Labrador retrievers are medium-sized, athletic dogs who are well-suited to various types of work, training-based competitions and family life. They have an easygoing, eager to please nature and an intelligence that makes them highly trainable. From hunting and bomb detection to playing with children, labs are a highly versatile breed.
According to AKC standards, Labradors are athletically built and typically weigh between 55 and 80 pounds. Their coats are short and thick with a water resistant undercoat that protects them from inclement weather. They come in three main colors, black, chocolate and yellow, although the yellow may range from fox red to cream. Their thick, otterlike tails and large webbed feet help them in swimming, a favorite Labrador pastime. On average, labs live to be between 12 and 14 years old.
Personality and Energy Level
Labs should be friendly to both people and animals, outgoing and eager to please. They are intelligent and adaptable, which makes them useful in many types of work. Labs are sociable dogs who prefer to be near their family and will do best in an active home. Daily walks, energetic games of fetch and the occasional swim will keep your lab happier and calmer indoors.
Health and Grooming
Labs don't need extensive grooming; brushing once or twice a week should keep them free of tangles and mats. Their coats are short, but you should expect some shedding.
Labs are prone to certain health risks, although you can avoid many of these by getting puppies from a reputable breeder who can show you health certificates for the dogs. Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, hypothyroidism, cataracts, progressive retinal atrophy, osteochondritis dissecans or excessive cartilage and deficient bone growth, and epilepsy are all particular risks for Labrador retrievers.
Training and Work
All dogs can benefit from some basic training to help them get along with their human companions, but the Lab's broad skill set makes them an excellent fit for many kinds of advanced training as well, both in competitions and in work.
Bred to retrieve pheasants and ducks after they have been shot, Labradors make excellent hunting partners. Their eagerness to please makes them excellent guide and therapy dogs. Their drive to work and sharp sense of smell also makes them skilled at drug, bomb and arson detection as well as search and rescue.
In competitions, Labradors often excel in agility, tracking, field trial work and obedience.
Despite their name, Labrador retrievers actually originated in Newfoundland. The breed was imported from Canada to Great Britain, where breeders added pointers and hounds into the breeding lines. In the 1920s, the now changed Labrador retriever was brought back to North America.
Breeders today typically specialize either in dogs with working skills, field abilities, or physical conformation and appearance, bench abilities. If you want a companion, a Labrador bred for bench abilities may be calmer, while field ability dogs have a stronger work drive and therefore higher energy.