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Lovely Labrador Retriever

Lovely Labrador Retriever

Labrador Traits

  • Reliable, trustworthy, the breed is well proven
  • Labs make wonderful family pets and have an affinity with children
  • Good natured and dependable
  • Great around other dogs and animals because Labs are social by nature
  • Always eager to please which makes Labs relatively easy to train
  • Low maintenance on the grooming front
  • Labs form strong bonds with their families, but can be taught to be left on their own

Factors to consider

  • Labs need a ton of mental stimulation and daily exercise
  • They shed copiously throughout the year with yellow Labs shedding more than black Labs
  • Labs can be overly enthusiastic and bouncy especially when young
  • They tend to be a little "mouthy" which needs to be gently curbed when young
  • Puppies can be naughty and boisterous

Breed Background

Labrador Retrievers have consistently been one of the most popular family pets both in Ireland and elsewhere in the world for decades thanks to trustworthy and proven natures. Labs are gentle, yet outgoing and always eager to please which in short makes them highly trainable. Being so intelligent, the Labrador Retriever thrives just as well in a home environment as they do working alongside their owners in the field.

Originally bred to retrieve nets for fishermen and then game and fowl for hunters, the Labrador Retriever excels when asked to work in difficult and challenging terrains. They are more especially suited to work in and around water, thanks to their alertness and excellent water-resistant coats. The Labrador Retriever loves taking part in canine sports and they excel at other activities which includes working as Guide and Assistant Dogs. For decades, the Labrador Retriever has consistently been at the top of the list as a preferred companion and family pet throughout the world.

How did the Breed originate?

The Labrador Retriever, as the name suggests, was originally bred for a specific purpose which was to retrieve nets for fishermen and the fact they have webbed paws makes them extremely strong and able swimmers. The breed was later used to retrieve game when birds were flushed out and shot by hunters which often took place in challenging environments which included watery marshlands.

The breed originates from the coastal regions of Newfoundland and is thought to have been created by crossing St John's Water Dogs with other smaller breeds of water dogs and possibly Mastiffs, a breed introduced to the country by Portuguese fishermen in the 16th and 17th centuries. The St John's Water dog is also an ancestor of the Newfoundland, a dog that is closely related to the Labrador with the Lab being the smaller of the two dogs and having shorter coats whereas the Newfoundland is the larger dog and one that was used to haul carts back in the day.

Labradors were first introduced into England in the late 1800's by the Earl of Malmsbury and Col Peter Hawker. Both men developed a keen interest in the breed and arranged for a selection of dogs to be imported to the UK. Many Chocolate Labradors are decendants of a Labrador Retriever called Buccleuch Avon, a dog that was gifted to the Duke of Buccleuch in Scotland in 1890 by the Duke of Malmsbury. Another dog called Malmesbury Tramp owned by Countess Howe, is among the main ancestors of the modern Labrador Retrievers we see today.

Breed numbers fell in Newfoundland for a combination of reasons, but thanks to the efforts of the first and second Earls of Malmesbury who, through their careful breeding programmes, continued to develop and improve the breed in the UK where they were to become some of the most highly prized as gundogs in the field.

Today, the Labrador Retriever remains one of the most popular breed in Ireland and for good reason, they are reliable, trustworthy and incredibly loyal making them the perfect family pet and companion to share a home with and they are notably extremely good when they are around children.

Did you know....

  • Are Labrador Retrievers a vulnerable breed? No, they are among the most popular both in Ireland and in other countries of the world
  • There is some thought that Labrador Retrievers might have been called St. John's dogs or they may have been called Lesser Newfoundlands. Other people think the breed was named after the Portuguese word "lavradores" or the Spanish word "labradores" which when translated means rural/agricultural workers. There is a village in Portugal called Castro Laboreiro where herding dogs are very similar looking to Labrador Retrievers too
  • Liver and golden Labs were known to exist way back in 1807 when they were referred to a chocolate or butterscotch-yellow coloured dogs
  • The first yellow Labrador to have been recognised was a dog named Ben of Hyde
  • Chocolate Labs became popular in the thirties
  • Gold and fox red Labradors were bred to reestablish the colours by breeders in England using Balrion King Frost and his grandson Wynfaul Tabasco, a dog responsible for being the biggest influence in re-establishing the colour fox red in the breed
  • All chocolate Labradors can trace their origins to eight bloodlines

What should a Labrador look like?

  • Height at the withers: Males 56 - 61 cm, Females 56 - 61 cm
  • Average Weight: Males 29 - 36 kg, Females 25 - 32 kg

The Labrador Retriever is a strongly built, medium to large size dog that is broad and deep through the chest and ribs. They possess strong and compact webbed feet which are perfect for the hours Labrador Retrievers generally enjoy spending in water and marshlands. Their coats are thick, dense and extremely water-resistant perfect for the environments they were bred to work in and they boast otter-like tails.

The Labrador Retriever's coat is short and, unlike a Golden Retriever, has no feathering at all, while the tail, a defining characteristic of the breed, is powerful and rudder-like being thick at the base before tapering away at the tip. Labradors are primarily a solid yellow, black or liver/chocolate in colour. However, the yellow variety ranges from a light cream to a red 'fox' colour, sometimes displaying a white spot in the chest area.

Eyes are usually brown or hazel and medium in size with most breeders claiming they express an even temper and intelligence the breed is renowned for. Ears are pendant shaped and while not too large or heavy, they hang neatly and close to a dog's head. A Labrador's nose can vary in colour according to coat colour with yellow dogs typically displaying a black nose and a Chocolate Labrador having a lighter brown one. However, it is not uncommon for nose colours of any Labrador to fade as dogs mature and this is not considered a fault in the show ring.

Their wide muzzle contains a set of strong teeth with a bite which should meet with scissor-like precision, enabling a 'soft mouth' in the field capable of holding game firmly, yet gently without causing any damage to any animals or birds they are sent to retrieve.

When it comes to their coat and colours, Labrador Retrievers can be the following which are all accepted breed colours under the Kennel Club breed standard:

  • Solid black
  • Solid yellow
  • Solid liver/chocolate
  • It is worth noting that the shade of a yellow Lab's coat can be light cream to a deeper red fox. Labrador Retrievers often have a white spot on their chests which is allowed under the Kennel Club breed standard.

How should a Labrador move?
Labrador Retrievers have a free moving gait and they cover a good amount of ground. When they move, it is always straight and true both in their forequarters and their hind quarters.

What does the kennel club look for?

Dogs that display any departure from the accepted Kennel Club breed standard would be thought of as a fault and depending of the seriousness of the fault could be considered as being detrimental to a Lab's well-being and health as well as their ability to work.

Male Labrador Retrievers should have two normal testicles that are fully descended into their scrotums.

It is worth noting that the size of a Labrador Retrievers as described by the Kennel Club are to be used as guidelines only and that Labs can be smaller or larger, they can also weigh a little more or a little less than stated in their breed standard which is to be used as a guideline only.

Does a Labrador Retriever Have a Good Temperament?

Labradors are famous for their easy going yet playful and intelligent natures, typically displaying a temperament that is equally at home in the field, in the show ring or in a home environment or as an assistance dog. Rarely displaying aggression, this ease of nature makes them unsurpassable, not only as pets, but also as assistance and working dogs. They thrive in a home environment where they receive plenty of attention, training, exercise and mental stimulation. They also benefit from knowing their place in the "pack" and looking up to their owners as the alpha dog and for leadership.

Labrador Retrievers need quite a bit of care and attention, but they are one of the best choices for first-time dog owners because of their affectionate and loyal natures. However, as mentioned above, they like to know who is "boss" and are much happier when they can look to their owners for direction.

They also enjoy playing interactive games which keeps them mentally stimulated and reduces the risks of any boredom related unwanted behaviours from developing. Lighter weight types of this lovely breed also do very well at canine sporting activities like agility and Flyball. The great thing about Labs is they just love to please and will do their level best to get things right, not only because of the reward they might get, but because they enjoy pleasing the people they love so much.

Labrador Retrievers are generally very good around strangers and people they don't know which is all part of their "friendly" and approachable nature. They are also very adaptable characters and will settle quickly once they have been well exercised in most environments they find themselves in. It is possible to keep a Lab in an apartment providing they are given plenty of daily exercise and not left cooped up for great lengths of time which could result in boredom setting in as well as a few unwanted behavioural issues.

Is a Labrador a good choice for first time owners?
Over the years and through careful and selective breeding, Labrador Retrievers have proved themselves to be trustworthy and reliable dogs both in the field and in a home environment which in short, means they are the perfect pet for first time dog owners.

What about prey drive?

When it comes to prey drive it would be better to break this down to include a few more of the breed's "drives" than just “prey”. In all dogs, drives can be strong and in Labs which includes things like food drive, social drive and many more. Dogs are born with specific "instincts" which they don't have to be taught. Drives on the other hand relate to "motivation" rather than the ability to do something.

Where Labrador Retrievers are concerned, it is a good idea to understand their natural instincts and their various drives because it helps better understand a dog and will also provide valuable information about the breed when it comes to training which is especially true when it comes to "unwanted" behaviours. With this said, a Lab might display some instincts or natural behaviours that are a bit anti-social which includes when dogs smell another dog's bum or when they find some interesting poo to sniff at which are just two things dogs like to do and which is all part of their natural makeup, but it would be best not to try to change these behaviours in the interest of the dog. Some of the various "drives" seen in Labrador Retrievers are as follows:

Pack Drive
Labs are known to have a high pack drive and as a result, they are social dogs by nature which translated to a home environment means they are never being happier than when they get to spend time with their families. This is one of the reasons why Labs are so very people-oriented. Having a high pack drive also means that Labs are easy to train because they like to "please" and thoroughly enjoy all the attention they get when they are being trained. They respond especially well to praise which makes positive reinforcement training all the easier. The downside to a dog having a high pack drive, is that they are more at risk of suffering from separation anxiety when left on their own.

Food drive
Labs also have an extremely high food drive even though they are regularly fed, they still instinctively feel the need to eat and therefore to "survive". Having a high food drive is one of the reasons why Labs are easy to train especially when there is a high value food reward at the end of a training session. The downside to them having a very high food drive, is that Labs can all too easily put on far too much weight which can seriously impact a dog's overall health and wellbeing. An obese Lab would enjoy a much shorter life span too.

Retrieve drive
Labs are renowned for having an extremely high retrieve drive which is why they have always been so highly prized by hunters as gundogs in the field. In the home environment, it’s why a Labrador loves to play interactive games where they are asked to retrieve things that owners and other people throw for them which often sees a person getting tired out well before a Lab would ever do.

Play drive
Labradors are playful by nature and more especially when they are well socialised from a young age. In fact, a well socialised Lab retains their playful natures well into their senior years. Labs take a long time to "grow up" which is usually when they are around 3 years old and in some dogs, this can be even later.

Defence drive
Defence drive in any dog is their need to respond to anything they find threatening. A dog's instinct in a situation they find dangerous is to fight or flee. A well socialised and happy Lab will defend their territory and their families if the need arises, but much less so than many other breeds. With this said, if a Lab finds themselves cornered in a stressfull and threatening situation, they will do their best to "flee" rather than "fight", but it always best to avoid putting any dog in this kind of situation and to recognise when a pet might be feeling threatened and take the necessary steps to resolve the situation.

Territorial drive
A well-trained Labrador will protect his territory, home and family by barking when anything happens that they find worrying. However, they will not bark every time someone comes to the door or when a door-bell rings. Any type of behaviour like this can be gently curbed when a Lab is still young so they grow into well rounded happy and confident adult dogs.

Guard drive
Labrador Retrievers are known to have this trait in them, but the good news is that with gentle training, the guard drive can be curbed so that a dog does not feel the need to guard their resources which includes food, toys, the kids and anything else a Lab might not want to share.

Herding drive
Labs are not known to have a strong herding drive and therefore it is not generally something an owner need worry about when sharing a home with a Labrador Retriever.

Hunting drive
Labradors have a high hunting drive which is a trait that's deeply embedded in their psyche. They have an incredible sense of smell which enables them to track down prey or anything else which includes a favourite treat that an owner has hidden away. Sharing a home with a Lab means satisfying their urge to hunt which can be done by interactive play and by hiding favourite toys around the home for a dog to find which is a game that Labs thoroughly enjoy.

Will a Labrador be playful?

As previously mentioned, Labs mature slowly and therefore they retain their puppy playfulness that much longer than many other breeds. They only fully mature when they are 3 years old, but they remain very playful right into their senior years.

What about adaptability?
Labrador Retrievers are highly adaptable dogs by nature although they are better suited to living in a house rather than an apartment because they enjoy being in the great outdoors so much.

Will a Labrador suffer from separation anxiety?

Labs form extremely strong bonds with their owners and families. As such, they do not like finding themselves on their own for too long and will suffer separation anxiety if they do. Anyone wanting to share a home with a Lab and who knows they will spend quite a bit of time out of the house when they are working would need to train their canine companions that being alone is alright and not a stressful situation to avoid them suffering from separation anxiety.

Will a Labrador bark too much?

Labs are not known to be "barkers" and typically only bark in certain situations which includes when they are at play.

Do Labrador Retrievers like Swimming?

Labrador Retrievers have a real affinity with water and will jump in whenever they get the chance. As such extra care must be taken when they are walked anywhere near more dangerous water courses just in case they decide to leap in.

Do Labs make good watchdogs?

Labradors are not the best choice when it comes to being a watchdog because they are so people-friendly. A Lab would bark however, if they feel their homes or families are being threatened in any way.

When should Labrador Retrievers be spayed or neutered?

A female Lab should be spayed when she is 6 months old and not beforehand. There are certain risks when female dogs are spayed at an early age. Male dogs too should be neutered when they are 6 months old and not beforehand because both testicles need to have fully descended before the surgery can be carried out.

Intelligence / Trainability

Labrador Retrievers are renowned for their kind and willing natures which in short, means they are relatively easy to train which is why they are such a popular choice of working gundog. They excel at many canine sports and this includes obedience competitions. They are renowned guide dogs as well as hearing dogs with the added bonus being that Labrador Retrievers genuinely enjoy taking part in this type of activity.

Labs love to please, they thrive on being praised and because they boast having such a high "food drive", using high value rewards makes their training that much easier. However, because Labs are so prone to putting on weight far too easily, it is best to keep food rewards to a minimum. They respond extremely well to positive reinforcement training, but do not answer well to any sort of harsh correction of heavier handed treatment which could have an adverse effect on a dog’s confidence and nature.

Will a Labrador Get on With Children and Other Pets

The vast majority of Labradors instinctively enjoy the company of children and being in a family environment. They are tremendously loyal, loving and trustworthy dogs that make for consistently dependable companions and family pets. If well socialised from a young age as puppies, they get on with people of all ages and other animals. They are considered one of the best disposed and affable of dogs on the planet which is just one of the reasons why they always figure high on the list of best family pet not only in Ireland, but elsewhere in the world too.