Breed Profiles


Labrador

The Labrador Retriever (also Labrador, Labby, or Lab for short) is one of several kinds of retriever, a type of gun dog. The Labrador is the most popular breed of dog (by registered ownership) in the world. It is also the most popular breed of assistance dog in the many countries, as well as being widely used by police and other official bodies for their detection and working abilities.

Appearance

Labradors are a relatively large breed. The majority of the characteristics of this breed, with the exception of colour, are the result of breeding to produce a working retriever.

The breed tends to shed hair twice annually, or regularly throughout the year in temperate climates. Some labs shed a lot; however, individual labs vary. Labrador hair is usually fairly short and straight, and the tail quite broad and strong. The otter-like tail and webbed toes of the Labrador Retriever make them excellent swimmers. Their interwoven coat is also relatively waterproof, providing more assistance for swimming.

There are three recognised colours for Labs: black (a solid black colour), yellow (anything from light cream to gold to "fox-red"), and chocolate (medium to dark brown). There are no such things as silver or golden Labradors, a common mistake for the Yellow variant.

Puppies of all colours can potentially occur in the same litter.

Temperament

Labradors are a well-balanced, friendly and versatile breed, adaptable to a wide range of functions as well as making very good pets. As a rule they are not excessively prone to being territorial, pining, insecure, aggressive, destructive, hypersensitive, or other difficult traits which sometimes manifest in a variety of breeds, and as the name suggests, they are excellent retrievers. As an extension of this, they instinctively enjoy holding objects and even hands or arms in their mouths, which they can do with great gentleness. They are also known to have a very soft feel to the mouth, as a result of being bred to retrieve game such as waterfowl. They are prone to chewing objects (though they can be trained out of this behaviour). The Labrador Retriever's coat repels water to some extent, thus facilitating the extensive use of the dog in waterfowl hunting.

Labradors have a reputation as a very mellow breed and an excellent family dog (including a good reputation with children of all ages and other animals), but some lines (particularly those that have continued to be bred specifically for their skills at working in the field rather than for their appearance) are particularly fast and athletic. Their fun-loving boisterousness and lack of fear may require training and firm handling at times to ensure it does not get out of hand— an uncontrolled adult can be quite problematic. Labradors mature at around three years of age; before this time they can have a significant degree of puppyish energy, often mislabelled as being hyperactive. They are considerably "food and fun" oriented, very trainable, and open-minded to new things, and thrive on human attention, affection and interaction, of which they find it difficult to get enough. Reflecting their retrieving bloodlines, almost every Lab loves playing in water or swimming.

Although they will sometimes bark at noise, especially a degree of "alarm barking" when there is noise from unseen sources, Labs are not on the whole noisy or territorial, and are often very easygoing and trusting with strangers, and therefore are not usually suitable as guard dogs.

Labradors have a well-known reputation for appetite, and some individuals may be highly indiscriminate, eating digestible and non-food objects alike. They are persuasive and persistent in requesting food. For this reason, the Labrador owner must carefully control his/her dog's food intake to avoid obesity and its associated health problems.

The steady temperament of Labs and their ability to learn make them an ideal breed for search and rescue, detection, and therapy work. Their primary working role in the field continues to be that of a hunting retriever.

Health

The Labrador is a healthy breed with relatively few major problems. Notable issues related to health and wellbeing include: Inherited disorders such as hip and elbow dysplasia. A luxating patella is a common occurrence. Eye problems such as progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, corneal dystrophy and retinal dysplasia are also possible. Because their floppy ears trap warm moist air, they can be prone to ear infections. This is easy to control.

Due to their blatant enjoyment of treats, hearty appetites and endearing behaviour towards people, they can easily become overweight.

History

The early Labrador originated on the island of Newfoundland, now part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. The breed emerged over time from the St. John's Water Dog, also an ancestor of the Newfoundland dog (to which the Labrador is closely related), through ad-hoc breedings by early settlers in the mid to late 16th century. The original forebears of the St. John's dog have variously been suggested to be crossbreeds of the black St. Hubert's hound from France, working water dogs from Portugal, old European pointer breeds and dogs belonging to the indigenous peoples of the area. From the St. John's Dog, two breeds emerged; the larger was used for hauling, and evolved into the large and gentle Newfoundland dog, likely as a result of breeding with mastiffs brought to the island by the generations of Portuguese fishermen who had been fishing offshore since the 1400s. The smaller short-coat retrievers used for retrieval and pulling in nets from the water were the forebears of the Labrador Retriever. The white chest, feet, chin, and muzzle characteristic of the St. John's Dog often appears in Lab mixes, and will occasionally manifest in Labs as a small white spot on the chest or stray white hairs on the feet or muzzle.

The St. John's area of Newfoundland was settled mainly by the English and Irish. Local fishermen originally used the St. John's dog to assist in bringing nets to shore; the dog would grab the floating corks on the ends of the nets and pull them to shore. A number of these were brought back to the Poole area of England in the early 1800s, then the hub of the Newfoundland fishing trade, by the gentry, and became prized as sporting and waterfowl hunting dogs.

The first and second Earls of Malmesbury, who bred for duck shooting on his estate, and the 5th and 6th Dukes of Buccleuch, and youngest son Lord George William Montagu-Douglas-Scott, were instrumental in establishing the Labrador breed in nineteenth century England.

There is some confusion in the naming of the early breed; the Labrador Retriever was originally called the St. John's dog (from which it emerged), or lesser Newfoundland, but these were also considered distinct breeds by other sources. Other origins suggested for the name include the Spanish or Portuguese word for rural/agricultural workers, Portuguese "lavradores" or Spanish "labradores," and the village of Castro Laboreiro in Portugal whose herding and guard dogs bear a "striking resemblance" to Labradors.



 
 
 
 

Behaviour Tip

 
When a dog is presented for behaviour problems to a veterinary ethologist or accredited animal behaviourist it will usually have multiple disorders...
   
 
   
 

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