Breed of the Month: Labrador Retriever

Description: There are two different types of Labradors; the English Labrador and the American Labrador. While they have their differences, the AKC doesn’t recognize them as two different breeds. The Labrador comes in three different colors, black, chocolate, and yellow. There also exists a silver Labrador but some purists do not consider this to be a forth color variation in the Labrador, rather a variation of the chocolate Labrador.

Their body is slightly longer than it is tall. On the broad skull sits the medium sized ears which hang down in a pennant shape. The Labrador has a thick and long otter tail that acts as a rudder when the dog is swimming. Eyes are brown or black in the black and yellow Labradors and brown, hazel, or green in chocolate Labradors. The nose is black in yellow and black labs and brown in chocolate labs.

History: The ancestors of the modern Labrador Retriever actually came from Newfoundland, not Labrador, in Canada, as the name implies, although some historians believe the dog actually originated in Portugal. It is believed that various small water dogs were bred with the Newfoundland which led to the breed St. Johns Water dog; the predecessor to the modern Labrador Retriever.

The St. Johns water dog was a water dog that was used to pull in fishing lines and hunt during the work day and loved spending time playing with it owners and the children in the evening, common traits in todays Labrador.

In the 1880’s the introduction of sheep ranching along with heavy taxes and licensing fees on male dogs started the decline of the breed. Also in 1895 Britain banned the import of dogs, which also effected the numbers of the breed. The St. Johns Water dog eventually became extinct around 1930.

It is said that in 1830 the Earl of Malmesbury saw a St. Johns Water dog working on a ship in Newfoundland and made arrangements to have several of the dogs sent to his estate in England. The Earl of Malmesbury bred these dogs to become excellent duck hunting dogs. Along with the 5th and 6th Dukes of Buccleuch, the Earl of Malmesbury was instrumental in the development of the modern Labrador Retriever.

In 1903 the Labrador Retriever was recognized by the English Kennel Club and was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1917.

Size: Males: 22–24 inches at the withers, weighing 60-75 pounds. Females: 21–23 inches at the withers, weighing 55–70 pounds. Some males can grow to be 100 pounds or more.

Temperament: In my opinion, the Labrador is a great, well rounded dog that is good at many things. Its an exceptional waterfowl retrieving dog, easy to train, can excel in agility competitions, is patient and loving of children and other animals, and is very submissive and loyal. The Labrador is an excellent family dog which is eager to please and loves showing affection.

While English Labradors mature sooner than American Labradors, Labradors will start losing some of that excessive puppy-like energy around the age of three.

Since this breed is very obedient, even tempered, and easy to train, Labrador Retrievers are popular service animals. Labradors have a high intelligence and are rated the 7th smartest dog according to Stanley Coren’s ‘The Intelligence of Dogs.’

This breed makes for a good watchdog as they are known to bark at things unseen or unheard by their owners. While they will occasionally ‘alarm bark’, the Labrador isn’t known to bark excessively like other breeds. As this breed is very friendly and welcoming of most strangers, a Labrador guard dog is extremely uncommon.

Grooming: The Labrador is relatively easy to groom. This dog requires regular brushing and bathing when necessary. While some Labradors can shed a lot, they are mostly average shedders.  Most Labradors shed biannually while some shed throughout the year.

Health: One of the most common health concerns among Labradors is obesity. Labradors have a big appetite and have a propensity to eat quickly and can eat several meals, if given the chance. Owners of obese Labs often succumb to their four-legged friend’s begging and reward them with tasty treats. Labradors enjoy the exercise that they need to stay health. Always consult a veterinarian about how much you should feed your dog.

Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is an inherited disease which compromises a dogs vision. The vision of a dog with PRA eventually progresses to blindness or near blindness and can affect one or both eyes and to different degrees.

Labradors are also susceptible to hip dysplasia, bloat, and pateller luxation, which is also known as kneecap dislocation.

Lifespan: 10 to 13 or more years.


Famous in Fiction, Television, Movies, and Literature:

‘Marley and Me’ was a best selling novel written by John Grogen about a true-to-life-story and the thirteen years with his family and his dog Marley.

The white Labrador, Brian Griffon, is the talking family dog on the animated television sitcom, Family Guy.

Other famous Labradors:

Widgeon is Prince William’s black Labrador. Buddy and Seamus were President Bill Clinton’s Labrador Retrievers.


Canine Obesity

As I’m sure you all are aware, obesity is a major problem that our country faces. Over one-third of all US adults are overweight and medical costs associated with obesity (stroke, type 2 diabetes, heart attack, and heart disease) were estimated at $147 billion in 2008.

As our society becomes more sedentary and more prone to eating high-calorie foods, the dogs in our care receive similar treatment. According to a survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) 53% of all adult dogs are defined as overweight or obese.

A dog is considered overweight if the dog weights 5% – 19% more than their ideal weight while an obese dog weighs 20% or more than it’s ideal weight. To put this into perspective, a male Black Labrador Retriever’s ideal weight is about 70lbs. If that dog were to gain 14lbs, it would be considered obese.

Pfizer Animal Health has put together, what they call, a BARC (Body Assessment Rating for Canines). It’s a good resource that helps you take all sorts of variables of risk into consideration. But as they stress on their website, this nine question assessment shouldn’t be used as a replacement for a visit to your dog’s veterinarian.

There are some ways to test at home to see if your dog is overweight. You should be able to feel your dog’s ribs but, not be able to see them when your dog is wet. On the BARC test from Pfizer, they ask:

Stand at your dog’s side and look at the tuck-up — the belly area between the ribcage and hindquarters. Is the body more “square-shaped” in this area?

If your dog looks like a sausage, he’s probably overweight. Instead, dogs should have an hour-glass figure.

Obesity comes with a multitude of health consequences. Overweight dogs have an increased risk of cancer and are susceptible to fatty liver disease. Carrying around all that extra weight causes joint pain and difficulty breathing. Overweight dogs, much like humans, are susceptible to diabetes and can succumb to surgical complications. On average, an overweight dog has a decreased life span of nearly 2.5 years.

So, why exactly do dogs get fat? Much like humans, dogs also gain weight for two main reasons; eating too much and exercising too little. Owners will often times feed their dogs table scraps. All of those unnecessary extra calories can really add up and start adding weight.

Owners of overweight dogs also have a tendency to over feed. Simply following the information on the back of the package of dog food is not all the information you need. When it comes to appropriate portion size, your veterinarian can inform you of other variables that need to be taken into account, like energy requirements, size, breed, and genetics.

Dogs often don’t receive the appropriate amount of exercise. Depending on the breed, most dogs require 30 – 45 minutes of exercise each day. Not only does exercise keep a dog lean, it helps keep dogs occupied and less likely to get bored, bark, and act out in a destructive manner.

Owners also have a hard time resisting a dogs begging. Maybe your dog is barking and making a racket begging for more food or your dog might just be too cute have treats withheld from him. Giving into begging isn’t doing your dog any favors. Ultimately, the owner controls the amount of food and exercise a dog will receive so only an owner can be to blame for an overweight dog.

Treatment for obesity is reducing caloric intake and increasing exercise. Also similar to humans, dogs can sometimes have a strong aversion to a reduced diet and increased amount of exercise.

For those dogs with excessive amounts of body fat, a weight loss drug may be an option. Dogs that aren’t responding well to a change in diet and exercise may be prescribed the weight loss drug, Slentrol, which recently came out on the market.

Although they aren’t very common, fat camps for dogs are gaining popularity. You can drop off your dog in the morning and pick up your pooch in the afternoon after a long day of socialization and exercise.

If your dog is overweight, reducing your dogs caloric intake and getting him or her outside more often to burn off extra calories is important but, it’s always good to check with your veterinarian before making changes to your dogs diet and exercise regimen.