Even people who prefer smaller dogs, or who love another breed to bits, know at least one goofy, friendly Lab that always makes them smile. These dogs are just incredibly likable, with eager-to-please personalities that make them fun to be around. They are also the top choice for service animals and guide dogs. You’ll also find a wide range of Labrador mixes that are growing in popularity as well. So let’s take a look at this breed today and learn what makes the Lab so special.
Labradors come from Newfoundland, and were originally called “St. John’s dogs”. They were bred specifically as working dogs to assist fishermen in hauling in nets and towing in lines in the 1700s. But the fishermen also bred them to be companions, returning home each night to fall into the role of family pet. While there’s no official information on the lineage of today’s Labrador Retriever, it is generally accepted that they were created from a cross of the Newfoundland Dog and various water breeds.
Although these dogs are the most popular family pet in America today, they did go through a period when they were nearly extinct. In the 1880s, the dogs were only saved by a select group of fans from England. Severe government restrictions in Newfoundland on all dogs caused us to almost miss out on having Labradors today. But by 1903, the Kennel Club in England recognized the breed, and the AKC did the same just a few years later. But the time the 1990s rolled around, the Labrador was the unofficial dog of American families.
Labrador Retrievers come in three shades: yellow, chocolate, and black. These are considered a large breed, though they are certainly on the smaller end of large compared to other breeds. Males typically stand around 24 inches tall and weigh between 65 and 80 pounds. Females typically stand about 23 inches tall, and weigh between 55 and 70 pounds. Labradors are often praised for their smiling expression, and it’s true that they do have broad, pleasant-looking faces. Their bodies are athletic and slim, with a defined waist, and they are known for having long tails that are made for happy wagging.
As water dogs, Labradors have very sleek coats that were made for slicking water off easily. The short double coat is water-resistant and easy to care for, and is best suited for cooler climates. Labradors can live mostly outdoors if necessary, though their love of being around their family makes them long to be inside with you. They are suited to living outdoors while their person works, and coming inside at night.
There are many words that can sum up the Labrador Retriever personality. Energetic, goofy, fun-loving, and easy to train, Labradors exhibit all the classic traits that people think of when they think of a dog. This breed is known for being sweet-hearted and friendly. They love being around people, and they need a lot of exercise every day to handle all that energy.
Labradors also have a great combination of intelligence and eagerness to please. They train very easily once they understand what you want. This is why Labradors are the most popular breed for service dogs, guide dogs, and therapy dogs. Believe it or not, German Shepherds are not the number one breed choice for police dogs; Labradors outrank them in narcotics departments. When training starts from the puppy stage, Labradors are without a doubt one of the most capable breeds there are.
One interesting thing about Labradors is that, more so than other breeds, they tend to develop unique personalities. While it’s easy to generally say that Labradors are highly energetic and need lots of exercise, I’ve known more than a few lazy Labradors. The truth is that this breed is adaptable, and will adopt the energy levels of its family. That being said, it’s always good to keep your Labrador as active as you can to avoid certain health issues. These dogs were bred to perform jobs, and can get bored and destructive if they don’t feel as though they have a purpose. Even “lazy Labs” need some activity to stay happy.
Labrador Retrievers do have a drive to “retrieve”, so love games of fetch and hide and seek. This same drive can also make an untrained Labrador prone to wandering the neighborhood. However, most well trained Labradors are known for sticking close to home, so you don’t have to worry about wandering pups too much as long as you put the time in to train them properly.
One thing that Labradors excel at is hunting, so if you are an outdoorsman, this breed would make a great companion. They are comfortable on boats, great swimmers, and were made for retrieving. Take them fishing, take them waterfowl hunting, or simply take them along to watch while you deer hunt. Labradors tend to be relatively quiet dogs, only barking when they need to, and it won’t take long to train your Lab to be the best hunting buddy.
While these dogs tend to be long-lived and healthy, with lifespans around 15 years or a little more, they are prone to a few minor health concerns.
As with all water-loving breeds, it’s important that you check your Labrador’s ears for infection, sores, and grime on a regular basis. The ears flop over rather than standing up, so it can be easy to miss when there’s a problem. Be sure to check ears weekly for bad smells, redness, or tenderness.
Labradors are prone to a strange disorder that isn’t really harmful, but can look very odd. It’s called “cold tail”, and it comes and goes in Labradors that have it. Basically, the tail becomes painful and limp, causing the dog to bite or worry at the limb. The condition tends to go away after a few days, but it can come back periodically. The only real concern is the pain it causes the dog.
Labradors are sometimes prone to diseases and disorders that plague purebred animals, such as hot spots, bloat, myopathy, epilepsy, cataracts, and hip dysplasia. Labradors are often listed as one of the breeds most prone to developing cancer as well. However, these concerns are minimal for most Labradors.
Labradors are especially prone to obesity and over-eating. If your Labrador does not have a relatively slim, hourglass shape when you look down at their body, they are overweight. Treats should be used very sparingly when training this breed. Opt for lots of praise and attention instead; their natural instinct to please will thrive on this type of reward just as much as food.
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Care and Grooming
While grooming a Labrador is a fairly simple affair, be aware that this breed sheds like crazy. You’ll need a good vacuum cleaner and daily brushing to keep the giant hairballs at bay. I highly recommend something like the Parateck Dogs Grooming Brush Deshedding Glove, for a few reasons. If you have to brush your dog daily, they’ll sit for you better if it feels more like you’re just petting them. Kids often have an easier time using these brushes, so they can help out. And this type of brush often allows you to get a more thorough brushing done faster, because you can simply swipe your hand over their body in a few big strokes. I use one of these with Janice and Leroy, and it works like a charm.
Labradors are not a breed that you can free-feed. While I generally advocate for free feeding myself, common sense tells you that a breed prone to obesity and overeating is not where you want to fall back on convenience. Adult Labradors need about three cups of food a day, spread out over two meals. If your dog is less active than a typically bouncy Labrador, you may want to cut that food down – talk to your vet about the best amount for your dog’s activity level and health.
Lab puppies require an even closer eye on their feeding habits, because they are prone to several bone disorders due to how fast they grow. A Labrador puppy needs a low-calorie diet to stop them from growing too fast for their joints and muscles to keep up. This is why you’ll often see Labrador-specific puppy food in the pet store.
In addition to a quality diet and regular brushing, as well as a good check of the ears every week, Labradors don’t need much else. Regular nail trimming, teeth brushing, and monthly bathing should be good for the standard Labrador.
Kids and Other Pets
If you have kids, other pets, or plan to get either in the future, a Labrador is a great choice for a pet. Labradors are known for being perfect companions for children. When well trained, they are patient, loving, and always ready to play. Labradors are known for being gentle protectors of babies and toddlers, often choosing to sleep in the nursery rather than at their normal place when a new baby comes home. Many American adults have memories of growing up beside their faithful Lab companion.
With other pets, Labradors typically act friendly and playful. So long as the initial introduction is positive, Labs are usually eager to make friends. When well trained, they tend to be good with cats and other animals, as well as other dogs. They don’t have issues with dogs of other breeds, and will often befriend the neighbor dogs if you don’t have other pets.
However, it’s important to note that just because Labradors are sweet natured and eager to please, does not mean that you can ignore their training. When they don’t understand what you want from them, Labradors can become destructive and territorial. If you’ve ever heard of the infamous Marley from “Marley and Me”, you’ll get an idea of what a Labrador Retriever could be like when not trained. If your Lab has not completed some kind of puppy academy, or is not trained to come to you every single time, you may want to use caution when introducing them to other dogs.
The Final Word
At the end of the day, Labrador Retrievers will continue to be the perfect family pet for Americans around the nation. As sweet, smart, friendly, and energetic as these dogs are, it’s hard to see them falling from popularity any time soon. If you want to learn more about this breed and how to properly raise and care for a Lab, I highly recommend The Everything Labrador Retriever Book by Kim Campbell Thornton.
One thing to note for anyone interested in this breed: I have heard a similar story about one thousand times if I have once. A family finds a cute Labrador Retriever puppy, and knowing them as the perfect family dog, jump into adopting them right away. Then they get home and realize that the dog has a ton of energy, tends to chew, and definitely requires more training than they realized. And before long, the dog ends up in a pound or rehomed. Because there are just so many Labrador Retrievers out there, it’s inevitable that shelters are overflowing with this breed. If you are interested in a Lab, I urge you to check out your nearest shelters before heading to a breeder. More than likely you can find a purebred, or an adorable crossbreed, that just needs a bit of attention to become a fantastic dog.
Overall, while the Labrador isn’t a dog you can just ignore, their sweet temperaments and fun personalities are worth the effort for the millions of Labrador owners around the world.
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