The Labrador Retriever is a common pet in many homes in the United States and the UK. Agile, even-tempered, outgoing, gentle, intelligent, kind, and trusting are just a few personality traits of the Labrador Retriever that make it a preferred companion in many homes. This dog breed has adapted to different weather types, and that is why its coat is straight and short but also dense due to its soft undercoat.
The only colors the Labrador Retriever can be found in are black, brown, and yellow. There is controversy around the existence of Labrador Retrievers having a silver coat, with some people claiming it a result of cross-breeding and others attributing it to pure mutation of one of the solid colors.
They shed the coat rather rapidly, so owners should maintain a weekly routine of brushing the coat to get rid of the loose hairs. A full-grown dog of this breed will grow to a weight of between 25-36 kg and a height ranging from 55 to 62 cm. Labrador Retrievers have an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years.
Labrador Retriever Overview
Breed Function: Companion, water retrieving, assistance, retriever field trials, obedience competition
Also known as: Lab
Lifespan: 10 – 12 years
Average Size: 22.5 to 24.5 inches (males) and 21.5 to 23.5 inches (females)
Average Weight: 65 to 80 pounds (males) and 55 to 70 pounds (females)
Common Health Issues:
- Hip dysplasia
- Gastric torsion
- Muscular dystrophy
- Retinal dysplasia
- Skeletal dwarfism
- Elbow dysplasia
- Osteochondritis dissecans
Labrador Retriever Breed Origin
Labrador Retrievers originated on the Newfoundland island at the northeastern Atlantic coast of Canada. In the 1700s, Labradors, who were known as St. John’s dogs, served as helpers to local fishermen. The original Labs were black, medium sized, and very efficient at retrieving fowl and fish game.
They were excellent swimmers on ice waters, often swimming after fishing nets and pulling small boats along in the water. The smooth or short-haired dogs were preferred, in order to prevent ice from becoming attached to the dog’s coat. It is thought that St. John’s dogs descended from crosses between Newfoundland Dogs and other small local water dogs.
During the early 1800’s, English sportsmen who noticed the usefulness and good disposition of St. John’s dogs, imported a few of them to England to serve as land retrievers. The dogs usually arrived at England in ships coming from Labrador, therefore, the third Earl of Malmesbury started referring to them a Labradors.
By the mid 1880s the breed was almost extinct in Newfoundland due to the imposition of a government tax to dog owners. Back then, families were allowed to have only one dog and those who owned a female needed to pay higher taxes, so females were usually culled from the litters. However, by that time, Labradors were gaining popularity in England, where they were crossed with setters, spaniels and other types of retrievers to improve their hunting instincts.
The Labrador Retriever was officially recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1917, and they were imported to the USA during the 1920’s and 1930’s. Today, Labrador Retrievers are the most popular dogs in the USA, thanks to their friendly character and their unremarkable intelligence. Labs are also one of the most popular dog breeds in Canada and England.
Initially breeders only accepted black Labradors, and the puppies of other colors were usually culled, however eventually the yellow and chocolate began gaining popularity and they are now accepted by the AKC. Today, Labrador Retrievers work in several different settings such as search and rescue, drug and explosive detection, therapy and assistance to the handicapped, and as retrievers for hunters.
Labrador Retriever Physical Characteristics
Two types of Labradors can be distinguished, the American Labrador Retriever and the English Labrador Retriever.
English Labs are usually heavier, thicker and blockier, while the American Labs are taller and have longer legs.
- Size. Labradors are medium to large dogs, with males typically weighing 65 to 80 pounds, and females weighing 55 to 70 pounds. Some males can grow to 100 pounds or more, however, these dogs are considered obese or having a major fault under the AKC standards. Male Labs stand 22.5 to 24.5 inches, while females stand 21.5 to 23.5 inches
- Conformation. The Labrador is slightly longer than it is tall with a medium to large bone structure and a muscular body type.
- Hair coat. Labradors have a short, smooth, water-resistant hair coat that can be black, yellow or brown (chocolate variety).
- Head. Their heads are wide with a board muzzle and a thick nose that can be black on yellow and black Labs, and brown on chocolate Labs. The ears are medium sized, pendant in shape and should hang down.
- Eyes. Yellow and black Labradors have brown eyes, while chocolate Labs have hazel or brown eyes. Some Labradors can have green or yellowish eyes. The eye rims are black in yellow and black dogs and brown in chocolate dogs.
- Tail. A Labrador’s tail is thick at the base and it becomes thinner towards the tip. The tail should be completely covered with short hair, with no feathering.
- Legs. The legs are strong and compact with webbed feet which aid the dog in swimming.
To read more about the Labrador Retriever’s breed standard, download the Official Standard of the Labrador Retriever by the American Kennel Club (AKC).
Common Health Concerns
The Labrador Retriever is a very active animal and will not sit still for a second unless it is resting. This is why these dogs get into trouble every so often because they always look for something to keep them busy. Due to the fact that they have so much energy, it is required they get daily exercise, preferably in heavy routines such as swimming and retrieval.
It is important for these dogs to be regularly tested for eye, elbow, and hip diseases that are likely to affect them at some point in their life. Although there are minor concerns, such as OCD and pyotraumatic dermatitis, it is important to be aware of major illnesses affecting the Labrador Retriever:
- Cancer. Labradors can suffer from many of the same types of cancers that humans get. Dogs are the only non-human species susceptible to prostate cancer, and dogs are also at risk for bladder cancer, lung cancer, lymphoma, mammary carcinoma, skin cancer, bone cancer, testicular cancer, brain and mast cell tumors, and hemangiosarcoma. Most of the dogs who suffer from cancer need any of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and/or surgery depending on the type of cancer and severity.
- Hip dysplasia. Canine hip dysplasia is an inherited issue that stems from an abnormal looseness in the ball and socket joint of the dog’s hip. When the femoral head doesn’t fit snugly into the socket or acetabulum, the components rub irregularly on each other and can eventually cause a deformation of the bone, resulting in pain and arthritis. Large dog breeds, including Labrador Retrievers, are typically more prone to the condition than smaller dogs. Depending on the severity of the condition and the age of your Labrador, treatment options can range from exercise and weight reduction to extensive hip replacement surgery.
- Gastric torsion. Bloat in dogs is commonly known as Gastric Dilatation and Volvulus or more simply as ‘GDV’. This life-threatening condition occurs mainly in large breeds such as the Labrador Retriever. GDV occurs when the stomach then becomes distended within the abdomen which also compromises the peripheral organs. Volvulus refers to the twisting motion of the bloated stomach causing the air to be trapped with no release.
- Muscular dystrophy. Muscular Dystrophy is an inherited, progressive, and non-inflammatory degenerative muscular disease caused by a deficiency of dystrophyin, a muscle-membrane protein. Glucocorticosteroids are often given to dogs suffering from non-inflammatory muscular dystrophy, but their effectiveness is variable and their exact mode of action in this disease is still unknown.
- Retinal Dysplasia. Retinal dysplasia is an eye disease affecting the retina of animals and, less commonly, humans. It is usually a nonprogressive disease and can be caused by viral infections, drugs, vitamin A deficiency, or genetic defects. Retinal dysplasia is characterized by folds or rosettes (round clumps) of the retinal tissue.
- Skeletal dwarfism. This hereditary condition involves the abnormal growth and development of bone and cartilage due to an inadequate supply of a growth hormone. Labs are born with the condition, although it may not be apparent until puppies are at least three to four months old and notably smaller than their littermates. Affected dogs have shorter than normal bones, larger than normal head, sideways bowing of forelimbs, deviation of the spine to one side of the body and poor growth. Hormonal treatment is needed for Labradors who suffer from skeletal dwarfism.
- Elbow dysplasia. Medium and large breeds are particularly prone to elbow dysplasia, which occurs when the bones that form the elbow joint don’t properly come together. Labradors who suffer from elbow dysplasia usually show lameness of the forelimbs, thickening of the elbow and pain. Treatment of elbow dysplasia usually consists of pain and anti-inflammatory medications, physical therapy and surgical correction, whenever possible.
- Osteochondritis dissecans. When developing cartilage experiences varying rates of maturation, some areas of the cartilage become thickened, weak, and prone to injury. As a result of the abnormal growth, cartilage flaps form in the joints, eventually becoming separated and lifted from the bone. This will cause inflammation and pain. In veterinary terms, the condition is called Osteochondritis dissecans (OD).
- Cataracts. Cataracts are a clouding of the lens of the eye, resulting in blurry vision. Smaller cataracts are not likely to affect a dog’s vision too greatly, but even the small ones must be regularly monitored to prevent blindness. Old age, disease, and eye trauma can cause cataracts, although they most commonly stem from inherited conditions. Surgery can often restore vision loss due to cataracts, and many dog insurance plans cover up to 100 percent of the cost of cataract surgery.
- Epilepsy. A Labrador Retriever that is epileptic will start to show signs of illness when they are between 2 and 5 years of age.
- Interdigital Dermatitis. This condition affects the paws and nails of the Labrador Retriever. As the inflammation progresses, the dog is immobilized and unable to move. The condition is also known as pododermatitis.
- Allergies.Labrador Retrievers are genetically predisposed to certain food and environmental allergens. The allergy manifests itself through the skin by itching; therefore, pet owners can easily identify a change in animal behavior.
|Average Treatment cost to treat and
|Cancer||High||$5,150 to $20,000|
|Hip dysplasia||Medium||$4,025 to $6,050|
|Gastric torsion||Medium||$490 to $1,050|
|Muscular dystrophy||High||$ 300 to $1,500|
|Retinal dysplasia||High||$250 to $2015|
|Skeletal dwarfism||Medium||$1,060 to $1,391|
|Elbow dysplasia||Medium||$ $1,550 to $6,025|
|Osteochondritis dissecans||Medium||$50 to $2000|
|Cataracts||High||$3507 to $3784|
You can learn more about this is other genetic diseases in Labrador Retrievers and other breeds on the Guide to Congenital and Heritable Disorders in Dogs published by The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.
Labrador Retriever Personality
Labrador Retrievers are remarkably intelligent, loyal, affectionate, loving and patient—they get along well with other pets and children. Labs are excellent family dogs, who are always willing to please. Labradors are among the top choices for service dog work. These lively dogs are always eager to play and they love to swim.
They are obedient, easy-going, outgoing, not aggressive, and they crave the attention of their families and want to be included in all activities. Some Labs may be reserved around strangers and they make an excellent watch dog.
Labrador Retriever Training
Labs are very smart, easy to train dogs. They thrive on human leadership and need to feel that they are part of the family. Labs should be socialized and trained as early as possible. They are strong dogs, so they can become destructive if not trained appropriately.
It is a good idea to train Lab puppies to heel on the leash, so that they do not bolt out doorways and gateways before their masters, this will teach them who is the pack leader. Labs need a great amount of mental and physical stimulation, and if left alone for long periods of time, they can become destructive.
Labrador Retrievers are excellent watchdogs, and given their winning personality, intelligence obedience and eagerness to please, they can also be good guard dogs.
Labrador Retriever Grooming
Labradors do not require much grooming. Labs have a short and smooth coat that is easy to groom. It is recommended to brush them once or twice a week to remove dead hair. Labrador Retrievers shed their undercoat twice a year (during the spring and fall shedding seasons). Baths can take place every two to four weeks depending on your lab’s lifestyle.
Labrador Retriever Energy & Exercise
Training is definitely necessary because this breed has a lot of energy and exuberance. The working heritage of Labradors means that they are very active dogs. This breed needs a great amount of physical and mental stimulation to stay healthy and happy. When not exercised properly, Labs can become destructive.
In order to meet their exercise needs, you can take your Labrador on daily walks, jogs or runs. Remember to keep your dog walking beside or behind you, that way your Lab will learn that you are the pack leader. If possible, teach your Labrador to do a job around the house, for example, you can teach him/her to bring you the newspaper every morning.
Having daily chores will keep your Lab busy and it will prevent him/her from becoming destructive. Feed your Labrador according to his/her physical activity level, in order to prevent obesity.
Labrador Retriever Nutrition & Feeding
Your best options for feeding your Labrador Retriever are commercial dry food (kibble) or canned food, and homemade meals. There are several types of commercial dog foods—how should you choose the best one for your Lab? You should consider your dog’s size, age, and activity level. It is important to understand that dogs, just like us, need a nutritionally balanced meal with an appropriate amount of calories.
Dog food contains a combination of ingredients, including meat, grains, vitamins, minerals, fats, and byproducts. This combination is balanced to meet the nutritional requirements of dogs. If you prefer to feed your Lab a homemade meal, you should make sure it is nutritionally balanced. Dr. Paula Terifaj from Founders Veterinary Clinic in California has developed a nutritionally balanced homemade dog recipe that you can use to feed your dog. You may also want to consult your dog’s veterinarian before you start feeding your Labrador with homemade meals.
Labradors tend to gain weight easily, for this and other reasons, it is very important to provide them with plenty of physical activity and feed them accordingly. The amount of food that your Labrador should eat depends on the calories on that food. In general, if you are feeding a high-quality commercial dog food, your dog will need to eat less to get the amount of calories that he or she needs. To determine how much of a particular food, you should feed your Labrador, read the label on the dog food packaging or call the manufacturer for the information you need.
Labrador Retrievers have an average lifespan of 10 to 12 years. This breed is susceptible to various congenital and hereditary conditions such as cancer, hip dysplasia, and osteochondritis dissecans. There is no way to know for certain if your Labrador will suffer from any of these illnesses, but the possibility is always there, and every dog will require special care as it gets older. The right pet health insurance plan can help keep you from the added burden of financial worries when your dog requires medical care.
The Labrador Retriever is a generally happy dog bringing an equal measure of happiness to a family. Though it is standard practice to take them for regular checkups and vaccinations, nothing prepares a pet owner for the pain and agony they witness when their dog is in pain. Out-of-pocket medical bills seem attractive because they will cater for the occasional injury and cold, but what happens when you need to pay for surgery to ease the suffering of a Labrador Retriever?
When choosing your pet insurance plan, it is a good idea to check if it covers the hereditary conditions mentioned above. Taking this precaution can save you lots of money and headaches. The following pet insurance chart allows you to choose a plan that covers hereditary or breed-specific conditions such as cancer, hip dysplasia, and osteochondritis dissecans.
- Embrace Pet Insurance
- Trupanion Medical Insurance for Your Pet
- Petplan Pet Insurance
- Healthy Paws Pet Insurance & Foundation
Need help to chose the right pet insurance for your Labrador Retriever? Take a look at our pet Insurance comparison chart.
Is A Lab Right For You?
A Labrador Retriever may be right for you if you want…
- a large breed dog
- an energetic, smart and easy to train dog
- a dog that requires minimal grooming
- a sociable dog that is good with kids
- a dog to take out for daily walks or runs
- a playful dog
- an easy to groom dog
- a service dog
A Labrador Retriever may NOT be right for you if…
- you spend long hours working outside of your home
- you do not have time to take him/her out for daily walks
- you want a lap dog who does not need lots of physical activity
- you do not want to deal with potential congenital health problems
For other types of dogs, check out our full list of dog breeds.