Difference Between Female & Male Labrador Retrievers

When it comes to being top dog, no other breed comes close to the Labrador retriever in the hearts and homes of Americans. The Lab has long dominated the American Kennel Club's breed rankings as the most popular canine, with golden retrievers and German shepherds usually taking turns in second and third place. It's no wonder, as the Lab embodies the best qualities in any dog, from trainability to all-important lovability.

Labrador Retriever Dog Smiles on Bench Outdoors
credit: Purple Collar Pet Photography/Moment/GettyImages

If you're looking to add a Lab to your life, you've likely weighed the pros and cons of the breed. There aren't a lot of the latter, except that Labs are active and require lots of exercise. If you want a watchdog, you may want to seek another breed, as Labs would probably show a burglar where the valuables are hidden in their eagerness to please. Labs shed a lot, so invest in a good vacuum cleaner before bringing your new dog home.

Of course, another decision you'll need to make concerns gender. Some people prefer one sex over the other when it comes to dogs, while others are more flexible. As is often the case when comparing males and females, size is a primary difference when it comes to Labs. Longtime Lab lovers and breeders, however, might contend the differences go beyond weight and height.

American Kennel Club breed standard

The AKC's breed standard for the Labrador retriever calls for heights of 22.5-to-24.5 inches at the withers for males and 21.5-to-23.5 inches for females. Males should weigh 65-to-80 pounds at maturity, with females slightly smaller at 55-to-70 pounds. Of course, there are larger females and smaller males, and as pets these dogs are fine. They just don't meet the breed standard, which means they can't compete in AKC conformation classes — the canine equivalent of a beauty pageant — and shouldn't be bred since the purpose of breeding is to promote and improve the breed standard.

Other than size, there are no differences in the breed standard between males and females. Both genders should appear muscular and well-balanced, with the right amount of bone. The breed standard refers to a working gun dog, not a family pet. Disposition means a lot, and the ideal is a "kindly, outgoing, tractable nature."

Vive la difference

Keep in mind that every dog is an individual, and personalities are usually obvious in puppyhood. Some pups are quite outgoing, while others are naturally shy. Early socialization of puppies is critical, but that won't erase innate temperament differences.

As a general rule, males tend to become more attached to their people than females who are more independent. While both sexes usually get along with other dogs, it's the female who is more likely to become aggressive with another female dog. However, it's also the female who may prove less prone to distraction while training.

Dogs and hormones

When male and female Labs are neutered and spayed, personality differences between the sexes are less noticeable. A male dog no longer feels the need to display as much dominance once the testicles are gone, and the need to mark every other item he encounters with urine also subsides. Spaying a female Lab not only eliminates the heat cycle and the possibility of unwanted pregnancy but should lessen or eradicate the "mood swings" that the heat cycle can produce. An intact female maintains an estrogen level that may affect her personality.

A 2013 study compared the long-term health effects of neutering on Labs and golden retrievers. The rate of joint disorders doubled from 5-to-10 percent when Labs were neutered earlier than six months of age. While golden retrievers who were spayed before the age of six months had a higher rate of cancer, there was no significant rise in cancer rates for female Labs who were spayed before reaching their first heat. Your veterinarian can give you more information about the best age to spay or neuter your Lab.