Labrador Retriever: Dog Breed Information

Labrador Retriever: Dog Breed Information

Highlights

  • Temperament: friendly, extroverted, active
  • Height at the shoulder: 22-24 inches for the males and 21.5-23.5 inches for females
  • Weight: 65-80 lbs. for males and 55-70 lbs. for females
  • Life expectancy: 10 – 12 years
  • Breed Group: Sporting

About the Labrador Retriever breed

The friendly and sweet Labrador Retriever is the number 1 most popular dog breed in the USA and among the most popular breeds in the world. This is due to a number of physical features and traits of this wonderful sporting dog breed.

Labs are very outgoing and friendly dogs that were bred to be both working dogs but also loyal and loving companions.

The Labrador Retriever breed originated on Newfoundland Island and was first called the St. John’s dog after the capital of the island country.

The medium to large-sized dogs was used as helpers for English fishermen settlers. They are excellent swimmers and helped their humans to haul nets, retrieve fish and fetch ropes in the chilly waters of the North Atlantic ocean.

Today, the Labrador retrievers are preferred as family pets and companion dogs, even though they are still hard workers, often used for various jobs like search and rescue, guide and assistance dogs, hunting retrievers, therapy dogs, and many other canine professions and jobs.

Their courage, strength and strong nose make them excellent retrievers. Their natural intelligence is perfect for assisting handicapped people and guiding visually impaired people. The sweet nature of this popular dog breed makes them absolutely perfect for therapy dogs.

They are also virtually unbeatable at obedience and agility contests.

The only thing a Labrador Retriever can’t be counted on to do is to be a watchdog. In fact, Labs are more likely to greet an intruder and show them around rather than alert you and protect you and your home.

The number one favorite American dog breed is known for its intelligence and warm, loving connection to its humans, as well as its overall friendly attitude.

It is one of the most recognizable dog breeds in the world, and one of the most common ones depicted in photos, paintings and movies, and TV shows.

Built as a sporting breed and a fisherman’s helper, the Labs are strong and muscular canines with a lot of energy. Their short coats are easy to maintain and groom. Most importantly, Labrador retrievers are people-oriented, strongly devoted dogs that live to please and serve their families and owners.

One of the sins of the dogs from this breed is that they love to eat. This can quickly lead to weight problems even obesity if the dog’s eating and diet are left unmanaged. Keep in mind that the appetite of the dogs from this breed can extend beyond dog food, and you may find that your Lab is going after your own food, rummaging through the trash and even trying to eat inedible things such as toys and other objects.

Since these beautiful dogs were originally bred to be hard workers and to handle physically demanding jobs in harsh conditions, it is only natural that they have quite high energy levels. This means that you must be prepared to provide your Lab with about 30 to 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day. If left without sufficient physical stimulation, these dogs can become pretty loud and destructive.

Since Labs are so popular and have such a good rep, many newbies think that they do not require any or too much training or socializing. But the truth is, that these dogs, like all others, do need to be taught proper manners.

It is a good idea to start with obedience training and socializing as early on as possible when you adopt a Labrador Retriever (or any other kind of dog).

They are known to be escape artists, especially if they smell something delicious, or see something interesting, so make sure your Lab is microchipped and has identification tags on it at all times.

Even though they are relatively large and energetic dogs, Labrador Retrievers will slow down a bit as they grow, so you will need to provide them with an age-appropriate diet.

Unfortunately, as with other popular dog breeds where there is a strong demand, breeders are more interested in selling more puppies than producing healthy ones with good temperaments. This is why you should never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, let alone from a puppy mill or a pet store. Always check your local shelters before buying a dog, as there could be the perfect pet for you waiting to be saved by you!

Keep in mind that there are differences in the puppies produced by different breeders. Some breeders focus on producing excellent competitors and working dogs, while others focus more on a good balance between good looks and capabilities. The former type, bred for shows and competitions, tends to be more solidly built and heavy than the latter ones.

The dense short coats of the Labrador Retrievers can be yellow, black or chocolate. They have highly recognizable Otter tails that are constantly wagging and wide heads with glimmering and friendly eyes.

In general, you can expect your male Lab to reach a height at the shoulder of 22-24 inches and a weight of about 65-80 lbs. The female Lab is expected to be about 21 – 23.5 inches at the shoulder and up to 70 lbs. in weight.

Personality

These dogs have held the position of the most popular dog breed in the US for decades, and this is due to their great looks but also to the fact that they will easily become friends with all people and dogs, and they will remain loyal and loving companions to their owners forever. They are also great at all kinds of canine jobs and are perfect pets for any owner or family.

They are outgoing, sweet-natured, and friendly canines, eager to please their owners. Thanks to this urge to please and their intelligence, they are quick learners and are relatively easy to train, making them suitable for novice dog owners.

Still, like sporting and working dogs, Labs need to be kept mentally and physically active on a daily basis if you want your dog to be happy, healthy and stay away from chewing, barking and other undesirable behavior.

Some Labrador Retrievers are more laid back and others tend to be rowdier. If possible, always ask to meet the puppy’s parents and siblings and choose the puppy with a temperament that suits your lifestyle and preference.

Nutrition

As mentioned earlier, Labrador Retrievers love eating as much as they love their human families. They will eat just about anything edible or not at any time. This is why you need to measure and portion the food for your dog carefully and monitor it in order to protect it from choking or swallowing a toy or another object.

Being medium to large-sized, active dogs, Labs need to eat about 2.5 to 3 cups of high-quality commercial dog food or homemade dog food. The food must be divided into two or smaller meals to prevent the life-threatening and fast-killing disorder of twisting the stomach, also known as bloat.

Of course, like with every other dog, the exact size and type of the meals recommended depends on the dog’s age, activity level, overall health, individual metabolism, and weight.

Choose high-quality dog food which is appropriate for the age of your dog. It is only natural that elderly dogs that are less active require fewer calories than youngsters who spend hours running, playing or working.

Young Lab puppies tend to grow pretty rapidly during their first four to eight months, which is why you should feed them with fewer calories and yet high-quality food to prevent damage to the bones and joints due to them growing up too fast.

Labrador Retrievers are prone to gaining excess weight and becoming obese due to their insatiable appetite. This is why controlling your dog’s diet is essential, because excess weight gain can cause numerous health problems and shorten the lifespan of your dog.

Even though treats are excellent rewards during training, make sure you are careful with how much you give to your dog, and choose lower-calorie treats to ensure that it stays in shape while learning doggie manners and polishing its social skills.

Grooming

Labrador retrievers have short coats which can be yellow, chocolate, or brown in color. Their coats have two layers – a soft and weather-resistant undercoat and a thick, straight, and short topcoat.

Thanks to the two layers of their coats, Labs will be protected from rain, snow and cold, which is part of their heritage as retrievers and fisherman dogs.

When the breed was first developed, black was the most popular coat in Labrador retrievers, but yellow and chocolate Labs have gained more popularity over time.

Some breeders are currently offering what they refer to as fox red or polar white Labs, but these are just variations of the yellow color of their coats.

Even though Labrador retrievers do shed quite a bit, they are one of the easiest breeds to groom.

Brush your dog’s coat several times a week or on a daily season when the shedding is more profuse. You can even teach your Lab to stay put while you vacuum the loose hairs off with a powerful vacuum cleaner, and this will make cleaning your home from hair much easier.

Labs require to be bathed every two months with good quality dog shampoo. In case your Labrador retriever loves rolling in the mud or in something foul, then you will need to bathe it even more often.

You should also brush the dog’s teeth several times a week to prevent the build-up of tartar, bad breath and bacteria.

Monitor your dog’s nails and if it is not wearing them down naturally and you start hearing the clicking of its nails on the floor – it is time for trimming.

The nails need to be trimmed once a month to keep them from breaking or from other painful injuries and deformations of the feet and legs. Ask your groomer or vet for advice on nail trimming if you are not experienced. Keep in mind that dog nails have blood vessels, and cutting too deep can cause painful bleeding.

Further Reading: 10 Best Dog Nail Clippers in 2022

You should also take the time to check the eyes and ears of your Labrador retriever for redness, unusual discharge, or a foul smell in the ear. Clean the inner part of the year gently using soft cotton and dog ear cleaner, and never stick anything into the ear canal of the dog.

In order to get your Lab accustomed to this regular grooming regimen, it is advisable to start teaching it to tolerate the experience and sit still during nail trimming, tooth brushing, ear cleaning or coat brushing if you want to make life easier on yourself and more pleasant for your dog.

Remember to regularly inspect the skin, nose, eyes, ears, and other parts of your dog for any new bumps, sores, rashes, redness, or other signs of inflammation. You can take immediate action if anything is wrong with your four-legged friend.

Exercise

Labrador Retrievers are highly energetic, enthusiastic dogs that require a lot of exercise on a daily basis. Labs that do not get enough mental and physical stimulation can easily become bored and start spending their excess energy on chewing, barking or other destructive behavior.

Because of the history of this breed as fisherman helpers and retrievers, the favorite pastimes of Labrador Retrievers are swimming and retrieving. So, give your Lab a chance to swim and enjoy time in the water whenever it is possible.

Another great way to keep your Lab stimulated and happy is to take it on hunting trips, field trials or sign them up for dog sports like obedience, agility, dock diving, or tracking training and competitions.

You can also train your dog to act as a therapy dog or perform any of the other canine jobs that Labs are very good at.

Although they love the outdoors, Labrador Retrievers are human-centered and love spending time with their owners or families. So, make sure that you include your Lab in all or most of the family activities, rather than leaving it alone at home, or outdoors in a kennel. Not only will your pup get bored, but it can become suffering from separation anxiety which can have pretty negative results.

Some Labrador Retrievers are more active than others, but in general, a good rule of thumb is to provide your lab with at least 30 minutes of walking, playing catch, running, cycling or another preferred activity. But keep in mind that these gods are like workaholics, and they can exhaust themselves with too much physical activity as well.

When they are still young, you should be careful not to over-exercise Lab puppies, because this can cause damage to the bones, joints, and structure of the dog during its rapid growth stage.

Also, don’t allow the puppy to jump or run on pavements, concrete or other surfaces for the same reason. Instead, let your puppy play on the soft grass or on the carpet at home. You can also sign it up for a puppy agility class where the jumps are tiny, and the training surface is soft as well.

Training

Even though Labs seem so sweet, gentle and friendly, they are still relatively large and quite strong and energetic dogs, which makes early training and socialization vital.

You should start carefully introducing your Lab puppy to other people, friendly dogs and to different situations as early as it has received its vaccinations and it is safe to go out.

Start meeting your dog with the world from the age of about 7 weeks up to 4 months, and at the same time, start gradually but consistently to train your dog to be obedient. If you are persistent and patient enough to do those two things properly, you are more likely to end up with a friendly and well-rounded and well-behaved dog when it reaches adulthood.

Puppy kindergarten and training classes are great for socializing and exercising as well as training your young Labrador Retriever. They can be especially helpful to point out any unwanted habits or behaviors from an early age and help you curb them successfully in time.

Overall, when they are trained to behave properly and to socialize normally with other people, dogs, and in different settings, Labrador Retrievers are friendly, smart and devoted companion dogs who are very enthusiastic about pleasing their humans, especially if they are included in the family activities outdoors and inside.

Keep in mind that Labs are sporting dogs that have it in their genes to work hard and to push their limits, so you should be careful not to exhaust them during the training sessions.

But don’t be misled by the common belief that all Labrador Retrievers are friendly and obedient by nature and let them grow up without the proper obedience training and socializing if you don’t want to end up with a large-sized boisterous dog.

Use positive reinforcement rather than punitive measures to teach your Lab how to behave properly if you want the best results.

Since these dogs are retrievers by nature, they will feel at their best when they play fetch or carry their favorite toys or anything around in their mouths. They also love chewing, so get your pup some safe chew toys and bones to gnaw on.

You may want to teach your Labrador Retriever to stay calmly in its crate or kennel when you are out, so that it stays out of trouble, but do not keep it inside for longer than necessary, in order to prevent destructive behavior.

With proper training, the dogs from this sporting breed can excel in most dog sports and competitions.

Even though Labs will happily spend a lot of time playing with and entertaining your kids, it is essential to teach both the dog and the children how to safely interact with each other from day one. Teach the children to be gentle and careful when approaching the dog, and always supervise them when they are playing together because Labrador Retrievers are very strong and can grow up to be quite large animals that can accidentally push over or hurt young kids.

If socialized and exposed to other dogs, cats or smaller pets at home from early on, the Labrador Retriever can live happily and peacefully with other animals under the same roof pretty well.

Health

Labrador Retrievers are healthy dogs in general, but like all purebred dogs they are more prone to certain health conditions and problems, many of them are genetic, but others are due to their size and breed type.

Here are some common health problems that you should look out for when buying or adopting a Lab and when going on regular veterinary checkups.

Hip Dysplasia

This genetic condition causes the thigh bone to not fit properly into the hip joint. It can affect one or both rear legs and can be diagnosed via X-ray.

Hip dysplasia can cause pain and lameness, and as the dog ages, it can develop arthritis, which can worsen the condition.

Dogs with this condition should not be bred, so always ask for health clearance for displays for both parents of your dog, if possible. Responsible breeders test their dogs and should be able to provide you with proof that the dog doesn’t carry this gene mutation.

Elbow Dysplasia

Similar to hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is a hereditary condition that affects how the bones above the elbow grow and fit together at the joint. It can cause pain and lameness in on or both of the front legs. The condition can be treated surgically, but it can also be managed with pain medications.

Once again, ask your breeder to provide you with written proof that the dog’s parents have been tested for this genetic condition because dogs with elbow dysplasia should not be bred.

Osteochondrosis Dissecans

This is yet another orthopedic health problem common among Labs. It causes an improper growth of cartilage in the joint – usually the elbows or shoulders. This causes painful stiffness and an inability to bend the elbow or leg. The condition can be diagnosed from the age of about 4-9 months. Feeding a young and rapidly growing puppy with high protein foods or growth formula can cause this painful condition!

Cataracts

This condition affects both canines and humans and includes the development of cloudy spots in one or both eye lenses. These tend to grow over time if left untreated and can cause impaired or even complete loss of vision. Cataracts can be removed surgically.

Even though in some cases, Cataracts do not impair the vision of the dog at all, since this is a hereditary condition, always ask the breeder for certificates and proof that the parents of your dog have been tested for this condition issued by a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy

This is a group of eye-related diseases that can cause the gradual decline of the retina of the eye. At first, a dog affected by PRA may become night blind, but as the disease develops, the Lab can lose eyesight completely.

This is not fatal though, because dogs are known to adapt to vision impairments and loss of vision pretty well, as long as you keep them in familiar settings, without moving furniture around.

Epilepsy

Epilepsy which can affect Labrador Retrievers, can cause mild to severe epileptic seizures. These can be exhibited in different ways, including frantic running, hiding or staggering. These seizures are quite frightening to watch by the owners, but the fact is that with idiopathic epilepsy, the long-term prognosis for the affected dogs is usually pretty good.

Epilepsy is not curable, but it can be managed.

Please keep in mind that if your dog has a seizure, this can be caused by other reasons apart from epilepsy, including poisoning, an infectious disease, a serious injury to the head, a brain tumor, or different metabolic disorders. So, if your pet has an unexpected seizure and is not diagnosed with epilepsy, you should take it to the vet immediately to get it checked up.

Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia

TVD is another hereditary disease that affects Labs. It is a heart defect that affects one of the heart valves and can be mild or severe. Puppies are born with this condition and it can be detected with an ultrasound examination.  Some dogs can live a long healthy life with no symptoms at all, but others can die due to this genetic heart malformation.

Myopathy

This disease is also considered to be hereditary. It manifests itself as early on as 6 weeks when the puppy seems tired and looks stiff as it walks or runs. A young dog with Myopathy may even collapse after a walk or exercise. Over time, the muscles can continue to atrophy, causing problems for the dog when walking or standing.

Unfortunately, Myopathy is not curable, but it can be managed with rest and by keeping the pup comfortable and warm.

Dogs with this condition should not be bred as it is believed to be genetic.

Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus

Unfortunately, this is a life-threatening condition that cannot be prevented by responsible breeding. Bloat affects most large-chested dogs and happens when gas or air gets trapped in the dog’s stomach, causing it to twist around and trap it inside.

The condition can cause a fall of the blood pressure very quickly, distend the dog’s abdomen, cause lethargy, retching without vomiting, a rapid heart rate, excessive salivation, or depression.

Cutting off the blood supply can lead to death pretty quickly if emergency measures are not taken immediately.

If you notice any of these symptoms, rush your Lab to the vet immediately. Bloat can successfully be treated surgically if caught in time.

The condition can be partially prevented by not allowing the dog to swallow very large volumes of food quickly, as well as by keeping it from running and vigorous exercise, as well as from drinking a lot of water right after a meal.

Acute Moist Dermatitis

This skin condition is caused by a bacterial infection. Also known as hot spots, it causes the dog’s skin to become red and inflamed. It can be treated by clipping the hair, antibiotic treatment, and baths with medicated shampoo.

Cold Tail

This benign yet painful condition often affects retrievers, including Labs. It causes the Otter tail of the Labrador retriever to go limp. This can make the dog bite it. Possibly caused by a problem in the muscles located between the spine and the tail, the Cold tail usually goes away by itself in a few days.

Ear Infections

Labradors love water and will jump in all puddles, rivers, pools, lakes and other water sources they see. This, combined with their dropped ears, makes them prone to ear infections. You need to inspect and gently clean your dog’s ears once a week. Watch for redness, foul smell or discharge, but do not attempt to clean the canal of the ear by sticking cotton swabs in it. If you notice an infection, go to the vet for professional cleaning and treatment.

Overall, it is absolutely mandatory to ask the breeder to provide you with documents and health clearances issued by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for hip and elbow dysplasia and other common orthopedic conditions. Also, ask for clearance issued by the Canine Eye Registry Foundation, and also for thrombopathia by the Auburn University.

If you are adopting a dog from a shelter, you can ask the rescue workers for the results from DNA testing, or perform the test yourself to find out whether your dog has inherited any of the mutated genes causing one or more of these diseases and health problems.

History

Labrador Retrievers come from the island of Newfoundland located off of the northeastern coast of Canada.

The dogs from this breed were first called St. John’s dogs, after the capital of Newfoundland.

Ever since the early 1700s, these strong dogs were used as retriever dogs on fishing boats. They spend their days helping the English fishermen settlers on the island pull in their nets, retrieving fish that had escaped the nets, and retrieving any lost towing lines or hooks in the chilly waters of the ocean.

After work, they were companion dogs that spent time with the fishermen’s families.

Although there is no clear evidence of the exact heritage of the most popular dog breed in the USA, it is believed that these dogs were interbred with smaller local water dogs and the Newfoundland dog.

Foreigners visiting the island country started noticing how useful these dogs were as well as their good temperaments. Hunters from England began importing the St. John dogs for use in hunting. In the 1830s the second Earl of Malmesbury was the first to import a dog of this breed to England. His successor, the third Earl was the first to refer to these dogs as Labradors.

It is an astonishing fact that what is considered the most popular dog breed today nearly became instinct in the 1880s. The reason was a new regulation in Newfoundland that restricted people from owning more than one dog and asked for larger taxes from the owners of female dogs. This led to the female dogs being culled from litter.

Thanks to the Malmesbury family and other fanciers of this breed, it was saved.

The British Kennel Club recognized the Labrador Retriever as an official breed in 1903, and the American Kennel Club followed up and recognized it as a distinct breed in 1917.

British Labs began being imported in the USA during the 1920s and 1930s. After World War II, the popularity of this breed began growing even more rapidly.

In 1931, the Labrador Retriever Club was founded in the USA, and the first field trial for dogs of this breed in America was held in Chester, NY.

In 1991, the Labrador retriever became the most popular registered dog with the American Kennel Club and has held this distinguished top position ever since over 25 years later.

The breed is at the top of the popularity lists of England and Canada as well.

Today, apart from being the most sought companion dogs, Labs are often used as therapy dogs, as guide or assistance dogs, for rescue and search operations, drug and explosive detection, as well as retrievers or flushing dogs for hunting waterfowl and upland game birds.

They are among the best performers in all kinds of dog sports and competitions, including show, agility, field, and obedience.

Plus, they are among the top breeds to be used for roles in big Hollywood productions and TV shows.

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