For 25 years in a row, the Labrador retriever has been America’s most popular dog breed, according to the American Kennel Club’s registration numbers. Truly the All-American dog, the “lab”, as he is affectionately known, has timeless appeal as the epitome of a family dog and all around companion.
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Originally developed in Newfoundland for retrieving waterfowl, today’s lab is one of the canine world’s most functional (and beloved) breeds. While they can have stubborn streaks, labs live to please their people, making them well suited to numerous roles beyond the duck blind. With their amiable dispositions and high trainability, labs are popular choices for guide dogs and also regularly work as search and rescue dogs and even serve with law enforcement as narcotic and bomb detection dogs.
Today’s lab is a large breed, with males weighing in between 65-85 pounds and averaging a height of 23-25 inches at the withers (females are slightly smaller). Their large size makes them particularly well suited to service positions such as guide dogs for the blind or assistance dogs for the disabled. Their size also makes them fairly sturdy companions for even the most rambunctious of children (and labs absolutely adore their human playmates), but their size may prove too much for very small children if the dog is untrained.
As for grooming requirements, the Labrador is pretty much a “wash and wear” dog. The lab’s dense, water repellent coat (which comes in three colors: black, chocolate, and yellow) requires only a quick daily brushing to remove loose fur from the undercoat. The lab is not immune to shedding, especially during the hotter summer months, but is generally a minimum maintenance breed when it comes to grooming. Like all water dogs, however, it is necessary to make sure they are dried completely after swims and baths to prevent “hot spots” from forming on the damp skin, especially in hotter climates.
Because of their size and activity level, Labradors do best in a home where they have room to run or at least access to daily walks. Most labs thoroughly enjoy the outdoors and, like most retrievers, many labs love the water. This being said, despite their size and their love of the outdoors, labs adapt well to being house dogs and make surprisingly good couch potatoes given the opportunity. Regular walks or trips to the dog park are still encouraged as labs have the tendency to put on weight if not given the access to regular exercise.
Despite the breed’s steady rise in popularity over the decades, the Labrador has somehow managed to avoid the barrage of health maladies that usually assail breeds that see a spike in popularity (and therefore an accompanying spike in irresponsible breeding). One of the few more serious health concerns regularly occurring in the breed is hip dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a somewhat common ailment in large breed dogs and is basically a malformation of the hip joint that prevents the ball of the hip joint from resting properly in the socket. Depending on the degree of severity, the condition may or may not be diagnosed by sight. In the worse cases, the dog’s gait will be affected and the rear of the dog will appear to move out in a disjointed fashion. Less severe cases will need to be diagnosed by x-ray. Hip dysplasia is not easily diagnosed in dogs younger than a year old as their joints are still forming, but getting a puppy from a reputable breeder whose breeding stock have been checked and certified by the OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals), is advised given the prevalence of hip dysplasia in the breed. Hip dysplasia is usually treatable, but requires evasive (and usually expensive) surgery.
Other health concerns sometimes found in the breed include skin issues, such as “hot spots” (a form of bacterial dermatitis), elbow joint issues, bloat, and epilepsy. Overall, however, the Labrador is a generally healthy breed, especially given its consistently steady rise in popularity through recent decades.
Their love for people and their desire to please their human masters make labs highly trainable. This trainability is especially evident in the numerous roles they fill in today’s society as working dogs. While they can be stubborn, this desire to please usually wins out, but training is highly recommended as labs can be energetic and, given their size, a less than well-mannered lab can quickly become a pain rather than a pleasure.
In summation, the Labrador retriever is a wonderful, hardworking, good-natured breed that has earned its title as America’s favorite breed. Beautiful to behold, a pleasure to live with, friend to all, and a hardworking jack of all trades, the Labrador is the quintessential dog and it is no wonder that the breed has captured (and continues to capture) the hearts of dog lovers across the nation.