The Labrador Retriever Canis familiaris ("Labrador" or "Lab" for short), is one of several kinds of retriever, and is the most popular breed of dog (by registered ownership) in both the United States and the United Kingdom. The breed is exceptionally friendly, intelligent, energetic and good natured, making them excellent companions and working dogs. Labrador Retrievers are known to be one of the fastest-learning breeds of dog and respond well to praise and positive attention. Most Labs love the water as historically, they have been selectively bred for retrieving in water environments as 'gun dogs'; acting as fantastic companions in duck hunting.
The coat of the black Labrador, like this puppy's, is solid black.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 rural/agricultural workers, Portuguese "lavradores" or Spanish "labradores", and the village of Castro Laboreiro in Portugal whose herding and guard dogs bear a "striking resemblance" 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 in.
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. They are easily trained and are a very obedient breed. 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 chewing objects (though some 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. Such dogs can become quite destructive if left too much on their own. 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, of which they find it difficult to get enough. Reflecting their retrieving bloodlines, almost every Lab loves playing in water or swimming. They are also strongly built, they have an otter-like tail, and they have a strong will to please.
Many Labs are notorious "chowhounds"; they will eat anything that is not nailed down, and are experts at manipulating soft-hearted humans into giving them treats/extra food/table scraps/et cetera (Lab owners consider their pets masters of "seal puppy" eyes). The Lab 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 quickly make them an ideal breed for assistance dogs as well as search and rescue, detection, and therapy work.
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. Some labs are meant to do steady work that does not require large amounts of energy.
- 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. Arthritis is commonplace in older, overweight labs.
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.
- 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.
The Labrador Retriever coat colors are black, yellow, silver, 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.
Although kennel clubs and registries recognize the Labrador in variations of only three colors—black, yellow, and chocolate—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". The "silver" color is nonstandard and would disqualify them as show dogs. Although "silver" labs are currently eligible for AKC registration as chocolate labradors, there remains some debate as to the purity of "silver" labs. The Labrador Retriever Club (parent club to the Labrador Retriever Club in the US) has declared that the "silver" labrador is not a purebred, but rather a creative hybrid. It is their belief, as well as the belief of many breeders, that the "silver" labrador is a result of cross-breeding chocolate labradors with the weimaraner. Whether this breeding was intentional or unintentional is unknown. Kennels often charge greater fees for "silver" labradors, despite their disqualifying color and the LRC's condemnation of the non-standard labrador genetic trait. Another disqualifying factor for chocolate labs (as "silver" is technically classified as chocolate) is any deviation from a hazel or brown eye color. Many "silver" labradors have blue eyes, just like the weimaraner and unlike any other variety of standard labrador. It should be noted that all "silver" labradors are a result of initial interbreeding (father to daughter, brother to sister, mother to son, etc.) to maintain their color and recessive gene traits. The earliest advertisements for "blue" or "gray" labradors date back to the 1950s in the western United States. No "silver" labradors have been known to have been naturally produced outside the United States from native chocolate labrador stock. The US-based kennel where "silver" labradors first appeared also bred weimaraners. Despite the claims made by some unscrupulous "silver" labrador breeders, there is currently no genetic test to prove or disprove that "silver" labradors are purebred.
The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc.'s position on "silver" labradors:
There is no genetic basis for the silver gene in Labradors. The silver color is a disqualification under the Standard for the breed. The LRC does not recognize, accept or condone the sale or advertising of any Labrador as a silver Labrador. The Club opposes the practice of registering silver as chocolate.
- The "fox red" and so-called "white" labs (more properly referred to as "cream" by the AKC) are perfectly acceptable shades for a Yellow lab in the show ring. See the AKC website for a more complete discussion of Yellow Labradors.
- 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. Distinct lines are bred for specific purposes. Dogs bred for field trials tend to be lighter in limb and often lack the very large, square head, shorter legs, and heavier bodies 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 what judges look for in the show ring. In fact, breeders and owners sometimes distinguish the "working" Labrador from the "show" Labrador, given the marked differences in their physical characteristics. The majority of dogs bred are generally somewhere between what is displayed in the "show" Labrador and what is seen in the "working" and Reteriing lab.
- The Labradoodle is a common mixed-breed dog that combines a Labrador with a Poodle. These dogs are popular for their hypoallergenic qualities.
- Labrador-German Shepherd and Labrador-Border Collie crosses are also rather popular, at least for their intelligence and working qualities.