For 27 years, the Labrador Retriever has been the most popular dog breed in the United States and 2018 is no exception.  As the previous owner of a golden Lab, I have to agree that their temperament, patience with children, and complete loyalty are among the very best for working or homes.  They can be black, yellow (golden), or brown (chocolate).

MY FIRST LAB

I got my girl Honey in Alaska from the shelter.  She had given birth, and to this day I don’t know how someone could give up such a sweet girl.  She was hit by a car a few months later when she slid down an ice embankment on a walk; I knew she was hurt when I went to her and she snapped at me.

It was the first and last time she ever did so.  An emergency trip to the vet revealed a broken hip with nothing to do for it.  My husband and I traveled back to the “lower 48” and for weeks, we went in the yard to do business with a sling under her hips.  When my first son was born, I have videos of him crawling back and forth over her, sticking his fingers up into her gums.  She would just move her head away and tolerate his babyness.  Ultimately, her love of children was her undoing.  Every day, she would trundle down to meet the school bus on our cul-de-sac and she again slid down a snow bank and under the wheels.

A LITTLE ABOUT THE LABRADOR

A male lab will grow to 65-80 pounds and a female to 55-70 pounds, according to the American Kennel Club.  They will live about 12 years and are considered to be a sporting breed.  One reason for this label is for a variety of reasons.  Labradors are often used as disability dogs for the blind, deaf, and other folks needing therapy due to the breed’s intelligence.  They are used by hunters for retrieving ducks, rabbits, and other animals by gently bringing them to their master without damage (hence the name Labrador Retriever).   Originally from Newfoundland, labs were bred from the St. John’s Water Dog.  The “Labrador” part of the name was connected to retrieving in the Labrador Sea.  The breed is also the dog to beat in agility and obedience trial competitions.

MIXING THE LAB WITH OTHER BREEDS

Because of their superior temperament and intelligence, the Labrador can be seen in a number of mix breeds.  Their hair is usually short and straight, so they don’t need much grooming.  They like to be active and are very playful, so maybe not the best for apartment dwelling owners.  They may sometimes bark and noise, but are generally not a barking problem.  They may be rovers or be so attractive they may be snatched, so be sure to microchip your pooch.  I watched a YouTube video once with a lab mix opening the front door of his home (with a knob), roaming the neighborhood, then letting himself back in!

The Labrador earns his classification as a “working dog”.  The typical Lab has a strong jaw and a broad head.  His eyes are full of intelligence and expression.   Even in mixed breeds, the Lab body comes through a strong and square.  The coat is straight, short, and dense so they don’t need lots of grooming.   The rough outer coat and the soft inner coat means water shakes right off, good for Labs who retrieve ducks for their hunting masters.

The show dog Labrador Retriever is bred for classic beauty and carriage.  Hunting Labs are bred more for usefulness, usually having a keen sense of smell combined with speed and devotion to their owner.  Field trial Labradors fast, high-energy, and extremely intelligent.  Finally, there’s the family Lab, happy to play around the house and spread all the love she can.  While your Lab is perfectly comfortable living outside in a kennel or dog house, she wants to be in the house with her people.
There are numerous stories of labs knowing their owners needed help and going to neighbors to get it.  They are also used in search-and-rescue operations, scenting for lost people; they are also used for water rescues by the Navy.  Police use Labs for bomb and drug sniffing, and they have served in combat in the military.

Search and Rescue dog "Jake"

A famous American black Lab was Jake, who served as a search-and-rescue dog in both the 9-11 bombing in New York City and in Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, searching for survivors and victims.   Jake served humans from the time he was two years old until his death at the age of twelve of cancer.  It is unknown if his work at Ground Zero was the cause of his cancer, as many rescue workers both canine and human developed the disease.  He had been found by his owner at ten months of age on the street suffering from a broken leg and a displaced hip.  Jake is a perfect example for adopting rescued dogs.

HEALTH ISSUES WITH LABS

According to Canna-Pet, Labrador Retrievers may suffer from hip dysplasia like other larger breeds of dogs, but not as badly as in some other types.   The joint is abnormally formed so that a canine arthritis may develop.   The joint may simply stop working.   This is usually seen in older Labs, but it can occur at any age. Elbow dysplasia may also occur and is usually spotted when the animal is still a puppy.  Treatment involves surgery to remove bone fragments followed by weeks of rehab.

Labradors may develop eye problems that lead to blindness.  Dogs as young as one year may show the signs, but older dogs can, too.  Watch for one or both of the eyes becoming cloudy, like a white film covering it.  The eye may not behave normally, either.   This is passed down from parents, so if your puppy is purebred, check with the breeder for all history of health problems.

The Lab has the sort of ear structure that lends itself to ear infections.  My Lady is a lab mix and really suffers from this problem.  Before I got her, they got out of hand and she shook her head so much her ears are deformed.  Be sure the ears of your Lab dry after bathing or swimming and check them often for redness, smell, or a discharge.  My vet gave me a bottle of drops and as soon as she sees it, she tries to slink out the door.  Poor baby.  I also wash her ears out twice a week with a 50/50 solution of white vinegar and rubbing alcohol, per my vet’s instructions.

Let’s face it.  Labs are little piggies.  They gulp down their food like someone’s going to take it away from them.  This can cause gastric bloat, which is really uncomfortable for them.  The stomach will swell and turn.  This could even lead to death if your baby can’t vomit and pressure is put on the other organs. The only prevention is to slow down how fast they eat, maybe going so far as to feed in several small meals, and keep the feeding bowl low.
The most common health problem for the Lab is obesity, so hold back on the treats and let your Lab get plenty of exercise.  A fat dog is an unhealthy dog, promoting joint problems and overall being prone to disease.  The ideal body shape is an hour glass.  But keep your puppies off stairs until about their first birthday because their bones are still forming.

RECOMMENDED MOVIES FOR LAB LOVERS

Check out Marley and Me, but I have to warn you, when I saw people coming out of the theatre, even big tough guys were wiping their eyes.  Old YellerFar From Home, and The Incredible Journey are other films with Labrador stars.    If you see one, give us a review.  And please share your comments and photos!  I’ll be writing posts in the category of TRAINING for puppy problems and hunting dogs, so check back soon!

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