The Rise of The Labrador Retriever

For many people when the topic of history comes up it isn’t long before the eyes glaze over and the daydreams start. I am not one of those people. I love history and finding out what transpired “back in the day” and how that has influenced the world we live in now. Whether you have a dog or not I am sure you have heard someone somewhere extolling the virtues of breed standards and why having a purebred dog is much more preferable to having a mix breed dog, or mutt. Inevitably no matter who the person is making those type of comments, they seem to come across as having that stereotypical snobby English accent. For now I am going to avoid that controversial rabbit hole and focus solely on the history of the Labrador Retriever breed, where they came from and where they are now. I will try my best to not be that teacher we have all had who can make even the most interesting topics seem dull, but if you would rather skip the reading and watch a video instead then check out this one on Animal Planet. Actually you should check out the video no matter what, because there is a lot of really good information there. Get your cute fix with these adorable puppies then keep reading after the break. I know it will be hard to move on from them, but you can do it I believe in you!

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Welcome back! I knew you would keep reading and if anyone says I doubted you could make it past the puppy trap then they are completely crazy I would never say anything like that about you…

Moving on… Lets chat a bit about how the Labrador Retriever (Lab) came to be.

Despite its name the Labrador Retriever is not from the Labrador region at all, but rather was developed in Newfoundland. The forerunners for the modern Lab were bred from the Newfoundland breed of dogs and were referred to as the St. Johns Water Dog. These dogs were bred to help fisherman haul in fishing nets and catch fish that slipped off the hook so they need to be great swimmers who could work in all manner of temperatures and conditions.

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St. Johns Water Dog

These hardworking dogs were soon noticed by British settlers and some were imported to England to be used by aristocratic British sportsmen. These British nobles were significantly influential in sustaining and growing the breed, as well as developing them more closely into the breed we know and love today. The first documented reference to the Labrador Retriever came in England in 1839. Even though the dogs came from Newfoundland there was already a breed by that name, so they had to come up with a different name and it would seem that some British aristocrat said one day, “well its basically the same place so lets go with the Labrador dog no one will ever notice”!

Unfortunately the Labrador Retriever breed came very close to dying out in England, but was fortuitously saved with two last remaining dogs Ned (1882) and Avon (1885) who are believed to be the sires of the entire line of British Labs. While the original Labrador Retrievers were black in color, the need to grow the breed meant introducing some new bloodlines which resulted in Chocolate Labs (around 1892 – originally called Liver color) and Yellow Labs (around 1899).

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Ben of Hyde (1899) – The First Yellow Labrador Retriever

The growth of the Labrador Retriever from this point was fast and furious. The breed was recognized by the Kennel Club in England in 1903 where it had grown greatly in popularity for use in tracking, hunting, and retrieving. The American Kennel Club eventually followed suite by recognizing the Labrador Retriever breed in 1917, however, the breed had not become very popular in North America at that time. It wasn’t until the 1930’s when Americans really began to import Labs from England in order to discover their wide range of capabilities for themselves.

Around the mid 1900’s is when we begin to see American breeders seek to differentiate themselves from their British counterparts and develop a sleeker and slightly smaller Labrador Retriever that would become known as the American Lab. The difference between American and English Labs is a topic for another day, but is one that can be confusing and controversial. It was also around this time that yellow and chocolate Labs were beginning to be recognized and accepted among the dog world. Although they had already been around for 50 to 60 years, Black Labs were considered to be the ideal coloring while yellows and chocolates were less desirable. The color controversy was a hot topic for many years, but began to die down in the mid to late 1900’s, however, this is a topic which has become relevant again in the Labrador Retriever world as some breeders are beginning to introduce new “fancy” colored Labs to try and differentiate themselves from other breeders. Again this is a topic for another day!

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Now that Labrador Retrievers were becoming common in both North American and England the popularity of the breed exploded quickly and it has become the most popular dog breed in the world today! It didn’t take people long to figure out that Labs are one of the most versatile breeds out there and they have been successful doing almost any job that a dog can do from hunting, retrieving, tracking, search and rescue, service dogs, bomb and drug dogs, as well as just being a great family pet these dogs can truly do it all!

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