Breed facts: Gundog group
In association with the Kennel Club, Dogs Monthly provides you with all you need to know about the Labrador Retriever. Discover if this ‘top dog’ is the one for you!
With the highest recorded number of puppy registrations by the Kennel Club in 2006- 2007, standing at over 45,000, the Labrador Retriever holds No 1 spot in the UK ‘pup charts’. It’s hardly surprising, though, since this multi-purpose breed fulfils all the criteria for a great family pet as well as a sporting partner. Handsome, fairly laid-back, gregarious, ‘smiley’ and always up for a walk, game or a cuddle, the Lab is a popular pick for those looking for doggy pal to share their lives with.
With the air of a Georgian English country squire about him (bitches are perhaps a tad more refined than the dogs, but with the same similar gluttonous appetite where food is concerned!), you may be surprised to learn that the Labrador is a fairly modern breed as far as breed standard and registration is concerned, whose roots lie in the cold Canadian wilderness. Recognised by the Kennel Club in 1903, the first breed club – the Labrador Club of Great Britain – was founded in 1916. Labradors are thought to have originated on the Labrador Peninsula in Canada (Labrador is the mainland province of Newfoundland), where they were used to assist fishermen in hauling ashore their nets. This short-coupled, solid and powerful breed is certainly built for retrieving game in cold water, with their strong swimming ability, dense (‘double’) and weather-resistant coat and thick ‘rudder’ tail, the shape of which is likened to that of an otter. In fact, Labs are termed as having an ‘otter tail’.
The breed, which was known back in its early days as the St John’s Dog or Lesser Newfoundland Dog, is said to have been introduced to Britain in the 1800s by the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury and Colonel Peter Hawker, both keen field sportsmen. The 5th Duke of Buccleuch is also credited with importing these Newfoundland Dogs and becoming a champion of the breed. Nearly 200 years later, top-class working Labradors are still being bred on the Buccleuch Estates. With their ‘soft’ mouths and tenacious retrieving abilities on all terrain and in water, Labradors were soon being sought after by owners of large country estates throughout the land once they realised the breed’s worth in land management and field sports. It is not known how the St John’s Dog breed came about, but speculation is that it was the result of crossing the now extinct French St Hubert Hound or Greater Newfoundland Dog with other dogs that created the Labrador type. The St John’s Dog is now extinct.
Being such accomplished, equable all-rounders, Labradors are in demand as assistance dogs for the disabled (particularly as guide dogs for the blind and hearing dogs for the deaf), and also for use in detecting drugs, other substances and arms by police forces and Customs & Excise departments. Patient, intelligent and eager to please, the Labrador is equally at home by the fireside simply enjoying your company, playing with the children in the garden and enjoying bracing walks as part of the family. Affable and easy-going, responsibly bred Labs are incredibly tolerant (if well socialised from puppyhood) and put up with pretty much anything – human and animal – which makes them ideal for multi-pet family households. Being ‘big kids’ themselves, Labradors make devoted and loyal companions, especially for children – although bear in mind that any dog should be supervised when around children who may not appreciate or understand certain boundaries of behaviour around dogs. Since they are known to be a generally equable breed, aggression in a Labrador, whether towards humans or other animals, is unusual. If it occurs, then poor socialisation, handling and training is the likely reason. As far as a child’s best friend, or an adult’s loyal companion, goes, many owners that Dogs Monthly spoke to reckon you can’t get better than a Lab!
Rumbustious and hugely playful as pups, Labs need a firm but calm and kind hand to grow into biddable and well-behaved pets or working dogs. Like all dogs, though, they become upset and may well display unwanted behaviours if shouted at and/or treated harshly. When ‘on the scent’ after ‘game’, Labs can adopt a ‘deaf ear’ to an owner’s entreaties to come back to them, so it is important to instil recall obedience from an early age (10 minutes a day to start with). Enrolling in a puppy socialisation group is an excellent idea, before going on to training classes – whether you want a show dog, working dog or just a polite family pet. Extremely responsive to training, Labs thoroughly enjoy search and retrieve games, and other activities that require some brainpower.
They love being active – physically and mentally – so stimulating both their minds and bodies will help keep any destructive or over-boisterous tendencies to a minimum – especially as they are maturing. Bear in mind, though, that pups (in any breed) may suffer from debilitating injury if their growing bodies are stressed by galloping about and jumping before they are physically mature enough to cope with such exercise. Ask breeders for advice on how much exercise, and for how long, per day is suitable for your Lab.
As regards feeding, Labradors are known for their greediness. They are definitely not known to be fussy feeders – in fact, they’ll usually eat anything and everything. Beware of leaving anything edible within a Lab’s reach. This being the case, Labs are prone to obesity, so it is important to be strict with their diet – and not give in to those melting brown eyes if your pet begs for food. Few things look worse than a fat Lab – and you won’t be doing your pet any favours health-wise either! Having ‘flop-over’ ears, limiting air circulation to the interior, the insides of ears should be checked on a regular basis (at least once a week) to ensure they are clean and free from infection or ear mite infestation. If you suspect anything amiss, such as red and/ or inflamed skin, or the ears are smelly, get your pet checked out by a vet. Where colour (see the Kennel Club Breed Standard, right) is concerned, there is no difference in temperament and so forth, although, naturally, fans of particular colours would have it that their preferred choice offers the best of everything. Whatever coat colour you fancy – black, chocolate (also referred to as liver) or yellow – you can be assured that your pick will probably prove to be the most wonderful canine pal you could wish for.
Did you know? The Labrador Club of Scotland has its own ‘Labrador tartan’, incorporating the three colours of the breed – black, yellow and chocolate, the purples of the Scottish heather and thistle, and the greens of the countryside.
- Medium to large
- Gregarious, happy outlook
- Great all-rounder
- Loves people
- Ideal family dog
- Prefers country living
- High exercise requirement
- Quick to learn
- Can be self-willed
- Low-maintenance coat
- Good retriever
- sporting dog
KENNEL CLUB BREED STANDARD Thinking of getting a Lab? Here’s what to look out for:
Strongly built, short-coupled, very active; broad in skull; broad and deep through chest and ribs; broad and strong over loins and hindquarters.
Wholly black, yellow or liver/ chocolate. Yellows range from light cream to red fox. Small white spot on chest permissible.
Good-tempered, very agile. Excellent nose, soft mouth; keen love of water. Adaptable, devoted companion.
HEAD & SKULL
Skull broad with defined stop; clean-cut without fleshy cheeks. Jaws of medium length, powerful not snippy [narrow]. Nose wide, nostrils well developed.
Medium size, expressing intelligence and good temper; brown or hazel.
Not large or heavy, hanging close to head and set rather far back.
Jaws and teeth strong with a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite (upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws).
Clean, strong, powerful, set into well placed shoulders.
Shoulders long and sloping. Forelegs well boned and straight from elbow to ground when viewed from either front or side.
Chest of good width and depth, with well sprung barrel ribs. Level topline. Loins wide, short-coupled and strong. Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.
Well developed, not sloping to tail; well turned stifle. Hocks well let down: cowhocks [where the hocks angle in towards each other] are highly undesirable.
Round, compact; well arched toes and well developed pads.
Distinctive feature, very thick towards base, gradually tapering towards tip, medium length, free from feathering, but clothed thickly all round with short, thick, dense coat, thus giving ‘rounded’ appearance described as ‘otter’ tail. May be carried gaily but should not curl over back.
GAIT & MOVEMENT
Free, covering adequate ground; straight and true in front and rear.
Distinctive feature, short and dense without wave or feathering, giving fairly hard feel to the touch; weather-resistant undercoat.
Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.
Where to get a Labrador puppy
The first step is to contact Labrador breed clubs to enquire if they have details of members with available puppies. You can also ask for advice in choosing a puppy and how to look after him, as clubs are keen to promote good ownership as well as the breeding of healthy pups. To this end, you are more likely to be able to source breeders who have their stock tested for hip, elbow and eye problems, and who will offer an ‘after sales’ service in providing advice on caring for and training your pup should you require any. If you would like to offer a safe haven to a Labrador in need of a good home, then contact breed rescue co-ordinators via the clubs.
5 Labrador facts
Grooming is minimal – simply give your Lab a brush down when necessary to remove dead hair, especially when he’s moulting. A quick flick over wearing a rubber glove is usually all that is necessary. Yellow Labs moult slightly all year round, while blacks and chocolates tend to have one or two major moults per year. Chocolate coats tend to bleach in the sun.
The breed is not without its problems – genetic and otherwise – with cruciate [in the knee] ligament damage, hip and elbow dysplasia and eyesight (progressive retinal atrophy/PRA, retinal dysplasia and cataracts) being the most commonly reported health issues. Other concerns include epilepsy, bloat and other ailments associated with working in the field, such as hepatitis, ear infections and exercise-induced collapse. When buying a puppy, it’s advisable to check that the parents have been screened for ailments they are prone to and have Kennel Club/British Veterinary Association (KC/ BVA) certificates for hip score, elbow dysplasia and eyesight (or an ECVO – European Eye Certificate). Cases of myopathy (wasting muscle disease) and tricuspid valve dysplasia (TVD; a heart defect) have also been seen predominantly in Labrador Retrievers. There is now also a certificated screening test for muscular myopathy. Responsible breeders are working hard to eliminate these problems by only breeding from clear lines.
Labradors are intelligent, keen and biddable with a strong will to please. They are noted for their kindly nature and should show no trace of aggression or undue shyness.
Height & weight
Ideal height at withers: dogs: 56-57cm (22-22½ins); bitches: 55-56cm (21½-22ins). Weight-wise, Labs weigh in at around 55-75lbs (25-34kg), with dogs being heavier than bitches.
Around 12 years is the average.
USEFUL CONTACTS & BOOKS
Cotswold & Wyvern Labrador Club Mr Karl Gawthorpe (secretary), tel. 01932 874539.
East Anglian Labrador Retriever Club Mrs J Cole (secretary), tel. 01354 680375.
Kent, Surrey & Sussex Labrador Retriever Club Mrs Alison Scutcher (secretary), tel. 01206 799580.
Labrador Club of Scotland Miss Nancy Farquarson (secretary), tel. 01382 459099.
Labrador Club of Great Britain Mr A Ellis (secretary), tel. 01766 522146.
Labrador Retriever Club of Northern Ireland Mrs Mary Hughes (secretary), tel 02892 638603 Labrador Retriever Club of Wales Mrs M Barker (secretary), tel. 01443 842585.
Midland Counties Labrador Retriever Club Mrs Julia Lewis (secretary), tel. 01484 680123.
North West Labrador Retriever Club Mrs Maureen D’Arcy (secretary), tel. 01254 264177.
Northumberland & Durham Labrador Retriever Club Joanne McDonald (secretary), tel. 01642 320395.
Three Ridings Labrador Club Mrs P Gill (secretary), tel. 01943 467926.
West of England Labrador Club Mr Gordon Fox (secretary), tel. 01566 785121.
Yellow Labrador Club Mrs Susanna Wiles (secretary), tel. 01895 823227.
The Labrador Retriever by Diane Morgan
Labradors: Work, Rest and Play by Nick Ridley (Quiller Publishing, 2007. £18.95. ISBN 978 1 84689 049 9).
Special thanks to the Yellow Labrador Club and Northumberland & Durham Labrador Retriever Club secretaries for information provided for this feature.