- Labrador Retrievers love, love, love to eat, and become obese very quickly if overfed. Limit treats, give your Lab plenty of exercise, and measure out regular meals rather than leaving food out all the time. And be warned that the Lab’s large appetite extends to people food and even inedible items. Labradors will forage in garbage, counter surf, and can make a meal out of chewed-up items like children’s toys.
- Labrador Retrievers were bred for physically demanding jobs, and they have the high energy that goes along with being a working breed. They need at least 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day. Without it, they can vent their pent-up energy in destructive ways, such as barking and chewing.
- Labs have such a good reputation that many people think they don’t need to bother with training. But Labs are large, energetic animals, and like all dogs, they need to be taught good canine manners. Sign up for puppy and obedience classes as soon as you bring your Lab home.
- Many people think of Labs as a hyperactive breed. Lab puppies are definitely lively, but most will slow down a bit as they grow up. However, they usually remain fairly active throughout their lives.
- Labrador Retrievers are not known to be escape artists, but with the right motivation — such as a whiff of something yummy — a Lab will take off. Make sure your Lab has current identification tags and a microchip.
- The Lab is America’s number one dog, which means there are plenty of people breeding Labs who are more interested in filling the demand for Lab puppies than in breeding healthy dogs with good temperaments. To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
- If you’re looking for a puppy, you’ll find that Labs vary depending on what breeder you choose. Some Labs are bred for competitions testing their skill as working dogs, and others are bred to get as close as possible to the ideal look, movement, and temperament of the breed. You’ll also find breeders who aim for both looks and utility. Labs bred for the show ring tend to be slightly heavier and more solidly built than those intended for canine careers.
Is this breed right for you?
- Is large and bouncy, with an enthusiastic attitude toward life
- Has a short easy-care coat
- Has a cheerful, tail-wagging nature
- Thrives on exercise and athletic activities
- Is steady-tempered and dependable with everyone
- Is peaceful with other animals
- Is eager to please and responsive to training
Labrador Retrievers hail from the island of Newfoundland, off the northeastern Atlantic coast of Canada. Originally called St. John’s dogs, after the capital city of Newfoundland, Labs served as companions and helpers to the local fishermen beginning in the 1700s.
The dogs spent their days working alongside their owners, retrieving fish who had escaped hooks and towing in lines, and then returned home to spend the evening with the fishermen’s family.
Although his heritage is unknown, many believe the St. John’s dog was interbred with the Newfoundland Dog and other small local water dogs.
Outsiders noticed the dog’s usefulness and good disposition, and English sportsmen imported a few Labs to England to serve as retrievers for hunting. The second Earl of Malmesbury was one of the first, and had St. John’s dogs shipped to England sometime around 1830. The third Earl of Malmesbury was the first person to refer to the dogs as Labradors.
Amazingly, Labs — now America’s most popular dog — were almost extinct by the 1880s, and the Malmesbury family and other English fans are credited with saving the breed. In Newfoundland, the breed disappeared because of government restrictions and tax laws. Families were allowed to keep no more than one dog, and owning a female was highly taxed, so girl puppies were culled from litters.
In England, however, the breed survived, and the Kennel Club recognized the Labrador Retriever as a distinct breed in 1903. The American Kennel Club followed suit in 1917, and in the ’20s and ’30s, British Labs were imported to establish the breed in the U.S.
The breed’s popularity really began to take off after World War II, and in 1991, the Labrador Retriever became the most popular dog registered with the American Kennel Club — and he’s held that distinction ever since. He also tops the list in Canada and England.
Today, Labs work in drug and explosive detection, search and rescue, therapy, assistance to the handicapped, and as retrievers for hunters. They also excel in all forms of dog competitions: show, field, agility, and obedience.
In general, Labrador retrievers are excellent family dogs, as long as you keep in mind their need for exercise and training. These are dogs bred to work and work hard and they love to have jobs to do, particularly retrieving.
Labs are usually good with other dogs, other pets, and children as long as training has toned down their natural exuberance. They are strong dogs and need some obedience training at an early age or they can be seen dragging their owners down the street at will.
Owing to their energetic nature, Labradors who are left alone or not well exercised can become destructive — chewing, digging and barking to excess.
The field line dogs are especially high-energy dogs, while some of the show line dogs become perfect couch potatoes at an early age. Chewing can be a problem because the strong retrieve urge gives them an oral fixation. Sturdy chew toys, exercise and training all help with this.
Children and other pets
The Labrador Retriever not only loves kids, he enjoys the commotion they bring with them. He’ll happily attend a child’s birthday party, and even willingly wear a party hat. Like all dogs, however, he needs to be trained how to act around kids — and kids need to be taught how to act around the dog.
As with every breed, you should always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he’s eating or sleeping or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog, no matter how friendly, should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
If a Lab has had plenty of exposure to other dogs, cats, and small animals, and has been trained how to interact with them, he’ll be friendly with other pets, too.
Labs are prone to hip dysplasia, a malformation of the hip joint that ranges from mild to severe and can cause such disability or pain that major surgery is necessary.
Dysplastic dogs usually become arthritic. With so many Lab puppies produced each year, it is important to buy from a breeder who x-rays breeding stock for hip dysplasia and only uses those animals with an OFA or PennHIP clearance for breeding. Screening tests on breeding dogs cannot prevent the development of disease in offspring, but it lessens the odds that hip dysplasia will be a problem.
Labs are also prone to several eye disorders, including progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts, and epilepsy. All Lab breeding stock should have an eye test each year and be registered free of eye disease by the Canine Eye Registry Foundation.
Purchasing a healthy Lab pup can be a bit difficult, but the research to find just the right breeder and puppy is well worth the trouble. The well-bred Labrador Retriever is one of a handful of wonderful family dogs for a broad spectrum of lifestyles and living situations. A Lab can do field work (for real or in trials and tests), obedience and agility competition, or therapy dog work at local hospitals or nursing homes with owners who are looking for just a bit more than a companion dog. All in all, the well-bred Lab can be the perfect family dog.
The lovable Lab needs to be around his family, and is definitely not a backyard dog. If he’s left alone for too long, he’ll probably tarnish his saintly reputation: A lonely, bored Lab is apt to dig, chew, or find other destructive outlets for his energy.
Labs show some variation in their activity levels, but all of them need activity, both physical and mental. Daily 30-minute walks, a romp at the dog park, or a game of fetch, are a few ways to help your Lab burn off energy. However, a puppy should not be taken for too long walks and should play for a few minutes at a time. Labrador Retrievers are considered “workaholics,” and will exhaust themselves. It is up to you to end play and training sessions.
Labs have such good reputations that some owners think they don’t need training. That’s a big mistake. Without training, a rambunctious Lab puppy will soon grow to be a very large, rowdy dog. Luckily, Labs take to training well — in fact, they often excel in obedience competitions.
Start with puppy kindergarten, which not only teaches your pup good canine manners, but helps him learn how to be comfortable around other dogs and people. Look for a class that uses positive training methods that reward the dog for getting it right, rather than punishing him for getting it wrong.
You’ll need to take special care if you’re raising a Lab puppy. Don’t let your Lab puppy run and play on very hard surfaces such as pavement until he’s at least two years old and his joints are fully formed. Normal play on grass is fine, as is puppy agility, with its one-inch jumps.
Like all retrievers, the Lab is mouthy, and he’s happiest when he has something, anything, to carry in his mouth. He’s also a chewer, so be sure to keep sturdy toys available all the time — unless you want your couch chewed up. And when you leave the house, it’s wise to keep your Lab in a crate or kennel so he’s can’t get himself into trouble chewing things he shouldn’t.
Labs are easy-care dogs who don’t need lots of fancy grooming, but there are a few important things to know about their care.
Labs shed. A lot. You’ll have less hair lying around the house if you brush your Lab once or twice a week so that the hair goes onto the brush instead of onto your furniture and clothes. A rubber curry brush and a metal shedding blade or wire slicker brush are your new best friends.
Item two: Labs are water dogs. When your Lab gets wet, and he will, give him a thorough freshwater rinse to remove chlorine, salt or lake muck from his fur, all of which can be drying or otherwise damaging to the coat.
Item three: Moisture in the ears can increase the risk of ear infections — especially in a breed already prone to them (due primarily to allergies). Dry the ears thoroughly after a swim, and use an ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian.
The rest is basic maintenance. Trim the nails every week or two, as needed. They should never get long enough that you hear them clacking on the floor. Long nails can make it uncomfortable for the Lab to walk, and they can get caught on things and tear off. That’s really painful, and it will bleed a lot. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good dental health and fresh breath.
Did You Know?
The 2008 tearjerker “Marley and Me” told the story of a rambunctious Labrador Retriever puppy and his influence on his family. Marley was played by a Lab named Jonah, who stole the film from co-starts Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson.
As both the most popular breed by registered ownership and also the most popular breed for assistance dogs in several countries, there have been many notable and famous labradors since the breed was recognized.
Endal, a service dog in Britain. Among other distinctions, “the most decorated dog in the world” , the first dog to ride on the London Eye and the first dog known to work a ‘chip and pin’ ATM card. By Endal’s death in March 2009, he and his owner/handler Allen Parton had been filmed almost 350 times by crews from several countries, and a film of a year in Endal’s life was in production.
Police, military, rescue and detection dogs
Zanjeer, a detection dog who detected arms and ammunition used in 1993 Mumbai (Bombay) serial explosions. During his service, he helped recover 57 country-made bombs, 175 petrol bombs, 11 military grade armaments, 242 grenades and 600 detonators. His biggest contribution to the police force and the city was the detection of 3,329 kg of RDX. He also helped detect 18 Type 56 rifles and five 9mm pistols.
Lucky and Flo, twin Black Labrador counterfeit detection dogs who became famous in 2007 for “sniffing out nearly 2 million pirated counterfeit DVDs” on a six-month secondment to Malaysia in 2007. Following the multi-million dollar, 6-arrest Malaysian detection, they became the first dogs to be awarded Malaysia’s “outstanding service award” and software pirates were stated to have put a £30,000 contract out for their lives.
Sarbi, an Australian special forces explosives detection dog that spent almost 14 months missing in action (MIA) in Afghanistan before being recovered safe and well in 2009.
Jake (rescue dog) a well-known American black labrador who served as a search and rescue dog following the September 11 attacks and Hurricane Katrina.
Former President of the United States Bill Clinton’s Labradors Buddy and Seamus.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s Labrador ‘Koni’.
Brian Griffin from the animated TV sitcom Family Guy is a white Labrador Retriever.
Bouncer in Neighbours, and Luath in The Incredible Journey, are also famous Labradors on TV.
Marley is an American Labrador featured in Marley & Me, a best-selling book by John Grogan, and a subsequent film based on Grogan’s life and times with Marley.
On the BBC children’s television series Big Barn Farm, Digger is a yellow Labrador puppy.
Rowdy on Scrubs is a taxidermy golden Labrador Retriever involved in various gags on the show.
Vincent on Lost is a white Labrador Retriever.
Pharaoh and Isis are yellow Labrador Retrievers in the television series Downton Abbey.
Mascots and advertising
Since 1972, a yellow Labrador pup known as the Andrex Puppy has been an advertising symbol for Andrex (Cottonelle) toilet tissue.
Michigan State University has an ongoing tradition of Zeke the Wonder Dog. The original “Zeke” as well as the current “Zeke IV” was a yellow Lab, as “Zeke III”, and “Zeke II” were black Labs.