Labrador Retriever

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Noted for their friendly, non-aggressive nature, Labrador retrievers generally make excellent family pets, if their need for exercise and companionship is met. Photo by Andrew A. Skolnick

The Labrador retriever is the most popular registered breed of dog in both the United Kingdom and the United States of America, two of the most "dog-friendly" cultures in the world. What about this breed is likely to account for such outstanding popularity? Labradors are generally both exceptionally friendly, and eager to please, making them excellent companions for children, as well as adults. Their intelligence and size also makes them suitable service animals.

The British style of Labradors are stockier and have broader heads than the American or field style.

Having been bred first to help Newfoundland fishermen haul in their fishing nets and then in Great Britain as 'gun dogs' for hunting waterfowl, Labs are powerful swimmers who love the water. As much as most Labs take to swimming, life on dry land also suits them - as long as there is an opportunity for some exercise. Their ability to adapt to both city and country life is one more factor that accounts for their popularity (ref:SPORTING GROUP: Labrador RetrieversFaith Hyndman. AKC Gazette. New York: Jul 2006. Vol. 123, Iss. 7; p. 51)


It is thought to have descended over time from the St. John's Water Dog (no longer in existence), a crossbreed of native water dogs and the Newfoundland dog (to which the Labrador is closely related), through ad-hoc breedings by early settlers in the 17th century.[1]

Labrador retriever returns with her quarry at a hunting test. Photo by Andrew A. Skolnick

Breed standards

Common characteristics round the world

Their coats are short and smooth, and they possess a thick, powerful tail that superficially resembles the tail of an otter. The "otter tail" of the Lab is used in swimming and is a characteristic that is specifically selected for in breeding. Other characteristics that are helpful for water retrieving are the dog's water resistant coat and webbed toes.

The otter-like tail and webbed toes of the Labrador retriever make them excellent swimmers. Their interwoven coat is also relatively waterproof, providing more assistance for swimming. The dogs use their tail as rudders to help them steer while swimming. Their short hair allows them to work in icy waters, where longer-hair retrievers would be dragged down by ice clinging to their coats.


These puppies from two separate litters include all recognized color variations of Labradors, including the "fox red" variety of yellow. Photo by Andrew A. Skolnick

There are three officially recognised Lab colors:[2] black (a solid black color), yellow (anything from light cream to gold to fox-red), and chocolate (medium to dark brown). Puppies of all colors may occur in the same litter. The nose of a black or yellow Lab should be black and a chocolate's should be brown, although some fading to pink is permitted. Pink noses without pigmentation is a disqualification.

Variation in type by country, and, within countries, by club

Show dogs (conformation shows)

Field dogs (sporting clubs)


The extremely social Lab craves the companionship of humans and other dogs. This drive generally makes them friendly and non-aggressive to strangers.

Working labs

Guide dogs for the Blind

Therapy dogs (other)

"Sniffers" for customs and police work

Health and wellbeing

Labrador life expectancy is generally 12 to 13 years[3], and it generally is a healthy breed with relatively few major problems. Notable issues related to health and wellbeing include:

Lab nose and skin pigmentation: Dudleys


  2. The American Kennel Club, Labrador Retriever Breed Standard: "The Labrador Retriever 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, called a star, is permissible, but not desirable. White hairs from aging or scarring are not to be misinterpreted as brindling. Black:-Blacks are all black. A black with brindle markings or a black with tan markings is a disqualification. Yellow:-Yellows may range in color from fox-red to light cream, with variations in shading on the ears, back, and underparts of the dog. Chocolate:-Chocolates can vary in shade from light to dark chocolate. Chocolate with brindle or tan markings is a disqualification."
  3. Fogle, Bruce, DVM (2000). The New Encyclopedia of the Dog. Dorling Kindersley. ISBN 0-7894-6130-7.