The Labrador Retriever is Britain 's most popular dog today. Equally suited to be a family pet or a highly trained working dog, the Labrador is an intelligent, good natured and an extremely biddable companion. You would have to go a long way to better the overall qualities of this lovable breed, but you must in return offer him the lifestyle that will ensure he is an active participant in your life.
As testament to his all-round ability and aptitude, the Labrador is chosen and trained in the following areas; Guide Dogs for the Blind, Hearing Dogs, Sniffer Dogs, Pets as Therapy, Search and Rescue Dogs, Police Dogs, Competitive Obedience, Agility, Gun Dogs, Retrievers, not to mention his increasing popularity as a family pet. An impressive list by anyone's standards!!
Originally from Newfoundland Canada, the Labrador was trained to jump overboard into the icy waters to haul fishermen's nets to shore. In the early 1800's sailing ships brought a few examples of the breed to English shores. Once here, they were quickly recognised for their intelligence and retrieving instincts and were put to work as gun dogs and retrievers. The Kennel Club of Great Britain first recognised the Labrador Retriever breed in 1903, and today more Labradors are registered with them than any other single breed.
Labradors have wonderful temperaments, as they are loyal, loveable, affectionate, brilliant with other animals and children, highly intelligent and very willing to please. They are hugely enthusiastic about life and love to play, especially in water, so their water resistant coat comes in handy here! These dogs are watchdogs and not guard dogs, as aggression rarely features in their character. They are more likely to lick a burglar to death than bite him, although they will let you know an intruder is there! Two 'types' of Labradors have evolved as a result of the breeding programmes for both show and field trial. Show lines are generally chunkier in stature and more placid in temperament than those bred for the field. Field trial lines tend to be lightweight, finer boned and more energetic, and they can be highly strung. Often the best pets come from the combination of both show and field lines.
A word of caution, if you work long hours or simply do not have much time, then do NOT consider a Labrador as a pet. Labradors crave attention and human company and need regular exercise. These elements are essential to a Labradors well being. A bored Labrador is a VERY DESTRUCTIVE Labrador . They have been known to eat their way through solid doors and demolish kitchen units in a matter of hours! All in the name of boredom. So, while they are to many people the ideal dog, they do need the right environment in which to flourish. This does not mean that they are only happy in the country with acres of land to run around on. A Labrador will do very well in the city too, if his owner spends time with him and takes him for regular walks. In fact he would happily live in a telephone box - but only if you are there with him too!!
The majority of Labradors in the UK are overweight! They don't need to be, but they are 'dustbins' when it comes to consuming anything edible and indeed consuming many things that appear not to be edible!! An overweight Labrador usually continues to be a happy chappie, but the excess weight puts strain on his heart and joints and will certainly shorten his life. So the solution is entirely in the hands of the owner. You should be able to easily feel his ribs but not see them. Always feed according to his age, size and exercise regime and use your eye to judge if you are over feeding or indeed underfeeding and adjust the ration accordingly. Sounds easy I know, but few follow this simple rule, which is a great shame for the breed.
Labradors are prone to hip displasia and there are three main culprits for this condition.
Firstly, genetics - Much has been done in recent years to eradicate this condition from the breed so ensure that you only buy a puppy from a reputable breeder who will have ensured good hip score results for both the sire and the dam. Secondly, over feeding which results in too much protein going into the system, creating excessive weight gain which results in excessive stress to the joints. And finally, the third cause is over-exercise (or stress) to the joints during the first 12 months. (See 'Puppies' for exercise regime during the first 12 months).
The other main weakness of the Labrador is eye disease. But again, a reputable breeder will have annual eye tests to ensure their dogs are not passing on this genetic defect.
Average life expectancy is approximately 12 years.
A well-trained Labrador is a happy Labrador . They are welcome to go to more places and therefore have a more varied and fulfilled life. Consider going to puppy/dog training classes in your area, the results will be very worthwhile. The classes are all about training you to train the dog, which is a very good investment of time. A boisterous untrained Labrador is a nuisance and usually gets shut out, which is a travesty for this sociable breed. Particularly as Labradors are such intelligent dogs and are therefore easy to train. Their motto in life is ' What can I do to please you?' It is a great sadness that so many male Labradors of between 12 and 18 months end up in rescue centres, simply because no one showed them the 'do's' and 'don'ts' at the appropriate time.
I should qualify the statement 'A well-trained labrador' by saying that this does not mean a highly trained dog that will jump to attention, like a professional working dog. It simply means trained to be socially acceptable in most situations. His skills must include coming back to you when called, as this could save his life one day, or prevent a serious road accident. He should also be able to go and lay quietly in his bed when asked to do so. He should not beg at the table or jump up at people. And he should travel quietly in the car and walk to heel on a lead. These skills alone will ensure him, and indeed you, a smooth passage in most social situations.
Lots of walks and lots of variety please! ( See 'Puppies' for exercise in first year ). But Labradors are so biddable and will get to understand that they get one or possibly two rather shorter outings on busy days, with lovely long walks in the country or to the beach on days when you have more time. This is where the Labrador will adapt so well to your lifestyle. But please don't expect him to be satisfied with the enclosure of your yard or garden, or a walk on a lead around the block 7 days a week, as he won't be. He will be bored and disruptive and let you know as much.
Puppies require lots of time, lots of patience and consistent training. All puppies - not just Labradors , but I'm sure you knew that already. They do however bring lots of love and lots of laughs!
Buy only from a breeder who has answered all of your questions to your total satisfaction. And be prepared to travel a distance or wait a few months to find a puppy from good healthy stock that has been reared in suitable surroundings. Time spent in planning for, and locating, a suitable puppy will be time well spent. Much better than the time, expense and heartbreak of dealing with a poorly raised, sickly puppy. Or one who has not been 'socialised' prior to coming to you, as this will almost certainly affect his confidence for life.
Puppy Check List
There is no need to take your puppy for walks during the first 6 months, as simply playing in the garden is quite sufficient exercise for this stage of development. From 6 months to 1 year, exercise with caution and do not allow a young dog to jump in or out of the car or, worst of all, chase a ball or stick. This run, stop, and turn activity really stresses the undeveloped joints and is likely to cause problems in later life.
Activity must be short and not too exuberant and the puppy should be left to rest as often and for as long as he wishes. This is particularly important if you have young children in the house who are tempted to wake the puppy up, or indeed keep him awake when he is tired. I cannot stress the importance of this enough, as a puppy will continue to play for as long as someone is prepared to play with him. It is therefore up to you to monitor his activity, particularly during the first few months and up to 12 months of age, to ensure healthy development of his bones during this important formative period.
Our thanks go to Judith Keating for her help in compiling this breed profile
This page was updated on 30-Jul-2005
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