The Labrador Retriever, also known as the Small Water Dog, the Lesser Newfoundland, the St. John's Dog, the Lesser St. John's Dog, the Short-coated St. John's Dog, the Labrador and simply the Lab, did not originate from Labrador but rather from Newfoundland, Canada, where it was used to help fishermen haul their fish-filled nets ashore. Later, it also was used as a gun dog to retrieve waterfowl as well as upland game. Labradors are known for their soft mouths, which enable them to retrieve birds and other game without marks or other damage. The Labrador Retriever was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1917, as a member of the Sporting Group.
Pet owners of the Labrador need to be aware of the high energy levels of this breed. The Labrador needs plenty of exercise and playtime or it will become bored and destructive. Pet owners should be prepared to spend plenty of time with their Labradors as these smart dogs love to learn new tricks and commands for mental stimulation. This breed should not be left alone for long periods of time as they bond very closely with their family members.
The Labrador's ancestors date back to 17th century Canada. During the 18th century, the Canadian water dogs differentiated into what we now know as the Newfoundland, the Landseer, the Flat-Coated Retriever, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and the Labrador Retriever. In the early 1800s, a number of travelers to Newfoundland reported seeing a variety of small black water dogs helping local fishermen haul in their nets. In 1822, one visitor noted: "The dogs are admirably trained as retrievers in fowling, and are otherwise useful... The smooth or short-haired dog is preferred because in frosty weather the long-haired kind become encumbered with ice on coming out of the water." The second Earl of Malmesbury supposedly saw one of these water dogs on a fishing boat and arranged to have more of them imported to his English estate, where he established the first breeding kennel dedicated to perfecting them as gun dogs and retrievers.
Throughout the 1800s, Canadian fishermen found a profitable market and sold an increasing number of their fishing dogs to English gentry. In 1930, a noted British sportsman, Colonel Hawker, commented on the ordinary Newfoundland as being "very large, strong of limb, rough hair, and carrying his tail high." He also remarked on the St. John's breed of water dog – now known as the Labrador Retriever – as being "by far the best for any kind of shooting. He is generally black and no bigger than a pointer, very fine in legs, with short, smooth hair, and does not carry his tail so much curled as the other; is extremely quick running, swimming and fighting...and their sense of smell is hardly to be credited..." The breed was not originally called the Labrador in England. The origin of the modern name dates to a letter written in 1887 by the Earl of Malmesbury, in which he said: "We always call mine Labrador dogs, and I have kept the breed as pure as I could from first I had from Poole, at that time carrying on a brisk trade with Newfoundland. The real breed may be known by its close coat which turns the water off like oil and, above all, a tail like an otter."
The Labrador eventually lost popularity in its native Newfoundland due to a heavy dog tax stemming from the Newfoundland Sheep Act. Late in the 19th century, strict British quarantine laws virtually stopped all importation of dogs into England. A period of nonselective cross-breeding with other retrievers ensued (the Curly-Coated Retriever, the Flat-Coated Retriever and the Tweed Water Spaniel have been most frequently mentioned). While the Labrador characteristics predominated, the offspring of those breedings became even more valuable than their predecessors, having a keener nose and an even more delightful disposition. Finally, breed fanciers wrote a standard for the Labrador. The studbook of the Duke of Buccleuch's Labrador Retrievers identifies the pedigrees of the two dogs most responsible for the modern Lab: Peter of Faskally (owned by Mr. A. C. Butter) and Flapper (owned by Major Portal). Their pedigrees go back to 1878.
The Kennel Club (England) first recognized the Labrador Retriever as a separate breed in 1903. No Labrador can become a conformation champion in England unless he also has a working title establishing that he is fully qualified in the field. The American Kennel Club accepted its first Labrador for registration in 1917 – a Scottish bitch named Brocklehirst Nell. The Labrador Club of America, Inc., was formed in 1931 and is the parent club of the breed in this country. During the 1920s and 1930s, many dogs were imported to the United States from England, and many Scotsmen skilled in training retrievers immigrated to America as well. The American Labrador initially was bred primarily as a shooting dog, to be a strong competitor in retriever trials. Many fanciers eventually bred not only for retrieving excellence, but also for conformation, temperament and type, enabling them to show their field dogs in the conformation ring with great success.
The Labrador surged in popularity throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, and it became a global favorite among fanciers of many different disciplines. Today's Labrador Retriever continues to excel in the field and on the bench, although increasingly there are two distinct types: the field type and the show type. The field type is more energetic and leaner than the shorter, stockier show Labrador. Labrador Retrievers are extremely popular family companions and also are one of the main breeds bred and used as guide dogs for the blind, service dogs for the otherwise disabled and for search-and-rescue work. They excel in field trials, hunting trials, tracking, obedience, rally and agility. Labradors also excel at drug and explosive detection.
The average life span of the Labrador Retriever is between 10 and 14 years. Breed health concerns may include the following:
Elbow Dysplasia: Leads to malformation and degeneration of the elbow joint, with accompanying front limb lameness
Hip Dysplasia: Involves abnormal development and/or degeneration of the coxofemoral (hip) joint
Allergies): Overreaction by the immune system to an allergen, which is any substance that is capable of inducing a reaction in that particular animal
Patellar Luxation: Patellar luxation, commonly known as a "slipped knee cap," occurs when the patella is displaced from the joint.
Waterline Disease of Black Labrador Retrievers (severe pruritis, seborrhea and alopecia of the legs and belly)
Diabetes Mellitus: Malfunction, destruction or even absence of certain cells, which are responsible for producing and secreting insulin
Loyal, loveable, happy and friendly to all he meets, the Labrador Retriever is the number one registered dog in the AKC. Labs are full of energy and will run to the door to greet you (or anyone, for that matter) as if you'd just returned from a year-long trip. They are truly "man's best friend," and are at their happiest when engaged in family activities. They love running, hiking, swimming and playing fetch for hours on end and are extremely patient with children of all ages. Labs are a breeze to train, and as long as you are prepared to live with puppy-like behavior well into adulthood, they make an excellent choice for first time dog owners.
Labrador Retrievers have energy to spare and are not well suited for couch potatoes. They are also rather large and clumsy, so apartments are not the best living arrangements for this breed. Homes with yards and lots of room to romp are the most ideal setting to raise a Lab.
Walking a Lab is a good start for daily exercise, but a simple stroll around the block is not going to fulfill their daily exercise requirement. These dogs need to run every day in order to burn off excess energy, and if they aren't properly exercised they will become destructive. A bored Lab will chew anything he can get his mouth on. Labs are thrilled to accompany you on jogs or to run alongside a bicycle. Playing in the yard with children can keep them busy for hours on end. Hunters can take Labs out into the field to retrieve, and they can handle icy water temperatures with ease.
Swimming pool owners be warned: you'll have a hard time getting your Labrador out of the water. If the pool is open, he'll want to swim.
Labradors are a breeze to train. They possess a strong desire to please and will do anything for some affection and a treat or two. Some owners find them to be a challenge because they are so rambunctious, but the key is to start them off as puppies and keep training interesting and fun. Labs love to play, and if they think training is a game, will participate with great earnest. Training should start early, as Labs grow quickly and if they don't have basic commands mastered early on, can be too large to reign in. They also behave like puppies for many years, so patience is an absolute must with a Lab. No matter how obedient they are, they simply can't help themselves but to jump and bounce, so "down" and "stay" should be understood early on.
Once basic obedience is mastered, Labs can graduate on to advanced training or agility activities. They are not as reliable on an agility course as a Golden Retriever may be, but they love the exercise and enjoy spending time with people and other dogs.
Chewing and mouthing is a common problem among Labradors. You will need to keep lots of chew toys and bones on hand in order to save your furniture and shoes. They like to greet returning family members and visitors with a trophy in their mouth, as well, so keep an eye on anything within his reach that is not tacked down. Exercising your lab before you leave the house and providing him with lots of bones is a must if you don't want to come home and find couches destroyed.
Labs are famous for being clumsy. They will run and slide around on wood floors, back into tables, knock over lamps and whip drinks with their tails. This clumsiness is doesn't go away until the dog is well past adolescence and is hard to overcome. "Stay" and "down" commands can help, but a young Lab is often described as a bull in a China shop.
The Labrador Retriever is a strongly built, medium-sized, short-coupled, dog possessing a sound, athletic, well-balanced conformation that enables it to function as a retrieving gun dog; the substance and soundness to hunt waterfowl or upland game for long hours under difficult conditions; the character and quality to win in the show ring; and the temperament to be a family companion. Physical features and mental characteristics should denote a dog bred to perform as an efficient Retriever of game with a stable temperament suitable for a variety of pursuits beyond the hunting environment.
The most distinguishing characteristics of the Labrador Retriever are its short, dense, weather resistant coat; an "otter" tail; a clean-cut head with broad back skull and moderate stop; powerful jaws; and its "kind," friendly eyes, expressing character, intelligence and good temperament.
Above all, a Labrador Retriever must be well balanced, enabling it to move in the show ring or work in the field with little or no effort. The typical Labrador possesses style and quality without over refinement, and substance without lumber or cloddiness. The Labrador is bred primarily as a working gun dog; structure and soundness are of great importance.
Size, Proportion and Substance
Size--The height at the withers for a dog is 22½ to 24½ inches; for a bitch is 21½ to 23½ inches. Any variance greater than ½ inch above or below these heights is a disqualification. Approximate weight of dogs and bitches in working condition: dogs 65 to 80 pounds; bitches 55 to 70 pounds.
The minimum height ranges set forth in the paragraph above shall not apply to dogs or bitches under twelve months of age.
Proportion--Short-coupled; length from the point of the shoulder to the point of the rump is equal to or slightly longer than the distance from the withers to the ground. Distance from the elbow to the ground should be equal to one half of the height at the withers. The brisket should extend to the elbows, but not perceptibly deeper. The body must be of sufficient length to permit a straight, free and efficient stride; but the dog should never appear low and long or tall and leggy in outline. Substance--Substance and bone proportionate to the overall dog. Light, "weedy" individuals are definitely incorrect; equally objectionable are cloddy lumbering specimens. Labrador Retrievers shall be shown in working condition well-muscled and without excess fat.
Skull--The skull should be wide; well developed but without exaggeration. The skull and foreface should be on parallel planes and of approximately equal length. There should be a moderate stop--the brow slightly pronounced so that the skull is not absolutely in a straight line with the nose. The brow ridges aid in defining the stop. The head should be clean-cut and free from fleshy cheeks; the bony structure of the skull chiseled beneath the eye with no prominence in the cheek. The skull may show some median line; the occipital bone is not conspicuous in mature dogs. Lips should not be squared off or pendulous, but fall away in a curve toward the throat. A wedge-shape head, or a head long and narrow in muzzle and back skull is incorrect as are massive, cheeky heads. The jaws are powerful and free from snippiness-- the muzzle neither long and narrow nor short and stubby. Nose-- The nose should be wide and the nostrils well-developed. The nose should be black on black or yellow dogs, and brown on chocolates. Nose color fading to a lighter shade is not a fault. A thoroughly pink nose or one lacking in any pigment is a disqualification. Teeth--The teeth should be strong and regular with a scissors bite; the lower teeth just behind, but touching the inner side of the upper incisors. A level bite is acceptable, but not desirable. Undershot, overshot, or misaligned teeth are serious faults. Full dentition is preferred. Missing molars or pre-molars are serious faults. Ears--The ears should hang moderately close to the head, set rather far back, and somewhat low on the skull; slightly above eye level. Ears should not be large and heavy, but in proportion with the skull and reach to the inside of the eye when pulled forward. Eyes--Kind, friendly eyes imparting good temperament, intelligence and alertness are a hallmark of the breed. They should be of medium size, set well apart, and neither protruding nor deep set. Eye color should be brown in black and yellow Labradors, and brown or hazel in chocolates. Black, or yellow eyes give a harsh expression and are undesirable. Small eyes, set close together or round prominent eyes are not typical of the breed. Eye rims are black in black and yellow Labradors; and brown in chocolates. Eye rims without pigmentation is a disqualification.
Neck, Topline and Body
Neck--The neck should be of proper length to allow the dog to retrieve game easily. It should be muscular and free from throatiness. The neck should rise strongly from the shoulders with a moderate arch. A short, thick neck or a "ewe" neck is incorrect. Topline--The back is strong and the topline is level from the withers to the croup when standing or moving. However, the loin should show evidence of flexibility for athletic endeavor. Body--The Labrador should be short-coupled, with good spring of ribs tapering to a moderately wide chest. The Labrador should not be narrow chested; giving the appearance of hollowness between the front legs, nor should it have a wide spreading, bulldog-like front. Correct chest conformation will result in tapering between the front legs that allows unrestricted forelimb movement. Chest breadth that is either too wide or too narrow for efficient movement and stamina is incorrect. Slab-sided individuals are not typical of the breed; equally objectionable are rotund or barrel chested specimens. The underline is almost straight, with little or no tuck-up in mature animals. Loins should be short, wide and strong; extending to well developed, powerful hindquarters. When viewed from the side, the Labrador Retriever shows a well-developed, but not exaggerated forechest. Tail--The tail is a distinguishing feature of the breed. It should be very thick at the base, gradually tapering toward the tip, of medium length, and extending no longer than to the hock. The tail should be free from feathering and clothed thickly all around with the Labrador's short, dense coat, thus having that peculiar rounded appearance that has been described as the "otter" tail. The tail should follow the topline in repose or when in motion. It may be carried gaily, but should not curl over the back. Extremely short tails or long thin tails are serious faults. The tail completes the balance of the Labrador by giving it a flowing line from the top of the head to the tip of the tail. Docking or otherwise altering the length or natural carriage of the tail is a disqualification.
Forequarters should be muscular, well coordinated and balanced with the hindquarters. Shoulders--The shoulders are well laid-back, long and sloping, forming an angle with the upper arm of approximately 90 degrees that permits the dog to move his forelegs in an easy manner with strong forward reach. Ideally, the length of the shoulder blade should equal the length of the upper arm. Straight shoulder blades, short upper arms or heavily muscled or loaded shoulders, all restricting free movement, are incorrect. Front Legs--When viewed from the front, the legs should be straight with good strong bone. Too much bone is as undesirable as too little bone, and short legged, heavy boned individuals are not typical of the breed. Viewed from the side, the elbows should be directly under the withers, and the front legs should be perpendicular to the ground and well under the body. The elbows should be close to the ribs without looseness. Tied-in elbows or being "out at the elbows" interfere with free movement and are serious faults. Pasterns should be strong and short and should slope slightly from the perpendicular line of the leg. Feet are strong and compact, with well-arched toes and well-developed pads. Dew claws may be removed. Splayed feet, hare feet, knuckling over, or feet turning in or out are serious faults.
The Labrador's hindquarters are broad, muscular and well-developed from the hip to the hock with well-turned stifles and strong short hocks. Viewed from the rear, the hind legs are straight and parallel. Viewed from the side, the angulation of the rear legs is in balance with the front. The hind legs are strongly boned, muscled with moderate angulation at the stifle, and powerful, clearly defined thighs. The stifle is strong and there is no slippage of the patellae while in motion or when standing. The hock joints are strong, well let down and do not slip or hyper-extend while in motion or when standing. Angulation of both stifle and hock joint is such as to achieve the optimal balance of drive and traction. When standing the rear toes are only slightly behind the point of the rump. Over angulation produces a sloping topline not typical of the breed. Feet are strong and compact, with well-arched toes and well-developed pads. Cow-hocks, spread hocks, sickle hocks and over-angulation are serious structural defects and are to be faulted.
The coat is a distinctive feature of the Labrador Retriever. It should be short, straight and very dense, giving a fairly hard feeling to the hand. The Labrador should have a soft, weather-resistant undercoat that provides protection from water, cold and all types of ground cover. A slight wave down the back is permissible. Woolly coats, soft silky coats, and sparse slick coats are not typical of the breed, and should be severely penalized.
The Labrador Retriever coat colors are black, yellow and chocolate. Any other color or a combination of colors is a disqualification. A small white spot on the chest is permissible, but not desirable. White hairs from aging or scarring are not to be misinterpreted as brindling. Black--Blacks are all black. A black with brindle markings or a black with tan markings is a disqualification. Yellow--Yellows may range in color from fox-red to light cream, with variations in shading on the ears, back, and underparts of the dog. Chocolate--Chocolates can vary in shade from light to dark chocolate. Chocolate with brindle or tan markings is a disqualification.
Movement of the Labrador Retriever should be free and effortless. When watching a dog move toward oneself, there should be no sign of elbows out. Rather, the elbows should be held neatly to the body with the legs not too close together. Moving straight forward without pacing or weaving, the legs should form straight lines, with all parts moving in the same plane. Upon viewing the dog from the rear, one should have the impression that the hind legs move as nearly as possible in a parallel line with the front legs. The hocks should do their full share of the work, flexing well, giving the appearance of power and strength. When viewed from the side, the shoulders should move freely and effortlessly, and the foreleg should reach forward close to the ground with extension. A short, choppy movement or high knee action indicates a straight shoulder; paddling indicates long, weak pasterns; and a short, stilted rear gait indicates a straight rear assembly; all are serious faults. Movement faults interfering with performance including weaving; side-winding; crossing over; high knee action; paddling; and short, choppy movement, should be severely penalized.
True Labrador Retriever temperament is as much a hallmark of the breed as the "otter" tail. The ideal disposition is one of a kindly, outgoing, tractable nature; eager to please and non-aggressive towards man or animal. The Labrador has much that appeals to people; his gentle ways, intelligence and adaptability make him an ideal dog. Aggressiveness towards humans or other animals, or any evidence of shyness in an adult should be severely penalized.
Any deviation from the height prescribed in the Standard.
A thoroughly pink nose or one lacking in any pigment.
Eye rims without pigment.
Docking or otherwise altering the length or natural carriage of the tail.
Any other color or a combination of colors other than black, yellow or chocolate as described in the Standard.
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Sources: American Kennel Club