Labrador Retriever (Lab)
It’s likely you’ve met at least one Lab in your life, as they have long reigned as America’s most popular dog breed. They’ve won the dog personality popularity contest for so many years, as labs are devoted to their owners—always willing to show you their affection and receive your adoration in return—are highly intelligent, and are happiest doing any and all family activities. Their enthusiasm not only makes them fun to be around but also makes them a hard working breed. Labs are companionable, bonding with all family members, and famously friendly to every person and pup they meet. While they have high energy and require lots of activity, they are eager to please and highly trainable.
Thanks to their role as a hunter’s companion, the Labrador retriever is a sturdy dog, weighing in at anywhere from 55–80 pounds. Labs come in three colors: chocolate, black, and yellow. While black Labs were an early favorite with breeders, all three types of labs are common today. Some breeders do offer “rare” Labs, including polar white, fox red, and even silver, but these are simply variations of the three original Lab coloring combinations.
Their coats are sleek and pretty easy to care for, as long as you are willing to put up with shedding. Their top coat is short and thick. Their undercoat is softer and helps provide protection from the weather, especially cold temperatures and water, a nod to their original role as retrievers.
A Lab’s tail serves a purpose in their heritage as well. They are thick and tapered, an “otter tail” that acts as a rudder when Labs swim. But watch out on land. This happy breed gets to wagging their tail often and eagerly and won’t stop if you happen to be in the way.
“The ideal disposition is one of a kindly, outgoing, tractable nature; eager to please and non aggressive towards man or animal,” the American Kennel Club breed standard says. “The Labrador has much that appeals to people; his gentle ways, intelligence and adaptability make him an ideal dog.” Labs are a sweet-natured breed, outgoing and eager to please their humans. They are friendly with new people and animals they meet. Tops in the personality department, Labs are also highly intelligent, making them very trainable. They do have lots of energy, so you’ll need to stay active with them, but they are also happy to relax at home, especially for family movie night.
Some argue Labs’ coloring affects their temperament, but there is not scientific evidence to back that up. What many veterinarians do find, however, is that there are distinct differences in behaviors from rowdy to more laid back. “Labs are indeed gentle and kind but look at the parents as temperament is totally genetic,” says Pam Nichols, DVM, president-elect of the American Animal Hospital Association. Some labs are more mellow, while others can be higher energy. Some tend to be more anxious dogs. And you can even have a lab that is a bit of a goofball. “They are always good family dogs,” Nichols says.
Labs adore their owners. They will want to live indoors and sleep as near as possible to you. They like to get outside to play, but don’t leave them unattended for too long as they may prove they have a naughty side. Yes, Labs have been known to dig and chew. Like all retrievers, labs are mouthy dogs, so invest in plenty of sturdy chew toys.
Labs are an ideal fit for families, as they are happy to bounce around the yard with children. If properly introduced and trained, Labs can also get along well with other pets in the home including other dogs, cats, and small animals.
Beyond retrieving game on hunting trips, the hard working breed has also served in a variety of fields, including drug and explosive detection, search and rescue, therapy, and assistance to those with disabilities. They are competitors, doing well in agility, field tests, and at dog shows. And they absolutely love to swim.
When you welcome a Lab to your home, be prepared for lots of shedding. Grooming isn’t substantial, but brushing your dog daily will help reduce the tumbleweeds of fur scattered about your house from their thick double coat. They should be bathed every other month to keep them smelling fresh. Brushing their teeth a couple of times a week, keeping their nails trimmed — likely once or twice a month — and checking their ears for redness or odor should also be on your lab care checklist.
Labs demand plenty of play and exercise as well. A daily 30-minute walk or a lively game of fetch will help your pup burn off some of their energy. Lack of activity could lead to destructive behavior, but don’t overdo it. This “workaholic” breed is apt to exhaust itself. Don’t let Lab puppies run and play on hard surfaces for their first two years so they don’t damage their joints.
Of course their reputation for good behavior precedes them, but that doesn’t mean you can skip training sessions with your lab. Training is important to ensure they don’t grow to become a rowdy dog. “They are almost always very biddable and like to please,” Nichols says. “They need a job and plenty of training.” Labs enjoy training and do well in obedience competitions. Introduce puppies to other humans and dogs early to help socialize them properly, and they will grow into the friendly Lab many know and love.
Labs are a pretty hearty and healthy breed, but there are some common conditions to be aware of. Elbow and hip dysplasia, heart disorders such as tricuspid valve dysplasia (TVD), epilepsy, and hereditary myopathy (or muscle weakness) can all affect Labs, according to the AKC. They can face eye conditions, including progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts. Owners should also be aware of a condition called exercise induced collapse (EIC). And as they are large, deep-chested dogs, labs can develop a life-threatening stomach condition called bloat. Labs may also develop hot spots—or acute moist dermatitis—cold tail, and ear infections.
A bit misnamed, labs actually come from Newfoundland—off the northeastern coast of Canada—not Labrador, the AKC says. Originally called St. John’s dogs, after the capital of Newfoundland, they are a traditional waterdog used to retrieve ducks and keep fishermen company and were then happy to head home to spend the night with the fishermens’ families. They became increasingly popular starting in the early 1800s, when they were brought to England by nobles who appreciated their work ethic and disposition.
It may be hard to believe, but by the 1880s, Labs were almost extinct because of government restrictions and tax laws. Thankfully saved by English breeders, they were introduced in America where the American Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1917. After World War II, the lab’s popularity took over and grew for decades until it ultimately achieved the status of America’s—and England and Canada’s—most popular pooch.
- In 2020, for the 29th year in a row, the Lab was voted the number one most popular breed, according to the American Kennel Club.
- King Buck was the model Labrador retriever featured on a U.S. postage stamp created in 1959.
- Another famous Lab is Ben of Hyde. Considered the first documented yellow Lab, born in 1899, today most lines of yellow Labs can be traced to his bloodline.
- Perhaps the most notable movie about a Lab is 2008’s Marley & Me. The star of the show, Marley, is actually several different Labs who played the role to reflect the various age stages of Marley during the film.
- President Bill Clinton had a Lab, Buddy, during his time in the White House. His family adopted another chocolate Lab, Seamus, after Clinton's presidency ended.