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Who wouldn’t want a dog that’s loyal, affectionate, playful, smart, and can be helpful in a variety of capacities? In this episode of Animal Facts, we’re taking a closer look at a pup that’s down for everything from hunting and fishing, to therapy and assistance, to search and rescue, and is one of the most loved breeds in the world—but we’re not sponsoring a popularity contest here. Oh wait…this dog is the most popular breed in America, Canada and the United Kingdom, though. Come along as we check out the canine world’s “jack of all trades”—the ever-popular Labrador Retriever.
History of Labrador Retrievers
The exact origin of the Labrador Retriever is murky, but it is thought to have been developed in the late 18th or early 19th centuries from the crossing of a Greater Newfoundland Dog or St. Hubert’s Dog with an unknown breed. It was originally named the St. John’s Dog (after the capital city of Newfoundland) and was bred to assist fishermen by carrying ropes, fetching nets and retrieving fish that got loose.
The name is believed to have evolved in the 19th century when the Earl of Malmesbury referred to his four-legged companions as his Labrador Dogs. Malmesbury likely coined the moniker because it was customary for the British to lump the colony of Newfoundland with the Territory of Labrador, which was just to the North. By 1870, the name Labrador Retriever was commonly used in England.
In 1917, the American Kennel Club registered its first Labrador Retriever and in an effort to stabilize the breed in the United States, Britain began exporting Labs across the pond in the 1920s. The end of World War II marked the beginning of a surge in popularity which peaked in 1991, when the Labrador Retriever became the most popular AKC breed—a distinction it holds to this day.
Furry Fact: The first dog to grace the cover of Life Magazine was a black Lab named “Blind of Arden,” who was a champion field trial competitor in 1938.
Size and Appearance
Standing anywhere from 21 to 24 inches in height, and weighing between 55 to 80 pounds, the Lab is a sturdy, deep chested, medium-to-large sized gun-dog with an athletic build that is ideal for retrieving waterfowl and hunting game in harsh conditions.
Its short, dense coat is water-resistant and enables the Lab to maintain its temperature when it gets wet in the winter. Webbed feet and a tapered “otter tail” are also unique characteristics that help it tread water when swimming. Also, its powerful jaws and a soft mouth prove useful when hunting on land or grabbing spoils from the water.
A Purebred Lab’s coat can be solid black, chocolate (medium to dark brown) or yellow (cream to golden ginger).
Furry Fact: Puppies of all three colors can come from the same litter.
Regularly brushing your Lab keeps them looking nice and neat, helps circulate the natural oils they produce, shakes loose and remove dirt and debris, keeps their coat and skin healthy. Keeping your dog looking neat and tidy can be a tough job, but one thing that’s sure to make the task easier is getting hold of the right type of dog brush. Lab owners recommend the Hertzko Self Cleaning Slicker Brush and the FURminator deShedding Edge Dog Brush.
Temperament and Family Life
Coolness and popularity go hand in hand, and the Labrador Retriever is the embodiment of this unwritten rule. Labs are adored for many reasons, the main one being their calm, even-tempered demeanor. Of all the recognized breeds, they are perhaps the most associated with being affectionate and friendly.
Labradors are Peter Pan pups—they love to play and don’t mature until they’re about 3 years old if ever. Their fun-loving, yet gentle nature makes them the perfect fit for families with children of any age. They also tend to get along well with their pet siblings. If there’s a beef (see what I did there) between your Lab and another pet, odds are your angelic best friend did not start it.
When Labradors bark it’s usually a response to noise or to alert you to trouble. They never meet a stranger, so they’re more suited to watch dog work rather than guard dog duty.
Intelligence and Training
In high school, most kids were either smart or popular. Well, somebody forgot to tell that to the Labrador Retriever, because according to Stanley Coren’s The Intelligence of Dogs, it ranks 7th among the most intelligent dog breeds.
As mentioned before, the Lab is used in several capacities. It is gentle, calm, patient, and eager to please—which makes it easy to train. These qualities combined with a stellar work ethic, are the reasons it is the most popular (there’s that word again) therapy and assistance dog in the world. First responders and law enforcement agencies also use them for search and rescue, screening and scent detection—and of course, they are still valued as the quintessential hunting or fishing companion.
That said, every angel has at least one skeleton or bone (I did it again) in the closet and the Lab’s is its talent as an escape artist. Intelligent dogs tend to be curious, and curious dogs love to explore. It’s important to keep a close eye on your explorer, because once they become focused on following a scent, person, or some other random pursuit, they can mysteriously vanish—sometimes for days at a time. That’s why it’s important to make sure your name and address are on your dog’s collar. Several rescue organizations also recommend microchipping as reinforcement.
Furry Fact: The Labrador Retriever has never won Best in Show at Westminster.
Although today’s Labrador Retriever is cherished as a companion, it is still genetically wired to be a working dog—and a dog with working breed roots needs a major workout.
The amount of exercise your dog will need depends on several factors, like age, weight and medical conditions. A healthy, adult Lab needs about 30 minutes of intense exercise, and one to two hours of less strenuous activity. Vigorous walks are a great foundation for any dog’s exercise regimen. It’s good for the human companion as well it turns out. Other high intensity activities include hiking, agility training, running, biking—and of course, swimming. One of these sports in conjunction with a round of fetch, Frisbee toss, or free play are a fantastic way for your dog to stay in optimal physical shape. As a Retriever, most labs love a good game of fetch.
Mental stimulation is as important to your best friend’s well-being as physical activity. Scent games like “hide and sniff,” puzzles, and interactive toys will make your pup use its noggin, and chew toys will help alleviate stress.
Health and Lifespan
The average lifespan of a Lab is 10 to 14 years. They are a relatively healthy breed as a whole, but Chocolate Labs have a shorter life expectancy than Yellow or Black Labs. Chocolates are much rarer than the other color varieties, so in an effort to produce more brown pups, breeders have resorted to selective color breeding and some have turned a blind eye to the risk of inherited health problems.
Labradors are predisposed to several manageable chronic conditions including cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, myopathy, obesity, dermatitis and joint problems like hip and elbow dysplasia. Their affinity for water also makes them susceptible to ear infections. One painful condition common to Labs is acute caudal myopathy, also known as “cold tail” or “limber tail.” Limber tail occurs when there is damage to muscle fibers at the base of the tail. Indications of limp tail include a tail that hangs close to the rear end, pain, swelling, and raised hairs around the base of the tail. A veterinarian can make a definitive diagnosis with a x-ray looks normal and a blood test that shows a slight elevation in the level of an enzyme called creatine kinase. With treatment and rest, most patients completely recover in one to two weeks.
More serious health concerns include epilepsy, gastric dilatation volvulus (or bloat), and a heart condition called tricuspid valve dysplasia (a malformation of a valve on the right side of the heart).
Furry Fact: The world’s oldest Lab was a 29 year old named Bella.