The versatile Labrador retriever is regarded as an ideal family dog due much to the breed's even temperament and high degree of trainability. The Lab has been the most popular dog in the United States, according to American Kennel Club registration statistics, since 1990. Labs are sporting dogs first registered with the AKC in 1917. The breed's willingness to please allows the Labrador retriever to excel in many activities, including work as service dogs, narcotic sniffers or search-and-rescue dogs.
History and Development
Contrary to what their name suggests, Labrador retrievers were developed not in Labrador but in Newfoundland. Bred to assist fishermen with hauling in nets and catching fish that escaped from lines, the dogs caught the attention of the Earl of Malmesbury, who imported one in the early 19th century and later gave the breed its name. In Britain the breed's skill as a gundog and retriever came to the forefront, and Labs' popularity increased. Labs became extinct in Newfoundland due to quarantine and a heavy dog tax; the breed in the United States today is descended mostly from British, rather than Canadian, ancestry.
Character and Temperament
Widely hailed as a family-friendly dog, the Labrador retriever has a happy, confident, outgoing and stable temperament that is considered a hallmark of the breed. Aggression toward humans or other animals is rare and is not tolerated by responsible caretakers of the breed. The Lab is eager to please its owner, generally easy to train, gentle, and adaptable to a variety of tasks.
Appearance and Size
At 21.5 to 24.5 inches tall at the shoulder, and weighing 55 to 80 lbs. at maturity, the Lab is a medium-size dog of strength and substance. The head is wide and moderate, with a muzzle half the length of the entire head. The Labrador has a scissors bite, in which the backs of the top incisors just touch the fronts of the bottom incisors. A level bite, with the teeth meeting evenly in the front, is permitted but not desired. A distinctive feature of the Lab is the tail, which is thick at the base and covered with the dense coat; it is often described as an "otter" tail.
Coat and Colors
The Lab's thick straight coat should feel dense and fairly hard to the touch. The undercoat serves to protect the dog from frigid water, cold temperatures and vegetation or ground cover when running through the fields. AKC-allowed coat colors are black, yellow or chocolate; all are solid colors with only a small white spot on the chest permitted by the breed standard. Yellow Labs range in color from cream to fox red, while chocolates exhibit various shades of brown coloring.
Like all dogs, Labradors have their share of health concerns. Hip and elbow dysplasia, common in medium and large breeds, are present to some degree in Labs. Tricuspid valve disease is a heart concern, and breeders and owners are supporting research to find a gene responsible for the disease. Similar research has resulted in the development of DNA tests for centronuclear myopathy, progressive retinal atrophy and exercise-induced collapse; these tests will allow breeders to minimize or eliminate the condition in the breed in future generations.
- Labrador retriever image by Wojciech Gajda from Fotolia.com