Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retriever
John Walton
Written by John Walton

Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular dog breeds in the world. Besides serving as pets, these dogs are used for various other purposes in many countries. It is said about them that they are gentle, intelligent, full of energy and recommended for people of any age. Also known as St. John’s descendant, the Labrador Retriever originates from Canada where it was first used for catching fish. It is a resistant dog that is not sensitive to high or low temperatures, but which has extensive exercising needs. Very docile, this dog type needs attention and something to do during every moment of the day.

Breed Characteristics

AdaptabilityAbove Average
TrainabilityAbove Average
Health and GroomingAbove Average
All Around FriendlinessHighest
Exercise NeedsHighest

Dog Breed Group: Sporting Dogs
Height:Generally 1 foot, 9 inches to 2 feet tall at the shoulder
Weight: Generally 55 to 80 pounds
Life Span:10 to 12 years

The Labrador Retriever was created in mid eighteen century, so it is a relatively new dog breed. It was named after the Canadian province named Labrador. It was brought to England by fishermen who used their swimming abilities to recover fish that fell out of their fishnets. Later on, these dogs were mated with the Newfoundland and the English Pointer. The result was the excellent dogs we know these days. In fact, there are 2 types of Labrador dogs, namely the English and the American.

The English Labrador comes from England and its appearance is different compared to the American one. It is massive and stumpy, while the American Labrador is taller and slimmer. Overall, the Labrador Retriever is a powerful medium sized dog, well-connected, longer than tall with a balanced and athletic conformation. All these features allow it to fulfill its duties as a hunting dog, as well as a family member.

The Labrador Retriever dogs are full of life and have an enviable amount of energy. They are characterized by intelligence and sharpness when it comes to fulfilling its owner’s needs. Also, they are easy to train thanks to their adaptability and willingness to learn something different every day.

Main Highlights
  • Labrador Retriever dogs are used for hunting, detection of certain substances, assisting police forces and people with health problems. Approximately 60% of dogs accompanying blind people in the United States belong to this dog breed.
  • Many Labrador Retriever dogs have a so-called chest medallion, a white spot. This marking is a vestige of their ancestor dog, St. John’s, which had white spots on the chest, legs and face.
  • These dogs do not dig holes unless they are very bored and do not jump over fences. They might, however, jump from furniture if they are kept in a house, fact which is not recommended for their health.
  • Wader hunters appreciate the help of this dog when it comes to retrieving something from the water. They are very good swimmers with impermeable coats.
  • Labrador Retrievers get along well with children, but also with other pets. They are very loyal and loving with their owners.
  • A common characteristic of all Labrador Retriever dogs is that they reach physical maturity relatively fast, but mental maturity quite slow. 12 to 14 months after birth they should be fully developed physically speaking, but mentally they might need more than 2 years.
  • The Labrador Retriever dog breed is very reliable, trustworthy and easy to communicate with. Such dog would do anything to please its owner and to receive treats, as well as affection. However, giving it treats might not be a wise decision if it tends to gain weight.
  • The Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular dog breeds in the US. It is recognized as one of the best and loved companion dogs for decades.
  • It has won the “Dog of the year” title in the US for over 20 consecutive times. This shows how appreciated it is by the American people.
Breed History

The ancestors of the Labrador Retriever we know these days date back to the seventeenth century in Canada. During the eighteenth century, the Canadian water dogs were differentiated in several varieties, known as Landseer Newfoundland, Chesapeake Bay Retriever and Labrador Retriever. In the early 1800s, several travelers that were going towards Newfoundland saw a variety of small, black, water dogs that helped local fishermen with various activities.

In 1822, one of the visitors made a very important note, saying about these dogs that were admirably trained as retrievers. Moreover, the note mentions that it is a dog with soft and short coat, preferred by fishermen especially because of its coat type. Otherwise, dogs with long coats would’ve had a hard time going in and out of the water considering the temperatures. Earl of Malmesbury also saw such water dog on a fishing boat and had it brought to his estate in England. That is where he established the first shelter designed to improve these dog’s skills as hunters and retrievers.

Throughout the eighteenth century, Canadian fishermen found that they could get good money for these dogs, fact which led to their sale in large numbers to the British. In 1930, Colonel Hawker said about the variety of Newfoundland dogs that they are very large, powerful and that they keep their tails up in the air. He also noted that St John is by far the best hunting dog. Black, not bigger than a pointer, with good feet and soft hair, this type of dog was fast when he was running or swimming. Colonel Hawker also made a positive remark regarding this dog’s sense of smell. Earl of Malmesbury named this dog in a letter that he wrote in 1887. Shortly after, Canadian owners had to pay high taxes in order to keep such a dog, so their popularity dropped.

During the late nineteenth century, England’s strict laws on quarantine stopped nearly all imports of dogs into England. Thus, breeders mated Labrador dogs with other retrievers. While the characteristics of the Labrador dog remained prevalent, the offspring of these crosses became even more valuable than their predecessors, largely due to a much more developed sense of smell and a lovely disposition.

Finally, lovers of the breed managed to write a standard for Labrador. Duke of Buccleuch revealed 2 pedigree dogs responsible for the appearance of the Labrador Retriever known these days. The Kennel Club of England recognized this dog breed in 1903, while the American Kennel Club accepted the first Labrador in 1917. Later on, in 1932, the Americans also established a club for this breed.

Between 1920 and 1930 several dogs were imported from England to America. The popularity of this dog breed has grown in the twentieth century and early twenty-first century, becoming a favorite among many dog ​​lovers in the world. Today, the Labrador Retriever continues to excel in hunting and other important activities, such as guiding people with disabilities and detecting explosives and drugs, but also as pet.


Labrador Retriever males stand at between 22.5 to 24.5 inches, while females are between 21.5 and 23.5 inches tall. When it comes to the weight of the dogs belonging to this dog breed, it is usually minimum 55 pounds and maximum 80 pounds, depending on the dog’s gender. Officially it is categorized as a medium-sized dog.

Personality and Character

The Labrador Retriever dog is one of the best choices in case you are looking for a family dog, a devoted companion that is loving and caring. This type of dog possesses a remarkably balanced and versatile nature, adapting easily in order to meet a wide range of tasks and just be a lovable pet. Usually, it tends not to be overly territorial, aggressive, destructive or hypersensitive.

As the name suggests, these dogs are excellent retrievers and because of this skill they tend to instinctively grab things with their mouths, including people’s wrists. However, they do it with great finesse without hurting anyone. Also, they are prone to chewing a wide variety of objects unless they are trained not to. Playful, loving and athletic, Labradors sometimes require a firm attitude from their owners to avoid taking control.

Labrador Retriever dogs reach maturity around the age of 3 years. Before getting there, they will have plenty of childish energy and may sometimes seem hyperactive. Highly intelligent and open minded these dogs crave for attention and human interaction. Learning new things never gets them tired.

Although sometimes the Labrador Retriever barks whenever it hears a strange sound, it is not a territorial dog and it might befriend strangers. This is the reason why this dog breed is not recommended for guarding purposes. Its stable temperament and ability to quickly learn new things make it the perfect choice as a member of search and rescue teams, police work, narcotics detection and therapy.

Because these dogs are very affectionate with their families, they need a lot of physical contact as well. They need comforting and petting on a constant basis. They want to be around their owners, following them throughout the house or yard, sitting on their feet or sleeping in their beds. If you are a person who likes to be watched all the time or have a dog in front of you all the time, then this is the right dog type for you.

In general, it is a very curious animal that accurately investigates the world around it using its eyes, nose, tongue and feet. Even children who can sometimes hurt it are not annoying enough to upset this type of dog. If it does something hurtful, it does it because of its size and heightened enthusiasm, not because of bad intentions.

Health and Potential Problems

Not at all pretentious and easily adaptable, Labrador Retriever dogs have an average life expectancy of 10 to12 years. There are also a number of diseases common to this dog breed, some inherited, others acquired during life.

  • Hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. The symptoms of these affections are lameness, pain, arthritis and even the dog’s inability to move. It is a disease that is inherited from parents, but the growing conditions of the dog influence the manifestation of this disease. The diagnosing process is based on radiographic examination.
  • Labrador Retrievers seem to have a predisposition to obesity, which often generates pancreatic, bone and kidney disorders. Dieting and exercising are the only solutions to this affection.
  • Diabetes. This is a disease associated with obesity and it may have fatal complications if not treated. Yearly blood tests are recommended to detected changes that may announce diabetes.
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy. PRA is a congenital condition that gradually induces blindness. It can be detected since adolescence, but in many cases it installs at maturity. There is a genetic test that certifies if the dog has the mutant gene for retinal atrophy and whether or not it will be affected by this disease. There is no cure for this condition.
  • Dilation and gastric torsion. It can occur suddenly in a perfectly healthy dog ​​and in the absence of a rapid intervention is fatal within a few hours. A dog’s abdomen appears bloated, it breathes rapidly, walks heavily and it cannot vomit. Small portions of food, lack of exercising after eating and avoiding easily fermentable food, such as bread, potatoes or dry food rich in poor quality grain are recommended to avoid it.
  • Congenital myopathy. It is manifested by generalized muscle weakness, abnormal body position, walking stiffly and jumping, exercise intolerance and collapse. There is a genetic test available that can identify if the dog has the mutant gene.
  • Physical exercise induced collapse. EIC is an inherited disease that can affect many dog breeds, including the Labrador Retriever. Dogs can withstand easy or moderate exercise, but after 15 to 20 minutes of intense physical exercise, they show weakness, abnormal gait and collapse. EIC signs may go unnoticed until the first intense workout of a dog.
  • Other hereditary diseases. Degenerative myelopathy, dwarfism, hereditary nasal parakeratosis, hyperuricosuria, narcolepsy, pyruvate kinase deficiency and malignant hyperthermia.
Care Features

Labrador Retriever dogs have very excited natures and will require a considerable amount of exercise and outdoor activities to stay healthy. In the first 3 years of life, they will behave like little puppies with too much energy to consume. They need at least 2 walks per day with a leash on. Besides the walks, ideally, they should be left in a fenced space to further consume their energy. Also, they are amazing swimmers and will want to swim whenever given the opportunity in pools, rivers, ponds or lakes. However, they cannot swim perfectly from the beginning, so they need to exercise in places where the water is not deep.

These dogs’ energetic nature will lead to a range of behaviors that will have to be corrected, such as jumping on guests or family members as a sign of affection. They are medium to large and heavy dogs, so it would be good to keep them under control in order to avoid unwanted accidents or even embarrassing moments. In addition, these dogs tend to become destructive when they are bored and don’t exercise enough. In such cases, these dogs think they should find something big to do, not to simply play with a toy. This destructive fewer only occurs when these dogs are neglected and unhappy.

Consistency and positive rewards for appropriate behavior are the strengths of any effective training. A coach can maintain the same consistency in a dog’s behavior by praising its good actions and punishing the bad ones. However, it only takes for a family member to allow a Labrador Retriever to do something it is not supposed to do. Because of the mixed messages, it will not listen to the original command anymore. It is therefore important for all family members to have the same attitude towards certain behaviors and to know all the limits and rules of the dog’s dressage. The rewards you can give your dog during training can be both verbal and gestures. Providing food rewards for good behavior could not be the best idea because they have a tendency to gain weight.

Feeding Schedule

Labrador Retriever dogs are not picky eaters, but they are very greedy. Their diet should consist largely of carbohydrates like potatoes, rice and corn, which are the sources of their energy. Their food may contain vegetables, fruits and grains that help their digestion. Avoid at all costs feeding them with chocolate, nuts and raisins, which can be toxic to them. Due to their past as working dogs for fishermen, these dogs also tolerate fish. Since they are greedy, they should eat 2 times per day, up to 3 cups of dry food.

The food bowl should not be left filled with food all day long. A dog should have 30 minutes or less at its disposal to eat. If not, it will have to wait for its next meal. If it doesn’t eat enough, it might start begging for food when its owner eats or wait for treats. These are unhealthy habits and they should not be encouraged.

Coat, Color and Grooming

Labrador Retriever dogs have short, double coat. It is thick, waterproof and it may have the following colors: black, yellow and chocolate. The AKC named the silver or grey shade of these dog’s coat “chocolate”. Some experts believe that it might be the result of interbreeding with the Weimaraner, while others believe that it might be is the result of genetic mutations.

Without regular brushing, especially in some areas where it is more prone to tangling, this dog’s coat will look unaesthetic and will feel uncomfortable. Shedding periods can be handled by brushing the dog every 2 days. Otherwise, brushing its coat once per week in order to remove dead hairs is enough.

The Labrador Retriever can be washed occasionally. However, shampoo is known to damage its waterproof layer, so it should be used moderately. In most cases, a simple swimming session is enough for its coat to rinse. However, this type of dog has a pretty strong specific dog smell.

These dogs have soft and floppy ears that must be inspected often. These parts of their bodies are prone to injuries and accidents, but also to infection and irritation. Towel-dry its ears after a swimming session or a bath.

Children And Other Pets Compatibility

The Labrador Retriever is a very friendly dog that loves children and is patient with them. It is a perfect dog for children because it is patient and it doesn’t get angry even if the children are nagging. It loves to run and play with children, but it needs to be watched because of its enthusiasm. It may push a kid too hard. This type of dogs grows very fast physically, but mentality it remains an adolescent until the age of 3 years.

These dogs may share the house with another dog if they are used with it when they are young. Despite their jealously, they can learn to accept another dog. Since it prefers to lick people rather than injuring them, it is very suitable for families. Stable and not easily upset, the Labrador retriever is people oriented. It easily befriends all kinds of people, including those it shouldn’t.

Very few dog breeds have such a charisma as the Labrador Retriever does. Its relaxed nature, jovial temperament and social skills make it ideal as a companion dog. However, there is much more about this dog type and its skills. It can be used for disabled people, for search and rescue missions and for its sense of smell that can detect narcotics and other drugs after a simple training session. It is an excellent partner for anyone who likes to swim or to run. In exchange for all that it offers, it needs a lot of exercising and attention too. If there isn’t a match between this dog’s lifestyle and its owner’s lifestyle, it might live a very unhappy life.

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.