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The Labrador Retriever (known simply as the Labrador or “Lab”) has long held the title of the most popular breed of dog in Australia, as well as in New Zealand, the UK, the USA and Canada. Bred originally as a gun dog, today’s Labrador is famous for its roles as an assistance dog for visually impaired and autistic people, and as a detection & screening dog, therapy dog and law enforcement dog. It is widely regarded as being one of the smartest breeds of dog.
Labradors vary widely in appearance, but they are generally quite large and muscular with a short, dense, water-repellent coat, a broad head, strong jaws, a medium muzzle, and an “otter tail” which is thick at the base and narrower at the tip. Their brown or hazel eyes have a kindly, intelligent and gentle expression. There are three main colour varieties in Labradors: black, yellow, and chocolate, and occasionally all three can be present in the same litter.
Friendly, outgoing and affectionate, Labradors are energetic and high-spirited dogs who need to be taken on a long, brisk walk or jog at least once a day. Enthusiastic athletes, they also enjoy swimming and marathon games of fetch. They tend to gain weight quite easily, so exercise and a proper diet are especially important for the Labrador.
Average shedders, Labradors are easy to groom. It is recommended that they are brushed regularly with a firm bristle brush, especially in the undercoat, and are bathed only when necessary.
Healthy male Labradors should weigh between 29 and 36 kg and stand at about 57 – 62 cm tall. Females should weigh about 25 – 32 kg and stand at 55 – 60 cm tall.
Life expectancy in Labradors is around 10-13 years.
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Labradors are famous for their friendliness, loyalty, affection and patience, qualities which make them great family dogs. They are companionable housemates with a kindly, outgoing, gentle nature who bond with the whole family and socialise well with other dogs and people. In most cases, they are eager to please and non-aggressive towards young children and other animals.
Labs are very intelligent, adaptable and trainable; qualities that make them so popular as family pets. They love to have a strong, assertive pack leader and need to feel like they are part of the family. They love to play, retrieve and swim and are excellent with children and other dogs. They are usually not very noisy dogs, but will occasionally bark at noise from unseen sources. Like most breeds, they should be trained and socialised from a young age to ensure they do not become destructive.
Labradors are known for their enthusiasm and puppy-like energy, and this generally lasts until the age of 3. English-type Labradors are typically calm and laidback, but American-type Labradors can become highly-strung if they do not receive adequate amounts of exercise, which can lead to hyperactive and/or destructive behaviour to release pent-up energy.
Labs are healthy dogs overall, and responsible breeders screen their breeding stock for inheritable conditions that the breed is susceptible to, including elbow and hip dysplasia, heart disorders, hereditary myopathy , and certain eye conditions.
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It is widely believed that the foundation of the modern Labrador was a breed known as the St. John’s Water Dog, or Lesser Newfoundland. Despite originating in Newfoundland, Canada, the Labrador was named after the Labrador Sea to avoid confusion with the Newfoundland breed of dog (which, incidentally, came from Labrador). The St John’s Dog was originally black, and yellow and chocolate Labradors were seldom seen. Yellows were first recognised in 1899 and chocolates in the 1930s.
In the 19th century, the St. John’s Dog was brought to England from Canada by the Duke of Malmesbury. During the latter half of the 19th century, British breeders refined and standardized the breed. They crossed it with setters, spaniels and other retrievers to improve its abilities as a gun dog and retriever. The breed gradually died out in Newfoundland but survived elsewhere due to interbreeding with other retrievers, leading to the Labradors we see today.
The Labrador was first recognised by the English Kennel Club in 1903 and by the American Kennel Club in 1917. Labs topped AKC registrations for the first time in 1991 and has reigned as America’s favourite breed ever since.
Labrador Rescue: http://www.rescuealabrador.com/
National Labrador Retriever Breed Council: http://www.nationallabradorretrieverbreedcouncilaustralia.com/