by Wade Sutton



The Labrador Retriever's ancestors were taken to Newfoundland by explorers, fishermen, and settlers from England, Europe, and Norway. Therefore, The Labrador Retriever, in all probability, descended from dogs left there in the early years. By adapting to their environment and by natural selection, they evolved into two distinct types. One was the large heavy-coated dog which became known as the Newfoundland. The other was the smaller shorter-coated type and was called the "black Water Dog," the "lesser Newfoundland," and later the "St. John's dog."

Since they were excellent retrievers of fish and game, they often sailed with the fishermen and in the early 1800s, English sportsmen acquired a few of the hardy dogs off the fishing boats. The British further developed the breed by crossing it with other sporting dogs, notably the Flat-coated Retriever, the Curly-coated Retriever and the Tweed Water Spaniel. The breed was first recognized by The Kennel Club (England) in 1903 and was first registered in Canada in 1905.  

In addition to its prowess as a gun dog, the Lab has distinguished itself as a police and war dog as well as a guide dog for the blind. They were excellent water dogs, had strong inherent hunting ability acquired from generations of living off the land and thick double coats which protected them against the elements.

The Breed

The Labrador Retriever is available in three official colors: black, yellow and chocolate. Contrary  to popular misconception, there are no other differences between the colors except the color itself. A Labrador Retriever with a proper temperament is non-aggressive and gentle, intelligent, and very adaptable. They are happy to relax in the home as loving and dedicated companions and yet love the outdoors and related activities. A Labrador excels as a field dog as well as in obedience, enjoys outdoor exercise and is especially fond of swimming and retrieving. Since a Labradorís disposition is kindly and outgoing coupled with an eager-to-please nature and general non-aggressiveness, Labrador Retrievers make great family pets who are great with children and do well in suburban and country settings. 

Males generally weigh approximately 60-80 pounds and stand 22.5-24.5 in (57-62 cm) at the shoulder. Females are slightly smaller and weigh approximately 55-70 pounds and stand 21.5-23.5 in (55-60 cm) at the shoulder. Presently, many of the "show" Labradors  may weigh as much as 90 pounds. 

The coat is short, straight, dense, free of feather and feels hard to the touch.  Shedding is typically seasonal and regular brushing will help keep the shedding under control. However, since pets live in a controlled environment, there is some shedding throughout the year.

The general appearance of a Labrador should be strongly built and short-coupled. He should have well developed musculature and show great power. He should be wide over the loins and strong and muscular in the hindquarters. The head is broad and wide with eyes expressing intelligence ad good temper. Eyes can be brown, black or yellow but black or brown is preferred. The tail is a distinctive feature of the breed; it should be very thick towards the base, gradually tapering towards the tip, of medium length, should be free from any feathering, and should be clothed thickly all round with the Labrador's short, thick, dense coat, thus giving that peculiar "rounded" appearance which has been described as the "otter" tail. The tail may be carried gaily but should not curl over the back. Movement should be free and effortless giving the appearance of power and strength.



Hips and Elbows - As is the case with many large breeds, of GREAT concern in the Labrador Retriever breed is hip and elbow dysplasia. Both types of diseases are genetic with environmental influences and can potentially be passed from generation to generation. The only way to be sure a dog does not have such a condition is to have X-rays taken and the evaluated by a specialist. The Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) and the Orthopedic Foundation For America (OFA) are two institutions who evaluate hips and elbows in Canada and the USA. It is important to obtain pups from sires and dams who are OVC/OFA clear of hip and elbow dysplasia! Otherwise, there is a significant risk of a puppy developing complications from these crippling diseases! This may lead to pain and suffering for the dog, great veterinary related expenses for the owner, and heartbreak for the family in cases where a dog has to be euthanized.

Eyes - Another concern in the Labrador breed (and many others) is Progressive Retinal Dystrophy (PRA). This is a blinding eye disease that can only be diagnosed by an American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) specialist. As well, there is a genetic test that can be performed to determine if a dog has the gene for PRA. If not, he/she will NEVER develop the genetic disease and offspring from such sires and dams will be automatically clear!!!! This test is known as an Optigen test   Therefore, it is important to obtain pups from sires and dams who have regular clear evaluations by ACVO or the one time genetic Optigen test. Fortunately, for breeders and pet owners alike, The Newfoundland (all breed) Kennel Club (NKC) and other clubs throughout Canada regularly hold specialist clinics. In Newfoundland, the NKC reserves an annual clinic with an Ophthalmologist who is brought in from Ontario or Quebec. This allows owners and breeders to make appointments where breeding stock and pets are evaluated. (More details on the NKC website). Not only can a dog be examined for PRA, he/she can also be examined for the array of eye diseases and any concerns can be addressed. By breeding clear sire and dams who have clear pedigrees, there is a significantly lower risk that PRA or other genetic eye diseases will develop in a family pet. By breeding sires and dams without appropriate clearances, there is a significantly increased risk of producing puppies with serious eye problems. As with dysplasia, this can result in suffering for the dog, great veterinary related expenses for the owner, and heartbreak for the family in cases where a dog can develop eye diseases and in the specific case of PRA, blindness.