The Labrador Retriever: a good family dog for an active household
* General appearance
* Care and training
"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
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
Hindquarters: Well-developed. Hocks slightly
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
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
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
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.