Labrador Retriever Breed Guide

Breed Group:
Sporting Dogs

Middle Age: 5 years

Geriatric Age: 10 years

Life Span: 10 to 14 years

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Labrador Retriever Background Information & History

The Labrador Retriever breed—also known as St. John dogs or Labradors (Lab for short)—originated in Newfoundland, Canada. In the 18th century, Labs served as working-class dogs for the island’s fisherman. They were smart enough to ‘retrieve’ unhooked fish and strong enough to swim long distances. But their use didn’t stop there, as these lovable dogs were often pets that would come home with their owners after work.

Despite this, their actual heritage remains a question mark. Some think they’re a product of the Newfoundland Dog and other local water dogs, others think they originated in Europe and were later exported to Canada. What we do know is that the second Earl of Malmesbury—after having the dogs shipped to England in the early 19th century—was the first to refer to them as Labradors.

Crazy enough, the Labrador—which happens to be America’s most popular dog—almost went extinct at the end of the 19th century. If not for their survival in England, there’s a possibility their lineage would’ve ended over 100 years ago. But in the beginning of the 20th century, the Labrador Retriever was imported to the US from England, and the breed thrived even amidst the world wars.

The AKC recognized the dog in 1917, and by the end of the century it was #1 in the AKC’s most popular list—which it remains to be today.

Labrador Retriever Temperament & Personality

The Labrador might just have the best temperament and characteristics of any canine; there’s a reason why they’ve been the #1 dog in America (and other countries) for so long. Full of enthusiasm and energy—which comes from an endless reservoir—for life, these dogs are huge lovers. They love their family, other dogs, other people, and just about everything. They’re incredible therapy dogs because of their naturally positive aura.

On top of that, they’re levelheaded, intelligent enough, and extremely gentle with children. Unless poorly trained, they’re going to be extroverted and often the center of attention, although they’re not narcissistic and simply love to give love. They’re also eager-to-please, which makes them prone to be trainable, being that they want to do what’s right in their owner’s eyes.

Do note, these dogs have a considerable amount of energy that is amplified in their youth, and require a lot of time on the owner’s behalf. If kept alone for long periods of time, they can be destructive and develop separation anxiety.

Training a Labrador Retriever

By in large, the Labrador Retriever behavior is highly trainable. They’re eager-to-please attitudes and moderate intelligence means one, they’re willing to learn, and two, they’re competent enough to do so. However, a common mistake made is that the glorified personality of Labs often makes an owner jaded to the training process. In simpler words, they don’t think the Lab needs much training because they’re so saintly. That couldn’t be further from the truth. While these dogs are docile, they need to firm guidance.

Labs are people-loving and often sensitive to their owner’s moods, and thus the reward system works best in their training process. Use positive reinforcement. Your Lab will naturally look to you as a leader, so instead of domineering the situation as the alpha of the household, befriend your lab and don’t hold too firm of a hand.

Early socialization is important for this breed but not for the reason you might think. They’re naturally extroverted—and although they have varying amounts of energy—they’ll often need to be taught the appropriate energy level to have in certain situations. Puppy classes are necessary, and a yard is good for Labs to release their energy.

Exercise Requirements for Labrador Retrievers

One of the most dynamic factors of the Labrador is that their need for activity fluctuates based on the dog. While some are robustly active and need tons of time outdoors, others need a walk or two and just want to be at home all day. However, the rule of thumb is that Labrador Retrievers need about 30 minutes of exercise per day, with that amount usually doubled in their puppy years.

This exercise can be a walk, a run around the yard, playing fetch, or any activity that has your Lab moving more than they would in the home. It’s important that you also stimulate their intellect when exercising, which is why games are important. While these aren’t herding dogs, they’ll still need a bit more than just physical stimulation.

Also, Labs are glutinous creatures (in terms of their food intake). Especially in their later years, they will lose their motivation to exercise. It’s important for the owner to not only be aware of this but to work towards keeping their Lab active.

Labrador Retriever Lifespan

A Labrador Retriever life expectancy is typically anywhere between 10-14 years.

Breed Popularity of a Labrador Retriever

The Labrador Retriever ranks #1 on the AKC’s most popular list of 155 dog breeds. These unique, lovable canines are truly the perfect companion for owners across the entire spectrum. They’re incredibly well-tempered, have outgoing and downright lovable personalities, and are fantastic with children. They say ‘you can’t go wrong owning a lab’ and they’re completely right. They’re the perfect blend of an athletic companion, amazing home dog, and a protector of the household.

Labrador Retriever Food Recommendations

As a general rule of thumb, a Lab should eat around 2-3 cups of high-quality dry food per day. As previously stated, Labradors can be extremely glutinous when it comes to their food intake. They love to eat. This needs to be taken into consideration, as an obese Labrador Retriever is more prone to experience health complications.

As with all dogs, age, weight, metabolism, and activity level are all factors that need to be considered when creating a balanced diet. Make sure your Lab isn’t gaining weight on their current meal plan, and if they are, reduce the portions of food and up their exercise. They will need serious motivation in their later years.

Note: because of how much they eat, it’s important to buy the best food available, as they’ll need the proper nutrients.

Grooming a Labrador Retriever

The Labrador’s coat—a double layered coat with short slick hair on top, and a softer undercoat—is relatively easy to care for. The coat comes in three colors: black, yellow, and chocolate (or brown). Despite the ease of their grooming process, do expect a Labrador to shed. They’ll need their coats brushed daily to avoid shedding—this can be done with a brindle or lab-specific brush.

They should be bathed 4-5 times annually, but only bathe as needed. These dogs tend to roll around a lot, meaning they can often get into mud or the smelly outdoors, and thus produce odor. If that’s the case, bathe them. But be sure to use a shampoo that won’t strip away their coat’s natural oils.

Brush their teeth 2-3 times a week to avoid tartar and bacteria buildups. Trim their nails, as you can’t expect a Lab to wear them down naturally. A routine checkup should be done weekly on their ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and bodies. This checkup should be done for inflammation, redness, parasites, or infection (often most commonly signified by bad odor).

Begin the grooming process and checkups in the puppy years, in order to accustom the canine to the process in the future. It will make them easier to care for in adulthood.

Are Labrador Retrievers Good with Children?

Labrador Retrievers are splendid with children. Levelheaded, gentle, and patient, you won’t ever have to worry about a Lab’s aggression or withdrawal in the presence of young ones. All they want to do is love the little ones, and they do it well. Perhaps the only place that’ll be problematic is when a Lab plays—as especially when they’re puppies—they can often forget how big they are. This means they can play too rough with the children and accidentally hurt them.

To that—it’s important (with any dog) to introduce the children and canine early on, and teach them how to interact with each other. Once the boundaries have developed, it should be smooth sailing from then on out.

Labrador Retriever Health Problems

While Labradors are generally healthy and live longer than most breeds, they’re not immune to health complications. That’s why it’s incredibly important to ensure that your breeder can provide health clearances for both the parents. These clearances should be administered by certified establishments. The conditions that can afflict a Labrador are as follows:

Hip Dysplasia: this condition occurs when there’s displacement between the thigh bone and the hip joint. It can cause immense pain, difficulty walking, lameness in the leg(s), and at worst immobility. This condition can be screened for, however, thus it’s important to ensure the parents of your puppy have been properly examined. Labrador health issues are as follows:

Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD): this is an orthopedic condition that results from underdeveloped cartilage. It can affect the shoulders, elbows, and hips. It’s basically the extreme tightening of the joint, which restricts mobility and induces pain, and at worst ‘locks it up.’There are treatments available for this condition, and it’s often linked to administering too much growth formula in the Labrador’s early years.

Cataracts: Cataracts in canines are the same as those that affect humans. They’re cloudy spots on the eye lens that eventually spread and ‘clot’ the eye. In some cases, they only cause discoloring and don’t affect vision. In others, they can cause blindness. The impact of the condition varies depending on each individual case. There are also treatments available including medication and surgery.

Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA): this condition occurs when the photoreceptors in the back of the eye begin to fail. At first, it affects only nighttime vision. Meaning, the Lab will have a harder time seeing in the night. As it progresses, eventually it was affect their vision in daylight, and unfortunately, cause complete blindness. While there aren’t any real treatments for PRA, it can be diagnosed well before the dog is blind, meaning there’s time for both the owner and the canine to adjust.

Other Resources:

National breed website: National Labrador Retriever Club
Rescues: Lab Rescue of Southern California