As one of the most popular breeds of dog ever, the Labrador retriever has topped the list of most popular dog breed world-wide for the past 30 years. However, despite its popularity, recognition of the breed by national associations is relatively recent. Labrador retrievers are descended from St. John’s water dog, which was a working dog hailing from Newfoundland. In the early 1800’s St. John’s water dogs were imported to Europe for use as waterfowl and gundogs for royalty, namely by the 10th Earl of Home, 5th Duke of Buccleuch, and Lord John Scott. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the modern Labrador retriever breed was formally established, and not until 1917 that it was recognized by the American Kennel Club.
Labrador retrievers owe much of their popularity to their affable nature. They are friendly, active, and outgoing, and excel as companions for all types of activity, especially those that take place outdoors. Labs are extremely even-tempered, which makes them ideal family dogs due their tolerance of children. They are a very gentle breed, but can be prone to hyperactivity if not properly exercised. Labrador retrievers mature slowly and often do not outgrow their natural puppy behaviors until 3 – 5 years of age. Appropriate exercise outlets for these dogs include agility, Frisbee, flyball, running, hiking, and vigorous games of fetch.
Considered a large breed thanks to their Newfoundland roots, male Labs should weigh 60 – 80 lbs, while females should be 55 – 70 lbs. They have a short, dense coat that is water resistant, but frequent brushing is recommended as they tend to shed. Acceptable coat colors are yellow, black, and chocolate. There are two common lines of Labrador retrievers, a field and show line. The field line is bred specifically for work, such as hunting or field trials; while the show line is bred for conformation. The main differences in structure include a lighter, more agile build for the field, while the show dogs have a thicker, more powerful appearance.
Although Labrador retrievers are generally healthy dogs, there are a number of health concerns associated with this breed. While not a health problem in itself, Labrador retrievers have been shown to have an “obesity gene” that predisposes them to being highly food motivated with an insatiable appetite. If body composition is not closely monitored, Labrador retrievers can easily become obese, which leads a host of health problems such as diabetes, skin disorders, organ malfunction, thyroid disorders, and a decreased life span. Hereditary issues that are relatively common among purebred labs include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and patella luxation, as well as a host of eye disorders ranging from cataracts to corneal dystrophy. If purchasing a Labrador retriever from a breeder it is important to see documentation from both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and the Canine Eye Registry for the parent dogs in order to ensure the health of the puppy you will be receiving. Despite the incidence of some diseases, Labrador retrievers have a long lifespan, generally living to be 12 – 13 years old.