Breed breakdown: An in-depth look at the Labrador retriever
The vet’s office
By Dr. Beth Engelbert, DVM
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC
All dog breeds were originally developed for a purpose. Dogs with desired traits were bred to perpetuate those traits. Eventually dogs with consistent looks and behaviors developed, making a new breed.
Why is this important? Because whether you want a purebred or a mixed breed, knowing what to expect with those breeds will help lead to a long, happy relationship with your pet.
The reigning champ for the most popular breed is the Labrador retriever. Purebred dogs have a standard, a written guideline for what the breed should look and act like. The Labrador standard states it is a “strongly built, medium-sized, short-coupled dog possessing a sound, athletic, well-balanced conformation that enables it to function as a retrieving gun dog (that has) the substance and soundness to hunt waterfowl or upland game for long hours under difficult conditions … and the temperament to be a family companion.”
It additionally states, “The ideal disposition is one of a kindly, outgoing, tractable nature: eager to please and nonaggressive towards man or animal,” and describes the characteristic “otter” tail, a dense water resistant coat, and the accepted colors: black, yellow, and chocolate.
In recent years the Labrador has become divided into types. Some breeders aim for the traditional and follow the standard. Some aim for personality, such as high-drive huntability. Knowing what your dog was bred for will help make a better fit with your lifestyle. The “field” lines tend to be higher energy and have a higher need for a “job.”
Breeding for certain traits can bring out other traits, including genetic diseases. Allergies, hip dysplasia, and elbow dysplasia are not uncommon in Labradors. Screening of the parents may help reduce these afflictions.
Some diseases can be found with DNA testing. These include exercise-induced collapse; progressive retinal atrophy, causing blindness; centronuclear myopathy, similar to muscular dystrophy; and narcolepsy. Labs can develop other nongenetic diseases such as obesity; gastric dilatation-volvulus, a deadly stomach bloat with twisting; or an injury to the cruciate ligament of the knee.
The colors known as white, charcoal, and silver are actually genetic mutations for color. This mutation can affect the thickness of the coat, and some of these dogs may be more prone to allergies.
Finding that perfect dog for you will take research. The American Kennel Club website has links to the breed standards and to national breed clubs. Local kennel clubs can be a great resource.
Even if you are contemplating a mixed breed or a rescue, researching the breeds that went into that dog can be helpful. DNA tests are available to determine what breeds are in a mix to aid your search.
Wildwood Animal Hospital and Clinic LLC is located at 210 Airpark Road in Marshfield and online at wildwoodanimalhospital.net.