The Labrador Retriever (also Labrador, or Lab for short) is one of several kinds of retriever, a type of gun dog. A breed characteristic is webbed paws for swim... Read More
Good-looking, smart and fun-loving, the Lab has a a lot going for him. He’s large, but not too large, he’s calm and easygoing when he’s not exuberantly fetching a tennis ball or a bird. He’s a do-it-all kind of dog.
The Labrador Retriever has consistently ranked as the most popular purebred dog in the United States for more than 10 years, according to the American Kennel Club. The AKC registers more than a hundred thousand new Labrador Retrievers each year, but when you take into account all the Labs never registered at all, or registered with another organization such as the United Kennel Club, the popularity of this stable, family-friendly dog is truly staggering.
A Labrador Retriever has the kind of versatility that other dogs only dream of. He can be a companion, show dog, hunting dog, canine athlete, guide dog, service dog, sniffer dog, search and rescue dog, and therapy dog. He enjoys jogging (health permitting), boating, swimming, hiking and more. If it’s active, outdoors and with his people, the Lab is ready and willing to participate in any activity.
All of those characteristics make the Labrador well-suited to a variety of active families. He’s perfect for homes with rowdy older children, but may be a little rambunctious around toddlers, especially as a puppy or young dog. Singles and couples who love the outdoors also match up well with this breed, and his size and even temperament make the Labrador a great companion for active seniors who love to walk and would appreciate a dog who looks intimidating, even if he is more of a lover than a fighter.
With adequate exercise, these versatile companions can handle anything from a small city apartment to a vast ranch. What they can’t handle is isolation: if you get a Lab, make him a member of your family, not an outdoor dog.
A nice Lab puppy can usually be purchased for $700 to $1,500. For this price you should expect the puppies to have been raised in a clean environment, from parents with health clearances and show or field championships to prove that they are good specimens of the breed. Puppies have been temperament tested, vetted, dewormed, and socialized to give them a healthy, confident start in life.
Other Quick Facts
The Lab’s short, weather-resistant coat and muscular body are the perfect equipment for outdoor activities like hiking, camping and water sports.
Labs are active dogs who need daily exercise and mental stimulation. Without it they can become bored and destructive. Provide them with the attention, training and activity they need or suffer the consequences.
Labs come in three colors: black, yellow and chocolate.
The Lab has a double coat — a soft, insulating undercoat topped with a short, hard, protective outer layer. Labs shed heavily, and brushing them once or twice a week will help keep the fur from flying.
Labs typically have litters of six to eight puppies. Most breeders like to keep puppies until they are at least eight weeks old. This gives the puppies time to learn how to behave toward other dogs and gives the breeder time to evaluate the puppies’ personalities so she can place each one in just the right home. A bonus is that puppies of this age are more mature and more easily housetrained.
The History of Labrador Retrievers
You might think that the Labrador is a native of the rugged Canadian province of the same name, but that’s not necessarily the case. He was first known as the lesser Newfoundland — probably to distinguish him from the giant breed known as the Newfoundland — the St. John’s Newfoundland or the St. John’s dog.
Experts have a couple of different theories about how the breed came to be called the Labrador. One is that the name is borrowed from the Spanish word for laborer — labrador — which is certainly a fitting description, or that the breed is related to the dogs that accompanied Portuguese fishermen who trawled the Grand Banks off the coast of Labrador and its neighbor Newfoundland. Those dogs, known as cani di castro laboreiro, performed such tasks as retrieving items from the water, including fish-laden nets, and swimming messages from boat to boat. Sounds like a Lab, all right.
Whatever they were called, the dogs were known for their keen sense of smell, ability to find downed birds, and speed. British visitors to Newfoundland appreciated the dogs’ abilities and brought them back to England. There, they caught the eye of the Earl of Malmesbury, who acquired some of the water-loving dogs to hunt the swamplands surrounding his estate. The Earl’s son began breeding the dogs and it was he who gave them the name Labrador. The Kennel Club in England made the breed official in 1903.
Labs made their way back to North America in the early 20 th century, imported by American sportsmen who admired their adaptability and work ethic. Since then, the breed’s popularity has gone up, up, up. In 1997, a chocolate Lab pup named Buddy became the first Labrador Retriever to make the White House his home.
The modern Labrador Retriever is an easy-going, easy-to-train dog who comes in three colors: black, yellow and chocolate. He also comes in three different body types, depending on his background and purpose.
Labrador Personality and Temperament
The Labrador breed standard says that temperament is as much a hallmark of the breed as the “otter tail.” The ideal Labrador is kindly, outgoing and tractable, eager to please, and tends not to be aggressive toward people or other animals.
Those traits are the foundation of the Lab’s personality, but each dog puts his own spin on them. Some are serious, some are clowns, some are reserved, some never meet a stranger. You might hear that Lab personalities vary by color, but it’s more likely that a dog’s temperament is affected by the breeder’s goals. Labs from breeders who produce top-winning field-trial dogs are more demanding when it comes to exercise and training. They are unsuited to lying around the house all day while everyone is at work or school. More laid back Labs typically come from a breeder who shows dogs in conformation.
Before the age of two or three, many Labradors can be extremely active and destructive despite their breed reputation for calm dispositions. It's in their extended adolescence that many Labradors find appeal in swallowing rocks, socks and Barbie dolls, all of which -- and more -- have been surgically removed from these dogs.
Start training early; be patient and be consistent and one day you will wake up to find that you live with a great dog. Even so, there are a couple of Lab behaviors that you should expect to live with throughout his life. They are part and parcel of being a Lab, and nothing you do will change them. Labs are active, Labs love to get wet, and Labs love to eat.
Labs are active, unless they’re sleeping. It was probably a Lab who inspired the saying “A tired dog is a good dog.” Joint and overall health permitting, be prepared to give a Lab a couple of half-hour walks or runs daily to meet his exercise needs. The best part about having a Lab is that there are any number of fun ways you can provide him with physical activity and mental stimulation. Take him swimming, teach him to run alongside your bike once he is physically mature at 18 to 24 months of age, go hiking, make him the first mate on your boat, or get involved in dog sports such as agility, obedience, rally, tracking, flyball, freestyle — you name it, a Lab has probably done it. However, it's always a good idea to check with your vet before starting a new exercise program with your dog.
If you give him an outlet for his energy, a Lab will be the best dog you could ever have. If you don’t, you’ll be spending all your time and energy repairing holes in the wall, filling in holes in your yard, replacing chewed-up furniture and worse. Not because your Lab is a bad dog but simply because he has found his own special ways to entertain himself. Don’t give him the chance.
Labs love water -- any body of water puddle-sized or larger will attract a Labrador, and mud is considered a fashion accessory. The short, drip-dry coat of the Lab sheds water and dirt easily, but that’s of little consolation if the debris lands on white carpeting.
Labs love to eat, and they will try to eat anything. They are professional countersurfers, and they will eat anything that looks like it might be food. If nothing else, living with a Lab will teach you, your spouse and your kids to put things away if they don’t want them to be chewed up or eaten. Veterinarians call these dogs “Flabradors” because obesity is common once they hit their middle-age mellowing out stage. A measured diet, good supervision and plenty of exercise are a must to keep these happy retrievers healthy and out of trouble.
Labs are smart and highly trainable, but they don’t just magically turn into great dogs. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, countersurfing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence. In the case of the Lab, the “teen” years can start at six months and continue until the dog is about three years old.
Talk to the breeder, describe exactly what you’re looking for in a dog, and ask for assistance in selecting a puppy. Breeders see the puppies daily and can make uncannily accurate recommendations once they know something about your lifestyle and personality.
The perfect Lab doesn’t spring fully formed from the whelping box. He’s a product of his background and breeding. Whatever you want from a Lab, look for one whose parents have nice personalities and who has been well socialized from early puppyhood.
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