Labrador Retriever

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Labrador Retriever
Image of a yellow Labrador Retriever in a grassy field, looking to the left of the camera
Other namesLabrador
Common nicknamesLab
  • United Kingdom
Foundation stockSt. John's water dog
Height Dogs 56–57 cm (22–22.5 in)
Bitches 54–56 cm (21.5–22 in)
Weight Dogs 29–36 kg (65–80 lb)
Bitches 25–32 kg (55–70 lb)
Coat Short, dense, weather-resistant double coat
Colour Black, chocolate, or yellow (ranges from pale yellow to fox red)
Life span 12-14 years
Kennel club standards
The Kennel Club (UK) standard
FCI standard
Dog (domestic dog)

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 a province of Canada), and was 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.[1]

In the 1830s, the 10th Earl of Home and his nephews the 5th Duke of Buccleuch and Lord John Scott,[2] 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.[2]

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[edit]

Buccleuch Avon (b. 1885)

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.[3] Hawker distinguishes the Newfoundland from both the "proper Labrador" and St. John's breed of these dogs[3][4] in the fifth edition of his book Introductions to Young Sportsman, published in 1846.[4]

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.


The head of a Labrador should be broad with a pronounced stop.
Black Labrador
Chocolate Labrador

Breed standards[edit]

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.[5] 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).[5] 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,[5] 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),[6] 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).[7]
  • 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.[8]
  • 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.[5][6] The AKC adds that "true Labrador Retriever temperament is as much a hallmark of the breed as the 'otter' tail."[5]


three Labrador Retrievers: white, black and chocolate
The three primary colour varieties of the Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retrievers are registered in three colours:[5] black (a solid black colour), yellow (considered from creamy white to fox-red), and chocolate (medium to dark brown and originally called “Liver”). [9]

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.[10]

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.[11]

The most common places where pigmentation is visible are the nose, lips, gums, and the rims of the eyes.

Show and field lines[edit]

Head and muzzle appearance: field (left), and show (right), showing the shorter muzzle length, more solid appearance head, and "pronounced" stop of the latter

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.[12]


Labradors are known as intelligent and suitable for a variety of working roles, such as this dog trained to detect signs of arson.
Labradors are known to have a very soft feel to the mouth, and were bred to retrieve game.

The AKC describes the Labrador's temperament as a kind, pleasant, outgoing and tractable nature.[8]

Labradors have a reputation as a very even-tempered breed and an excellent family dog.[8] 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).

A Labrador participating in dog agility

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 trust strangers too and therefore are not usually suitable as guard dogs.

Use as working dogs[edit]

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.[13][14]

Labradors are noted for their ability to tolerate cold water.

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.[15] A number of Labradors have also been taught to assist their owner in removing money and credit cards from ATMs with prior training.[16]

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.[17]


Many dogs, including Labs such as this eight-year-old, show distinct whitening of the coat as they grow older; especially around the muzzle.

Healthy Labradors typically live to between 12 and 14 years of age.[18] Labrador pups generally are not brought to the home before they are 8 weeks old.[19]

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.[20] 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.

Inherited disorders[edit]


A yellow lab standing in the water near an American flag at a lakeside Fourth of July celebration
Labradors are the most popular dog breed in many countries around the world, including the United States.

The Labrador is an exceptionally popular dog. For example, as of 2006:

  • Widely considered the most popular breed in the world.[26]
  • Most popular dog by ownership in Australia,[27] Canada, Israel,[28] New Zealand, United Kingdom,[29] and United States (since 1991),[30]
  • In both the United Kingdom and the United States, there are well over twice as many Labradors registered as the next most popular breed.[29][30] If the comparison is limited to dog breeds of a similar size, then there are around 3–5 times as many Labradors registered in both countries as the next most popular breeds, the German Shepherd Dog and Golden Retriever.[29][30]
  • Most popular breed of assistance dog in the United States, Australia and many other countries,[31] as well as being widely used by police and other official bodies for their detection and working abilities. Approximately 60–70% of all guide dogs in the United States are Labradors (see below).
  • Seven out of 13 of the Australian National Kennel Council "Outstanding Gundogs" Hall of Fame appointees are Labradors (list covers 2000–2005).[32]

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.[33][34]

OFA statistics suggest that yellow and black Labradors are registered in very similar numbers (yellow slightly more than black); chocolate in lesser numbers.[33][34]

Note: The number of registrations is not necessarily the same as the number of living dogs at any given time.

US military working dogs (war dogs): Labrador Retrievers in the Vietnam war[edit]

Labradors were selected by the military for tracking because of their distinct olfactory qualities.

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.[35] 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.[36] Aside from these 200 or so, the remaining canines who were not killed in action were either euthanised or left behind.[37]

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[38] or five men: the handler, an observer, one or two cover men, and the team leader.[39] 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.[38]

Of the over 4,000 US war dogs serving in the Vietnam War, 232 were killed in action[40] and 295 US servicemen deployed as "dog handlers" were killed in action.[41] 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.[42] 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.[36][43]

Famous Labradors[edit]

Endal wearing his PDSA Gold Medal. Endal, during a 2001 emergency, saved a man, retrieved his mobile phone from beneath the car, fetched a blanket and covered him, and then ran to a nearby hotel to obtain help.

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:

Assistance dogs[edit]

  • Endal, a service dog[44] in Britain. Among other distinctions, "the most decorated dog in the world" (including "Dog of the Millennium" and the PDSA's Gold Medal for Animal Gallantry and Devotion to Duty), the first dog to ride on the London Eye and the first dog known to work a 'chip and pin' ATM card. By Endal's death in March 2009, he and his owner/handler Allen Parton had been filmed almost 350 times by crews from several countries, and a film of a year in Endal's life was in production.
  • Sully, served with former US President George H. W. Bush during the last six months of his life; noted for his role during the president's funeral. A form of Parkinson's disease confined the former president to a wheelchair or motorised scooter in the final years of his life. Among the services that Sully was able to perform for Bush were retrieving dropped items, opening and closing doors, pushing an emergency button and supporting him when standing.[45]

Police, military, rescue and detection dogs[edit]

Jake and Mary Flood, his handler


See also[edit]


  1. ^ "AKC Dog Registration Statistics". 4 April 2012. Archived from the original on 11 May 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2012.
  2. ^ a b Article written for The Field, 30 May 1896, 'Labrador Dogs', by John S Kerss
  3. ^ a b Holland-Hibert, A. (1903). "Ch.XXX - The Labrador". In Drury, William D. (ed.). British dogs, their points, selection, and show preparation (3 ed.). Upcot Gill. pp. 356–358.
  4. ^ a b Hawker, Peter (1846). "Dogs". Introductions to Young Sportsman in all that relates to Guns and Shooting (5 ed.). Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green. p. 245.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Labrador Retriever Breed Standard". American Kennel Club. 31 March 1994. Retrieved 13 September 2007.
  6. ^ a b Retriever (Labrador) Breed Standard Archived 31 October 2011 at the Wayback Machine. The Kennel Club.
  7. ^ Labrador Retriever. Fédération Cynologique Internationale. Accessed May 2020.
  8. ^ a b c "Get to Know the Labrador Retriever", 'The American Kennel Club', Retrieved 29 May 2014
  9. ^ "The Kennel Club". The Kennel Club. Archived from the original on 10 January 2015. Retrieved 10 January 2015.
  10. ^ Candille, Sophie I.; Kaelin, Christopher B.; Cattanach, Bruce M.; Yu, Bin; Thompson, Darren A.; Nix, Matthew A.; Kerns, Julie A.; Schmutz, Sheila M.; Millhauser, Glenn L.; Barsh, Gregory S. (2007). "A β-Defensin Mutation Causes Black Coat Colour in Domestic Dogs". Science. 318 (5855): 1418–23. Bibcode:2007Sci...318.1418C. doi:10.1126/science.1147880. PMC 2906624. PMID 17947548.
  11. ^ Conant, E.K.; Juras, R.; Cothran, E.G. (2011). "Incidence of the mask phenotype M264V mutation in Labrador Retrievers". Research in Veterinary Science. 91 (3): e98–9. doi:10.1016/j.rvsc.2011.02.002. PMID 21353269.
  12. ^ American Kennel Club, The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. "American vs. English". Archived from the original on 5 July 2017. Retrieved 2 September 2012.
  13. ^ Serpell, James (1995). The Domestic Dog: its Evolution, Behavior and Interactions With People. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-41529-2.
  14. ^ Ennik, Irma; Liinamo, Anna-Elisa; Leighton, Eldin; Van Arendonk, Johan (2006). "Suitability for field service in 4 breeds of guide dogs". Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. 1 (2): 67–74. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2006.06.004.
  15. ^ Blystone, Richard; Mallary Gelb (10 August 2000). "Assistance dogs are trained as partners for the disabled". Archived from the original on 17 May 2013.
  16. ^ "thought this was Bark-lays bank". Metro. 28 February 2007. Retrieved 28 February 2007.
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  18. ^ Fogle, Bruce (2009). The encyclopedia of the dog. New York: DK Publishing. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-7566-6004-8.
  19. ^ Kern, Kerry V; Earle-Bridges, Michele (1995). Labrador retrievers : everything about purchase, care, nutrition, diseases, breeding, and behavior. Barron's. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-8120-9018-5. Labrador retrievers Kerry V. Kern.
  20. ^ "Chocolate Labradors have shorter lifespan than rest of the breed". VetCompassTM and the University of Sydney Study. Royal Veterinary College. 22 October 2018.
  21. ^ a b "Labrador Retriever". Canine Inherited Disorders Database. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 14 September 2007.
  22. ^ Newton, C. D.; Nunamaker, D. M. (Eds.) "Textbook of Small Animal Orthopaedics Archived 2007-09-27 at the Wayback Machine." Published by the International Veterinary Information Service (Riser, Rhodes and Newton). p. 2.
  23. ^ Taylor, SM; Shmon, CL; Shelton, GD; Patterson, EE; Minor, K; Mickelson, JR (2008). "Exercise Induced Collapse of Labrador Retrievers: Survey results and preliminary investigation of heritability". J Am Anim Hosp Assoc. 44 (6): 295–301. doi:10.5326/0440295. PMID 18981194.
  24. ^ a b Raffan, Eleanor (10 May 2016). "A Deletion in the Canine POMC Gene Is Associated with Weight and Appetite in Obesity-Prone Labrador Retriever Dogs". Cell Metabolism. 23 (5): 893–900. doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2016.04.012. PMC 4873617. PMID 27157046.
  25. ^ a b Freytas-tamura, Kimiko De (5 July 2016). "The Lab Results Are In: Genes Might Be to Blame for Retrievers' Obesity". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
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  28. ^ "Labrador most popular dog in Israel". Ynetnews. 30 April 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2009.
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  31. ^ Devantier, Alecia T; Turkington, Carol (2007). Extraordinary Jobs with Animals. Ferguson. p. 20. ISBN 978-1-4381-1170-4. Labrador Retriever Most popular breed of assistance dog.
  32. ^ "ANKC Hall of Fame". Australian National Kennel Council. Archived from the original on 19 September 2007. Retrieved 13 September 2007.
  33. ^ a b Lanternier, Thomas; Philippe Canal (2004–2005). "Database Statistics". Archived from the original on 29 July 2007. Retrieved 13 September 2007.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link) (A historic mirror of this page is available at )
  34. ^ a b Vanderwyk, Jack (2004–2005). "Labrador Statistics". Retrieved 13 September 2007.[dead link]
  35. ^ Burnam p. XI
  36. ^ a b Burnam p. XIV
  37. ^ Jessica Ravitz, CNN. "CNN special report". Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  38. ^ a b Burnam p. 278
  39. ^ Burnam pp. 277–278
  40. ^ Burnam pp. 288–293
  41. ^ Burnam pp. 281–288
  42. ^ Burnam pp. 290–293
  43. ^ Burnam pp. 270–271
  44. ^ "Endal the super dog". 10 August 2000. Retrieved 6 August 2014.
  45. ^ ‘Mission complete’: Sully, Bush’s service dog, stays at former president’s side for one last journey. (3 December 2018). The Seattle Times.
  46. ^ "Police Dogs Sniff for Pirated DVDs." ABC News. 10 May 2006. Retrieved on 17 September 2007.
  47. ^ Blass, Evan. "DVD-sniffing dogs awarded medals, returning to NYC." Engadget. 20 August 2007. Retrieved on 17 September 2007.
  48. ^ Chan, Sewell. "Fresh Off Malaysian Triumph, DVD-Sniffing Dogs Tackle New York." New York Times. 28 August 2007. Retrieved on 17 September 2007.
  49. ^ Blass, Evan. "DVD pirates put out hits on Lucky and Flo the crime dogs." Engadget. 22 March 2007. Retrieved on 17 September 2007.
  50. ^ "Australian Dog Returns Home After A Year in the Wilderness"., Defence Media Release. Australian Department of Defence. 12 November 2009. Archived from the original on 27 November 2012. Retrieved 14 November 2009.
  51. ^ "Handler never gave up on lost army dog". ABC News. 12 November 2009. Archived from the original on 15 November 2009. Retrieved 14 November 2009.
  52. ^ Glagola, Nick (27 July 2007). "Jake, the Rescue Dog: An Impressive Life". NPR. NPR. Retrieved 18 November 2013.
  53. ^ "Life Saving" (PDF). Imperial War Museum London. Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 January 2009. Retrieved 17 January 2009.
  54. ^ "In pictures: Sadie the hero dog gets a medal". BBC. 6 February 2007. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
  55. ^ "Army dog killed in Afghanistan given posthumous medal". BBC News. 29 April 2014. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  56. ^ "British army dog awarded bravery medal for work in Afghanistan". The Guardian. London. 29 April 2014. Retrieved 29 April 2014.
  57. ^ "Friend of Bill". People. 57 (2). 2002.


  • Burnam, John C. MSG Retired. A Soldier's Best Friend; Scout Dogs and their Handlers in the Vietnam War. Sterling Publishing, NY, 2008. ISBN 978-1-4027-5447-0.

External links[edit]