Labrador Retriever


The Labrador Retriever: a good family dog for an active household

* Introduction
* General appearance
* Care and training

Introduction

"A moment later, the stevedore appeared on the deck leading by a leash one of the most handsome dog ever seen in Maryland. He was jet-black, sturdy in his front quarters, sleek and powerful in his hind, with a face so intelligent that it seemed he might speak any moment. His movements were quick, his dark eyes following every development nearby, yet his disposition appeared so equable he seemed always about to smile."

"He's called a Labrador," Lightfoot said. "The finest hunting dog ever developed."

So wrote James Michener in his novel Chesapeake about the arrival of a new breed of dog to the Maryland marshes to challenge the reign of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever as a consummate hunter. The Labrador Retriever has lived up to his billing - for the ninth year in a row, he has been the most popular dog in the US, with more than 1,50,000 individuals and 40,000 litter registered with the American Kennel Club in 1999.

A Labrador is the most popular breed in India as a companion dog.


The Lab was actually developed in Newfoundland, from whence he made his way to England, probably with fishermen, who worked the rich fisheries off the coast of the eastern Canadian provinces. There, in order to avoid confusion with the larger, heavy-coated Newfoundland dog, he was called the Labrador. The original Labrador Retriever was a versatile working dog, able to rescue drifting nets, bring back shot waterfowl and haul the catch to market in jog carts. Once in England, however, his marvellous nose brought him fame as a hunting dog, a job he relishes even today.


But the Labrador Retriever is far more ??. In this one breed are combined all the attributes needed in a family dog for an active household. He is kind to children, friendly to most people and other animals, energetic, easy to train, anxious to please, fun to teach tricks and games, and an easy keeper. He'll play fetch for hours or lie quietly on the family room floor, content to serve as a pillow for a toddler. Well-bred Labs have a stable temperament, suitable for work as a guide dog for the blind, an assistance dog for a wheelchair-bound person, or a sniffer dog in fire investigations or contraband searches at airports and border checkpoints. And, he is a fine dog for those interested in competition events such as obedience, agility, or hunting tests or trials.


The breed standard


General Appearence: Strongly built, short coupled and solid. Very active, with a brisk gait.


Height: Under Canadian standards: 57 to 62 cm (221/2 to 241/2 inches) for the adult dog and 54 to 59 cm (211/2 to 231/2 inches) for the bitch.

Elsewhere: 55 to 57 cm. (211/2 to 221/2in.) for the adult dog and 54 to 56 cm (21 to 22 inches) for the bitch.

Weight: Under Canadian standards: 27 to 34 kg (60 to 75 lb) for the adult dog and 25 to 32 kg (55 to 70 lb) for the bitch.

Head: Clean-cut. Wide skull. Defined stop. Medium long, powerful jaws. Sound, solid teeth. Wide nose. Nostrils well-developed.

Eyes: Medium size, intelligent expression.

Ears: Neither large nor heavy. Set rather far back and hanging close to the cheek.

Neck: Powerful, strong and clean-cut.

Body: Deep, wide chest. Ribs well-sprung. Back short-coupled. Long, oblique shoulders. Wide loins.

Tail: Tapers to the tip from thick root. Medium length. Carried gaily, but not curled over the back.

Forequarters: Straight from the shoulder to the ground, well-boned.

Hindquarters: Well-developed. Hocks slightly bent.

Feet: Round and compact. Toes well-arched.

Coat: Short and dense, without curl and quite hard to the touch.

Colour: Generally black or yellow. A small white patch on the chest is permissible.

Faults: Poor bite. No undercoat. Feathering. Snippiness. Ears wide or heavy. Cow hocks. Tail curled over the back. Dudley nose.

Large nostrils, deep chest, and well-sprung ribs give testimony to his stamina, and his wide jaws and muzzle give him the ability to retrieve even big waterfowl, such as the larger races of Canada geese. This is a stocky dog with moderately long legs; he should not be lanky or stubby and should be well-balanced and muscular so he can endure in the field and at home. He is a working dog in need of exercise to stay in shape.

Care and training


Although the Lab is the epitome of family dogs, he needs a household that is fairly active to satisfy his need for exercise and work. Daily walks, romps in a fenced yard and games of fetch keep his mind and body in shape. Unless these needs are satisfied, the Lab may become a wanderer, a digger, or a chewer.

Because his body is in almost constant motion, the new Lab puppy should be taught to sit on command to prevent him from jumping on the guests to say hello. He can also be taught early to shake paws and to fetch; his soft mouth and innate desire to retrieve can provide hours of play. Later on, he can learn to put his nose to use and "find" things that have been hidden for him.


A fast-growing Lab pup reaches almost adult size and weight within nine months and can be a handful to train if left to his own devices 'til then. He is an exuberant dog, a behavior that can get him into trouble with other dogs and the neighbours who do not appreciate his antics. Early training is essential, both on leash and off; if you wait too long, his rambunctious character will be difficult to manage.


Puppy and basic obedience classes are recommended to teach manners. All members of the family should participate in the training although only one person should handle the pup in the classes. If Aashish allows Maggie on the sofa when Mom's not around, the dog is going to be either confused or sneaky, so consistency between family members is necessary.


Discipline should be gentle but firm - removing the pup from the scene of the crime, confining her when you cannot watch her, and redirecting her play works better (and is less frustrating) than yelling, smacking with a newspaper, or punitive measures.


Because the Lab is an easy keeper, feeding a pup is a bit more complicated than buying a premium food and letting him eat his fill. A fast-growing breed subject to hip dysplasia, the Lab puppy should be fed a large-breed puppy food or a regular adult dog food of less than 25 per cent protein to help avoid joint problems that can occur when puppies grow too fast. Since the pup will achieve his adult size with good nutrition, some trainers recommend keeping large-breed puppies a bit thin to reduce the chances of strain on the joints during growth periods.


Labrador Retrievers have a tendency to become obese and so their diets must be closely controlled. An older Lab will enjoy the couch and the fire; if not given enough exercise, he will fatten up rather quickly. Food should be measured, snacks should be minimised, and exercise should be a part of the daily routine.


Labs are prone to hip dysplasia, a malformation of the hip joint that ranges from mild to severe and can cause such pain that major surgery becomes necessary. Dysplastic dogs usually become arthritic. With so many Lab puppies produced each year, it is important to buy from a breeder who X-rays breeding stock for hip dysplasia. Such screening does not guarantee pups free of hip joint abnormalities, but it decreases the chances such problems will occur.


Labs are also prone to several eye disorders, including progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts, stomach torsion, and epilepsy. All Lab breeding stock should have an eye test each year and be registered free of eye disease.


Breed popularity can also have an adverse influence on the dog's temperament when inexperienced owners breed a litter of pups to enhance the budget for the family vacation or holiday expenses. Therefore, although the Lab is well known for its easy-going manner and adaptation to many lifestyles, it is important to seek a breeder who produces dogs that are sound in mind as well as body.

The research to find just the right Lab breeder and puppy is well worth the trouble. The well-bred Labrador Retriever is one of a handful of wonderful family dogs for a broad spectrum of lifestyles and living situations. A Lab can do field work (for real or in trials and tests), obedience competition, agility, or therapy dog work at local hospitals or nursing homes with owners who are looking for just a bit more than a companion dog. All in all, the well-bred Lab is the perfect canine for tens of thousands of dog lovers.

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