The Labrador Retriever: Capturing Hearts for Over a Century
Who doesn’t love a Labrador Retriever? With its intelligent and alert eyes, smiling face, and loyal and loving disposition, it’s no wonder that the Labrador has a secure hold on its title of most popular dog in the United States.
Due to their intellect, gentleness, steady temperaments, adaptability, and eagerness to please, Labs excel as both family and working dogs. Part of the American Kennel Club®’s Sporting Group, they have long been favored hunting companions, but are also widely used as guide and assistance dogs, therapy dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, and in narcotics detection and other law enforcement work.
According to the AKC®, adult male Labradors should stand between 22 ½ to 24 ½ inches at the shoulders and weigh in between 65 to 80 pounds (females are usually about 2 inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter). They generally have a wide head and nose, ears that are low and set far back, and kind eyes that reflect the dog’s intelligence and alertness. The neck, forequarters, and hindquarters are usually muscular, and these dogs tend to have an easy, effortless gait. The tail should be medium-length, thick at the base and tapering toward the tip.
A Labrador’s coat is one of its most distinctive features. It is short, straight, and dense, and may feel “hard” and coarse to the touch. Most significant is its soft, weather-resistant undercoat; this coat is what has made Labradors such well-loved and utilized hunting dogs. The coat protects the dog from water, cold, and ground cover and enables it to easily collect fallen game from land or water. The coat comes in 3 variations: black, yellow, and chocolate.
The origins of the modern Labrador Retriever can be traced back to Newfoundland, where the Newfoundland breed was bred with smaller water dogs from Portugal (possibly ancestors of the modern Portuguese Water Dog) to produce a breed known as the St. John’s Water Dog, or Lesser Newfoundland.
The Lesser Newfoundland was used by the English and Irish in Newfoundland to assist in carrying boat ropes and retrieving fishing nets from the water. The last of the breed died out in the early 1980s.
Today’s black Labrador can predominantly be traced back to dogs owned by two 19th Century British Nobles, the 3rd Earl of Malmesbury and the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, who developed an affinity for the Lesser Newfoundland dogs and had them imported to their respective estates in England and Scotland. It is reported that in the early 1880s, the Earl gifted the Duke with two male dogs from his stable, Avon and Ned, which the Duke mated with females in his stable, and from these pairings the modern Labrador Retriever emerged. It took on its name of Labrador Retriever when the Earl began calling his dogs Labradors, after the Labrador area of Newfoundland from whence they originated. The first yellow Labradors emerged about ten years later, with the first recorded yellow lab, Ben of Hyde, born in 1899, and they were recognized by the AKC in 1903. Chocolate labs emerged in the 1930s. Click here for a detailed timeline of the origin of the modern lab.
Interestingly enough, the Duke’s Buccleuch dynasty of Labradors still exists, and is carefully overseen by the 10th Duke, Richard Buccleuch. For photos of the Buccleuch dogs, check out their site here.
DogWatch hopes you enjoyed learning about the Labrador Retriever, and we encourage you to check back frequently, as we will be profiling a popular dog breed each month. We’d love to hear about your Labradors, and hope you will send your stories and pictures to firstname.lastname@example.org, or post them on our Facebook page!
Photo credits (top to bottom):
Photo by David Kaskons for DogWatch
OakleyOriginals via Flickr
Pete Markham via Flickr
IDS Photos via Flickr