ABOUT THE GREAT LABRADOR

White Labrador

THE MOST POPULAR DOG

LABRADORS are identified by their solid build, shorter legs than other retrievers, thick tapering otter-like tail and short dense black, brown (chocolate) or tan (yellow) hair.

The Labrador is a medium-large breed weighing between 55 – 80 lb (25 – 36 kg), with a height at the shoulder between 21.5 – 24.5 in (55 – 62 cm).

It has a short dense oily water-resistant coat, broad head, brown or hazel eyes, ears hanging close to the head, powerful jaws and a muscular build.

Although they are playful dogs they may appear as if in deep thought as they walk around.

American and English Labradors

The difference between American and British Labradors is largely based on the difference in country and hunting cultures in which they were bred.

In Britain, the sport of hunting is practised as a royal sport over a smaller area with bird hunting taking place over several days involving large numbers of birds.

In the United States, sports hunting is a more accessible sport. It involved larger areas with different climates and game species.

It would be fair to say that the difference in Labrador breeds in England and in the United States is based on the difference between the people who bred the Labs.

British Labradors possibly reflect the more reserved nature of the British people while the American Labradors reflect the culture and different natural environment of the United States.

The different breeds are a good example of the difference between the people of different countries and how their cultural differences find expression in something such as the features they breed into their animals.

Each breed fulfils the hunting needs of the country where it is bred.

The Labrador is a retriever dog, but not a Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retriever is a misnomer as the Retriever is a different breed. The “retriever” part in the name actually only refers to the dog being a retriever-type dog and is not part of its official name.

The Labrador retriever breed descends from the Newfoundland St. John’s water dog that pulled fishermen’s nets on the island of Newfoundland during the 1800s. Both the English and American breeds are considered the same breed with neither country’s kennel clubs making any distinction between them.

Breeding for the purpose of showing a dog off is a fairly recent development and results in Labradors bred for show and not retrieving. There is a difference between show or ring-bred Labradors and Labradors bred for hunting with show lines generally heavier and easier going than field lines.

English Labrador

Champion English Labrador. MULTI Group Winning MBISS GCHS Firewaters Vacation From Bella Mare - Ellen - AKC #1 Ranked Labrador Retriever 2020
Champion English Labrador.
MULTI Group Winning MBISS GCHS Firewaters Vacation From Bella Mare – Ellen
AKC #1 Ranked Labrador Retriever 2020.

Firewaters Labradors.

The English Labrador was bred from English stock. They are heavier and stockier than the American Labrador with the official classification allowing for heights of 21.5 – 22.5 inches.

British Labradors are wider with fuller chests, thicker necks, clearly defined forehead stops, a denser coat, shorter legs and a thicker, straight tail compared to American Labs.

They are calmer, quieter, softer and less active when compared to American Labs.

American Labrador

The American Labrador is taller and lankier than its English counterpart. The official classification of the two Labradors allows for the American Labrador to be 1 inch taller than the English Labrador (21.5 – 24.5 inches).

American Labrador Ridge
American Labrador, Ridge
Elite Labrador Retrievers

American Labradors are slimmer, has a narrower head, a longer muzzle, longer legs and an athletically agile build. American Labs have thinner tails that may curve upward whereas the British Labs’ tails are thick and straight. They are generally more active with higher energy and greater drive compared to English Labs.

They are often referred to as Working or Field Labradors.

AKC Labrador Breed Standard

Official Standard for the Labrador Retriever

  • General Appearance
    • Labradors should be healthy and have a good structure because they are bred to be working gun dogs.
    • They must be strongly built, medium-sized, short-coupled, dogs with a sound, athletic, well-balanced conformation that enables them to function as retrieving gun dogs.
    • Pure Labradors should have the character and quality to win in the show ring, and the temperament to be a family companion.
  • Size
    • The height at the withers (the ridge between the shoulder blades) for a dog is 22½ to 24½ inches; for a bitch is 21½ to 23½ inches.
    • The weight of dogs and bitches older than 12 months and in working condition should be dogs 65 to 80 pounds and bitches 55 to 70 pounds.
    • Proportion:
      • The length from the point of the shoulder to the point of the rump (base of the tail) must equal (or can be slightly longer than) the distance from the withers to the ground.
      • The distance between the elbow and the ground should be equal to one-half of the height at the withers.
      • The brisket (lower chest) should extend to the elbows, but not visibly deeper.
      • The body must be of sufficient length to permit a straight, free and efficient stride. But the dog should never appear low and long or tall and leggy in outline.
      • Substance and bone must be proportionate to the overall dog.
      • In working conditions, Labradors must show well-muscled and without excess fat.
  • Head
    • The skull should be wide and well-developed but without exaggeration.
    • The skull and foreface (part in front of the eyes) should be on parallel planes and of approximately equal length. There should be a moderate stop with the brow slightly pronounced so that the skull is not absolutely in a straight line with the nose. The brow ridges aid in defining the stop.
    • The head should be clean-cut and free from fleshy cheeks.
    • The bony structure of the skull must be chiseled beneath the eye with no prominence in the cheek.
    • The skull may show some median line with the occipital bone (lower back of the skull) but may not be conspicuous in mature dogs.
    • Lips should not be squared off or pendulous, but fall away in a curve toward the throat.
    • A wedge-shaped head or a head long and narrow in muzzle and back skull is incorrect as are massive, cheeky heads.
    • The jaws must be powerful and free from snippiness (fragmentary) with the muzzle neither long and narrow nor short and stubby.
  • Nose
    • The nose should be wide and the nostrils well developed.
    • The nose color should be black on black or yellow dogs, and brown on chocolate Labradors.
      • Nose color fading to a lighter shade is not a fault.
      • A thoroughly pink nose or one lacking in any pigment is a disqualification.
  • Teeth
    • The teeth should be strong and regular with a scissors bite with the lower teeth just behind, but touching the inner side of the upper incisors. A level bite is acceptable, but not desirable.
    • Undershot, overshot, or misaligned teeth are serious faults and full dentition is preferred.
    • Missing molars or pre-molars are serious faults.
  • Ears
    • The ears should hang moderately close to the head, set rather far back, and somewhat low on the skull and slightly above eye level.
    • Ears should not be large and heavy, but in proportion with the skull and reach to the inside of the eye when pulled forward.
  • Eyes
    • Kind, friendly eyes imparting good temperament, intelligence and alertness are a hallmark of the Labrador breed.
    • Eyes should be of medium size, set well apart, and neither protruding nor deep set.
    • Eye color should be brown in black and yellow Labradors, and brown or hazel in chocolates.
    • Black or yellow eyes give a harsh expression and are undesirable.
    • Small eyes, set close together or round prominent eyes are not typical of the breed.
    • Eye rims are black in black and yellow Labradors and brown in chocolates. Eye rims without pigmentation are a disqualification.
  • Neck
    • The neck should be of proper length to allow the dog to retrieve game easily. It should be muscular and free from throatiness. The neck should rise strongly from the shoulders with a moderate arch. A short, thick neck or a “ewe” neck is incorrect.
  • Topline
    • The back is strong and the topline (the area from the base of the neck to the base of the tail) is level from the withers to the croup when standing or moving. However, the loin should show evidence of flexibility for athletic endeavor.
  • Body
    • The Labrador should be short-coupled, with a good spring of ribs tapering to a moderately wide chest.
    • It should not be narrow-chested giving the appearance of hollowness between the front legs, nor should it have a wide spreading, bulldog-like front. Correct chest conformation will result in tapering between the front legs that allow unrestricted forelimb movement.
    • Chest breadth that is either too wide or too narrow for efficient movement and stamina is incorrect.
    • Slab-sided (flat side) individuals are not typical of the breed and equally objectionable are rotund or barrel chested specimens.
    • The underline should be almost straight with little or no tuck-up in mature animals.
    • Loins should be short, wide and strong; extending to well-developed, powerful hindquarters. When viewed from the side, the Labrador Retriever shows a well-developed, but not exaggerated fore chest.
  • Tail
    • The tail is a distinguishing feature of the Labrador breed. It should be very thick at the base, gradually tapering toward the tip, of medium length, and extending no longer than to the hock.
    • The tail should be free from feathering and clothed thickly all around with the Labrador’s short, dense coat, thus having that peculiar rounded appearance that has been described as the “otter” tail.
    • The tail should follow the topline in repose or when in motion. It may be carried gaily, but should not curl over the back. Extremely short tails or long thin tails are serious faults.
    • The tail completes the balance of the Labrador by giving it a flowing line from the top of the head to the tip of the tail. Docking or otherwise altering the length or natural carriage of the tail is a disqualification.
  • Forequarters
    • Forequarters: Forequarters should be muscular, well-coordinated and balanced with the hindquarters.
    • Shoulders: The shoulders are well laid-back, long and sloping, forming an angle with the upper arm of approximately 90 degrees that permits the dog to move his forelegs in an easy manner with strong forward reach. Ideally, the length of the shoulder blade should equal the length of the upper arm. Straight shoulder blades, short upper arms or heavily muscled or loaded shoulders, all restricting free movement, are incorrect.
    • Front Legs: When viewed from the front, the legs should be straight with good strong bone. Too much bone is as undesirable as too little bone, and short-legged, heavy-boned individuals are not typical of the breed. Viewed from the side, the elbows should be directly under the withers, and the front legs should be perpendicular to the ground and well under the body. The elbows should be close to the ribs without looseness. Tied-in elbows or being “out at the elbows” interfere with free movement and are serious faults. Pasterns (wrists of the front legs) should be strong and short and should slope slightly from the perpendicular line of the leg.
    • Feet: Should be strong and compact, with well-arched toes and well-developed pads. Dewclaws (“thumb” on a foot) may be removed. Splayed feet, hare feet, knuckling over, or feet turning in or out are serious faults.
  • Hindquarters
    • Hindquarters: The Labrador’s hindquarters are broad, muscular and well-developed from the hip to the hock with well-turned stifles and strong short hocks. Viewed from the rear, the hind legs are straight and parallel. Viewed from the side, the angulation of the rear legs is in balance with the front.
      • The hind legs are strongly boned, muscled with moderate angulation at the stifle, and powerful, clearly defined thighs.
      • The stifle is strong and there is no slippage of the patellae while in motion or when standing.
      • Hock joints should be strong, well let down and not slip or hyper-extend while in motion or when standing. Angulation of both the stifle and hock joint is such as to achieve the optimal balance of drive and traction.
      • When standing the rear toes are only slightly behind the point of the rump. Over-angulation produces a sloping topline not typical of the breed.
  • Coat
    • The coat is a distinctive feature of the Labrador Retriever. It should be short, straight and very dense, giving a fairly hard feeling to the hand.
    • The Labrador should have a soft, weather-resistant undercoat that provides protection from water, cold and all types of ground cover. A slight wave down the back is permissible.
    • Woolly coats, soft silky coats, and sparse slick coats are not typical of the breed and should be severely penalized in show judging.
  • Color
    • The Labrador Retriever’s coat colors are black, yellow and chocolate. Any other color or a combination of colors is a disqualification.
      • A small white spot on the chest is permissible, but not desirable. White hairs from aging or scarring are not to be misinterpreted as brindling.
      • Black Labradors are all black. A black with brindle markings or a black with tan markings is a disqualification.
      • Yellow Labradors may range in color from fox-red to light cream, with variations in shading on the ears, back, and underparts of the dog.
      • Chocolate Labradors can vary in shade from light to dark chocolate. Chocolate with brindle or tan markings is a disqualification.
  • Movement
    • The Labrador Retriever should move freely and effortless.
    • When watching a dog move toward oneself, there should be no sign of elbows out. Rather, the elbows should be held neatly to the body with the legs not too close together. Moving straight forward without pacing or weaving, the legs should form straight lines, with all parts moving in the same plane.
    • Upon viewing the dog from the rear, one should have the impression that the hind legs move as nearly as possible in a parallel line with the front legs. The hocks should do their full share of the work, flexing well, giving the appearance of power and strength.
    • When viewed from the side, the shoulders should move freely and effortlessly, and the foreleg should reach forward close to the ground with extension.
      • A short, choppy movement or high knee action indicates a straight shoulder, paddling indicates long, weak pasterns and a short, stilted rear gait indicate a straight rear assembly. All are serious faults.
      • Movement faults interfering with performance including weaving, side-winding, crossing over, high knee action, paddling and short, choppy movements are severely penalized.
  • Temperament
    • True Labrador Retriever temperament is as much a hallmark of the breed as the “otter” tail.
    • The ideal disposition is one of a kind, outgoing and tractable (easy to please) nature, eager to please and non-aggressive towards man or animal.
    • The Labrador has much that appeals to people: intelligence and adaptability make them ideal dogs. Aggressiveness towards humans or other animals or any evidence of shyness in an adult is unacceptable when judging.
  • Disqualifications
    • Any deviation from the height prescribed.
    • A thoroughly pink nose or one lacking in any pigment.
    • Eye rims without pigment.
    • Docking or otherwise altering the length or natural carriage of the tail.
    • Any other color or a combination of colors other than black, yellow or chocolate as described in the Breed Standard.

Download the Standard from the ACK website (pdf)

AKC Labrador Video

Is the Labrador a good family dog?

Young tan labrador
Young Labrador
Img Unsplash

The personality of the Labrador

The Labrador’s personality is a real trait of the dog that has been studied academically by a range of researchers.

Twelve personality traits were identified and it was found that the working status of the dog was commonly associated with differences in personality. More so than any other factors.

The researchers found:

  • Gundogs had higher scores for fetching tendency and trainability than show or pet Labradors.
  • Chocolate Labradors were more agitated when ignored than black dogs.
  • Chocolate dogs showed more excitability than black Labradors.
  • Chocolate Labradors showed lower trainability and noise fear than both yellow and black Labradors.
  • Labradors that trained for longer periods showed less aggression, less fear of humans and objects and lower separation anxiety than less active dogs.

A subsequent study of the genetic contribution of everyday life behavior of Labrador Retrievers was done. One-thousand nine hundred and seventy-five Labradors registered with the UK Kennel Club were analysed and the 12 behavior traits (SetA traits) were identified as:

  1. Agitated – agitated when ignored.
  2. Attention – attention-seeking.
  3. Barking – barking tendency.
  4. Excitability.
  5. Fetching.
  6. HOFear – Human and Object Fear.
  7. NoiseFear – Noise Fear.
  8. OAggression – Owner-directed Aggression.
  9. NOAgression – Non-owner-directed aggression.
  10. SepAnxiety – Separation Anxiety.
  11. Trainability.
  12. Unusual – Unusual Behavior.

An interesting observation, which Labrador owners would expect, was the virtually complete absence of owner aggression and separation anxiety in the dogs that were evaluated.

Other research into the influence of owners’ personalities on the personality of their Labradors showed:

  • the dogs’ aggression toward people is negatively associated with an owner’s extroversion meaning that the more extroverted the owner, the less aggressive the dog towards people, and
  • the dogs’ responsiveness to training was positively associated with the owner’s openness, meaning that the more open the owner, the more responsive to training the dog becomes.
  • the owner’s personality had no influence on the Labrador’s fearfulness, activity or excitability, and aggression toward other animals.

This indicates that evaluating the owner as well as the dog when choosing a Labrador may be equally important.

White Labrador enjoys the outdoors with its owner.
Labrador enjoys the outdoors with its owner.
Img: Pixabay

Labrador Features

The Breed Standard (pdf) provides the technical requirements for registered and show Labradors, but there are specific (non-technical) features that identify Labradors.

If you do not want to do a DNA test and do not have the registration records of the parents, you can use appearance to make an initial evaluation of whether a dog is a Labrador.

Is my puppy a Labrador?

Water-resistant coat

Labradors have water-resistant coats. Touch and stroke the puppy’s hair on the back. The fur must be short with a thick texture that feels hard or “wiry” under the touch. Some people describe it as feeling “stiff with an oily feel”.

Thick, sturdy tail

The puppy should have an “otter-like” tail, thick near the body and growing thinner to the tip of the tail. If the tail is long and thin or not tapering towards the tip, then the puppy is probably not a pure-bred Labrador.

Angular head with a moderately-sized muzzle

The head should have observable “corners”, especially where the muzzle flows out of the head. The muzzle should be of moderate size in relation to the head and body, not the pointed muzzle of German Shepherds or the “flat nose” of English Bulldogs.

This trait is more difficult to evaluate and should not be used as the only way to identify whether a puppy is a Labrador.

Black, brown or gold coat

The puppy must be one color of either black, brown (chocolate) or gold (tan) without any differing colors in the coat except for a white patch on the chest.

If there is differing colour hair anywhere else on the body it probably is not a pure-bred Labrador puppy.

Is the eye color brown or hazel?

A black or yellow (gold) Labrador has brown eyes and a brown (chocolate) dog has brown or hazel eyes.

Any other eye color may indicate that the puppy is not a pure-bred Labrador.

Muscular average-sized legs

As a working dog, a Labrador must have strong well-defined muscular back legs, broad hindquarters and a leg length between a Dachshund and a Husky.

There may be a slight difference in the leg and hindquarter dimensions between English and American Labradors but both will fall within the description of broad and muscular hindquarters.

All the above can be used for adult dogs to ascertain if the dog you are inspecting is in fact a pure Labrador.

Things to keep in mind with Labradors

Size

The size of the dog must be within the dimensions required by the breed standards to be a pure Labrador.

Ears

The floppy ears of Labradors cause the same problems as in other dogs with floppy ears.

Pointed, upright ears such as in German Shepherds help to avoid some ear infections because there is ample air circulation that resists the build-up of parasites, bacteria and yeast in the ear. The ear structure of the Labrador (as in all dogs with floppy ears) encourages heat and moisture build-up and promotes an environment in which bacteria flourish.

Signs of ear infection in Labradors:

  • Discharge from the ear
  • Excessive buildup of dark wax in the ears
  • The Interior ear is red and hot
  • Constant head shakes
  • Unpleasant smell
  • Rubbing face and ear on the ground
  • Itchy ears, constantly trying to get their paws in the ears to scratch

Cleaning your Labrador’s ears once a month to remove moisture and buildups will limit the occurrence of ear infections.

Types of ear infections in Labrador Retrievers

  • Otitis Externa is the most common ear infection in Labradors although the prevalence is much lower than in other dog breeds. Otitis externa is the infection of the external ear, which causes inflammation. It affects the layer of cells lining outside the ear canal. Due to the structure of the ear, Labradors (and other dogs with floppy ears) experience a more frequent occurrence of ear inflammations.
  • Otitis Media occurs in the middle ear of the dogs and is preceded by Otitis Externa. When otitis externa worsens, it reaches the middle ear canal.
  • Otitis Interna is the advanced stage of the infection and affects the inner ear canal.
    Both Otitis Media and Interna can cause serious health problems for your Labrador as they may lead to facial paralysis, deafness, and vestibular signs (loss of balance, dizziness, falling etc.)
Eyes

The eyes of Labradors are one of its trademark features.

Labrador eyes are medium-sized and relatively far apart when compared to other dog breeds.

Eye color varies according to the type of dog. Black and yellow Labradors usually have brown eyes with a black rim. Chocolate Labradors have brown or hazel eyes with a brown rim.

Coat color

Coat color depends on genetics that only affects coat color and does not indicate the personality of the dog.

People who insist that certain colors of Labrador have certain personality traits probably got this conviction from a subjective experience they had. Any personality can occur in any color Labrador and across the different colors Labradors are all human-friendly hard working and hard playing energetic dogs.

There is research that indicates differences based on coat color. The research was based on questionnaires and more research is needed to confirm or disprove the findings. It indicates that yellow Labradors have more familiar dog aggression or dog rivalry (aggression towards other dogs) than black and chocolate Labradors.

Direct sunlight does not create higher temperatures in black Labradors than in white Labradors.

Nose color

All Labradors are born with pink noses that start to turn black from the second week and are completely black by week 12. It tends to become lighter as the Lab ages.

The exception is a Labrador known as a Dudley Labrador whose nose remains light because of a lack of pigmentation. Dudley Labradors are not accepted as show dogs.

Tail

The tail is an important indicator of racial authenticity in Labradors.

Labrador weaving with prominent tail display
Labrador weaving shows the characteristic Labrador tail in action.
Img: Wikipedia

Pure Labradors have an “otter-like” thick tail used as a rudder when the dog works, swims or retrieves something from the water.

The tail is covered in dense hair just like the rest of the body. It does not show “feathering” as with Retrievers.

In rare cases, a Labrador may suffer from Limber Tail Syndrome which may disqualify it from being a show dog. It is an injury-related occurrence that can often only be seen after the dog has worked. Limber Tail is observed as a stiff tail base followed by a flaccid tail and it is not permanent. The cause of Limber Tail Syndrome is unknown.

Read more about the condition.

Coat texture

Labradors have a double coat with short, soft, dense hair on the skin and strong, wiry, oily hair on top.

The coat is designed to keep water away from the skin and the dog dry and warm. The oily upper coat repels water.

The coat is a naturally insulating and heat regulation mechanism and as long as you keep your dog groomed, it needs no further interference.

Shedding

The composition of the coat means the Labrador shed twice a year with light shedding taking place all the time. Weekly brushing will help to reduce shedding in the house or on your furniture.

Shedding in Spring allows the dog to get rid of a winter coat and be left with a lighter coat for the summer. Shedding in the Fall prepares a thicker, better-insulating coat for the Winter.

Shedding is a natural process and you should not interfere with it by using shampoos that break down the oils or by shaving your Lab.

Demeanor

The Labrador’s demeanor is mostly dictated by its temperament.

The Labrador’s temperament is described as:

  • Even-tempered
  • Outgoing
  • Intelligent
  • Kind
  • Agile
  • Trusting
  • Gentle

These temperament features mean that the Labrador is known as a good-natured, loyal, working and assistance dog. They are often referred to as boisterous because they are cheerful and energetic dogs.

Labradors want to help and they fit well into any team setup such as a family or as a working dog for people dependent on assistance. They have lots of energy and need to be kept busy and active.

You won’t want to get a Labrador if you want an aggressive guard or attack dog, but you would get one if you are looking for a kind, supportive and happy-to-oblige family or working dog.

Mouthing

Mouthing is a non-aggressive action where the dog’s teeth or inner lips touch human skin or clothing.

There is no agreement on a definition of mouthing probably because the moment the dog uses its teeth, it becomes biting. But then, biting can also differ in intensity and biting without the intention of hurting someone could be a prerequisite for a definition of mouthing.

Because people and dogs express themselves differently, one can expect that our human definition of biting could be mouthing if the dog were to define it. If a baby mouths the mother’s finger because of itchy gums, we would hardly call it biting and an act of aggression!

Puppies probably mouths because that is how they experience their world and how they express themselves.

Adult dogs may mouth because they were not trained to get rid of the mouthing habit or they may just be playful.

When mouthing becomes problem behavior it is time to train your Labrador to get rid of the habit.

Mouthing usually becomes a problem if the dog does not learn bite inhibition, because if it does not realize that the mouthing bite is unacceptable or causes pain or damage to its owner, there is no reason to stop the behavior.

Start with finding out about behavioural help with your dog or, if you need professional help with the problem you could find it via the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.