Breed Profile: Labrador Retriever
You don't even need to be a dog nerd to recognize a Labrador retriever when you see one. Floppy ears, friendly smile, and wagging otter tail.
But did you know that adorable tail is part of what makes the Lab so amazing at what it was bred for?
We are going to dive beneath the surface of this love-able and popular breed ( The #1 most popular breed in the United States for 32 years to be exact - according to the AKC ) and see what makes them arguably the perfect dog - and maybe why that popularity hurts more than helps.
Labs are an old breed. They started out as the "traditional waterdog of Newfoundland," and were used as duck retrievers and fisherman's mate.
It is said that visiting English nobles saw the breed and brought back some of the finest specimens back to England in the 1800's.
The British refined the breed and bred them as all around game hunting companions. This led to the standardization that many of us are familiar with today.
Eager to Please
Labs are one of the most versatile hunters and companions of all dog breeds.
This ability to be adaptable has landed them jobs in many other industries. Thanks to their extreme eagerness to please, they can be taught just about anything ( provided the human trainer knows how to teach them ).
They are hard working, no fuss workers that are willing to put in long days to please their master.
They're among the most popular breeds for service dog work, search and rescue, bomb and drug detection, and therapy dog work.
In order to best understand the breed it is important to remember where these physical and temperamental traits originated from and what the breed was originally intended for.
Labs rock a short, dense, weather resistant coat. This was preferred during the cold Canadian winters of Newfoundland when long haired retrievers coats would be encrusted with ice when coming out of the water.
This shorter, almost oily coat allowed Labs to shed ice and water and still stay warm enough to happily retriever down birds in cold temperatures. They even retrieved fish that came off the trawl on fisherman's boats.
When people joke and say this breed is part fish, they aren't joking. They are literally made for the water.
Their happy go-lucky tails that never seem to not be wagging are thick for a reason. They serve as a powerful rudder when swimming that helps them navigate the waters they swim in.
As for that classic Labrador temperament, the AKC describes their ideal disposition as one of being "kind, outgoing, tractable nature; eager to please and nonaggressive towards man or animal," the breed standard continues to say "The Labrador has much that appeals to people; his gentle ways, intelligence, and adaptability make him an ideal dog."
Much that make them appeal to people indeed. Unfortunately, that popularity can come with a cost.
Can I Still Find a Good Lab?
Due to such high demand, over-breeding and irresponsible "backyard breeders" have created many, MANY health issues in the breed.
I won't get into all their possible health issues here, but know that if you want a breed with a low probability of health concerns, a Lab is not that breed.
That is why it is so important to do your research when searching for a Labrador.
Obviously it is hard to do background checks when you are rescuing a dog, but if you are planning on buying from a breeder make sure they are a reputable one and they do health tests on their dogs.
There is also a very clear distinction between what is known as an "English" Lab, and an "American" Lab, or field style lab.
One is chunky and commonly seen as family pets, while the other is more geared towards being a top notch athlete in the field.
Both still carry those classic Lab characteristics, but many argue that due to physical difference, their capabilities are quite different and they really aren't even the same breed.
I am going to have to go in this boat as well. There are obviously exceptions within the types, but overall I am confident saying that you will have a completely different experience based on which type of Lab you go with so make sure you do your research and decide which style matches your lifestyle and what you want from your furry companion.
All in all, Labs have been the top dog since 1991 with no other breeds even coming close. You don't get that top spot and hold it for no reason.
From personal experience and having owned many, I can say they are truly an amazing breed and will always hold a special place in our hearts.