The Labrador’s ancestors date back to 17th century Canada. During the 18th century, the Canadian water dogs differentiated into what we now know as the Newfoundland, the Landseer, the Flat-Coated Retriever, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and the Labrador Retriever. In the early 1800s, a number of travelers to Newfoundland reported seeing a variety of small black water dogs helping local fishermen haul in their nets. In 1822, one visitor noted: “The dogs are admirably trained as retrievers in fowling, and are otherwise useful… The smooth or short-haired dog is preferred because in frosty weather the long-haired kind become encumbered with ice on coming out of the water.” The second Earl of Malmesbury supposedly saw one of these water dogs on a fishing boat and arranged to have more of them imported to his English estate, where he established the first breeding kennel dedicated to perfecting them as gun dogs and retrievers.
Throughout the 1800s, Canadian fishermen found a profitable market and sold an increasing number of their fishing dogs to English gentry. In 1930, a noted British sportsman, Colonel Hawker, commented on the ordinary Newfoundland as being “very large, strong of limb, rough hair, and carrying his tail high.” He also remarked on the St. John’s breed of water dog – now known as the Labrador Retriever – as being “by far the best for any kind of shooting. He is generally black and no bigger than a pointer, very fine in legs, with short, smooth hair, and does not carry his tail so much curled as the other; is extremely quick running, swimming and fighting…and their sense of smell is hardly to be credited…” The breed was not originally called the Labrador in England. The origin of the modern name dates to a letter written in 1887 by the Earl of Malmesbury, in which he said: “We always call mine Labrador dogs, and I have kept the breed as pure as I could from first I had from Poole, at that time carrying on a brisk trade with Newfoundland. The real breed may be known by its close coat which turns the water off like oil and, above all, a tail like an otter.”
The Labrador eventually lost popularity in its native Newfoundland due to a heavy dog tax stemming from the Newfoundland Sheep Act. Late in the 19th century, strict British quarantine laws virtually stopped all importation of dogs into England. A period of nonselective cross-breeding with other retrievers ensued (the Curly-Coated Retriever, the Flat-Coated Retriever and the Tweed Water Spaniel have been most frequently mentioned). While the Labrador characteristics predominated, the offspring of those breedings became even more valuable than their predecessors, having a keener nose and an even more delightful disposition. Finally, breed fanciers wrote a standard for the Labrador. The studbook of the Duke of Buccleuch’s Labrador Retrievers identifies the pedigrees of the two dogs most responsible for the modern Lab: Peter of Faskally (owned by Mr. A. C. Butter) and Flapper (owned by Major Portal). Their pedigrees go back to 1878.
The Kennel Club (England) first recognized the Labrador Retriever as a separate breed in 1903. No Labrador can become a conformation champion in England unless he also has a working title establishing that he is fully qualified in the field. The American Kennel Club accepted its first Labrador for registration in 1917 – a Scottish bitch named Brocklehirst Nell. The Labrador Club of America, Inc., was formed in 1931 and is the parent club of the breed in this country. During the 1920s and 1930s, many dogs were imported to the United States from England, and many Scotsmen skilled in training retrievers immigrated to America as well. The American Labrador initially was bred primarily as a shooting dog, to be a strong competitor in retriever trials. Many fanciers eventually bred not only for retrieving excellence, but also for conformation, temperament and type, enabling them to show their field dogs in the conformation ring with great success.
The Labrador surged in popularity throughout the 20th and into the 21st century, and it became a global favorite among fanciers of many different disciplines. Today’s Labrador Retriever continues to excel in the field and on the bench, although increasingly there are two distinct types: the field type and the show type. The field type is more energetic and leaner than the shorter, stockier show Labrador. Labrador Retrievers are extremely popular family companions and also are one of the main breeds bred and used as guide dogs for the blind, service dogs for the otherwise disabled and for search-and-rescue work. They excel in field trials, hunting trials, tracking, obedience, rally and agility. Labradors also excel at drug and explosive detection.
The average life span of the Labrador Retriever is between 10 and 14 years. Breed health concerns may include the following:
- Elbow Dysplasia: Leads to malformation and degeneration of the elbow joint, with accompanying front limb lameness
- Hip Dysplasia: Involves abnormal development and/or degeneration of the coxofemoral (hip) joint
- Allergies): Overreaction by the immune system to an allergen, which is any substance that is capable of inducing a reaction in that particular animal
- Patellar Luxation: Patellar luxation, commonly known as a “slipped knee cap,” occurs when the patella is displaced from the joint.
- Waterline Disease of Black Labrador Retrievers (severe pruritis, seborrhea and alopecia of the legs and belly)
- Diabetes Mellitus: Malfunction, destruction or even absence of certain cells, which are responsible for producing and secreting insulin
- Melanoma: Fairly common, locally invasive and frequently malignant cancer in domestic dogs.
- Entropion: The inversion, or the turning inward, of all or part of the edge of an eyelid
- Ectropion: Physical condition in which the eyelid rolls outward, exposing the sensitive inner eyelid to harsh environmental conditions
- Glaucoma: Serious disorder characterized by fluid build-up inside of the eye
- Cataracts: The term “cataract” refers to any opacity of the lens of the eye. Dogs of either gender can develop cataracts
- Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Refers to a group of degenerative eye disorders that eventually lead to permanent blindness in both eyes.
- Obesity: Obesity is defined as an increase of over 20% above the optimum body weight
- Lymphooma: Cancer (neoplasia) that affects lymph nodes and other organs containing lymphoid tissue.
- Cranial Cruciateligament Rupture (CCL): Part of the stifle joint and acts to limit internal rotation and forward movement of the leg
- Cctopic Ureters
- Congenital Portosystemic Shunt
- Osteochondrosis (shoulder, hock)
- Generalized and Central Retinal Dysplasia