9 Things to Know Before Getting a Labrador

The Labrador, or Labrador Retriever, comes in three colors: cream, black and brown, although you can get a silver version if you cross-breed with a Weimaraner.

Some famous Labradors in popular culture

English service Labrador, Endal

An English service Labrador, Endal, became the “most decorated dog in the world” and received awards for Animal Gallantry and Devotion to duty. Endal was the first dog to ride on the London Eye and also figured out how to correctly use an ATM card. I would love to see any YouTube video of this.  Endal also placed his human in the recovery position without any training, following a power blackout. Endal lived for 13 years, dying in 2009 of natural causes.  Endal wasn’t perfect though and he had a reputation for chasing squirrels – which is a very Labrador thing to do.

Superman’s dog Krypto is a white Labrador

Superman’s dog Krypto white Labrador

Pop Culture Geek from Los Angeles, CA, USA – Long Beach Comic Horror Con 2011 – Krypto, the Super Dog, CC BY 2.0

Clifford the Big Red Dog

Clifford the Big Red Dog

There is even a Muppet Labrador on Sesame Street, Brandeis, who works as an assistance dog.

British blind Parliamentarian David Blunkett, had a guide dog, Lucy, a black Labrador, who famously vomited in the House of Commons during a Parliamentary speech.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Labrador and service dog, Dorado, led his owner Omar Riviero, from an upper floor of the Twin Towers shortly after the first plane struck. Dorado heroically led his blind owner Omar, down 70 stories, refusing to leave his side, even after Omar tried to release his dog so it could survive the buildings’ fateful collapse. There were also many other rescue dog heroes of 9/11 who were Labrador Retrievers used to locate survivors and later retrieve bodies from the rubble in the following weeks and months. 

Where did Labradors originate from?

Labrador Retrievers first originated in Newfoundland, Canada where they were used as fishing dogs and they would help local fishermen retrieve fishing nets as well as fish escaping from the nets. 

Their high intelligence and natural athleticism made them ideal for hunting and retrieving (waterfowl and other prey). 

In the 1830s, members of the British aristocracy imported labradors from Newfoundland, Canada to use them as “gun dogs” to assist hunters and to manually retrieve waterfowl.

Labradors have mad skills

In modern times, labradors are often selected as service or therapy dogs for people with disabilities such as blindness, deafness, epilepsy, and even autism. Labradors are also a popular choice for airport screening or drug detection by law enforcement agencies around the world. 

They have also been able to perform tasks for disabled owners such as rescuing swimmers, retrieving ATM cards, and putting a person in the recovery position. I have also read stories of labradors rescuing drowning infants and toddlers.

Because of their friendly and passive nature, they make great family pets as well. I think Labradors are natural empaths with their human masters.

I set out below some facts and useful information about the Labrador breed that all potential owners should be aware of.

1. They are considered the most popular dog breed in the world

The cost of adopting a Labrador depends upon whether you go to a registered breeder or you simply go to your local pound or RSPCA.  

In the United States it costs around $350 to adopt a Labrador retriever.  But if you get a puppy from a registered breeder with papers you could be looking at paying anywhere from between $800 to $2,000 and potentially even more, depending on the qualities of the dog. 

Retired or “failed” service dogs

Some service dogs are retired when they are in the middle of their service dog careers and they are made available for adoption by members of the public.

Another option is to adopt a service labrador who “failed” the service dog tests which occurs for about 50% of candidates.  In that way, you will get an almost perfectly trained dog. 

The most likely reasons for a Labrador to be released from a training program are rare hereditary diseases or behavioral problems like straining on the leash or being too friendly with strangers.  The latter not being a real problem if you are looking for a companion animal

A failed service dog could have some health issues like cataracts, joint problems, or have food or other allergies that would have disqualified it. The standards for service dogs are quite high so even having an indicator of a potentially genetic problem may result in a perfectly healthy dog being disqualified.  Usually, the adopting agency will advise you of this and what your options are, going forward.

Even a Labrador with potentially mild health issues or a genetic marker for retinal problems is worth considering adopting.  The eye issues may not arise until the end of the dog’s life. Labradors live on average about 13 years.  It is still worth considering rescuing a failed service dog. You could also be saving a life.

Blind man with guide labrador dog near escalator

If you are considering adopting a retired or career change service dog, you could potentially pay up to $1,000. This fee would cover some of the training costs. Unsurprisingly, there is an extremely high demand to adopt service dogs and you may have to wait years to actually get one this way.

So, you may be better advised to go to your local pound or a breeder, depending on your preferences.

Labradors, because of their popularity and pleasant natures are at a high risk to be stolen and most Labrador clubs recommend that you microchip your puppy or adult dog to minimize this risk and include a collar with your name and cellphone number on it.

2. They can wreck your house if bored

So can most dogs in fact. But labradors are bigger and clunkier with enormous energy levels and strength and can deliver a larger degree of potential damage if left unstimulated.

Labrador lying on the floor

However, they are suitable pets for leaving alone during the day as they are more independent and can entertain themselves and likely won’t fret in the same way, as say, a Maltese or Jack Russell terrier may.

Labradors can and will wreak havoc in your household, if you don’t exercise them regularly, both in the physical and mental sense. And who can blame them?

Labradors are high energy dogs and sometimes hyperactive, especially puppies. You need to walk them daily. Vigorously.  And you need to let them run free in your backyard if you have one.  

I have known people to have labradors in tiny apartments or houses in the inner city, but those dogs were walked usually twice a day and lots of big chew toys were left around for them. And sometimes you just have to let them have those small infractions and blow off steam, like in the image below.

Labrador lying on the floor with the toilet paper

3. They are super smart and get bored easily

And this is why they are traditionally chosen to be service dogs or assistance dogs for the blind. They are easily trainable with small food treats.  But they are very smart and they need constant stimulation particularly in the early years when their energy levels are at their highest.

Labradors are among the smartest of the working dog breeds and this is why they are chosen to be disability blind dogs, hearing assistance dogs, drug detection dogs, rescue dogs, and also military service dogs. Labradors are known to have amazing work ethics and amiable temperament. They aim to please their masters.

The more work you put into stimulating their brains with lots of different training tasks, the more you will get back in return from these amazing creatures.

Labrador with a book

Labradors are smart, fast, and athletic if kept at a healthy weight.

When you bring your Labrador puppy home, your first task should be to crate-train your dog.  You also need to undertake significant leash training.

Most vets will have reputable puppy schools and this is a good first start to get your new Labrador puppy socialized.  You should also be taking your labrador to the park and tossing a ball or a frisbee. They will love this. They are retrievers after all.  

Once you have gotten past the first three months, you can start approaching Labrador Retriever clubs in your area who will likely have further training opportunities for your new best friend. In particular, you should be looking at more challenging agility trials for your dog.

Labrador running and jumping

Labradors don’t make great guard dogs, unlike the smaller more nervous terrier breeds. They will sometimes bark at loud noises but they are not as territorial as their terrier brothers and sisters. They are very easygoing and trusting with strangers (see point 1 above) and prone to be kidnapped quite easily.

4. They are still puppies until they are about 3 years old

Labradors remain puppyish until they are around 2 to 3 years old which is a bit longer than other breeds, particularly, the smaller breeds like Jack Russell or Terrier type dogs, who mature a lot faster.

Labradors’ puppyish nature and their high energy levels mean that you have to keep them entertained and their minds and bodies engaged. This means, daily walks and also teaching them new tricks using low-fat food treats.  

The more time you put into training your labrador the better the behavior. Because their temperaments are gentle, with a stable temperament, outgoing personalities and they aim to please their owners, it is not difficult to train them.  They are super intelligent dogs.

Never leave your labrador puppy with your toddler or infant unsupervised. This, of course, should be a no-brainer. And yet so many pet owners make this common and incredibly stupid mistake. Of all the dog breeds, (and see the section on aggressive breeds below), the labrador puppy is the most to tolerate a toddler sticking its fingers into your puppy’s eyes, nose, or other orifices. That said, every dog has it’s breaking point, and never leave your puppy or adult labrador alone with your toddler.

Little girl with the labrador pupy

5. Labradors have a genetic mutation which makes them prone to obesity

So you should always aim to keep them well exercised and their minds active. Think agility trials and even dog shows if you have the time and energy.

This study outlines in detail how labrador retrievers tend towards chubbiness. It is not their fault. The study calls labrador dogs “more highly food-motivated dogs” which also increases the ease with which you can train them with food treats. So you have to keep them active and at different times, limit their access to food.

I have seen overweight labradors and it is not a good look. The health risks are significant and include:

  • Osteoarthritis and joint degeneration.
  • Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes).
  • Heart disease and hypertension (high blood pressure).
  • Difficulty breathing. 
  • Decreased stamina. 
  • Decreased liver function.
  • Increased surgical and anesthetic risk.
  • Increased cancer risk.

You are killing your dog with kindness if you are overfeeding your labrador and neglecting their exercise routine.  This very fat labrador shown below might look cute and cuddly but I bet it struggles to walk, let alone run. Once your beloved dog gets to this stage of fatness, it is a massive task to get your dog to shed this weight. You would need to be seeing your vet and putting your dog on a very strict diet.  Getting a dog this obese to exercise vigorously would be almost impossible. It would likely take you more than a year to remedy a health condition as severe as this.

Fat labrador lying on the street

Animal behaviorists and some of the vet reality TV shows often have complete episodes about how to get an animal this overweight back into a healthy shape.  Kind of like a “Biggest Loser” but for dogs.  And even after your dog has returned to a reasonable healthy weight, you still have significant health issues that have arisen in the first place because of the lengthy period of obesity. Most likely diabetes, damaged hip joints, and potentially cancer. 

You can find reasonably priced and very healthy dry food brands for your Labrador Retriever like Hills Science Diet and Canin some of which are specifically designed for this breed.

A Deletion in the Canine POMCGene Is Associated with Weight and Appetite in Obesity-Prone Labrador Retriever Dogs
Source: Raffan, E., et al A Deletion in the Canine POMCGene Is Associated with Weight and Appetite in Obesity-Prone Labrador Retriever Dogs

6. Labrador Retrievers are one of the least aggressive dog breeds

A study I found, with more scientific data, found that labrador retrievers were one of the least aggressive dog breeds among a group of dachshunds, English Springer Spaniel, Poodle, Rottweiler, Shetland Sheepdog, and Siberian huskies.  In this group, labrador retrievers ranked the lowest in aggression towards humans as well as other dogs.

Labradors do not make good guard dogs for two reasons: they don’t often bark in response to intruders or noise and they are considered pliable and non-aggressive. That said, if you were to threaten a Labrador’s owner, they may easily attack in a defensive mode to protect their loved family.

And surprisingly…

This 2008 Chicago study found that when studying dog attacks on their owners or others in Denver, Colorado, that labrador retrievers had been the most common to attack, followed by pit bulls, German shepherds and rottweilers, and finally chows. 

I seriously questioned the veracity of this data given the placid and friendly nature of Labrador Retrievers. 

Statistics on dog attacks by breed - Denver area - 2008

That said, this data above is drawn from one study so I would say it’s not representative and it might be saying more about the way Denver dog owners treat their labradors than about the breed in general. 

However, dogs are socialized by their owners and if you own and mistreat a dog, then you can expect it may turn on you eventually. Mistreatment includes leaving a dog chained in a yard for hours or days at a time. I have seen this numerous times and these poor neglected animals become prisoners in their own homes. And of course, it wouldn’t be surprising if they picked up some anger issues.

When I see a dog with aggressive tendencies, I blame the owners first and foremost.

7. Labradors love swimming and they are waterproof – sort of

Labradors’ have double coats that are water-resistant or waterproof. I believe this is an evolutionary feature that developed from decades or centuries of Labradors being used in the colder climates as fishing dogs where they were trained to help fishermen retrieve fishing nets and fish that had escaped from nets.

Their double coat also gave them protection in the cold Northern waters of Canada when they worked as fishermen’s dogs. Their coats have a slightly dry and yet oily consistency.

Labradors love the water and they even have webbed toes. The webbed toe can also work as a kind of snowshoe in colder climates by stopping snow building up between their toes. Which is a really cool evolutionary feature of this breed.

Labrador swimming in the pool

Their teeth and bite are delicate and they can carry stuff in their teeth, even eggs, without damaging them. They are known for a perfect, regular, and scissor bite and their upper teeth are closely overlapping their bottom teeth and are set square to their jaws. 

I have read stories of Labradors rescuing drowning infants and toddlers by dragging them to safety, which is pretty awesome.

Labrador teeth

8. Labradors shed – a lot – in some climates

Labradors will shed hair twice a year and possibly even more frequently in hotter climates.  The double interwoven coat combined with a warmer climate will mean you will have a lot of dog hair around your home.

That said, the data suggest that Labradors are pretty flexible whichever climate you live in. They clearly demonstrate their ability to survive the cold Canadian winters, including swimming in the ocean. There is no evidence to suggest that you couldn’t have a Labrador with you, living in the Caribbean.  But if you do, they will likely shed more hair.

Labrador shedding

The solution to this is regularly bathing your Labrador and brushing.  Your Labrador will likely love swimming and after this kind of activity, I would recommend you give your best friend a good bath to avoid having lots of muddy footprints around the house.

Labradors do not require hours of specialist grooming like some of the larger breeds like the Siberian Husky do. 

If you have a Labrador as your pet, you should also, as well as regular brushing and grooming, consider the purchase of a really good vacuum cleaner with specialized accessories for cleaning up pet fur.

9. Labradors, ironically, despite working as blind service dogs are actually prone to eye diseases which can cause blindness

Labradors are prone to progressive rod-cone degeneration (retinal atrophy, cataracts, corneal dystrophy, and retinal dysplasia) which initially causes night blindness but if left unchecked will progress to complete blindness.  There is no known cure for progressive rod-cone degeneration but early detection and treatment can delay treatment progression. 

Because they are prone to this mutation doesn’t mean that it is super common. Like any dog that is a purebred, there are genetic mutations that can be acquired by percentages of any given breed.

If you are planning to breed your Labrador, I advise that you get your dog examined by a veterinary ophthalmologist for an eye score to check the likelihood of your dog passing on any of these retinal diseases.

In conclusion

Labradors are a great choice for a single person, a young family, or a person with a range of disabilities such as blindness, hearing loss, paraplegia, and/or epilepsy. They blend in well with families and young children as well as other pets, including cats.

They are loyal and amiable lifelong companions. All you have to remember is exercise them physically and mentally and as they get older, keep a close eye on their diet to avoid them from developing obesity as they age.

Black, Yellow and Brown labrador

They generally live long and healthy lives.  They are among breeds least likely to become aggressive to strangers or other dogs.

Labradors are super smart and if you put in some quality time in properly training them and entertaining them, you will strengthen the bond between you and your dog and you also reduce the risk of them becoming bored and running amok in your home and causing property damage.

Labradors who are well socialized and intellectually stimulated will give you a lifetime of loyalty and you get to have a rewarding relationship with your companion animal for many years.