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Labrador Retriever

Breed description – Labrador Retriever

The Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular dog breeds in the UK, but it originates from over the pond, in Newfoundland. Years ago, this small island off the Canadian coast had gained popularity amongst European fishermen. The breeding of dogs on the island produced the Labrador’s predecessor, the St John’s Water Dog. These dogs were used by the fishermen to assist with various fishing tasks, including hauling nets to shore using their buoys.

Although the St John’s breed isn’t around anymore, we have it to thank for giving rise to both the Labrador and the Newfoundland. The Labrador was named after Labrador territory, which sat a little northwest of Newfoundland. The dogs had shown remarkable ability helping the fishermen and it was here that the breed’s ability for retrieving was ingrained. When they returned to England, they took these remarkable dogs with them, introducing the breed to the United Kingdom and setting the stage for producing the various Retriever breeds that we know and love today. 

The breed can be found in three major colours, yellow, chocolate and black, although the yellow and chocolate forms can vary in shade. Fox red labradors are also growing in popularity.

The Lab (as it is affectionately known), is a popular working, assistance and family dog. The breed’s versatility comes from its highly trainable, yet playful, loving and exuberant character. The only thing they’re probably more famous for than their people-loving nature is their endless appetite!

Labrador breed pros

  • Very affectionate and friendly
  • Enjoys human company
  • Can tolerate lots of exercise
  • Playful and enjoys active games
  • Intelligent and easy to train

Labrador breed cons

  • Needs plenty of exercise and stimulation
  • Often likes to chew and eat inappropriate things 
  • Prone to weight gain
  • Commonly suffer from orthopaedic problems
  • Tends to shed a lot of fur

Labradors are suitable for

The Labrador really is a good allrounder. It can flourish in a very active home with owners who have lots of time for long walks, and makes a fabulous working dog where its obedience and retrieval skills can be used to the full. Although the Labrador can make a great family companion, it may be too boisterous for families with very young children. Here, it may also be difficult to keep track of a particularly mischievous dog, for whom small children’s toys can make tempting prizes. Owing to the breeds remarkable trainability, they are also a popular choice as assistance and therapy dogs.

The breed is suitable for:

  • Active individuals, couples or families
  • Stimulating outdoor working activities 
  • Assistance and trained service work

It could be a great choice for a family with older children wanting to get more active!

Known health problems in labradors

The Labrador is known to be at risk of a number of health conditions. It has a high prevalence of genetically linked orthopaedic disorders such as osteochondrosis, hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia. These can lead to lameness and arthritis as the dog ages, but are compounded by other factors including being overweight.

It’s important not to over-exercise these dogs whilst they mature, using short frequent walks, obedience training and gentle playtime is best to keep energy levels under control whilst avoiding overdoing it on the developing bones. 

There are some inherited diseases of the eye that can affect the breed, including cataracts as well as progressive retinal atrophy or retinal dystrophy. The retina is key to proper vision, so problems with this structure can cause varying degrees of vision loss. Some Labradors may suffer from a condition called exercise-induced collapse, which is caused by a gene mutation. It can be alarming to see and does mean that the dog´s activity needs to be regulated.

Additionally, the breed is among those who present for skin problems, including allergies and atopic dermatitis (an innate hypersensitivity of the skin), as well as epilepsy – where a hereditary component is suspected. Genetic and hereditary issues are linked to the breed, meaning that although an individual Labrador may never suffer from these conditions, the breed is more susceptible. This is why it’s important to obtain puppies from reputable breeders who are committed to breeding from healthy dogs. 

Labradors are avid eaters, and they often won’t discriminate between things they should and shouldn’t be eating. As a result, they are common offenders for ingesting inappropriate objects, often needing surgery to remove them. This can be life-threatening if the object perforates the intestine, so dogs need to be taught from the beginning what they should and should not eat, a feat easier said than done with many Labs!

Summary of the most common health issues among Labrador Retriever:

  • Orthopaedic problems – osteochondrosis, hip and elbow dysplasia, and cranial cruciate ligament disease
  • Susceptibility to overeating and weight gain
  • Risk of eating foreign objects which require veterinary intervention
  • Skin complaints – skin allergies and canine atopic dermatitis are not uncommon
  • Eye problems such as hereditary retinal abnormalities and cataract formation
  • Seizures

Labrador care advice

The Labrador enjoys and needs quite an active lifestyle to help develop a toned and supportive muscular frame for the joints, to engage its keen mind and to help it maintain a healthy weight. Owners must be proactive in preventing these dogs from chewing and eating any foreign material, so as to avoid unnecessary and risky retrieval surgery. These dogs should be introduced to appropriate toys at a young age and taught to drop on command. This will help to prevent anything inappropriate from being swallowed. Additionally, they tend to shed a lot of fur, so having a regular brushing routine is a must!

  1. Provide plenty of regular exercise and activity
  2. Brush the coat weekly
  3. Keep an eye on weight to prevent obesity
  4. Stimulate by teaching obedience and retrieval 
  5. Provide appropriate toys 

Article by Yvette Bell MRCVS


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