Origin: Canada and England
Type: Gun dog
Weight: Male dog – 29-36 kg
Female dog – 25-32 kg
Height: Male dog – 22.5-24.5 in / 57-62 cm
Female dog – 21.5-23.5 in / 55-60 cm
Appearance: Labradors are rather large dogs, powerful, with a muscular build and short, dense, water-resistant hair. This means that even in cold water they can stay relatively warm. Retrievers are mainly black, yellow or chocolate in colour and shed their fur twice annually. Their eyes are brown and hazel and their ears hang close to the head.
Temperament: Labradors are gentle, pleasant and outgoing. Thy do like to chew and don’t always confine themselves to edible objects!. Their ability to learn is highly developed so they are often trained to aid people and act as therapy dogs. Until the age of three Labradors can be energetic to the point of hyperactivity, but once mature they settle into the gentle nature for which they are best known.
Skills: The breed is used for search and rescue, detection, or to help blind people and people with autism. The Labrador’s coat makes them great swimmers which is one of the reasons why hunters train them for hunting waterfowl. Labradors also have great tracking abilities and have a long and proud history as military dogs.
Behaviour Toward Other Animals and Children: Labradors are the most popular breed for training as assistance dogs. Labs are also known as well-tempered family dogs, behaving with consideration towards with children of all ages, they’re also generally friendly towards other animals too, so an ideal choice for a household containing children, dogs and cats.
Common Health Problems: Notable health issues that often affect Labs are hip and elbow dysplasia, luxating patella, retinal atrophy, cataracts, corneal dystrophy and autoimmune diseases. Since Labradors like to eat many of them suffer from obesity too. This is one of the most serious problems for a Labrador as it can give rise to many other health problems.
Lifespan: Average 12 to 13 years.
Training your Labrador yourself is encouraged as it offers a great bonding opportunity. With an intelligent and eager to please student, such as the Lab, training is going to be fun and rewarding. Labs respond best to positive reinforcement methods that include consistency, praise and rewards.
Getting A Puppy Used to A Collar
Find a collar that fits well but is not too tight and uncomfortable for the puppy – make sure you can fit two fingers between the collar and the dog’s neck. A bit of a struggle when you’re trying to place the collar is normal but you should ignore it. Both trying to calm the puppy down or telling him off will encourage him to make even more fuss. You can distract the puppy and prevent the struggle by putting on the collar right before feeding or playing. A tasty meal or a favourite toy will certainly get his attention away from the collar. Don’t take the collar off when the puppy is fighting it; this will reassure him he’s right to do so. Wait for him to be completely relaxed and calm before you remove it.
Getting A Puppy Used to A Leash
Once your puppy is confident and comfortable wearing a collar, you can introduce the leash. Attach the lead to the collar and give your puppy some time to get used to it. Simply let him drag it around and supervise him carefully but pretend you don’t notice him if he chews on it or tries to remove it. If you consider it necessary, you can offer a distraction such as having him do some commands if he knows any, or food and toys as with the collar. If your puppy is afraid of the leash, try leaving it in areas where he generally feels comfortable, such as his sleeping, resting, or exercise areas. Leave it out of his reach so he won’t be able to chew on it. He needs to be able to see it but not chew on it, so he can get used to it and realise there’s nothing to be afraid of. You can do this a couple of weeks before placing the collar.
Once you place it, leave it for ten minutes every hour the first day, 15 – the second and 20 – the third, gradually working your way to half an hour and the pup being comfortable with it. Now that the puppy is confident and comfortable walking and dragging around the leash, it’s time for you to pick up the other end. Don’t try and lead the puppy immediately; instead simply hold the other end and follow the puppy, keeping the lead slack. Practise this for a few minutes every hour for a couple of days.
If you have already got the pup used to walking around, with you holding the leash and keeping it slack, it’s time for you to take the lead. Don’t pull or drag the dog by the leash, leave it up to him to follow you around. If you pull the leash, you’ll set a bad example and encourage him to do the same. And you don’t want an adult Lab pulling on the leash. At first, you can lure him with a treat to follow you around the room and when he goes in your direction, praise verbally, stop and give him a treat or a favourite toy before proceeding again.
Umbilical Cord Training
If your pup is used to the collar and leash, you can try one of the most effective housebreaking methods, called the umbilical cord training. It involves tethering your pup to you by the leash and having him around all the time. This gives you the chance to react immediately and prevent any mistake by taking the pup outside to relieve himself. This method eliminates any chance for your pup to make a mistake and every time he visits his relieving area, it’s a training opportunity you can take advantage of. It is suitable for people who can spend their entire day at home and don’t mind having the pup tied up to them. It’s easier than constant supervision and crate training and can help when constant supervision has failed and the dog has had some accidents.
If you get an adult untrained Lab, you will have to go through the same steps as with a puppy to housebreak him. After successful housebreaking, you can start teaching the basic commands, dealing with separation anxiety and obedience training. It is a good idea to work with your Lab’s natural instincts and incorporate retrieving and swimming into his training. A quick game of fetch will burn a lot of energy. Throw a ball or a stick at a short distance and use a consistent return command. When he brings back the toy, praise and give a treat. Eventually, you will be able to lay off the treats, as simply throwing the ball again will be enough of a reward. Gradually increase the distance and if he doesn’t bring back the toy, don’t chase him. He is having fun and he might enjoy you fetching him.
Swimming is innate to Labs and will provide an excellent training exercise. Some Labs will jump right in, others will be nervous and hesitant about it. Never force your dog into the water! Let him get used to having his feet wet in a shallow area and keep him on a long lead in the water until he’s confident. If he doesn’t go deep enough to paddle on his own, you can help him by holding one hand under his belly and the other on his back to level him.
With no written records pointing to the exact breeds involved in the development of the Labrador, the most probable ancestors of the breed can be traced to small water dogs which populated the area of Newfoundland. The prototype of today’s Lab is considered to be the St. John’s Water Dog which probably was descendant from the Greater Newfoundland dog or the French St. Hubert’s dog. Several descriptions from the first half of the 19th century describe the breed as smooth short-haired dogs with lank bodies and powerful legs, trained as retrievers in fowling, extremely quick in running, swimming, and fighting.
St. John’s dogs were used by fishermen to retrieve fish that fell off hooks and to help haul in swimming lines or fishing nets. Onshore, the dogs were cherished as loyal hunting companions and sporting dogs.
English sportsmen noticed the dogs’ retrieving abilities and kind disposition and imported a few dogs to England to use as retrievers in hunting. The Earl of Malmesbury was one of the first to have dogs imported and call them his Labrador dogs. The breed was lost in Newfoundland due to government restrictions and tax laws, but in England, the Malmesbury family and other English dog fanciers were instrumental in developing the breed. The 3rd Earl of Malmesbury and the 6th Duke of Buccleuch established a successful breeding programme at the Buccleuch Kennels in Scotland in the 1880s. The Buccleuch breeding program was the foundation of the modern working Labrador Retrievers we know today. The Labrador Retriever was recognised by the English Kennel Club in 1903.
Labradors come in 3 colours: black, yellow and chocolate. Black is the most well-known colour and is dominant in Labradors. Black was also the colour commonly preferred and bred, with yellow and chocolate pups occasionally appearing but often culled until recent times.
Since Labrador dogs originate from Newfoundland with Labrador situated just north-west, the name assignment is most probably a geographical association. There are also speculations which attribute the etymology of the name to the word labrador, Portuguese for yeoman and Spanish for workman, probably based on descriptions of the Labrador dogs as workaholics, eager to please their masters. Labradors have proven invaluable as assistance dogs, often trained to aid people with impaired vision, disabilities and autism. They are also used as therapy dogs and working dogs, trained to perform screening and detection for law enforcement and other official agencies.
Most of the health problems Labradors experience can be prevented by careful screening of breeding stock. If you are considering getting a Lab puppy, ask the breeder for health screening tests that the parents have passed. Responsible breeders have their breeding animals tested for a range of hereditary diseases. Labradors have a lifespan of about 10-12 years and are generally healthy. What you can do to ensure your puppy grows up to be a healthy happy dog is to:
- Watch what they eat. Labs love eating and would chew on almost anything they can find, which can be hazardous to their health. Remove any unknown objects from their mouths immediately and watch their calorie intake.
- Check their ears regularly. Labs are prone to ear infections as their floppy ears cover the ear canal, trapping warm moist air – the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Gently clean the ear flap with a soft cotton ball dampened in a pH-neutral ear cleaner, without poking the ear canal. If you notice bad odour, unusual build up or discharge, consult a vet immediately.
- Check the tail. Natural swimmers, Labradors use their tails as stabilisers in water and can sometimes overuse it. Check if it is sore or swollen and see a vet to prescribe an anti-inflammatory medication for relief.
- Listen to their voice. Middle-aged and senior Labs are prone to Laryngeal Paralysis — a disease that paralyses the muscles of the voice box and can be life-threatening. Signs are a muffled bark, noisy breathing and reduced exercise tolerance.
Labradors don’t require special diets but do need to have their calorie intake monitored. If you notice your Lab getting on the heavy side, you should:
- feed less and exercise more;
- use a low-calorie type of dog food;
- never leave out food or overfeed;
- establish a routine of two or more meals a day;
- feed treats and cooked food with moderation.
Commercial well-balanced diet of dry food is suited to all Labs and it’s a good idea to soak the kibble in water for about 10 minutes before feeding to make it more chewy and lessen the risk of bloat.
Labradors are low-maintenance dogs and besides the seasonal coat outgrowing twice a year, you will be fine if you just:
- brush daily to remove dead hair with a shedding blade, rake or rubber curry brush;
- bathe once every two months;
- brush teeth at two-three times a week;
- trim nails once or twice a month;
- wipe eyes and ears with a soft cloth or pet wipes.