Labrador Retriever

The labrador retriever is the most popular dog breed in the world. The labrador retriever is also one of the most intelligent dogs. They are suited to a wide variety of jobs including as hunting dogs, service dogs, and working dogs with law enforcement and the military.

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 is that of a hunting retriever.

Labrador Retriever

Labrador RetrieverAlternate Names:

Black lab, Yellow lab, Chocolate Lab, White Lab, golden lab, silver lab, blue lab, white lab, grey lab, Labby, Labbie, Labrador, Lab, English Labrador Retriever, Field Labrador Retriever

Significant Crossbreeds (Hybrids):

Afador (Afghan Hound/Lab), Labradoodle (Poodle/Lab), Golden Labrador Retriever or Golden Lab (Golden Retriever/Lab), Labradinger (English Springer Spaniel/Lab), and Labernese (Bernese Mountain Dog/Labrador)

Dog Class:

Sporting Dog, Service Dog, Working Dog


Labs are a medium-large but compact breed. Males should stand 22.5-24.5 inches (55.9-62.5 cm) tall at the withers and weigh 65–80 lb (30–36 kg). Females should stand 21.5–23.5 inch (54.5–60 cm) and weigh 55–70 lb (25–32 kg). Under UK Kennel Club standards, height should be 22–22.5 inches (55.9–57.2 cm) for males, and 21.5–22 inches (54.6–55.9 cm) for females.

Breed Standard:

The English Labrador Retriever (typically “show” or “bench”) and the American Lab (typically “working” or “field”) lines differ. In the United Kingdom, Labs tend to be bred as medium-sized dogs, shorter and stockier with fuller faces and a slightly calmer nature than their American counterparts, which are regionally often bred as taller, lighter-built dogs.

These two types are informal and not codified or standardised; no distinction is made by the AKC or other kennel clubs, but the two types come from different breeding lines.  Today, “English” and “American” lines exist in both the United Kingdom and in North America. Australian stock also exists; though not seen in the west, they are common in Asia. Other “local minor variants” may also exist in some areas.

According to the AKC standard, a Lab’s coat should be short and dense, but not wiry. The coat is described as ‘water-resistant’ or more accurately ‘water-repellent’ so that the dog does not get cold when taking to water in the winter. That means the dog naturally has a slightly dry, oily coat.

Labrador Retriever breed colorsAcceptable colours are chocolate, black, and yellow. A small white spot on the chest on black labs is the only acceptable variance from a solid colored coat, but it is not ideal. There is much variance within yellow Labs. Colours should be solid, though varying shades of yellow on the same dog are acceptable in yellow labs. There has been an increase in the demand for “white” Labs, which are simply Labradors with a very light yellow coat. Yellow and black labs are registered in very similar numbers; chocolate labs in smaller numbers.

Terms such as “golden”, “silver”, “blue”, “white” or “grey” as variants are not recognised. The term “Golden Labrador” has been used both as an incorrect term for yellow labradors of a golden shade, and also for any Labrador-Golden Retriever crossbreed of any color, including black. White is a light shade of yellow (officially referred to as ‘light cream’ or ‘pale yellow’ in the standard),and silver is either not recognised or registered as chocolate (officially registered by the AKC as chocolate labs with variant colour). Claims that some “rare” variants exist or have been verified by DNA testing are widely considered to be a scam.

The head should be broad with a pronounced stop and slightly pronounced brow. The eyes should be kind and expressive. Appropriate eye colours are brown and hazel. The lining around the eyes should be black. The ears should hang close to the head and are set slightly above the eyes.

The jaws should be strong and powerful. The muzzle should be of medium length, and should not be too tapered. The jaws should hang slightly and curve gracefully back.

The body should be strong and muscular with a level top line. They should have an appearance of proportionality. They should be as long from the shoulders back as they are from the floor to the withers.


12 to 13 years, or a few years longer with good medical care.

Litter Size:

Average litter size is 8. Labrador pups should not be brought home before they are 7–10 weeks old.


The labrador retriever is one of the most intelligent dogs. They are suited to a wide variety of jobs including as hunting dogs, service dogs, and working dogs with law enforcement and the military. 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 is that of a hunting retriever.

Common working roles for Labradors also include roles as guide dogs for the blind, general disabled-assistance, and carting. Approximately 60–70% of all guide dogs in the United States are Labradors.

During a 2001 emergency, a labrador retriever named Endal is believed to be the first dog to have placed an unconscious human being in the recovery position without prior training, then obtaining the human’s mobile phone, “thrusting” it by their ear on the ground, then fetching their blanket, before barking at nearby dwellings for assistance. A number of labradors have also taught themselves to assist their owner in removing money and credit cards from ATMs without prior training.

Health Concerns:

Labs are somewhat prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, especially the larger dogs, though not as much as some other breeds. Hip scores are recommended before breeding.

Labs also suffer from the risk of knee problems. A luxating patella is a common occurrence in the knee where the leg is often bow shaped.

Eye problems are also possible in some Labs, particularly progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, corneal dystrophy and retinal dysplasia. Dogs which are intended to be bred should be examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist for an eye score.

Hereditary myopathy, a rare inherited disorder that causes a deficiency in type II muscle fibre.

There is a small incidence of other conditions, such as autoimmune diseases and deafness in labs, either congenitally or later in life.

Labs are sometimes prone to ear infection, because their floppy ears trap warm moist air. This is easy to control, but needs regular checking to ensure that a problem is not building up unseen. A healthy Lab ear should look clean and light pink (almost white) inside. Darker pink (or inflamed red), or brownish deposits, are a symptom of ear infection.

The usual treatment is regular cleaning daily or twice daily (being careful not to force dirt into the sensitive inner ear) and sometimes medication (ear drops) for major cases. As a preventative measure, some owners clip the hair carefully around the ear and under the flap, to encourage better air flow.

Labradors also get cases of allergic reactions to food or other environmental factors.

Special Nutritional Needs:

Labs are often overfed and are allowed to become overweight, due to their blatant enjoyment of treats, hearty appetites, and endearing behavior towards people. 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 Lab owner must carefully control his/her dog’s food intake to avoid obesity and its associated health problems. A labrador retriever that weighs 100 pounds or more is considered obese.

Lack of activity is also a contributing factor. A healthy Lab should keep a very slight hourglass waist and be fit and light, rather than fat or heavy-set. Excessive weight is strongly implicated as a risk factor in the later development of hip dysplasia or other joint problems and diabetes, and also can contribute to general reduced health when older. Osteoarthritis is commonplace in older, especially overweight, Labs.


Low. An occasional brushing is usually adequate for a labrador retriever. Because they love to swim, and their coat has a semi-water repellant layer, they don’t require regular bathing.


The labrador retriever breed tends to shed hair twice annually, or regularly throughout the year in temperate climates. Some labs shed a lot, however individual labs vary, and most are average shedders. Lab hair is usually fairly short and straight.

Temperament Traits

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 (a Labrador can carry an egg in its mouth without breaking it).

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 behavior). 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 make an excellent family dog 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. Females may be slightly more independent than males.

Energy Level:

Medium to High. Labrador retrievers are fun-loving, boisterousness and have a lack of fear that may require training and firm handling at times to ensure it does not get out of hand – an uncontrolled adult can be quite problematic. Females may be slightly more independent than males.

Labradors mature at around three years of age; before this time they can have a significant degree of puppyish energy, often mislabeled as being hyperactive. Labs often enjoy retrieving a ball endlessly and other forms of activity (such as agility, frisbee, or flyball). 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.

Confinement Issues:

Labradors are not especially known for escaping. They do not typically jump high fences or dig. Because of their personalities, some Labs climb and/or jump for their own amusement. As a breed they are highly intelligent and capable of intense single-mindedness and focus if motivated or their interest is caught. Therefore, with the right conditions and stimuli, a bored Lab could turn into an escape artist.

Labradors as a breed are curious, exploratory and love company, following both people and interesting scents for food, attention and novelty value. In this way, they can often “vanish” or otherwise become separated from their owners. They are also popular dogs, and at times may be stolen. Because of this, it’s a good practice to have them microchipped, and attach your contact information on their collar.

Good with Children:

Extremely good with children, even small childen. The labrador retriever is a gentle, patient animal. This is the most popular breed in the world. In both the UK and USA, there are well over twice as many Labradors registered as the next most popular breed. If the comparison is limited to dog breeds of a similar size, then there are around three to five times as many labrador retrievers registered in both countries as the next most popular breeds, which are the German Shepherd and Golden Retriever.

Watchdog (bark) / Guard Dog (aggresiveness):

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.

Good Hunter / Retriever / Tracker:

Labrador retrievers were bred to retrieve birds, especially water fowl. They have an especially soft mouth.

Ban Areas:

None known.


The early Labrador Retriever originated on the island of Newfoundland. 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 breedings by early settlers in the mid to late 15th 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 Portuguese fishermen sometime 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.

A number of St. John’s dogs were brought back to the Poole area of England in the early 1800s, 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. The dogs Avon (“Buccleuch Avon”) and Ned given by Malmesbury to assist the Duke of Buccleuch’s breeding program in the 1880s are usually considered the ancestors of all modern Labradors.




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