A good place to start is to see what the American Kennel Club has to say about the breed. Some of this information is a bit technical, and utilized to judge dogs in the show ring. Most prospective adoptive families just want to know the personality, size and color of a Labrador Retriever, but you may find some of it interesting.
The Labrador Retriever is a strongly built, medium-sized, short-coupled dog possessing a sound, athletic, well-balanced conformation that enables it to function as a retrieving gun dog; the substance and soundness to hunt waterfowl or upland game for long hours under difficult conditions; the character and quality to win in the show ring; and the temperament to be a family companion. Physical features and mental characteristics should denote a dog bred to perform as an efficient retriever of game with a stable temperament suitable for a variety of pursuits beyond the hunting environment.
The most distinguishing characteristics of the Labrador Retriever are its short, dense, weather-resistant coat; an "otter" tail; a clean-cut head with a broad back and moderate stop; powerful jaws; and its "kind" friendly eyes, expressing character, intelligence, and good temperament.
Above all, a Labrador Retriever should be well-balanced, enabling it to move in the show ring or work in the field with little or no effort. The typical Labrador Retriever possesses style and quality without over refinement, and substance without lumber or cloddiness. The Labrador Retriever is bred primarily as a working gun dog; structure and soundness are of great importance.
True Labrador Retriever temperament is as much a hallmark of the breed as the "otter" tail. The ideal disposition is one of a kindly, outgoing, tractable nature; eager to please and non-aggressive towards man or animal. The Labrador Retriever has much that appeals to people; his gentle ways, intelligence, and adaptability make him an ideal dog. Aggressiveness towards humans or other animals is atypical of this breed.
Size, Proportion, and Substance
Size - The height at the withers for a dog is 22.5 to 24.5 inches; for a bitch is 21.5 to 23.5 inches. Any variance greater than 0.5 inch above or below these heights is a disqualification in the show ring. Approximate weight of dogs and bitches in working condition: dogs 65 to 80 pounds; bitches 55 to 70 pounds. The minimum height and weight range shall not apply to dogs and bitches under 12 months of age.
Proportion - Short-coupled; length from the point of the shoulder to the point of the rump is equal to or slightly longer than the distance from the withers to the ground. Distance from the elbow to the ground should be equal to one half of the height at the withers. The brisket should extend to the elbows, but not perceptibly deeper. The body must be of sufficient length to permit a straight, free and efficient stride; but the dog should never appear low and long or tall or leggy in outline.
Substance - Substance and bone should be proportionate to the overll dog. Light, "weedy" individuals are definitely incorrect; equally objectionable are cloddy, lumbering specimens. Labrador Retrievers should be shown in working condition, well-muscled and without excess fat.
The coat is a distinctive feature of the Labrador Retriever. It should be short, straight, and very dense, giving a fairly hard feeling to the hand. The Labrador Retriever should have a soft, weather resistant undercoat that provides protection from water, cold, and all types of ground cover. A slight wave down the back is permissible. Wooly coats, soft silky coats, and sparse slick coats are not typical of the breed, and should be penalized in the show ring.
The Labrador Retriever coat colors are black, yellow and chocolate. Any other color or a combination of colors is a disqualification in the show ring. A small white spot on the chest is permissable. White hairs from aging or scarring are not to be misinterpreted as brindling. Black - Blacks are all black. A black with brindle markings or a black with tan markings is a disqualification in the show ring. Yellow - Yellows may range in color from fox-red to light cream, with variations in shading on the ears, back, and underparts of the dog. Chocolate - Chocolates can vary in shade from light to dark chocolate.
What is a Labrador Retriever really like?
What can you expect from your Labrador Retriever? We like to break this topic into two separate parts. First, there are certain qualities that everyone would get when they adopt a Labrador Retriever, and second, there are Labrador Retrievers that can be extraordinary if you are willing to work with and train them.
First, pretty much everyone that adopts a Labrador Retriever or a Lab mix is going to get a great dog that is devoted to his family and eager to please. As a breed, they are very gentle and have a great temperament, and are almost always good with kids and other animals. They adjust well to a new family, and if you love them they will give you ten times the love in return. They really don't ask for much; being a member of your "pack" is really all they want. Most labs will like to carry things in their mouths, and love to play fetch. They are very intelligent, and learn basic commands quickly.
If you are willing to work with your Labrador Retriever or Lab mix, the things they can do are amazing. They love water. After all, they were originally bred to fetch in the water. After a while, they can become expert swimmers, and use their webbed feet and otter tail to move effortlessly in the water. They can also become very good frisbee dogs. It just goes along with the desire to fetch. If you have never seen a Lab sky to snag a frisbee, it is a sight that will amaze you and all the people around you. You can train them to fetch the morning paper. Why would you want to go out in the cold? Make it their job! Labs also excel at agility and flyball competition. And if you get a "special one," they can even compete with those Border Collies.
In short, in our opinion, there is no better dog on earth than a Labrador Retriever. It is no wonder that for four consecutive years Labrador Retrievers were voted America's favorite dog. If you choose to adopt one, you'll never regret it.
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