Breed Group: Sporting
Good-natured and easy to train, the Labrador Retriever has earned a well-deserved place as one of America's most popular companions. Affectionate with the entire family, they have a special affinity for children of any age; but their puppy-like exuberance, which extends well into adulthood, can overwhelm a toddler. They make good watchdogs usually alerting their owners to visitors with a wagging tail as opposed to barking. Although they are more conservative with strangers than Golden Retrievers, don't count on a Lab to be a guard dog. They have few if any aggressive tendencies and accept strangers as if they were family. They get along very well with most other dogs and welcome any other pets the family may have. Field lines have enormous reserves of energy. Show lines make a calmer pet. But in either case, a leisurely walk around the block won't do. Their exercise needs can only be met with vigorous work, exercise or play. Swimming is one of their favorite activities but beware of pools. Once in, they can't get back out by themselves. If not provided with the companionship and exercise they seek, expect to see hyperactivity, destructive chewing, and annoying barking. Labrador Retrievers are slow to mature, retaining many enjoyable but sometimes exasperating puppy behaviors, such as chewing, well into their middle years. Keep a box of chew toys ready to substitute when the dog chews inappropriate items, including your hands. In the house, their energetically wagging tails can wreak havoc on knick-knacks placed on low tables.
Labrador Retrievers are large, athletic, muscular dogs averaging 21-24 inches in height and weighing 55-75 pounds. They have a dense, straight, short-haired, waterproof coat colored solid black, chocolate or yellow. The yellow may vary in shade from very light to very rich yellow but should not be referred to as “golden”. If brushed every week, they shed moderately. They enjoy all but the most bitter cold weather and do fairly well in warm humid temperatures provided they have shade and fresh drinking water available at all times.
A Labrador Retriever’s lack of need to be socialized is offset by their need for training. Their powerful necks barely feel a pull on a leash and they can easily drag you through a mud puddle or knock a visitor down. They have a stubborn streak but are easily trained for almost any purpose, excelling in many play, work and service activities including: retrieving, hunting, tracking, agility, frisbee throw, competitive obedience and field trials, mine detection, narcotics and bomb-sniffing, search and rescue, and as therapy dogs, service dogs, and guide dogs for the blind. They make great family dogs and are among the best choices for a first-time dog owner.
Labrador Retrievers are affected by Luxating Patella, Hip Dysplasia, and Elbow Dysplasia at the rate of about 1 dog in 8 for each. OCD, is another skeletal issue seen in the breed. The breed is prone to Bloat and a number of eye problems including PRA, Ectropion, Entropion, Dry Eye, and Distichiasis. Labs love to eat and gain weight easily if not properly exercised. When properly exercised and fed in moderation, they can be expected to live 10-12 years or longer.
Since 1991, the Labrador Retriever has been the most popular AKC breed with over 120,000 annual registrations.
The Labrador Retriever hails not from Labrador, but Newfoundland, Canada, where fisherman trained them to jump overboard into icy waters and pull heavy fishing nets to shore. Some of these fishermen, when selling their fish in the English West Country in the early 1800’s, were persuaded to sell their dogs. Englishmen then honed the fine retrieving instincts of the breed, and the dogs became immediately successful as gundogs in Britain. The breed was officially recognized in England in 1903 and in the United States in 1917.
There has been a divergence in appearance between Labrador Retrievers used in the field and those bred for show. The traditional blocky, muscular Labrador Retriever with the characteristic “otter” tail, thick at the base, tapering to a point and carried level with the back has given way to a leggier, finer boned, dog with a narrow tail often carried high over the back. Some people refer to the traditional, old style as an English or field Lab and the newer variety as an American or show Lab. The National (US) Breed Club is The Labrador Retriever Club.