The sweet-faced, lovable Labrador Retriever is America’s most popular dog breed. Labs are friendly, outgoing, and high-spirited companions who have more than enough affection to go around for a family looking for a medium-to-large dog.
- AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 1 of 192
- Height: 22.5-24.5 inches (male), 21.5-23.5 inches (female)
- Weight: 65-80 pounds (male), 55-70 pounds (female)
- Life Expectancy: 10-12 years
- Group: Sporting Group
About the Labrador Retriever
The sturdy, well-balanced Labrador Retriever can, depending on the sex, stand from 21.5 to 24.5 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 55 to 80 pounds. The dense, hard coat comes in yellow, black, and a luscious chocolate. The head is wide, the eyes glimmer with kindliness, and the thick, tapering “otter tail” seems to be forever signaling the breed’s innate eagerness.
Labs are famously friendly. They are companionable housemates who bond with the whole family, and they socialize well with neighbor dogs and humans alike. But don’t mistake his easygoing personality for low energy: The Lab is an enthusiastic athlete that requires lots of exercise, like swimming and marathon games of fetch, to keep physically and mentally fit.
The Labrador Retriever is the traditional waterdog of Newfoundland, long employed as a duck retriever and fisherman’s mate. The breed began its steady climb to supreme popularity in the early 1800s, when Labs were spotted by English nobles visiting Canada. These sporting earls and lords returned to England with fine specimens of “Labrador dogs.” (Exactly how these dogs of Newfoundland became associated with Labrador is unclear, but the name stuck.) During the latter half of the 19th century, British breeders refined and standardized the breed.
The physical and temperamental breed traits, so familiar today to millions of devotees around the world, recall the Lab’s original purpose. A short, dense, weather-resistant coat was preferred because during a Canadian winter longhaired retrievers would be encrusted with ice when coming out of the water. In its ancestral homeland, a Lab would be assigned to a fishing boat to retrieve the fish that came off the trawl. Accordingly, in addition to having natural instincts as a retriever, the dog required a coat suited to the icy waters of the North Atlantic.
The Lab’s thick, tapering tail—an “otter tail,” it’s called— serves as a powerful rudder, constantly moving back and forth as the dog swims and aids the dog in turning. As for the breed’s characteristic temperament, it is as much a hallmark of the breed as the otter tail. “The ideal disposition is one of a kindly, outgoing, tractable nature; eager to please and nonagressive towards man or animal,” the breed standard says. “The Labrador has much that appeals to people; his gentle ways, intelligence and adaptability make him an ideal dog.” When defining a Lab’s primary attributes, the most important might be temperament since his utility depends on his disposition. “If a dog does not possess true breed temperament,” wrote a noted dog judge, “he is not a Labrador.”
The Kennel Club (England) recognized the Lab in 1903, and the AKC registered its first dog of the breed in 1917. Labs topped AKC registrations for the first time in 1991 and has reigned as America’s favorite breed ever since.
A high-quality dog food appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior) will have all the nutrients the breed needs. Labs are very prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s food intake and weight level. To check for proper weight, you should be able to feel your dog’s ribs but not see them. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Give table scraps sparingly, if at all, especially avoiding cooked bones and foods with high fat content. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet.
The Lab has a thick, water-repellant double coat that sheds. Give occasional baths to keep them clean. As with all breeds, the Lab’s nails should be trimmed regularly and his teeth brushed frequently.
The Labrador Retriever is an exuberant, very energetic breed and needs lots of exercise every day. A Lab who doesn’t get enough exercise is likely to engage in hyperactive and/or destructive behavior to release pent-up energy. The breed’s favorite activities are retrieving and swimming. Labs also love to burn up energy on hunting trips or at field trials, as well as by participating in canine sports such as agility, obedience, tracking, and dock diving. Many Labs also work hard in important roles such as search-and-rescue, drug and bomb detection, and as service and assistance dogs.
With the Lab’s physical strength and high energy level, early socializationand puppy training classes are vital. Gently exposing the puppy to a wide variety of people, places, and situations between the ages of 7 weeks and 4 months and beginning obedience training early on will help him develop into a well-adjusted, well-mannered adult. Puppy training classes serve as part of the socialization process and help the owner learn to recognize and correct any bad habits that may be developing. Labs are devoted, intelligent, and enthusiastic companions who need to be included in family activities.
Although Labs are healthy dogs overall, there are several issues the breed can be prone to. Among these are elbow and hip dysplasia, certain heart disorders, hereditary myopathy (muscle weakness), and some eye conditions, including progressive retinal atrophy. A condition called exercise induced collapse (EIC) can occur in some young adult Labs. A responsible breeder screens breeding stock for conditions that can affect the breed. Labs can also be prone to a life-threatening stomach condition called bloat. Owners should educate themselves about the symptoms that indicate this is occurring, and what to do if so.