Labrador Retriever: Everyone’s Favorite Family Pet

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Black Labrador Retriever laying in grass (Caption: Guide to the Labrador Retriever)A particularly versatile and intelligent dog breed, it is no surprise that the Labrador Retriever has been named the American Kennel Club’s most popularly registered dog for the past two decades. Beating out other popular breeds including the German Shepherd, Yorkshire Terrier, Golden Retriever and even the incredibly intelligent Poodle, the Labrador Retriever certainly stands a notch above the rest.

So what makes this Canadian breed so popular? A wide array of physical and mental characteristics make the Labrador retriever a favored choice, and let’s not forget those big friendly brown and hazel eyes!

Article Overview


The Labrador Retriever originated on the island of Newfoundland, part of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. The Labrador, like other dog breeds, originally began as another dog entirely – in this case the St. John’s Water Dog (also known as the Lesser Newfoundland.)

Working lab in field of grassThe Labrador Retriever is not the only dog to share this ancestor. The Flat Coated Retriever, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and the Golden Retriever, all share the St. John’s Water Dog in their lineage.

It was through interbreeding in the late 16th century that the Labrador Retriever got its start. Despite being interbred with other dogs the Labrador Retriever still maintained many of the features of the St. John’s Water Dog. Barring its white tuxedo markings, the St. John’s Water Dog resembles a black Labrador Retriever almost identically.

The Labrador also managed to continue the retrieval skills of the St. John’s Water Dog including pulling fishermen’s nets in from the water.

What Did Its Ancestors Do?

As the Labrador Retriever breed came to its own breed it became a popular fishing boat dog among fishermen in the St. John’s area. Not only was the Labrador Retriever prized for its retrieval ability but its loyalty and good work ethic resulting from its eager to please nature kept the Labrador Retriever as a working breed of dog. While the Labrador Retriever thrived as a water dog in the St. John’s area they also found themselves being brought back to England in the 1800’s which served as a central command for the Newfoundland fishing industry. During this time kennels popped up around England and the Labrador became a popular hunting dog among waterfowl hunters.

How The Labrador Retriever Came To Be

Lab walking in grassIt was upon bringing the Labrador Retriever back to England that the breed found its official ancestry with the breeding program implemented by the Duke of Buccleuch. It is ascertained by Labrador aficionados that the modern day Labrador has its roots with the two dogs given to the Duke to assist in his program: Avon and Ned.

The Labrador Retriever soon became known in England by its current name rather than the “St. John’s Water Dog” by which it was formerly known. The Labrador Retriever was given its own name to distinguish it from other dogs heralding from the same area of Newfoundland, it was named after the Labrador area.

The Labrador Retriever was particularly favored by fishermen and hunters alike for its smooth and short coat. In contrast to the smooth short coat of the Labrador Retriever, the Newfoundland (also stemming from the St. John’s Water Dog) had a thicker and wavier coat which tended to trap ice and weigh the dog down in the water.

Two Lineages

In current society it is often believed that there are two different breeds, however, this is not the case. The Labrador Retriever does have two different lines, a conformation line (“English“, “Blocky Headed,” “show” or “bench” Labs) and a field line (“American” or “working” Labs).

Black and Yellow LabThe two varieties of Labrador Retriever are both still of the Labrador Retriever breed, but they each came to be specialized for their intended “jobs”.

The shorter and stockier conformation line of Labrador Retrievers have blockier heads and are generally used as show dogs (it should be noted that this is not always the case and field lines can also be shown per the AKC breed standard.)

The taller and lighter field line of Labrador Retriever is more slender than its counterpart and is generally used for field work (again, it should be noted that this is not always the case and conformation lines can also be used as working dogs.)

Yellow And Chocolate Colored Labs

As the Labrador Retriever breed began to get its start it was black. As breeding programs continued, there were occasionally yellow and chocolate puppies but due to the breed ideal at the time being for black puppies these outcasts were often removed from litters and future breeding programs.

It wasn’t until the twentieth century that yellow and chocolate Labrador Retrievers became accepted as part of the breed. The yellow Labrador Retriever was the first to be popularized in 1899 and the chocolate Labrador Retriever followed in the 1930’s.

The Yellow Lab

Lab SmilingThe early yellow Labrador Retriever was much darker in color than the yellow Labrador Retrievers seen today; they resembled more of a Golden Retriever standard color. As breeding continued, however, buyers showed a preference for the lighter color of yellow and soon this became the norm for the breed. There are some “fox red” (a very dark yellow) Labrador Retrievers around these days and they have begun to make a comeback as a popular color choice among lovers of the breed.

Unlike the change in coat color with the yellow Labrador Retriever, the chocolate and black Labrador Retrievers have no acceptable variety in their color.

It is also thought by some that “silver” Labradors exist. However, this statement has been refuted by most members of the Labrador Retriever lover’s society and it has been suggested that a “silver” Labrador is merely a cross between a Labrador Retriever and a Weimaraner (which possesses a shimmery silver coat.)

Lastly, there is a genetic pigmentation issue within some yellow Labrador Retriever’s – particularly when yellow and chocolate Labrador Retriever’s are bred – which results in a yellow Labrador Retriever having flesh-colored pigmentation around the eyes and on the nose. This is not a desired trait according to AKC regulations, and it is referred to as a “Dudley” Labrador Retriever.

Breed Characteristics

Everything about the Labrador Retriever that is known and accepted as the breed standard today derives from its origin as a water dog, particularly its water repellent coat as well as its other specialized physiological features.

Water Repellent Coat

Black Lab RetrieverThe coat of the Labrador Retriever is a smooth, short flat coat that consists of two layers: the undercoat and the overcoat. The undercoat of the Labrador is specifically designed to protect the Labrador Retrievers skin when in colder water. The slightly oily coat is specifically designed to repel water and also serves to protect the dog from the elements.

The Labrador Retrievers coat should not be curly by breed standards and, although it is permissible to have a wave down the back of the coat, generally the hair lies flat.

The slightly oily coat leads inexperienced owners with the impression that their dog needs bathing but the oiliness is natural and protects the skin.

Webbed Toes

Webbed toes are usually found on dogs that were bred out of retrieving stock. Webbed toes assist dogs who work in the water to efficiently paddle through the water quickly.

Otter-Like Tail

The Labrador Retriever also has a thick otter-like tail which is efficient as a rudder when swimming in the water. This thick and powerful tail is wide at the base and tapers to a tip at the end, even the Labrador Retriever’s tail is covered with its thick and water resistant coat.


The Labrador Retriever is known for having a “bull neck” – a neck that is wide and muscular. The large thick neck was a useful trait when the dogs were used mostly for hauling fishing nets back to fishermen’s boats.

These days the Labrador Retriever is still expected to have a thick and muscular neck; however, for most dogs it serves little purpose as they no longer work such laborious duties.

Size And Weight

Black lab puppy on top of dogWhile the colors of their coats may change the standard for the size and weight of the breed does not. According to the American Kennel Club’s regulations, the Labrador Retriever should measure in at the withers at 22 ½ to 24 ½ inches tall if it is a male and 21 ½ to 23 ½ inches tall as a female.

The weight class for male dogs is 65 to 80 lbs and for females is 55 to 70 lbs. The Labrador Retriever is a rather large breed and is also commonly known for having a knot (also called a “knowledge bump”) on the top of its head.

How Smart Is My Lab?

Labs actually ranked as the seventh most intelligent dog breed, so you count on them to learn quickly and stand out in obedience training, especially when treats are involved!

Though the Labrador Retriever is a particularly smart breed of dog the idea that this knot is related to the amount of knowledge that a dog picks up is simply a myth. This large bump on the dogs head is actually the occipital bone which can be more prominent in both breeds and individual dogs.

Labs Are “Pleasers”

Kid Loves Old LabThere is some argument among fans of the Labrador Retriever breed that certain lines of Labrador Retriever’s or even certain colors have better temperaments than others. This is simply not true. A dog’s temperament depends very much on its genetic makeup, its individual upbringing and its medical soundness.

Overall Labrador Retrievers are known for being well-balanced and friendly dogs. They possess the skill and versatility to be working dogs as well as service dogs and just good companions. Unlike some other breeds the Labrador Retriever is not well known for being territorial, aggressive or nervous and they are “pleasers” by nature which makes them particularly adaptable as dogs who serve their communities.

Working Dog

Labrador Retrievers are generally food and praise driven dogs and combining this fact with their incredible intelligence, they make the perfect candidates as working dogs.

Dog jumping in water catching toy in mouthWorking dogs can perform a variety of different duties that help the community. Or can simply participate in activities for the thrill of the game!

Common jobs for Labrador Retrievers include Police K9 Unit work, Bomb Sniffing Dogs, Search And Rescue, Tracking, Therapy Dogs, Seeing Eye Dogs and Cancer Sniffing Dogs.

Labrador Retrievers also thrive when challenged with activities to keep their minds busy. Such events may include Dock Diving, Hunting And Retrieval, Agility, Flyball, and even Dancing!

Regardless of what job a Labrador Retriever takes part in, this working breed is always up for a good challenge. A challenged dog is a tired dog and a tired dog is a happy dog.

Watch as this dock dog performs at a competition.

Pet Insurance Testimonial

Labrador Retriever: Macy
Pet Parent: Linda
Injury: ACL and Torn Meniscus Surgeries
Petplan Reimbursement: $5,694.20

We did not have pet insurance with our first dog and we paid thousands out of pocket for 3 ACL surgeries and treatment for Addison’s disease. We learned our lesson and this time got Petplan insurance from the moment we brought Macy home. Two years ago, Macy had ACL surgery and we were reimbursed $2,700. Now, she tore her meniscus and had a $3,200 surgery. Petplan reimbursed us $2,994.20 for that latest surgery. We are so happy we chose to go with Petplan. The process is easy and they really seem to care.

Learn More About Pet Insurance

Is A Lab Retriever The Right Dog For You?

The Labrador Retriever is not the right breed for everyone. If you’re looking for a dog to lounge around all day, this is definitely not the breed for you! But if you are looking for a dog who will provide companionship on your daily walks, a good laugh or two when that huge otter-like tail sweeps everything off the coffee table and a wow of amazement as it retrieves that ball for the fiftieth time, then the Labrador Retriever could be the right dog for you.

This is an eager to please and loyal dog. If you are willing to give the Labrador Retriever the stimulation and exercise it needs to stay healthy and avoid boredom, then you will have the ideal companion. What happens if you can’t keep a Labrador Retriever exercised and mentally stimulated? Well, you may find them creating their own game using your couch cushions and… well, anything else they discover.

What do you adore most about this breed?

About The Author:

Amy grew up in England and in the early 1990's moved to North Carolina where she completed a bachelors degree in Psychology in 2001. Amy's personal interest in writing was sparked by her love of reading fiction and her creative writing hobby. Amy is currently self employed as a freelance writer and web designer. When she is not working Amy can be found curled up with a good book and her black Labrador, Jet.

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Paul Mccarthy
January 10, 2020 11:02 am

I lost my Lab Dec.2nd. The hurt is unexplainable . I am 75 years old and have never been so hurt with grief for my baby.She meant everything to me in the world. I can barely function without her , and her loving kisses .I can only hope and pray that I’ll see her again.And soon .

July 25, 2020 1:31 am
Reply to  Paul Mccarthy

19 For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God.

20 For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected the same in hope,

21 Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.

I hope you see her too

January 13, 2020 6:57 pm
Reply to  Paul Mccarthy

I know how you feel. I was 76 when Barney crossed over the rainbow bridge. He was 12 and cancer took him. Two months later we had Benny another chocolate lab puppy. He now 10 months and would I do it again at 76 getting a puppy, yes, but he does keep me on my toes. He has turned out to be a great dog. He tool away the hurt of losing Barney who was also a great dog.

December 8, 2019 12:44 am

I love your articles!
However this one, I think you might have some of the facts incorrect.
When “silver” labs came on the scene, it WAS believed to be a genetic issue with pigmentation, as you stated. However since then, “silver” labs are now a dilute chocolate lab and “charcoal” labs are a dilute black. They are bred that way intentionally and they are not mixed with weimereiners. Plus, they HAVE been accepted and recognized by the AKC.
Just thought you’d find this interesting.

Carolyn Stefanowicz
December 4, 2019 1:51 pm

I have three labs! There are the BEST dogs!!!!!!

Cathy Heim
December 3, 2019 3:36 am

They are so sweet and cute I did have 2 but now my parents and I have one and he is so sweet and very lovely the best dog ever thank You Jesus

October 23, 2019 6:50 pm

I grew up with collies. My first dog was what I call an apartment collie — a Shetland sheepdog.
Have in 2013 inherited this house in Texas. My 2nd sheltie died too young but what I have learned here today, normal. He was 14.
A new dog yes! But SE TX too hot for a long haired like a sheltie. I went to a canine rescue place and found my dog. According to Wikipedia he is a yellow lab. But his fur is much darker — kind of the sane shade as my palomino. According to his vet he is a golden retriever. But his fur is shorter! He loves water! And we play a “fetching” game — I throw his toy and he brings it back!
So anyway I have decided he is 1/2 yellow lab, 1/2 golden retriever! He is smart … but he thinks he is a third “house brat” — I also have 2 cats. He loves cat food too! He is good with his 3 siblings of one horse, two cats. And is very comfortable with the 10 months of summer here!
I still love collies & shelties, but he has made me a Labrador retriever fan.

Rick yocum
October 14, 2019 1:37 pm

I acquired a black lab many years ago from a co-worker that was trying to train it to be aggressive ( guard dog ) after hearing all the things he was doing to her and wasn’t working out he said he was going to get rid of her which I adopted her that very same day. She was a beautiful black lab that I feel in love with I minute I laid my eyes on her. We had many many great years with her . but as she got older she began to develop bumps on her body which I was told later that is common with black labs we had taken her in to be looked at by a Vet. By this time she was 10 1/2 and she was losing weight by the time she reached 11 I knew she didn’t have long and as much as I didn’t want to say good bye I knew in my heart it wasn’t fair to her to continue with the pain she was dealing with . So on a sunny day I took her to the park and although she wasn’t up to walking or running we sat on the grass for awhile , after about an hour of me sobbing and knowing that when I returned home later in the day my best friend wouldn’t be coming home with me.I took her to Wendy’s and bought her a hamburger ,, I figured why not what’s it going to hurt . as I pulled into the Vets parking lot I began to get selfish and trying to talk myself out of doing this but knew it wasn’t fair to her . After signing the nessary papers we were placed in a room where we were meet by the Vet. As I sat looking at her I think she knew what was going to happen as the Vet did his thing I held her and told her how much she meant to me and the family that she was loved ten times over and will never be forgotten. As I watched her eyes glaze over and felt that last breath I lost it . The Vet said I could have the room for as long as I needed it .As she laid there lifeless I knew in my heart that she was meant to be with me and we had 10 fantastic years together . she passed away 6 years ago and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of her . we will meet again that I know I miss you and love you my sweet Luice .

Kimberly Alt
October 15, 2019 4:51 pm
Reply to  Rick yocum

I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story with us. You may find this page comforting. It has many others’ stories about similar situations.

January 23, 2019 9:42 am

Our rescue dog is a mix of Shepard and black lab. He definitely has more lab traits than Shepard. In reading your blog I noticed that one of the traits of the StJohns Water dog was tuxedo markings. Cooper has a US map shaped white patch on his chest that reminds me of the original breed. Does the original St Johns Water dog still exsist?

Gillian Babcock
November 18, 2018 11:38 pm

My dad wanted to have a lab retriever as a pet because our dog just passed away last month. It was mentioned here that lab retrievers have water-repellent coats and webbed toes. Furthermore, it’s recommended to go to trusted professionals when considering lab retriever puppies.

August 2, 2017 7:35 am

My black lab aprox.10+as he was a sr÷t dog has red pimple looking things on his head currently he is lethargic and off his food.smokey is my best friend and my family?

Kimberly Alt
August 2, 2017 8:59 am
Reply to  Deb

Take your dog to the vet immediately to have him looked at.

Rhonda Marr
June 18, 2017 9:34 pm

My girl Gracie started panting at night. She only does it at night. Anybody know anything about this. Any ideas. Vet thinks it’s pain another says she has night blindness. Anybody know of this.

April 21, 2016 1:52 am

My yellow lab is 12 yrs. old. She’s developed large soft cysts all over. She seems happy and still loves to eat. I’m hoping these are just benign . I see the vet in two weeks. Just wondering if anyone else has had an experience with these.

February 29, 2020 1:13 am
Reply to  Geebub

Caroline is right i mean with 90% of them being benign fatty tumors

Carolyn Stefanowicz
December 4, 2019 1:53 pm
Reply to  Geebub

Yes, my lab has these over her body. They are lipomads, benign fatty tumors

January 1, 2016 12:49 am

We unfortunately had to put our lab down this year the day before Halloween. To this day I still miss, and think of him him everyday, he was getting to where he couldn’t get up or see too well. The night lamp we had on for him has not been turned off to this day. I miss you so much buddy, I will see you and be so happy to, when I see you on the other side. Love ya Cyrus!

Kimberly Alt
January 4, 2016 9:49 am
Reply to  Ryan

We are so sorry for your loss Ryan. Thank you for sharing your story with us.

October 1, 2014 11:43 am

Hi there, I was told that my yellow lab’s increasing large diamond shape on top of her head is a sign that she does not have long to live. Is there any truth to this?

Michelle Schenker
October 1, 2014 12:12 pm
Reply to  Lynn

Lynn, I have never heard of this so I did some research. I still cannot find anything about this. So I would say, live life to the fullest with your pup and don’t worry so much about how much time is left. Dogs are really good about living in the moment and good teachers for how we can do better at the same life philosophy! 🙂 Take care.

Greg H.
November 1, 2013 12:25 am

What about the British style lab I hadn't heard of them until a couple years ago a very well known lab trainer in my area said that my black male has British physical features looks just like the English but without the otter tail can you give me your input on the British labs please?


Sara Wilson
November 1, 2013 5:17 pm
Reply to  Greg H.

Hi Greg, thanks for your question. American Labs typically run larger than British Labs and are, on average, 10-20 pounds heavier. British Labs are generally 50-70 pounds depending on male or female, while American Labs are typically 60-90 pounds. Both come in Black and Yellow, Chocolate is a common third color for American Labs. British lines include dogs with a dark (fox) red coat as their third color. The British Lab generally tends to be somewhat more calm and relaxed. American Labs are naturally more boisterous and tend to have more energy.

April 25, 2012 7:57 am

This is the most popular dog in America for a reason: They are intelligent, quick to train, laid back enough to get along with children and adults alike, and are fiercely loyal members of the family.  Not to mention that they are incredibly cute and adorable, just like the article mentions.

Despite the popularity of these dogs, I have never owned one and I was really surprised to learn about the history and the origin of these great creatures.  I was so intrigued to learn that they were originally fishing dogs, although with the heavy fur coat that is waterproof and insulation combined, as well as the floppy ears, it makes sense now.  Plus, it is great exercise for a dog to swim in the water, and this dog would make an excellent swimming partner.

My neighbors had a black lab and because of Sophie I got the most experience with this dog breed.  I really like the oily coat, which I now realize is part of the adaptations that labs have for the water.  The webbed toes I did not ever notice, but I find it to be so incredibly cool that they have this adaptation for swimming.