Labrador Retriever, excellent family dog

The Labrador Retriever (Labrador, or Lab for short) is one of several kinds of retriever, a type of gun dog. They have webbed paws for swimming, useful when they retrieve their prey, hence the name retriever. The Labrador, once known as the Lesser Newfoundland, is the most popular breed of dog (by registered ownership) in the world, and is, by a large margin, the most popular dog breed by registration in Canada, the United States (since 1991), and the United Kingdom. It is also the most popular breed of assistance dog in Canada, the United States, Australia, United Kingdom and many other countries, as well as being widely used by police and other official bodies for their detection and working abilities. Typically, Labradors are athletic, and love to swim, play catch and retrieve games, and are good with young children.

Labrador Appearance

Labradors are relatively large, with males typically weighing 29–41 kg (65-90 pounds) and females 25–32 kg (55–71 lb). Labs weighing close to or over 100 lbs are considered obese or having a major fault under American Kennel Club standards, although some labs weigh significantly more. The majority of the characteristics of this breed, with the exception of color, are the result of breeding to produce a working retriever.

As with some other dog breeds, the Conformation (typically "English", "show" or "bench") and the Field (typically "American" or "working") lines differ, although both lines are bred in both countries. In general, however, Conformation Labs tend to be bred as medium-sized dogs, shorter and stockier with fuller faces and a slightly calmer nature than their Field counterparts, which are often bred as taller, lighter-framed dogs, with slightly less broad faces and a slightly longer nose; however Field labs should still be proportional and fit within AKC standards. With field labs, excessively long noses, thin heads, long legs and lanky frames are not considered standard. These two types are informal and not codified or standardized; no distinction is made by the AKC or other kennel clubs, but the two types come from different breeding lines. Australian stock also exists; though not seen in the west, they are common in Asia.

The dog breed tends to shed hair twice annually, or regularly throughout the year in temperate climates. Some labs shed a lot; however, individual labs vary. Labrador hair is usually fairly short and straight, and the tail quite broad and strong. The otter-like tail and webbed toes of the Labrador Retriever make them excellent swimmers. The webbing between their toes can also serve as a "snowshoe" in colder climes and keep snow from balling up between their toes- a condition that can be painful to other breeds with hair between the toes. Their interwoven coat is also relatively waterproof, providing more assistance for swimming.

Official dog breed standards

There is a great deal of variety among Labs. The following characteristics are typical of the conformation show bred (bench-bred) lines of this breed in the United States, and are based on the AKC standard. Significant differences between US and UK standards are noted.

  • Size: Labs are a medium-large but compact dog breed. They should have an appearance of proportionality. They should be as long from the withers to the base of the tail as they are from the floor to the withers. Males should stand 22.5–24.5 inches (57–62 cm) tall at the withers and weigh 65–80 lb (29–36 kg). Females should stand 21.5–23.5 inches (55–60 cm) and weigh 55–70 lb (25–32 kg). By comparison under UK Kennel Club standards, height should be 22–22.5 inches (56–57 cm) for males, and 21.5–22 inches (55–56 cm) for females.
  • Coat: The Lab's coat should be short and dense, but not wiry. The coat is described as 'water-resistant' or more accurately 'water-repellent' so that the dog does not get cold when taking to water in the winter. That means that the dog naturally has a slightly dry, oily coat. Acceptable colors are black, yellow (ranging from ivory or creme to fox red), and chocolate.
  • Head: The head should be broad with a pronounced stop and slightly pronounced brow. The eyes should be kind and expressive. Appropriate eye colors are brown and hazel. The lining around the eyes should be black. The ears should hang close to the head and are set slightly above the eyes.
  • Jaws: The jaws should be strong and powerful. The muzzle should be of medium length, and should not be too tapered. The jaws should hang slightly and curve gracefully back.
  • Body: The body should be strong and muscular with a level top line.

The tail and coat are designated "distinctive features" of the Labrador by both the Kennel Club and AKC. The AKC adds that "true Labrador Retriever temperament is as much a hallmark of the dog breed as the 'otter' tail".

As well, Labradors should not have droopy eyes (like a Basset Hound). The skin should be relatively tight, and you should not be able to see the pinks on the inside of their lids.

Labrador Color

Labrador Retrievers are registered in three colors: black (a solid black color), yellow (anything from light cream to "fox-red"), chocolate (medium to dark brown). Some Labrador retrievers can have markings such as white patches on their chest and other areas, but most commonly they are one solid color.

Dog puppies of all colors can potentially occur in the same litter. Color is determined primarily by two genes. The first gene (the B locus) determines the density of the coat's pigment granules: dense granules result in a black coat, sparse ones give a chocolate coat. The second (D) locus determines whether the pigment is produced at all. A dog with the recessive d allele will produce little pigment and will be yellow regardless of its genotype at the B locus. Variations in numerous other genes control the subtler details of the coat's coloration, which in yellow Labs varies from white to light gold to a fox red. Chocolate and black Labs' noses will match the coat color.

Labrador Nose and skin pigmentation

Because Labrador coloration is controlled by multiple genes, it is possible for recessive genes to emerge some generations later and also there can sometimes be unexpected pigmentation effects to different parts of the body. Pigmentation effects appear in regard to yellow Labradors, and sometimes chocolate, and hence the majority of this section covers pigmentation within the yellow Labrador. The most common places where pigmentation is visible are the nose, lips, gums, feet, tail, and the rims of the eyes, which may be black, brown, light yellow-brown ("liver", caused by having two genes for chocolate), or several other colors. A Labrador can carry genes for a different color, for example a black Labrador can carry recessive chocolate and yellow genes, and a yellow Labrador can carry recessive genes for the other two colors. DNA testing can reveal some aspects of these. Less common pigmentations (other than pink) are a fault, not a disqualification, and hence such dogs are still permitted to be shown. The intensity of black pigment on yellow Labs is controlled by a separate gene independent of the fur coloring. Yellow Labradors usually have black noses, which may gradually turn pink with age (called "snow nose" or "winter nose"). This is due to a reduction in the enzyme tyrosinase which indirectly controls the production of melanin, a dark coloring. Tyrosinase is temperature dependent—hence light colouration can be seasonal, due to cold weather—and is less produced with increasing age two years old onwards. As a result, the nose color of most yellow Labs becomes a somewhat pink shade as they grow older.

A coloration known as "Dudley" is also possible. Dudleys are variously defined as yellow Labs which have no pigmented (pink) noses (LRC), yellow with liver/chocolate pigmentation (AKC), or "flesh colored" in addition to having the same color around the rims of the eye, rather than having black or dark brown pigmentation. A yellow Labrador with brown or chocolate pigmentation, for example, a brown or chocolate nose, is not necessarily a Dudley, though according to the AKC's current standard it would be if it has chocolate rims around the eyes (or more accurately of the genotype eebb). Dog breed standards for Labradors considers a true Dudley to be a disqualifying feature in a conformation show Lab, such as one with a thoroughly pink nose or one lacking in any pigment along with flesh colored rims around the eyes. True Dudleys are extremely rare.

Breeding in order to correct pigmentation often lacks dependability. Because color is determined by many genes, some of which are recessive, crossbreeding a pigmentation non-standard yellow Labrador to a black Labrador may not correct the matter or prevent future generations carrying the same recessive genes. For similar reasons, crossbreeding chocolate to yellow labs is also often avoided.

Labrador Show and field lines

There are significant differences between field and trial-bred (sometimes referred to as "American") and show-bred (or "English") lines of Labradors, arising as a result of specialized breeding. Dogs bred for hunting and field-trial work are selected first for working ability, where dogs bred to compete in conformation shows are selected for their conformation to the standards and characteristics sought by judges in the show ring.

While individual dogs may vary, in general show-bred Labradors are heavier built, slightly shorter-bodied, and have a thicker coat and tail. Field Labradors are generally longer legged, lighter, and more lithe in build. In the head, show Labradors tend to have broader heads, better defined stops, and more powerful necks, while field Labradors have lighter and slightly narrower heads with longer muzzles. Field-bred Labradors are commonly higher energy and more high-strung compared to the Labrador bred for conformation showing, and as a consequence may be more suited to working relationships than being a "family pet". Some breeders, especially those specializing in the field type, feel that breed shows do not adequately recognize their type of dog, leading to occasional debate regarding officially splitting the dog breed into subtypes.

In the United States, the AKC and the Labrador's breed club have set the dog breed standard to accommodate the field-bred Labrador somewhat. For instance, the AKC withers-height standards allow conformation dogs to be slightly taller than the equivalent British standard. However, dual champions, or dogs that excel in both the field and the show ring, are becoming more unusual.

Labrador Temperament

Labradors are a well-balanced, friendly and versatile breed, adaptable to a wide range of functions as well as making very good pets. As a rule they are not excessively prone to being territorial, pining, insecure, aggressive, destructive, hypersensitive, or other difficult traits which sometimes manifest in a variety of breeds. As the name suggests, they are excellent retrievers. Labradors instinctively enjoy holding objects and even hands or arms in their mouths, which they can do with great gentleness (a Labrador can carry an egg in its mouth without breaking it). They are also known to have a very soft feel to the mouth, as a result of being bred to retrieve game such as waterfowl. They are prone to chewing objects (though they can be trained out of this behavior). The Labrador Retriever's coat repels water to some extent, thus facilitating the extensive use of the dog in waterfowl hunting.

Labradors have a reputation as a very mellow dog breed and an excellent family dog (including a good reputation with children of all ages and other animals), but some lines (particularly those that have continued to be bred specifically for their skills at working in the field rather than for their appearance) are particularly fast and athletic. Their fun-loving boisterousness and lack of fear may require training and firm handling at times to ensure it does not get out of hand—an uncontrolled adult can be quite problematic. Females may be slightly more independent than males. Labradors mature at around three years of age; before this time they can have a significant degree of puppy-like energy, often mislabelled as being hyperactive. Because of their enthusiasm, leash-training early on is suggested to prevent pulling when full-grown. Labs often enjoy retrieving a ball endlessly and other forms of activity (such as agility, frisbee, or flyball).

Although they will sometimes bark at noise, especially noise from an unseen source ("alarm barking"), Labs are usually not noisy or territorial. They are often very easygoing and trusting with strangers, and therefore are not usually suitable as guard dogs.

Labradors have a well-known reputation for appetite, and some individuals may be highly indiscriminate, eating digestible and non-food objects alike. They are persuasive and persistent in requesting food. For this reason, the Labrador owner must carefully control his/her dog's food intake to avoid obesity and its associated health problems.

The steady temperament of Labs and their ability to learn make them an ideal breed for search and rescue, detection, and therapy work. Their primary working role in the field continues to be that of a hunting retriever.


They do not typically jump high fences or dig. Because of their personalities,(like swimming, playing, running, sleeping, and eating) some Labs climb and/or jump for their own amusement. As a breed they are highly intelligent and capable of intense single-mindedness and focus if motivated or their interest is caught. Therefore, with the right conditions and stimuli, a bored Labrador could "turn into an escape artist par excellence".

Labradors as a breed are curious, exploratory and love company, following both people and interesting scents for food, attention and novelty value. In this way, they can often "vanish" or otherwise become separated from their owners with little fanfare. They are also popular dogs if found, and at times may be stolen. Because of this a number of dog clubs and rescue organisations (including the UK's Kennel Club) consider it good practice that Labradors be microchipped, with the owner's name and address also on their collar and tags.

Labrador Use as working dogs

Labradors are an intelligent breed with a good work ethic and generally good temperaments (breed statistics show that 91.5% of Labradors who were tested passed the American Temperament Test.) Common working roles for Labradors include: hunting, tracking and detection (they have a great sense of smell which helps when working in these areas), disabled-assistance, carting, and therapy work. Approximately 60–70% of all guide dogs in Canada are Labradors; other common dog breeds are Golden Retrievers and German Shepherd Dogs.

The high intelligence, initiative and self-direction of Labradors in working roles is exemplified by dogs such as Endal, who during a 2001 emergency placed an unconscious human being in the recovery position, retrieved his mobile phone from beneath the car, fetched a blanket and covered him, barked at nearby dwellings for assistance, and then ran to a nearby hotel to obtain help. A number of labradors have also been taught to assist their owner in removing money and credit cards from ATMs with prior training.

Labrador Health and well-being

Labrador pups should not be brought home before they are 7–10 weeks old. Their life expectancy is generally 10 to 12 years, and it is a healthy breed with relatively few major problems. Notable issues related to health and well-being include:

Inherited disorders

  • Labs are somewhat prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, especially the larger dogs, though not as much as some other breeds. Hip scores are recommended before breeding and often joint supplements are recommended.
  • Labs also suffer from the risk of knee problems. A luxating patella is a common occurrence in the knee where the leg is often bow shaped.
  • Eye problems are also possible in some Labs, particularly progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, corneal dystrophy and retinal dysplasia. Dogs which are intended to be bred should be examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist for an eye score.
  • Hereditary myopathy, a rare inherited disorder that causes a deficiency in type II muscle fibre.
  • There is a small incidence of other conditions, such as autoimmune diseases and deafness in labs, either congenitally or later in life.
  • Labradors often suffer from exercise induced collapse, a syndrome that causes hyperthermia, weakness, collapse, and disorientation after short bouts of exercise.

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