What are Labrador's like?
Labradors are the world’s favourite dog breed, and these furballs are famous for their good nature and suitability as a family pet. Labs have a friendly, dependable, and loyal personality that anyone would dream of in a dog, as well as an adorable expression and typically doggy dog appearance. If you picture a dog, you probably picture a Lab!
Labradors have been the top dog around the world for decades, and this pooch is the most popular purebred dog in the UK, USA, Canada, and Australia, and well within the list of favourite breeds elsewhere such as India.
It’s easy to see why the loveable Lab has won over the world, with their sweet expression, playfulness, and their gentle and affectionate personality. Plus, they’re good with kids, friendly towards people and dogs, and super easy to train.
Their trainability and patient personality, and eagerness to work all make Labs a super candidate for dogs with jobs. They’re the breed most often used as guide dogs, but they’re also used as sniffer dogs, assistance dogs, search and rescue dogs, and even therapy dogs.
One job they aren’t suited for is being a guard dog because these butterballs greet most strangers like old friends. Don’t be fooled by their size either because Labs are convinced they’re still puppies well into adulthood and will try to crawl onto your lap despite being a bit too big, which is usually very endearing but it does demand patience from their parents.
Some people expect Labs to be couch potatoes and are used to seeing them look pretty chunky. However, Labs are actually an active breed that needs plenty of daily exercise and enrichment, and they’re well suited to active homes.
Their intelligence and desire to work mean they can get bored easily, which is why they need so much activity to keep them happy. However, time spent with a Lab is joyous and you’ll soon be won over by their bubbly, bouncy personality.
Given their straight, short fur it can be a surprise to Labrador parents that their dog sheds quite a lot and needs regular brushing. So if you’re looking at getting a Lab be prepared to share your house with hair! It seems a small price to pay though when you get a loyal, loving canine companion.
The creation of a new retriever type dog began in the early 1800s, but the name “Labrador Retriever” only became widely used in the 1870s, and they didn’t become a recognised breed until 1903.
There isn’t a huge heap of history behind the world’s favourite dog. They were created from a hodgepodge of working breeds to create a new gundog that would be brill at fetching, and that’s about all there is to it.
After WW2 owning pets became more accessible and Labradors took off in popularity because of their dependable, kind nature and sturdy but sweet look.
By the 90s they were Britain’s favourite dog and it stayed that way until the last year or two, but now the Frenchie is trying to take their crown as top dog.
WHERE DO LABRADORS COME FROM?
Labradors were created here in the UK when St John’s Water Dogs were brought to England and bred with English hunting dogs to create a new retriever breed.
St John’s Water Dogs are from Canada, which is why Labrador Retrievers earned their name. But despite their name, Labradors are actually from Newfoundland and not Labrador. The St John’s Water Dogs were also called “Lesser Newfoundlands” and were bred as a smaller variety of the Newfoundland.
Even further back, Labs and other Canadian breeds like the Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever and the Newfoundland are believed to be descended from European dogs taken over by settlers.
These dogs were eventually bred to serve specific purposes. In the case of the Labrador’s forefather, the St John’s Water Dog, that was to be a fisherman's helper that was a super swimmer that could fetch fish and haul nets.
WHAT WERE LABRADORS BRED FOR?
As the name suggests, Labrador Retrievers were bred to be excellent at retrieving game for their humans on hunts. They were created by crossing water dogs and hunting breeds to create a new breed that was an excellent swimmer able to retrieve ducks and geese from the water, but also able to fetch pheasants and other game on land too.
That means that Labs were bred to be super swimmers, and given their Newfoundland and St John’s Water Dog lineage it’s no surprise. Their thick double coat acts like a diving suit, keeping them warm and waterproof.
They even have webbed feet to help them swim, and that thick, otter tail makes a perfect rudder to help them steer in the water. Given they were bred to work in the water, it’s no surprise that Labs absolutely love it and go diving straight into rivers, ponds, or anywhere wet at any opportunity.
The St John’s Water Dog had a good retriever instinct too, which was honed by mixing hunting dogs in to make the Lab. Being bred to retrieve does mean Labradors were born to fetch. It can lead to a bit of an oral fixation, so your Lab might always seem to be carrying something around, or chewing, or mouthing at something.
Like many gundogs, Labradors needed to have a lot of stamina and willingness to work, so they can sometimes seem tireless and need a lot of exercise and activity to keep their sharp minds stimulated. It does also mean they’re eager to please and easy to train though!
Labradors are a large breed, and females are usually a little shorter and lighter than males. The key stats for Labradors are:
|Average height (Withers):||56-57cm||55-56cm|
|Lifespan:||10-12 years||10-12 years|
LABRADOR RETRIEVER VS GOLDEN RETRIEVER
Both these breeds are intelligent, gentle dogs of a similar size. Both were bred to retrieve game for hunters and so they are active and intelligent breeds, but Labradors are known to be slightly more boisterous and bouncy.
The main difference when looking at the two is that Golden Retrievers have a long, wavy coat that comes in shades of gold ranging from cream to red. Meanwhile, Labs have a short, straight coat that can be either yellow, black, or chocolate. Both dogs shed, but the Golden’s long coat means that they need more regular brushing than a Lab.
In terms of history, the breeds differ because Labradors were bred in England from St John’s Water Dogs crossed with English hunting breeds to create a hardworking retriever that could work on land and water.
Meanwhile, Golden Retrievers were bred in Scotland to create another land and water retriever, but they had a lot of different breeds in their ancestry including several extinct breeds like the St John’s Water Dog, Tweed Water Spaniel, and the Russian Tracker Dog.
FACTS ABOUT LABRADOR RETRIEVERS
THEY’RE SURPRISINGLY SPEEDY
Labradors can reach speeds of 12mph in as little as 3 seconds!
COMPLETE YOUR COLOUR SET
Believe it or not, you can get all three colours in a single litter of puppies, regardless of what colour the puppy parents are. This is because there are two different genes responsible for their colour.
FAMOUS FURRY FACES
Labs are the world’s most popular dog, so it’s no surprise there are a few famous ones. Perhaps the most famous of all is the Andrex puppy. Meanwhile, you might be surprised to find that Brian the dog from Family Guy and even Clifford the Big Red Dog are also Labradors. Otherwise, I’m sure we’ve all read or seen Marley and Me, which is all about a naughty Lab.
As for famous owners, Bill Clinton owned a Lab called Buddy while he was president of the United States, and Prince Charles, Prince William, and Meghan Markle are all fans of the breed. There’s a whole pack of other celebrity owners including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Oprah Winfrey, Robert Downey Jr, and Anne Hathaway.
Believe it or not, there is a world record for the most plastic bottles recycled by a dog. A yellow Lab named Tubby is the proud owner of the achievement, having helped his owner recycle over 26,000 bottles in 6 years. Tubby would fetch the bottles on his daily walkies and by the time he passed away in 2016, it’s believed he helped recycle a whopping 50,000 bottles!
THEY’RE GOOD BOYS AND GIRLS
The Dickin Medal began as an honour for brave army animals but nowadays, even civilian animals can be awarded one for bravery in their duty. It’s basically the Victoria Cross for our furry friends.
Out of the 34 Dickin Medals awarded to dogs, 4 have been awarded to Labs. Technically, it’s 5 medals, but one is a joint medal awarded to Salty and Roselle. They were two guide dogs that successfully led their owners out of the World Trade Center during 9/11.
Who can’t resist a scrunchy Labrador puppy? Thanks to the Andrex puppy, we’ve all seen one of these adorable puppers and if you’re lucky enough to bring one home, you’ll soon find out how affectionate and playful they are.
Looking after a Labrador puppy will involve a lot of training and socialisation to get them used to their new home and the world around them, but it means they’ll grow up to be a confident canine. Given their retriever instinct, Lab puppies can be big chewers and mouthy, so you should expect some puppy chewing and learn how to manage it.
But when it comes to looking after your own Labrador puppy, what else should you expect?
WHEN DO LABRADORS STOP GROWING?
In terms of size, it's hard to exactly guess when a Labrador puppy will stop growing. However, it's usually by the time they are around 2 years old. Some Labs will reach their adult height between 6-12 months, but they will usually look quite lanky and spend the next few months filling out and developing muscle. Given these dogs are prone to obesity, it’s important to make sure they don’t fill out too much!
Labradors are known to have an extended puppyhood. In other words, these pooches stay playful and puppyish for a lot longer than most dogs, and it can take 3-4 years before they mature mentally and mellow.
Even then, many Labs keep a playful personality all their life. That’s great news if you’re looking for a loving, playful friend but not if you’re hoping to have a calm, chilled out canine.
ARE LABRADORS EASY TO TRAIN?
One of the reasons Labradors are so pup-ular is because they are easy to train even for first-time parents. Because of their working background, Labradors are biddable, love having a job to do, and are eager to please, so they’re always keen to learn.
They are also in the top ten most intelligent dog breeds, so they make super students. And if that wasn’t enough, Labs are known for their greedy nature and that strong food motivation means they’ll do almost anything for a treat.
ARE LABRADORS EASY TO HOUSE TRAIN?
Since Labs are smart and easy to train, they're also fairly easy to housetrain. You must remember that puppies can only hold in everything in for 1 hour per month of their age. So if you have just brought your 2-month-old Lab puppy home, they can only go 2 hours between potty breaks. Be patient, they’ll soon get the hang of toilet training!
The methods of training you use to toilet train your dog can affect how long it takes to house train your pooch. For example, using puppy pads can slow things down. You can find out more in these tips on toilet training.
Everyone recognises a Lab, and I bet they’re probably the breed that comes to mind whenever someone asks you to think of a dog!
One of the Lab’s standout features is their kind expression since their eyes should show intelligence and “good temper” and are often paired with that adorable Labrador smile. A purebred Lab’s eyes are always brown or hazel.
They have broad skulls, wide noses, and strong jaws. Field or working Labs or “American” Labradors look leaner with narrower heads. All Labs have drop ears which are set quite far back on their heads and fold forwards to hang beside their cheeks.
Labs are sturdy dogs that should look strong and balanced, whilst being covered in thick, short, straight fur. They should appear square, meaning they’re about as tall as they are long. Your pooch should have a broad chest - caused by well-sprung ribs, not fat - and a straight back that leads into that famous “otter tail”.
Their tail is thick at the base and tapers a little at the end, and is covered in very dense fur which makes it look round. Labradors have strong legs and big, round, webbed feet. That’s right, they even have webbed feet with skin between their toes to help them swim better!
Labrador colours are limited to three distinct tones, black, yellow, or chocolate. Yellow Labs come in a range of shades varying from pale cream, to straw, gold, and even red.
The breed standard Labrador colours are:
| Yellow | Chocolate (Liver) | Black |
Most dogs are one solid colour, however, it is within the breed standard to allow a small patch of white on their chest or on the backside of their front pasterns. (That’s the bit on their front legs just above their feet.)
There is also a “Dudley” colouration, which are yellow Labs with pink noses and skin around their eyes. Most yellow Labs have dark noses and skin, but this often fades to a paler brown or pink as they age.
Originally, all Labradors were black. Chocolate Labs were first registered in 1892, and yellow Labs appeared in 1899.
FOX RED LABRADORS
Fox red Labradors, also called ruby Labradors, are a beautiful red colour. However, they are just a dark variation of a yellow Labrador. These darker tones were the original yellow Labrador colours, but over time pale, creamy shades of fur became more pup-ular.
This increase in demand for pale yellow pups meant that red Labradors became more uncommon, but the fox red Labrador has seen a big rise in pup-ularity recently!
By their breed standard, the Labrador temperament is marked by their kind nature, eagerness to please, and their intelligence. As gundogs, they were bred to enjoy working in partnership with their humans and love having a job to do for them. This means as family pets, they’re easy to train and obedient buddies.
Their kind nature and their love of people mean these dogs are generally gentle and loving companions. However, they are puppyish well into adulthood and are an active breed, so they are very playful and can become boisterous if left unchecked.
Labrador Retrievers a stable and steady dog in personality and appearance and make dependable canine companions. Generally, Labs are neither aggressive nor shy. Proper training and socialisation also help to maintain the even-temperament of these dogs.
There are some superstitions that chocolate Labs are harder to train than other colours, but there’s no scientific evidence of this. There have been several studies into how Labrador temperaments vary according to their colour, but this will likely be due to other genes a dog is likely to inherit when bred for colour.
Training, socialisation, and lifestyle also have a huge impact on their character. So far, there are no findings to say there is a significant difference in Labrador temperament based on their colour, but plenty of anecdotes.
ARE LABRADORS GOOD WITH CHILDREN?
Labradors have become the quintessential family dog since they’re loving, easy to train, and get on with everyone. Because they are playful and affectionate, Labradors are great with children and are fun for kids to be around.
You should still supervise children and dogs together, and make sure all youngsters know how to safely interact with a dog. (Even the most patient dog in the world can get upset at having their tail pulled or their ears yanked.) Plus, playtime between your babies and fur babies can become boisterous, which could lead to accidental injuries.
CAN LABRADORS LIVE WITH CATS?
Labradors usually get on well with cats, dogs, and other pets. They are friendly and adaptable dogs and don’t go looking for trouble, but are sociable and keen to play. If your Lab is introduced to your other pets as a puppy, they should grow up and be quite amicable with other animals, including cats.
ARE LABRADOR RETRIEVERS AGGRESSIVE?
Generally, no, Labradors are not aggressive and they’re well known for being friendly, affectionate, and gentle dogs. Labs make terrible protectors and guard dogs because they will usually greet intruders with love and licks, rather than barks and bites. To a Lab, other dogs and strangers are just friends they haven’t met yet.
Of course, temperament varies between Individual dogs and some can develop behavioural issues. And even gentle Labs can become protective of their home or humans if they feel threatened.
Labradors do top the list as the breed responsible for the most personal injury claims, but it’s important to remember that Labs top that list just because there are far more of them around than any other breed.
In 2019, there were over 35,000 Labrador registrations, meanwhile the 5th most popular breed the Springer Spaniel had fewer than 9000. If that’s the difference in Lab numbers within the 5 most popular breeds, imagine how greatly Labradors outnumber less common breeds like Pointers!
The more dogs around, the higher the chance of accidents or injury involving them, just because they are the bree you’re more likely to encounter. Labs are the most popular breed in the UK and have been for years, and luckily they are not aggressive and famous for being super friendly.
DO LABRADORS BARK A LOT?
Labradors will bark when they need to, but they’re not a particularly vocal dog and they’re definitely not yappy. Most Labs will bark if someone is at the door, but usually, they’re pretty quiet and only bark if they have a reason to.
CAN A LABRADOR BE LEFT ALONE?
Labradors can be left alone for a few hours or half a day without any issues. The problem with leaving a Labrador alone is that they get bored easily and when they’re bored, they chew, and can develop destructive behaviour. They aren’t particularly prone to separation anxiety, so most Labs are happy to spend some time on their own.
Some individual dogs might be okay home alone while you’re at work as long as they have a good walk before you leave. But, other individuals might get anxious. How long you can leave your dog will vary on their own personality and level of training.
It’s a good idea to have someone come home at lunchtime to check on them, no matter how confident they are on their own. Providing plenty of toys can help to keep them occupied, and stuffing a Kong with a healthy dog food like Pure and freezing it is a great distraction for a lonely dog, and your Lab will be licking the tasty treat for ages. If there’s one thing to distract a Lab, it’s food!
LIVING WITH A LABRADOR RETRIEVER
WHERE CAN LABRADORS LIVE?
Labradors are definitely a dog suited to a home with a garden. They are big dogs with a lot of energy, so they need the room to play. (Not least to give those thick tails room to wag without knocking anything over!)
That’s not to say they can’t live in a decent-sized flat, but you would need to make sure you provide plenty of daily exercise and enrichment to make up for the lack of space.
HOW MUCH EXERCISE DO LABRADORS NEED?
Because Labradors were bred to be working dogs that spent hours in the field helping their humans, they do require a lot of exercise to stay in the best mental and physical condition. Labs require about two hours of exercise a day, which means they’re best suited to an active household.
It’ll also help to prevent your pooch from piling on the pounds, which is important in the case of obesity-prone Labs.
Labradors are intelligent and energetic dogs, and all this exercise and play is needed to keep them mentally and physically stimulated. A dog that isn’t getting enough stimulation and activity can become bored, which often leads to bad behaviour.
HOW LONG DO LABRADORS LIVE FOR?
Labs live a little less than average for dogs, and a Labrador lifespan is 10-12 years. Neutered Labradors live for almost a year longer than intact dogs, and Labs at a healthy weight live 1.8 years longer than overweight ones. That’s not to be sniffed at, since all puppy parents wish they could have their dog around for longer!
However, chocolate Labradors have shorter lifespans and live 10% shorter lives than black or yellow Labs, so they normally only reach 10 years old but it’s not clear why they have shorter lifespans.
WHAT HEALTH PROBLEMS DO LABRADORS HAVE?
Labradors can be prone to a few health problems that range in severity. But a healthy lifestyle with a nutritious diet and lots of exercise should keep them fit as a fiddle.
Common Labrador health problems include:
- Ear infections
- Degenerative joint diseases
- Eye issues
Labradors can suffer from otitis externa, which is an inflammation of their ear canal. It’s a common problem in all dogs, particularly ones with floppy ears. It’s not usually life-threatening, but untreated cases can require surgery to resolve.
If you suspect your pup has an ear infection, take them to the vet for a checkup and they’ll probably clip their ears and give them a thorough clean. Depending on what caused the infection, your dog might be given some medication to help. If it was caused by an allergy, your dog might need to try hypoallergenic dog food.
One of the biggest problems amongst Labradors is obesity. Since Labs love to eat, and might not be getting enough exercise to burn all that food off, it’s easy for them to become overweight which has a huge impact on their health and wellbeing.
An obese dog lives almost 2 years less than normal, are they’re more at risk of cancer and other conditions, plus the extra weight increases the risk and severity of joint disorders. Labs are already prone to poorly joints and aren’t very long-lived, so keeping them lean makes a huge difference to their health and longevity.
Many people think these dogs need to look stocky but it isn’t the case. They should have barrel ribs, but they shouldn’t look like a barrel. On a well-sized Lab, you should still be able to see a waist and an abdominal tuck.
And when stroking their chest, you should still be able to feel their ribs slightly and not just fat. If you’re unsure about your dog’s weight, your vet will be able to help.
Most people are aware that Labradors are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, which can also lead to arthritis. Hip dysplasia is when the ball and socket joint of the hip doesn’t fit properly, while elbow dysplasia is when a puppy’s elbow doesn’t develop properly.
It’s important that Labs are screened for these conditions and only healthy dogs are bred so puppies are less likely to inherit them. Joint conditions can be made much more severe if a dog is overweight, so keeping your Lab active and eating a healthy diet helps to prevent joint problems and reduce their severity.
Not all tumours are cancerous and some, such as Lipoma, are just fatty lumps and aren’t a huge danger to your dog’s health. Lipoma is quite common in Labradors, as are other skin masses.
They are also prone to neoplasia, which is an uncontrolled growth of cells that may or may not be cancerous.
As well as being screened for hip and elbow dysplasia, Labradors should have their eyes checked before they are bred because they can develop progressive retinal atrophy, a condition which causes gradual sight loss over 1-2 years until a dog is completely blind.
PRA is quite uncommon, but it isn’t the only problem to keep an eye on. Labs can also develop conjunctivitis, which is relatively common in dogs and is easily treated.
HOW TO GROOM A LABRADOR
Although Labs have a lovely smooth coat, they do require regular brushing. You should brush your Labrador at least once a week, but in the moulting season, you should brush them at least every other day. This will help to remove any dead hair from their coat and minimise shedding.
Labradors are a double-coated breed and so clipping them isn’t recommended, as it can damage the undercoat which helps them to regulate their temperature. Clipping will also mean they will lose the water-repellent quality of their coat.
Instead, it’s best to stick to just regularly brushing your Labrador to remove dead hair and dirt, whilst keeping that thick coat in perfect condition. A deshedding brush will work wonders on your Lab, helping to keep their fur sleek and shiny whilst stripping out all their dead fur so there’s less to shed around your house.
As well as brushing your pooch every week, you’ll need to make sure your Labs eyes, ears, and claws are all clean and healthy whenever you groom them. You should also brush your Labs teeth a few times a week to help prevent oral problems like plaque, periodontal disease, and bad breath.
DO LABRADORS SHED?
Labradors are definitely shedders, and you’ll find fur falling out of them year-round. They do shed significantly more during the moulting season though, which means there will be more flyaway fur around your home in spring and autumn.
This is perfectly natural and is because your Lab just needs to shed their winter coat to grow a cooler summer coat, or vice versa. But it does mean you’ll need to brush your pup a bit more and hoover more often. Regularly brushing your pooch and making sure they eat a high-quality diet will help to minimise shedding.
ARE LABRADORS HYPOALLERGENIC?
Labradors are not hypoallergenic and this breed will shed fur and dander around your home. However, a fur or pet dander allergy can vary depending on breeds, so it’s worth spending some time with a Lab to see if they suit your sensitivities.
There are no 100% hypoallergenic breeds but some dogs, like the Cockapoo, are more suited for allergy sufferers because they hardly shed. Plus, their thick curly coat tends to keep fur and dander trapped inside it instead of falling out and all over your floor.
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