- Average Height: 21.5 to 24.5 inches at shoulder
- Average Weight: 55 to 80 pounds
- Coloring: Yellow, Black, Chocolate
- Coat Type: Double Coat
- Dog Breed Group: Sporting
- Average Lifespan: 11-13 years
Key Personality Traits:
AffectionateGood with Cats/DogsGood with KidsPlayfulRowdy
Good-looking, smart and fun-loving, the Labrador Retriever has a lot going for him. He’s large, but not too large, he’s calm and easygoing when he’s not exuberantly fetching a tennis ball or a bird. He’s a do-it-all kind of dog.
The Labrador Retriever has consistently ranked as the most popular purebred dog in the United States for more than 10 years, according to the American Kennel Club. The AKC registers more than a hundred thousand new Labrador Retrievers each year, but when you take into account all the Labs never registered at all, or registered with another organization such as the United Kennel Club, the popularity of this stable, family-friendly dog is truly staggering.
A Labrador Retriever has the kind of versatility that other dogs only dream of. He can be a companion, show dog, hunting dog, canine athlete, guide dog, service dog, sniffer dog, search and rescue dog, and therapy dog. He enjoys jogging (health permitting), boating, swimming, hiking and more. If it’s active, outdoors and with his people, the Lab is ready and willing to participate in any activity.
All of those characteristics make the Labrador well-suited to a variety of active families. He’s perfect for homes with rowdy older children, but may be a little rambunctious around toddlers, especially as a puppy or young dog. Singles and couples who love the outdoors also match up well with this breed, and his size and even temperament make the Labrador a great companion for active seniors who love to walk and would appreciate a dog who looks intimidating, even if he is more of a lover than a fighter.
With adequate exercise, these versatile companions can handle anything from a small city apartment to a vast ranch. What they can’t handle is isolation: if you get a Lab, make him a member of your family, not an outdoor dog.
A nice Lab puppy can usually be purchased for $700 to $1,500. For this price you should expect the puppies to have been raised in a clean environment from a reputable breeder.
Other Quick Facts
- The Lab’s short, weather-resistant coat and muscular body are the perfect equipment for outdoor activities like hiking, camping and water sports.
- Labs are active dogs who need daily exercise and mental stimulation. Without it they can become bored and destructive. Provide them with the attention, training and activity they need or suffer the consequences.
- Labs come in three colors: black, yellow and chocolate.
- The Lab has a double coat — a soft, insulating undercoat topped with a short, hard, protective outer layer. Labs shed heavily, and brushing them once or twice a week will help keep the fur from flying.
- Labs typically have litters of six to eight puppies. Most breeders like to keep puppies until they are at least eight weeks old. This gives the puppies time to learn how to behave toward other dogs and gives the breeder time to evaluate the puppies’ personalities so she can place each one in just the right home. A bonus is that puppies of this age are more mature and more easily housetrained.
The History of Labrador Retrievers
You might think that the Labrador is a native of the rugged Canadian province of the same name, but that’s not necessarily the case. He was first known as the lesser Newfoundland — probably to distinguish him from the giant breed known as the Newfoundland — the St. John’s Newfoundland or the St. John’s dog.
Experts have a couple of different theories about how the breed came to be called the Labrador. One is that the name is borrowed from the Spanish word for laborer — labrador — which is certainly a fitting description, or that the breed is related to the dogs that accompanied Portuguese fishermen who trawled the Grand Banks off the coast of Labrador and its neighbor Newfoundland. Those dogs, known as cani di castro laboreiro, performed such tasks as retrieving items from the water, including fish-laden nets, and swimming messages from boat to boat. Sounds like a Lab, all right.
Whatever they were called, the dogs were known for their keen sense of smell, ability to find downed birds, and speed. British visitors to Newfoundland appreciated the dogs’ abilities and brought them back to England. There, they caught the eye of the Earl of Malmesbury, who acquired some of the water-loving dogs to hunt the swamplands surrounding his estate. The Earl’s son began breeding the dogs and it was he who gave them the name Labrador. The Kennel Club in England made the breed official in 1903.
Labs made their way back to North America in the early 20th century, imported by American sportsmen who admired their adaptability and work ethic. Since then, the breed’s popularity has gone up, up, up. In 1997, a chocolate Lab pup named Buddy became the first Labrador Retriever to make the White House his home.
The modern Labrador Retriever is an easy-going, easy-to-train dog who comes in three colors: black, yellow and chocolate. He also comes in three different body types, depending on his background and purpose.
Labrador Retriever Personality and Temperament
The Labrador breed standard says that temperament is as much a hallmark of the breed as the “otter tail.” The ideal Labrador is kindly, outgoing and tractable, eager to please, and tends not to be aggressive toward people or other animals.
Those traits are the foundation of the Lab’s personality, but each dog puts his own spin on them. Some are serious, some are clowns, some are reserved, some never meet a stranger. You might hear that Lab personalities vary by color, but it’s more likely that a dog’s temperament is affected by the breeder’s goals. Labs from breeders who produce top-winning field-trial dogs are more demanding when it comes to exercise and training. They are unsuited to lying around the house all day while everyone is at work or school. More laid back Labs typically come from a breeder who shows dogs in conformation.
Before the age of 2 or 3, many Labradors can be extremely active and destructive despite their breed reputation for calm dispositions. It’s in their extended adolescence that many Labradors find appeal in swallowing rocks, socks and Barbie dolls, all of which—and more—have been surgically removed from these dogs.
Start training early; be patient and be consistent and one day you will wake up to find that you live with a great dog. Even so, there are a couple of Lab behaviors that you should expect to live with throughout his life. They are part and parcel of being a Lab, and nothing you do will change them. Labs are active, Labs love to get wet, and Labs love to eat.
Labs are active, unless they’re sleeping. It was probably a Lab who inspired the saying “A tired dog is a good dog.” Joint and overall health permitting, be prepared to give a Lab a couple of half-hour walks or runs daily to meet his exercise needs. The best part about having a Lab is that there are any number of fun ways you can provide him with physical activity and mental stimulation. Take him swimming, teach him to run alongside your bike once he is physically mature at 18 to 24 months of age, go hiking, make him the first mate on your boat, or get involved in dog sports such as agility, obedience, rally, tracking, flyball, freestyle — you name it, a Lab has probably done it. However, it’s always a good idea to check with your vet before starting a new exercise program with your dog.
If you give him an outlet for his energy, a Lab will be the best dog you could ever have. If you don’t, you’ll be spending all your time and energy repairing holes in the wall, filling in holes in your yard, replacing chewed-up furniture and worse. Not because your Lab is a bad dog but simply because he has found his own special ways to entertain himself. Don’t give him the chance.
Labs love water. Any body of water puddle-sized or larger will attract a Labrador, and mud is considered a fashion accessory. The short, drip-dry coat of the Lab sheds water and dirt easily, but that’s of little consolation if the debris lands on white carpeting.
Labs love to eat, and they will try to eat anything. They are professional countersurfers, and they will eat anything that looks like it might be food. If nothing else, living with a Lab will teach you, your spouse and your kids to put things away if they don’t want them to be chewed up or eaten.
Labs are smart and highly trainable, but they don’t just magically turn into great dogs. Any dog, no matter how nice, can develop obnoxious levels of barking, digging, countersurfing and other undesirable behaviors if he is bored, untrained or unsupervised. And any dog can be a trial to live with during adolescence. In the case of the Lab, the “teen” years can start at 6 months and continue until the dog is about 3 years old.
What You Need to Know About Labrador Retriever Health
A reputable breeder will be honest and open about health problems in the breed and the incidence with which they occur in her lines. Here’s a brief rundown on what you should know about some of the medical conditions that can affect the Labrador’s health.
The most well known health issues are related to the malformation of hips and elbows (hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia, respectively). Eye diseases such as progressive retinal atrophy and cataracts are potential concerns. So is exercise-induced collapse, a muscle abnormality that affects the dog’s strength, stamina and movement. Other health problems that may affect the breed include heart disease, an orthopedic problem called osteochondrosis, panosteitis (growing pains), epilepsy and allergic skin disease.
Labrador breeders should be able to produce independent certification that the parents of the dog (and grandparents, etc.) have been screened for health defects and deemed healthy for breeding. That’s where health registries come in.
Before individual Labradors can be included in the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) database, the Labrador Retriever Club requires them to have hip and elbow certifications from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and certification from the Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF).
Breeders must agree to have all test results, positive or negative, published in the CHIC database. A dog need not receive good or even passing scores on the evaluations to obtain a CHIC number, so CHIC registration alone is not proof of soundness or absence of disease, but all test results are posted on the CHIC website and can be accessed by anyone who wants to check the health of a puppy’s parents.
Not every Labrador visit to the vet is for a genetic problem. Broken toes and torn toenails, cuts and scrapes, and foxtails embedded in the skin are just another day at the office for these big, active dogs. And like human athletes, Labrador Retrievers are prone to anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tears. The cause of these types of injuries is not yet clear. Researchers are looking into whether anatomy or genetics are predisposing factors.
Labs also see veterinarians frequently because they have eaten something they shouldn’t. It’s not unusual for Labs to undergo multiple surgeries to remove hand towels, toys, corn cobs and other items they’ve swallowed that then cause an intestinal blockage. close supervision of what he’s chewing on can save you big bucks at the veterinary hospital.
Cancer occurs in the breed, most commonly in middle-aged to older dogs, but certain types of cancer can occur in relatively young dogs. If you’re getting a puppy, ask the breeder about the ages of the dogs in her lines and what they died of.
Veterinarians call these dogs “Flabradors” because obesity is common once they hit their middle-age mellowing out stage. A measured diet, good supervision and plenty of exercise are a must to keep these happy retrievers healthy and out of trouble. Keeping a Lab at an appropriate weight has been proven to add two additional years of life.
The Basics of Labrador Grooming
Labs are easy-care dogs who don’t need lots of fancy grooming, but there are a few important things to know about their care.
Labs shed. A lot. You’ll have less hair lying around the house if you brush your Lab once or twice a week so that the hair goes onto the brush instead of onto your furniture and clothes. A rubber curry brush and a metal shedding blade or wire slicker brush are your new best friends.
Labs are water dogs. When your Lab gets wet, and he will, give him a thorough freshwater rinse to remove chlorine, salt or lake muck from his fur, all of which can be drying or otherwise damaging to the coat.
Labs are prone to ear infections. To prevent ear infections, dry the ears thoroughly after a swim, and use an ear cleaner recommended by your veterinarian.
Trim your Lab’s nails every week or two, as needed. They should never get long enough that you hear them clacking on the floor. Long nails can make it uncomfortable for the Lab to walk, and they can get caught on things and tear off. That’s really painful, and it will bleed a lot. Brush the teeth frequently with a vet-approved pet toothpaste for good dental health and fresh breath.
Choosing a Labrador Breeder
Finding a good breeder is a great way to find the right puppy. A good breeder will match you with the right Labrador puppy, and will have done all the health certifications necessary to screen out health problems.
Good breeders will welcome your questions about temperament, health clearances and what the dogs are like to live with. They will also ask you questions of their own about what you’re looking for in a dog and what kind of life you can provide for him.
For the heavy-set Labradors preferred by show breeders in the United States and the United Kingdom, the Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. offers information as well as breeder and rescue referral. For the middle-weight show-type Labradors preferred in most other countries, the National Labrador Retriever Club also offers such information and referrals. For the leaner, field-type Labradors who are best suited to more athletic endeavors, Retriever Training Forum offers breeder classifieds.
Breeders should sell puppies with a written contract guaranteeing they’ll take back the dog at any time during his life if you become unable to keep him, and with written documentation that both the puppy’s parents (and if possible, his other close relatives) have had their hips, eyes and elbows examined and certified by the appropriate health organizations. Seek out a breeder whose dogs are active in field trials, hunt tests, agility, obedience and other sports that require athleticism and good health, and not just ribbons from the show ring.
Labrador breeder red flags include breeders who only sell puppies online, who won’t let you visit their facility in person, who don’t provide health clearances, and who always seems to have puppies available for purchase. Ask your veterinarian for a recommendation. They can often refer you to a reputable breeder, breed rescue organization, or other reliable source for healthy Labrador Retriever puppies.
The cost of a Labrador Retriever puppy varies depending on his place of origin, whether he is male or female, what titles his parents have, and whether he is best suited for the show ring or a pet home. And before you decide to buy a puppy, consider whether an adult Labrador Retriever may be a better option. An adult Labrador Retriever may already have some training and will probably be less active, destructive and demanding than a puppy.
Adopting a Labrador From a Rescue or Shelter
There are many great options available if you want to adopt a Labrador Retriever from an animal shelter or breed rescue organization. Here is how to get started.
Put Your Online Skills to Use. Sites like Petfinder.com and Adopt-a-Pet.com are ideal tools for finding Labrador dogs in your area. AnimalShelter.org can help you find animal rescue groups in your area. Social media is another great way to find adoptable dogs. Post on your Facebook page, Instagram, or TikTok that you are looking for a Labrador Retriever to adopt so that your entire community can be your eyes and ears.
Talk to the Pet Pros in Your Area. That includes vets, dog walkers, and groomers. If a person has to give up a dog, that person will often ask her own trusted network for recommendations about rehoming. If you let local pet professionals know that you’re looking for a Lab, they might just be able to connect you with someone and keep a dog out of the shelter environment.
Research a Breed Rescue. Networking can help you find a dog that may be the perfect companion for your family. The Labrador Club of America’s rescue network can help you find a dog that may be the perfect addition to your household. You can also search online for other Labrador rescues in your area.
If you’re on the fence about adopting a Labrador Retriever, many breed rescue groups offer foster programs. Fostering a dog can be a great way to see if the breed is the right fit for your family.
Labrador Retriever FAQs
Do Labrador Retrievers shed?
When it comes to shedding dog breeds, Labrador Retrievers near the top of the list. Their unique double coat ensures you will find their hair around your home year-round. Labs shed particularly bad twice a year when the seasons change as they blow their coats.
Plan to brush them regularly. By grooming them at least twice a week, you are much less likely to find their hair on your clothes, furniture, floors, and everywhere else you don’t want it.
How big do Labrador Retrievers get?
The size of the your Labrador Retriever will depend on several factors, including sex and lifestyle. Males on average grow between 22.5-24.5in tall and weigh between 65-80lbs, while females generally stand between 21.5-23.5in tall and weigh between 55-70lbs.
Labs love to eat. That means, when left unchecked and coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, Labs are also susceptible to obesity. Getting your Lab out to exercise regularly and monitoring his food intake will prevent any of the harmful health effects that come with being overweight.
How long do Labrador Retrievers live?
The life expectancy of a Labrador Retriever is between 11 and 13 years old. While generally considered a healthy breed, Labs are susceptible to certain conditions like cancer which can threaten their longevity. But with regular check-ups at the vet, an active lifestyle, and plenty of love at home, Labrador Retrievers can live a long and healthy life as a member of your family.
How much is a Labrador Retriever?
Labrador Retrievers are the single most popular breed registered with the AKC every year. When you buy from a reputable breeder, you can expect to spend between $700-$1,500 for a Labrador puppy. Prices can climb much higher if you’re seeking a Labrador Retriever with a champion lineage and show quality bloodline. These puppies can cost upwards of $3,000 to bring home with you.