Labrador Retrievers – Photo by jsorbieus
The Labrador Retriever (“Labrador” or “Lab” for short), is one of several kinds of retriever, and are the most popular breeds of dog (by registered ownership) in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The breed is exceptionally friendly, intelligent, and good natured, and therefore makes an excellent companion, or service dog. Labrador Retrievers are known to be one of the fastest learning breeds of dog and respond well to praise.
Labradors are relatively large with males typically weighing 60 to 80 lb (27 to 36 kg) and females 45 to 70 lb (23 to 32 kg). They are energetic outgoing dogs, and are black, yellow, or brown (called “chocolate”) in color, in that order of frequency. Puppies of all colors can potentially occur in the same litter. The 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 (E) locus determines whether the pigment is produced at all. A dog with the recessive e 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. Yellow labs can have black or pink noses; chocolate and black labs’s noses match the coat color. Once in a while, a silver labrador may appear, although this occurrence is rare. The breed tends to shed hair regularly throughout the year. Lab 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. Their interwoven coat is also relatively waterproof, providing more assistance for swimming. The tail acts as a rudder for changing directions.
The Lab’s head is broad and clean-cut, with ears that hang close to the head.
As with some other breeds, the English and the American lines differ slightly. Labs are bred in England as a medium size dog, shorter and stockier with fuller faces than their American counterparts which are bred as a larger dog. No distinction is made by the AKC, but the two classification come from different breeding. Australian stock also exists; though not seen in the west, they are common in Asia.
Many people unfamiliar with retrievers find that the Lab is quite similar to the Golden Retriever in size, general shape, and general color, especially when young and especially to those Goldens with lighter coats. Their personalities are also quite similar, with both breeds being intelligent, friendly, receptive to praise and easy to train. The most obvious difference is the short straight coat of the Labrador Retriever (the Golden has long wavy fur) and the Lab’s thick, otter-like tail compared to the Golden’s plumed tail.
Labrador Retriever History
The Labrador is believed to have originated on the island of Newfoundland, now part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. It is thought to have descended from the St. John’s Water Dog (no longer in existence), a crossbreed of native water dogs and the Newfoundland to which the Labrador is closely related. The name Labrador was given to this dog by the Earl of Malmesbury and other breeders in England in order to differentiate them from the Newfoundland dog. The Labrador Retriever was originally called the lesser Newfoundland or the St. John’s dog. Other origins suggested for the name include the Spanish or Portuguese word for workers, “labradores”, and the village of Castro Laboreiro in Portugal whose herding and guard dogs bear a “striking resemblence” to Labradors.
Many fishermen originally used the Lab to assist in bringing nets to shore; the dog would grab the floating corks on the ends of the nets and pull them to shore.
The first known written reference to the Labrador is in 1814 in “Instructions to Young Sportsmen”. In 1823 sporting artist Edwin Landseer painted a black dog with white markings titled “Cora. A Labrador Bitch,” by which time it appears the breed was already firmly established, with several of the nobility either owning or breeding them by the end of that century. The first Yellow Lab on record, named Ben of Hyde, was born in 1899.
The modern Labrador Retriever is among the oldest of the modern “recognized” breeds; according to the American Kennel Club, pedigrees exist back to 1878. The Kennel Club recognized the Lab in 1903. The first registration of Labradors by the AKC was in 1917; many English dogs were imported post World War I and these formed the foundation of the American variety.
Temperament and Activities
Labradors are a well-balanced and remarkably 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 territorialism, pining, insecurity, aggression, destructiveness, hypersensitivity, or other difficult traits which manifest in a variety of breeds, and as the name suggests, they are excellent retrievers. As an extension of this, they instinctively enjoy holding objects and even hands or arms in their mouths, which they can do with great gentleness. They are, however, prone to chew objects (though they can easily 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 breed and an excellent family dog (including a good reputation with children of all ages), 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 can result in mischief, and may require training and firm handling at times to ensure it does not get out of hand. Anecdotally, between the different subtypes, black Labs may have a tendency to be slightly more dominant, and yellow to be slightly less so (more mellow). Most Labs enjoy retrieving a ball endlessly and other forms of activity (such as dog agility or flyball), are considerably “food and fun” oriented, very trainable and open-minded to new things, and thrive on human attention and interaction, which they find hard to get enough of.
Many Labs enjoy eating quite a bit of food, and it is imperative for owners to control food consumption, or your Lab may become slightly overweight, a slight health risk.
The steady temperament of Labs and their ability to learn quickly make them an ideal breed for assistance dogs.
Labrador life expectancy is generally 12 to 13 years, and it is a healthy breed with relatively few major problems. Common Lab health issues are:
Labs are somewhat prone to hip dysplasia, especially the larger dogs, though not as much as some other breeds. Hip scores are recommended before breeding.
Labs are sometimes prone to ear infection, because their floppy ears trap warm moist air. This is easy to control, but needs regular checking to ensure that a problem is not building up unseen. A healthy Lab ear should look clean and light pink (almost white) inside. Darker pink (or inflamed red), or brownish deposits, are a symptom of ear infection. The usual treatment is regular cleaning daily or twice daily (being careful not to force dirt into the sensitive inner ear) and sometimes medication (ear drops) for major cases. As a preventative measure, some owners clip the hair carefully around the ear and under the flap, to encourage better air flow.
Labs are often overfed and are allowed to become overweight, due to their blatant enjoyment of treats, hearty appetites, and endearing behavior towards people. A healthy Lab should keep a very slight hourglass waist and be fit and lithe, rather than fat or heavy-set. Excessive weight is strongly implicated as a risk factor in the later development of hip dysplasia and diabetes, and also can contribute to general reduced health when older.
A Labrador that undertakes significant swimming without building up can develop a swelling or apparent kink known as swimtail. This can be easily treated by a veterinary clinic and tail rest.
Puppy Mills and Dog Theft
Because the Labrador is such a popular breed, they are often reared in puppy mills where the people responsible care primarily for profit, and not for the dog’s well being.
Labs and Lab owners also commonly fall victim to dog theft, where any purebred-looking Labradors may be sold to puppy mills or unknowing prospective owners for a high profit to the thief. Microchipping for Labradorsâ€”as for any dogâ€”increases the possiblity of finding lost or stolen dogs, because the microchip cannot be easily removed like a collar and dog tags.
Although kennel clubs and registries recognize the Labrador in variations of only three colorsâ€”black, yellow, and chocolateâ€”some breeders sell light-colored yellow Labrador puppies as a “white” labrador, the dark yellow Labrador puppies as “fox red,” or chocolates possessing the dilution factor as “silver Labradors”. These colors are nonstandard and would disqualify them as show dogs; however, the dog’s color does not affect its behavior or health and many people own them as companion dogs. There is some controversy over whether these rarer colors are worth more (because they are rare) or less (because they are nonstandard and unsuitable for breeding show dogs and for showing).
Black labs have dominated the field trial and hunt test scene. (Fergus, 2002). Because the lighter variants are a recessive trait, breeding for a litter of yellow or chocolate pups requires mating two dogs with those traits. This means that dogs from these litters were selected for traits other than nose, biddability, intelligence, and hunting desire. (Fergus, 2002). Because even a pairing of black labs may produce chocolate or yellow offspring, this rule does not hold 100% of the time. Even so, many serious field trialers and hunters prefer black labradors over the other variants to increase the odds of solid hunting genes. (Fergus, 2002)
In addition to color variations, differences in the physical build of the dog have arisen as a result of specialized breeding. Although the majority of dogs bred are of the type generally displayed in the show ring, distinct lines are bred for specific working purposes. Dogs bred for field trials tend to be lighter in limb and often lack the very large, square head seen in the show ring. Differences tend to occur as dogs bred for hunting and field-trial work are selected first for working ability, whereas dogs bred to compete for show championships are selected for conformation to a breed standard. In fact, breeders and owners sometimes distinguish the “working” Labrador from the “show” Labrador, given the marked differences in their physical characteristics.
The Labradoodle is a common mixed-breed dog that combines a Labrador with a Poodle.
Another common mix is a Lab-Border Collie mix.