The American Kennel Club’s most popular dog is also the nation’s top sporting breed. Here’s what to know about Labrador Retrievers if you’re considering adding one to your family.
You would be hard pressed to find anyone in the United States who cannot identify a Labrador Retriever by sight. Labs inhabit every nook and corner of the country, with their carefree nature, athletic ability, and loving disposition as a family dog.
For hunters, the family friendliness and “work hard, play hard” attitude of a Lab make them an ideal sporting pup. A natural retriever, she can be trained to hunt upland birds and do it with panache. But she shines in the blind duck.
Its thick double coat and medium to large build make it the perfect dog for cold, wet hunts. Additionally, their webbed paws, muscular body, and rudder tail make them one of the strongest swimmers of the water dog breeds.
Here’s how to choose one of the most fabulous hunting dogs on the planet as your next field partner.
Choosing a Labrador Retriever Breeder for the Sport
Under the Labrador Retriever umbrella are two distinct sporting bloodlines: the American Labrador and the British Labrador. Labs labeled “American” or “British” usually come from specially bred hunting lines. The main difference is in the way lines are selected for field trials, the specifications of which vary by country.
In short, the American tests focus on performance under pressure whereas British trials focus on dogs with ideal manners and a definite ability to stay calm and quiet in the field. The American line tends to produce a more capable, endurance-focused performance machine for the level of intense performance expected in US field trials.
If you’re looking for an intense, high-energy pup built to dominate the field, American Labs are a fabulous choice. They are excellent dogs to hunt, test and guide day after day. If you want a bird dog that can turn it on in the field and turn it off in the house, a UK Lab might be a better bet.
It is important to distinguish between Labrador bloodlines bred as pets, support animals, working dogs, or show dogs. There is even a distinct line of purebred English Labradors that are not hunting specific. To solve many problems from the start, it is best to ask breeders what they are raising their Labs for.
Expect to pay a premium for a quality hunting pup. $800 to $2,000 or more is not unheard of. You are paying for healthy, quality lines. And the cost also includes reimbursing the breeder for puppy-related expenses.
The breeder should have each puppy tested for health issues, including elbow and hip dysplasia, heart problems, exercise-induced collapse syndrome, and progressive retinal atrophy. In addition, good breeders always provide information on vaccinations and veterinary checks.
What to expect from your Labrador
Labrador Retrievers are a medium to large breed. Males generally weigh between 65 and 80 pounds and females between 55 and 70 pounds. Parent height often gives a good idea of your puppy’s adult size. Some Labs can easily weigh close to 100 pounds when fully grown, so ask before you buy.
Labs are available in a variety of colors including white, yellow, chocolate, red, silver, and black. While color can be an interesting attribute, it’s important to focus on quality hunting traits and health rather than color when choosing your pup.
Expect your Labrador to be your constant companion for 10 to 12 years. The early years of a Labrador’s life tend to be its most intense and active time. Labs are known chewers and they need daily exercise to occupy their minds and bodies. Additionally, they can be unruly, hyperactive, and destructive if they lack proper boundaries and exercises.
But they are also easy for DIY hunters train and they react very well to motivated by food training efforts. A lab reaches its peak between the ages of 4 and 6. But, with the proper training, she can easily step into the field in her first year of life and perform with aplomb.
Labs shine in game recovery, dockside diving, ride trails for miles and much more. Keep it active and you’ll all be happier (and healthier!).
Labs are incredibly outgoing and social dogs, and it’s important to foster this socialization between their first 7 weeks and 4 months of life. Puppy training classes and early exposure of the puppy to a wide variety of situations can help him become a confident and kind partner in the field and at home.
Once people have a Labrador, it often becomes a lifelong breed for them. It’s hard not to love an animal that gives affection to everyone so easily and with such exuberance.
The biggest advantage a Labrador has for hunters who want to train their own dog is their ability to be both forgiving and hardworking. More sensitive hunting breeds like setters and spaniels tend to be gentler. And pointers are often too energy-intensive for many homes.
Labs strike a great balance between home and hunting lifestyles. And like a fine wine, they get better with age. If a Labrador Retriever is the right dog for you, you’re in for a fun, wacky, and loving adventure with the newest addition to your hunting family.