The Labrador Retriever (also called Labrador, or Lab for short) is one of several kinds of retrievers which are a type of gun dogs. This particular breed’s characteristic feature is webbed paws for swimming which was very useful for the original purpose of this breed of retrieving fishing nets. This fact and their use as hunting dogs gave them the name Retriever.
They say there are several origins of the name Labrador. The first Labs were only black and thus they reminded the semi precious stone Labradorite. They say that, probably, the name of the breed originates from this stone. The second theory says that the ancestors of the Labradors first appeared on the Labrador Peninsula and hence – the name. As for the third theory, they say that the Portuguese called Labs this way for their hard labor, and the word “labrador” in Portuguese means “hard-working”.
According to a different source, the modern Labrador’s ancestors originated on the island ofNewfoundland, which now is a part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. The breed emerged over time from the St. John’s Water Dog (which is also a founding breed of the Newfoundland dog) through ad-hoc breedings by early settlers in the mid to late 16th century.
Labrador Retrievers of today are registered in three main colors: black, yellow (anything from light cream to fox-red) and chocolate (medium to dark brown). Some Labs can have markings such as white patches on their chest and other areas, but most commonly, they are one solid color.
Puppies of all colors can potentially occur in the same litter. Color is determined primarily by two genes. The first gene determines the density of the coat’s pigment granules: dense granules result in a black coat, sparse ones give a chocolate coat. The second gene determines whether the pigment is produced at all. A dog with the recessive gene will produce little pigment and will be yellow.
Labradors are a well-balanced, friendly and versatile breed, adaptable to a wide range of functions as well as making very good pets. As a rule they are not excessively prone to being territorial, pining, insecure, aggressive, destructive, hypersensitive, or other difficult traits which sometimes manifest in a variety of breeds. As the name suggests, they are excellent retrievers. Labradors instinctively enjoy holding objects and even hands or arms in their mouths, which they can do with great gentleness (a Labrador can carry an egg in its mouth without breaking it). They are also known to have a very soft feel to the mouth, as a result of being bred to retrieve game such as waterfowl. They are prone to chewing objects (though they can be trained out of this behavior). The Labrador Retriever’s coat repels water to some extent, thus facilitating the extensive use of the dog in waterfowl hunting.
Labradors have a reputation as a very even-tempered breed and an excellent family dog (including a good reputation with children of all ages and other animals), but some lines (particularly those that have continued to be bred specifically for their skills at working in the field rather than for their appearance) are particularly fast and athletic. Their fun-loving boisterousness and lack of fear may require training and firm handling at times to ensure it does not get out of hand—an uncontrolled adult can be quite problematic. Females may be slightly more independent than males. Labradors mature at around three years of age; before this time they can have a significant degree of puppy-like energy, often mislabeled as being hyperactive. Because of their enthusiasm, leash-training early on is suggested to prevent pulling when full-grown. Labradors often enjoy retrieving a ball endlessly and other forms of activity.
Although they will sometimes bark at noise, especially noise from an unseen source (“alarm barking”), Labs are usually not noisy or territorial. They are often very easygoing and trusting with strangers, and therefore are not usually suitable as guard dogs.
Labradors have a well-known reputation for appetite, and some individuals may be highly indiscriminate, eating digestible and non-food objects alike. They are persuasive and persistent in requesting food. For this reason, the Labrador owner must carefully control his/her dog’s food intake to avoid obesity and its associated health problems which include inherited disorders, as well as ear infections, osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia, and obesity.
The steady temperament of Labs and their ability to learn make them an ideal breed for search and rescue, detection, and therapy work. Their primary working role in the field continues to be that of a hunting retriever.
The History of Labrador Retrievers
Labradors of today originated from so-called “water dogs” from the Newfoundland Island in the beginning of the 18th century. At that time there were two breeds, the Greater Newfoundland and the Lesser Newfoundland. These two breeds of Newfoundland’s were also known as the Greater and Lesser St. John’s dogs. The Greater Newfoundland was used primarily for draft work – working in a four-dog team they would haul carts, including the driver, loaded with 200 to 300 pounds of fish. They were the larger of the two breeds and possessed a long thick coat. The Lesser Newfoundland was a smooth coated black dog, that was unrivaled for hardiness and stamina. These dogs were the constant companions of the fishermen of the Labrador Sea. After a hard day’s work, which would sometimes last twenty hours, one could find these Lesser Newfoundland’s playing with the children of the fisherman.
The Lesser Newfoundland had such a reputation for its loving devotion, loyalty, and hunting and retrieving abilities that there was established an importing of these dogs to Great Britain. In Great Britain, the Lesser Newfoundland became very popular on the large estates, and a breeding program by the estate owners was put into place. Unfortunately, not every breeder wanted to keep the breed pure. In the early days of hunting and retrieving with dogs, this would be the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, a retriever was simply known as a “retriever” and owner/breeders interbred dogs by deciding if they liked some quality or hunting ability displayed by the dogs. They bred long coated and short coated dogs, as well as curly coated dogs. Naturally breeders recognized the excellent qualities of the Labrador Retrievers, and crossed them into their lines as well.
The exact name “Labrador” was first mentioned in the title for the painting by Edward Land-Sir which depicted the labrador dog called Kora, owned by Mr. L.Olsopp. The dog was black with quite long hair, white paws, chest and the very tip of the tail and the bridge of the nose. Retrievers from Newfoundland were called in many different ways: dogs of Saint John’s, little newfoundlands or labradors. They got the name “Labrador” about 1840 from the Third Duke of Malmsberry, to distinguish them from the larger breed of Newfoundlands.
Dogs like Labradors started to appear on paintings in 1552 when Titian created “Giovanni dell Aquaviva”. The painting depicts a dog that looks like a yellow lab with a bit darker ears.
Labradors derive from hunting dogs (or, gun dogs) with perfect sense of smell. The ancestors of these dogs found their way to Portugal where they were called “De Castro Laboriero” (shepherd’s dogs) and dog-swimmers. In 14-15th century the Portuguese took those dogs with them on ships for sailing.
The breed characteristic is webbed paws for swimming, useful for the breed’s original purpose of retrieving fishing nets. This and their subsequent use as hunting companions, gave them the name retriever. The dogs of this breed are very loving, kind and compassionate to their masters. The Labrador is the most popular breed of dog (by registered ownership) in the world, and is, by a large margin, the most popular breed by registration in Canada, the United States (since 1991), and the United Kingdom. It is also the most popular breed of assistance dog in Canada, the United States, Australia, United Kingdom and many other countries, as well as being widely used by police and other official bodies for their detection and working abilities. Typically, Labradors are athletic, and love to swim, play catch and retrieve games, and are good with young children.
History of subtypes
Yellow and chocolate pups, would occasionally appear, until finally gaining acceptance in the 20th century. The first recognised yellow Labrador was Ben of Hyde, born 1899, and chocolate labs became more established in the 1930s.
Yellow (and related shades)
In the early years of the breed through to the mid-20th century, Labradors of a shade we would now call “yellow” were in fact a darker color (visible in early yellow Labrador photographs). The shade was known as “Golden” until required to be changed by the UK Kennel Club, on the grounds that “Gold” was not actually a color. Over the 20th century a preference for far lighter shades of yellow through to cream prevailed, until today most yellow labs are of this shade.
Jack Vanderwyk traces the origins of all Chocolate labradors listed on the LabradorNet database (some 34,000 Labrador dogs of all shades) to eight original bloodlines. However, the shade was not seen as a distinct color until the 20th century; before then according to Vanderwyk, such dogs can be traced but were not registered. A degree of crossbreeding with Flatcoat or Chesapeake Bay Retrievers was also documented in the early 20th century, prior to recognition. Chocolate labradors were also well established in the early 20th century at the kennels of the Earl of Feversham, and Lady Ward of Chiltonfoliat.