AT A GLANCE: The Labrador retriever
- Friendly, loyal, and intelligent
- Typically 21 to 25 inches tall
- Average weight of 55 to 80 pounds
- Kind eyes, broad head, thick tail
- Short coat in yellow, chocolate, or black
- Average lifespan of 10 to 13 years
Physical characteristics of the Labrador retriever
There are two varieties of Labrador retrievers. The traditional English Lab is shorter and stockier than its lankier American brother, but both varieties sport broad heads and strong jaws capable of carrying large game birds. Labradors are muscular and heavy, with strong legs that enable efficient swimming and running.
The Labrador’s short, dense coat, with a soft undercoat, comes in yellow, chocolate, or black.
Personality and temperament of the Labrador retriever
Labrador retrievers have a long history of being eager to please their owners. The breed originated as an all-purpose water dog in Newfoundland in the early 1800s, but was refined into a retriever in England before being recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1917.
The Labrador’s original function as a hunting companion remains in its blood today, and these dogs continue to work tirelessly for their owners. Aside from hunting, modern Labradors are called on for other important jobs, including assistants for disabled owners, search and rescue, obedience and agility trials, and, of course, faithful and loving family companions. They excel in every role.
The Labrador’s happy disposition is one of the driving forces behind the breed’s steady increase in popularity. Labrador retrievers are intelligent and patient companions, and when properly trained, can be calm housemates. They generally tolerate most living situations, from life with rambunctious children and other pets, to the more peaceful home of a retiree.
Common health concerns for the Labrador retrieverLabrador retrievers’ popularity puts them in high demand, which has led to irresponsible breeding practices that, in turn, results in dogs who are more prone to inherit conditions common to the breed, including:
Canine hip dysplasia (CHD)
Canine hip dysplasia is an orthopedic condition in which the “ball and socket” of the hip joint are incorrectly configured. Over time, CHD leads to painful degenerative joint disease, and many dogs will need lifelong treatment. Before purchasing a Labrador retriever, find a breeder who will share the details of the dog’s specific bloodlines. Reputable breeders will be forthcoming about the health of their dogs’ hips and will provide documentation.
Like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia is an orthopedic condition caused when the joint comes together abnormally. Chronic joint inflammation leads to degenerative changes, and clinical signs appear in dogs as early as 4 to 6 months of age. Again, reputable breeders will be happy to discuss the health of their dogs’ elbows.
Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV)
The mother of all canine emergencies, GDV occurs when a dog’s stomach becomes distended for any reason and then rotates in the abdomen. Fluid and gas can neither enter nor escape, and in addition, the twisting cuts off the stomach’s blood supply, creating a situation that can turn deadly in minutes. Dogs with bloat will retch without being able to vomit, and their abdomens may appear distended and hard. GDV is fatal without timely medical intervention.
Other health concerns include:
- Foriegn body ingestion and obesity (Labs love to eat, sometimes even when it’s not food)
- Atopy (allergies)
- Hot spots
- Anterior cruciate ligament disease
- Retinal dysplasia
Caring for the Labrador retriever
Labradors’ short coats shed seasonally, but are easy to maintain with weekly baths and brushing. Their thick toenails need trimming every week or two to avoid painful splits or breaks.
Dental health is an important part of any dog’s overall health, and Labradors are no exception. Their teeth should be brushed daily, and they should have annual routine check ups and dental care provided by a veterinarian.
Labrador retrievers are playful, high-energy dogs. Daily exercise, such as swimming, long walks, runs, or extended fetch sessions, are necessary to meet both their physical and mental demands. A bored Labrador will find his own fun, sometimes to his detriment.
The Labrador retriever is the perfect dog for you if:
- You are looking for a hunting companion
- You have an active outdoor lifestyle and want to share that with a dog
- You can participate in obedience classes
- You are looking for a best friend for your children
- You want to enjoy your golden years with a faithful, easy keeper
- You have a household member with special needs