The Complete Guide to: Labradors
Affectionate, energetic and sociable, Labradors are one of the nation’s favourite dog breeds. Thanks to its easy-going temperament, a Labrador is a friendly pet to have around. Here’s more on this cherished breed, and how to give them the best life in your home.
If you search online for a place called Labrador, you’ll end up in North America. People often think this is where the dogs originated from, but the breed has its roots in the Newfoundland area of the map, around about the 18th century. It’s thought that the dogs were brought over on fishing boats from England. These original dogs were smaller than the Labrador Retrievers we recognise today, and they were called St. John’s Dogs.
Much loved, the dogs continued to be used as workers on the boats, retrieving nets, fish from underwater, and other things their masters needed while working on the boats. So, you begin to see where the “retriever” part of their name comes from. What marks the dogs as particularly special, aside from their skills, was their relationship with the people in such a harsh, lonely environment. The dogs relied on their master, and the master on their dogs.
Just like today’s Labradors, paintings and early photos reveal short-haired dogs, with an oily coat and thick tails. Their coat is what made swimming in freezing seas a breeze - and explains why your Labrador today can’t resist a dip in icy water if the ball happens to be flung in that direction.
Today, Labradors are characterised by their short, thick coats, sturdy, tapered tails, and dense build. Generally, they reach around 21.5 to 24.5 inches from toe to shoulder, and they weigh around 25 to 36 kilos depending on their gender. That makes for a solid looking dog! Often, you’ll hear about either Show or Working Labradors, and there are slight differences. Show Labs tend to be slightly heavier-set than their working cousins.
Perhaps one of the most striking things about Labradors are their faces. They exude eagerness and approachability. With large wide heads and floppy ears, they are picture perfect when it comes to lovable-looking dog breeds. The black Labrador is the most recognised, but you’ll also find chocolate Labradors and yellow Labradors of varying shades.
Labradors are part of the GunDog Group - something that pays homage to their history as working dogs. Along with other retriever breeds like Spaniels and Pointers, they were used to retrieve game - or indeed fish in the case of Labradors - for their masters.
This makes Labradors amiable and hardworking dogs. They also have huge reserves of energy. It’s recommended by the Kennel Club to give your Lab at least two hours of exercise a day. You should also have a large garden for them to roam in. Their athleticism and retrieving nature mean that they love a challenge, and, particularly when young, can play for hours.
Kind and sociable, they are happy to meet new people or to be surrounded by children, but despite being gentle, they are far from unintelligent. They are bright sparks, and their tolerance and equanimity need to be nurtured in order to avoid any stress or anxiety.
It’s easy to think that given their easy-going temperament, Labs will be simple to train - particularly given their history as assistance dogs, a lot of work is required to hone their skills. The good news is that with their abundance of energy, intelligence, and enthusiasm, they are keen learners.
To start, it’s best to socialise your puppy within the first months of its life. That can include spending time with a range of people, old and young, and other dogs. You can even attend puppy parties with them. The other important starting point is to keep up a regular exercise program to burn off energy and reduce the risk of behavioural problems, like tearing up your furniture through boredom, for instance.
Other training tips as your dog grows include:
- Crate training – by setting up a place just for them, you can feel sure they won’t be tearing up the house when you’re not there. It will also act as a peaceful spot when they need some alone time.
- Walks – you’ll be walking your dog every day, so use this as a chance to train them too. Teaching tricks like walking to heel, using a lead, and wearing a collar.
- Obedience tips – simple commands like “drop it” and “here” can be done during playtime and walks. You can incorporate them into your daily routine from an early age.
- Treats and affection – this is part of the positive reinforcement training technique. When your dog responds to a command correctly, reinforce that behaviour with a cuddle, or a treat.
Labradors do tend to put on weight easily. So, when it comes to nutrition, you’ll need to keep an eye on their treats and food intake in general. Exercise also forms a part of this, to help them burn off extra pounds. If you need specific advice based on your Lab’s history and lifestyle, it’s worth asking your vet about a more tailored diet.