Native to Newfoundland, the original Labrador retrievers worked next to fishermen retrieving nets from icy water and catching loose fish. They came on ships to England where they were crossed with spaniels and setters to breed in hunter instincts, says the Dog Breed Info Center website. Once known as “St. John’s Dogs,” the modern Lab arrived in the United States in the 19th century but was not recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) until 1917. The breed standards require that other breeds not dilute certain characteristics of the Labrador in order for a dog to be classified as a purebred.
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Purebred Labs come in only three colors – yellow, chocolate and black. The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc., the national organization of Lab breeders, disqualifies a dog from purebred status if the dog is any other color, or a combination of colors. They allow a small white spot on the dog’s chest, but brindle or tan markings on chocolate or black dogs show the genetic influence of another breed in the animal’s background. Black dogs are typically a deep black shade, while chocolates can vary in color from light to dark brown. Yellow labs show colors ranging from light cream to “fox-red,” with various shades on the bellies, backs and ears of the dog.
The dense hair coat of the Labrador retriever protects the animal from cold weather, water and ground cover. The short, straight top layer covers a soft undercoat that allows the animal’s natural body oils to repel moisture. The American Kennel Club rejects dogs from purebred status if the animal’s coat is sparse and slick, wooly or soft and silky as not being genetically representative of the breed.
Conformation standards for the purebred Lab require that height at the top of the shoulder for the male dog be 22-1/2 to 24-1/2 inches; a bitch should be approximately 1 inch smaller. The male normally weighs between 65 to 80 pounds; the bitch between 55 to 70 pounds. A medium-length muzzle with a full-colored black or brown nose sits atop the wide, square skull of the Lab. The eyes sit well apart, imparting the kindness and good temperament of the breed and are rimmed in black in yellow and black-coated labs. Chocolate labs have brown-rimmed eyes. The Lab body type includes well-balanced fore and hindquarters, with the deep chest and muscular back, or topline, that allow for freedom of movement. The Lab’s thick tail gradually tapers to the tip, follows the topline, and is covered in the dog’s short, dense coat with no feathering.
Any dog with a deviation from the height standards, a pink nose or one lacking pigment, a lack of color in the eye rims or a difference in tail structure indicates the influence of other breeds and is disqualified from purebred status by the AKC.
Originally bred to find downed waterfowl for gun hunters, the purebred Labrador shows an instinct to retrieve, run through overgrown terrain, and swim through lakes and streams to fulfill its working potential, say Kerry Kern and Michele Earle-Bridges in their book, “Labrador Retrievers: The Complete Owner’s Manual.” The Lab’s even temperament proves it to be amicable and friendly as a companion to a family with small children, while having the staying power to work for hours with a bird hunter. Dogs afraid of water and without the “retrieval” instinct typically indicate the introduction of another breed somewhere in the bloodline.