The Lab Survey

From the November 2019 issue of ShowSight. Click to subscribe

  1. Where do you live? What do you do “outside” of dogs?
  2. In popularity, Labrador Retrievers perennially rank at the very top of the list. Again this year you’re Number One! Do you feel this helps or hurts the breed in the long run?
  3. Few of these dogs really “work” anymore. How has he adapted to civilian life? What qualities in the field also come in handy around the house?
  4. A big strong Sporting dog requires a special household to be a perfect fit. What about the breed makes him an ideal companion? Drawbacks?
  5. What special challenges do Labrador breeders face in our current economic and social climate?
  6. At what age do you start to see definite signs of show-worthiness (or lack thereof)?
  7. We’re told a Lab’s loyalty is unquestioned, but that his hard-headedness can make him difficult to train. Is this your experience? Does that make it more interesting, or exasperating?
    (Or both.)
  8. What is the most important thing about the breed for a novice to keep in mind when judging?
  9. What is your ultimate goal for the breed?
  10. What is your favorite dog show memory?
  11. Is there anything else you’d like to share about the breed? Please elaborate.

Ladanna Bostwick

Firewater Labradors is located in the mountainous region of Northern Arizona. Our small town is nestled in the beauty, serenity and privacy of the Kaibab National Forest. I was born and raised in Broken Bow, Oklahoma to a working commercial farming and ranching family. I’ve been involved in some form of animal husbandry my entire life. I started learning about the Conformation of animals and showing at six years old, when I showed my first of many Hampshire pigs at our local county fair. I made the sale with my pig that year. Awarded Best Junior Showmanship, I was hooked! I also have shown sheep and horses, and have appreciated a beautiful well-bred animal my entire life. Any animal doing its job is a beautiful thing to me.

My husband, Tom, and I have six children and three grandchildren. I had a wonderful 20 year career working as a Registered Nurse, specializing in pediatric critical care for special-needs children, and retired in 2017. Tom is a Veteran and served 25 years in law enforcement before retiring. I am thankful that Tom also enjoys and supports our amazing dogs and the journey they continue to take us on.

We travel as much as possible- something Tom and I truly enjoy. We love the spending time in the mountains where we live. Enjoy horseback riding and gathering cattle on our ranch. We also raise and breed Highland Cattle.

Do I feel the breed’s popularity helps or hurts the breed in the long run? I feel it definitely helps the breed. There has been a lot of money raised and donated to support research for our beloved breed. Through continued research, knowledge and genetic insights will be obtained, that will enable affected dogs to be recognized earlier and enable breeders to know if they are producing an
affected puppy.

How has the breed adapted to civilian life? I feel they have adapted very well. The Labrador Retriever should have a very stable temperament, suitable for a variety of activities beyond working, hunting and outdoor activities. Training in the field, home or anywhere always comes in handy. The Labrador is a very versatile breed!

What about the breed makes them an ideal companion? Even temperament, trainability and desire to please make the Labrador the ideal companion. They are a breed that like to be inside with their family. Labradors thrive with their humans and should be an almost constant companions.

They require daily adequate exercise to remain in good physical and mental health. They shed a lot more than most people realize. Labradors like to chew. They should be provided the proper oral stimulation—safe and healthy chew toys/treats/bones, to ensure their chewing needs are met. Also great for healthy teeth.

What special challenges do Labrador breeders face in our current economic and social climate? Economic challenges are always something we must be conscientious of. To exhibit and breed proper health tested purebred dogs is not cheap. It requires extensive planning, budgeting and many other sacrifices.

I feel our social climate is great. With the introduction of social media. We are now capable of expanding our gene pool by being introduced to a much broader selection of dogs from all around the world. I feel we have also been given a wealth of information through mentor and educational forums on social media.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? At eight week evaluations, again at six months. At 18-24 months is when I make my final decisions. However, if at any point during this time frame, I just don’t like what I see at all—then it’s a pet. There must be something that I really like about the dog from the start and throughout the growing/maturing process. Or I don’t invest into the dogs show career.

Can the breed’s hard-headedness can make them difficult to train? No, they should be very easy to train, if you know what you are doing or seek the assistance a professional trainer to help you learn to train your dog.

It all goes back to correct temperaments when breeding. Temperaments are paramount to me! If you have even temperaments, trainability and desire to please (I also like a bit of confidence)—this Labrador is so eager to learn and please.

Look at the jobs many Labradors perform daily in therapy, service work, police work etc. Very smart and trainable breed. But they have to be bred correctly or it can be a totally different story!

What is the most important thing about the breed for a novice to keep in mind when judging? The written standard and
breed type.

My ultimate goal for the breed? To keep it healthy, pure and loved by so many.

Robin Magee

I live in Loudon, New Hampshire where my husband and I have lived for the past 25 years. I currently work for USDA-Food
Nutrition Service.

Do I feel the breed’s popularity helps or hurts the breed in the long run? I think it’s a combination of both.

How has the breed adapted to civilian life? While our Labradors compete in the show ring, my husband also is an avid bird hunter. I as I mention below, I really believe their temperament and how you raise them allows for its true Labrador qualities come out.

What about the breed makes them an ideal companion? The temperament of the Labrador is so important. As with any breed it’s important to socialize and train them when they are young. If you don’t provide that foundation early, spend time with them, then the dog is not easy to live with. Which means you won’t be able to enjoy them and most importantly, it’s not fair to the dog.

What special challenges do Labrador breeders face in our current economic and social climate? Social media. I think social media has had a huge impact not just with Labrador breeders but with all breeders. While I feel it can be positive, I also feel it’s negatively impacted our breed. Breeders are more likely to reach out to that social media breeder, who has is always posting their dogs on Instagram and/or Facebook, to either buy a puppy or breed to their stud dog, without doing their research. I have been mentored to research pedigrees and the health of the pedigrees when selecting a stud dog or purchasing a puppy and most importantly physically see and put your hands on the dog.

At what age I you start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? I think it’s an individual decision for each dog. Some pedigrees mature fast and other pedigrees mature for three to four years. I think you need to assess each dog on its own. As we know, not all dogs are considered “show-worthiness”. In our kennel, we keep dogs to improve the breed and our kennel, not just to compete in the show ring.

Can the breed’s hard-headedness can make them difficult to train? I wouldn’t say that a Labrador is “hard-headed”. Labradors are very smart and intellectual dogs. Like people, some are very smart. I think as a breeder and owner you need to adjust your training styles to accommodate the dog’s needs. I was once told that every dog that comes into your life is for a reason and he is here to teach me something. When I struggle to understand one of my puppies or dogs, I have always remembered that. It seems to work for us.

What is the most important thing about the breed for a novice to keep in mind when judging? When I have judged sweepstakes, I always think to myself “which dog would I like to take home today?” and stick true to it. Don’t fault judge. Find a dog and use that dog to compare the other dogs to throughout your assignment. You may not find that dog until later in your assignment. And most importantly, find a breeder who you respect and admire. Ask them to become your mentor, sit with them at ringside, ask them to explain to you what they like and what they don’t like about the dog as it is being judged. Ask lots of questions and always keep learning.

My ultimate goal for the breed? That we stay true to the Labrador Standard in all areas; whether conformation, hunting, agility and/or obedience.

My favorite dog show memory? Oh where do I start! There are so many memories I could write a book. It was last year at the National Labrador Specialty when Theodore won Best of Breed. It was an emotional and overwhelming moment for me. A year of my hard work and my husband’s time and energy on helping keep in condition along with the knowledge and experience of our Handler truly made it a rewarding experience.

Erin McRobb
& Diane McClurg

I live in a small town called Sanger, Texas on the north side of Ft Worth. I have been involved with my family in the breed since the age of ten. Our first show Labrador was shown beginning in 1989 at which time I also showed in Junior showmanship.

For my outside job, I am actually a sales rep in the pet food industry. I work for Smuckers and we have a variety of brands including but not limited to: Natural Balance, Nutrish, Natures Recipe, Milkbone to name a few.

Diane — I live just north of Erin in Gainesville, Texas. We got our first Labrador in 1987 with the intent of showing her in conformation and for Erin in junior showmanship.

I work as the Director of Laboratory services for Medical City Plano hospital in Plano Texas.

Do I feel the breed’s popularity helps or hurts the breed in the long run? I have been in the breed so long with it being number one I honestly don’t even notice it anymore.

How has the breed adapted to civilian life? We actually take great pride in our dogs trying to get titles on both ends of their names. We currently have a young boy in training for his JH, and some that are ready to compete starting in Rally soon. I really feel that is provides balance not only in the breeding program, but for the dog as well.

I think if you train your dog to work- you gain a dog who has obedience that can really make a difference in your home. No one wants to live with an unruly dog!

What about the breed makes them an ideal companion? A Labrador is a dog that should be able to walk into any household and assimilate to daily life without any major disruptions. Sure, you are adding a new family member, but the breed itself is biddable and easy going. While they may be big and strong, with proper training, the Labrador should not overpower anyone in the household. They should be calm, willing to please, and easy going. These qualities in itself make the breed desirable. I commonly hear and joke about shedding. Labradors definitely shed and sometimes we do
vacuum daily!

At what age do we start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? We start to look at the puppies running in the yard as soon as five weeks. We may not put them on the table to evaluate as I think puppies running in the yard certainly give a different look and perspective. Show worthy puppies can start as early as six weeks and as late as ten weeks, if you are choosing some and placing others in pet homes. I have changed my mind when choosing a puppy as late as the day before a pet family comes to pick up the new
family member.

We then grown them up and do basic clearances to see if it will be worth the time and money investment to make them a show dog completely. Even as late as a year—with clearances—we may decide to place a dog as it isn’t quite what we were looking for.

Can the breed’s hard-headedness can make them difficult to train? Most of the labs we have bred aren’t hard headed. In fact very few that we have bred have been difficult to train. Labradors are easy going, willing to please, biddable, and ready to do a job for their owners. (I think we may be on a different level for this question.) Labradors shouldn’t be hard headed at all.

Diane: The Labrador Retriever is the most sought after breed to work as guide dogs and therapy dogs as the temperament lends itself to be the most adaptable to the owner’s needs.

What is the most important thing about the breed for a novice to keep in mind when judging? There are a lot of different types in the Lab ring. Find a mentor with a type you prefer and learn. Learning also means looking at other breed to learn proper movement and structure. Trust your mentor—they have been doing it a long time and probably have encountered nearly everything.

Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater—look at the whole picture. There will be some things you can forgive and some thing you know you cannot stand to look at—those are the moments you will learn the most.

My ultimate goal for the breed? My personal goal is to breed and own (and handle if I can) one of our own dogs to BIS and BISS status. We have bred, owned and shown dogs to BISS, but have not achieved a BIS.

My favorite dog show memory? I have three actually. Winning best junior at the Lab national under breeder judge George Bragaw. That win qualified me for my first trip to Westminster. Then winning BISS from the 12-18 class with a bitch we had bred, owned, and handled. The third being the most proud breeder moment—we took a yellow boy to the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac. I showed him to a class win. It was at that moment that I realized as I was showing him I was in a ring full of people I looked up to and helped mentor me and my mom to where we are now.

Diane: My favorite dog show memory is at the first Labrador Retriever Club National show held in Arlington Texas in 1989 where we showed our first Lab, Aquatdots Good Golly Ms Molly, as a puppy and she made the cut to the last six puppies in large sweepstakes and regular classes under “ famous’ breeder judges—it was a thrill like no other to the novice dog show exhibitor.

Linda Vaughn

I have bred and shown Labrador Retrievers for 45 years. I am proud to have bred and owned over 75 champions, including multiple group winners and placers. I have shown multiple BISS Labradors as well as having many Labs win points at specialties. I am proud of the Champion Master Hunter that I bred, along with the SH’s, JH’s, and multiple Obedience titled dogs, and the many hunting and companion dogs that I hope have brought fun and happiness to their owners. I have judged Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, Flat-Coated Retrievers and Norfolk Terriers since 2004.

I live in Conifer, Colorado. What do I do outside of dogs? Nothing! My husband and I own a boarding and grooming kennel and have for almost 29 years.

Do I feel the breed’s popularity helps or hurts the breed in the long run? With regard to the popularity of Labradors, Labs have been very popular for several decades, so that is nothing new. Labs are so versatile that it really isn’t surprising. Labs as a breed excel in field work, scent work, obedience, as service dogs, guiding the blind, tracking, police work such as finding drugs or accelerants, and they are just the best family pets. Being popular helps a breed like Labradors because there are lots of them available for the many jobs they’re good at. On the other hand, this popularity can also hurt the breed when less than critical breeders produce lots of poor quality puppies that are easily sold to the unsuspecting.

How has the breed adapted to civilian life? Labs will really find a job if left to occupy their own time. In order for them to be the best dog they can be, they need training, exercise, and inclusion in the family. A Lab’s natural inclination is to please and serve (such as retrieving a bird and giving it to the handler). This natural instinct of a retriever is the basis of pretty much all the jobs that Labs are trained to do. In the home, this retrieving and wanting to please makes for a fun and involved family pet. The Lab’s willingness to please makes him relatively easy to train.

What about the breed makes them an ideal companion? With proper socialization and training, a Lab can be the perfect family dog. Most Labs are and should be friendly, biddable, and able to get along with children and other pets. It goes without saying, however, that puppies do not come pre-trained; they can be teenagers for a long time. Labs are big and, as they can be very strong for their size, early and continued training is essential for a long and happy
family relationship.

What special challenges do Labrador breeders face in our current economic and social climate? In my opinion, every serious dog breeder of any breed faces difficult challenges. It’s just part of it, I’m afraid.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? I look at my puppies at five, seven, and nine weeks. I personally pick the pups that I don’t think are going to make show prospects first so that they can go to their family homes. I can usually tell by nine weeks if they have show potential.

Can the breed’s hard-headedness can make them difficult to train? I don’t think that Labs are any more hard headed than any other sporting breed. They might want to do something that they find more interesting than what you want them to do, but is that hard headed?

What is the most important thing about the breed for a novice to keep in mind when judging? Look at the entire dog. My order of importance is outline, then balance of front and rear angulation (fronts in Labradors have been a problem for a long time.)

Having a lot of front without the rear to match isn’t balanced any more than a straight front combined with a nice enough rear is balanced. Next, I want a kind expression. I don’t think round or light eyes look kind. Then I look for a proper coat and a well carried tail, with the tail as close to being carried straight off the back as I can find. Yes, Labs can be in and out of coat, but a thin coat and tail should be examined closely. The dense undercoat of a well-coated Labrador is designed to insulate the dog when swimming and retrieving in icy waters. It gives a rounded appearance, and softens the angles of the dog. Have a breeder show you a good coat, feel it, learn it—it is the hallmark of the breed and creates the classic otter tail. It can add visual substance, but a hands-on examination will easily reveal the difference between a Labrador with dense undercoat and one that is poorly conditioned or overweight.

A Lab should move fluidly. A correctly made Lab will not hold his head up high when on the move; his head will be somewhat in front, which is made possible by a well-made front assembly. Think about the dog when swimming: he wouldn’t have his head straight up out of the water. His head would be down close to the water to help him move through the water efficiently.

Don’t get hung up on things that don’t really matter. I see even experienced judges get all involved in things that do not make a great Labrador. Look for correct outline, soundness, correct coat and tail, and kindness of expression. Try to see through the handling. Sometimes you may have to work to find the best Labs and to disregard the handling.

My ultimate goal for the breed? I want a sound and beautiful Labrador Retriever that can do the work asked of it, with a sense of humor!

My favorite dog show memory? Showing at the Westminster Kennel Club show when Mr. Thomas Bradley escorted my 81year-old father-in-law to ringside so that my father-in-law could see me show my dog. No one outside of the official photographer was supposed to take pictures from the show floor, but Mr. Bradley (the chief Steward) made way for Mr. Robert Vaughn, Sr. to take his cherished pictures. It was so kind, and I will never forget it.

One thing I would like to say is that the people in the Labrador world are some of the best you will find anywhere. And they are really good cooks!

Susan Willumsen

I grew up in the dog world through my aunt, Carol Willumsen, the “original” Willcare. I have been breeding Labradors for 38 years. During this time I have produced many breed Champions and several Champion Master Hunters. Also many dogs with high level performance titles. Probably best known for my chocolate dogs (they are not crazy!). I have been judging Labradors and several of the other sporting dogs for over 15 years and really enjoy this as well. Special thanks to my husband, Leeds, and my kennel partner Robin Magee and her husband Jim for all their help when I’m traveling.

I have lived in New Hampshire for 30 years. I work in the Veterinary Industry educating and selling Veterinarians
Natural Supplements.

Do I feel the breed’s helps or hurts the breed in the long run? It potentially hurts the breed as it can be seen as an “easy” money maker to those not truly committed to the betterment of the breed. Point to fact—the “silver” Labrador.

How has the breed adapted to civilian life? What qualities in the field also come in handy around the house? The Labrador has always been a dedicated companion to people, when not “working” so they are easily adapted to family life, however active or sedentary their life style may be.

What about the breed makes him an ideal companion? Although the Conformation Labradors have great performance abilities (hunting, Obedience, agility, etc.), their main goal in life is to be part of the family. They are a sturdy dog that can fit into most families as they have a great ability to adapt when given proper attention and training.

What special challenges do Labrador breeders face in our current economic and social climate? The uneducated policy makers of state and nation are continuously introducing bills and passing laws that will have negative impact on the dedicated breeder. Many of these bills/laws are directed toward puppy mills and pet stores but the way they are written, they all effect the true stewards of our breed. Organizations like PETA mislead the public to believe they are trying to save the dogs—far from it. They represent a danger to us as well. Organizations that bring up “stray” puppies from the South and outside of the US are selling them as rescues and play on people’s emotions. These too impact the true breeders.

At what age do I start to see definite signs of show-worthiness? I start watching the pups when they are on their feet and continue to watch them as they grow and develop.

We’re told a Lab’s loyalty is unquestioned, but that his hard-headedness can make him difficult to train. Is this my experience? I find it is usually the owner training the dog that misses the signals to train the dog. There is not just one way to train a dog.

What is the most important thing about the breed for a novice to keep in mind when judging? The judge represents just one opinion and their own interpretation of the breed standard. Best learning tool is to work with an experienced and respected breeder to be mentored. Be especially open to constructive criticism and suggestion.

What is my ultimate goal for the breed? To maintain the integrity of the Labrador in their confirmation and temperament that the breed is traditionally known for.

My favorite dog show memory? There are so many. One of my favorite was when my chocolate boy, GCHB WIllcare to Fly Under the Radar, WC, RN, was awarded Best Puppy at the LRC of Potomac when I did not think I had any chance at all!

I’d also like to share about the breed that in all my years in dogs and in the Veterinary field, I still enjoy my Labradors more than any breed I have owned or worked with.

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