Pet Care Blog

Labrador Retriever Breed Guide: Characteristics, History & Care

Dr. Lila Batiari
Small Animal Relief Veterinarian
brown labrador retriever

The Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular dog breeds in the U.S. and around the world — and for good reason! Also known as Labradors or Labs, these ultra-lovable family dogs are the definition of “man’s best friend”. Adored for their gentle demeanor, playful nature, hard work ethic, and cute appearance, it might seem like Labs would make a great fit for any potential pet parent.

However, there are a few things you should know about America’s favorite sweetheart before making a commitment to add one to your family, as the Labrador Retriever has a few breed-specific traits that may require special care and attention.

Keep reading to find out more in our Labrador Retriever breed guide, or click on the links below to jump straight to a section of interest.

Table of Contents

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Labrador Retriever characteristics

Physical appearance

Labrador Retrievers are stocky, medium-sized dogs. On average, the weight of a full-grown Lab is between 55 and 85 pounds depending on gender and height, which is typically no more than 24 inches tall. Their heads are broad, featuring big, expressive eyes and wide set ears that drop down into the shape of a triangle.

Labradors have a thick, double coat made up of short, water-repellent fur that comes in a wide range of colors. You can find black Labs, brown Labs, yellow Labs, cream colors, and even pure white coats (although the albino gene is very rare and hard to come across, as are Fox Red Labrador Retrievers).

As born water dogs, Labs have a few unique traits that aid in swimming, such as a bushy “otter tail” and a long skin membrane between the toes (otherwise known as webbed paws).

happy yellow lab resting next to ball

Personality and temperament

The Labrador Retriever temperament makes for a fantastic family dog. While they typically require some training to tone down their natural exuberance, most of these dogs are very patient with children, friendly to strangers, and social around other dogs. They’re highly affectionate, easily trainable, aim to please, and love to play.

However, as extremely loving people-pleasers, Labs tend to have a high demand for attention and physical contact, which may be problematic for some if left alone for extended periods of time. They also have very high energy levels that require a considerable amount of activity. Without adequate exercise and mental stimulation, Labradors can become destructive.

These behaviors usually include digging, excessive barking, and inappropriate chewing. Chewing can also result from oral fixation due to their strong, innate urge to retrieve. Pet parents can correct these issues with dog training, rigorous exercise, and vet-approved dental chews.

Average lifespan

The average life expectancy for a Labrador Retriever is between 12 and 12.5 years. Recent studies suggest that chocolate Labradors live shorter, with lifespans averaging 10.7 years, which is significantly less than yellow and black Labs. There are many factors that influence the lifespan of Labradors, including diet, exercise, healthcare, and more.

Labrador Retriever care tips

Diet and nutrition

Labs require about 1.25 to 1.5 cups of dry dog food twice per day. However, the exact amount of food you should feed your dog will depend on their size, age, and activity level. Ask your veterinarian for a recommended feeding schedule, which you can expect to adjust for each phase of their development.

Most Labrador Retrievers love food and have trouble with self-regulation, so they can easily become overweight. This can lead to secondary health risks, such as diabetes or arthritis, and may significantly decrease their longevity. Therefore, it’s important for pet parents to watch their Lab’s food portions and, if necessary, work with a vet to dial in their optimal nutrition intake.

Training and exercise

Start training your Lab puppy at an early age to encourage their growth into a well-behaved adult. Early socialization will help your pet learn to be around other animals and unfamiliar people without being defensive or fearful. Labs are known for their intelligence and quick learning ability, so you should easily see positive results with a bit of time and dedication.

Labs are very energetic dogs, so they require lots of exercise every day. Their favorite activities are swimming and retrieving games like fetch, but they also enjoy participating in canine sports such as dock diving, tracking, and agility training. It should be noted that some Labs may work until they collapse at the point of exhaustion. Always remember to take regular water and rest breaks when playing to prevent heat stroke in dogs.


Labrador Retrievers have a thick, shorthaired coat that doesn’t require too much grooming — brushing once a week should be enough to keep shedding at bay. They’re typically light shedders, however, they do blow their undercoat twice per year during fall and spring, when daily brushing will be necessary to pull the large volume of fur.

Like most other dog breeds, their nails should be trimmed on a regular basis and teeth brushed regularly to maintain dental health. Labs also need occasional baths, especially for members of the breed who enjoy rolling around in smelly things — a behavior believed to be a vestige of their past, when they needed to conceal their scent as they stocked prey.

Labrador Retriever breed history

Labrador Retrievers originated in Newfoundland, an island off the coast of Canada. They were developed from the St. John’s dog, which is a combination of Newfoundlands and smaller water dogs.

In the early 18th century, Labs served as dutiful companions to the local fishermen by retrieving escaped fish. After noticing how useful they were, English sportsmen imported the breed to England around 1830 to serve as retrievers for hunting.

In the 1880s, Labrador Retrievers became extinct in Newfoundland due to dog taxes, but the English managed to preserve and develop the breed into the dog we know and love today. The \ American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed in 1917, which made its way back to North America when Labs came to the United States in the 1920s and ‘30s.

The breed became incredibly popular after World War II and by 1991, Labs were the most registered dog with the AKC — and they’ve held their position as one of America’s most popular dogs ever since.

Labs are still used as working dogs employed in a wide variety of jobs, from search and rescue to drug and explosive detection, service animals for those with disabilities to classic retrievers on the hunt. Of course, the breed also makes for excellent family dogs serving as man’s best friend.

black lab playing in water

Common Labrador Retriever health issues

All purebred dogs have a limited gene pool, which increases the risk of hereditary disease. Some dogs are more prone to breed-specific issues than others, and in comparison, Labs are generally healthy with few genetic disorders.

That being said, the Labrador Retriever breed is susceptible to elbow and hip dysplasia, as well as knee-related issues and eye problems like progressive retinal atrophy. The best way to prevent your pup from suffering from health issues is to visit your vet for annual exams that allow them to screen for diseases and detect potential concerns early-on to minimize damage that occurs.

Pro Tip: Labrador Retriever pet insurance is designed to protect your pup against these risks by providing access to gold-standard veterinary care, while also protecting your finances from the burden that can often come with unexpected vet bills. Depending on the plan you choose, you can get reimbursed for treatment costs related to both illnesses and injuries, so long as they do not exist at the time of enrollment.

Where to adopt or buy a Labrador Retriever

If you’d like to provide a forever home to a Labrador Retriever puppy, adult dog or seasoned senior, the Labrador Retriever Club can help connect you with a local rescue group in your area. They’re officially recognized by the AKC and maintain a directory of respectable breeders in every state, if you’re interested in buying a Lab puppy.

Not sure if this is the right dog for your lifestyle? You can consider other dog breeds similar to Labrador Retrievers in appearance, temperament, or activity level, such as the:

Other options for popular Lab-mixed breeds include:

Key Takeaways

  • One of the most popular dogs in the United States, Labrador Retrievers are friendly, loyal, and affectionate family dogs. They’re also very intelligent, patient, and hard-working companions, so they do well as service dogs.
  • Labradors are very easy to train and require little grooming, but they enjoy being active and require regular physical activity. Lack of exercise can result in destructive behavior and obesity. Watch out for their tendency to overeat
  • Labs are generally considered a healthy breed but they can be prone to certain conditions such as hip dysplasia and progressive retinal atrophy. Get in touch with your vet for more information on the prevention and treatment of potential health issues. Many pet parents opt for pet insurance, just in case.

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Dr. Lila Batiari, DVM

Dr. Lila Batiari
Small Animal Relief Veterinarian

Lila Batiari, DVM is a relief veterinarian located in San Diego, California. She has a special interest in nutrition, pain management, and surgery! Dr. Batiari enjoys working with Pawlicy Advisor to help others avoid everyday situations that some of her clientele experience. She realizes that expensive vet bills for treatment costs could be much easier for patients with pet insurance.

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