Complete Guide To The Labrador Retriever: Health, Exercise, Feeding and More

As down-to-Earth as the land for which they were named, Labrador Retrievers are America’s sweethearts. Remarkable dogs, their affable temperament and steadfast friendship have made them the most popular family dogs in the US for 24 consecutive years.

Labrador Retrievers are absolutely the most common breed of dog that I see in my veterinary practice. For the past 20 years I’ve come to know this breed extremely well.

How Big Do Labrador Retrievers Get?

Male22.5″ – 24.5″ at the shoulder65-80 lbs
Female21.5″ – 23.5″ at the shoulder55-70 lbs

What Do Labrador Retrievers Look Like?

Labs are robust and well-balanced with a lumbering carriage and a warm expression. They have a thick neck and broad shoulders.

Their thick, water-repellent coats come in three solid colors:

• Black
• Yellow
• Chocolate

Female dogs can have puppies of each color in a single litter. Eye color varies from hazel to brown. Ears are low set and hang forward to the edge of the eye. Their tails are a distinguishing feature — thick at the base and tapering to a round tip, they resemble an otter’s.

I see two main body types in Labs:

  • Taller, thinner body frame is more associated with what people call the “American” style of Lab used for hunting or field work of some kind
  • Stockier, thicker body frame that’s associated with dog shows (conformation)

What About Silver Labs?

“Silver” Labradors are brought about by a recessive gene that seems to be tied to a myriad of health issues. All reputable Labrador breeders will not sell or attempt to breed a “silver” Labrador due to the inferior genetics. They have more health issues than the other color Labs and just shouldn’t be bred. The national breed club for Labradors has an official stance that the silver variety isn’t a purebred Lab.

The last two “silver” Labs I’ve seen have had a multitude of health issues, the latest being a dwarf. That’s right – this little puppy started exhibiting signs of poor growth by the age of 4 months and is now the same size as it’s Corgi brother. He will have orthopedic issues for the rest of his life and who knows what else as time goes by.

As a veterinarian, I’m very passionate about not deliberately choosing an inferior dog. It’s a strong stance and will probably turn some readers off, but it’s my honest professional opinion.

What Is The Personality Of A Labrador Retriever?

Labrador Retrievers are clever, high-spirited dogs. Easy to please, they’re passionate about life — everything’s an adventure. Outgoing, they form tight bonds with their families but also like making new friends — they’re engaging companions but questionable guard dogs.

Beloved by families for their gentle nature, they’re trustworthy with children — comfortable in busy environments, they’re highly adaptable and travel well. Eager to please and naturally polite, early socialization and training nip their few bad habits in the bud. Labs are a good choice for most first-time dog owners.

How Much Exercise Does A Labrador Retriever Need?

Labs are tireless. Energetic, they thrive on human companionship and need active families to keep them busy. Bred to retrieve waterfowl, tracking and swimming are favorite activities — champion canine athletes, they excel in agility events and field trials.

Hunting dogs, they’re happiest outdoors. Long walks (an hour or more for most dogs) are adequate exercise, but an hour a day in a social setting like a dog park offers both physical and mental stimulation. Playful, they enjoy games that engage their instincts, such as fetch and hide-and-seek.

This is not a dog that will be happy left alone by itself all day long. A companion dog is great but you also may need to send your Lab to a day play setting or make sure you exercise him vigorously before you leave for the day.

Activities That I Recommend With This Breed:

  • Walking
  • Hiking (both walking and hiking can be done with your dog also wearing a weighted pack; the weight in the pack will help to tire your dog out faster; don’t do this if your dog has any orthopedic issues)
  • Swimming
  • Agility Training (these guys do great at this!!)
  • Dog Parks
  • Day Play

How Much Grooming Does A Labrador Retriever Need?

Dogs with short hair are straightforward to groom, but a Lab’s dense, double coat needs regular attention to look its best. They shed frequently with blowouts in the spring and fall. Naturally water- and soil-resistant, twice-weekly brushing with a slicker removes debris and thins their undercoat.

Labs are more vulnerable to doggy odor than some breeds. Though the scent is less unpleasant than it is earthy, it’s more pronounced when they’re damp. Bathe them as often as necessary to keep them clean and fresh, but use a gentle, pH-balanced shampoo made for dogs — harsh products will dry their skin and worsening shedding.

Most Labs get enough exercise to wear their nails down naturally, but if you hear them clicking on the floor, trim them with clippers or a grinding tool.

What Kind of Dog Food Is Good For A Labrador Retriever ?

Personally I believe that most foods are fine for most dogs. Some dogs may not do well on some foods. However, as a rule I don’t blanket-prohibit any dietary ingredient from any breed at this time.

This is a breed that requires a large-breed puppy food to help control growth. Growing too fast can cause growing pains and potentially developmental orthopedic issues. For this reason, I recommend to my Lab owners to switch to adult food at around 6 months of age.

Best Puppy Food For Labrador Retrievers:

Best Adult Food For Labrador Retrievers:

Please don’t listen to the folks at the pet store trying to convince you to buy a grain-free diet for your dog. There’s zero science behind that and vets are actually seeing diseases now related to feeding grain-free foods.

It’s very important they remain at their optimal weight throughout their life. Have your vet go over with you exactly where to feel to know when your dog is too big.

How Long Does A Labrador Retriever Live?

10-12 years according to information from the AKC

My experience is that many of my healthier Labradors can reach ages of 13-14 years of age. These guys usually just end up wearing out physically. Their advanced arthritis ends up leaving them unable to get up and move around on their own.

What Health Problems Can Labrador Retrievers Have?

I see so many Labs in my veterinary practice and unfortunately I see them a lot for issues they’re having. The breed itself is so overbred (a huge reason to go to a reputable breeder for the best possible dog) that certain health conditions are fairly synonymous with the breed:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • ACL Tears
  • Obesity
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Cancer

This is a breed that absolutely should have pet insurance at a young age. Check out my overview of pet insurance options here.

Where Can I Find Out More About The Labrador Retriever?

The Labrador Club (national breed club)

AKC Breed Page

There are a multitude of Labrador clubs all over the country. Check to see if there’s one in your area!

Where Can I Find A Labrador Retriever?

Before you start, check out this guide for how to select which puppy is right for you!

Breeder Listing from the Labrador Club

AKC Puppy Marketplace

How about a Rescue? There are dozens of them across North America where you can find an older Retriever in need of the proper home!

Interesting Facts About the Labrador Retriever

Despite their popularity, there are few surprising facts about America’s top breed.

Did you know?

They’re Not From Labrador

Labrador Retrievers hail from Newfoundland, not Labrador. Ancestors include the giant Newfie and a range of smaller breeds, including the extinct St. John’s water dog. No one knows exactly how Labrador became associated with the breed — there was a tendency for Brits to lump all Canadian territories together — but the name stuck.

They Almost Died Out

Labrador Retrievers disappeared in Canada in the late 1800s due to a combination of quarantine rules and new taxes on dogs. But Scottish enthusiasts saved the breed. They were further refined in Britain and were recognized by the English Kennel Club as a distinct breed in 1903.

One Went to Jail

Pep the Labrador was sentenced to life without parole in 1924, framed for killing Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot’s cat. He did ten years not-so-hard time at the Eastern State Penitentiary, becoming close friends with the warden and a mascot for prisoners.

Bosco Became Mayor

Black Lab mix, Bosco, beat out two humans to become honorary mayor of Sunol, California in 1981. Running as a Re’pup’lican, it’s a post he would hold until his passing in 1994.

• Their Nose Knows

Labrador retrievers have been trained to sniff out cancer. Ffoster, a Philadelphia Labrador Retriever can detect malignant tissue 90-percent of the time, helping doctors create new early-detection technology.

Dogs for the Blind

More than 70-percent of guide dogs for the blind are Labrador Retrievers. Adaptable and easily trained, they have the ideal size and temperament for the job.

Mystery Solved

Puzzled Led Zeppelin fans have always wondered why their hit “Black Dog” isn’t about dogs at all. It turns out a black Lab wandering the area found its way in the studio where the album Led Zepplin IV was being recorded — and the rest is history.