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the search for a dog
Black Labrador retriever sitting.

Breed overview

  • Breed group – Sporting Group (American Kennel Club), Gun Dog Group (United Kennel Club)
  • Height – 21.5 to 23.5 inches (females), 22.5 to 24.5 inches (males)
  • Weight – 55 to 70 pounds (females), 65 to 80 pounds (males)
  • Coat length & texture – Short, thick, and double-coated
  • Coat color – Black, chocolate, or yellow. Shades of chocolate range from light to dark, and yellow coats may be anywhere from fox red to a lighter cream color.
  • Exercise needs – High
  • Intelligence – High intelligence 
  • Barking – When necessary
  • Life span – 11 to 13 years
  • Temperament – Outgoing, friendly, and affectionate
  • Hypoallergenic – No
  • Origin – Canada

👉 No dog breed is 100% hypoallergenic, but some are better than others for allergy sufferers.

Labrador retriever fun facts

  • The breed originated along the eastern shores of Canada. While the name would suggest Labrador, the breed actually originates from the island of Newfoundland. 
  • They were bred to aid local fishermen and hunters in icy waters. These water-loving dogs have a thick tail that is often called an “otter tail.”
  • Labs combine high intelligence with a friendly demeanor. This is why they’re among the most popular breeds for service dogs, therapy dogs, and even rescue dogs.
A Labrador retriever runs on the beach with a tennis ball.

Labrador retriever temperament and characteristics

Labrador retrievers are an extremely versatile dog breed. This is because their temperament meshes well with families, but is also built to handle more serious tasks. Labs are friendly, loving, and happy dogs. They are also very intelligent, which is why they are often guide dogs or trained for other specialized tasks. These personality traits allow your Lab to be a working dog or just a fun companion.

If you get a Labrador, expect for them to be great with just about anyone, including kids and other pets. Labs are by no means guard dogs, as they are usually welcoming even to strangers. This is not an especially vocal breed, but a very social and playful one.

Common Labrador retriever health problems

As with any dog breed, Labradors do have some health problems. Overall, Labs can live long lives with proper care and regular veterinary visits. Here are some of the health conditions that Labrador retrievers are more prone to:

  • Obesity. As much as we all love to give in to those puppy eyes, be careful with overindulging your Lab with treats. The breed is more likely to develop obesity, so be sure to feed your Lab properly and give them lots of exercise.
  • Nasal hyperkeratosis. While pronouncing the name might be difficult, the actual condition is quite simple. Nasal hyperkeratosis is when the skin on your dog’s nose is dry, cracked, or crusty. Your vet may recommend pet balms or other treatments to keep the area hydrated.
  • Snow nose. If you notice that your dog’s nose is getting lighter in color, it may be due to snow nose. The condition commonly happens in the winter, though it can also happen due to other seasonal changes, age, or genetics.
  • Hip dysplasia. Canine hip dysplasia is when a dog’s femur bone and hip bone socket (acetabulum) do not align properly. Given that Labs can reach up to 80 pounds — meaning there is already increased pressure on the hips —  this is a condition to keep an eye out for.
  • Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a condition where inflammation and degeneration occurs in joints over time. A study showed that Labs had increased odds of developing the condition versus non-Labrador breeds. Common areas affected for Labs include the elbow and hips.

Cost of caring for a Labrador retriever

One of the most important aspects of preparing to be a pet parent is budgeting. Having a realistic idea of how much it will cost to care for your Labrador retriever will help you plan ahead. 

When you look at some of the more common health problems of Labs, prevention can save you some money down the line. Always manage food intake. Feeding your dog a balanced diet with regular exercise can both prevent and manage obesity. Dog food ranges anywhere from about $50 to $80 per month for an 80 pound dog.

For more serious conditions like hip dysplasia or other joint issues, costs will be much more. Surgery can cost more than $4,000 per leg. Of course, there are always potential ways to save. Health insurance and pet savings accounts are both options to explore.

History of the Labrador retriever

The Labrador retriever hails from the island of Newfoundland, off the eastern coast of Canada. In the early 1800s, the waterdogs were noticed by Englishmen visiting the area and were then brought back to England. The dogs are believed to be descendents of the St. John’s water dog or St. John’s retriever (sometimes also called the lesser Newfoundland). 

Over time, the dogs were standardized by the British and by the 1900s, had become well-known. The Labrador retriever became officially recognized by The Kennel Club (England) in 1903. In 1917, the American Kennel Club registered the first Lab in the United States. By 1991, Labs became the most-registered AKC breed, and have remained the most popular dog breed in America for the last 30 years running.

A black Labrador retriever sits next to flowers.

Caring for your Labrador retriever

Picking the right puppy from a breeder or adoption agency is just one aspect of getting a new dog. When you get your Labrador retriever, a trip to the vet for their first vaccinations will need to be scheduled. The energy of Lab puppies paired with the perils of teething can make for a hectic few months. So getting your home ready and puppy-proofed beforehand is key.

Exercise 

Labradors are high-energy dogs, which means you should plan to get them outside everyday. About two hours of daily exercise will keep them in shape and mentally stimulated. There are also a variety of ways to incorporate exercise, whether it’s running in the backyard, going to the dog park or dog beach, or walking the trails. 

Without enough exercise and attention, Labrador dogs are likely to develop destructive behaviors because of their pent up energy. You can enroll your pup in doggie daycare or hire a walking service to make sure your pet gets the exercise and love it needs while you’re away.

A Labrador retriever catches a ball on the beach.

Grooming 

Labrador retrievers are not high-maintenance, but they still need a regular grooming schedule. Their water-resistant coats are dense and short, so daily brushing is not needed. However, Labs have a double coat and do shed a lot. You should prepare to bathe them at least a few times a month. 

Dental health is also important to your dog’s overall health, which is why teeth brushing should be included in your grooming routine. It’s a good idea to get your Labrador retriever dog in the habit early on. Making sure your Lab’s nails are trimmed will prevent painful breaks (and scratches on those hardwood floors during playtime). Clean your Labrador’s ears periodically as well, especially after a dip in the pool.

Diet and nutrition 

You want to always make sure that your Labrador retriever stays in a healthy weight range. Making sure that your dog eats a nutritious diet is also key to maintaining optimal health. Dog foods featuring the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) stamp of approval ensure that your pet is getting quality food.

With Labs being more prone to obesity, portion control is another factor that you will want to keep in mind. Typically, a 60 pound neutered adult dog will need 1334 calories per day. Also consider the frequency of meals. In general, adult dogs should eat twice a day while puppies may need to be fed three to four times a day. Try healthy treats and stick to recommended feeding guidelines from your vet.

Training your Labrador retriever

Judging from the multiple work hats that this breed wears, it should come as no surprise that Labrador retrievers are incredibly trainable. Labradors are smart and can be trained to complete just about any task or trick. Starting at an early age is always beneficial when it comes to training as well as socialization.

Early on, Labs may also benefit from gentle treat taking training to ensure that they don’t nip when they grow up. Remember that consistency is key when it comes to training your dog. Some pet parents consider obedience classes for their pups as well.

A Labrador retriever fetches a toy.

Breeds similar to the Labrador retriever

Not quite sure that a Labrador retriever dog is right for you? Even if you are, it’s worth taking the time to research and consider other similar breeds. Here are a few to get you started:

  • English cream golden retriever. The golden retriever breed is one most similar to a Lab. There are slight differences in appearance, but Goldens are also fun-loving, smart, family dogs.
  • Boxer. If the active nature of Labrador retrievers is one of your favorite traits, consider getting a boxer. Like Labs, these are large breed dogs that have energy to spare.
  • Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Looking for a dog with Labrador traits, but in a smaller body? A Cavalier King Charles spaniel could fit the bill perfectly as a new addition.

Frequently asked questions

Are Labrador retrievers a good family dog?

Labrador retrievers are great for families. While adult supervision is always recommended with dogs and children who are not accustomed to interacting, Labs are excellent with young children as well. When you have family gatherings, most Labs will happily make rounds interacting with guests.

Do Labrador retrievers bark a lot?

Labrador retrievers certainly do not bark a lot like chihuahuas, but they are not “barkless” like a basenji. Labs are right in between the dog will bark when necessary or be vocal when trying to communicate.

What’s the difference between a Labrador retriever and a golden retriever?

The most obvious difference between a Labrador retriever and a golden retriever can be seen in their coats. Labs tend to have short coats (ideal for this breed that loves to swim) while golden coats are more feathered.  While Labradors come in three different colors — yellow Labs, black Labs, and chocolate Labs — golden retrievers only have coats ranging from a light cream to fox red. When it comes to temperament, Labs are slightly more energetic and a bit less clingy than goldens. 

What kind of owners are best for Labrador retrievers?

The best owners for Labs are those that can provide an active lifestyle for their dog. Labrador retrievers are smart and have energy to burn. If you have time to dedicate and want a dog to come along with you on your hikes or for a swim, a Lab is an ideal option.