The Goldendale Sentinel - Headlines & History since 1879

By Diane Jessup
For The Sentinel 

Companion Animal: Meet the Breeds - Part 5: The Labrador Retriever

 

October 16, 2019

American Kennel Club

CHOOSE YOUR FLAVOR: The Labrador retriever-America's favorite dog-comes in a variety of colors.

For almost 30 years now, the American Kennel Club has annually registered more Labrador retrievers than any other breed. The Lab is, without question, America's favorite dog. The Lab's wide appeal is due to the genetics which make him a helpful bird dog. Bred in England to be a gentleman's shooting companion, the Lab was bred to be steady, completely obedient, and friendly to one and all. At English shoots the dog was, and still is, required to sit sedately beside his master during the excitement of the hunt-a decidedly difficult thing for a dog-and behave like a gentleman. Retrieving over great distances, the dog must take human direction by whistle and arm signal without question. Of course, he must be unaggressive to all dogs and humans on the field. Dogs with these traits are easy to live with.

And it doesn't hurt that the breed is handsome and comes in three distinct colors. Black is the most common followed by yellow, which comes in a variety of shades from "red" to "cream" to "white," though all fall under the heading of "yellow." Chocolate is least common, and the color is what is known in most breeds as "liver," a reddish brown.

A word about color: "dilute" genes fade a basic color, such as black, into charcoal, yellow into "champagne," and chocolate into "silver." There is quite a bit of rancor amongst Labrador fanciers concerning the recent "fad" in "silver labs," a color which first appeared in the 1950s. To those not familiar with the dog world, it is hard to understand how so much emotion could be spilled over the color of a dog, but there is substance to the concern.

The concern is two-fold: first, the idea that the color is due to cross breeding to the Weimeraner (a no-no in purebred dogs) in an effort to develop "pointing Labs." The smoking gun in this case appears to be the fact that Kellogg Kennels, the home of the "pointing Labs," was also the home of the first silver Labs. The Weimeraner, which has the dilute genes not found before in Labradors, is silver in color, points, and retrieves. While there is no proof of this cross, every single silver Lab traces back to two kennels (Culo and Beaver Creek) which both got their foundation dogs from Kellogg Kennels.

There are other ways the dilute gene could have gotten into the Labrador gene pool. In the early years of the breed, there was cross breeding between Labs and Chesapeake Bay retrievers (who carry the dilute gene), and, after all, the Lab is supposed to be closely related to the Newfoundland dog, who can, though it is quite rare, come in a grey color. At this point there is no way to know from whence exactly the silver color came.

The second concern-and it's a very real concern for all reputable breeders in all breeds-is the type of people who capitalize on some new, "rare" aspects of a breed, be it color, size, or just rarity of the breed itself. Serious, dedicated breeders do not favor fads within their beloved breeds. They do not seek to increase monetary rewards at the cost of breeding only for a specific popular fad trait. So, above the usual due diligence one should do when purchasing a fine dog, when looking for a dog with a "rare" trait, one must vigorously research the breeder's integrity and length of experience with the dogs.

Obtaining a Labrador from a reputable breeder or single breed rescue, you can be relatively assured that the dog will be "to type," that is, typical in appearance and temperament to what a Labrador is known for. But like any popular breed, there are many backyard breeders just putting any two dogs together and producing animals with health issues and atypical character. The only bite I received as a kid was from a nasty chocolate Labrador, the terror of the neighborhood and clearly a poorly bred animal. As always, it is best to see both parent dogs if possible, to assess their character.

One will often hear reference to types of Labradors, and like any working breed there is a significant division between those dogs bred specifically for show and those bred specifically for field trial or hunting work. One should decide which type best fits their needs; no need for a high powered, high energy field bred Labrador if you work 10 hours a day and then want to go home and crash. On the other hand, if you want a dog that will dock dive, do Frisbee, go hunting or jogging, you would be better served by the more athletic field bred dog. The shorter legged, heavily built show type Labradors are often called English Labradors. The longer legged, thinner built, much more active Labs are called field bred.

There is a difference. Field bred Labs can be hyper, to put it mildly. They can be a bit harder to train, as American competitors have moved away from breeding for docile dogs to just relying on shock collars to bring the dogs under control. Which is a shame, as one of the Labrador's most outstanding features is its inbred willingness to please. Shock collars are not legal in the UK, so breeders work to keep eagerness to please foremost in their dogs. Show or English bred Labradors can have more health issues than the field bred dogs and if not kept slim can tire easily due to their shorter legs and excess bulk.

All Labradors shed, and I don't mean maybe. When my beloved first dog, Arrow, a yellow Labrador, passed away, I was picking her stiff yellow hairs out of my socks and car seats two years later. Please take this into consideration when choosing your dog.

Labradors are a joy, and there is ample reason they are America's favorite purebred dog. Bred correctly they are healthy, friendly, tolerant, long lived, and intelligent. They can go anywhere and do just about anything. They are a fine choice for Klickitat County, being weather-proof, good bird dogs, great hiking companions, and gentle watchdogs.

For those who wish to consider buying a Labrador from a legitimate rescue organization, I recommend Puget Sound Labrador Retriever Association's rescue program. It is always advisable to go through a breed-specific rescue, as the folks you will be working with are familiar with the breed and are supported by a club, so they are not monetarily motivated for survival. PSLRA's rescue works in tandem with the highly reputable Seattle Purebred Dog Rescue and can be reached by contacting Edith Bryan at e.bryan760@gmail.com or contacting SPDR. If you prefer to purchase a well-bred puppy, PSLRA members can steer you in the right direction for that as well.

 

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