The Labrador retriever has been the American Kennel Club’s (AKC’s) No. 1 registered breed of dog for more than 10 years. When you meet a well-bred Lab, it is easy to understand why. However, these days, it is also one of the most poorly bred dogs.
The AKC has a breed standard. These standards were developed by the parent club (the national club of a particular breed of dogs) and the AKC. The standard for each breed is listed on the club websites and the AKC website. It describes the ideal dog for that breed.
Standards are about the physical appearance, the movement and the personality of the dog. The standard goes into details of size at shoulders, size and shapes of head, the bite of the dog, the weight, the ears, the tail, colors permitted and colors not permitted and more.
To view the Lab standard and get additional information, you can visit www.akc.org or, for Lab-specific information, their national club has a website at www.thelabradorclub.com or the local club at www.lrcp.com.
If you read the standard of the Lab, you will soon realize that most of the Labs you see in everyday life do not quite fit the standard. The standard describes a strongly built, short-coupled, sound, athletic and well-balanced medium-sized dog. It should have an “otter tail,” wide skull, muscular neck and a moderately wide chest with a level top line.
The length of the body from point of the shoulder to the point of the rump should be roughly equal. The height of a dog should be 22.5 to 24.5 inches, and a bitch 21.5 to 23.5 inches at the withers. Their weight should be 65 to 80 pounds for dogs and 55 to 70 pounds for bitches. They should be well-muscled and without excess fat. Heights varying by a half-inch or more are disqualified, and light, “weedy,” dogs are disqualified. They should not appear long and low, or tall and leggy.
There are more details in the standards, but these give you a bit of an idea. So, why do the Labs we all see everywhere vary so far from the standards? Because people are haphazardly breeding all breeds of dogs.
Labs have been so popular for so many years, and people see a way to make a few bucks, so they breed their pets. Many do not do health tests on these dogs they are breeding, either. Certain breeds of dogs have a higher chance of certain diseases or ailments, and responsible breeders will screen for these prior to breeding their dogs.
However, these tests are pricey, and many “backyard breeders” will choose not to be bothered with them. This is bad for the dogs and for possible new owners. Labs are prone to bloat, hip dysplasia, knee and joint issues, and more. Responsible breeders will perform pre-breeding tests and screenings and, even though this does not guarantee puppies will be free from these diseases, it can help.
Breeding two dogs that both have hip dysplasia will more than likely produce puppies prone to hip dysplasia. If you have checked parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, and none have shown issues with hip dysplasia, you are not as likely to produce puppies that are prone to it.
Responsible breeders will remove from their breeding stock dogs that have any family history of these different diseases/ailments.
Now, not all “show” people are good, responsible breeders, either. Unfortunately, some show people are more concerned with winning in the show ring, and because some of these diseases do not present until later in life, there are often several litters of puppies born, sold, shown and bred before other people start noticing the issues. This sometimes puts hundreds of dogs at higher risk of being affected. Good, responsible breeders would not want to pass poor genes to their new puppies.
Now, I am not against “backyard” breeders. I just think they also need to be good, responsible breeders, too. They need to research their breeding stock’s history. They need to perform pre-breeding testing. They need to do all that they can to help be sure that the genes they are passing on are good genes — for health, for dogs coming close to the standard and also for personality.
Some people believe that personality is developed (nurture, not nature); however, I believe that some of it does come from family history. More of personality is in the raising of the dog, but why take chances? If you have an aggressive dog, do not breed it unless you are trying to breed for aggression. (I believe there is no reason for breeding for aggression, though. Dogs can be protective without being aggressive.)
So, because Labs have been so popular for so long, many people see their “wonderful pet Lab” and think they would love to breed it, and they find someone else with another “wonderful pet Lab,” or they get another Lab themselves, and they have a litter of puppies.
Then someone buys one of those puppies, and they think the same way, and they do the same, and then another and another and another... These people didn’t bother to do health tests. They didn’t bother to really examine their dog and its mate to try to breed out bad qualities and add better qualities. They just wanted a litter of puppies.
When deciding to breed your dog, you really need to take a good look at your dog. See how closely it meets the breed standards. Take note of where it falls short and where it is really good. Then, find a mate that has those qualities that yours is missing.
Say yours is a little “leggy,” meaning its legs are a little long and lean. Then you would want the mate to have excellent legs. Now, this does not guarantee good results, but it gives you a better chance.
Now, back to the lovable Lab. Labs are great pets for the active family. Labs are very active working dogs. They are also very strong. They are sweet and lovable but very rambunctious. They need to have “jobs” to do to keep them busy.
Labs are great with kids; however, they are large dogs and they can accidentally knock over small children. Labs can also have “lethal” tails. These constantly wagging tails can clear coffee tables and lower shelves. Labs are also known for their strong food drive and they often enjoy “counter-surfing”.
Labs have a double coat, with the outer coat being coarse and water resistant and the undercoat being soft and downy. They shed seasonally, and they do need regular brushing. Yes, Labs shed and Labs need regular brushing and bathing. Labs also need their ears regularly cleaned, as many are prone to ear infections.
Labs should not be shaved down. Many people say that their labs are too hot and are constantly panting in the spring and summer. That Lab is more than likely overweight, which can also make them pant more. However, if you shave down a Lab, it actually makes it harder for the Lab to tolerate any weather. Shaving them down removes the insulation and makes it more difficult for the dog to properly regulate their body temperature.
A Lab that is mostly kept inside, with winter heat and summer air conditioning, is less tolerant of weather extremes. If you want your Lab to be outside for extended periods of time, it should spend most of its time outside year-round, so the body becomes accustomed to the weather.
Labs come in three colors: black, chocolate and yellow. Yellow can range from fox-red to light cream. A small white spot on the chest is permissible, but not desirable. These are the only acceptable colors for Labs, according to the standard.
Labs are a working dog. Originally, they were developed in Newfoundland and used helping on the fishing boats. Later, they were developed for retrieving, especially for retrieving waterfowl.
Labs are now used as service dogs, in hunting and field trials, in agility and obedience, as therapy dogs, for tracking and more. One of the newest activities to do with your Lab is “dock diving.” This is popular with Labs because of their love of work and their love of water. (For more information, visit www.dockdogs.com/delmarva-dockdogs.html.)
Labs are intelligent and combine that with their desire to please and their love of food, and with proper dedication from you, they will learn quickly. They are easily trained and also easily bored, so keep training fun and rewarding, and you will have a great companion.
In conclusion, just because you have a super pet Lab, that does not mean it is great for breeding purposes. If you are going to breed, do some research first. Labs make great pets, but they are strong, powerful working dogs. They need a lot to keep them occupied.
They make great pets for active families, but be careful with small children. Labs may knock them over or injure them accidentally. Labs shed. They require frequent bathing and grooming. They also require a lot of exercise. They love food and have a tendency to become overweight. Be careful not to let them get overweight, as it can cause several health issues, such as hip dysplasia.
Labs are intelligent and happy dogs and love to please their people. So, if you think a Lab might be the right choice for you, check out the AKC website, the breed club website and maybe even consider adopting a Lab from the local breed rescue organization. (You can find links from the breed club page.)
Cheryl Loveland is a dog groomer, pet-sitter, dog trainer and fosterer for many unwanted animals. She does rescue work for all types of animals and has owned or fostered most types of domestic animals and many wild ones. She currently resides with two bloodhounds, which she has shown in conformation and is currently training her male bloodhound for search-and-rescue work. Also residing with her are a bichon frisée, two cats and two birds. She welcomes comments, questions and suggestions for future articles at firstname.lastname@example.org. Remember, she is not an expert: she offers her opinions and suggestions from her experience and research.