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FAQ Labrador Retrievers
Liza Lee Miller, email@example.com
Cindy Tittle Moore, firstname.lastname@example.org
PO Box 4188, Irvine, CA 92616
Originally written: August 1992
Continually revised and updated. Updated: January 7, 2004
Copyright © 1992-2004 by Liza Lee Miller and Cindy Tittle
Moore. All rights reserved. You may download and print a copy
of this file for your personal use. Further distribution must
be with the explict permission of the authors, except as noted
NOTE: Labrador Rescue organizations may freely give a copy
with each dog they place. The only restriction is that the article
must be complete and retain our names & copyright. Please
let us know if you use this material for rescue adoptors and please
give us any feedback you think would improve this article for
Table Of Contents
The main characteristics of Labradors are their coat, tail, head
and temperament. They have a double coat: a soft, downy undercoat
that keeps them dry and warm in cold water and a hard outer coat
that helps them repel water. Their tail, described best as an
otter tail, is thick at the base and tapers to a narrower point.
It should not be carried over the back nor should it have a curl
to it. It should, however, be at exactly coffee table height and
always be ready to swipe one clean. Their head is clean cut and
somewhat broad, with hanging ears. Their expression is alert and
intelligent and conveys a kind, friendly temperament.
Their best feature is their temperament. Labs are loving, people
oriented dogs. They are happiest when they are with you. Labs
are retrievers and will bring you things they find laying about
your house or yard. They tend to be quite patient with children
and wonderful family dogs. They are not guard dogs. They may bark
protectively, but will generally not act more aggressively. Labs
are wonderful people dogs, more likely to lick someone to death
than hurt them. They tend to be stable, not easily upset by strange
things or occurrences. They will take many things in stride.
In the U.S., there are two distinct "lines" of Labradors:
field lines and show lines. Field line Labradors have been bred
with an emphasis on field or hunting ability, and show line Labradors
have been bred with an emphasis on conformation and temperament.
There is some dissension between the two groups, with field people
claiming that show lines have lost much of their hunting and retrieving
abilities, and show people claiming that field lines do not much
look like Labradors any more and lack correct temperament. The
truth is likely somewhere in between. Dogs from field lines will
generally have a lot of drive, and will often exhibit more energy.
Dogs from show lines might not be as fast, but most are capable
hunters, though not necessarily field trial material. Either type
can make a pleasant companion for a day out of doors.
Labrador Retrievers are people- and action- oriented dogs, and
can become bored if left to their own devices. Untrained, they
can be unmanageable due to their size and enthusiasm. Unexercised,
they will often turn to destruction or escape to alleviate boredom
and excess energy. They require attention and love as much as
food and water. Labradors are easy to train which makes obedience
work a fun way to interact with your dog. Labradors also require
plenty of exercise -- this is especially true since most Labs
love to eat! Ensuring they get proper exercise, training, and
attention will give you a happy, healthy Labrador.
What is the difference between a
Labrador and a Retriever?
Retrievers are a type of dog. They are, literally, dogs that retrieve
and were originally bred to retrieve game for hunters both on
land and in the water. There are six breeds recognized as Retrievers
by the AKC. They are: Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers,
Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Flat Coated Retrievers, Curly Coated
Retrievers, Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retrievers and Irish Water
Labradors don't shed, do they?
Actually, they do. Labradors have what is called a double coat.
This means that they have a soft, downy undercoat and a harder
guard coat. These two types of coat help keep the dog warm and
dry while swimming in cold waters when retrieving ducks. Generally
Labradors will shed their coat twice a year. This is called "blowing"
their coat. They are moderate shedders, not enthusiastic ones
such as Alaskan Malamutes or German Shepherd Dogs. There will
be a certain amount of hair loss throughout the year, especially
in more temperate climates. This varies individually; some Labradors
shed less than others, especially if they happen to have an incorrect
How much grooming do they need?
Labs need to be brushed on a regular basis (about once a week)
to keep them clean. This will also help keep the shedding under
control. A "slicker" type brush, which you can buy at
any pet store, works nicely. Labs, like all dogs, need to have
their toenails clipped regularly. You can get a canine nail clipper
at any pet store and your vet can demonstrate to you the best
way to clip their nails. Labs do not need to be bathed frequently.
The Labrador coat does not need constant attention. A true bath,
which includes shampooing the coat, is only necessary if the dog
smells bad. Generally, if a dog is merely dusty or muddy, you
can rinse them off with plain water or wait until they are dry
and brush the dirt out to restore them to cleanliness. Shampooing
them too often is not a good idea as shampoo tends to strip the
natural oils out of their coats. A properly oily coat repels dirt
and sheds water easily.
In general, Labrador coats are low-maintenance.
Are Labradors hyper?
A Labrador with correct temperament is never hyperactive. Individual
dogs can be. With the steady increase of popularity of the breed
in recent years, more and more Labradors are being bred by people
who have less regard for temperament than established breeders.
Some people claim that field line Labradors are hyper and show
lines are mellow. Others claim that field line Labradors are mellow
and show lines are hyper! In reality, it appears that "backyard
bred" Labradors have by far the worst temperaments. If you
don't breed for good temperaments, you won't get them except by
accident. ("Backyard breeders" refers to people with
little or no knowledge of breeding dogs doing so mostly for the
money or because it seems the thing to do, or even by accident.
A better term is "disreputable breeders." There are
plenty of small-scale, or hobby, breeders with wonderful reputations
for producing sound, good tempered, well-balanced dogs.)
The best advice for finding a Labrador with the right temperament
is to thoroughly investigate the breeders you are considering.
Ask to see their other dogs--this should give you an idea of the
energy level you can expect from their puppies. Ask for the names
of other people who have previously purchased dogs from them --
and then contact these people and ask them whether they'd recommend
this breeder or not. Labradors with poor temperaments are often
the result of thoughtless breeding and will not appear in dogs
from either show lines or field lines that have been conscientiously
However, Labradors are active dogs especially in puppyhood. And
Labradors often do not fully mature until around 3 years of age!
This means you will have a dog that is mentally a puppy (with
a puppy's energy) until this age regardless of its physical size!
Often a Lab puppy is labelled hyperactive when it is simply a
normal, exuberant and bouncy puppy. If you are prepared to deal
with this period of time in their lives, you will not have problems.
It is the people caught unprepared who then label their puppy
hyperactive and incorrigible and dump it.
We would like to stress that such dogs, untrained and unexercised,
WILL be a huge problem for their owners, becoming destructive,
unmanageable, and in many cases escape artists. Once under proper
discipline (which does NOT mean beating the dog!), most of these
Labs will shape up into good pets.
What is "butt-tucking"?
"Butt-tucking" (not limited to Labs) is when your pup
suddenly starts running in circles at top speed with his rear
tucked under him. Most Labradors do this. It does not indicate
a problem with your Lab, either with its temperament or its joints.
However, you will want to keep a sharp eye out that you are not
injured during this free-for-all!
Labradors are popular, aren't they?
Yes. Since 1991, they have been the top registered dog with the
AKC. At the end of 1997, the U.S. President got a chocolate Labrador.
This means that there are a lot of people out there breeding Labradors
hoping to make a few quick bucks (as opposed to improving the
breed). You need to be very careful about where you get your Labrador.
Disreputable breeders are the primary source for hyper, ill-behaved
and ill-favored Labradors. With a bit of research and care, you
can find good puppies. The average price for a properly bred Labrador
puppy is about $800-$1200 dollars, more for a show- or field trial-
quality puppy. If you are asked to pay substantially more or less
for a puppy without good reason given, be wary.
I'm confused -- which kind of Labrador
will make a better hunter, a show-line or field-line Labrador?
Most Labradors, show and field bred, make great hunters. Your
own level of expertise in picking out likely puppies and training
them is probably as important as the pedigree of the dog. You
should consider what kind of hunting you do, how much experience
you have, and discuss all of this with the breeders you consult.
If you are specifically interested in field trials, you are advised
to look for good field trial kennels. (Just as, if you are interested
in showing in conformation, you should look for good breed ring
kennels.) This split is unfortunate, but it does occur since both
field trials and conformation trials are essentially highly specialized
sports. Very few breeders have the resources to compete seriously
in both venues.
No matter which lines you are interested in, you should try to
find the puppies that are well balanced with correct structure
and conformation as the base. Whether you are interested in pet,
show, hunting, etc., will determine the other characteristics
that you want. But an unsound dog does not make a good show dog,
hunter, obedience dog, nor pet!
Do they make good guard dogs?
Labradors are not reliable guards. Some can be protective and
most will probably bark if they hear or see something they don't
like -- particularly if it is near their yard. If your main purpose
in getting a dog is to have a guard dog, a Labrador is not a good
choice, but if you want an "alarm" barker, most Labradors
What kind of work can Labradors do?
Besides hunting, doing field trials, and being terrific pets?
Quite a bit. Many Labradors are used as Service and Therapy dogs,
for example. Still others do very well in Search and Rescue work,
as well as making excellent Bomb, Narcotic, and Arson dogs. Their
nose, disposition, and trainability make them particularly suitable
for these types of activities and the breed has a distinguished
history in these endeavors.
Interestingly, in comparison to other breeds, such as Goldens,
there are relatively few Labradors in obedience competition. No
one is quite certain why, although of course several theories
have been advanced, from Labradors are a little too "disobedient"
(a necessary ability in Service work -- to disobey an unsafe command),
to most people with Labradors being involved in other activities
such as Hunting Tests.
How are they with children?
As a breed, Labradors tend to be good with children. However,
as with any dog, it is not a good idea to let puppies and children
play unattended. Both puppies and children tend to be unaware
of their own size and strength and could accidentally injure one
another. Labradors aren't likely to intentionally hurt anyone,
but could knock a child over when they thought they were playing.
By the same measure, children can inadvertently hurt a puppy if
they aren't supervised. As a parent of a young child and the owner
of a young Lab puppy, realize that you will have to spend time
teaching both the child and the puppy how to behave around one
Note that a Labrador that is not well trained nor properly exercised
is much more of an accidental hazard to children than one who
is kept firmly under control.
Do Labradors like to swim?
Labradors love to swim. In general, they take to swimming quite
naturally. But don't be alarmed if your little pup is unsure about
swimming the first time--they have to learn about swimming just
like anything else. Never throw a young puppy into the water!
If you have an adult dog around that enjoys swimming, the pup
will probably follow it in happily. You could also wade in yourself
and have the pup follow. Be aware though that pups have sharp
nails which can be painful if they try to climb up on you in the
water. The pup's first introduction to the water should be at
a spot where there is a gradual entry, rather than a sharp drop
off, and there should be no current at all. Let the pup explore
the water at his own pace; if he just wants to splash and wade
for now, let him. As he gains confidence, he will go in deeper.
Another important caveat is that dogs should not be allowed unattended
access to a swimming pool unless you know that they know how to
get out. Dogs often cannot easily pull themselves out of the pool
and even strong swimmers will tire if they can't find an easy
way out of the water. And if you do let your Lab in your swimming
pool, check that filter often! Dogs shed much more than people
Are there golden Labs? What is the difference
between golden and yellow Labs?
Labradors come in three colors: black, chocolate, and yellow.
Yellow Labradors are often mistakenly called "golden Labradors."
The term yellow refers to a range of color from nearly white to
gold to fox-red. The Golden Retriever is a separate breed from
the Labrador, although there are similarities. Sometimes the term
is used informally to refer to a Labrador / Golden Retriever mix.
Are there any other colors of Labradors?
No. Black, chocolate, and yellow are the only correct colors.
While mis-marked purebred Labradors are possible
be wary of those selling "rare" Labradors of other colors
at exorbitant prices. There are yellow Labradors that are so pale
they appear white, but they are still considered to be yellow
and will usually have some color, even if it is only on the ear
tips. These lighter yellows not unusual nor rare and should not
command a significant price hike. The same goes for "fox
red" Labradors. Variations in the color of yellow Labradors
are not penalized, but treated the same as any other yellow Labrador;
however the lighter shades tend to predominate in the ring at
"Silver" Labradors are purely a scam and are either
crosses with Weimaraners or very light chocolates. An actual silver
Labrador (possibly a dilute chocolate) would be treated as a mismarked
dog and not command a high price. To our knowledge, "blue"
Labradors (dilute blacks) have never been offered, but if they
were, the same caveats as the silver Labs would apply. It's possible
the silver Labs are actually dilute blacks; no one has done any
test breeding to verify and the owners of the silver kennels are
remarkably secretive about their dogs. However, based on a comparison
with Doberman Pinschers, it seems reasonable to speculate that
silvers are dilute chocolates ("fawns" in Dobermans).
Can you get yellow Labradors from black
ones? And vice versa? What about chocolates?
Yes, you can get yellows from blacks and blacks from yellows.
Similarly, you can get chocolates from blacks or yellows and vice-versa.
It all depends on what color genes the parents carry. The only
absolutes are that if both parents are yellow, the resulting puppies
are always yellow, never black or chocolate; if both parents are
chocolate, you can get yellow or chocolate puppies but never black
Are there differences between Labs
of different colors?
Aside from the color itself, there are no differences. Many people
feel that black Labs are better hunters, yellow dogs are lazier,
and chocolate dogs are hardheaded and stubborn. None of this is
true. The reason is pure genetics. Coat color in normally colored
Labs is determined by two genes unrelated to anything else about
the dog. It is perfectly possible to get all three colors in the
same litter, therefore the notion that there is a color based
difference in temperament and/or ability is absurd.
Alright, so what is the nitty gritty
on coat color inheritance?
Two sets of genes, not one, control a Lab's coloration. One set
of genes controls whether the Lab will be dark (either black or
chocolate) or light (yellow). Dark is dominant over light. Thus
a Lab whose genotype is EE (homozygous dominant) or Ee (heterozygous)
will be dark; only Labs that are ee (homozygous recessive) can
The second set of genes only come into play if the Lab is dark
(either EE or Ee). This set controls whether the Lab is black
(the dominant trait) or chocolate (the recessive trait). Thus,
a dark dog (ie. EE/Ee) that is BB (homozygous dominant) or Bb
(heterozygous) will be black, while the only way a dog can be
chocolate is for it to be dark (EE/Ee) AND bb (homozygous recessive).
So now, the possibilities for black dogs are EEBB, EEBb, EeBB,
or EeBb. The possibilities for a yellow dog are eeBB, eeBb, or
eebb. And the possibilities for a chocolate dog are EEbb or Eebb.
Remember that puppies will get one E/e from the dam and one from
the sire, as well as one B/b from the dam and one from the sire
to make up their complete "code". If you had two parents
that were both EeBb (black in appearance), you can get all three
colors in the resulting litter! Furthermore, when you realize
that a pair of yellows can only give their puppies the ee combination,
you understand why two yellows only produce yellows. In a similar
fashion, two chocolates can only bequeath bb to their puppies,
so two chocolates can never produce a black puppy.
The eebb is an interesting case, as this is a yellow dog with
chocolate pigmentation on its nose and eyerims. A dog that is
bb always has this pigmentation. Under the current standard, a
yellow with chocolate pigmentation is disqualified.
If the Lab is mismarked, for example Black and Tan, or brindled,
there are other allelles present in that dog's makeup. If you
are interested in a further discussion of these genes, do look
up Clarence C. Little's classic book, The Inheritance of Coat
Color in Dogs.
Traditionally, the way to determine a dog's genetic background
for color is to examine the whelping box: a dog that produces
yellows and/or chocolate carries those genes. And dogs carry what
their parents have; a black with one yellow or chocolate parent
must carry the yellow or chocolate gene. But for those who really
want to know for certain can now make use of a simple cheek swab
determine their dog's genotype. VetGen (1-800-483-8436) has such
a test for $85.
What is a Dudley?
This is a yellow Labrador with chocolate pigmentation (eebb).
It can also refer to a Lab with absolutely no pigmentation on
the nose or eyerims (all pink in color), but in actuality, this
is extremely rare, and probably a genetic abnormality. Please
be aware that, while this trait is considered undesirable, it
does not indicate some sort of genetic abnormality. There is no
known correlation between Dudley noses and poor health.
But I see some Labradors with a pinkish
Yes, this happens with many breeds, actually. It is called "winter
nose" or "snow nose." Many yellow Labs will have
dark noses in the summer that fade somewhat in the winter and
repeat the cycle the next year. It is not understood why this
happens. You can see it in many northern breeds such as Huskies
and Malamutes as well. This is not considered a fault in any of
these breeds and is not penalized.
To differentiate between Labs with faded noses and Dudleys, check
the eyerims and gum tissue of the dogs. A Dudley will have only
light pink or tan skin; the other dogs will have black pigment
in these areas.
Do they jump fences? Are they good escape
They are not renowned for this as a breed, although individual
Labradors can be clever at escaping. Some can be good at opening
doors and latches. A six-foot fence properly grounded will keep
a Labrador from jumping, although many Labradors will never jump
a four-foot fence perimeter. Because they can chew a lot, take
care that your enclosure cannot be chewed through. They can also
be good climbers, so check for possible footholds the dog could
use to haul himself up (for example, check if a doghouse provides
a platform from which to jump a fence).
A Lab that is bored and/or underexercised may turn into an excape
artist par exellence.
Do they bark a lot?
Bored Labradors can, but excessive barking is not generally typical
of the breed. Labradors often give a warning bark in response
to an unusual event that they feel needs your attention, such
as "Hey, a car pulled into the driveway!"
Will a male or female Labrador make a better
Both sexes make good pets. In general, male Labradors are more
dependent and females are somewhat independent. For example, if
you are at home working on your computer, your male Labrador will
probably sleep right under your feet while your female will probably
sleep in the other room and just come in and check on you periodically.
For most people, a male Labrador will probably make the best pet!
Where should I get my dog?
You have to first decide if you are getting a puppy or an adult
Lab. If you choose to get an adult dog, you could get one from
the pound, from a Labrador Rescue organization, or from a breeder
who is looking for a home for an adult Labrador. There is more
about Rescue organizations at the end of this file. If you decide
to get a puppy, you should do some research and find a reputable
breeder you trust.
How do I choose a puppy?
You need to do some homework before you start talking to breeders
and certainly before you look at any puppies. You need to make
some decisions about what sex and color you'd like. What you plan
to do with the dog. What kind of temperament you'd like. Once
you have some answers to those questions, you should discuss your
concerns and ideas with breeders. After you have found a breeder
you like, then allow the breeder to help you select your puppy.
Most breeders have a pretty good idea of what the puppies' personalities
are like and will guide you to a good choice.
What health problems are Labradors prone
Hip and elbow dysplasia can be a problem, so be sure to look for
breeders that certify their dogs through OFA. Progressive Retinal
Atrophy and Retinal Dysplasia are both problems in this breed,
so dogs being bred must be examined yearly by an veterinary ophthalmologist.
Labradors are prone to mild skin allergies in some regions of
the US, notably Southern California. Ear infections are always
a potential problem with hanging ears. You can minimize the potential
for health problems by choosing the breeder of your puppy carefully.
What is this I hear about the lawsuit
with the AKC?
Over the past five years or so, the national breed club for Labrador
Retrievers (the LRC) has been trying to revise the standard for
the breed. Many bench, or show, people objected to the revisions
being made. The AKC took the unprecedented step, because of the
amount of controversy on the subject, of returning the first submitted
revision in 1993. The LRC resubmitted the revised standard, still
over the objections of the bench community, and the standard took
effect April 1, 1994. As the new standard included disqualifications
for height, some breeders are now unable to show their dogs, and
six of them put together a lawsuit based on the Sherman Anti-Trust
Act, claiming that the LRC rewrote the standard to admit their
dogs to the ring while excluding the objecting breeders' dogs.
It is important to remember that a large part of the controversy
revolves around the fact that the LRC has a limited membership
-- the most popular AKC breed in the US has a national breed club
composed of 700 members, down from 900 several years ago. Most
of these members are oriented toward field trials. Many show oriented
fanciers greatly resented the lack of involvement allowed them
throughout the revision process. On the other side of the issue,
the LRC and the AKC have stated that they do not feel the standard
provides any hardship to Labrador breeders and have asked that
the suit be dismissed due to lack of merit. There is a good deal
of acrimony on both sides that has contributed to the overall
The lawsuit has been settled with the LRC prevailing.
The Labrador Retriever was developed in England in the mid 1800s
by a handful of private kennels dedicated to developing and refining
the perfect gundog. That many such kennels were pursuing their
own vision of such a dog is the reason behind the variety of today's
It's fairly clear that there were no indigenous dogs in Newfoundland
when the first fishing companies arrived. If the native Americans
of the time had any, the explorers never observed them. Thus it's
quite likely that the St. Johns dogs themselves come from old
English Water Dogge breeds, insofar as fishermen were the primary
people on Newfoundland for centuries. There is also some speculation
that the old St. Hubert's dog might have been brought over as
well -- illustrations of the breed show a black, drop-eared dog
with a certain resemblance to the Labrador. But it is unknown
if the fishermen going to Newfoundland would have had hound dogs
used for game rather than water dogs.
We can only speculate what happened, but we do know that the cod
fishermen sent out from Britain practiced "shore fishing."
Small dories were used for the actual fishing, and they worked
in teams of four -- two in the boat and two on the shore to prepare
and cure the fish. They would have needed a small dog to get in
and out of the boat, with a short water repellent coat so as not
to bring all the water into to the boats with them. They would
have bred for a strong retrieving instinct to help retrieve fish
and swimming lines, and a high degree of endurance to work long
hours. If the runs were heavy, the fishermen were reputed to go
for as long as twenty hours to haul the fish in.
The dog developed for this early work could be found in several
varieties: a smaller one for the fishing boats, and a larger one
with a heavier coat for drafting. The smaller dog has been called,
variously, the Lesser St. John's dog, the Lesser Newfoundland,
or even the Labrador. These dogs came from Newfoundland; it is
unknown why the name "Labrador" was chosen except possibly
through geographical confusion. Charles Eley, in History of Retrievers
at the end of the 19th century comments:
The story [...] was that the first Labrador to reach England swam
ashore from vessels which brought cod from Newfoundland [...]
It was claimed for them that their maritime existence [...] had
resulted in webbed feet, a coat impervious to water like that
of an otter, and a short, thick 'swordlike' tail, with which to
safely their stoutly made frames amid the breakers of the ocean.
Part of the confusion over the names is that "St. John's
dog" and "Newfoundland dog" were used interchangeably
for both the greater (larger) and lesser (smaller) varieties.
And the term Labrador has also been used to refer to the lesser
St. John's dog, especially in the latter half of the 19th century.
The greater is commonly held to be the direct ancestor of today's
Newfoundland, while the lesser was used to develop many of the
retrieving breeds, including today's
The exact relationship between the two varieties of the St. Johns
dog (and some 19th century writers listed up to four varieties)
is also unclear; we don't know which came first, or to what degree
they were related. Certainly the greater St. Johns dog was first
imported to England nearly a hundred years earlier, and many contemporary
and modern day writers assume that the lesser was developed from
the greater but we have no real evidence one way or another. Newfoundland
has been used for fishing and other activities since approximately
1450 so there has been plenty of time for the development of the
St. Johns dog and its varieties.
Development in England
From the time these dogs were first imported back to England in
the early 1800s to 1885 when the combined effects of Newfoundland's
Sheep Act and Britain's Quarantine Act shut down further importation,
a handful of kennels regularly imported lesser St. Johns dogs
and carefully bred them for gun dog work on their estates. These
kennels include those of Buccleuch and Malmesbury, each of which
imported lesser St. John's dogs throughout the 19th century for
their private lines.
The second Earl of Malmesbury (1778-1841) and his son the third
Earl (1807-1889) imported the dogs and kept their lines going
until the third Earl's death. In a letter he wrote in about 1887
"We always called mine Labrador dogs and I have kept the
breed as pure as I could from the first I had from Poole, at that
time carrying on a brisk trade with Newfoundland. The real breed
may be known by their having a close coat which turns the water
off like oil, above all, a tail like an otter."
At about the same time, the fifth Duke of Buccleuch (1806-1884),
his brother Lord John Scott (1809-1860) and the tenth Earl of
Home (1769-1841) embarked on a similar but independent program.
They lived within a 30 mile radius and developed the Buccleuch
line. The eleventh Lord of Home (1799-1881) continued his dogs,
but the line was nearly extinct about the time of his death.
However, a chance meeting between the third Earl of Malmesbury
and the sixth Duke of Buccleuch and the twelfth Earl of Home resulted
in the older Malmesbury giving the two young Lords some of the
dogs from his lines. From these dogs, given in 1882, the Buccleuch
line was revitalized and the breed carried into the 20th century.
Buccleuch's Ned and Buccleuch's Avon are generally agreed upon
as being the ancestors of all Labradors.
That two different kennels, breeding independently for at least
50 years, had such similar dogs argues that the Labrador was kept
very close to the original St. John's breed. Thus it is probable
that today's Labrador, of all the modern retrievers, is the most
closely related to the original St. John's dog and by extension,
as closely related to the modern Newfoundland as to the other
retriever breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Flat Coat Retrievers,
The Twentieth Century
By the turn of the century, these retrievers were appearing in
the British Kennel Club's events. At this point, retrievers from
the same litter could wind up being registered as different retrievers.
The initial category of "Retrievers" included curly
coats, flat coats, liver-colored retrievers and the Norfolk retriever
(now extinct). As types became fixed, separate breeds were created
for each and the Labrador Retriever finally gained its separate
registration under the Kennel Club in 1903.
While there have been strains of Labradors bred pure up to this
time, it is unknown how many of these cross-bred dogs were folded
into "Labradors" or into other breeds as the registrations
began to separate. Many breeders feel that crossbreeding at this
time accounts for much of the poor type that can appear today;
however claims about the use of Pointers or Rottweilers can probably
be safely discounted.
The first two decades in the 20th century saw the formation in
Britain of some of the most influential kennels that provided
the basis for the breed as we know it today. Lord Knutsford's
Munden Labradors, and Lady Howe's Banchory Labradors are among
several. At this time, many dogs distinguished themselves in both
field trials and conformation shows; the high number of Dual Champions
at this time attests to the breed's versatility.
Labradors were first imported to the United States during World
War I. At this point, the AKC still classified them as "Retrievers;"
it was not until the late 1920's that the retrievers were split
up into the breeds we know today in the AKC. The Labrador Retriever
has been used heavily in the US as a gundog; the American Labrador
Retriever Club, Inc. (LRC, Inc), is to this day primarily a field
trial organization, and it was instrumental in forming the AKC
The two World Wars greatly diminished the breed in numbers (as
it did many others). After the second World War saw the rise of
the Labrador Retriever in the United States, where Britain's Sandylands
kennel through imports going back to Eng CH Sandyland's Mark influenced
the shape and direction the show lines took in this country. Other
influential dogs include American Dual CH Shed of Arden, a grandson
of English Dual CH Banchory Bolo, especially evident in field
This return trip to the Americas resulted in the widely expanded
use of the Labrador as a gun dog. In Britain, the Labrador was,
and still is, used primarily for upland game hunting, often organized
as a driven bird shoot. Typically, separate breeds were used for
different tasks; and the Labrador was strictly for marking the
fall, tracking and retrieving the game. But in the United States
and Canada, the breed's excellence at waterfowl work and game
finding became apparent and the Labrador soon proved himself adaptable
to the wider and rougher range of hunting conditions available.
The differences between British and American field trials are
Many old treatises and articles on gun dogs make it clear that
yellows and livers were evident and even common before any recorded
breeding was the rule. Spaniels, Poodles, Setters, Retrievers,
and even pointers occasionally displayed yellow and liver coloring.
In fact, calling a dog "liver" one or two hundred years
ago could mean any color from yellow to red to liver or brown.
In the earliest years of the Labrador, yellows were simply culled.
The first registered yellow was Ben of Hyde, out of two black
dogs, themselves from import stock. Ben produced many yellows
when bred to black bitches; if the genetics were the same then
as now, this indicates that many blacks were actually heterozygous
for black. Oddly, his yellow littermate Juno produced few if any
yellows when she was bred to blacks. However, bitches produce
few puppies compared to dogs so chance probably stepped in with
homozygous dominant black mates for Juno.
The anti-yellow sentiment was so strong that in the 1920's experienced
breeders reported being directed to the Golden Retriever ring!
At this point, dogs of this color did suffer a wide variation
of incorrect type -- it's easy to find pictures of old yellow
Labradors with very houndy features. A separate standard was briefly
drawn up to address this problem, but eventually it was felt that
yellows should simply adhere to the same standard as blacks. Today,
you will find as many, if not more, yellows as blacks of the same
quality. Only in some hunting circles will you still find the
erroneous opinion that "blacks make better hunters."
Chocolates, like yellows, have also been present all along in
the breed. In fact, the well known story of the origins of the
Chesapeake Bay Retriever refers to an 1807 shipwreck involving
two St. John's dogs probably destined for Poole and hence to Malmesbury
or Buccleuch: one black and one liver. Some believe that the chocolate
color was introduced into Labradors around the turn of the century
by crossing with Pointers. This is unlikely for several reasons:
* Prior documented presence of livers in the St. John's dogs.
* The presence of the liver color in many other closely related
breeds, such as the Flat-coat, Chesapeake, and Newfoundland.
* Since liver is recessive to black, it is perfectly possible
to "hide" the gene in many generations of black, especially
if the occasional liver is quietly culled.
Chocolate Labradors have gained favor much more slowly than the
yellows have, although culling of them probably declined about
the same time. They did well in early field trials at the turn
of the century but it was not until 1964 that Britain had its
first chocolate bench champion, Cookridge Tango.
Chocolates are by far the rarest color in the ring, whether show
or field. They are increasing in popularity steadily, though,
and in another 10 years may equal the other colors in numbers,
acceptance, and quality. Prejudice against chocolates in both
show and field arenas is still widely present today. They are
either "too ugly" for the show ring or "too stupid/stubborn"
for the field.
The Standard is the physical "blueprint"
of the breed. It describes the physical appearance and other desired
qualities of the breed otherwise known as type. Some characteristics,
such as size, coat quality, and movement, are based on the original
(or current) function for the dog. Other characteristics are more
cosmetic such as eye color; but taken together they set this breed
apart from all others. The Standard describes an ideal representive
of the breed. No individual dog is perfect, but the Standard provides
an ideal for the breeder to strive towards.
Recognized (this list is incomplete)
American Kennel Club -
Australian National Kennel Club
Canadian Kennel Club
Kennel Club of UK
United Kennel Club
Special Medical Problems
Labradors are susceptible to hip dysplasia as well as other joint
problems. All breeding stock should be x-rayed and certified clear
of hip dysplasia by OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals)
and/or by the PennHip methods. Most breeders will use OFA
or PennHip as an adjunct. The breeder should be able to provide
you with copies of certifications done on both sire and dam.
Labradors are also at risk for several eye problems including:
PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), cataracts, and retinal dysplasia.
All breeding stock should be examined annually by a board certified
veterinary ophthalmologist. Most responsible breeders will turn
that evaluation in to CERF for tracking of various eye problems
in the breed and thus have a CERF number for their dog, good for
one year. You should ask to see a copy of the paperwork that is
turned in to CERF, though, because this form will report on other
things that may not deny the dog a CERF number but could be of
Diagnosis of PRA is not easy. The dog may be diagnosed via an
Electroretinogram (ERG), which will give advance notice by about
two years from actual blindness. However, unless PRA is known
to show up early in the individual dog's lines, it is not recommended
unless the dog is at least five years old. In addition it is a
very difficult test to administer. Not all ACVO veterinarians
are qualified to do a diagnostic ERG because of the delicate skill
necessary and it requires anesthesia of the dog.
Because PRA often does not appear until the dog is older (as late
as 8 years or more), this disease has been difficult to eradicate.
Please, if your dog appears to be losing his sight, have him checked
by a veterinary ophthalmologist.
Dr. Gus Aguirre has been working on identifying the genes responsible
for PRA in Labradors (and other breeds; the markers for Irish
Setters have already been identified) for several years now. It
appears from his reports that a DNA test may be available within
a few years. Optigen is the place to send blood for testing.
You can also contact VetGen at 800-4-VETGEN http://www.vetgen.com
; their research team is trying to locate the gene that causes
PRA and need DNA samples from affected dogs and their families.
Only with complete information can we begin to remove this problem
from the breed.
Labradors are also prone to other joint problems such as OCD and
arthritis. Look for breeders who not only OFA hips but also elbows.
Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia (TVD)
Breeders are beginning to recognize a new problem in the Labrador
breed, a defect of the heart termed Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia.
After a stud dog on the west coast produced a number of young
puppies dying of this disease, he was tested and found with a
very mild case, detectable only through an echocardiogram, an
auscultation (stethescope) exam was not adequate. It is NOT known
at present what the mode of inheritance of this disease is, or
how widespread it is in the breed. At the moment, very few dogs
are so cleared as we know very little about this problem.
Some further sources of information:
Also called "wash tail" and "limber tail",
"cold tail" occurs when your dog's tail goes limp and
he bites at it as if it were a foreign body attached to him. This
condition is not serious and should go away in two or three days.
It seems to be associated with swimming in cold water (hence the
name). It's thought to be a reaction on the part of one of the
glands at the base of the tail, or perhaps a sort of muscle spasm.
It is not typically listed in veterinary handbooks.
Because of their drop ears and their love of swimming, Labradors
can be prone to ear infections. Not all Labs get them, but many
that do can be chronic about it unless you take regular preventive
It's a good idea to check your dog's ears regularly. You are looking
for two things. First the ear's appearance: should be light pink
or flesh-toned (yellow Labs will have pinker skin) and clean.
Second, the ear's general odor: should not smell anything from
the ear or the canal.
If the ear is dirty, use a tissue or cotton ball and wipe the
ear out. Because of the shape of the dog's ear canal, you will
not injure him by swabbing down there, but use only your fingers,
never a Q-tip or something similar. If your dog seems to generate
a lot of waxy material, you may want to put him on regular cleaning
program. You should not have to wipe out the ear very often, perhaps
once a month or less, unless he's been out swimming.
If the ear smells bad, you should take your dog into the vet to
be treated for it. There are a variety of types of ear infections.
Thereafter, you should clean your dog's ears regularly to prevent
Many Lab owners commonly use a solution like the following:
* 2 tablespoons Boric Acid
* 4 oz Rubbing Alcohol
* 1 tablespoons Glycerine
Shake well. Put 1 small eyedropperfull in each ear. Rub it around
first, and then let the dog shake. Do this once a week and you
shouldn't see any ear infections. It works by raising the pH level
slightly inside the ear, making it less hospitable to bacteria.
This will NOT clear up an existing infection, this is a preventive
remedy only. If the dog's ears are presently infected or sensitive,
this solution may further irritate the ear tissues.
For whatever reason, Labradors appear to be especially prone to
ruptured cruciate ligaments. This injury is usually sustained
during some type of activity involving twisting the legs -- jumping
to catch an object in mid-air, for example. Treatment involves
any of a number of surgical options and extremely restricted activity
for at least six weeks after surgery. It can take up to 6 months
for performance dogs to fully rehabilitate.
Laryngeal paralysis occurs when one or both sides of thelarynx
do not open and close properly. Depending on the severity of the
paralysis will impede the dog's ability to get oxygen. This can
lead to overheating, as dogs pant to cool themselves down, but
a dog with laryngeal paralysis cannot pant effectively. Labs seem
to develop LP mainly as a function of old age although some younger
dogs come down with it. Labs are not congenitally disposed to
LP as some other breeds are, however.
The earliest sign of LP is a change to the sound of the dog's
bark and a rough sound in the breathing. To diagnose LP, the dog
must be lightly anesthetized and the movement of the larynx studied.
It does take some experience to correctly diagnose this, so ask
for a referral if your vet suspects LP, but has not much experience
with the condition.
The only treatment for Laryngeal Paralysis is surgery to tack
open at least one of the laryngeal folds. However, while oxygen
is now assured to the dog, the dog is also at increased risk for
aspiration pneumonia as food or water can now be more easily inhaled.
LP patients are typically fed from raised bowls and prohibited
from swimming in non-chlorinated water. In addition, LP patients
no longer bark normally, and sound as if they had been debarked
(in fact the surgery is similar).
The other option is no treatment. Several owners report that with
no treatment and careful monitoring of the dog's condition (especially
on warm days), some dogs do well for a while longer. Discuss all
possibilities with your vet, as there are varying levels of severity
of LP which can factor into your decision about treatment.
Other issues to discuss with breeders are epilepsy, skin allergies
and thyroid function.
Rimadyl should be administered with due caution. Most of the major
side effects (liver toxicity) to this drug have been observed
in Labradors, although it is unknown if that is due to the proportion
of dogs needing such medications being Labradors, or if Labs as
a breed are subsceptible to it. Discuss this issue thoroughly
with your vet.
Breed books -
Available at Amazon.com
Versatile Labrador Retriever by Nancy
for the Stars
by Mary Roslin Williams
Lab's Life : Your Complete Guide to Raising Your Pet from Puppy
to Companion (Solid Information Pet Owners Can Trust)
by Virginia Parker Guidry
Tales : A Celebration of America's Favorite Dog
by John Arrington, Labmed, Walt Zientek
Dog Owners Guide to Labrador Retrievers
by Marjorie Satterthwaite
by Carole Coode
The Dog That. Does It All
by Lisa Weiss Agresta
of the Labrador Retriever
by Anna Katherine Nicholas
Ultimate Labrador Retriever
by Heather Wiles-Fone
of Labs : The Ultimate Tribute to...
by Todd R. Berger (Editor), Bill Tarrant
New Owner's Guide to Labrador...
by Mary Feazell
Proper Care of Labrador Retrievers
by Dennis Livesay, Pat Livesay (Contributor)
New Complete Labrador Retriever
by Helen Warwick, Thomas W. Merritt
New Labrador Retriever
by Janet I. Churchill
by Dorothy Howe
Labrador Retriever : An Owner's Guide to a Happy, Healthy Pet
by Lisa Weiss-Agresta
to Owning a Labrador Retriever : Puppy Care, Retrieving, Training,
History, Health, Breed Standard (Re Dog Series)
by Richard T. Burrows
Retrievers for Dummies
by Joel Walton, Eve Adamson
Uses for a Lab
by Dale C. Spartas (Photographer)
Your Labrador Retriever
by September B. Morn, Pam Tanzey (Illustrator)
by Dale C. Spartas (Photographer), Steve Smith
Books - Available
by Gina Spadafori
by Sarah Hodgson
Dog Whisperer : A Compassionate, Nonviolent Approach to Dog Training
by Paul Owens, Norma Eckroate, Michael W. Fox
Shoot the Dog : The New Art of Teaching and Training
by Karen Pryor
Started : Clicker Training for Dogs Including a Dog & A Dolphin
by Karen Pryor
to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With by Clarice Rutherford
Art of Raising a Puppy by The Monks of New Skete
Knows Best : The Natural Way to Train Your Dog.
by Carol Lea Benjamin
by Jean Donaldson (Paperback - January 1997)
Training for Obedience : Shaping Top Performance--Positively
by Morgan Spector, Karen Pryor
are from Neptune
by Jean Donaldson
by Barbara J. Wrede, Michele Earle-Bridges (Illustrator)
Training in 10 Minutes
by Carol Lea Benjamin
Puppyhood: Teaching Your Puppy the Right Way to Live
by Kay Guetzloff
Training for Dummies
by Joachim Volhard, et al
to Housebreak Your Dog in 7 Days
by Shirlee Kalstone
your Retriever by James Lamb
10-Minute Retriever: How to Make an Obedient and Enthusiastic
Gun Dog in 10 Minutes a Day by John I. Dahl, Amy Dahl
the Hunting Retriever by Jerome B. Robinson
Training for the Duck Hunter by Robert Milner
Not the Dog...Training You to Train Your Dog
Training for Your Retriever
Training for Your Retriever
Just Labradors Magazine
The Labrador Quarterly
http://www.hoflin.com/Magazines/The Labrador Quarterly.html
Field Trial News
Publications of Interest
Julie Brown's Directories
for Lab Owners
Labrador Retriever Email
Lists - http://www.yahoogroups.com
Are Great Dogs
in the Philippines
Labs We Love
Labrador Retriever Chat Board
Labrador Retriever Breeders Forum http://pub12.bravenet.com/forum/show.php?usernum=976632990&c
Breeder links by name
Retriever Training Net Forum
Working Retriever Central
Water Dog One
Hunting Retriever Club
Nahra - North American Hunting Retriever Assoc.