History of the Labrador Retriever

history of the labrador retriever

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History of the Labrador Retriever

The Labrador Retriever is perhaps the quintessential pet dog, and is it any wonder? This breed has a lot going for it: its gentleness and friendliness, combined with intelligence and beauty.  The qualities have led the Labrador Retriever to excel in many fields. They make great assistance and therapy dogs, excel in search and rescue and detection work, and of course make excellent pets.

Newfoundland, new found dog?

The Labrador Retriever hails from Newfoundland, an island off the Atlantic coast of Canada, where they were originally called the St John’s dog. This dog breed, first bred in the 1800s, helped local fishermen by retrieving escaped fish, pulling ropes, and hauling nets. Their intelligence and strength meant that they were incredibly helpful in fishing work. When off-duty, the dog was part of the fisherman’s family.

Across the Atlantic

English visitors to the region admired the St John’s dog, and in 1820 the first one was brought to England. They were crossed with local breeds such as Setters, Spaniels, and other Retrievers to create an ideal dog for hunting and retrieving.

The Second and Third Earls of Malmesbury prized them for hunting waterfowl, and did much to develop the breed. The modern Labrador owes much to the Third Earl’s dogs Buccleuch Avon and Buccleuch Ned, who were bred with dogs belonging to the Duke of Buccleuch and the 10th Earl of Home. The resulting puppies were the forerunners of the modern Labrador Retriever.

By the 1870s, the breed was known as the Labrador Retriever, and was very popular in England. Sadly, as the Labrador Retriever rose in popularity, the original St John’s dog grew rarer and rarer, with the last of them dying out by the 1980s.


The Labrador Retriever is a muscular, medium to large sized dog. Working Labradors are usually lighter in build than “show” Labradors, which are generally shorter and stockier. Both types of Labradors have a broad head with a handsome but chunky muzzle. As befits a dog bred to retrieve waterfowl, the Labrador Retriever’s coat is short and water-resistant. The coat can be black, chocolate, or golden.


The Labrador Retriever is famously friendly and gentle. This breed is sweet and eager to please. A Labrador is likely to get on with almost everyone: even other animals like cats. This makes them terrible guard dogs, as they are more likely befriend a burglar than to scare them off!

Since Labradors were originally bred to be working dog, they are often energetic. Daily exercise and training should prevent your Labrador from becoming too boisterous and rowdy. Make sure you give your Labrador different activities to do. Don’t limit yourself to physical activities; Labradors are brainy and you can teach them many fun tricks. Labradors often do well in canine sports such as obedience and canine agility, as they love to learn new and exert themselves.


The Labrador Retriever is generally a healthy dog, but is prone to a few health conditions. As with many large dogs, hip dysplasia and elbow dysplasia are common. Labradors are also prone to bloat (Gastric Dilation Volvulus). They may also suffer from some other problems such as epilepsy and myopathy.