|Foundation stock||St. John's water dog|
|Dog (domestic dog)|
The Labrador Retriever, often abbreviated to Labrador or Lab, is a breed of retriever-gun dog from the United Kingdom that was developed from imported Canadian fishing dogs. The Labrador is one of the most popular dog breeds in a number of countries in the world, particularly in the Western world.
A popular disability assistance breed in many countries, Labradors are frequently trained to aid those with blindness or autism, act as a therapy dog, or perform screening and detection work for law enforcement and other official agencies. The breed is best known for their obedience, loyalty, and playful composure. Additionally, they are prized as sporting and hunting dogs. Ancestors include a breed used in Newfoundland as fishing dogs, that would help in bringing in the fishing nets and recapture escaped fish.
In the 1830s, the 10th Earl of Home and his nephews the 5th Duke of Buccleuch and Lord John Scott, imported progenitors of the breed from Newfoundland to Europe for use as gundogs. Another early advocate of these Newfoundland fishing dogs was the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury, who bred them for their expertise in waterfowling.
During the 1880s, the 3rd Earl of Malmesbury, the 6th Duke of Buccleuch, and the 12th Earl of Home collaborated to develop and establish the Labrador Retriever breed. The dogs Buccleuch Avon and Buccleuch Ned, given by Malmesbury to Buccleuch, were mated with bitches carrying blood from those originally imported by the 5th Duke and the 10th Earl of Home. The offspring are the ancestors of all modern Labradors.
The Labrador breed dates back to at least the 1830s, when St. Johns Water Dogs bred by European settlers in Newfoundland, were first introduced to Britain from ships trading between Canada and Poole in Dorsetshire. These were then bred with British hunting dogs to create what became known as the Labrador Retriever. Its early patrons included the Earl of Malmesbury, the Duke of Buccleuch, the Earl of Home, and Sir John Scott. Early writers have confused the Labrador with the much larger Newfoundland and the Lesser Newfoundland, with Charles St. John even referring to the Lesser Newfoundland as the Newfoundland. Colonel Peter Hawker describes the first Labrador as being not larger than an English Pointer, more often black than other colours, long in its head and nose with a deep chest, fine legs, and short and smooth coat, and did not carry its tail as highly as the Newfoundland. Hawker distinguishes the Newfoundland from both the "proper Labrador" and St. John's breed of these dogs in the fifth edition of his book Introductions to Young Sportsman, published in 1846.
The first photograph of the breed was taken in 1857 (the Earl of Home's dog "Nell", described both as a Labrador and a St. John's water dog). By 1870, the name Labrador Retriever became common in England. The first yellow Labrador on record was born in 1899 (Ben of Hyde, kennels of Major C.J. Radclyffe), and the breed was recognised by the Kennel Club in 1903. The first American Kennel Club (AKC) registration was in 1917. The Liver (now typically called Chocolate) Labrador emerged in the late 1800s, with liver-coloured pups documented at the Buccleuch kennels in 1892. The first dog to appear on the cover of Life magazine was a black Labrador Retriever called "Blind of Arden" in the 12 December 1938 issue.
As with some other breeds, the Conformation (typically "Show", "English" or "bench") and the Field (typically "Working" or "American") lines differ, although both lines are bred in both countries and the origins of both are from British lines. In general, however, Conformation Labradors tend to be bred as medium-sized dogs, shorter and stockier with fuller faces and a slightly calmer nature than their Field counterparts, which are often bred as taller, lighter-framed dogs, with slightly less broad faces and a slightly longer nose. However, Field Labradors should still be proportional and fit within American Kennel Club standards. With Field Labradors, excessively long noses, thin heads, long legs, and lanky frames are not considered standard. These two types are informal and not codified or standardised; no distinction is made by the AKC or other kennel clubs, but the two types come from different breeding lines. Australian stock also exists; though not seen in the West, they are common in Asia. These dogs are also very good with children.
The breed tends to shed hair biannually or regularly throughout the year in temperate climates. Some Labradors shed considerably; however, each dog is different and this might not be the case with all of them. Labrador hair is usually short and straight, and the tail is quite broad and strong. The webbed toes of the Labrador Retriever make them excellent swimmers. The webbing between their toes can also serve as a "snowshoe" in colder climates. It keeps snow from balling up between their toes--a condition that can be painful to other breeds with hair between the toes. Their interwoven coat is also relatively waterproof, providing more assistance for swimming.
There is a great deal of variety among Labradors. The following characteristics are typical of the conformation show bred (bench-bred) lines of this breed in the United States and are based on the American Kennel Club standard. Significant differences between U.K. and U.S. standards are noted.
The tail and coat are designated "distinctive [or distinguishing] features" of the Labrador by both the Kennel Club and AKC. The AKC adds that "true Labrador Retriever temperament is as much a hallmark of the breed as the 'otter' tail."
Labrador Retrievers are registered in three colours: black (a solid black colour), yellow (considered from creamy white to fox-red), and chocolate (medium to dark brown and originally called "Liver").  Many kennel clubs now require DNA testing to prove that the Labrador is purebred and does not carry dilution. Occasionally, Labradors will exhibit small amounts of white fur on their chest, paws, or tail, and rarely a purebred Labrador will exhibit brindling stripes or tan points similar to a Rottweiler.These markings are a disqualification for show dogs, but do not have any bearing on the dog's temperament or ability to be a good working dog or pet.
Puppies of all colours can potentially occur in the same litter. Colour is determined primarily by three genes. The first gene (the B locus) determines the density of the coat's eumelanin pigment granules, if that pigment is allowed: dense granules result in a black coat, sparse ones give a chocolate coat. The second (E) locus determines whether the eumelanin is produced at all. A dog with the recessive e allele will produce only phaeomelanin pigment and will be yellow regardless of its genotype at the B locus. The genes known about previously have had their number increased by the introduction of the K locus, where the dominant "black" allele KB is now known to reside. Black or chocolate Labradors therefore must have the KB allele. Yellow Labradors are determined at the E locus, so the K locus is irrelevant in determining their colour. Variations in numerous other genes control the subtler details of the coat's colouration, which in yellow Labradors varies from creamy white to fox-red. Chocolate and black Labradors' noses will match the coat colour.
According to a 2011 study, 13 out of 245 Labradors studied were heterozygous for the M264V mutation responsible for the melanistic mask, and one was homozygous. Within the breed, this trait is not visible.
Labrador colouration is controlled by multiple genes. It is possible for recessive genes to re-emerge in later generations. Also, there can sometimes be unexpected pigmentation effects to different parts of the body. Pigmentation effects appear in regard to yellow Labradors, and sometimes chocolate, and hence the majority of this section covers pigmentation within the yellow Labrador. The most common places where pigmentation is visible are the nose, lips, gums, feet, tail, and the rims of the eyes, which may be black, brown, light yellow-brown ("liver", caused by having two genes for chocolate), or several other colours. A Labrador can carry genes for a different colour; for example, a black Labrador can carry recessive chocolate and yellow genes, and a yellow Labrador can carry recessive genes for the other two colours. DNA testing can reveal some aspects of these. Less common pigmentations (other than pink) are a fault, not a disqualification, and hence such dogs are still permitted to be shown.
The intensity of black pigment on yellow Labradors is controlled by a separate gene independent of the fur colouring. Yellow Labradors usually have black noses, which may gradually turn pink with age (called "snow nose" or "winter nose"). This is due to a reduction in the enzyme tyrosinase which indirectly controls the production of melanin, a dark colouring. Tyrosinase is temperature dependent--hence light colouration can be seasonal, due to cold weather--and is less produced with increasing age from 2 years old onwards. As a result, the nose colour of most yellow Labradors becomes a somewhat pink shade as they grow older.
A colouration known as "Dudley" is also possible. Dudleys are variously defined as yellow Labradors which have unpigmented (pink) noses (LRC), yellow with liver/chocolate pigmentation (AKC), or "flesh coloured" in addition to having the same colour around the rims of the eye, rather than having black or dark brown pigmentation. A yellow Labrador with brown or chocolate pigmentation, for example, a brown or chocolate nose, is not necessarily a Dudley, though according to the AKC's current standard it would be if it has chocolate rims around the eyes (or more accurately of the genotype eebb). Breed standards for Labradors considers a true Dudley to be a disqualifying feature in a conformation show Lab, such as one with a thoroughly pink nose or one lacking in any pigment along with flesh coloured rims around the eyes. True Dudleys are extremely rare.
Breeding in order to correct pigmentation often lacks dependability. Because colour is determined by many genes, some of which are recessive, crossbreeding a pigmentation non-standard yellow Labrador to a black Labrador may not correct the matter or prevent future generations carrying the same recessive genes. For similar reasons, crossbreeding chocolate to yellow Labradors is also often avoided.
As a result of specialised breeding there are significant differences between field and trial-bred and show-bred lines of Labradors. In the United States, the former are sometimes mistakenly referred to as "American" and the latter as "English", in fact both field and show types are bred in both countries and all Labrador Retrievers are descended from British lines. In the United Kingdom, they are called "Working" and "Show". Dogs bred for hunting and field-trial work are selected first for working ability, where dogs bred to compete in conformation shows are selected for their conformation to the standards and characteristics sought by judges in the show ring.
While individual dogs may vary, in general show-bred Labradors are heavier built, slightly shorter-bodied, and have a thicker coat and tail. Field Labradors are generally longer-legged, lighter, and more lithe in build, making them agile. In the head, show Labradors tend to have broader heads, better defined stops, and more powerful necks, while field Labradors have lighter and slightly narrower heads with longer muzzles. Field-bred Labradors are commonly higher energy and more high-strung compared to the Labrador bred for conformation showing while conformation breeds are calmer in energy, and as a consequence Field-bred may be more suited to working relationships than being a "family pet". Some breeders, especially those specialising in the field type, feel that breed shows do not adequately recognise their type of dog, leading to occasional debate regarding officially splitting the breed into subtypes.
In the United States, the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the Labrador's breed club have set the breed standard to accommodate the field-bred Labrador somewhat. For instance, the AKC withers-height standards allow conformation dogs to be slightly taller than the equivalent British standard. However, dual champions, or dogs that excel in both the field and the show ring, are becoming more unusual.
The AKC describes the Labrador's temperament as a kind, pleasant, outgoing and tractable nature. Labradors' sense of smell allows them to home in on almost any scent and follow the path of its origin. They generally stay on the scent until they find it. Navies, military forces and police forces use them as detection dogs to track down smugglers, thieves, terrorists and black marketers. They are known to have a very soft feel to the mouth as a result of being bred to retrieve game such as waterfowl. They are prone to chewing objects (though they can be trained to abandon this behaviour).
Labradors have a reputation as a very even-tempered breed and an excellent family dog. This includes a good reputation with children of all ages and other animals. Some lines, particularly those that have continued to be bred specifically for their skills at working in the field (rather than for their appearance), are particularly fast and athletic. Their fun-loving boisterousness and lack of fear may require training and intelligent handling at times to ensure it does not get out of hand--an uncontrolled adult can be quite problematic. Bitches may be slightly more independent than dogs. Labradors mature at around three years of age; before this time they can have a significant degree of puppy-like energy, often mislabelled as being hyperactive. Because of their enthusiasm, leash-training early on is suggested to prevent pulling when full-grown. Labradors often enjoy retrieving a ball endlessly (often obsessively) and other forms of activity (such as agility, frisbee, or flyball).
Although they will sometimes bark at noise, especially noise from an unseen source ("alarm barking"), Labradors are usually not noisy or territorial. They are often very easygoing and trusting with strangers and therefore are not usually suitable as guard dogs.
Labradors as a breed are curious and exploratory and love company, following both people and interesting scents for food, attention, and novelty value. In this way, they can often "vanish" or otherwise become separated from their owners with little fanfare. As a breed, they are highly intelligent and capable of intense single-mindedness and focus if motivated or their interest is caught. Therefore, with the right conditions and stimuli, a bored Labrador could "turn into an escape artist par excellence". Many dogs are also stolen. Because of their curious nature and ability to "vanish," along with the risk of being stolen, a number of dog clubs and rescue organisations (including the UK's Kennel Club) consider it good practice that Labradors be microchipped, with the owner's name and address also on their collar and tags.
The steady temperament of Labradors and their ability to learn make them an ideal breed for search and rescue, detection, and therapy work. They are a very intelligent breed. They are ranked No. 7 in Stanley Coren's The Intelligence of Dogs, making it one of the brightest dogs out of 138 breeds tested. The AKC describes the breed as an ideal family and sporting dog. Their primary working role in the field continues to be that of a hunting retriever.
Labradors are an intelligent breed with a good work ethic and generally good temperaments. Common working roles for Labradors include: hunting, tracking and detection (they have a great sense of smell which helps when working in these areas), disabled-assistance, carting, and therapy work. Approximately 60-70% of all guide dogs in Canada are Labradors; other common breeds are Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds.
Labrador Retrievers have proven to have a high success rate at becoming guide dogs. A study was recently done on how well four different breeds (Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever/Golden Retriever Mix, and German Shepherds) trained to become guide dogs. In this experiment, German Shepherds had the highest chance of not completing it. Labrador Retrievers and Labrador Retriever/Golden Retriever Mix had the highest success rate. However, German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers had a higher success rate after going through longer training than the training required for Labrador Retrievers.
Labradors are powerful and indefatigable swimmers noted for their ability to tolerate the coldest of water for extended periods of time. Their ability to work quietly alongside hunters while watching for birds to fall from the sky, marking where they land, and then using their outstanding nose to find and retrieve dead or wounded birds has made them the king of waterfowl retrievers.
The high intelligence, initiative and self-direction of Labradors in working roles is exemplified by dogs such as Endal, who was trained to, if need be, put his human who uses a wheelchair in the recovery position, cover him with a blanket, and activate an emergency phone. A number of Labradors have also been taught to assist their owner in removing money and credit cards from ATMs with prior training.
The breed is used in water rescue/lifesaving. It continues in that role today, along with the Leonberger, Newfoundland and Golden Retriever dogs; they are used at the Italian School of Canine Lifeguard.
It is a healthy breed with relatively few major problems. Notable issues related to health and well-being include inherited disorders and obesity (most are missing all or parts of the appetite regulating POMC gene).
A Royal Veterinary College study, and one conducted by The University of Sydney, have concluded that Chocolate Labradors have a shorter average life expectancy than other colours of Labrador (by about 10%) and are more likely to suffer some health problems. It is thought that this is due to breeder's attempts to increase their numbers through selective coat colour breeding at the expense of other important health traits. The brown coat colour is naturally rare (compared to yellow and black), and it has been fashionable since the 1980s. This has created a demand for larger numbers.
Hip scores are recommended before breeding and often joint supplements are recommended.
Labradors like to eat, and they can become obese without proper exercise. Obesity is a serious condition and can be considered the number one nutritional problem with dogs. A study shows that at least 25% of dogs in the United States are overweight. Therefore, Labradors must be properly exercised and stimulated. A healthy Labrador can do swimming wind sprints for two hours, and should keep a very slight hourglass waist and be fit and light, rather than fat or heavy-set. Obesity can exacerbate conditions such as hip dysplasia and joint problems, and can lead to secondary diseases. Osteoarthritis is very common in older, especially overweight, Labradors. A 14-year study covering 48 dogs by food manufacturer Purina showed that Labradors fed to maintain a lean body shape outlived those fed freely by around two years, emphasising the importance of not over-feeding. Labradors should be walked twice a day for at least half an hour.
It has been shown that the Labrador Retriever is the most likely dog breed to be obese. In a 2016 published study, it was shown that out of 310 Labradors, most were missing all or parts of the POMC gene. This gene plays a part in appetite regulation as well as indication of the amount of one's stored fat. The study concluded that the absence of that gene had a significant impact on Labrador weight and appetite. This POMC gene mutation is present in only one other breed - the Flat-Coated Retriever.
In the United States, the breed gained wider recognition following a 1928 American Kennel Gazette article, "Meet the Labrador Retriever". Before this time, the AKC had only registered 23 Labradors in the country, in part because US and UK hunting styles had different requirements. Labradors acquired popularity as hunting dogs during the 1920s and especially after World War II, as they gained recognition as combining some of the best traits of the two favourite United States breeds as both game finders and water dogs.
Outside North America and Western Europe, the Labrador arrived later. For example, the Russian Retriever Club traces the arrival of Labradors to the late 1960s, as household pets of diplomats and others in the foreign ministry. The establishment of the breed in the Commonwealth of Independent States (former USSR) was initially hindered by the relatively small numbers of Labradors and great distances involved, leading to difficulty establishing breedings and bloodlines; at the start of the 1980s, home-born dogs were still regularly supplemented by further imports from overseas. Difficulties such as these initially led to Labradors being tacitly cross-bred to other types of retriever. In the 1990s, improved access to overseas shows and bloodlines is said to have helped regularise this situation.
The Labrador is an exceptionally popular dog. For example, as of 2006:
There is no global registry of Labradors, nor is there detailed information on numbers of Labradors living in each country. As of 2005, the five countries with the largest numbers of Labrador registrations are the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Sweden and Finland.
Note: The number of registrations is not necessarily the same as the number of living dogs at any given time.
The Vietnam War is the only war in American history in which US war dogs, which were officially classified by the military as "military working dogs," were not allowed to officially return home after the war. Classified as expendable equipment, of the approximate 4,000 US K-9s deployed to the Vietnam War, it is estimated that only about 200 US war dogs survived Vietnam to be put into service at other outposts stationed overseas. Aside from these 200 or so, the remaining canines who were not killed in action were either euthanised or left behind.
The predominate canine selected by the US military during the Vietnam War was the German Shepherd Dog, which was used in the roles of guide Dogs, Sentry Dogs, Mine Detection Dogs, and the US Navy used Water Dogs to detect enemy under water divers in South Vietnam. The Labrador Retriever was the military's choice for their Combat Tracker Teams (CTTs). Combat Tracker Teams consisted of one Labrador and four or five men: the handler, an observer, one or two cover men, and the team leader. Labradors were selected by the military for tracking because of their distinct smelling qualities, and were used to locate wounded US servicemen, enemy patrols, and downed allied airmen in Vietnam. The US Army Labrador Retrievers received their combat training at the British Army's Jungle Warfare School in Malaysia.
Of the over 4,000 US war dogs serving in the Vietnam War, 232 were killed in action and 295 US servicemen deployed as "dog handlers" were killed in action. Dog handler Robert W. Hartsock was awarded the Medal of Honor. Six Labrador Retrievers were killed in action while assigned to the 62nd and 63rd US Army Combat Tracking Teams. During the course of the war the US Army lost 204 dogs, while the US Marine Corps and US Air Force lost 13 and 15 dogs, respectively.
In November 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law an amendment that allowed retired US military working dogs (war dogs) to be adopted by personnel outside of the military, leaving the Vietnam War as the only war in US history in which American war dogs never returned home.
As both the most popular breed by registered ownership and also the most popular breed for assistance dogs in several countries, there have been many notable and famous Labradors since the breed was recognised.
A selection of a few of the most famous labradors within various categories includes:
Labrador retrievers Kerry V. Kern.
Labrador Retriever Most popular breed of assistance dog.