The Labrador Retriever – A Dog for All Reasons

A Labrador Retriever dog standing on a podium at the dog show.


The Labrador Retriever – A Dog for All Reasons

The Labrador Retriever is truly the “dog for all reasons.” From a truly, adaptable, trainable, and healthy companion, the Labrador Retriever excels in many areas as a Field Dog in both performance competition and in the duck and upland field, in Obedience, in Agility, as a Service Dog for the visually impaired and the physically challenged, for veterans suffering from PTSD and individuals with autism, and for law enforcement. The Labrador can do it all.

The Labrador Retriever was first recognized as an individual breed by The Kennel Club in England in 1903.

Where the Labrador initially evolved is open to some question. The more common theory is that the Labrador was developed in Newfoundland where it was described as the Lesser Newfoundland. An additional theory is that the breed was developed by Portuguese fisherman and was encouraged by the Portuguese and English fishing fleets. The Cão de Castro Labarato, a Portuguese dog, greatly resembles today’s modern Labrador Retriever. Whichever theory is correct is difficult to ascertain, but one fact remains and that is that this breed is born with a strong desire to retrieve. These dogs worked hard, retrieving fish in cold water as well as waterfowl that had been downed.

Labrador Retriever - A dog for all reasons book cover.

The Labrador Retriever was first recognized as an individual breed by The Kennel Club in England in 1903. The Labrador Retriever Club in England was formed in 1916. The American Kennel Club first registered a Labrador in 1917, a Scottish import named Brocklehirst Nell. The first licensed Field Trial held by AKC was in December 1931. The Labrador Retriever Club Inc. was incorporated in the State of New York in October of 1931. Dr. Samuel Milbank was the club’s first President. The first specialty show was held in New York City in May of 1933. The objectives of the Club were as follows:

  1. To maintain, foster and encourage a spirit of cooperation in the breeding, owning and exhibiting of purebred Labrador Retrievers by individuals, organization, kennel clubs, show clubs and specialty clubs.
  2. To formulate, define, ascertain and publish the standard type of Labrador Retriever dogs and to procure said standard type and to induce the adoption of said standard type by breeders, judges, dog owners, dog show committees and others and to endeavor to have said standard type recognized by all, so that the Labrador Retriever breed shall be judged by the said standard.
  3. To encourage, foster, help, aid and assist to protect, advance and increase the interest of people in the Labrador Retriever dog breed.
  4. To offer prizes, create publicity and give and support shows where Labrador Retriever dogs are exhibited.
  5. To do all such acts and things as are incident or conducive to the premises and generally to do all acts and things and to exercise all the power now or hereafter, authorized by law to carry on.
  6. The said corporation is to promote any of the objects of said corporation, all of which shall be conducted without pecuniary profits.

Currently, in the United States, you can find multiple types of Labrador Retrievers, although all are assigned the same Breed Standard.

The first Breed Standard for the Labrador Retriever was published in the Labrador Club Yearbook 1931-1944. The height was listed as Dogs: 22½-24½ inches; Bitches: 21½-23½ inches. The prescribed height has virtually not changed in 50 years. The Standard was revised in 1994 in response to a request from the American Kennel Club to bring the Standard into conformity with AKC’s recommended format for standard order and content, use of standard terminology, and to remove any ambiguities that existed in the current Standard. A disqualification was added for dogs and bitches over 12 months of age that vary from the prescribed heights by more than one-half inch. Docking of the tail or altering tail carriage also became a disqualification. Other disqualifications include: a thoroughly pink nose or one lacking in any pigment, eye rims without pigment, any color or combination of colors other than black, yellow or chocolate.

Currently, in the United States, you can find multiple types of Labrador Retrievers, although all are assigned the same Breed Standard. You will hear people say they want an “English” Labrador, i.e., a heavier-bodied, usually heavier-coated, stocky dog, or an “American” Labrador, a leaner, slimmer dog with typically less coat. The differences in appearance parallel the differences between a Quarter Horse and a Thoroughbred.

A photo of a Labrador Retriever looking at the water.

The energy levels of these two types of dogs are also different. The English dogs tend to be lower key, slower, and less active and may demonstrate lower drive in the field. The American dogs are typically very active, athletic, powerful, and often demonstrate very strong retrieving and swimming desire. There is an additional type of Labrador advertised as a “British” Labrador. These dogs are typically smaller, with slicker coats, and are heralded as requiring minimal training. Their heritage is from the British and Scottish gamekeepers, where the dogs work as non-slip retrievers in competitions which are very different than field events in the United States.

The correct colors of the Labrador Retriever are black, yellow, and chocolate. A small white spot on the chest is permissible but not desirable. Yellows are self-colored, meaning they will have shadings of yellow throughout the coat that may be lighter than the base color of the dog. Chocolates range from a milk chocolate color to such a dark chocolate that it appears nearly black.

Typical Labrador temperament is friendly, outgoing, and social with people and with other dogs. The Labrador should not be considered a guard dog but may alert the owner to events or changes in their environment. There is no inherent difference in trainability, excitability or intelligence between the three colors. Labradors do shed—a good brush and a good vacuum cleaner are necessities with a Labrador in the house. Labradors are retrievers, and as such are likely as puppies to pick up, move, and sometime shred objects. Most Labradors love the water—around them, to swim in, to dig in, and to play in.

Hallmarks of the breed are a soft, pleasing expression of the eyes, indicating affability and kindness, a thick otter tail coming off the back, and a beautiful head with enough muzzle to allow for retrieving. The coat is designed to protect the dog in the icy cold water that it originally worked in. This breed does need exercise to control its enthusiasm, but typically is not crazy-wild. Many Labradors are prone to excessive weight gain—they love to eat, so calories need to be controlled.

The breed is healthy overall. Average lifespan is poorly documented but appears to be about 12 years. The recommended health screening tests prior to breeding and for prospective owners to ask about are as follows: Orthopedic Foundation for Animals certification for hip, elbow, and the CAER (Companion Animal Eye Registry) eye examination, the DNA test for the dilute gene and genetic tests for the prcd form of PRA (a heritable eye disease resulting in blindness), for Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC – a heritable neuromuscular disorder resulting in episodes of collapse) and Centronuclear myopathy (a heritable neuromuscular disorder resulting in poor muscle development and weakness).

The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc participates in CHIC, the Canine Health Information Center, which offers breeders the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to canine health by voluntarily listing the results of health tests which are considered important by the parent club. Committed breeders will be able to provide documentation of health tests to prospective buyers and other breeders.

The Labrador Retriever is truly the dog for all reasons and is capable of serving his owner with devotion, ability, and willingness.

  • Frances O. Smith, DVM, PhD, DACT became a Diplomate of the College of Theriogenology in 1986. Since that time, she’s been in private practice as a small animal practitioner specializing in canine reproduction until her retirement in March of 2022. Her expertise in genetic counseling, chilled and frozen semen, and reproductive infertility of the male and female canine are known throughout the United States. Dr. Smith frequently speaks to breed groups, veterinary associations, and the general public. She is the author of many book chapters, articles, and general information publications. Dr. Fran Smith grew up in a military family that bred German Shepherd Dogs. Her commitment to veterinary medicine began at seven years of age and was confirmed in her high school yearbook, which stated her goal was the patter of forty little feet (not human). Dr. Smith obtained an Associate of Arts from Normandale Community College and was accepted in the College of Veterinary Medicine in 1976. She obtained a Bachelor of Science Degree in 1978 and a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine in 1980. Dr. Smith was offered a residency in Smith Animal Reproduction at the University of Minnesota in 1980 where she worked with Dr. Shirley Johnston and Dr. Ray Zemjanis. She completed her residency in 1983. Her PhD was completed in 1984 with a thesis titled, “Cryopreservation of Canine Semen – Technique and Performance.” In 1986, she became a Diplomate in the American College of Theriogenology, the reproduction specialty. While working on her thesis, Dr. Smith developed the technique for the surgical insemination of frozen semen. Dr. Smith breeds Labrador Retrievers under the registered kennel name Danikk. She purchased her first Labrador Retriever in 1970 and joined the Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. in November of 1987, becoming a Board Member in 1994. Dr. Smith is the President of the Labrador Retriever Club, Inc and the Health Committee Chair. She is the President of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals – the foremost animal health database in the world. She competes in Hunt Tests, Conformation dog shows, Obedience Trials, and occasionally, Field Trials. Dr. Smith has judged multiple Specialty and All-Breed Sweepstakes, including the Canadian National Sweepstakes and the Bare Bones Potomac Sweepstakes. As an AKC licensed Hunt Test judge and Field Trial judge, she has four Champion points and four Minor points for Field Trials and the maximum of eight points in the Junior, Senior, and Master Stakes. For the past eight years, including this year, she has been the Chief Steward and Specialty Coordinator for the LRC Specialty in Orlando, Florida. Currently in her home are ten dogs, including three AKC champions, including one of whom is a GRCH, one dog needing major points to finish, one bitch major-pointed, one bitch with ten points, a JH, and a QAA Master Hunter. Dr. Smith continues to breed and train dogs that can be successful in performance and conformation events.

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