by Edith Bryan
SPDR Labrador Retriever Representative

Labrador Retrievers are currently the most popular dog in the United States and possibly Canada. They are friendly, loving, energetic dogs who make wonderful family pets. One reason that Labs adapt so well as housedogs is because of their background as duck hunting dogs: when used for duck hunting, a Lab is expected to stay quietly in a duck blind for long periods of time followed by a short burst of vigorous activity as he plunges into the water and retrieves the ducks. Then he returns for another long quiet wait in the duck blind.

This means that Labs can be perfectly happy spending long quiet hours in the house as long as they are provided with several short periods of very active play. Because these dogs love to retrieve, fifteen minutes of chasing a tennis ball or bumper can provide them with suitable energy release. They also love to hike, jog and run with their owners. A short walk around the block will not provide enough exercise for a Lab.

Labradors are very people oriented dogs and are happiest when they are with their families. They do not adapt well to being outside-only dogs and tend to develop unfortunate behaviours such as barking, digging, destructive chewing and landscape rearrangement when they are left alone for long periods of time outside. They are not guard dogs although most will provide acceptable alarm barking when needed. Aggressive behaviour is a serious temperament fault in a Lab.

Labradors are a low maintenance dog. The only time a bath is needed is when they have encountered a skunk or rolled in something unspeakable! Weekly brushing with a slicker brush will keep their coats clean and shining. Frequent bathing will remove the natural oils from a Labrador coat and can result in a variety of skin problems. Labradors shed their heavy winter coat in the spring and owners can expect to find moderate shedding throughout the year.

Labradors come in three colours: black, yellow and chocolate. There is no difference in personality or temperament or activity level amongst the three colours and all three colours may occur in the same litter of pups. Labrador puppies love to chew and can be quite destructive unless provided with a constant supply of chew toys. They are slow to mature and are mentally and physically puppies until well over two years of age, regardless of their size. Both sexes make good pets. In general, male Labs are more dependent and love to stay close to their owners while females are a bit more independent. There are two types of Labradors, field lines and show lines. Dogs from field lines tend to be taller and more slender than the stock "English" show type. These field dogs often have a strong drive to retrieve and may have more energy than the typical family is prepared to deal with. Many Labs fall somewhere in between the two extreme types and make excellent pets.

It is sometimes difficult to tell if a Labrador-type dog from an unknown background is a "pure-bred" Lab. The main distinguishing features of Labradors are their coat, tail, head and temperament. A Lab coat should have a soft undercoat for warmth and a harsh outer coat to repel water. The coat should be solid black, yellow, reddish yellow or chocolate with a SMALL patch of white possibly on the chest. There should not be any white on the feet, face, etc. nor should there be any mingling of colours. The coat should be short and straight without any feathering: there may be a slight wave to the coat along the back.

A Labrador tail, often called an "otter" tail, should be very thick at the base tapering slightly to the end. It should never curl and is carried level with the body, not straight up or over the back. Labradors wag their tails vigorously and most Labrador owners have given up on coffee table decorations long ago! A Labrador head is somewhat square, with a rather short muzzle (although field type dogs have a slightly longer muzzle) and the ears ALWAYS hang down. Labradors should have an alert, friendly, kind expression reflective of their temperaments.

Labradors make wonderful pets as long as they are given basic obedience training. The importance of obedience training can not be emphasized too much! Most Labs are highly food motivated and training can usually be accomplished without the need for harsh corrections. Labs are very intelligent dogs and given appropriate guidelines for behaviour they can adapt to almost any living situation. An untrained Labrador is an unmitigated disaster! A well-mannered Labrador, however, can be a welcome addition to almost any family.

Reprinted from remarks made at King Co. Animal Control
Education Summit - July 7, 1995