For a very long time, Labrador Retrievers have been praised as wonderful family dogs. Happy go lucky, food motivated and a proper “dog dog”, Labradors have stayed in the list of most popular dog breeds for decades upon end. So what do you need to know about the lovely Labrador? The good, the bad, and everything in between!
What is a Labrador?
Labrador Retrievers are a famously friendly breed of dogs, many working as hunting gundogs, assistance dogs, therapy dogs, or simply companions in a family home.
What a happy chappy!
History of Labradors
The breed began just off the coast of Canada and was originally called the St John’s Dog. Although they are now considered a gundog breed, they were originally bred to help fishermen, as well as fitting into a family environment.
The St John’s Dog’s biddable nature was what made them attractive to the English sportsmen who brought them back to the UK to work as hunting retrievers. The third Earl of Malmesbury was the first person to refer to dogs as Labradors.
The breed almost went extinct in the 1880s, having disappeared from its home town, but Labradors survived in England and were recognised as their own breed – the Labrador Retriever – in 1903 by the Kennel Club.
With their working background, Labs are a fairly active breed, and they are also very food motivated. Many people joke that a Labrador will eat anything!
Labrador puppies are the CUTEST!
Being such a popular and well-known dog breed, you may not find it too difficult to find a responsible and reputable breeder of the Labrador Retriever. Always remember there is a huge risk to supporting puppy farms and backyard breeders.
A dog’s early life experiences and socialisation will impact their future temperament and behaviour, so you want them to have the best start possible! And that’s without considering the potential health issues related to bad breeding.
When meeting a breeder, you should always be able to see the puppy with Mum, Dad and littermates, and everyone should look happy and comfortable. Ask to see the results of health tests, quiz the breeder about their socialisation efforts, and be prepared to walk away if things don’t feel right. Never pay a penny before you meet the pups, and look out for breeders with a watertight contract and breeder back up, who ask you as many questions as you ask them!
As Labradors are a purebred, you can sometimes find good breeders through The Kennel Club, but be careful – as this is not a guarantee. Remember, even if the dogs have been health tested, you should also be thinking about temperament, socialisation, and early life experiences.
Labrador in rescues
Larger national rescues like Dogs Trust are also likely to have Labrador or Labrador crosses looking for new homes.
Labradors are also commonly used as assistance dogs. If you’re interested in fostering a Labrador puppy to become a guide dog, check our Guide Dogs UK.
Here’s Maisie – the beautiful black Lab.
Labradors are predicted to live up to 13 years. They have a short coat, and can weigh up to 30kg full grown.
The breed is generally quite social and good with people, children and other dogs. Most Labradors need a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day – you may find that a slow, sniffy walk is more enriching than a game of fetch. You can also use daily training and enrichment to keep your Labrador happy and healthy.
Like any dog, Labs can be “mouthy” as puppies – they’re exploring the world the best way they know how, mouth first! However, being such a large breed, this is worth being aware of, as they may be able to reach your hands and arms before they grow out of this unfortunate habit! With good positive reinforcement training, this won’t last forever, so don’t worry.
What you need to know about Labradors…
Labradors do not need very much grooming but they will shed – it may be time to invest in a good vacuum cleaner!
Most Labradors have medium energy levels. This will vary depending on whether your dog is from a working line or not.
Don’t forget the importance of regular rest too – a puppy should sleep up to 20 hours a day, while adult dogs should sleep for around 16 hours.
There do not seem to be many reports that separation anxiety is a common issue in Labradors, but this doesn’t mean your Labrador will immediately be okay being left alone.
We really recommend Julie Naismith’s book Be Right Back!: How To Overcome Your Dog’s Separation Anxiety And Regain Your Freedom to help you start leaving your puppy at home.
Labrador Retrievers are super food motivated, so most Labs are a dream for training! They’ll love learning fun tricks and playing games like catch the treat. However, be aware that this energetic and enthusiastic breed may take some extra training to learn behaviours like loose lead walking and recall – with their working background, the environment is very rewarding, so you’ll have to bring your best treats to keep their attention!
We recommend positive reinforcement when training as it builds a strong relationship between you and your dog, meaning that they are more likely to respond to your instructions. If you’re getting a puppy, going to puppy classes is a great place to start. You can also take a look at our practical puppy tips for new dog owners.
Labradors love to swim and get muddy!
Cost of Labradors
A purebred Labrador from a good breeder may cost anywhere up to £2,000 in 2023. Be suspicious of anyone charging much less or much more.
Potential health problems
Unfortunately, Labradors can be prone to some health issues. This can include hip and elbow dysplasia, ear infections, Osteochondrosis Dissecans, cataracts, Progressive Retinal Atrophy, epilepsy, Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia, myopathy, hot spot, cold tail, and bloat (which can be life threatening).
The best way to keep your Labrador happy and healthy is to take them to their yearly vet check ups, and anytime you think something might be wrong.
You may find it helpful to take a dog first aid course, to help you identify potential health issues with your pup. I recommend Animal Love Pet First Aid.
My Labrador, Maisie
by Lily, @maisietheblacklab
Maisie is a black Labrador who was originally born in Barry on the 12 March 2021 and now lives in Bristol in the South West of England. This month will mark Maisie’s 2nd birthday, meaning almost 2 whole years of kisses and cuddles on the sofa!
Puppy Maisie with her Woof by Hollie keyring.
Getting Maisie has to be one of the best decisions we as a family have ever made. Not only do we get out of the house for walks again, we have a constant supply of laughter due to the silly things Maisie does on a daily basis. Very early on in her life she got into the habit of crawling into my lap for cuddles, when she came home she was around 5kg so she used to fit quite nicely and as you can imagine this is maybe a little harder for a 35kg Labrador to do – not that it stops her! We also managed to teach her very early how to kiss, so now if your face manages to be anywhere near to hers you should be prepared to be licked.
There’s a reason people say Labradors are great family pets and great for first time owners – their high food drive makes them very easy to train. This has and hasn’t been the case for Maisie, as I said above we taught her some things very quickly (like kiss) but other things we are still working on now. She got the basics down pretty early, toilet training wasn’t an issue, but things like resource guarding, recall and loose lead walking have been a struggle.
Maisie doesn’t like to share, whether that’s toys or food, so we have to be really careful around other dogs and make sure to put toys and food away in case she reacts. Recall went really well until she got to adolescence, we re-trained her and changed her cue from “Maisie come” to “Maisie this way” and now her recall is pretty good again. Loose lead walking on the other hand… she just can’t seem to get the hang of it! It’s something we’ve been working on from the very beginning and will continue to work on for probably a while yet.
Maisie has over 17,000 followers on TikTok!
Speaking of walks, we have 3 main ‘types’ of walk that we like to change between. Type 1 is walking around where we live, we have a nice area of grass that we like to use to throw a ball for Maisie – one of her favourite games is fetch, she hasn’t quite got the idea of bringing it back yet though. She doesn’t get too hyper-focused on a ball, but we do use it to reinforce recall as she absolutely loves running after them.
The second type of walk is a beach walk, we go to a beach called Sand Bay near Weston-Super-Mare as dogs are allowed here all year round. Type 3 is a walk in the park, our favourite place to go is Ashton Court in Bristol. Both of these walks include running after the ball, but also foraging for sticks. Maisie’s favourite type of stick tends to be the ones that look more like tree trunks…
Labradors have a double coat of fur which means they moult twice a year, but we tend to find her hair absolutely everywhere no matter what time of year it is. We tend to only get her groomed every couple of months and this usually just includes a wash and a nail trim. In terms of her health, Maisie had kennel cough when she was really young and has had conjunctivitis and an ear infection too.
Maisie is my absolute best friend. She is loyal and extremely loving, she knows exactly what to do to get attention – usually stealing the washing out of the washing machine! She is a typical retriever in this respect, she loves to ‘steal’ her bits out of our shopping bags whether it be a pepper we’ve bought her or a new toy. You know when she has something she shouldn’t do because her bum starts wiggling and her tail starts going in circles! If I’m having a bad mental health day I know all I need is to look at her face and I’ll instantly start to feel better.
She is the perfect companion and I can’t imagine my life without her.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about one of the most popular dog breeds of all time, the Labrador Retriever. Labradors have been beloved pets in our home for decades, and our working companions for even longer.
At Woof by Hollie, I sell super cute dog gifts for humans, including adorable Labrador gifts! From keyrings to stickers to prints, you can find the cutest gift ideas for Labrador lovers and Labrador owners in my store.