Collins Dog Owner's Guide: Labrador


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Labrador Retrievers have taken on a number of roles. They were first developed to retrieve in water, and love swimming. They have since been used as gundogs, and service dogs, and they are a firm favourite as a family pet. Like Golden Retrievers, they are usually very stable and 'forgiving' dogs, tending not to be upset at changes in routine, and tolerating novice mistakes.

Like Goldens, they tend to chew a lot, especially as pups, and need their own supply of legitimate chew toys. They aren't as barky as Goldens, however, and don't make very good guard dogs. Any visitor is likely to be licked, or otherwise greeted in a friendly way. Labrador Retrievers are relatively easy to train, even though they mature late, and can behave in puppyish ways in their early obedience classes. They need training from when they are pups, since they are large dogs with a sense of fun, and can get into mischief without training. Well-trained Labrador Retrievers are ideal dogs for families with children, so long as interactions between labs and young children are supervised, since a bouncy lab can easily knock over a small child.

They need a daily walk or other form of exercise, or they can become too boisterous, and are more likely to chew. They don't tend to pick up as much mud on their walks as Golden Retrievers, though their fondness for water does mean that they are attracted by muddy puddles. Generally, Labrador Retrivers behave well with other dogs they meet on walks, and get on well with other dogs in multi-dog households.

The breed comes in four colours, black, yellow, 'fox red' and chocolate. The most unusual are the Chocolate Labradors, and there is some prejudice against them, though most tend to be as easy-going as the yellow and black varieties. The fox red are generally a little more hard wired as working dogs and require a little more patience in training. The main problem is that a focus on appearance can lead to temperament and health being put second and third. This can be a problem if breeders deliberately seek to produce Chocolate Labs, rather than healthy, nice-natured Labs. Labrador Retrievers are not especially barky, and don't need much grooming.

Common health problems include hip dysplasia and eye disorders. Arthritis is also common in older Labrador Retrievers. This is often exacerbated by obesity, since the breed has a very strong food drive, good for motivating them in training, but it makes it difficult to keep them slim. They will tend to wolf any old rubbish they find in the street, 'counter surf', or raid kitchen surfaces for food, and raid rubbish bins for scraps. However they are not fussy eaters! Owners of spayed bitches in particular need to keep a very close watch on their weight. They can also suffer from ear infections due to their love of water, and their ears need regular checks, and should be dried after the Lab has been swimming. Labrador Retrievers are also vulnerable to cancer, heart disease, hypothyroidism, seizures, von Willebrands, and allergies, including those that give rise to skin and nail complaints.

Peter Neville is one of the UK's top behaviourists, and here he has produced a concise guide to Labs that will be invaluable for first-time owners. This guide explains their breed characteristics, and gives help with general care and first aid, as well as help with training and not-so-welcome behavioural quirks. Excellent value, and best bought before you get your Lab, so that you are well-prepared.