There’s a reason the Labrador Retriever has been America’s most popular dog since 1991: He deserves it! Gregarious, fun-loving, forgiving, easygoing, energetic and eager to please, the Lab is the ideal companion for people who share the same traits. But if your idea of fun is watching the adventure channel rather than starring on it, the Lab might leave you overwhelmed!
This all-American dog originated in Canada. But in Newfoundland, not Labrador. They were developed from the St. John’s Dog, also known as the “Lesser” Newfoundland — a medium-sized black dog who retrieved game and fish from cold waters and even pulled small boats.
The Lab isn’t quite all-American, though, because today’s Labs are descended from those who were taken to England in the early 1800s. There they became popular upland game retrievers; by 1870, they were known Labrador Retrievers. They returned to America when Scottish-style shooting and gamekeeping became prestigious among upper-class American sportsmen.
Two males of the 1880s, Buccleuch Avon and Ned, are considered to be the ancestors of all modern Labs.
A Lab was the first dog to appear on the cover of Life magazine, in 1938. This brought the breed national attention. It was also the first dog to be featured on a U.S. stamp, in 1959.
Although still popular as a hunting companion, the Lab’s major job gradually became family companion. They replaced other breeds as the most popular guide dogs. They are also popular search and rescue dogs, therapy dogs, assistance dogs and contraband detection dogs.
In 1994, the AKC standard was changed to disqualify dogs not reaching a certain minimum height. This caused such consternation among breeders who had in some cases top-winning Labs, or entire kennels, that were now ineligible to be shown. These breeders unsuccessfully brought a federal lawsuit against the AKC and the American Labrador Club.
Despite being America’s No. 1 dog, no Lab has ever won Best in Show at the Westminster dog show. In fact, no Lab has even won the Sporting group there!
A Labrador named Marley was the star of a best-selling book and top movie, Marley and Me. A Labrador also starred in the Disney film The Incredible Journey.
Zeke the Wonder Dog is the stage name for a series of disc-catching Labs who perform at halftime for Michigan State University.
A Lab puppy is the advertising mascot for a popular brand of toilet paper, and another Lab puppy is the spokespuppy for a brand of flea medication.
The original Labs were black and, occasionally, chocolate. The first officially recorded chocolates were born in 1892. The first officially recorded yellows were born in 1899. Yellows were initially disliked by most breeders, but gradually became accepted. Chocolates came into their own in the latter part of the 1900s, but not without controversy.
The three recognized colors are caused by the interaction of genes at two locations (loci). A Lab with two recessive “e” genes will be yellow. A Lab with at least one dominant “E” will be either black or chocolate, depending on what genes are at the other location. If it has two recessive “b” genes, it will be chocolate. If it has at least one “B” gene it will be black. Yellow Labs with two “b” genes are yellow with liver nose and eye rim pigment.
The first recorded instance of a silver Lab was in 1981. The color results when a dog that would otherwise be chocolate has two recessive “d” genes at a third locus that turns black to gray. Black dogs with two “d” genes are diluted to charcoal, and yellow to a silver yellow (sometimes called champagne). Dogs of these colors are extremely controversial and cannot be shown in conformation.
Owners include Bill Clinton, Vladimir Putin, Prince Charles, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Frank Sinatra, Kevin Costner, Sheryl Crowe, Tom Cruise, Shannen Doherty, Harrison Ford, Barbara Mandrell, Richard Pryor, Dennis Quaid, Keith Richards, Meg Ryan and Sylvester Stallone.
The Labrador Retriever is the most popular breed in America, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.
Do you own a Labrador? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!
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About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.