Breed Group: Sporting Group
HistoryThe Labrador Retriever originated from Newfoundland (not Labrador, interestingly) and was originally referred to as St. John’s water dog. There were the smaller Newfoundland dog of the 1800s, bred to retrieve fish and game. They acted as the fisherman's aid, hauling in nets and doing any other task that involved swimming. Dogs with short, dense coats were preferred over those with long hair, as the latter would encrust with ice in the cold Canadian winter water. The thick, tapered tail (often called an "otter tail") served as a powerful rudder to aid in swimming. And their webbed feet helped them swim more quickly.
The breed died out in Newfoundland because of a heavy dog tax but fortunately, English nobles visiting Canada had brought back what they called "Labrador dogs" in the 1800s (it's still unclear how they became associated with Labrador). In England, breeders crossbred the dogs with other retrievers, eventually refining and standardizing the breed. It was also here that the dogs earned their reputation as excellent retrievers of game, such as duck. The English Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1903 and the American Kennel Club in 1917, as its 74th breed. And thus began their rise in popularity, becoming the most popular breed in the United States since 1991.
Height: 22.5-24.5 inches (male), 21.5-23.5 inches (female)
Weight: 65-80 pounds (male), 55-70 pounds (female)
Coat colors: Black, chocolate and yellowThe Labrador retriever is a medium to large sized dog with a strong, muscular build. They are usually bred to be shorter and stockier but are about as long from the withers to the base of the tail as they are from the withers to the floor. They have a broad head with a fuller face and slightly pronounced eyebrows. Their eyes are described as kind, friendly and expressive. They are typically hazel or brown in color with a black lining around the eye. Their ears are set slightly above their eyes and floppy, hanging down close to the head. They have a medium-long muzzle that doesn't taper much and powerful jaws that curve back. Their legs are strong and their tail is thick and tapered.
GroomingLabrador Retrievers have a double coat with a short, dense and water-repellant topcoat and a soft undercoat.
Shedding: small amounts year round; more heavily twice a year, typically fall and spring.
Brush: once or twice a week, increase to daily during heavy shedding.
Bathe: once a month (not more unless very dirty, as over-bathing strips the coat of natural oils and leaves the skin dry).
Shave: not recommended.
Trim nails: once a month.
Brush teeth: daily is ideal, two to three times per week is more realistic.
Clean ears: once a week; thoroughly dry out after baths or swimming (Labrador Retrievers are prone to ear infections because they have floppy ears that cover the canals).
Temperament & PersonalityLabrador Retrievers are friendly, energetic, easy-going, obedient and intelligent dogs that are eager to please. They enjoy learning, getting attention and giving affection. Their gentle and loving nature makes them great companions and family dogs, as they do very well with children, cats and other canines. They were bred to retrieve game without damaging it, so they have what's referred to as a "soft mouth" and are not likely to be aggressive. They socialize well with other people and dogs and aren't usually territorial.
Recommended: at least 45 minutes of daily exercise.Labradors are very energetic, playful, enthusiastic and active. Their intelligence and energy levels mean they require daily physical exercise and mental stimulation. Labradors tend to mature around the age of three and often display puppy-like energy up until that point. It's recommended that Labs get at least 45 minutes of exercise daily to avoid boredom (which can lead to destructiveness, chewing or escaping). This can include walks, playing fetch, swimming and more. Unsurprisingly given their instincts and origins, Labs love to swim and retrieve (fetch is one of their favorite games).
- Walks (one long or multiple shorter)
- Scent trails
- Dock diving
- Agility training / exercises
- Obedience training / exercises
TrainingLabrador Retrievers are smart, willing to learn and eager to please, making them highly trainable. Training is often needed - especially obedience, socialization and leash - because of their strength, energy level and instinct to follow scents. Positive reinforcement training is recommended, with both treats and attention used as rewards since Labs are typically food motivated and attention driven. Their intelligence and love of learning makes them ideal therapy, service, and search and rescue animals. And their exploratory nature and sense of smell make them ideal for law enforcement as drug- and bomb-sniffing dogs.
- Begin early, between 8 to 12 weeks old.
- Choose to train first in a place where there will be little distractions.
- Start simple, beginning with sit, stay and down.
- Use treats or attention (pats, verbal encouragement, etc.) to reward good behavior.
Average life span: 10-12 yearsLabrador Retrievers are relatively healthy dogs. Some health issues that are commonly associated with the breed include:
- Elbow dysplasia
- Hip dysplasia
- Heart disorders (such as congenital heart defects)
- Hereditary and centronuclear myopathy (muscle weakness)
- Patellar luxation (knee issues)
- Eye conditions (central progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, corneal dystrophy)
- Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC)
- Bloat (often seen in larger dogs with deep chests)
- Diabetes (less common but occasionally seen)
- Hypothyroidism (less common but occasionally seen)
Suggested tests: hip, elbow, eye, exercise-induced collapse (DNA), centronuclear myopathy, knee.
Responsible breeders will screen for many of these conditions, including elbow and hip dysplasia, heart conditions, myopathy, eye disorders and EIC. For example, there is a DNA test that can identify carriers of EIC so breedings can be planned to avoid producing the disease. But it's recommended that Labs receive hip, elbow and eye evaluations and an EIC test if previously unperformed.
Pro Tip: Know the signs of these issues so you can recognize them early on and seek treatment as soon as possible.
Did You Know?
- Black Labs were preferred initially, but yellow and chocolate Labs became accepted more widely by the early 1900s.
- The same litter can have black, chocolate, and yellow puppies because coat color is a genetic trait. This is similar to how children in the same family can have different colored hair.
- There is such a thing as a silver Lab, bred from chocolate Labs by diluting the brown color into a gray. This variation of Lab isn't recognized by kennel clubs and some believe it just exacerbates inbreeding.
- Though they don't look like fast runners, Labradors can reach speeds around 20 mph (with some able to reach 30 mph) and 12 mph in just three seconds.
- It's estimated that up to approximately 70% of all guide dogs are Labrador Retrievers.
- Some Labrador Retrievers can sniff out cancer. These Labs are trained to identify early stages of the disease through work with cancer cell samples. Usually, the dog will smell a patient’s breath, blood or stool to make the diagnosis.