Labrador Retrievers come in black, chocolate and yellow. They have a broad, clean-cut head with hanging ears and alert, friendly and intelligent eyes. They have thick noses and wide muzzles and strong necks. Labradors have a short, dense and water-resistant outer coat and a downy undercoat that keeps them warm. Their straight tail, also covered by the coat, is otter-like—beginning thick and tapering at the end and defecting water—and their webbed feet are great for swimming. Though not very tall, Labs are solid and well built. They are usually slim but can get a little heavy without enough exercise.
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Labradors are people-oriented dogs, always ready for a jog around the neighborhood, a strenuous hike or an endless game of fetch. Labs are reliable, willing and patient. They love nothing more than activity and attention.
Lacking many personality pitfalls, Labs are not especially aggressive, territorial, whiny, sulky or destructive. However, a Labrador Retriever’s trademark affability can become a little out of control in later years if not checked as a puppy.
Labs are easily trained, being naturally patient and obedient, but they are probably not the best guard dogs. Despite an alert instinct and an excellent sense of smell, they tend to be more friendly than aggressive with people they don’t know. Also, Labs are not particularly noisy, barking only at unknown sounds, yet they’ll often bark protectively when someone approaches your home.
Around the house, Labs are animated and good-natured, playing well with children and other dogs. They like to be involved in family occasions, joining social gatherings in an easygoing way, and they are pretty good about sharing and respecting space.
Labradors tend to get bored when left alone indoors for too long. This can lead to listlessness and destructiveness from all the unspent energy and lack of attention. This breed is happiest and healthiest with plenty of exercise and outdoor play.
The life expectancy for Labrador Retrievers is generally 10-12 years. They have relatively few health problems, but are prone to hip and elbow dysplasia, ear infections and eye disorders. Labs that are fed too much and exercised too little may develop obesity problems. It’s very important that they get daily exercise along with moderate rations of food.
If possible, Labradors need an average-sized yard. They can manage in an apartment, as long as they get regular walks or visits to the park.
Yet, even in a fenced-in yard Labs can get a little stir-crazy. They have a natural curiosity, a desire for companionship and an uncanny single-mindedness that could drive them to break through a fence or leap over it. For this reason, dog experts recommend clearly marked tags for Labs, and in some cases a traceable microchip implant.
Named the “Labrador” in 1887 by the Earl of Malmesbury—an English hunter and breeder—the Lab actually originated in 18th-century Newfoundland, Canada. At the time two breeds emerged from the St. John’s Water Dog: the Greater Newfoundland and the Lesser Newfoundland. The Greater Newfoundland dogs worked in teams hauling fish, but the Lesser Newfoundland had a rugged friendliness that fishermen valued. Fishermen marveled that these smaller Newfoundlands kept their can-do attitude even after long days retrieving nets from the sea, playing happily with children back when returning to shore. Soon, these dogs came to Poole, England—the Newfoundland fishing-trade hub—where hunters and sportsmen honed them into skilled hunters and retrievers. In 1903 the English Kennel Club recognized the Labrador Retriever as an official breed. The American Kennel Club certified the breed in 1917.