Labrador Retriever: Complete Breed Guide and History

Labrador Retriever: Complete Breed Guide and History
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There's no denying that the Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular dog breeds of all time. Labrador Retrievers have a history as working dogs since their coats and tail are designed specifically for diving into freezing water to catch fish and ducks.


Their lively personalities and quick learning has given them even more work in recent years, ranging from bomb detection to seeing-eye assistance dogs. Still, Labs are also perfectly content being at home with their family.


This breed is a friendly, loyal, and loving dog that is a perfect fit for every home. Labs get along with just about everyone. Find out if the Lab is right for you!



mama and baby yellow labs



Labrador Retriever Characteristics (Physical)

The Lab is athletic and strong, perfect for its ancient function as a retrieving gun dog. To better hunt waterfowl under difficult conditions, the Labrador Retriever has developed a dense, weather-resistant coat and powerful jaws. However, it's their friendly eyes that often stand out the most. Labs also have a signature smile that can brighten up anyone's day.


Labrador Retriever Size

Labradors are considered medium in size. They typically grow to about 22 to 24 inches tall at the shoulder. Male Labs can weigh up to 65-80 pounds, while females can reach 55-70 pounds.



Labs have a moderately wide chest, allowing for unrestricted forelimb movement and excellent stamina. They have muscular forequarters, which helps with their coordination and balance. Their hindquarters are strong, which helps them move and run effortlessly.



The tail is one of the Lab's most distinguishing features. Their tail is thick at the base and tapers towards the tip. It's often carried upright but not curled. It should be medium in length, balanced with the rest of the breed's body.



Labrador Retrievers have a broad skull with a wedge-shaped head. Their nose is wide. Their ears are proportionate. The American Kennel Club describes the breed's dark brown eyes as "friendly." The Lab's well-developed head and kind face sit upon a muscular neck that allows the dog to retrieve efficiently.



Labrador Retriever Personality

The Labrador Retriever has become one of the most popular dog breeds in the world, thanks to their laid-back, friendly personalities. The breed also has a high energy level that is incredibly desirable for many households and families.


The breed is a dog that can be calm and respectful at home and very lively when they have others to play with. Properly trained Labs are obedient and enjoy learning, making them great companions for almost every family and household.


Labrador Retrievers love people and enjoy being around other dogs. Labs are a social breed that will always want to be around others whenever possible. They'll want to come with you on errands and cuddle while you're watching television. This dog can be quite the couch potato when it comes to hanging out with the family!


It's commonly said that the one job that Labs won't excel at being a watchdog. That's because Labs will often greet strangers with a sense of curiosity and joy with their pleasant and friendly personalities!


Without active bonding time, Labrador Retrievers might resort to destructive behaviors. This is mostly due to boredom and loneliness. They might also start constantly barking, hoping to get your attention to get you to play with them.



Labrador Retriever Exercise

Labrador Retrievers need plenty of exercise to thrive. Without sufficient exercise, your Lab will become frustrated and restless. These behaviors usually result in the form of chewing, digging, and scratching. Fortunately, there are many activities your Lab will enjoy to keep them out of trouble.


Labs need at least 1-2 hours of exercise a day to stay healthy and happy. You should take them on daily walks around the neighborhood, but if you have more time, bring them along on a hiking or backpacking trail to see them truly excel.


Labrador Retrievers also love exploring. They might impulsively jump into the nearest body of water or sniff around the nature trail. Being outdoors gives your pup a rush. You can also play fetch with your Lab by tossing sticks or balls to provide them with some stimulation.


Labs love to swim and will even enjoy a dip in the pool whenever available. You can encourage them to do laps when you're outside to supervise. A backyard is also a great place for your dog to run around, releasing pent-up energy.


Organized events are also great ways to keep your Labrador motivated with strong work ethic. Training them for competitions is a great way to bond and keep them stimulated. Labs excel in athletic tournaments like agility and frisbee competitions, but many also compete in obedience events.



Labrador Retriever Training

The Labrador Retriever is eager to learn and please, making them quite easy to train. The key, however, is to train your Lab early. It's recommended that you sign up for basic obedience courses as soon as possible to get your puppy socialized early on.


To give your dog daily purpose and stimulation, try teaching them various tricks. Once your puppy has the basic commands down like "sit" and "stay," you can teach them a few useful and fun tasks. Some of these include:


  • Retrieving food and drinks from the fridge
  • Flushing the toilet
  • Playing hide and seek


You'll be blown away at how fast your Lab learns more complex tricks around the house.


Thankfully, Labs are easy to train with their attitude and intelligence. They will catch on fast to most obedience training thrown their way, even as puppies. Labrador Retrievers need consistent, positive reinforcement training that encourages them to listen and follow commands.


Bonus Tips!

Labs are strong dogs that need to be trained as puppies to keep them under control as adults. For example, they will often pull too hard on a leash due to their eager and excited attitude. To train your dog not to pull on a leash, follow these easy steps:


  • Have your puppy walk aside you on a leash
  • Give them a treat whenever they walk by your side
  • If your puppy gets too far ahead of you, stop walking
  • Over time, your Lab will start to realize that going too far ahead means you will stop walking
  • Give them a treat when they come back to you
  • If they keep pulling, even after you stop walking, turn around and force them to walk with you in the opposite direction


One bad habit Labradors have is their constant chewing. Sometimes Labs will even "mouth" people, which means lightly nipping without the intent to harm.


When they nip or chew, it often means your Lab wants to play or needs exercise. This habit can also get worse if your dog is consistently bored or not stimulated. Remember to keep them engaged as much as possible to save yourself some headaches in the long run!



three retrievers running in water



Labrador Retriever History

The Labrador Retriever was originally called the "traditional waterdog" of Newfoundland. Fishermen often kept this dog as an assistant. They also commonly worked as duck retrievers.


Their skills in retrieving caught the eye of English nobles in the early 1800s, who brought the breed back to England. Soon after, the Lab started to become quite popular.


British breeders continued to refine the breed in the latter half of the 19th century. The breeders focused on developing a short, dense, weather-resistant coat so the Labs could swim even in cold, icy waters.


Eventually, Labs were even able to retrieve fish in the freezing waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. The Labs also gained an "otter tail," which acts as a powerful rudder when they're swimming.


Another main focus of the standardization of the Lab has always been its personality. They have been bred to be kind, outgoing, and gentle. One dog judge even stated that if the dog does not possess the true breed standard temperament, he is not a Labrador."


What may shock dog lovers is that Labrador breed almost became extinct in the 1880s. Thanks to many English families at the time, they are often credited with saving the breed. Despite the dog's usefulness in Newfoundland, restrictions and tax laws saw the breed dwindle in everyday households. Families were not allowed to keep more than one dog, or else they were highly taxed.


The Labrador Retriever's quick learning and lovely personality contributed to their rise in popularity in Europe. The United Kennel Club (UKC) in England recognized the breed in 1903. Shortly after, The American Kennel Club (AKC) registered the Lab in 1917.


In 1991, Labrador Retrievers officially became the most popular dog breed in America. Since then, it has remained the top breed and one of America's favorites!



Labrador Retriever Health Problems

Healthy Labrador Retrievers will live about 10 to 12 years on average. It's very important to schedule regular vet visits for your dog to stay on top of their health. Checkups can also detect any complications early on and get treatment as early as possible.


Always purchase your Lab from a trusted, registered breeder. Reputable breeders will provide health guarantees for their puppies. They will also regularly test their breeding dogs for hereditary and genetic diseases and remove dogs that carry certain traits from the breeding pool.


Canine Hip Dysplasia

Canine hip dysplasia is a condition that affects the mobility in your dog's hip joint. Basically, your dog's hip joint is a ball and socket joint. If the ball becomes misaligned, it can deform and degrade the socket, leading to a loss of cartilage. Eventually, scar tissue will form around the joint, creating bone spurs and joint pains.


If left untreated, dogs can experience extreme discomfort later on in life. Hip dysplasia may lead to lameness or difficulty walking. Some dogs can even lose complete mobility in more serious conditions if they aren't brought to the vet for treatment.


The most common factor leading to canine hip dysplasia is genetics. However, other factors like rapid weight gain or injuries can also cause hip dysplasia. Labrador Retrievers are also known to develop elbow dysplasia, so it's important to rule out these health conditions early on.


Osteochondritis Dissecans (OCD)

OCD is a condition that occurs when there is an abnormal development of the cartilage on the end of a bone in the joint. It's an inflammatory condition, causing the cartilage to eventually separate from the underlying bone. OCD most commonly occurs in the shoulders.


Dogs affected with OCD will start to limp. You might also see them refuse to use the affected leg and even cry out in pain if the condition worsens. Always look for swelling so that you can get your dog treatment early.


If your dog has OCD, you may want to provide them with CBD along with whatever treatment is recommended by the vet. CBD is a naturally occurring compound that has many soothing and therapeutic benefits. CBD will help soothe your dog's discomfort to manage the condition a little better.


Patellar Luxation

The patella, or knee cap, usually rides within your femur's groove in the knee. Patellar luxation is a condition when the knee cap becomes dislocated from the knee, which can cause some discomfort. This condition is one of the most common orthopedic conditions in dogs, found in 7% of puppies.


Patellar luxation can lead to lameness, unable to use the affected leg without pain. In more serious cases, your dog may need surgery to correct this condition. Fortunately, vets can prescribe medicine, supplements, or physical therapy to help with recovery and manage the pain.



Labrador Retrievers need to stay active daily, or they run the risk of becoming overweight couch potatoes. It's pretty common for a non-active Lab to gain weight quickly and become obese.


Obesity is the most common preventable disease in dogs living in North America, affecting about 30% of pups. It's even more common in older dogs. Obesity can lead to many health complications and risks for your dog so always make sure they are active and maintaining a proper diet.



golden dog sitting in wheat field



How to Care for a Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retrievers are friendly, likable dogs, but they have a few quirks that should be kept in mind when caring for this dog breed. Because of their strong urge to retrieve, Labs are known to start chewing when left bored and unstimulated.


To stop your dog from chewing on furniture, shoes, and even people, provide them with plenty of chew toys. Toys can be used as a form of entertainment and distraction for your dog.


Labs also have a natural curiosity and love to roam and explore. If your dog plays in the backyard, ensure it is properly secured with a fence. Labs are also known to dig, so always keep a close eye on your dog when they are outside.


When walking your Labrador Retriever, it's important to have them on a secure collar and leash. You might even want to consider a harness. Labs are pretty strong dogs and might be able to pull away if you're not careful.


Labrador Retrievers love to be outside, so remember to check your dog often for ticks, parasites, and other unwanted pests. More energetic Labradors might also come home occasionally with cuts and scrapes from running around and playing.



Nutrition and Feeding for Labrador Retrievers

Labrador Retrievers are prone to obesity and are always up for a few extra snacks. It's very important to make sure you are giving your Lab the proper diet and limiting snacks to maintain a healthy weight.


Depending on your Lab's weight and activity level, you should feed them around 2-4 cups of high-quality food a day. Talk to your vet to find out exactly the amount of food your dog should get daily according to their weight, activity level, health, and age.


It's best to feed your Lab twice a day, splitting the approved daily amount into two different meals. Multiple meals will keep your dog from begging for more food at certain times of the day. It will also be better for their digestion and avoid stomach issues due to scarfing down too much food too quickly.


A quality dog food will have a great balance of meat, vegetables, grains, and even fruit. Always look for high-quality ingredients, like a trustworthy meat source (chicken, not chicken meal), and organic, natural items.


You might even want to talk to the vet about creating a specialized diet for your Labrador if you notice that they gain weight easily. They may also recommend a brand that's healthier for overweight pups.



Coat Color And Grooming

The Labrador Retriever's double-coat is one of its most distinguishing traits. It's short, thick, and dense. It can even feel a bit hard to the hand. On the other hand, the undercoat is softer and more weather-resistant, protecting them from the cold and water.


The Labrador Retriever comes in three main colors: black, yellow, and chocolate. According to the American Kennel Club, they shouldn't have any spotting or other color fur mixed into their coat.


Because of their thick, dense coat, you should brush your Lab regularly. Brushing at least once a week will reduce shedding and remove dead hair. You can also give them occasional baths (about once every month or two) to keep them clean, especially if they've been outside exploring or playing in the water.


Check your dog's ears for wax and dirt buildup to prevent ear infections. Remember to use vet-approved ear cleaner when you swab and clean your Lab's ears.


You should also trim your dog's nails to make sure your Lab can't hurt itself. Although daily activity should wear down their nails, if you can hear the nails clicking on the floor, it means it's time to trim them.


Also, brush your dog's teeth daily or a few times a week to keep them from getting dental issues, like gum disease and cavities.



Children And Other Pets

When properly socialized as a puppy, the Labrador Retriever is great with people of all ages and most pets. Labs are very gentle and docile, making them great around children.


You might want to supervise Labs with younger children at first since they can sometimes get "mouthy." While they are not known to bite, this might scare younger kids who don't understand that the Lab is just trying to play. Always have a chew toy around for them!


Labrador Retrievers are also great with other dogs and pets, even cats. Once introduced properly, Labs will be very friendly. Labs will even be friendly towards dogs they don't know.


You can bring them to dog parks to get them properly socialized. This will also give them a chance to romp around with other dogs, getting out excess energy.



Rescue Groups

Labrador Retrievers are one of the most popular dogs in North America. Unfortunately, this means there is a higher chance that you'll come across a Lab needing a home. People might give up their pups due to financial reasons, moving, or other difficult situations that lead to sad choices.


If you're looking for a Labrador Retriever rescue group in your state, try looking on The American Lab Rescue. This group specializes in rescuing Labs across the country and is run completely by volunteers. They have rehomed over 5100 dogs to date!


Labrador Retriever rescue groups are focused on saving Labs (and sometimes other breeds) from difficult situations. This could be families giving up their pups or Labs brought to shelters. The rescue groups will often work with the dog, including providing them with a foster home, to prepare them for a new family.



Breed Organizations

Breed organizations are created to support breeders and Labrador owners within a certain area, usually a country. They provide resources and information on the breed in an attempt to spread awareness and promote the breed. They will also have a calendar of events specific to that breed, like shows, contests, and other events.


The Labrador Retriever Club was founded in 1931 in New York. They publish a quarterly newsletter and an annual Yearbook. The LRC also provides educational material for new owners, breeders, and potential judges of the breed. The Club also has a list of events and programs for Labs, including agility contests, field trials, and retriever hunting tests.



black canine looking up smiling



More About This Dog Breed

The Labrador Retriever was the most popular dog breed in the United States in 2020. Thanks to their humble, kind personality and fun spirit, the Lab continues to be a perfect fit for most households.


Labs are considered one of the most versatile dog breeds in the world. Thanks to their determination and eagerness to please, this intelligent breed has been used for drug and bomb detection, search and rescue, therapy, and service dog work. You'll also see Labs being used as seeing-eye dogs and visiting children's hospitals.


There's a myth floating around that each color Lab has a distinct personality or various traits. For example, some believe the yellow Lab is the most likely to be lazy, while black Labs are usually the best hunters, but this is all untrue and unsupported by science. Your Lab's personality has nothing to do with their color. In fact, all three colors can be born in one litter!


If you're looking for a playful, loyal, and loving companion, look no further than the Labrador Retriever. There's a reason this dog is one of the most popular in the world!

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