Everything You Need to Know about the Labrador Retriever
Athletic, intelligent and eager to please, it is no wonder that the Labrador Retriever has been America’s breed for over 28 years!
Of course, this charming large dog breed has been wowing crowds for decades and has often found themselves near the top of the list. Known for their three color, the Labrador Retriever is one of only four breeds that were developed in Canada.
In addition to being the most popular, Labrador Retrievers are ranked as the number one breed for families. They are known for being gentle and patient with children while having the energy to keep up with them in play. Their temperament makes them excellent for a variety of canine careers and they are often the top breed to work as service dogs.
However, even with all of their pluses, owners need to be sure that they are getting a breed that works for them. While they aren’t as energetic as some working and sporting breeds, the Labrador Retriever does require ample exercise and training. In addition, due to their popularity, it can be difficult to find a high quality, health tested pup.
But if you are willing to put in the work, you will be delighted with your versatile pup who is happiest being with you…whether that means relaxing at home together or reaching new summits on a hike. So, let’s start this journey together with everything you need to know about the Labrador Retriever.
The Athletic Appearance of the Labrador Retriever
Males: 22.5 to 24.5 inches (57.15 to 62.23cm)
Females: 21.5 to 23.5 inches (54.61 to 59.69cm)
Males: 65 to 80 pounds (29.48 to 36.29 kg)
Females: 55 to 70 pounds (24.95 to 31.75kg)
The Labrador Retriever has three accepted colors; however, they do have a number of mismarks that can be found in the breed including black with tan points. These are not accepted by any breed clubs, but they are not considered to be a rare color. If you are looking for a mismarked or unusual colored Labrador Retriever, be aware that they should not be more expensive and are not recognized by any kennel clubs.
In addition, Labrador Retrievers have been seen in silver, however, there is a lot of controversy about the color, which we will get into later in this article. The three accepted colors of the Labrador Retriever are:
- Black:Preferably a dark black with dark eyes and dark nose and lips.
- Yellow:Ranging from a light cream yellow that is almost white to a deep red, mahogany. Black or liver colored (also known as Dudley) noses can be seen in this color variation.
- Chocolate:Medium to dark chocolate. The darker shade of chocolate is preferred. The nose and lips should match the coat color.
Labrador Retrievers are large dogs that are known for being athletic in appearance. They should have a square body with the length being equal to their height while still maintaining the look of a well proportioned and athletic dog. The topline of the Labrador Retriever should be level and the overall look of the body should be muscular with the appearance of power.
The head of the Labrador Retriever should be broad and the muzzle should not taper. There should be a moderate stop and the mouth shouldn’t have over pronounced jowls. The eyes are large and set wide apart. They should be brown in color for yellow and black Labrador Retrievers and can range from hazel to brown in chocolate Labrador Retrievers.
A very important trait of the Labrador Retriever is the otter tail. This is a tail that is thick at the base and tapers to a point. In addition, Labrador Retrievers have webbed toes that aid it when working in and around water.
The coat of the Labrador Retriever should consist of two coats. The top coat should be short and dense and should have a harder texture without being wiry. The undercoat is softer and shorter than the top coat. The Labrador Retriever coat is water resistant and handles colder temperatures. The Labrador Retriever comes in three approved colors.
Finally, when it comes to build, there are actually two different types of Labrador Retriever and both are accepted by the American Kennel Clubs as one breed, however, the types come from two different breeding lines. These are
- Confirmation:This Labrador Retriever is often heavier with a stockier build. They have a wider head and are usually slightly shorter than the other type. They are also known as English-bred and Show type. They tend to have a calmer temperament but still have good energy, which is expected with the Labrador Retriever.
- Field:Also called working or American-bred Labrador Retrievers, these dogs are usually taller and have a longer muzzle and thinner head. They are usually more active as many of the field lines are still used as gundogs today.
The Silver Labrador Retriever
Before we move on to look at the other traits of the Labrador Retriever, it is important to take a moment to look at the silver Labrador Retriever. It is a color that is quickly gaining popularity as the striking gray color sets the dogs apart when it comes to appearance.
However, there is a lot of debate over whether the color is simply a dilute chocolate, evidenced by the sometimes chocolate hue some silver labs have, or a throwback to a cross breeding with the Weimaraner sometime in the 1950’s.
In fact, the silver coat is believed to have originated out of Kellog Kennels when they announced their first litter of silver labs. However, the breeder was also known to breed Weimaraner, which are known for their silver color.
Before the 1950’s, no other breeder had reported silver labs so it is unclear if it was just a coincidence when the diluted coat occurred or it was the result of cross breeding.
Today, more and more breeders are accepting the color as a Labrador Retriever color, however, there are still many who believe that the Weimaraner crossing was the result of the coat color.
Regardless of how the color came into the breed, pet owners can now own silver lab pups although they are registered as chocolate with most kennel clubs.
The Happy and Eager to Please Labrador Retriever Temperament
Active and intelligent, many people think of an overactive and hyper dog when they think of the Labrador Retriever’s personality. However, that is not the case. While they are considered a Peter Pan breed that never grows up, they should have a stable temperament that is always enthusiastic. In fact, it is often their enthusiasm that makes them seem over excitable.
The breed is known for their energy and happy personality that makes them seem like they are always on the go…and always up for a good jog for the entire day.
They seem to have a limitless well of energy that can be daunting, however, with proper exercise and training, the Labrador Retriever really shines as a family pet.
In face, the breed is known for being very loving. They are gentle and patient and they can be trained to do just about anything. They are naturally quiet in the house and will expel most of their energy outside.
They are usually very cheerful and while they will alert bark, the Labrador Retriever loves everyone and will happily invite a stranger inside.
With training, the intelligence of the breed makes them quick learners but they can get bored easily so training sessions should be interesting. But being eager to please, they are always willing to do whatever you ask of them.
The Outgoing Companion for the Outgoing Family
I’ve probably hinted at this already, but Labrador Retrievers are an ideal family pet. They are patient with children and extremely playful, which will keep both your kids and your pup entertained. In addition, their intelligence allows them to differentiate between kids and adults. They know who to be gentle with.
For most of my children’s life, we had a Labrador Retriever and they were constant companions for my kids.
They were happy to camp out in the living room with them or head out in the yard for hours of playtime. A constant companion who would often alert me if the kids were doing something, they deemed to be unsafe.
As puppies, care should be taken as labs don’t often realize that they can easily knock over a young child.
In addition, they can be nippy, due to being a soft mouthed breed, which is a tendency to pick up and hold objects…or hands…in their mouth. This stems to their use in the past, and currently, as a gundog that retrieved game birds.
With other pets, Labrador Retrievers get on with them exceedingly well. They are exceptional with animals of all sizes; however, it is important to socialize them young to make sure they don’t have any aggression problems.
As a family companion, you can’t go wrong with choosing a lab, especially if you are an active family who loves the outdoors…and a love of hunting doesn’t hurt either.
A Canadian Breed that Captured the Hearts of Nations
As mentioned, the Labrador Retriever is one of only a handful of purebred dog breeds. Originating from Newfoundland and Labrador, the lab was a breed that was used for fishing and retrieving.
They are actually very close in relation to the Newfoundland, and it is believed that they share the common ancestor in the St. John’s water dog.
This was a breed that emerged in the 16th century and it is believed that a number of English, Portuguese and Irish working breeds were used to produce the dog.
The Labrador Retriever resembles the St. John’s Dog and it is believed that the Newfoundland was the result of adding mastiffs into the line.
For the lab, however, the throwback to the foundation breed can be seen in some modern labs, especially as they grow older. The St. John’s water dog was a black dog with a white chest, feet, muzzle and chin.
As more people came to Newfoundland, the versatile working dog with an excellent temperament garnered the notice of many English sportsmen. And with that interest, the breed was imported to England to use them as hunting retrievers.
In fact, it was in England that the breed was first referred as a Labrador…gaining that name from the Earl of Malmesbury around 1830.
Labs excelled in England, however, in Canada, the Labrador Retriever, along with the Newfoundland, were almost wiped out by the 1880’s due to heavy taxing and government restrictions on the breed. They continued to grow in popularity in England and were first recognized by the Kennel Club in 1903.
Sometime during the 1920’s, the first Labrador Retrievers were imported back to the United States from England, however, it wasn’t until after World War II that the breed began to gain popularity in the US.
By 1991, they became America’s most popular dog breed and continue to enjoy that title even today.
The Health and Lifespan of the Labrador Retriever
Life Expectancy: 11 to 13 years
While the Labrador Retriever is an athletic breed that is considered to be healthy, it has its shares of health problems that plague the breed.
Since they are so popular, labs have fallen victim to backyard breeders and puppy mills who are just producing puppies regardless of the genetic or current health of the breeding dogs. This has led to an increase in some diseases and they are occurring at a younger age.
If you are interested in this breed, do your research and purchase a lab puppy from a registered breeder who uses health tested parents in their breeding program.
In addition, choose a breeder who offers a health guarantee to ensure your puppy has the best start in life.
Health risks that are inherent to Labrador Retrievers are:
- Hip Dysplasia
- Elbow Dysplasia
- Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus
- Chronic Ear Infections
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy
- Retinal Dysplasia
- Muscular Dystrophy
- Acute Moist Dermatitis
- Osteochondritis Dissecans
- Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia
- Cold Tail
In addition to these, the breed is prone to hot spots, especially if they are in the water a lot. Another problem that can occur is exercise induced collapse.
To prevent this, make sure you never exercise your pup for long periods or during the heat of the day. Also, have them take breaks during their play to prevent them from overheating.
Another important thing to remember is that while labs make excellent jogging partners, they should not become a jogging partner until after their first birthday. By following this guideline, you will help prevent joint problems.
Finally, labs are always happy for a free tidbit of food and I have never known one to turn down a meal. And while this is great when feeding, it can be very easy for a lab to become obese. To prevent obesity, always count the treats your pup is getting into his daily calories.
Living that Has Gone to the Dogs
If I could say one word that described living with a Labrador Retriever, it would be interesting. In fact, life with a lab is hardly ever boring. When we brought home our first lab, we decided on field lines, and not just any field lines but some of the top field lines available.
What we were left with was a lab puppy who’d been kicked out of puppy class and a several month search for a trainer.
Thankfully, we lucked out and our lab, Petey, found an amazing trainer and my husband spent every Saturday driving 1.5 hours one way to this trainer who knew and loved labs himself. And thus, began our adventure in training…and more specifically…hunt training despite not being hunters.
And that is what life is like with a lab. One minute, you are bringing home a sleeping puppy and the next, you have found that your life has…well…gone to the dogs, quite literally.
Thankfully, Petey was trainable and he learned exceptionally fast. And anyone getting a lab will have to spend at least 10 to 15 minutes a day with training and socializing.
The more you can train, the happier your lab will be since he loves being with his owners and training is an excellent bonding time.
For exercise, the Labrador Retriever requires about thirty minutes of exercise and it is best to break it up into two or three walks. They also love having a good playtime in the backyard; however, the breed shouldn’t be left on his own.
This is a dog that loves to be in the heart of his family and when left by himself for long periods, he can become destructive. Crate training is important and it may take several years before you can trust him alone in the house, if ever.
They are natural chewers, again, attributing this to being a soft mouth breed and should be trained to chew proper items. It is not uncommon for labs to swallow rocks, clothing and hundreds of other little things that can be very dangerous for them. For that reason, puppy proof your home to keep your pup from ingesting anything he shouldn’t.
Despite having a thick coat, the lab is a fairly easy breed to groom. Brush them two or three times a day to keep hair to a minimum…daily during periods where they are blowing coat.
They do shed a lot so the more you brush, the less hair you will have loose in your home. Bathing is usually only needed once every two months, or whenever they roll in something they shouldn’t, which their nose can find anywhere.
Ears should be cleaned weekly and I would recommend checking them whenever you brush the coat to make sure they are free of ear infections. Nails should be trimmed once or twice a week. Teeth should be brushed weekly to help prevent dental problems.
Feeding is usually 2.5 to 3 cups of high quality dog food every day. It should be noted that some labs will eat a lot more, especially if they are an active dog. Always feed according to the level of activity your pup has. Portions should be split up into two or three feedings a day. As with all dog breeds, obesity can be a problem with the breed so make sure that you are not overfeeding them.
Labrador Retrievers are the Peter Pan of breeds and they bring that energy into their homes. They are a loving and playful companion for everyone and they help owners stay young at heart with them. Life is perfect when it is spent with a lab…or two…or three.