Labrador Retriever (Lab): Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

Labrador retriever standing indoors in profile

The Spruce / Kevin Norris 

The Labrador retriever is a medium to large dog breed with a short coat and sturdy physique that's a member of the sporting group and originated in Newfoundland and the U.K. Labs are known for their intelligence, fine character, and good temperament. Although they were bred to be hunting dogs, they're also excellent companions. In addition to their sporting abilities, Labs make excellent service dogs and therapy dogs. You will also see them employed in drug and explosive detection, water rescue, and search and rescue.

Breed Overview

GROUP: Sporting

HEIGHT: 22.5 to 24.5 inches (male), 21.5 to 23.5 inches (female)

WEIGHT: 65 to 80 pounds (male), 55 to 70 pounds (female)

COAT: Short, dense double coat

COAT COLOR: Black, chocolate, or yellow

LIFE SPAN: 10 to 12 years

TEMPERAMENT: Friendly, active, companionable

HYPOALLERGENIC: No

ORIGIN: Newfoundland/United Kingdom

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Click Play to Learn More About the Athletic Labrador Retriever

Characteristics of the Labrador Retriever

Labrador retrievers tend to have a friendly and outgoing personality. Their temperament also is driven by a high energy level. They like having a job or activity, and they are highly trainable. 

Affection Level High
Friendliness High
Kid-Friendly High
Pet-Friendly High
Exercise Needs High
Playfulness High
Energy Level High
Trainability High
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark Medium
Amount of Shedding High

History of the Labrador Retriever

The predecessors to today's Labrador retriever actually originated in Newfoundland (not Labrador). In the early 1800s, a breed called the St. John's water dog, also known as the lesser Newfoundland, was used on fishing boats. These dogs were known for their prowess in the water, good work ethic, and friendly nature. 

British nobles visiting Newfoundland took interest in the dogs. They brought some back to England to serve as gun dogs in retrieving waterfowl during hunts. They also continued to refine the breed in England as it was dying out in Newfoundland. And ultimately they came up with the breed standard we know today.

The American Kennel Club first recognized the Labrador retriever in 1917. And the Lab has consistently ranked as one of the most popular dog breeds in the U.S. in recent years. Many prominent figures throughout history have had Labradors, including both Prince William and Prince Harry as well as President Bill Clinton. Labs also have played important roles in military, police, and service work.

Prince William with his black Labrador Wigeon on a beach at Balmoral Castle.
Prince William with his black Labrador Wigeon at Balmoral Castle

Tim Graham / Getty Images

President Bill Clinton walking his Labrador puppy at the White House
President Bill Clinton walking his Labrador puppy Cynthia Johnson / Getty Images 

Labrador Retriever Care

Labs are best suited for homes where they can get plenty of exercise and training. They are high-energy dogs that need lots of attention. Their grooming is fairly simple, though they do shed quite a bit.

Exercise

Labs can become hyperactive and destructive if they don’t get enough daily physical activity and mental stimulation. Plan on at least two hours of exercise each day, such as walks, jogs, hikes, and active playtime. Because these are such people-focused dogs, they'd rather exercise with you than be left in a yard alone.

Thanks to their background as water dogs, Labs love to swim whenever and wherever they can (even in puddles). So a dog sport like dock diving would be perfect to keep them entertained. Likewise, as retrievers, they love to play fetch. Getting your dog involved in service work, therapy, and other canine jobs also can help to keep it fit and mentally stimulated. 

Grooming

Labs have smooth, water-resistant coats that require little more than basic grooming. However, the thick coat does tend to shed a lot, so at least a weekly brushing is important to remove loose fur and distribute skin oils. Also, Labs tend to shed more heavily in the spring and fall as the weather changes. So you'll likely have to brush multiple times per week to keep up with the loose fur. Fortunately, because their coat naturally stays pretty clean, Labs generally only need a bath every couple of months.

Plan to trim nails roughly every month, depending on how much your dog wears them down. Also, aim to brush its teeth daily. And check the ears at least weekly for dirt, debris, and any signs of infection. Make sure to dry the ears after swimming and baths.

Training

Start socializing and training your Labrador when it's a puppy to help direct its energy and strength in a positive way. Labs are eager to please, and they like having a job—even if that job is learning obedience skills. So training is generally easy as long as you are consistent and use positive reinforcement.

It's ideal to expose a Lab puppy to different people, animals, and situations to help it learn to be a calm and confident dog. Also, enroll in puppy classes as soon as your dog meets the age requirement. 

As true family dogs, Labs usually get along well with children and are known to be incredibly loyal and loving. However, young children should always be supervised around a dog. Labrador retrievers also typically do well in multi-pet households, especially when socialized with other animals from a young age. Always monitor any new additions to ensure all of the pets are behaving appropriately. Obedience instructors can give tips for introducing both children and pets to your Lab.

Portrait of a chocolate Labrador retriever
The Spruce / Kevin Norris 
Labrador retriever dog sitting on gray couch in front of white throw pillow

The Spruce / Kevin Norris 

closeup of a chocolate Labrador retriever's fur
The Spruce / Kevin Norris 

Common Health Problems

Labs are usually healthy dogs, and responsible breeders should screen for health conditions. However, some hereditary health problems can occur, including:

Labrador retrievers as pets illustration

The Spruce / Emilie Dunphy

Diet and Nutrition

Always have fresh water available to your dog. Feed your Labrador retriever two meals a day of a quality, nutritionally balanced dog food. Consult your vet on the amount and variety, as this can vary depending on size, activity level, and other factors. Nutrition needs also can change over a dog's life.

Note that it's common for Labrador retrievers to put on weight and become obese, in part because they love food and will eat past the point of being full. So it's up to you to portion out food and be mindful of treats to prevent overeating.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Labrador Retriever

If you have determined that a Labrador retriever is the right fit for your household and that you can commit to the rigorous activity this breed needs, check local animal shelters and rescue groups for a dog in need of a home. Also, the The Labrador Retriever Club provides resources to connect people with breeders and rescues:

Labrador Retriever Overview

Pros
  • Can be trained for a variety of tasks

  • Very friendly

  • Often good with kids and other pets

Cons
  • Needs a lot of exercise

  • Heavy shedder

  • Prone to overeating and weight gain

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Before you decide whether a Labrador retriever is the right dog for you, be sure to do plenty of research. Talk to other Labrador retriever owners, reputable breeders, and rescue groups to learn more.

If you’re interested in similar breeds, check out:

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

FAQ
  • Are Labrador retrievers good family dogs?

    Labrador retrievers generally do make excellent family dogs. With proper training and socialization, they can learn to be good around children.

  • Are Labrador retrievers aggressive?

    Labs typically aren't aggressive dogs as long as they are well trained and socialized. They tend to love people and are even open to strangers.

  • Are Labrador retrievers good apartment dogs?

    Labs can adapt to apartment living as long as they get out for enough exercise each day and have ample playtime and socialization with their family.

Article Sources
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  1. Labrador Retriever. American Kennel Club.