Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retrievers possess many excellent qualities, making them one of the world's most popular dogs. Labradors are loving, people oriented dogs, eager to please human companions. They are very intelligent and one of the easier breeds to train. Labs are very sweet with kids, which makes them wonderful family dogs. Their loving character makes them perfectly suited as guide and assistance dogs, but they also excel in search and rescue teams or narcotics detection with law enforcement. These muscular and athletic dogs have plenty of energy and love to work, especially in and around water. The Labrador's short, easy to care for coat comes in three colors: yellow, black, and chocolate brown.

Labrador lying on leaves
Labrador Retriever. Original image by user Frederic Dewulf on Flickr. CC BY 2.0.
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Key Breed Stats

Alternative names: The Labrador Retriever breed is also commonly known by the names Lab, Labrador.

Popularity: Very popular

Life expectancy: 10 - 12 years

Breed group: Sporting Dogs (AKC), Gundog Dogs (KC), Retrievers, Flushing Dogs and Water Dogs Dogs (FCI)

Size: Large

Male Female
Height 22 - 24 in 22 - 24 in
Weight 64 - 79 lbs 53 - 71 lbs

Coat: Short

Colors: Black, Brown, Yellow

Key Breed Facts

Shedding: Very heavy shedder

Grooming requirements: Minimal

Good with children: Definitely

Good with other pets: Definitely

Intelligence / Trainability: Very high

Exercise needs: Very high

Tolerates being alone: Not really

Hunting drive: Low

Suited as Guard dog: Average

Sensitivity: Extremely sensitive

Good for novice owners: Average

Hypoallergenic breed: No

Drooling: Moderate

Barking: Frequent

General health: Average

Cost to keep: High

History

As the name suggests, Labrador Retrievers were originally used to retrieve game after it had been shot by a hunter in challenging (and wet) environments. Originally from Newfoundland on the northeastern coast of Canada, Labradors are thought to be a mix of Newfoundlands with other smaller breeds of water dogs and were once known as St. John’s Water Dogs. Their exceptional intelligence and their ability to retrieve anything in the water and their intelligence impressed the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury who introduced the breed in the UK in the late 1800’s. He developed the breed as we know today and renamed them Labrador Retriever

Appearance

The Labrador Retriever is a strong, medium-sized dog. Typical traits are the short, dense water-resistant coat, the short “otter” like tail. They are well-known for their friendly and inviting expression.


  • Clean cut head with powerful jaws, with no fleshy cheeks, well-proportioned muzzle

  • Muscular body, with a well developed but not exaggerated fore chest. Broad muscular legs

  • Thick, medium length tail

  • Short, straight and very dense coat, with a softer water resistant undercoat

  • Colors: black, chocolate and yellow. White and Fox Red are not considered as separate colors, but rather different shades of yellow

Temperament

Intelligence/ Trainability

Labrador Retrievers are intelligent dogs and known for their kind and willing nature. Training them is quite easy, which makes them an ideal dog for novice owners. They respond well to positive reinforcement training but will not respond well to harsh training methods.
With the correct amount of training, they will excel in obedience classes and in all the canine sporting activities like agility, flyball, tracking, dock jumping, and of course as working retrievers.
Labs have such a good reputation that some people think they don’t need any training at all. Don’t make this mistake – Labradors are large, high energy dogs and like any dog, they require a certain amount of boundaries and training to be happy, well-adjusted companions and working animals.
If you’re not teaching them the rules, they will make their own, and you probably won't appreciate their decisions.

Activity

Some people consider Labrador a hyperactive breed. They are certainly quite active as a puppy, but most of them will become calmer as they get older. However, they continue to be lively, active dogs. The Labrador is a working dog, bred for physically demanding jobs. If he’s not stimulated he will likely show his boredom and frustration with unpleasant behavior like barking, digging or chewing.
As the owner, you need to prepared to spend a considerable amount of quality time with your dog. A short walk around the block is not enough exercise for this high maintenance dog.
Part of your quality time should be physical exercise – like long walks, biking, swimming, running. The other part should be mental stimulation like fetching balls, agility, treasure hunts, teaching new tricks, new toys, retrieving and working.
Exercising your Labrador puppy requires a few special considerations. Large breeds grow quite fast and have an increased risk of hip dysplasia. Avoid exercising on slippery surfaces and climbing stairs under the age of 3 months. Exercise is needed, however, as strong muscles will increase the stability of the hip joint. Outdoor exercise on soft, uneven grounds seems to have a lower risk. Try to avoid exercise that involves running, jumping and playing on hard surfaces until the age of 2.

Independence

A Labrador loves and needs to be with its family. If left alone for too long they can become anxious or bored. They shouldn't be left alone for long periods of time.

Protective

Labradors are wonderful dogs but do not make good watch/protection dogs. Your friendly Lab will happily welcome any new person into your home, even if they are an intruder.

Living Conditions

[NL] Labradors are quite versatile and adapt easily to most environments. They can be kept in an apartment if you provided sufficient exercise. They remain pretty big dogs, and quite active, and can take up quite a bit of space in your home.

Children and Other Pets

Most Labradors like children and even enjoy the noise and commotion of busy family life. Labradors and children share the same zest for life and in general get along very well. The Labrador's enthusiasm, playfulness and gentle nature make them one of the best family dogs.
That said, extra care should be taken, especially with young children (under the age of 6):


  • Labradors are large, high-energy dogs that can easily knock down children while playing

  • Young children may unintentionally invade the personal space of your dog and are unable to interpret the warning signals of your dog

  • Dogs consider the family as a pack, and may consider the younger children as subordinates, and may try to correct them

  • Young children are very time-consuming. They may take away from the time you have to spend with your dog and he may become bored or frustrated.

In general, Labradors are tolerant of children. However, no dog, whatever the breed, should be left unattended with young children.

A Labrador can live peacefully with other dogs and pets if he is correctly socialized as a puppy. Special care needs to be taken when introducing a new puppy to your other pets. It needs to be done slowly and very careful to make sure that everything goes smoothly and that it is a calm, positive experience for the puppy.

Health

The average life expectancy of a Labrador Retriever is between 10 - 12 years. Like all breeds, the Labrador Retriever is prone to certain hereditary health conditions. A responsible breeder will only breed with dogs that have been cleared for these conditions. A Labrador Retriever is prone to these diseases:
  • Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) (hereditary)
  • Myopathy (hereditary)
  • Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia (TVD) (hereditary)
  • Epilepsy (hereditary)
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) (hereditary) : Progressive retinal atrophy refers to a group of inherited degenerative eye disorders, which lead to loss of vision. PRA affects both eyes simultaneously and is not painful More info»
  • Cataracts (hereditary)
  • Osteochondrosis Dissecans (OCD) (hereditary)
  • Elbow Dysplasia (hereditary)
  • Canine Hip Dysplasia (hereditary) : Canine hip dysplasia (CHD) is a very common genetic orthopedic trait, which is affected by environmental and dietary factors. Canine hip dysplasia occurs when there is an abnormality in the development of the hip joint. More info»

Grooming

Labradors are low maintenance dogs. However, they still need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition. They need to be brushed once a week, to keep the shedding under control (their short coat makes it quite easy). This especially true in Spring and Autumn when they shed the most.

Labs can often have a “doggy smell”. They need a bath every two months to keep them clean and smelling good (it is ok to wash more often if your Labrador enjoys rolls in mud or something foul-smelling). Make sure to use a dog-specific shampoo that maintains the skin's natural PH balance.
Ears should be checked regularly for dirt, redness or a bad smell that could indicate an infection. Clean your dog's ears when needed with an ear cleaner made specifically for dogs. Nail clipping won't be necessary if your dog walks/runs on concrete/stone surfaces. However, long nails will require clipping and all puppies should be introduced to nail clipping early on so that it will be easier when they are older.

Labradors love chewing which helps to clean their teeth. Give them sturdy, safe dental chew toys or bones to chew on. The chewing prevents the buildup of tartar on their teeth. Consider brushing their teeth with a soft toothbrush and special dog toothpaste. All puppies should become accustomed to having their mouths and teeth checked regularly.

Feeding

Large breeds like Labradors eat a lot. As high energy dogs, they need to be fed a high-quality diet, with a healthy blend of fats, proteins, carbohydrates and minerals. Recommended daily amount: 2.5 to 3 cups of high-quality dry kibble, divided into two meals. (How much your dog needs depend on his size, age and activity level – a very active dog will need more than a lazy one. It also depends on the quality of the food - higher quality food will be digested more easily so you will need to use less).

Special attention is needed when feeding puppies: use food specifically designed for large breed puppies. Adult dog food contains too much calcium, which will increase the risk for hip and elbow dysplasia. Don’t overfeed your puppy, as overweight puppies also have an increased risk for dysplasia. Puppies need to be fed 3 to 4 times a day. This might seem like a hassle, but it will help when it comes to housebreaking. A puppy’s digestive system works very fast. Five to 30 minutes after his meal, he will need to go out to do his business.

Just like any other breed, they need to have free access to fresh, clean water at all times.

Older dogs, like puppies, might need a diet adapted to their needs. In some cases, it is advisable to feed them smaller portions 3 to 4 times a day.

When changing your dog’s diet, it’s recommended to do it gradually over a period of a few days to avoid stomach problems.

Avoid exercise 1 hour before and after the meal, to reduce the risk of gastric torsion (bloat).

Make sure that your dog is not becoming overweight. Obese dogs suffer can suffer from all kinds of health conditions. If you can’t feel the ribs when you move your hands over his sides, he needs to be put on a diet.

Costs

The price of Labrador puppy can vary depending on source – but count on 700-900 US$ (and more) if you buy one from a respected breeder.

Estimated costs of the first year: : $700 to $3500 for the first year (excluding the acquisition cost)


  • Veterinary care: $100 – $450

  • Vaccines/parasite treatments: $100 – $400

  • Spay or neuter: $150 – $250

  • Food: $150 – $400

  • Miscellaneous expenses, including collar, leash, crate, bowls, toys, grooming supplies, boarding and obedience training: $200 – $2000


Estimated costs next years: $450 to $1600 per year

  • Veterinary care: $100 – $550

  • Vaccines/parasite treatments: $100 – $400

  • Food: $150 – $400

  • Miscellaneous expenses: $100 – $300


These figures are estimates only (and do not include additional expenses related to illness, injury, travel), and veterinary costs are likely to increase when your dog ages.