionate attention, which they are only too willing to return in kind. However, a Labrador is all business when it's time to go to work.
They're known to be good dogs for beginners due to their social, loving personalities. They're particularly good for those with families who enjoy travel. They will not only love the car ride, but will greet strangers along the way and enjoy any adventure you choose to go on.
Labrador Retrievers are excellent candidates for all types of training and only require consistency to bring out their best efforts. They have long been prized for their abilities in the field as game dogs, and they also do extremely well in obedience and the sport of agility.
Their gentle intelligence also makes these dogs very good candidates for search-and-rescue work, and also serve well as guide and therapy dogs.
Labs enjoy having a job to do. They desire a purpose. Drug and explosive detection, search and rescue, therapy, aid to people with impairments, and game retrievers are all jobs that labs do. They also do well in all dog competitions, including show, field, agility, and obedience.
Labs vary in their required levels of activity, but they all require exercise, both physical and mental. A 30-minute walk every day, play time at the local dog park, or a game of ball are just a few activities to help your lab burn off some energy. A puppy, on the other hand, should not be taken for lengthy walks and should only be allowed to play for a few minutes at a time to avoid future joint health issues.
Labrador Retrievers are known to over-work themselves and will continue to play to the point of exhaustion. Therefore, it's your responsibility to know and understand when it's time to take a break or go in for the day.
Unfortunately, this breed, like many others, is prone to some hereditary diseases that can significantly lower the quality of your pet's life. Responsible breeders screen for the following diseases in order to try to eliminate them from their breeding stock.
- Canine hip and elbow dysplasia: A painful, degenerative disease of the hip and elbow joints
- Retinal Dysplasia: An eye disease that produces folds in the retina
- Renal Dysplasia: A disease that causes abnormal development of the kidney
- Gastric torsion: Also known as bloat, this condition produces twisting of the stomach that is often fatal
- Progressive retinal atrophy: A disease that causes blindness
- Canine cataracts: A condition that causes clouding of the eye lens and blurry vision
- Exercise-induced collapse: A condition that causes a dog to collapse after moderate to heavy exercise
It follows that you should always ask for a written health guarantee on any pet you purchase.
A well-bred Labrador Retriever has a life expectancy of 10 to 12 years, on average. Some members of the breed are longer-lived, and proper exercise, nutrition, and veterinary care help labs live happy, healthy lives.
Except for their heavy weight, Labradors have simple grooming needs. Their coat is short, so it stays much cleaner than longer-coated breeds. A monthly bath should suffice. Some shedding should be expected, but brushing with a bristle brush will remove a lot of the loose hair. Brush your lab whenever you want to spend some quiet bonding time with your canine companion.
Be sure to keep an eye on nail length and trim if necessary. Also, because the ear flaps hang downward, be sure to check the ears each week for dirt and possible signs of infection, indicated by redness and a foul smell. You may choose to clean these yourself with a cotton swab or leave it to your veterinary professional.
Famous Members of the Breed
Treo, a black lab, is among the most famous dogs in the military. Working with his handler, Sergeant Dave Heyhoe, Treo detected explosives in Afghanistan. He is known to have saved hundreds of lives and was so well known by the Taliban they notoriously called him "the black dog." He was so good at his job that he was known as a canine bomb detector.
Treo retired in 2009 and received the Dickin Medal for Gallantry from the United Kingdom for his expertise and courage in war. Treo passed away in 2014. His handler was so close to him he had a tattoo made with his ashes as a memorial.
Purchasing or Adopting a Labrador Retriever
If you're looking for a Labrador Retriever puppy, a good place to start is the Labrador Retriever Club. They have a breeder directory available as well as helpful tips on how to find responsible breeders with quality dogs. The AKC Marketplace page also has a breeder search. Expect to pay around $500 to $800, although higher-end show dogs from champion lines can cost as much as $1,500 or more.
If you aren't set on a dog of a certain age, or would accept a mixed breed, you can take a look at available Labrador Retrievers on PetFinder and Save-a-Rescue. You can also search breed-specific rescue organizations:
- Lab Rescue LRCP: This non-profit organization has labs and lab mixes available to adopt to prospective owners in the states of Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina.
- Lab Lovers Rescue: A non-profit, volunteer-based dog rescue organization serving Rochester, N.Y. and surrounding areas.
- Midwest Labrador Retriever Rescue: A non-profit, foster-based rescue organization serving the Chicago Metropolitan Area.
Is this Breed Right For You?
If you think you might want to add a Labrador Retriever to your family, you'll want to learn more about the breed and find a reputable breeder. The American Kennel Club and The Labrador Retriever Club both offer detailed information on how to find registered litters of puppies. The Labrador Retriever Club even provides information on picking a puppy and the fallacies of designer breeds. The more educated you are before you add a dog to your family, the better prepared you'll be for the joys and pains of dog ownership.