Pet of the Month: The Labrador

Pets can be an important part of your only child’s life. Taking care of a pet teaches responsibility and provides companionship. It’s often wonderful if a pet can grow up with your child, so that they become lifelong friends. The affectionate, fun-loving Labrador has a winning personality and makes an excellent family dog. He adores people, is rarely moody, tries his best to fit in, and his beautifully expressive face is his fortune. Sometimes his look is quizzical; he wonders how he can be so misunderstood. Then there are times when he seems to be smiling as broadly as Steve Martin doing a “wild and crazy guy” routine. He even has Forrest Gump days when he seems to be saying, “Hey, I may not be the brightest guy around, but I’m lovable.

The Labrador is not only lovable, but a bit of an irresistible imposter because he is actually not from Labrador at all. Originally he is descended from the Saint John’s water dog, which is native to the Saint John’s area of Newfound-land. Water dogs were bred for the characteristics necessary to perform strenuous work in cold water. Ultimately this led to a breed perfectly adapted to working in the icy waters around Newfoundland. Naturally, the Lab became a champion swimmer and brilliant retriever.

Cindy Braley, owner of Cinderhill Labradors in Placerville, California, writes in PetView Magazine that, “The Saint John’s water dog nearly became extinct, “due to a high tax on animals that were used for breeding. The breed was saved when the English gentry imported some water dogs that were perfect for gun dogs.” After further development, the breed ultimately became known as the Labrador Retriever. Having earned its reprieve, the breed returned to North America where it flourished and soon became the most popular of all field trial dogs.

The Labrador is a medium size dog with a strong, compact body and a tail so powerful it is sometimes said that the Lab uses it as a rudder when swimming. The Lab has an easy dispositon, but is happiest when receiving tons of attention and retrieving objects of any kind (frisbees, sticks, balls, etc.) Of course, if you have a swimming pool or live near a lake, your Lab will not wait for your permission or warm weather to take a swim. After all, his coat is better than a wet suit. Cindy Braley describes the Lab’s coat as, “a downy undercoat covered with a hard, oily, water-repelling outer coat.” This ultimate fur, comes in three designer colors: yellow, chocolate, and black. Braley notes that in a Labrador, yellow is considered any color from “fox-red to light cream. Chocolate may range from light sedge to dark chocolate.”

While the Labrador is sturdy, he is also susceptible to some diseases. Braley explains that, “Labradors are subject to some hereditary diseases. Orthopedic problems of the hips, shoulders, elbows, and hocks are the most prevalent. Labs are also subject to eye abnormalities and epilepsy. So it’s important to purchase your puppy only from a reputable breeder whose dogs don’t have these problems.”

Because the Lab has such an even disposition, he is often thought to be the “perfect” dog for children. In some respects this is correct, but the Lab is a large, very strong dog. If you have a toddler who throws his arms around a full grown Lab, you may soon have a toddler who has been flattened by an exuberant tail or a joyfully nuzzling head. In order to keep a Labrador happy and your home intact, you will want to make sure that you give the dog plenty of exercise (any kind of retrieving, long walks) and enroll him in obedience school. Because Labs are active and intelligent they get bored, and a bored young Labrador can quickly become your worst household nightmare. Labradors have been known to chew closets full of shoes, cartons of toilet paper, your couch…yum. They are also capable of digging up entire gardens in a day. Properly trained, the Lab can adapt to an active or even a rather quiet household and will become a dear friend if you respect this nature and fulfill his needs.