The Labrador Retriever or Labrador is a British breed of retriever gun dog. It was developed in the United Kingdom from fishing dogs imported from the independent colony of Newfoundland (now part of Canada), and is named for the Labrador region of that colony. It is among the most commonly kept dogs in several countries, particularly in the Western world.
The Labrador is loyal, obedient and playful. It was bred as a sporting and hunting dog, but is widely kept as a companion dog. It may also be trained as a guide or assistance dog, or for rescue or therapy work
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 flying 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.
Origin and Lineage
The Labrador breed dates back to at least the 1830s, when St. John's 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.
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.
- Size: Labradors are a medium-large breed. They should be as long from the withers to the base of the tail as they are from the floor to the withers. The AKC standard includes an ideal weight for dogs of 25–36 kg (55–80 lb) and for bitches as 25–32 kg (55–70 lb). The guidelines for height vary between the AKC, which gives 55 to 62 centimetres (21.5 to 24.5 in) for dogs and 55 to 60 centimetres (21.5 to 23.5 in) for bitches, The Kennel Club which advises that dogs should be 56 to 57 centimetres (22 to 22.5 in) with bitches between 55 to 56 centimetres (21.5 to 22 in), and the FCI which quotes a range of 56 to 57 centimetres (22 to 22.5 in) for dogs with bitches ideal at 54 to 56 centimetres (21.5 to 22 in).
- Coat: The Labrador Retriever's coat should be short and dense, but not wiry. The coat is water-resistant, so the dog does not get cold when taking to water in the winter. That means that the dog naturally has a slightly dry, oily coat. Acceptable colours are black, yellow, and chocolate.
- Head: The head should be broad with slightly pronounced eyebrows. The eyes should be kind and expressive. Appropriate eye colours are brown and hazel. The lining around the eyes should be black. The ears should hang close to the head and set slightly above the eyes.
- Jaws: The jaws should be strong and powerful. The muzzle should be of medium length and should not be too tapered. The jaws should hang slightly and curve gracefully back.
- Body: The body should have a powerful and muscular build.
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”).
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.
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.
Use as working dogs
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.
They are also used for pointing and flushing and make excellent upland game hunting partners.
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.
Healthy Labradors typically live to between 12 and 14 years of age. Labrador pups generally are not brought to the home before they are 8 weeks old.
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.
- Labradors are somewhat prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, especially the larger dogs.
- Eye diseases may include progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, corneal dystrophy and retinal dysplasia.
- Labradors can suffer from exercise induced collapse, which causes hyperthermia, weakness, collapse, and disorientation after short bouts of exercise.
- A Labrador may become obese. A study of 310 dogs in 2016 found many that were missing part or all of the POMC gene, which regulates appetite and is an indicator of levels of stored fat; it concluded that the absence of that gene had a significant impact on Labrador weight and appetite. The same POMC gene mutation is present in the Flat-Coated Retriever.