Working Wednesday Breed Focus: The Labrador Retriever

For many of our customers with working dogs, August 12th signified the beginning of their busy season. Every Wednesday, we will be focusing on a different working breed to discuss, starting with probably the most popular of all pedigree breeds, the Labrador Retriever.

The Labrador belongs to the Gundog Breed Group, which consists of dogs that were originally trained to find live game and/or to retrieve game that had been shot and wounded. This group is divided into four categories - Retrievers, Spaniels, HPR (Hunt/Point/Retrieve), Pointers and Setters.

Labrador Fun Facts

  • They have an 'otter like' tail for propelling through water

  • They have pronounced webbing on their paws for swimming

  • Their layered, oily coat helps to keep them insulated and repel water

  • They have a 'soft mouth' to gently carry without causing damage

  • They are intelligent dogs and have a great capacity to learn

The Labrador is the most popular of the retriever breeds; they make wonderful companion dogs in our homes, service dogs and also hunting companions. According to the UK Kennel Club, the breed originates from Newfoundland, which from the 16th century was renowned for the fishing industry with well-established trading routes between England and Canada.

"Dogs were used there to help fishermen retrieve nets and lost lines and pull carts loaded with fish. The Newfoundland dogs were smaller than they are today and a smaller variety was known as the St John’s dog. It is thought that these breeds crossed with hunting dogs taken to Newfoundland by English traders and fishermen formed the basis for the modern Labrador."

Some of the dogs resulting from this breeding were taken back to England where their retrieving skills were recognised by the sporting gentry. One of the early patrons of the breed, the Earl of Malmesbury gave the breed its name. The first breed club was founded in 1916.

Photo Credit: Pennine Training Area

Working Labradors and Show Labradors can look distinctly different, with working dogs having a much leaner appearance than the heavier, often shorter legged show standard. The only Kennel Club recognised colours for Labradors are black, yellow and chocolate. Yellows may range from light cream to fox red.

Working Labradors

Field Trials and Working Tests were developed to test the working ability of Gundogs in competitive conditions. As closely as possible, Field Trials resemble a day's shooting and dogs are expected to work with all manner of game, from rabbits and hares, to partridges and pheasants.

Field Trials are hugely popular and there are hundreds of gundog clubs throughout the UK and Ireland hosting trials and attracting vast amounts of competitors. In the UK, the International Gundog League Retriever Society hold a Retriever Championship each year, where the top handlers and their dogs compete to be crowned the winner. There is also a Cocker Spaniel Championship, an English Springer Spaniel Championship, a HPR Championship annually.

Find out more about Field Trials & Working Tests here.

Labradors are also known for their role as Guide Dogs and play a vital role in supporting blind people by allowing them to have more access to their community and live a more independent life. WuffitMix are proud patrons of the European Guide Dog Federation who are dedicated to gaining better access rights and equal citizenship for international guide dog users.

Less well known, but equally as important, are a range of other services performed by Labradors;

  • Assistance Dogs for the Disabled

  • Sniffer / Drug Detection Dogs

  • Service Dogs for the Armed Forces

  • Bug Detection Dogs

  • Medical Detection Dogs

If you like a good read, we can recommend several Labrador related books:

  • "Daisy’s Gift: The remarkable cancer-detecting dog who saved my life" by Claire Guest

  • "Jill's Leading Ladies; The Story of Jill's Six Guide Dogs" by Jill Allen-King OBE

  • "Just Jill; The Autobiography of Jill Allen-King" by Jill Allen-King OBE

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