Archive for June, 2009
A puppy is all potential. She is the result of her genetics and the care she’s received as a baby, but other than that, she’s just ready for the world. An adult, on the other hand, is already formed. What you see is what you’re going to get. If you want a big Lab or a smaller one, or if you want a bold dog or a quieter one, the adult dog is already what she is going to be.
The adult dog also has a history. Perhaps she was in a loving home and lost that home due to a divorce or a death in the family. She may have been in a home where she was neglected or even mistreated. The things that happened to her have shaped who she is—she may always be worried about large men with sticks in their hands, or she may always be attracted to older women.
Although some Labs can hold a grudge for a long time, they are, for the most part, very forgiving. Many Labrador Retrievers who have lost a home, good or bad, will grieve for that home when they lose it. Labs are very devoted and will love even the worst owner. When allowed to grieve, they will, but then they will accept and adapt to a new home.
Tests used on baby puppies do not work on adult dogs; so when adopting an adult dog, you need to rely on any information you can get from the people who have been caring for her.
It is important, though, to find out as much as you can about the dog and her first home so that you can help her adjust to your home. If the shelter peo¬ple say she appears afraid of brooms, for example, once she’s in your home, ask a trainer or behaviorist for help desensitizing her to brooms.
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Service dog trainers, many of whom use Labs in their programs, have developed puppy tests that help them evaluate puppies’ responses to specific stimuli, which helps them choose puppies for certain kinds of service dog work. The service dog trainers are then able to train only those dogs who have the tempera¬ment, character, and personality traits best suited for the specific work.
Puppy tests can help you, too, because you can use them to choose the best dog for you, your family, and your goals. The tests are best done when the puppy is 6 to 7 weeks old. Many breeders do puppy tests, and if your dog’s breeder does, ask if you can watch. If the breeder normally doesn’t test the puppies, ask if you can do it. They may be interested enough in the results to say yes.
To get started, list all the puppies on a sheet of paper. If several look alike, put different-colored ribbons or little collars on each of them.
Look at the Whole Litter
Without getting involved (no petting right now), just watch the entire litter. By 6 weeks of age, the puppies will be playing with each other, bouncing around, tripping over each other and their own big paws. Make some notes about their behavior. The boldest puppy, who is often also the biggest, is usually the first to do anything. She is the first to the food, the first to check out a new toy, and the first to investigate anything new. This is a good working puppy. She would not be a good choice for someone who lives alone and works long hours, nor would she be a good dog for someone with a less than dominant personality.
Puppy Temperament Test
Have your paper at hand and make notes as you go along, or better yet, have someone else make notes for you. Test each puppy individually. Don’t look at your notes until you’re done.
Walk away. Place the puppy on the ground at your feet. Stand up and walk away. Does the puppy:
a. Follow you.
b. Put herself underfoot, climbing on your feet.
c. Do a belly crawl to follow you.
d. Ignore you and go the other direction.
Call the puppy. Move away from the puppy, then bend over and call her, spreading your hands and arms wide to encourage her. Does the puppy:
a. Come to you, tail wagging.
b. Chase you so fast that you don’t have a chance to call her.
c. Come slowly or crawl on her belly to you.
d. Ignore you.
The fearful puppy will sit in the corner by herself, just watching what her brothers and sisters are doing. Her tail will be tight to her hindquarters, and she may duck her head. Unfortunately, fearful, neurotic Labs are not unknown. Although some fearful puppies can come out of their shell with a calm, caring, knowledgeable owner, these dogs usually retain some of their fear all their lives. These dogs are not good for noisy, active households or for first-time dog own¬ers. Even with a knowledgeable owner, these dogs can often be a problem.
Most puppies fall somewhere in between these two extremes. In one situa¬tion, the puppy may be bold and outgoing, and in another, she may fall back to watch. While you’re watching, look to see who is the crybaby, who is the trou¬blemaker, and who always gets the toy. Jot down notes.
Most puppies fall somewhere in between these two extremes. In one situa¬tion, a puppy may be bold and outgoing and in another, she may fall back to watch. While you’re watching, look to see who is the crybaby, who is the trou¬blemaker, and who always gets the toy. Jot down notes.
Now it’s time for the test. You’ll find it in the box above.
Gentle restraint. Pick up the puppy and gently roll her over so she’s on her back in your arms. Place a hand on her chest to gently restrain her for thirty seconds—no longer. Does she:
a. Struggle for a few seconds, then relax.
b. Struggle for the entire thirty seconds.
c. Cry, tuck her tail up, and perhaps urinate.
d. Struggle for fifteen seconds, stop, then look at you or look away.
Lifting. When the puppy is on the ground, place both hands under her ribcage and lift her paws off the ground for thirty seconds. Does the puppy:
a. Quietly accept it with just a little wiggling.
b. Struggle for at least fifteen seconds.
c. Accept it with a tucked tail.
d. Struggle for more than fifteen seconds.
Toss a ball. With the puppy close to you, show her a ball and then toss it just a few feet away. Does the puppy:
a. Dash after it, pick it up, and bring it back to you.
b. Bring it back but doesn’t want to give it back to you.
c. Go after it but does not pick it up, or gets distracted.
d. Pick it up but walks away.
Looking at the Results
There are no right or wrong answers. This is a guide to help you choose the right puppy for you—and even then, this is only a guide. Puppies can change as they grow up.
The puppy who scored mostly A’s is a middle-of-the-pack dog in terms of dominance. This is neither the most dominant puppy nor the most submissive. If she also scored an A in the ball test, this puppy will suit most families with children or active couples. This puppy should accept training well, and although she may have some challenges during adolescence, she will grow up to be a nice dog.
The puppy who scored mostly A’s and B’s will be a little more dominant, a little more pushy. If she scored a B or a D on the ball test, you may find training to be somewhat of a challenge.
The puppy who scored mostly B’s is a more dominant puppy. She could be a great working dog with the right owner. She needs an owner who has a more forceful personality; she is not the right dog for a passive person. She will need structured training from puppyhood on into adulthood.
The puppy who scored mostly C’s will need special handling, as this puppy is very worried about life. She could, if pushed too far, bite out of fear. She needs a calm environment and a calm, confident owner.
The puppy who scored C’s and D’s may have trouble bonding with people. However, if she finds the right owner, she will bond and will be very devoted. This puppy needs calm, careful, patient training.
The puppy who scored mostly D’s doesn’t think she needs people. She is very self-confident and will need to spend a lot of time with her owner so she can develop a relationship. If she spends too much time alone, she may not bond with a person at all.
After looking at the puppies, testing them all, figuring out the results, and per¬haps narrowing the litter down to two or three puppies, what’s next? Which puppy appeals to you the most? Which puppy keeps returning to you? Which one makes your heart go thump-thump?
Although these tests can help narrow your choices, you still need to listen to your heart. So think logically and then let your heart work with your brain to choose the right puppy for you.
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You can find a Labrador Retriever in many different places: from a breeder, from a Lab rescue group, at your local shelter, or even in a cardboard box outside the local grocery store. Although the puppy outside the grocery store will be the least expensive and you may feel good about saving the life of a dog at the local shelter, is one of those dogs really the right dog for you? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each of these choices.
A breeder is someone who breeds dogs of a specific breed, in this case Labrador Retrievers. A reputable breeder is someone who has been involved with the breed for a num¬ber of years and knows it well. They have studied the top dogs in the breed. In Labs, hopefully they have studied working and field dogs as well as show dogs. They know quite a bit about breed genetics, and they choose the sire (father) and dam (mother) of each litter carefully.
Reputable breeders show their dogs so that the judges (who are often also breeders) can evaluate the dogs. Some Lab breeders also compete in other sports, including agility, obedience, and field trials, or simply go out hunting with them.
These breeders should also be knowledgeable of the health prob¬lems of the breed, especially because there are so many facing Labs today. As many health tests for inherited defects as are available should be performed before selecting the dogs to be used for breeding.
Reputable breeders will also screen the people who come to buy one of their dogs. The breeder will ask potential buyers to fill out an application and may ask for personal references. If you are not approved for one of their puppies, don’t take it personally; the breeder is concerned about the welfare of their puppies, and they know their dogs best.
A backyard breeder usually refers to someone who has bred their dog (usually a family pet) but who does not have the knowledge a reputable breeder has. Many times the dog(s) being bred are simply treasured family pets, and the owner breeds the dog(s) in the hopes of creating another dog just like their pet. Genetics doesn’t work that way, though, and they end up with a litter of puppies for sale that may or may not be quality dogs.
Purebred rescue groups are organized by people who love their breed and are concerned about the dogs who need new homes—especially those who might otherwise be killed for want of a good home. Some groups are run by breed clubs, while others are private organizations.
You will be asked to fill out an application, and some groups even ask for a home visit. They want to know that your fence is high and strong enough to keep in a Lab and that you and your family understand the realities of owning this breed.
Labs in Local Shelters
A Labrador Retriever can end up in a local shelter for many reasons. Her owner may have passed away and no one in the family wanted her. Someone may have purchased a Lab puppy without researching the breed and after a few months realized the dog was too much for them. The dog may have escaped from the yard and was picked up as a stray and no one bailed her out. There are many rea¬sons, and many of them are not the dog’s fault at all.
A Lab in the shelter is basically an unknown. She may have been produced by a wonderful, reputable breeder, or she may have come from a commercial puppy farm. Although the dog’s physical appearance can give you some clues, some¬times it’s really hard to tell. The dog’s temperament is also an unknown because a Lab in a shelter is going to be stressed and very unhappy; she is not going to show her real personal¬ity until she’s in a home and settles down.
Labs for Free
Have you heard the adage “You get what you pay for”? That Lab puppy in the box outside the grocery store is probably the result of backyard breeding, maybe even an accidental breeding. The dog could be a mix; the father may even be unknown. And although mixed-breed dogs can be great pets, you’ll be disappointed if you were looking for a purebred Lab.
The puppy (and maybe even the mother dog) may or may not have had any veterinary care, which could mean no vaccinations, no worming, and no pre¬ventive health care. The person who owned the mother dog most likely never heard of socialization, so the puppy will not have had any planned socialization.
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Labrador Retrievers were bred to work for and with people. Unlike some other breeds (many terriers and the sighthounds, for example), Labs were not made to work alone. They are happiest when they spend the day side by side with their work¬ing partner. For the same reason, your new Lab will be happiest when she’s by your side, able to share your activities and ready to do things for you. It’s impor¬tant, then, to make sure you choose your new companion wisely. Although any dog might be able to fit into your life, when you make an educated, well-researched choice your chances are much better of that dog being “the perfect one.”
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If a Labrador Retriever could choose his owner, rather than the other way around, he would probably choose an owner who likes to do stuff. Being active himself, the Lab would enjoy a companion who will go for walks, hike in the hills, throw the ball, go swimming, and train with firmness yet fun.
Labs also need an owner who will be a leader. A good leader is kind and car¬ing yet firm. The leader provides the dog with guidance and security. Without a strong leader, the Lab will remain silly and undisciplined, as well as physically strong and rowdy.
Labs also need an owner who is willing and able to train the dog, beginning in early puppyhood and continuing well into adulthood. Not only does this help establish leadership, but it also teaches this soon-to-be-large dog self-control. Training also occupies the dog’s mind—something every Lab needs.
The owner of a Lab is in for a dog’s lifetime of busyness. Lab puppies are silly, clumsy, and on the go all the time. But even when they are mentally and physi¬cally mature, Labs are still looking for something to do. The Lab will drop a ten¬nis ball in your lap for you to throw or will bring you his leash—a hint that it’s time for a walk. Gray-muzzled old Labs may enjoy time to snooze on the sofa, but even the old dogs still want to be a part of life and involved with everything that’s going on. So the best owner for a Lab is someone who wants a real canine companion; someone who wants to share their life with a devoted dog.
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Keeping a Lab as a family pet and companion means you need to be able to pro¬vide him with an outlet for the working and sporting instincts he was bred to have. You can teach him jobs to do at home, but you can also continue with your training and do much more with him.
– Therapy dogs are privately owned pets who, with their owner, visit nurs¬ing homes, day centers, schools, and other places to provide love and affection to people who need it. Labs make wonderful therapy dogs as soon as they have had some obedience training and are mature enough to control themselves, so they do not jump up on people.
– Agility is a dog sport that consists of the dog’s leaping, jumping, running, and crawling through a number of different obstacles as his owner directs him where to go next. Most Labs are quite good at this sport.
– Flyball is a team relay sport. The dogs jump a series of small hurdles, press a lever in a box that shoots out a tennis ball, and then return back over the hurdles. Since Labs love tennis balls and are quite athletic, this sport is made to order for them.
– Dock diving is a new sport that Labs absolutely love! The dog runs hard and then jumps off an elevated platform into the water in pursuit of a toy. The dog who can jump the longest distance wins.
– Teaching your dog to pull a wagon requires maturity on the dog’s part and training on yours, but it can be great fun and very useful.
– Obedience competition requires a great deal of training, but for those with a competitive streak, it’s also great fun. Many Labs have done extremely well in this sport.
– The Labrador Retriever has a very good nose and tracking comes easily to him. Tracking can be for fun (just for training purposes), for competition, or for search and rescue work.
– Labs are also good hunting companions and are still the breed of choice for retrieving waterfowl.
– Search and rescue dogs are always needed. This volunteer activity is very time-consuming, however, and requires training for both the dog and the owner. It is very rewarding, and Labs are awesome at it.
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The Lab was originally bred to be a versatile dog, and was developed from hard¬working dogs who performed many jobs, including retrieving both birds and fish. Most Labs, to varying degrees and depending upon their individual blood¬lines, retain some of these working instincts. This has a definite effect on the dog’s ability to be happy as a family companion and pet.
A dog from American show lines is usually a good choice as a pet, while field dogs may be too intense and driven to relax as a family pet. However, if a family member wants to participate in dog sports that require an intense, energetic dog—such as agility, flyball, dock diving, or search and rescue work—or if you plan to hunt with your dog, then a dog from field lines might be just right. Let’s take a look at the breed as a whole, though, because all Labrador Retrievers have many traits in common.
Labs Are Not Small
The Labrador Retriever is considered a medium to large dog, averaging from 60 to 80 pounds when fully grown—although many are bigger. That means a 60- to 100-pound dog stretched out across the living room floor or curled up on the sofa. A dog this large does not go unnoticed in a household, and many times adjustments must be made.
With this size comes strength. The Lab is a powerful dog and without train¬ing could easily jump on and knock down a child, a senior citizen, or even an unprepared adult. Older puppies and young adults are unaware of their size and strength and can easily hurt people even though they have no intention of doing so. However, with training, the dog can learn to restrain that power.
Labs Are High-Energy Dogs
The Lab is a fairly high-energy dog who requires daily exercise—daily strenuous exercise. A two- or three-mile walk around the neighborhood would be good exercise for an older dog or a puppy, but cannot be considered adequate exercise for a healthy adult dog. A good run, a fast session of throwing the ball, or a jog alongside a bicycle is more appropriate.
Many Labs will bark, especially when they’re playing, and it’s important to make sure your neighbors won’t be bothered by this. Lab puppies and adolescents are known to chew destructively on just about anything, from toys to your furni¬ture, so you will need to be able to spend time training the puppy and making sure you can prevent bad behavior. Labs also love food, any food, and have been known to raid trash cans for tidbits. They will also, when they get a chance, steal food from the kitchen counter; so again, training and pre¬vention are important. When bored, Labs will also try to escape from the yard when they don’t get enough exercise. They don’t do this mali¬ciously; they’re just looking for some¬thing to do. However, you’ll find that when your Labrador Retriever has been exercised daily and practices his training skills, he will be healthier, happier, and more relaxed, and destructiveness around the house and yard will be minimal.
Labs Need a Job
Because the breed was developed from dogs who assisted their owners in many ways, Labs today need an occupation, something to keep the mind challenged and the body busy. There are quite a few different jobs you can give your Lab. Use the dog’s obedience training to give him some structure in his life and to teach him to work for you and listen to your commands. Teach him to bring you your newspaper and find your slippers or keys. Teach him to find your kids by name. Find a dog training club in your area and try something new, like agility, scent hurdle races, or dock diving. Teach your dog to play Frisbee. All of these things will keep your Lab busy, focused, and happy.
Do You Have a Problem with Hair?
Labs shed. There is no way to get around it. Yes, that hair looks short, but the undercoat is thicker than you might think, and those short hairs stick in every¬thing. Although the breed doesn’t shed as much as many other breeds—Collies and German Shepherds, for example—that wonderful, weather-resistant coat does shed. If dog hair in the house bothers you, don’t get a Lab. Living with a Lab requires a few compromises, and understanding that the dog sheds is one of them. The worst shedding times are spring and fall, depending upon the climate, but some shedding takes place all year round. The easiest way to keep it under control is to brush the dog thoroughly every day.
Labs Are Slow to Mature
By the age of 2 years, many dogs are grown up—mentally and physically. Labs, however, are puppies for a long time. Physically, most Labs do not reach maturity until 3 or 4 years old. They are still filling out, getting that Lab chest, and their coat is maturing.
The aspect of this that bothers most pet owners is the breed’s slow mental maturity. Labs are puppies a long time, and often are not mentally mature until 3 or 4 years of age. That means while some breeds can be trusted in the house not to get into trouble by 2 years of age, Labs may need to be 4. A 3-year-old Lab may still want to raid the trash can or get into the cat food. This is not a problem if you are aware of it. But many unsuspecting pet owners, especially those who have previously had puppies of other breeds, may assume that Labs grow up at the same rate and may be disappointed when their Lab doesn’t.
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Labrador Retriever puppies are round, fuzzy, clumsy little crea¬tures with floppy feet sticking out at each corner. It’s not hard to fall in love with this funny and affectionate puppy. However, Labs don’t stay fuzzy puppies; they grow up to be big dogs weighing 60 to 80 pounds, and sometimes even more. The Lab can be a wonderful sporting dog and a devoted family companion, but he is not for everyone. He needs an owner who can provide him with leadership as well as companionship. He needs someone who can spend time with him and who enjoys training and dog sports. The Lab is a true companion dog. This is not a dog to leave alone in the backyard for hours each day.
Are You Ready for a Dog?
Adding a dog to your household should be a well-thought-out decision. You will be taking on the responsibility of a living, thinking, caring animal, who is will¬ing to give his life for you. That’s a big responsibility.
A dog should never be acquired on impulse. It’s always best to think through what’s involved in owning a dog and to be honest with yourself. So let’s take a look at dog ownership and see if you can do what’s needed for any dog, and then we’ll look specifically at Labs.
– Do you have time for a dog? Dogs need your time for companionship, affection, play, and training. You cannot dash in the door, toss down some dog food, and leave again. That’s not fair, and the dog will react badly to it.
– Do you live in a place where dogs are allowed and are welcome? If you rent your home, do you have permission from your landlord to have a dog? Not all neighborhoods and buildings are dog-friendly, so make sure a dog will be welcome before you bring one home.
– Who, besides yourself, is living with the dog? Is everyone in agreement about getting a dog? If you want the dog but someone else in the house¬hold is afraid or doesn’t like the dog, that could become very difficult.
– Is there someone in the family who could have a hard time with the dog? Is there a baby in the house, someone who is very frail, or a senior citizen with poor balance? Dogs can be unaware of their strength and size, espe¬cially when they’re puppies.
– Do you have other pets in the household? Will your cat enjoy having a dog in the house? You may have to protect your rabbit, ferret, or gerbil from a rambunctious puppy.
– Have you lived with a dog before? Do you know what to expect? Really? Dogs can shed, drag in dirt and leaves from outside, catch and kill a rodent and then throw up the remains on the living room sofa.
– Do you have the money to care for a dog? Dogs need to be spayed or neutered, need vaccinations, and may hurt themselves, requiring emer¬gency veterinary care. Plus, you will need a dog crate, leash and collar, toys, and dog food.
Dog ownership is wonderful. Dogs are the ultimate confidants and never reveal your secrets. They are security in a scary world and the best friend a per¬son could have. But only if you are really ready for the responsibilities of caring for one.
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The Labrador Retriever has soared in popularity in the United States, and has reigned as the most popular dog in the country (measured by AKC registrations) for more than a decade. Today’s Labrador Retriever breeders are trying to develop dual-, triple-, and multipurpose Labs in an effort to demonstrate and maintain the breeds working instincts. Club members and breeders are encouraged to strive to breed Labrador Retrievers who look like Labs, hunt like Labs, and can per¬form a variety of jobs.
Unfortunately, the breed’s popularity has also created a big market for Labs, and this has resulted in many people breeding the dog for profit, either in puppy mills (commercial dog farms) or in family backyards. These people, even those who genuinely care about the breed, often know little about the breed standard, genetics, or the breed’s health concerns, and so may turn out inferior dogs.
All of these variables have created several different types of Labrador Retrievers. Although these dogs may have some differences, they are still Labs, and each has a core of fanciers who love them. These are some of the different types seen.
– English Labrador Retrievers tend to be heavier boned, with a more pro¬nounced, blocky head and a thicker body than the American Labs.
– American Labrador Retrievers, bred to show in conformation dog shows, are often from English lines, but many tend to be longer-legged, making them a little taller than their English relations.
– Labs bred to work in the field and compete in field trials are generally taller, more slender, and more athletic than their show dog cousins. The field Labs are also more active and have a very strong instinct to retrieve.
– Pet Labs vary according to their ancestry. Unfortunately, many pet Labs are small and lighter boned than they should be, and many do not have the trademark level, stable temperament of the Labrador Retriever.
People looking for a new Lab need to understand what their needs are as far as a dog is concerned and what their goals are for the dog. Obviously, if you would like to compete in conformation dog shows with your new dog, you will need a dog from show lines, purchased from a reputable breeder.
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It’s ironic that Labrador Retrievers, which were developed in North America, came to us from Britian. They were being exported to the United States and were popu¬lar before World War I. Although the AKC grouped them together with the other retrievers, those who were active in sport shooting considered the Labrador Retriever the best breed for waterfowlers. Many serious breeders from Long Island imported the dogs, as did expert kennel men and gamekeepers from Europe.
By the later part of the 1920s, the AKC recognized the Labrador Retriever as a separate breed.
What Is the AKC?
The American Kennel Club (AKC) is the oldest and largest pure¬bred dog registry in the United States. Its main function is to record the pedigrees of dogs of the breeds it recognizes. While AKC registration papers are a guarantee that a dog is pure¬bred, they are absolutely not a guarantee of the quality of the dog—as the AKC itself will tell you.
The AKC makes the rules for all the canine sporting events it sanctions and approves judges for those events. It is also involved in various public education programs and legislative efforts regarding dog ownership. More recently the AKC has helped establish a foundation to study canine health issues and a program to register microchip numbers for companion ani¬mal owners. The AKC has no individual members—its members are national and local breed clubs and clubs dedicated to vari¬ous competitive sports.
The Labrador Club of America was founded on Long Island late in 1930, and Mrs. Marshall Field became the first president, serving from 1931 to 1935. Franklin B. Lord and Robert Goelet were co-vice presidents. Mrs. Marshall Field judged the first specialty show in 1933. (A specialty show is for only one breed.) It was held in a garage in New York City. Thirty-four dogs were entered, and the winner was Boli of Blake, owned by Lord.
In the 1920s and 1930s, when most Labrador Retrievers were being run in retrieving trials as well as competing in dog shows, many famous Long Island families were involved in these competitions. Some of them included the Phipps, the Marshall Fields, J. P. Morgan, Wilton Lloyd Smith, and the Whitneys.
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