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The Labrador Retriever, or simply the Labrador or Lab as it is more commonly known, is consistently on the top of league tables for the most popular breed of dogs in the UK (and most possibly in the world), according to Kennel Club statistics. This is probably due to its gentle yet outgoing temperament while being eager to please its family or owner and being extremely receptive to training due to its intelligent and alert nature.
Originally bred to retrieve game and fowl, especially from waterways and working on difficult terrain, the combination of factors above also make it an ideal breed for many different types of work for example as a Guide Dog or Assistance Dogs as well as first choice as a breed for many families, especially those with young children.
The Labrador Retriever, as its name suggests, was originally bred for a specific purpose - that of retrieving game after it has been flushed and shot by the hunter. The breed originated from Newfoundland and is thought to have bred from a cross of the St John's Water Dog, other smaller water dogs and possibly Mastiffs bought to the locality by Portuguese fishermen in the 16th and 17th century.
The breed was bought to the UK in the early 1800's and around 1820 incumbent Earl of Malmsbury developed an interest in the dogs and arranged for a selection of them to be bought to the UK where he devoted a large proportion of his time to establishing a population. As a result, many pedigree Labrador Retrievers in the UK, especially Chocolate Labradors, can claim to be decedents of a dog named Buccleuch Avon, belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch in Scotland, circa 1890; and who was a gift to him from the Duke of Malmsbury's kennels.
Height to the withers: Males between 21-23 inches, females between 20-22 inches.
Average Weights: Males, 29kg- 35 kg, females, 25kg-31 kg.
The Labrador Retriever is a strongly built, medium size dog which is broad and deep through the chest and ribs. It possess strong and compact webbed feet which are perfect for the hours which the breed generally enjoys spending in water, along with its thick, dense coat (which has a weather resistant undercoat) and otter like tail.
The coat is short and, unlike a Golden Retriever, has no feathering at all while the tail, a defining characteristic of the breed, is powerful and rudder like and is thick at the base then tapering away to the tip. Labradors are primarily a solid yellow, black or liver/chocolate in colour, however, the yellow variety ranges from a light cream to a red 'fox' colour, sometimes displaying a white spot in the chest area.
The eyes are usually brown or hazel, are a medium size and most breeders would tell you they express an even temper and intelligence.
The ears are pendent shaped and while not to large or heavy, they do hang close to the head. The nose of a Labrador varies according to its coat colour with a yellow dog usually displaying a black nose and a Chocolate Labrador having a lighter brown one. However, it is not uncommon for the nose colour of any Labrador to fade as it ages and this is not considered a fault if you intend to show your dog.
The wide muzzle contains a set of strong teeth with a bite which should meet in a scissor precision, enabling its 'soft mouth' in the field capable of holding game firmly, yet gently.
Labradors are famous for their easy going yet playful and intelligent nature displaying a temperament which is equally at home in the field, in the show ring or at home as an assistance dog or pet. A well balanced all rounder, it is no wonder the Labrador's popularity as a family pet continues to grow.
The vast majority of Labradors instinctively like children and family life being loyal, loving and trustworthy making for a dependable companion. If socialised early as puppies, with humans and other animals, they are one of the best disposed and affable of dog breeds.
Rarely displaying aggression, this ease of nature make them unsurpassable, not only as pets, but also as assistance dogs, for example, guide and hearing dogs, and as PAT (Pets As Therapy) dogs providing therapeutic visits to nursing and care homes, hospitals and hospices and schools. They will thrive in a home where they will receive plenty of attention, training and exercise and benefit from a strong pack leader to whom they will look for direction.
The average life expectancy of a Labrador is around 12 to14 years or longer if proper care is taken.
Most Labradors have a hearty appetite and will tend to overeat if it is able. Because of this, it may become overweight or obese unless it receives enough exercise. If this does occur, it can lead to joint problems in the Labrador as they are placed under stress due to the unnecessary additional weight. The best remedy for this is to place it on a restricted diet with a correct exercise plan under your vet's supervision if excess weight needs to be lost.
Labradors can be prone to problems of the eye including cataracts manifesting as cloudy spots on the lens of the eye. While cataracts don't always lead to vision impairment, they can cause severe vision loss on occasion. However, they can be surgically removed with good results. Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) is part of a family of eye diseases that gradually cause the deterioration of the retina causing night blindness and eventually complete vision loss, however, many Labradors adapt well to this, so long as their surroundings do not change.
In addition, an increasing prevalence in a congenital defect of the heart is being found in Labradors, amongst other breeds of dog. Called Tricupid Valve Dysplasis, (TVD), it is a malformation of a valve on the right hand side of the heart. The dog may present no symptoms through its whole life; however, in some it can be a severe condition causing death. It is currently a hot topic amongst vets, canine cardiologists and breeder's alike and current research is ongoing towards identifying the gene which causes this defect.
As mentioned above, a responsible Labrador owner must take care to carefully balance exercise and food as, being very motivated by food and food rewards when training, a Labrador can rapidly gain weight.
Their short coats require only the most minimal of attention and should not be over shampooed. However, they are heavy shedders and because of this will benefit from more frequent grooming.
Labradors are quite adaptable dogs to own and will be able to settle into a smaller home or flat happily providing they are exercised enough. Usually at least a brisk hours walk a day, including swimming and playing if possible should do the trick. If not, they have a tendency to become lazy, again leading to weight gain and/or boredom. So owners beware - as powerful chewers, if boredom does strike a Labrador, they are likely to chew and ingest anything they can lay their paws on spelling not only a potential danger for the dog but an annoyance for the owner.