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Labradors

This page is dedicated to all areas of Labrador ownership, to help you decide if a Labrador is the right fit for you.

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Renowned for being super friendly, full of energy, and having tails just at coffee-table clearing height, Labrador Retrievers are a hugely popular breed in the UK. In fact we love them so much we registered 33,856 of them with the Kennel Club in 2016. Amazingly, Labradors have been the most registered breed for the last 27 years, overtaking the Yorkshire terrier in 1990!

Any dog, no matter how popular, is a big part of you and your family’s life. Choosing the correct dog for your circumstances is critical, and is a decision that will directly impact you for many years to come. This involves choosing not only the right breed of dog, but making sure that the individual dog you choose is suitable too. This page is dedicated to all areas of Labrador ownership, to help you decide if a Labrador is the right fit for you, and give you hints and tips on what to look for to make sure the dog you bring home is as healthy and happy as they can be. 

Read more about choosing the right dog or puppy

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Labradors

Labradors are bubbly, bright and curious dogs and are often recommended for families. They can be over-exuberant however, and require effective training to help stop them bouncing into people and situations with too much energy! Thankfully their high intelligence makes them keen learners, especially when there is food on offer.

Labradors love to eat, and those big brown eyes can be difficult to resist. Unfortunately a big appetite, and exercise needs that often go unmet, means that Labradors are often chronically overweight or obese. This can cause serious health effects, but thankfully your local vet or nurse can help you pick the right diet for your Labrador, and also help slim your pet down if they have become a little chubby!

Labradors can suffer from serious inherited diseases such as hip or elbow dysplasia, or eye disorders. Screening programmes are available to test potential puppy parents to make sure that they are not going to pass on serious diseases to the next generation. Speak with your breeder before buying a Labrador puppy to make sure both parents have been thoroughly tested.

Key Facts

  • Lifespan 10-12 years
  • Good with children
  • Easy to train
  • Susceptible to some inherited conditions, such as hip and elbow dysplasia
  • High exercise requirement

Personality

Labradors are most well-known for their affectionate, loyal and loving nature, making them a frequent favourite with families. They are often good with new places, and are usually both human- and dog-friendly.

Their super-friendly personality and desire to please can mean Labradors get branded as ‘dopey’ or ‘daft’. In fact, Labradors are anything but.  Labrador retrievers are consistently rated in the top 10 most intelligent dog breeds. This means that they require a lot of stimulation and social interaction to keep their minds active. It also means they are great for training,

As well as being gentle and intelligent, Labradors are also very high energy and tend to do everything with a huge amount of vigour. This means that, despite a very soft and loving personality, they might be unsuitable for a home with very small children or anyone frail, as they can be prone to excitable accidents!

Diet

Labradors, as anyone who has ever owned one will tell you, absolutely love food. This is great for training and recall, but can have health ramifications if left unchecked.  Labradors which are overweight or obese are a common sight in veterinary clinics. High quality food (nutrition pages would be great) should be weighed out according to the weight of your dog, and this can be moderated up and down slightly depending on your dog’s metabolism and exercise levels.  Treats are great, but Labradors will never seem full. Using some dry food from the daily allowance as treats can be a good way to give rewards without bumping up the daily calorie intake!

Training

Popular as assistance dogs, Labradors can be easy to train especially due to their generally very strong positive food association.  Watching the calorie intake when training is important - use low-fat treats or some dry food from their meal allowance.  Training for Labradors can be more simple than for other breeds but is equally, if not more, important. Having such a bouncy dog means you will need to be able to exert control when required, and good training is the best way to achieve this. 

Read more about training your dog

Common Health Problems

Commonly seen problems associated with Labradors are:

  • Obesity. Due to a high food drive, and tendency to beg, Labradors are often overfed. They may also be under-exercised as this breed has a very high exercise requirement which can be difficult to meet, especially for families. Overfeeding and under-exercising are both routes to development of excess body fat. 

Carrying this extra weight can lead to or worsen a wide range of other health problems:

  • Heart disease
  • Increased anaesthetic and surgical complications
  • Heat/exercise intolerance
  • Hip and/or elbow dysplasia. 
  • Multifocal or total retinal dysplasia
  • Central or progressive retinal atrophy (also called retinal pigment epithelial dystrophy)
  • Hereditary cataracts

Eye diseases. There are several, thankfully rare, inherited eye conditions that are seen in Labrador retrievers. These are:

Screening tests for inherited eye diseases can be done to reduce the risk of your dog developing any of these issues.

Recommended Screening

Hip and Elbow Screening:

It is possible to screen bitches and dogs for elbow and hip dysplasia – x-rays are taken of the joints and sent to the British Veterinary Association (BVA) for assessment under the British Veterinary Association Hip Dysplasia Scheme (external link) The BVA assigns each joint a score which can be used to assess the health of the joint. As dysplasia is inherited, breeding from bitches or dogs with poor joint scores is not recommended.

When buying a Labrador puppy we would recommend that you see the scores for both parents.  As dysplasia has a genetic element, only buying a puppy which has parents with above average hips and elbows will reduce the risk of your dog developing problems in the future.

Eye Screening:

The British Veterinary Association Eye Scheme is a screening programme based on eye-examination by a specialist. This is an annual test and checks to make sure none of the heritable eye diseases are visible. Although this cannot suggest if the disease will develop in the future it is a good marker of current ocular health. 

Puppy Purchase Advice

The puppy you choose will impact on your life for many years to come, and there are lots of recommendations about the best way to choose your new friend. Asking for information on all of the below will help ensure your puppy is healthy and has been well cared for during their start in life. We would recommend getting information on:

  • Both of your puppy’s parents (including results of any recommended screening tests, and previous breeding and medical history)
  • Your puppy’s medical history to date
  • Your puppy’s socialisation to date
  • Details of current diet and routine

Some people may feel uncomfortable asking a lot of questions. To make the process easier, we recommend using the RSPCA puppy contract.  This detailed document makes sure all of the relevant areas are covered, and is also legally binding. 

Conclusion

Although buying a breed suitable for your lifestyle is crucial, puppies still have lots of development to do when they come home with you. Implementing great training routines, setting boundaries and socialising your dog are all fundamental to helping your dog fit into your family.

If you have any questions about choosing a breed, your local Vets4Pets will be happy to do a pre-purchase consult with you. In this they can discuss:

  • What breed of dog may suit you
  • Advice on choosing a puppy from a litter
  • Support and advice on adopting an adult dog
  • Advice on what to do when you bring your new dog home

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