Labrador Retriever Care and Training

The Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular breeds of dog in the world today, and with good reason!  The “Lab,” as he is often called, is friendly, intelligent, loyal, easy to train, and loves children.  Labradors make a wonderful family dog.

History of the Labrador Retriever

Labrador PictureThe Labrador Retriever originally came from Canada, although not from Labrador.  They were developed in Newfoundland.  In the early 19th century small water dogs were used to work with fishermen in the area to pull in their nets loaded with fish.  These small dogs were crossed with the larger Newfoundland dogs, which were also water-loving dogs.  The result was a dog known as the St. John’s Water Dog.  This was an early version of the Labrador Retriever we know today.  But this was just the beginning.  English sportsmen saw these small retrieving dogs and brought them back to England where they bred them with with other kinds of retrievers and sporting dogs such as Setters and Spaniels.  By this time the Labrador Retriever had begun to assume his present form.  He was recognized as a separate breed in England in 1903.  Labrador Retrievers were recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1917 but they weren’t imported into the U.S. from Britain until the 1920s and ‘30s.  The early St. John’s Water Dogs had died out in Canada in the 19th century.


Labrador Retrievers typically live to between 10 and 12 years.  They can be prone to some health problems.  As with many larger dogs, hip and elbow dysplasia can be issues.  It is advisable to obtain puppies and dogs from breeders who test the hips of their breeding dogs using OFA or PennHip ratings to try to breed for better hips.  Some Labs can also have luxating patellas (slipped kneecaps).  There is a simple test for this problem that can be performed by a vet.  You should ask a breeder if their dogs have had any problems with their patellas.

Labradors can also have eye problems.  Progressive Retinal Atrophy can occur in the breed.  This is a genetic disease and there is a test for it so breeders can breed to avoid the disease showing up.  Other possible eye problems in Labs include retinal dysplasia, corneal dystrophy, and cataracts.

Some other very rare conditions can occur in Labradors such as deafness or autoimmune disease.  These problems can be congenital or have unknown causes.  Hereditary myeopathy is also very rare but it can occur.  It affects the dog’s gait.  Labs can also be prone to exercise induced collapse.  This is a condition that results in weakness, disorientation, overheating, and collapse following exercise.

Labradors usually have a robust appetite and many of them become overweight or even obese.  Obesity in the breed can be a serious health problem, leading to diabetes, problems with arthritis and joint trouble, respiratory issues, cardiac problems, and troubles during any surgery.  Obesity can shorten a Lab’s life.  If you have a Labrador Retriever you will need to monitor your dog’s food intake and measure how much you feed your dog.  Be sure to provide your dog with plenty of regular exercise throughout his life.

Temperament and Training

Labrador Retrievers are known for being very intelligent and eager to please.  According to the book The Intelligence of Dogs, the Lab is ranked number 7 on the list of brightest dogs, with the brightest dogs understanding new commands after less than five repetitions, and the dogs obeying the first command given 95 percent of the time or better.  Labs have a great work ethic and like to get things right.  They can usually learn anything you want to teach them.  Labs have excelled as search and rescue dogs, police dogs, military dogs, bomb sniffing dogs (they have a great nose), therapy dogs, and just about any other kind of work they attempt.  Most guide dogs for the blind today are Labs or Lab-Golden Retriever crosses because they are both gentle and intelligent enough to handle that kind of training and responsibility.

Labs make wonderful family dogs and are very gentle, especially with children.  But Labs do have a fun-loving side, too, and they love to play, especially when they are young.  Young Labs have boundless energy and they definitely need some training to bring them under control.  They can be a handful for any person or family, so it’s lucky they are so eager and willing to learn.  Labs love to play frisbee, flyball, and they learn sports like agility and rally very quickly.  Even if you just spend time throwing a ball for your Lab, playing with him, or going for a run, your Lab will benefit from it.  These dogs do need lots of exercise, especially when they are younger.

We provide Labrador dog and puppy training in Beverly Hills and West LA. Learn more about our private dog training classes.


The Labrador Retriever has a short, dense coat that is black, chocolate, or yellow.  The coat is water-resistant and it often feels rather oily.  Remember that this is a water dog and it has a coat that can protect it in the water.  After a dip in the cold water, these dogs can come out, shake off and be practically dry.  They don’t require a great deal of grooming but they do need to be brushed regularly with a good brush.  Labs do shed seasonally and some dogs seem to shed on a regular basis.  Regular brushing will cut down on the amount of hair that comes off in your home.

Labs have long ears and that can leave them susceptible to ear infections.  Make sure that you clean your Lab’s ears weekly, especially if your dog goes swimming.  Any moisture left inside the ear can allow bacteria to grow.

As with other dogs, you need to trim your Lab’s nails weekly to keep them short.  Remove small amounts of nail each week and you won’t have to worry about nicking your dog’s quick or hurting him.

Special Needs or Care

With Labradors it’s very important that these dogs get plenty of exercise throughout their lives.  They are very active as puppies and young adults but they generally become calmer and quieter as they age.  They still need exercise when they are older.  Labs are prone to obesity so watch how much you feed your Lab and don’t free feed (put down food and leave it, or keep food down at all times).  Watch your dog’s weight.  Being overweight or obese, and not getting enough exercise, will shorten your Labrador Retriever’s life.


Dog care and behavior counselor with 15 years of experience. I hold a M.S. in Psychology with an emphasis in Animal Behavior.

Posted in Dog Breeds