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Labrador Retriever – general information.
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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There are many theories about the origin of the breed known today as the Labrador Retriever. One point on which all historians seem to agree is that the breed originally came from Newfoundland in far northeastern Canada, not Labrador. They were known by several names— including the St. Johns Water Dog, the Little Newfoundlander, and the Black Water Dog.
Some believe the Labrador Retriever was developed by the fishermen off the coast of Newfoundland, and that the breed was the result of an attempt to pro¬duce a somewhat smaller dog because the Newfoundland breed is a bit cumber¬some. The dog had to be a good retriever, had to have good bone and strong limbs to pull heavy loads, and needed a dense coat thick enough to withstand the cold water, but one that would not ball up with ice. She had to be eager to please, able to swim great distances, and happy to live on a diet of fish and what¬ever else could be scrounged up. The Labrador Retriever became that dog. But how?
That is the mystery. Some believe the large Newfoundland dogs were indige¬nous to Newfoundland. Others believe there were no dogs there until the Europeans came to the coast to fish.
It appears that the native inhabitants of the island, the Beothucks, did not have any dogs. The British began to fish in Newfoundland in 1498, and about twenty years later they built some settlements. Most of the settlers were hunters as well as fishermen. They wanted dogs to hunt and retrieve their fish and work around the settlement. Most historians of the breed agree that the fishing boats commonly ran between Newfoundland and Poole Harbour, in Dorset. The fish¬ermen went back and forth to sell their salted codfish, and their dogs often made the trip as well.
The dogs brought by the settlers were probably the only dogs in Newfoundland, and over the centuries they were bred and trained to meet the needs of their owners. From these various breeds of dogs, bred over a period of 280 years under rigorous conditions, the Newfoundland dog and the Labrador Retriever were developed. They were the product of their environment and sur¬vival of the fittest and, perhaps, selective breeding.
Some time around 1818, some of these dogs were seen and purchased in England. The English waterfowl hunters were quick to appreciate these talented dogs. The Second Earl of Malmesbury was said to have purchased several from some of the fishing boat captains, and, liking these dogs, he continued to import and breed them. Although the earl said that he kept his lines as pure as possible, it’s likely that at some point the dogs were bred with the retrievers that were being used in England before the fishermen arrived—to improve the local dogs. The Third Earl of Malmesbury gave some of his dogs to the Sixth Earl of Buccleigh, and it was he who actually started keeping good breeding records.
In 1904, the Kennel Club in Britain listed Labrador Retrievers as a separate breed. Before that time, retriever covered the broad category of all retrievers. Labs were gaining popularity by leaps and bounds, winning at field trials and in the ring at dog shows.
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Labrador Retrievers have been the most popular dog in America for many years, for several reasons. The breed’s size and easy-care coat certainly have something to do with this popularity, but most enthusiasts say they love the dogs’ personality. Labs are fun. They love to play and are always up for whatever you want to do. You like hiking? Labs love to go for a hike! You like to go swimming? They’ll do that, too. Labs chase balls and catch Frisbees. They will play with the kids, and go jogging with Dad. Labs enjoy life!
Family and Friends
Labrador Retrievers are devoted family dogs. They love everyone in the family equally with loyalty and devotion. When you come home, even if you’ve only been gone a few minutes, you’ll be greeted with a wagging tail, a wriggling body, and a smiling face.
This breed is also very devoted to his friends. Once you’re a friend, you will be greeted with enthusiasm each and every time the dog sees you, no matter whether it’s weekly or once a year.
Intelligence and Trainability
Labs are bright dogs. They are smart enough to get into trouble and can figure out problems: Many Labs have figured out how to open sliding glass doors to let themselves into the house! The breed is also very trainable. When you have fig¬ured out how to motivate the dog and keep his attention, Labs can (and have) been trained in agility, flyball, obedience, therapy dog work, search and rescue, and much more.
Although Lab puppies can be very silly and easily distracted, once past ado¬lescence they can become more serious about training. Puppy owners just need to be patient and consistent with training.
Labs do best in a household where the people want to do things with him. If they’re left alone for too many hours each day, many Labs will find ways to amuse themselves, and often those activities will be unwelcome. Labs have been known to bark too much, dig holes in the lawn, pull down the woodpile searching for critters, and escape from the yard. Labs can also be destructive chewers. However, when you can spend time with him every day and can make sure the dog gets enough exercise, your Lab will be a wonderful companion dog.
If you’re looking for a protective dog, perhaps a dog who would give his life to defend you, don’t get a Lab. Labs will bark a few times when someone approaches the house, but other than that, the breed is not at all protective. This breed was bred to be nonthreatening.
This trait is one of the reasons why they are such good family dogs. Not only are Labs always ready to play, but they also don’t get upset when other people play. For example, if your son brings home his friends and the kids begin wrestling in the backyard, the Lab may either join in or just watch. A protective dog will be very upset. To a protective dog, wrestling is a potential attack. But not to a Lab.
Working Dog Extraordinaire
Several of the breeds characteristics have made them very popular as working dogs. The Lab’s keen sense of smell and love of play has lead many military and law enforcement agencies to use them for detection work. With a play session as a reward, Labs will search for drugs, contraband, and other items. They are also excellent search and rescue dogs.
The breed’s devotion to his owners and trainability have made it popular as assistance and service dogs. The Lab’s wonderful temperament and friendliness lead them to be wonderful therapy dogs. Labrador Retrievers can be found working in many different occupations.
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The Labrador Retriever should be medium in size and give the appearance of a dog who is strong, muscular, and active. He is well balanced, not clumsy or spindly. He should appear ready for action at any time. There is a distinct dif¬ference between the sexes. Male Labs should look masculine: strong, thick-necked, and with heavier bones. Females are definitely more feminine: strong and athletic yet not as heavily boned as the males or as muscled. In this section, I briefly describe the ideal Labrador Retriever based on the breed standard.
When looking at a Lab, the first thing you notice is the dog’s head. The Lab has a fairly broad skull. The head should not have big, heavy, apple cheeks or flews (lips) that are too pendulous. The head should have a neat, clean appear¬ance. The muzzle should be strong and never thin or pointed.
The eyes are where we see that irresistible sweet, kind, alert expres¬sion. The eyes should be the shape of a rounded diamond. Although some roundness in the eyes can be attractive, they should not resemble the round eyes of a Cocker Spaniel, nor should they be too almond-shaped. They should be a warm brown on all dogs, no matter what the coat color, and maybe a bit darker on a yellow Lab. When you look into a Lab’s eyes, you should see instant friendliness.
The ears should be set off the side of the skull, not too high and not too low. They should be of medium size, hanging so that the bottom tips are about two inches below the eyes. The ears should not be so big or so small that they draw attention to themselves. And they should never be long or folded, as they are on many hounds.
The neck is strong and of medium length. There is nothing elegant about this dog. He should remind you of a small Mack truck—agile but strong and sturdy. He should appear well balanced, with all parts of him in proportion and work¬ing together correctly.
As you continue down the neck, past the withers (point of the shoulder), the topline (along the spine) should be rather level, never swayback or sloping. The chest should be deep with ribs like a barrel. The front legs are well underneath the dog, allowing a prominent breastbone to show and creating the picture of a powerful chest.
What Is a Breed Standard?
A breed standard is a detailed description of the perfect dog of that breed. Breeders use the standard as a guide in their breed¬ing programs, and judges use it to evaluate the dogs in confor¬mation shows. The standard is written by the national breed club, using guidelines established by the registry that recog¬nizes the breed (such as the AKC or UKC).
The first section of the breed standard gives a brief overview of the breed’s history. Then it describes the dog’s general appearance and size as an adult. Next is a detailed description of the head and neck, then the back and body, and the front and rear legs. The standard then describes the ideal coat and how the dog should be presented in the show ring. It also lists all acceptable colors, patterns, and markings. Then there’s a section on how the dog moves, called gait. Finally, there’s a general description of the dog’s temperament.
Each section also lists characteristics that are considered to be faults or disqualifications in the conformation ring. Superficial faults in appearance are often what distinguish a pet-quality dog from a show- or competition-quality dog. However, some faults affect the way a dog moves or his overall health. And faults in temperament are serious business.
All four legs should have good, thick bone, with the front legs coming straight down from the shoulders. The rear legs should be well bent at the knee or stifle. The hindquarters should be thick, with well-muscled thighs.
As a Labrador Retriever moves, his tail usually wags happily from side to side. It should never be carried curled up over the back like a hounds tail. A tail that is carried too low or between the legs will give the appearance of timidity.
The Lab’s tail is called an otter tail because it’s thick at the base and tapers down to a tip, like the tail of an otter. The tail should be well covered with a very distinctive short, dense coat. The underside of the tail should never have any long, feathery hair on it.
The Coat and Colors
The Labrador Retriever comes in three solid colors: black, yellow, and chocolate. The black is very black; the yellow ranges from an almost white to a dark yellow; and the chocolate is a rich brown. A white spot on the chest is permissible.
Dogs in all colors should have a waterproof, double coat. The thick under-coat lies beneath the topcoat. The topcoat should be a bit rough to the touch and doesn’t have to lie flat. In fact, if the coat is too slick, the dog probably doesn’t have a good undercoat and would not be useful as a retriever in cold water. The under-coat acts as insulation and, working in conjunction with the coat’s natu¬ral oil, helps repel water.
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The Labrador Retriever is a sporting dog, as classified by the American Kennel Club and other breed registries. The Sporting Group includes the other retriev¬ers, such as the Golden Retriever and the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, as well as the setters, spaniels, and pointers. The breeds that make up the Sporting Group were all bred to work alongside and help out hunters.
Their hunting skills varied according to the purpose for which they were bred. But most of the dogs in the Sporting Group have some characteristics in common. First of all, they are intelligent and quick to learn. Training is easy when you have learned how to motivate the dog. But these dogs can also think for themselves, and when they do, training can be a challenge.
Sporting dogs are also athletic and busy, especially as puppies. They need daily exercise and activities. Without enough exercise and an occupation to keep them busy, these dogs can get into trouble.
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