What About - Labrador Retrievers

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What About - Labrador Retrievers

What About? Labrador Retrievers Karla Rugh, D.V.M., Ph.D. This book is printed on acid-free paper. ∞ Copyright © 2004

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What About? Labrador Retrievers Karla Rugh, D.V.M., Ph.D.

This book is printed on acid-free paper. ∞ Copyright © 2004 by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey All photos copyright © 2004 by Kent and Donna Dannen Howell Book House Published by Wiley Publishing, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey Published simultaneously in Canada No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, (978) 750-8400, fax (978) 646-8600, or on the web at www. copyright.com. Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Legal Department, Wiley Publishing, Inc., 10475 Crosspoint Blvd., Indianapolis, IN 46256, (317) 572-3447, fax (317) 572-4447. Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: While the publisher and the author have used their best efforts in preparing this book, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this book and specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales representatives or written sales materials. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher nor the author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. For general information about our other products and services, please contact our Customer Care Department within the United States at (800) 762-2974, outside the United States at (317) 572-3993 or fax (317) 572-4002. Wiley also publishes its books in a variety of electronic formats. Some content that appears in print may not be available in electronic books. For more information about Wiley products, visit our web site at www.wiley.com. ISBN: 0-7645-4088-2 Printed in the United States of America 10












What Kind of Dog Is a Labrador Retriever?


What Are Labrador Retrievers Like?



What Should I Know About Getting a Labrador Retriever?



What Should I Feed My Labrador Retriever?



What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever? 64


How Healthy Are Labrador Retrievers?


How Should I Groom My Labrador Retriever?



What Does Training a Labrador Retriever Involve?


What Do Labrador Retrievers Do for Fun?


How Can I Learn More?











What Kind of Dog Is a Labrador Retriever?


What is a Labrador Retriever? Are there differences between hunting Labs and show Labs? Can I get a mini-Lab? What color Lab should I get? How long do Labs live? How long do Labs stay puppies? Where do Labs come from? Are modern Labs very different from early Labs? How has the Lab’s working background influenced his temperament? What are Labs used for today? Are Labs a popular breed? What type of personality does a Lab have? What are 10 good reasons to get a Lab? What are 10 good reasons not to get a Lab? What type of person makes a good Lab owner? What does a Lab need?


What Are Labrador Retrievers Like?


What makes my Lab act like a Lab? What is pack mentality? Why do I have to learn why my Lab behaves the way she does? How do Labs communicate? Would I relate well to a Lab? What is a Lab’s temperament generally like? How does a typical Lab puppy act? What can I expect from an adult Lab?



How do senior Labs behave? What is it like to have a pet Lab?


What Should I Know About Getting a Labrador Retriever?


What do I need to know about getting a Lab? What are the responsibilities of being a Lab owner? What choices do I have in selecting a Lab? How much does a Lab cost? How do I know my Lab is purebred? What are papers? Where can I get a Lab? How do I pick out a good puppy? How can I tell if an adult Lab is healthy? What are some of the reasons people give up their Labrador Retrievers?


What Should I Feed My Labrador Retriever?


Does it matter what I feed my Lab? What types of nutrition-related health problems occur in Labs? What does my Lab need to eat to be healthy? How do I feed my Lab a nutritionally sound diet? Are there different types of completely balanced dog food? Can I feed my Lab table food? What should I look for on a dog food label? What kind of diet does a Lab puppy need to be healthy? What kind of diet does a senior Lab need to be healthy? How much food does my Lab need? How often should I feed my Lab?



How often should I give my Lab water? How much will it cost to feed my Lab? What are the typical feeding mistakes that Lab owners make?


What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever? 64 What does my Lab need in the house? How do I make my home safe for my Lab? What equipment and supplies will I need for my Lab? What kind of feeding equipment do I need for my Lab? What type of collar and leash should I get for my Lab? What are the best types of toys for Labs? What rules of the house should I have for my Lab? Will I be able to leave my Lab home alone while I work? Can I keep my Lab inside, or do I need a yard? What does my Lab need when he’s outside? How can I keep my Lab safe outdoors? How can I keep my Lab comfortable when he’s outside? How much exercise does a Lab need?


How Healthy Are Labrador Retrievers? Are Labs generally healthy dogs? What do I need to do to keep my Lab in good health? How do I find a veterinarian? Why does my Lab need regular veterinary care if she’s in good health? How much will it cost a year to keep my Lab healthy? What is an immunization? Why are immunizations important? What are internal parasites? Why is it important to control internal parasites?




What are external parasites? Why is it necessary to control external parasites? Why should I have my Lab spayed or neutered? What are the most common health problems seen in Labs? How can I tell if my Lab is sick or injured?


How Should I Groom My Labrador Retriever?


What type of grooming care does my Lab need? What are the characteristics of a Lab’s coat, and how will they affect the way I groom my dog? How much time will I need to spend on grooming? What type of equipment will I need for grooming? What will happen if I don’t groom my Lab regularly? Do Labs tend to be smelly? Why do I need to brush my Lab? Why is bathing important? Will I have to trim my Lab’s nails? Why is it important to take care of my Lab’s ears? What type of dental care will my Lab need?


What Does Training a Labrador Retriever Involve? Why is training my Lab important? What do I need to know about Labs for training purposes? Are Labs easy to train? Can I train my Lab when she’s a puppy? What effect does a Lab’s strength have on training? What techniques should I use to train my Lab? Will my Lab enjoy training sessions? When should I start training my Lab?




What should I teach my Lab? How much time will it take to teach my Lab basic manners and obedience commands? How can I learn how to train my Lab?


What Do Labrador Retrievers Do for Fun?


What types of activities can I do with my Lab? What do I need to know about walking and jogging with my Lab? Can I go swimming with my Lab? What are some games that my Lab and I will like? What do dog clubs do? What is the Canine Good Citizen program? What types of competitions can my Lab and I enter? How can I get started in an organized dog sport? What types of service activities do Labs participate in?

How Can I Learn More?


Labrador Retriever Clubs Purebred Dog Clubs Hunting Dog Clubs Activity Organizations Health Organizations Service Organizations Books



1 What Kind of Dog Is a Labrador Retriever? What is a Labrador Retriever? • Are there differences between hunting Labs and show Labs? • Can I get a mini-Lab? • What color Lab should I get? • How long do Labs live? • How long do Labs stay puppies? • Where do Labs come from? • Are modern Labs very different from early Labs? • How has the Lab’s working background influenced his temperament? • What are Labs used for today? • Are Labs a popular breed? • What type of personality does a Lab have? • What are 10 good reasons to get a Lab? • What are 10 good reasons not to get a Lab? • What type of person makes a good Lab owner? • What does a Lab need?



What About Labrador Retrievers?

What is a Labrador Retriever? The Labrador Retriever is a medium-size (weight 55 to 80 pounds, height 211⁄2 to 241⁄2 inches) dog characterized by a dense, water-resistant coat, a thick otter tail and a clean-cut, broad head with a friendly facial expression. A sporting breed, Labrador Retrievers are active, athletic dogs who need regular exercise for optimal mental and physical health. These people-oriented dogs also require substantial amounts of human companionship. Labs may be black, yellow or chocolate brown. Labs have easycare coats but do shed seasonally. Labs have webbed feet for swimming.

What is an otter tail? An otter tail is thick at the base (where it connects to the body) and gradually tapers to the tip. The otter tail—one of the distinctive features of the Labrador Retriever—is described in great detail in the breed standard (the official description of the ideal Lab). It can also be a source of great consternation to Lab owners, as an exuberantly wagged otter tail can clear a coffee table in a matter of seconds.

What is a retriever? A retriever is a dog who brings back game birds that a hunter has killed. The job is more complicated than it sounds. Let’s take a look at what Tucker, a five-year-old Lab, has to do when he hunts with Dale, his owner. First, Tucker watches as Dale shoots so he can see where the bird falls. Next, he waits until Dale tells him to retrieve the bird. Tucker then has to find the bird, which may involve navigating through rough terrain or water. If Tucker saw the bird fall, he probably won’t have much difficulty finding it. If he didn’t see the bird fall—or for some other reason cannot find it—he’ll have to rely on signals from Dale to locate the bird. Tucker must then bring the bird back without damaging it. The soft mouth of a retriever (his ability—and propensity—to carry something in his mouth without mangling it) is an important quality for his success as a hunter. Tucker must surrender the bird to Dale upon command. The Lab is just one type of retriever. The American Kennel Club (AKC) also recognizes five other retriever breeds: Flat-Coated Retrievers,

What Kind of Dog Is a Labrador Retriever?


Curly-Coated Retrievers, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, Golden Retrievers and Scotia Duck-Tolling Retrievers. Most of the spaniels also retrieve game, as do Standard Poodles. Worldwide, there are many other retriever breeds that are not recognized by the AKC.

Are there differences between hunting Labs and show Labs? Yes. Although all Labs share a hunting heritage, not every modern-day Lab is a hunter. In fact, hunting and show Labs differ not only in hunting ability but also in physical traits and temperament.

What are the characteristics of hunting Labs? Function—that is, the ability to hunt—is of foremost importance to the breeder of field Labs. The dog’s appearance is secondary to his hunting ability. Hunting Labs don’t always conform physically to the Labrador Retriever breed standard. Labs bred to hunt often have the following characteristics: • Long legs, in proportion to their body size • Lean, athletic build • Narrower skull than that of the typical show Lab • Intense desire to hunt and retrieve (often referred to as birdiness) • High energy The temperament of the hunter is an important quality. The hunting Lab must be able to get along well with others. He must be willing to work with a human partner, and he must be comfortable working in the company of other dogs.

What are the characteristics of show Labs? In order to compete successfully in conformation dog shows, show Labs must typify as closely as possible the Labrador Retriever breed standard. Thus, breeders of show Labs emphasize physical correctness over hunting


What About Labrador Retrievers?

ability. As with hunting Labs, temperament is still of the utmost importance. Compared to hunting Labs, the typical show Lab generally has the following characteristics: • Shorter legs • Heavier bone structure • Broader head • Less interest in hunting or retrieving • Less ability to handle the mental and physical stresses of hunting • A more easygoing, laid-back personality

Will this matter to me when I go looking for a pet Lab? It might. You’ll need to consider both the physical and temperamental differences in the two types of Labs. If you know that you’re not ever going to hunt with or show your Lab, it won’t matter which type of dog you get, but you’ll still need to decide which personality traits you prefer.

How will I know what the Lab I’m considering has been bred to do? You probably won’t, if you get your Lab from a backyard breeder or the pet store. However, a responsible breeder will be able to tell you exactly what her Labs have been bred to do—and provide you with a list of accomplishments for the puppy’s relatives for several generations back too. The breeder will also be able to tell you if the sire (father) and dam (mother) have any unique talents and abilities (such as assistance dog or search and rescue experience).

Can I get a mini-Lab? Yes and no. There is no such animal as a Miniature Labrador, like a Miniature Poodle. According to the Labrador Retriever breed standard, male Labs are supposed to be 221⁄2 to 241⁄2 inches in height (at the shoulder) and weigh 65 to 80 pounds. Females are expected to be a bit smaller, ranging in height from 211⁄2 to 231⁄2 inches and weighing 55 to 70 pounds.

What Kind of Dog Is a Labrador Retriever?


Not every Lab perfectly matches the ideal. Some rather petite (for a Lab) females may be only about 20 inches tall and weigh 45 pounds. A very large male may be 26 inches tall and weigh close to 100 pounds. So it’s definitely possible to find a Lab who’s on the small (or the large) side.

What color Lab should I get? A Lab’s color doesn’t affect his suitability as a companion, so the choice is simply one of taste. Black has always been the most common color. Yellows and chocolates were found in early Labs, but apparently black was the most popular color for many generations. Some early breeders viewed yellow and chocolate Labs as inferior and possibly the result of crossbreeding. Because of this, yellows and chocolates either were not bred or, in extreme cases, were destroyed at birth.

Are Labs always a solid color? According to the breed standard, a Lab may have a small white spot on his chest, but it is not considered a desirable characteristic. No other white markings are permitted.

Are golden Labs the same as yellow Labs? There’s no such thing as a golden Lab. In Labrador Retrievers, all shades of yellow or gold—from nearly white to fox-red—are correctly referred to as yellow. For some reason, Golden Retrievers—a different breed—are always referred to as “golden,” regardless of their hue.

How long do Labs live? Canine life span is determined by many factors, such as breed, genetic makeup, diet, health care and lifestyle/environmental considerations. Some factors, like breed (assuming you have your heart set on a Lab) and genetic make-up are difficult to modify. However, the owner has a great deal of influence on factors related to the physical care of the dog. With adequate nutrition, appropriate health care and a safe environment—all provided by a conscientious owner—a Labrador Retriever can usually be expected to live for about 12 to 14 years.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

How long do Labs stay puppies? That depends on whether you’re referring to physical or mental development. Labs, like most dogs, are physically mature by about 12 to 18 months of age. Although most dogs reach mental maturity at about this same time, many Labs don’t lose their puppyish behaviors and attitudes until they’re about two to three years old. (Some Labs never seem to completely grow up.)

Where do Labs come from? The name “Labrador Retriever” is a bit of a misnomer—the breed was actually developed in Newfoundland, not Labrador. Historians believe English fishermen brought Lab predecessors to Newfoundland in the late 15th century. These dogs were used to retrieve fish and fishing lines back to the boats. These early fishing dogs had to be very athletic and extremely hardy, because the fishermen often fished for many hours in the cold Atlantic waters. It’s quite likely that early Labs were also used for hunting. Whether the hunting skills were already developed in the dogs brought to Newfoundland or whether they were developed after the dogs arrived in North America is not known. After their development in the New World, Labs were exported back to England in the 18th century, where they were used extensively for hunting. The breed was introduced in the United States during World War I. The Labrador Retriever was officially recognized as a breed by the British Kennel Club in 1903. In the United States, the breed was granted American Kennel Club recognition in 1917.

Are modern Labs very different from early Labs? Today’s Labs share a number of similarities with their early ancestors. Some of these similarities are physical, such as size, build and coat characteristics. Other similarities are behavioral traits, such as independence, resourcefulness and overall attitude. Regardless of whether the trait is

What Kind of Dog Is a Labrador Retriever?


physical or behavioral, most of them seem to have been strongly influenced by the Lab’s working background.

How has the Lab’s working background influenced his temperament? People-oriented: Early Labs not only shared their owners’ work, they shared their homes and families as well. This resulted in dogs who were devoted to their humans and needed human companionship. Independent: Early working Labs had to be willing to leave their human companions and retrieve ropes, fish or game on their own. This type of self-reliance may account for the independent— or even stubborn—attitude of the Lab. Boredom threshold: Early Labs worked hard. The jobs were strenuous and the conditions were challenging. Today’s Labs have an easier life, but they often become bored without adequate mental stimulation and regular vigorous exercise. Resourcefulness: Early Labs had to be resourceful to accomplish their work of retrieving fish, ropes or birds. Today’s Lab— especially when bored—may use this resourcefulness in less productive ways, such as devising an ingenious method to escape from confinement. Retrieving ability: Retrieving—whether for fish or game—was the first Lab job. Because the best retrievers made the best working (and hunting) partners, this trait was undoubtedly the focus of selective breeding. Today’s Lab, even if bred primarily for show rather than hunting, still has a highly developed retrieval instinct and will often retrieve any objects that are handy, such as bowls, toys or clothing. Love of water: Labs have been swimming for more than 500 years, starting out in the frigid waters of Newfoundland. As hunting dogs, they were undeterred by water, plunging right in to bring back downed waterfowl. Is it really any wonder that today’s Labs still love water?


What About Labrador Retrievers?

What are Labs used for today? Today’s Labs have many jobs, but the most important one is that of a companion. In fact, Lab-human companionship is an integral part of every other Lab job. Since his earliest origins, the Lab has lived and worked side-by-side with his human partners, so it’s not surprising that today’s Labs excel at jobs that require close interaction with people. In addition to being kept as pets, Labs are also used for hunting, assistance/therapy work, search and rescue and detection work. For more information on these activities, see Chapter 9.

Are there any jobs that Labs can’t do? Labs do many things well, but they’re not suited for every canine job. For example, Labs don’t make good guard dogs—they’re just too friendly! Like most dogs, they’ll probably bark at suspicious noises or intruders, but that’s pretty much the extent of their guard dog efforts. You won’t find many Labs pulling dogsleds either. Not that they couldn’t; they just wouldn’t do it as well as Siberian Huskies or Malamutes. Likewise, Labs don’t excel at herding—that’s a job best left to dogs like Border Collies and Old English Sheepdogs, who have been selectively bred for that skill.

Are Labs a popular breed? According to the American Kennel Club, the Labrador Retriever has been the most popular dog breed in the United States since 1990. There are more than one million Labs in the United States, with more than 150,000 new registrations per year. That’s a lot of Labs!

Why do so many people want to have a Lab? A number of Lab characteristics, such as friendliness, gentleness and intelligence, contribute to the breed’s popularity. These are traits that people often look for when selecting a dog for a pet. These same qualities

What Kind of Dog Is a Labrador Retriever?


make Labs well suited to work as guide dogs, hearing dogs and other service/therapy dogs. At the same time, the breed’s hunting ability and athleticism appeal to sportsmen. Obviously, a lot of people like Labs, but that doesn’t mean that a Lab is the perfect dog for everyone. In fact, characteristics that would seem to be desirable might actually be undesirable in certain cases. For example, a friendly, people-oriented dog would probably not be the best choice for someone who wanted a guard dog. An active, athletic dog may require more exercise than an elderly owner could provide. Choosing any dog simply because it’s a popular breed doesn’t make sense at all—it’s a little like choosing your favorite food based on what everyone else likes to eat! Every prospective dog owner should invest the time and effort to find their own most popular breed—the one that best suits their personality and lifestyle, not those of their neighbor or anyone else.

Have Labs always been popular? No. Ten years after the AKC first recognized Labs as a breed, there were fewer than 30 of them in the United States. The numbers gradually increased but dropped off during World War II. The popularity of Labs rose steadily after that, and the breed achieved AKC number one status in 1990.

What type of personality does a Lab have? In general, Labs are friendly, gentle and intelligent. They are also peopleoriented dogs who enjoy spending time with their human companions. Labs can also be stubborn, so training requires patience and persistence. Active and athletic, Labs are happiest when they get plenty of vigorous exercise every day. Their love of exercise and hunting instincts may lead them to roam if not confined. Without human companionship and daily exercise, Labs often entertain themselves by developing destructive habits such as digging, chewing or Houdini-like escape attempts.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

What are 10 good reasons to get a Lab? 1. You want a companion. Labs crave human companionship and would gladly spend every minute of every day with their owners.

2. You want a dog to share outdoor activities with. Labs enjoy just about any type of outdoor recreation, especially if it involves spending time with their human companions.

3. You want a hunting dog who can do more than just hunt. After a day spent showing off his hunting ability in the field, the Labrador Retriever can easily switch from hunter to family pet.

4. You want a dog who will be gentle with your children. Gentleness is a major personality trait of the Lab. (However, a young child should never be left unsupervised with a dog—for the protection of both the child and the dog.)

5. You want a dog who doesn’t require a lot of grooming beyond brushing and an occasional bath. The Lab’s short, dense coat is good-looking, nicely tailored and—best of all—low maintenance.

6. You want a dog who enjoys having a job. From fishing in 15thcentury Newfoundland to search and rescue in modern-day New York City, Labrador Retrievers have always been working dogs. They’re happiest when they’ve got a job to do—even if it’s just working on basic obedience commands. If they can work side by side with their favorite person, so much the better.

7. You want a dog who exudes puppylike enthusiasm. Labs take a long time to mature mentally, so a Lab who looks like an adult may still be a puppy at heart. Even after they’ve outgrown puppy behaviors, many Labs seem to retain an enthusiastic “What a great world!” attitude more typical of puppies than adults. If you want a dog who will joyfully participate in whatever it is you’re doing, the Lab is a good choice for you.

8. You want a dog who’s friendly and people-oriented. No doubt about it: Labs are people dogs. They like working with people, playing with people, just hanging around with people. And not just their own families—the Lab’s good-natured sociability usually extends to friends, neighbors and new acquaintances as well.

What Kind of Dog Is a Labrador Retriever?


9. You want a dog who’s energetic. Like young children, Labs seem to have boundless energy. You’ll probably wear out before your Lab does!

10. You want a dog who’s sturdy and athletic. Labs are not known for their delicate refinement, but for their robust athleticism. Bred for hard physical work, the Lab is well equipped to handle—and even relish—the rigors of even the most active family.

What are 10 good reasons not to get a Lab? 1. Labs are active, energetic dogs. If you prefer to spend your free time reading or doing needlepoint, a Lab probably isn’t the best dog for you (unless you can read and/or stitch while jogging!).

2. Hair today . . . and tomorrow. Labs shed more than you might expect, given their relatively short coat.

3. Labs can be chewers. Just about every puppy chews, but some Labs chew their way through adulthood too.

4. Labs stay puppies for a long time. Most dogs mature physically and mentally by about one year of age. Labs mature physically by then as well, but mental maturation can take up to 12 to 18 months longer. The result? A puppy with the size, strength and energy of an adult dog.

5. Labs are at risk for a number of inherited diseases. Most breeds have their share of inherited diseases, but Labs are susceptible to several that can cause serious health problems such as blindness, muscle abnormalities and crippling lameness. Although testing and certification programs have reduced the incidence of certain inherited diseases, parental certification does not guarantee that the puppies will be healthy.

6. Labs can be stubborn. You’ll need patience and persistence to convince a Lab to do things your way. (Some people think the term “blockhead” refers to more than just the shape of the Lab’s noggin.)


What About Labrador Retrievers?

7. Labs aren’t neat freaks. To a water-loving Lab, that gloppy stuff isn’t mud, it’s really just water thickened with a little dirt! And— generous dog that he is—he’ll be happy to bring it right into the house to share with you. If you don’t think you’d like to experience nature in quite this way, you probably should pass up a Lab in favor of a dog who’s more fastidious.

8. Labs can be gluey. A Lab’s idea of companionship is spending every minute of every day with their favorite human. That’s more togetherness than many people can tolerate.

9. Labs like to retrieve things. They’re retrievers—they’re supposed to like retrieving things. But you might not appreciate your Lab’s innate talent when he starts retrieving your shoes, your car keys and the neighbor’s lawn ornaments.

10. Labs are big. (Some people say that Labs are “larger than they look.”) Labs aren’t considered large dogs, but even a medium-size Lab can knock over a toddler. A Lab can seem huge if your house is small and he’s bouncing around asking to go for a walk.

What type of person makes a good Lab owner? Good dog owners often share many of the same characteristics, but some traits may be of greater importance depending on the chosen breed. In general, good Lab owners are: Committed: A responsible dog owner must be committed to taking care of the dog for his lifetime—12 or more years in the case of the Lab. And it’s a lot like marriage—for better or worse, in sickness and in health. . . . Active: Labs are active, athletic dogs who do best with owners who can keep up with them—or who, if they can’t, are willing to make the necessary arrangements to ensure that their Labs get adequate exercise.

What Kind of Dog Is a Labrador Retriever?


Firm, but kind: Labs, like all dogs, require training and discipline. An owner who clearly indicates what is expected, then rewards the correct behavior (rather than punishing mistakes) will get the best results. Patient: Labs can be stubborn. You may have to repeat that lesson over and over before your Lab finally gets it. Dog-oriented: Labs are happiest with a lot of human companionship. It helps if they have an owner who likes a lot of dog companionship. Able to laugh: Labs can be very funny dogs—some never seem to outgrow puppyhood. A sense of humor will make the funny moments all the funnier and will help you get through some of the not-so-funny moments too. Responsible: A good Lab owner is responsible for his dog’s care and also his dog’s behavior.

What does a Lab need? All domestic dogs have certain needs that must be met to ensure their physical and mental health. These needs include: Appropriate amounts of nutritionally balanced dog food and unlimited fresh water Adequate veterinary care, including immunizations, deworming, dentistry and other health care as needed Discipline and training for basic manners and obedience Daily exercise A safe living environment Human companionship The specific needs of the Labrador Retriever—and how they can best be met by the Lab owner—are discussed in detail in the following chapters of this book.

2 What Are Labrador Retrievers Like?

What makes my Lab act like a Lab? • What is pack mentality? • Why do I have to learn why my Lab behaves the way she does? • How do Labs communicate? • Would I relate well to a Lab? • What is a Lab’s temperament generally like? • How does a typical Lab puppy act? • What can I expect from an adult Lab? • How do senior Labs behave? • What is it like to have a pet Lab?


What Are Labrador Retrievers Like?


What makes my Lab act like a Lab? Your Lab acts like a Lab partly because she’s a dog, partly because she’s a Lab and partly because she’s an individual. The behavior of all dogs is influenced by several factors, including: The pack: Labs, like all members of the dog family, have a pack mentality that strongly influences how they interact with other dogs and people. Communication: Labs and other canidae (members of the dog family) communicate using body language. Breed characteristics: Labs were originally bred to be hardworking hunting companions; though developed long ago, these characteristics still influence the behavior of today’s Labs. Individual differences: As a breed, Labs are tractable and easygoing, but an individual dog may behave very differently from other members of the breed. Age: Labs and other dogs behave differently at different ages.

What is pack mentality? Pack mentality is the driving force behind much of dog behavior. Dogs and wolves are members of the same biological family, and we can understand the way a dog thinks by examining the way wolves act in the wild. Wolves live in packs—extended family groups. Each wolf pack lives in its own specific territory, which is fiercely defended against other wolves. Male wolves mark the boundaries of the pack’s territory by urinating on trees and other upright objects. The pack social structure is a hierarchy of dominant and subordinate wolves. At the top of the hierarchy is the alpha male, who is dominant over all other wolves in the pack. Each of the other male wolves, except the most subordinate male, is dominant over one or more other males. A similar hierarchy exists for the female wolves, but females are never dominant over males. Dominant wolves eat first, choose their mates first and are treated with respect by more subordinate wolves. Each wolf behaves according to its social rank, which means that every wolf except the alpha male and the most subordinate female will display both dominance and subordinance, depending on the status of the wolf with whom it is interacting. Pack structure is far from static. Subordinate wolves continually challenge more dominant ones in an effort to better their pack social standing, with the goal of eventually becoming the alpha male or female.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

What’s the point of living in a pack? The pack is a means of survival. It is a complex social structure that fosters interaction and interdependence among the wolves. For example, the wolves hunt as a pack, which increases the likelihood of success, particularly when hunting large prey that will provide food for the entire group. The pack members also work together to raise the young wolves, regardless of their parentage. This cooperative activity strengthens the bond of the pack and increases the cubs’ chances of survival.

Does pack mentality matter if I’ve only got one dog? Pack mentality and pack behavior are instincts that are deeply ingrained in members of the dog family. It doesn’t matter whether you have one dog or a dozen—your Lab will still behave according to the rules of the pack. She’s incapable of acting any other way. To your Lab, your family is the pack. This family pack has one dominant member (usually one of the adults) and one or more subordinate members (other adults, children, dogs and—sometimes—other pets). The family pack’s territory is the home and yard. If you and your Lab frequently visit other areas, such as a particular park or trail, your Lab may eventually consider those areas part of the pack territory as well.

How does my Lab’s pack mentality relate to me? Your Lab’s pack mentality is a key force in her relationship with you (and everyone else she meets). In a family pack, the dog must always be subordinate to all humans, regardless of age, size or gender. There are no exceptions to this rule. Your Lab won’t find this unfair. First, dogs aren’t capable of grasping the concept of fairness. Second, if your Lab knows her place in the family pack, then she’ll know how she’s supposed to act. She’ll be far more stressed by inconsistent treatment—punishing a behavior one day, then allowing it the next—than by her subordinate status in the family. When your Lab obeys you, she is acknowledging your dominance over her. If she disobeys you, and you’re certain she’s not distracted, tired or confused, her disobedience may be her not so subtle way of questioning

What Are Labrador Retrievers Like?


your leadership. To a dog, only dominant individuals must be obeyed. Subordinates can be ignored without consequence.

Why do I have to learn why my Lab behaves the way she does? Understanding the reason for a behavior will help you devise effective methods for dealing with it—either rewarding a good behavior or correcting an unwanted one. As smart as your Lab is, she’ll never learn to communicate with words. You, on the other hand, have the ability to learn her language. It might take a while—after all, you weren’t raised as a dog—but the rewards are well worth the effort. Once you learn your Lab’s language, you’ll have an easier time understanding why she acts the way she does. You’ll also have less trouble getting her to do what you want her to do because you’ll know how to communicate your wishes in a way that reinforces your authority as the pack leader.

How do Labs communicate? Although many people think dogs communicate by barking and yipping, most canine communication takes place through complex and often subtle body language. Dogs instinctively understand the body language of other dogs—and even humans. If you learn to interpret canine body language, you’ll have an easier time understanding what your Lab is trying to tell you. Among dogs, the major attitudes conveyed by body language are subordinance (or submission) and dominance. Your Lab’s conduct with both people and dogs will be largely defined by her place in the hierarchy.

How does a subordinate Lab act? When your Lab approaches an individual (dog or human) to whom she is subordinate, she will crouch slightly to lower her body relative to that of the dominant individual. The subordinate dog will carry her tail low and either wag it or tuck it between her legs, if the approached individual is very dominant. She will adopt an expression of subordinancy characterized by a soft, indirect gaze and flattened ears. She may roll over on her back, exposing her abdomen.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

This behavior in your presence is an acknowledgment that you’re dominant. If she does it in response to being scolded by you, she’s telling you that you’ve made your point. If you punish her or continue to scold her after she’s acknowledged your dominance, you’ll be violating one of the major rules of canine social interaction, which will only confuse her.

How does a dominant Lab act? When a dominant Lab approaches an unfamiliar individual (in other words, one whose dominance or subordinance is not known), she walks stiffly with her head and tail up. Her stare is direct and she may snarl or growl as she approaches. If the other individual is a dog, the two may momentarily stand their ground at right angles to one another as they size each other up. At this point, one dog must immediately back down and acknowledge the other’s dominance by an appropriate display. If this doesn’t happen, the dogs will fight to establish dominance.

What if I misunderstand my Lab’s body language? When you (or anyone else) do not correctly interpret or respect your Lab’s body language, she may become confused and nervous. (This is rarely a problem when she interacts with other dogs.) Although a nervous dog may display both submissive and aggressive behavior depending on the situation, most of the time she will appear to be submissive. If you fail to respect your Lab’s submissive signals, she may initially try to escape. If she cannot get away, she may defend herself by threatening to snap or bite. Even with this show of aggression, the nervous dog does not usually display typical dominant body language. Nervous dogs are often unpredictable, and those who bite (fear biters) are also dangerous.

Will my Lab act the same around everyone she lives with? How your Lab treats each member of your family depends on her perception of the dominance or subordinance of that person. For example, if

What Are Labrador Retrievers Like?


your Lab considers your husband to be dominant to her but considers you and your children to be subordinate, she will readily obey your husband but may resist obeying you or your children. Often only the children are perceived as subordinate. Both of these situations are unacceptable. The dog is always the most subordinate member of the family pack. Unlike the wolf pack, challenges to authority should not be tolerated under any circumstances.

Does the territoriality of the pack mentality carry over to my Lab? You bet! For example, your Lab will probably be more accepting of other dogs when they meet on neutral territory, such as at a park or at obedience class. Obedience class work, moreover, repeatedly reinforces her perception of your dominance. Because of this, if you accept the other dogs, she’s likely to follow your lead and accept them too. At home, she considers other dogs to be threats to the pack’s territory.

Would I relate well to a Lab? It takes a certain type of person to nurture and develop each dog into the best pet possible. You must be able to work with your Lab in ways that accentuate her positive attributes while at the same time minimizing less desirable characteristics. You will probably develop a good relationship with a Lab if you’re: • Tolerant: You need to be able to deal with (and eventually overcome) your Lab’s sometimes stubborn nature. • Firm, fair and forgiving: You have to insist on the correct behavior, discipline when necessary, and then move on. • Observant: Really watching your Lab’s body language—her posture and her use of eye contact—will help you understand her and respond appropriately. • Fun-loving: Having fun is one of the best parts of the relationship— for both of you!


What About Labrador Retrievers?

What is a Lab’s temperament generally like? A Lab’s temperament is her behavioral approach toward life. It determines how she perceives and reacts to her environment and the individuals within it. Labs, as a breed, are generally easygoing, readily adapting to new situations and people without nervousness or undue excitability. It should be noted that this description is accurate for the breed as a whole. Within any breed, there will be individual dogs who do not conform to the breed standards for either conformation or temperament. Given the vast numbers of Labrador Retrievers, the breed undoubtedly contains individuals who display a broad spectrum of temperamental characteristics, ranging from truly stellar to downright dangerous.

How do I know when I get my Lab what her personality will be like? Regardless of whether you’re interested in a puppy or an adult Lab, picking one with a good temperament is easier if you know a little about basic canine behavior and if you’re a good observer. Responsible breeders can also advise you about the temperaments of their dogs and puppies. When choosing a puppy, look for one who eagerly joins in the games and antics of her littermates. Pass up the puppy with the top dog attitude who bullies everyone else in the litter. Likewise, don’t go for the shy, nervous puppy who sits to the side watching everyone else. A puppy with a good temperament, when examined, will accept your handling without excessive fear or undue protest (wiggling is permitted). Reject any puppy who shows any signs of aggression, such as growling or nipping. It’s sometimes a little easier to judge the temperament of an adult Lab, especially if you can talk with the previous owner. Good questions to ask would be ones specifically addressing the Lab’s basic attitude, tractability, willingness to accept the owner’s authority, lack of aggressive behavior and demeanor with children. You should also ask about the Lab’s activity level— does she go-go-go all day long or is she a couch potato? You’ll also want to do a little examination and observation on your own. The adult dog with a good temperament will greet you happily, without any signs of shyness or aggression. She should be attentive and responsive. Once you’ve gotten

What Are Labrador Retrievers Like?


acquainted, she should stand or sit quietly while you examine her all over, including mouth, ears, paws and tail. If she won’t allow you to check her over, or seems nervous or irritable about it, you’ll probably want to pass her up. For more information about choosing the right Lab for you, see Chapter 3.

How does a typical Lab puppy act? Puppy behavior varies depending on the age of the puppy (from weaning through six months). Typically, a two- to three-month-old puppy acts like this: • Dependent: Your puppy is likely to follow you everywhere and cry when separated from you, especially at night. • Submissive: Submissiveness is closely related to dependence. Young puppies may display dominant behavior toward other puppies but hardly anyone else. If you really reinforce submissiveness at this stage of your Lab’s life, your puppy may develop into a shy adult. • Short attention span: She’s just a baby, after all, and it’s hard for her to concentrate for very long. • High energy: Most puppies don’t know the meaning of the word “restraint.” They energetically launch themselves into every activity . . . until they run out of gas (see below). • Easily fatigued: After a short bout of energetic play, your puppy will probably need a nap. This cycle—interspersed with meals—is repeated several times throughout the day for young puppies, less often for older ones. • Playful: Puppies can make a game out of almost anything (a good thing to remember if you’re trying to teach them something). • Chewing: Puppies are like babies—they put everything in their mouths. When they start getting their permanent teeth (at about three to four months), their chewing intensifies. If you don’t want something chewed up, put it where your puppy can’t get it. • Not housetrained: Young puppies don’t have the physical or mental development to be reliably housetrained. It’s okay to try to anticipate when your puppy needs to eliminate so you can take her outside, but don’t expect her to fully understand what you’re trying to get her to


What About Labrador Retrievers?

do. Housetraining will be a lot easier for both of you when she’s four to six months old.

How will my Lab puppy act when she’s six months old? At six months of age, your Lab puppy will be starting to develop some of her adult behaviors, but she’ll still be very much a puppy. Here’s what she’s likely to be doing: • Dependence: Your six-month-old puppy will still enjoy following you everywhere, but she’ll be more likely to venture off on her own as her self-confidence develops (important to remember if you let her off her leash when you’re at the park or some other public place). If you’ve taught her that she must sleep in her own bed (not yours) in her own room (not yours either), she probably won’t cry for you at night. • Submissiveness: A six-month-old puppy will still show a lot of submissive behavior, but you’ll start to notice some dominant behavior as well. Most of the time, this behavior will be directed toward other dogs, but occasionally it may be directed at you as your Lab tries to get her own way. It’s important to let her know that her dominance displays to you are inappropriate. Correct her in a firm voice, and then reinforce your dominance by insisting that she obey a simple command, such as sit. • Attention span: At six months old, your Lab is still a baby, but her ability to concentrate will have improved. She’ll most likely be highly distractible though, as she becomes more aware of the world around her. • High energy: Rest up—your six-month-old Lab will have even more energy than she had when she was three months old! • Endurance: Your six-month-old will still have an eat-play-sleep cycle that’s repeated through the day, but she’ll spend less time sleeping and more time playing. (Are you sure you’re getting enough rest?) • Playfulness: Combine rapidly increasing independence and physical capabilities with that fun-loving Lab personality and it’s easy to understand why life is just one big game to a six-month-old Lab. (Are you absolutely certain you’re getting enough rest?)

What Are Labrador Retrievers Like?


• Chewing: Chewing is still fun, but now that those permanent teeth are really starting to come in, it feels good too. You’ll need to be extracareful about putting things away, because your older Lab puppy is bigger, taller, and much more likely to be able to find—and chew— anything within her reach. This is also the age when puppies start getting strangely imaginative about what they decide to chew. For example, your Lab might start chewing the carpet, your furniture or rocks. • Housetraining: If you started housetraining your Lab when she was about four months old, she may be reasonably—or even completely—housetrained by the time she’s six months old. Don’t get upset if she’s not completely reliable yet—just keep working with her. Housetraining is just that: training, and some puppies pick it up quicker than others.

What can I expect from an adult Lab? Like puppies, adult Labs (one year of age and up) have a range of behaviors. At times, young adults still act a lot like puppies, while Labs in the upper age range may start displaying senior behaviors. In general, your adult Lab’s behavior will be typified by the following: • Independence: As your Lab gets older and learns more about her family and surroundings, she’ll naturally become more independent (she may still follow you around, though). • Displays of dominance: She may try to assert her dominance over other dogs (and possibly humans) as she gains self-confidence. As much as possible, dogs should be allowed to work out their differences on their own; dominance displays to humans should not be tolerated. • Long attention span: Your Lab will have an easier time concentrating on the lessons you try to teach her. • High energy: An adult Lab has lots of energy. She’ll need a lot of exercise to be happy.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

• Stamina: She’ll be able to remain active for greater periods of time than as a puppy. Adult Labs still enjoy naps; they just don’t need as many of them. • Less playfulness: This varies considerably depending on the Lab. Some Labs never lose their playful attitude. • Less likelihood of chewing: Most dogs, regardless of age, like to chew. Adult dogs may be less likely to chew the wrong things but not always. • Housetraining: Most adult Labs are reliably housetrained—or can be, although persistent effort may be needed.

How do senior Labs behave? Labs are considered to be seniors at seven or eight years of age, but the age at which a dog becomes a senior actually varies widely. Some Labs show all the characteristics of a senior at age seven. Others retain the physical and mental traits of middle age well beyond that. In general, a senior Lab’s behavior will be typified by the following: • Variations on dependence/independence: Some senior Labs become very independent; others display more puppylike dependent behavior. • Personality changes: Some previously tractable dogs become grumpy with advancing age. This may be due to changes in brain function or a response to painful health conditions. • Forgetfulness and lapses in attention: Your senior Lab may sometimes seem confused or forgetful. • Less energy, easily fatigued: Most, but not all, senior dogs spend less time exercising and more time napping than they did when they were younger. • Sedate: Playfulness usually decreases with advancing age but not always. • Health problems: Senior Labs often have chronic health problems. Arthritis (due to hip dysplasia and other causes) may seriously limit mobility. Other health problems may affect the heart, gastrointestinal tract and other systems. • Lapses in housetraining: Housetraining accidents may increase. They may be related to forgetfulness or concurrent health problems.

What Are Labrador Retrievers Like?


What is it like to have a pet Lab? Labs have a number of behavioral characteristics that make them good pets. As a general rule, they are friendly, easygoing and affectionate. Their innate desire for human companionship leads them to form strong bonds with their human families. Because of this desire and their working-dog background, most Labs graciously accept their position within the family pack and seldom challenge authority. Some characteristics may detract from the Lab’s suitability as a pet, at least for some people. Labs are active, energetic dogs who require plenty of vigorous exercise each day. Denied exercise, they may become escape artists or engage in destructive behaviors, such as digging or chewing. Their love of exercise may lead them to roam should they get out of their yard or enclosure. Labs can also be stubborn. Because of this, training requires patience and persistence. Fortunately, the Lab’s stubbornness is tempered by her good-natured personality—she’s certainly not dumb, just a little hardheaded. Some Lab traits are more annoying than anything else. The Lab’s love of water can be bothersome, if only because of the mess it creates. And then there’s retrieving: Labs always seem to be looking for something (anything!) to retrieve. To some owners, it’s an annoying behavior. Others—even if they’re not hunters—think it’s a terrific trait and have great fun playing retrieving games with their Lab.

Are Labs good watchdogs? So-so. Your Lab will probably be a satisfactory watchdog—if you’re looking for a dog who will bark at intruders and strange noises and generally let you know when things don’t seem right. Just don’t expect her to attack a burglar, knock the gun from his hand and hold him at bay until the police arrive. The congenial Lab temperament usually precludes this type of guard dog activity. But then, guard dogs generally aren’t good family companions, especially for families with children.

How are Labs with children? As a rule, Labs make good companions for children. They’re usually amicable, mild-tempered and gentle. As adults, Labs are large enough that children can’t hurt them easily. In addition, their playfulness, and their


What About Labrador Retrievers?

love of exercise and the outdoors make them well suited for people with active kids. Labs may not be the best choice if the child is very young, small or somewhat timid, because the dog’s active nature and size may be frightening. Selecting a smaller Lab who has a calmer personality might be an acceptable solution. It’s often best to wait until your child is a little older (and larger) before you bring a Lab into the home.

What can I do to ensure that my Lab and my children get along well? To help your children and your Lab develop a good relationship, teach your children the following rules: • Always be gentle with your dog, and be particularly gentle with a puppy. • Respect the Lab’s personal space and possessions, especially where food is concerned. • Never try to force the dog to play with you. • Let the dog get away from you if she wants. • No rough play, such as wrestling or tug-of-war. • No chasing games. • Never encourage the Lab to attack someone, even in play. • Never scream at or around a dog. Teach your children to keep their voices down and to be calm around your Lab. Boisterous, rowdy children seem to intimidate some Labs, particularly Labs who are naturally on the timid side. In such cases, the dog usually tries to escape—if only to a quieter place in the yard or house. Not every Lab flees a pack of rowdy kids, however. Some delight in joining in the fun.

Can I leave my Lab alone with my children? Even if your Lab is normally quiet and friendly, you should always supervise her while she’s around young children—for her protection as well as theirs. A dog who regularly exhibits dominant behavior should not be left unsupervised with children of any age. A dog who has ever aggressively bitten anyone should not be around children at all. Even if nipping occurred only during play, you should closely supervise your Lab around children until you’re absolutely certain the behavior won’t be repeated.

What Are Labrador Retrievers Like?


Are Labs good dogs for the elderly? Most Labs are gentle and friendly with the elderly. Of course, you must take care with a rambunctious or poorly trained Lab, especially if the elderly person is frail. Labs who tend to jump up are not a good choice. A well-trained older Lab is usually more sedate than a younger dog and therefore better suited as a companion for an elderly person. The close relationship that is likely to form from this arrangement is beneficial to both parties. If an elderly owner cannot personally attend to the Lab’s need for a lot of exercise, he or she may be able to hire someone to help out.

What are Labs like around non-family members? Your Lab will probably follow your example with regard to non-family members in the home. For instance, if you warmly greet your visitor, your Lab probably will too. If you’re not particularly happy to see the visitor, your Lab may be more standoffish. Your Lab may be shy around nonfamily members at home, but you can encourage her to relax by being overly upbeat and happy whenever you have guests. The same technique can be used to help your Lab be less nervous with unfamiliar people and situations outside the home.

How is my Lab likely to behave around other dogs? After learning a bit about canine social order, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the meeting of two dogs who are strangers can be just about as complicated as a meeting between high-level diplomats. Your Lab may consider an unfamiliar dog to be an ally or an adversary, depending on the other dog’s age and gender and where the meeting takes place. How the dogs get along may even depend on whether or not either owner is present. Dogs of different ages, such as puppies and adults, usually tolerate one another better than they would if they were similar ages. The exception to this is when two puppies meet. These youngsters generally form quick friendships, possibly because of their natural submissiveness and lack of social experience. Usually, males and females also get along better than two males or two females, but this varies widely depending on the circumstances. For example, a female with a litter of young puppies may be aggressive toward any dog, regardless of gender.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

Where meetings take place is important. Many dogs (females as well as males) will fiercely guard their own territory—their house and surrounding property—so dogs who are strangers will usually get along better if they meet on territory that neither dog considers her own. Finding neutral territory can be tricky. For example, you might think that the neighborhood park is a great meeting place, but if you and your Lab have spent a lot of time there, she may consider it part of her turf. If this is the case, when she meets a dog with whom she’s not acquainted, she’ll probably treat him like an intruder, just as she would if he stepped into your backyard. Finally, some dogs just seem to hit it off better when their owners aren’t around. Why this happens is a bit of a mystery, but it could stem from diminished feelings of jealousy or protectiveness. It could also be that the owners, in an attempt to smooth things out, actually disrupt the normal dog-to-dog interaction.

How is my Lab likely to behave around pets other than dogs? In general, your Lab’s behavior with pets other than dogs will depend on her personality and several factors related to the other pet, such as what kind of animal it is, and how it acts around your Lab. The most common other pet is a cat. Contrary to traditional beliefs and vintage cartoons, many dogs and cats get along quite well with each other, particularly if they were raised together. Sometimes it’s not the pet itself, but the pet’s behavior that evokes a response from a dog. For example, your Lab may treat the family cat or rabbit gently as long as it sits quietly but eagerly chase it if it runs away. There are some pets that your Lab is likely to take a little too much interest in: birds, especially free-ranging ones such as chickens, ducks or geese. Given her hunting instincts, she may just decide that those birds are perfect candidates for retrieving practice! When you introduce your Lab to other pets, you should constantly supervise them, at least at first. This is especially important if one of the animals is much larger than the other or capable of causing serious injuries. Keep in mind that your supervision may be required to protect your Lab from another pet. For example, an adult cat might really hurt a puppy who gets a little too nosy.

3 What Should I Know About Getting a Labrador Retriever?

What do I need to know about getting a Lab? • What are the responsibilities of being a Lab owner? • What choices do I have in selecting a Lab? • How much does a Lab cost? • How do I know my Lab is purebred? • What are papers? • Where can I get a Lab? • How do I pick out a good puppy? • How can I tell if an adult Lab is healthy? • What are some of the reasons people give up their Labrador Retrievers?



What About Labrador Retrievers?

What do I need to know about getting a Lab? Adopting a dog is a major commitment. Before you go dog shopping, you should consider the following things: • The responsibilities of dog ownership • Lab choices (purpose, age, gender, cost) • Lab sources • How to select the best Lab for you

What are the responsibilities of being a Lab owner? Dog ownership is something that’s best undertaken after a lot of serious consideration. You’re not buying a sofa—you’re buying a living, breathing animal that will need care for 12 to 14 years or more. As a responsible dog owner, you’ll need to provide food, shelter, grooming, veterinary care, love and companionship for your Lab—not just for a while, but for his entire life. This is a huge commitment. You shouldn’t get a Lab or any other kind of dog unless you’re absolutely certain you can make it.

What choices do I have in selecting a Lab? You can’t choose a Lab until you know what you want. To figure out exactly what you’re looking for in a Lab, you’ll need to make some decisions about: • Purpose: pet-quality, show-quality, breeding-quality or hunting • Age: puppy or adult • Gender: male or female • Cost: several factors go into the price of a Lab

What Should I Know About Getting a Labrador Retriever?


What’s a pet-quality Lab? Most of the Labs in the world are pet-quality—dogs that don’t conform closely enough to the Labrador Retriever breed standard to be successful in conformation dog shows. They might be too tall or too short, or their toes might turn out just a bit. The spot of white on their chest might be a little too large. Whatever the reason, they just won’t make it in the show ring. They can, however, make it as pets, as long as their shortcomings involve only physical traits and not temperament. Because they do not typify the Lab breed standard, pet-quality Labs should not be bred.

What’s a show-quality Lab? A show-quality Lab is one who conforms closely to the Lab breed standard, with only minor flaws, and is therefore suitable for showing in dog shows. You can show any registered Lab just for fun, as long as it hasn’t been spayed or neutered, but if you want to seriously compete, you should purchase the best Lab you can possibly afford. Don’t forget to consider temperament, however, because no amount of physical beauty can compensate for a poor temperament. (Temperament is a part of the breed standard too.)

What’s a breeding-quality Lab? A breeding-quality Lab is one that is an outstanding example of the breed standard—as close to the best as he possibly can be. This extremely high standard is necessary for breeding dogs because their traits will be passed to future generations of Labs. Not surprisingly, Labs of this quality command a hefty price. As with show-quality Labs, you should buy the best you can possibly afford.

What about a hunting Lab? Hunting Labs are those bred primarily for their retrieving ability. These are the Labs who excel on the hunting field, whether actually hunting or participating in a field trial or hunting test. Hunting Labs are generally longer-legged than Labs bred for the show ring and have a leaner, more athletic build. They tend to be more hyper than show-ring Labs and may


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not conform to the Labrador Retriever breed standard in every way. This doesn’t mean that they’re not good Labs; it simply means that they have been bred for performance rather than looks alone. If you’re interested in hunting or field events, you should try to purchase the best hunting Lab you can afford. As with all Labs, temperament is of utmost importance regardless of the dog’s principal purpose.

Should I get a puppy? Just about everyone loves puppies. They’re cute. They’re cuddly. They gaze sweetly at you with total devotion. They follow you everywhere. It’s true: puppies are all these things—and more. And many times, the “more” means a lot of hard work. For one thing, raising a puppy requires an enormous time commitment on the part of the owner. Puppies eat several meals a day. And because puppies need to be housetrained, they need to be taken to the potty spot outside after every meal, as well as when you first get up, and several other times a day. Puppies chew—and chew—and chew: your shoes, your furniture, your children’s toys, even dangerous things like poisonous plants, electrical cords and balls of yarn, if they get the opportunity. To prevent this and other mishaps, puppies must be constantly supervised, both in the house and in the yard. Despite these drawbacks, raising a puppy (like raising a child) can be immensely rewarding. If you’re up to the challenge, there’s no better way to forge a strong and lifelong bond with a Lab than to raise him from puppyhood.

How old should a puppy be when I get him? Most Lab puppies do best when they’re adopted between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks. At this age, the puppy has been weaned and is eating well. Though showing some independence, he usually bonds quickly with the humans of his new family. His curiosity about everything around him will help him get over his initial fears and adjust to his new surroundings.

Is getting an adult Lab a good idea? Adopting an adult Lab may be a better option than raising a puppy for some potential dog owners. For example, parents with young children may not want to put up with the hassles that raising a puppy entails. It’s also easier to judge the temperament of an adult dog, which is always an

What Should I Know About Getting a Labrador Retriever?


important consideration but especially so if you have children. An adult dog is usually housetrained (pass him up if he’s not) and often more settled than a puppy, but this is not always the case, especially with Labs. The chewing stage may be far in the past, as well; but again, this varies with the individual dog—some Labs chew well into adulthood. An adult dog is probably a good choice if you’re planning to show or breed your Lab, because the dog’s physical and temperamental characteristics will be readily apparent. (If you’ve got enough to spend, you can even purchase a Lab who already has show or breeding experience.) On the negative side, if you adopt an adult Lab, you’ll miss the cute puppy stuff—the cuddly snuggles (adult Labs like to snuggle too, it’s just that they’re so much bigger than puppies) and watching all the fun discoveries a puppy makes about the world. An adult dog of any breed—even a friendly and outgoing breed like a Lab—may at first seem somewhat reserved around his new family. This is especially likely if the dog was quite devoted to his former owners. It doesn’t usually take long, however, for the dog to transfer his affections to his new family.

What are the pros and cons of getting a male versus a female Lab? There aren’t many advantages to adopting a male Lab instead of a female—both usually make great pets. With a male, of course, you won’t have to put up with the fuss and bother of estrus (which I’ll discuss in the upcoming pages). Some people claim that male Labs tend to be more affectionate than females, but in reality there’s probably more variation between individual dogs than between genders. There are some disadvantages to owning a male Lab. Male dogs are usually more aggressive toward other dogs (especially other males) than females are, but this too varies a great deal from dog to dog. Females, especially those with young puppies, can also be quite aggressive toward other dogs. (That said, it should be noted that Labrador Retrievers, as a breed, are not particularly aggressive.) In general, male dogs will roam more than females if the opportunity presents itself. Males also mark their territory by urinating on trees and other upright objects (some females urinate to mark their territory too). An adult male dog, if not reliably housetrained, is likely to soil furniture and draperies if he urinates in the house. The main advantage to owning a female Lab is that females generally exhibit fewer of the negative behaviors listed above for males. However,


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females are not without gender-related problems, the biggest of which is the estrus cycle. Most female dogs cycle (are in season, or in heat) about every seven months. The female will be in heat for about three weeks. Although she can be bred and become pregnant only during 7 to 10 days of this time, she will attract male dogs throughout the entire cycle. Unless you’re planning to raise a litter of puppies, you’ll need to keep your female Lab well isolated from her very determined male suitors. In addition, you’ll have to cope with the bloody vaginal discharge that she’ll have.

Will getting my Lab spayed or neutered make a difference? It really should. The best way to make gender-dependent problems disappear is to have your Lab spayed or neutered. These procedures, which should be performed on all Labs who are not show- or breeding-quality, are discussed in Chapter 6.

How much does a Lab cost? How much you’ll pay depends on the Lab and where you get him. If you happen to know someone who can’t keep their Lab (perhaps they’re moving or have discovered that their child is severely allergic to dogs), you might just get one for free. You can also adopt a Lab from an animal shelter or rescue organization for a very reasonable fee—sometimes less than $100 for animal shelters, slightly higher ($100 to $200) for rescue organizations. A Lab puppy purchased from a reputable breeder will usually cost between $300 and $900 (or more), depending on whether he’s petquality or show-quality. Adult Labs who are proven show dogs or hunters may cost $6,000 to $7,000 or more. Keep in mind that these prices include only the Lab, not any of the expenses for food, supplies or veterinary care, which may in many cases equal or exceed the cost of the Lab each year.

Why do the prices vary so much? The price of a Lab depends on where you get him, his breeding and what, if anything, he’s trained to do. Labs obtained from animal shelters and rescue organizations are relatively inexpensive because these organizations charge only enough to cover their costs.

What Should I Know About Getting a Labrador Retriever?


Reputable breeders, when pricing their Labs, must factor in the expenses involved in breeding, raising, training and showing their dogs. A puppy whose parents (and often grandparents and other relatives) are proven show or hunting champions has the potential to excel in these areas as well and will cost more money than a puppy who is the offspring of just average parents. Adult Labs from proven show or hunting lines are more expensive than similarly bred puppies because of the additional costs of raising a puppy to adulthood and because it’s easier to determine overall quality in an adult dog. Finally, the most expensive Labs are those adults who have already proven themselves as show dogs, hunters or breeding dogs. There’s very little risk involved in purchasing a proven Lab—and these dogs will be priced accordingly.

How much does it cost annually to keep a Lab? The cost of dog-keeping varies considerably depending on your Lab (including size, age and overall health), the quality of supplies and equipment, and even where you live. The following numbers should give you an idea of what to expect. For a Lab puppy in his first year: • Veterinary care, including general care and laboratory tests: $100 to $200 • Immunizations: $50 to $100 • Spay or neuter: $50 to $200 • Internal and external parasite treatment and control: $100 to $150 • Food: $150 to $250 • Miscellaneous expenses, including collar, leash, bowls, toys, grooming supplies and obedience training: $200 to $225 Total: $650 to $1,125 for the first year only. Note that this total does not include the cost of the puppy. For an adult dog the annual costs would involve: • Veterinary care, including general care and laboratory tests: $50 to $125 • Immunizations: $40 to $75 • Internal and external parasite treatment and control: $100 to $150


What About Labrador Retrievers?

• Food: $200 to $400 • Miscellaneous expenses: $100 to $125 Total: $490 to $875 per year. These figures are estimates only and they do not include expenses related to illnesses, injuries, showing, competition, breeding, boarding or travel. Senior dogs usually require more health care than adults or puppies. From these figures, it’s clear that the care of a reasonably healthy Lab living to the age of 12 to 14 years could easily cost $7,000 to $15,000 or more.

How do I know my Lab is purebred? If your Lab (or his litter, if he’s a young puppy) is registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC), it means he is the offspring of purebred Labrador Retriever parents and is, therefore, purebred. The AKC will not register any dog unless his parents are also AKC-registered or registered with another approved organization, such as the Canadian Kennel Club.

What are papers? Your Lab’s papers are his registration certificate as a purebred dog. An AKC registration certificate contains important information about the dog, including his name and registration number; sire and dam and their registration numbers; description (breed, gender, color, date of birth); certification numbers for registries such as the Orthopedic Foundation For Animals (OFA) and Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF), if applicable; notation of DNA profile; breeder’s name and owner’s name.

What’s the value of an AKC registration certificate? The registration certificate is considered to be proof of both the dog’s breed and his parentage. It does not, however, guarantee the quality of the

What Should I Know About Getting a Labrador Retriever?


dog. The certificate also entitles your dog to participate in various AKC events, such as dog shows, obedience trials, agility trials, hunting tests and tracking tests, as long as certain other requirements are met.

What other organizations register purebred Labs? There are dog registries all over the world. Along with the AKC, the United Kennel Club (UKC), Canadian Kennel Club (CKC), and the Field Dog Stud Book (FDSB) all register Labrador Retrievers in North America. The interactions between the various North American registries can be quite complicated. When you purchase a Lab, make sure you understand completely the rules regarding his registration. The addresses and web site addresses of the above organizations can be found in “How Can I Learn More?” at the end of the book.

Where can I get a Lab? Once you start looking for a Lab, you’ll find they’re just about everywhere. Some sources are excellent, some are good and some are not so good. Sources for Labs include: • Responsible breeders • Backyard breeders • Animal shelters • Lab rescue organizations

How long will it take me to find a Lab? It may take only a few days to a week or so to find a pet-quality Lab with a good temperament. On the other hand, if you’ve got a list of special requirements—show-quality, breeding-quality or hunting lineage, specific bloodlines, gender, age, color and the like—it may take months or even longer to find your perfect Lab. Regardless of what you’re looking for, don’t rush and settle for a Lab who’s not really what you want. Take all the time you need to find the very best Lab for you.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

What is a responsible breeder? Someone who works to improve the breed by breeding the highest quality dogs that he possibly can is a responsible Lab breeder. A responsible breeder stakes his reputation on the dogs he produces, so every aspect of the breeding and care is important. Each breeding is carefully planned and every puppy receives the best possible nutrition, socialization and health care. The responsible breeder also keeps detailed records on each dog, including information such as registration papers, pedigree, show record and health record. As a rule, a responsible breeder won’t have dozens of Labs from which to choose, but he usually will have a selection of both puppies and adults, ranging from pet-quality to breeding-quality. The prices will vary depending on the quality of the dog. It’s often possible to meet both the sire and the dam of puppies—and sometimes their grandparents, too. A responsible breeder will usually go to great lengths to help you find the Lab who’s just right for you. He’s also committed to providing information and support for his new Lab owners both at the time of purchase and for the lifetime of the dog.

How do I find a responsible Lab breeder? A local or regional Labrador Retriever club is one of the first places you should check when you’re looking for a responsible Lab breeder. Contact the Labrador Retriever Club or the AKC (see “How Can I Learn More?”) and a staff member will refer you to a local group. Often veterinarians and groomers can give you the name of a local breeder. You can also meet lots of breeders at a dog show (and see lots of nice Labs too), but be considerate—wait until after the breeder has shown his dog to approach him, or contact him after the show. Consulting a major dog publication, such as Dog World or the AKC Gazette may give you some leads as well. You can also use the Internet to search for Lab breeders. Don’t be afraid to contact a breeder who’s far away from your home. It may not be feasible for you to purchase a Lab long distance, but the breeder may know of another Lab breeder who’s closer to you.

What questions should I ask the breeder? A responsible breeder won’t mind being asked a lot of questions. In fact, such a breeder is likely to doubt your commitment if you aren’t very curious. For starters, be sure to ask the following:

What Should I Know About Getting a Labrador Retriever?


• What are the breeder’s professional affiliations and activities? A responsible breeder will be active in breed clubs and other organizations that promote the well-being of the breed and dogs in general. • How many years has the breeder been active? It’s not necessary for the breeder to have decades of experience, but you probably don’t want someone who started raising Labs six months ago, unless he can provide you with evidence of other relevant experience. • How many litters of puppies has the breeder bred? This, together with the information above, will give you an idea of whether the breeder is more interested in quality or quantity. Responsible breeders usually breed only one or two litters a year. • Can you meet the sire and dam of the puppy you’re considering? Meeting the puppy’s parents can give you a good idea of what the puppy will look like and act like as an adult. • Do the sire and dam have OFA certification and current CERF certification? This lets you know that the sire and dam do not have hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia or progressive retinal atrophy—serious inherited diseases of Labs. • What show (or other competition) experience do the sire and dam have? Show-ring success indicates that the parents have been judged to have conformation that closely matches the Lab breed standard. Success in other competitive areas (obedience trials, field trials and the like) attest to talent and expertise in those areas. • How are the puppies socialized? A responsible breeder will work diligently with the puppies to make sure they are adequately socialized and comfortable around people. • What health care have the puppies received? The puppies should have had immunizations and have been dewormed. You’ll also want to know about any illnesses or injuries of the puppy you’re considering. • Does the breeder evaluate the temperament of each puppy? If the breeder knows the personality of each puppy, he’ll be better able to help you pick the best puppy for you. • Will the breeder permit you to contact him in the future for information and advice about your Lab? A responsible breeder will


What About Labrador Retrievers?

encourage you to contact him if you have questions or need information. It’s part of his job. • If for some reason you cannot keep your Lab, will the breeder take him back any time during his lifetime? A responsible breeder wants his dogs to have good homes, even if it means taking one back. He’d much rather take back your Lab than have him wind up in an animal shelter or puppy mill or on the street. • Will the breeder provide you with the names and telephone numbers of people who have previously purchased one of his puppies? The breeder should be glad to supply references—happy owners are his best marketing tool!

What questions will the breeder ask me? It’s not unusual for breeders to ask prospective owners questions about their lifestyle. The answers you give will help the breeder determine which puppy is best for you. In general, the breeder will probably ask you about your home, your family, how long you’re away from the home during the day, the activity level of you and your family, whether you have other dogs and whether you have other pets.

The breeder said the puppy I wanted would only be sold with limited registration. What does that mean? Limited registration means that the dog is purebred, but any litters he produces will not be eligible for registration. Breeders use this type of registration to protect their breeding programs. Limited registration is designed to discourage the breeding of pet-quality dogs who lack the characteristics required to improve their breed. According to AKC rules, only the litter owner (in most cases the breeder) can make the decision about limited registration. The litter owner is also the only person who can change the status of a dog from limited to full registration. A dog with limited registration cannot be entered in conformation dog shows, because those shows evaluate dogs for their breeding potential. He can, however, participate in any other AKC event.

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The breeder said the puppy I wanted was registered, but he couldn’t give me the papers until he sent them in to the AKC. Is that okay? Definitely not. If the breeder hasn’t submitted the papers (the litter registration), the puppies aren’t registered. That’s because only the person who owns the dam at the time the puppies are born can register the litter. No one else can do it. Registration papers are only issued to dogs from registered litters. If you buy the puppy under these conditions, you have no guarantee that you will ever be able to register him. You should look elsewhere for your Lab—a responsible breeder makes sure the appropriate paperwork has been completed before trying to sell the puppies.

The sire of the puppy I’m considering has Ch. in front of his name. What does that mean? That means that the sire accumulated enough points in AKC conformation dog shows to earn the title of Champion. In addition to conformation championships, there are also championships in obedience, agility, tracking and other disciplines. Champion titles are always added to the beginning of the dog’s name. Other titles are added to the end of the dog’s name.

What is a backyard breeder? This is someone who breeds their Lab just to raise a litter of puppies.

Is it okay to get my Lab from a backyard breeder? Obtaining a puppy from a backyard breeder has a few advantages. Because the puppies have been raised in a home setting, usually by a family, they are often well socialized and used to family life. You can also closely examine the dam and evaluate her conformation and temperament. Usually, the dam and the puppies have not been exposed to large numbers of dogs, which decreases their chances of contracting contagious diseases or parasites. Unfortunately, there can be some major disadvantages to obtaining a puppy from the average backyard breeder. If the female and male were


What About Labrador Retrievers?

bred simply because they were purebred Labs, without considering conformation, temperament and freedom from inheritable disease, the quality of the puppies may be questionable. In addition, the level of care that the puppies receive depends greatly on the owner’s attitude and financial means. For example, the owner may decide that it’s just too expensive to immunize and deworm a whole litter of puppies. Finally, when you purchase a puppy from this type of backyard breeder, you’re supporting and encouraging irresponsible breeding practices.

Can I look on the Internet for a Lab for sale? Yes. Many Lab breeders—some responsible and some not so responsible—showcase their dogs on the Internet. Because the Internet is available 24 hours a day, you can check out breeders’ web sites whenever you get a chance. Most breeders include e-mail addresses and phone numbers, which makes it easy to contact them. However, it’s important to remember that Internet shopping, like shopping from a dog magazine, is just one step in the process of locating a responsible breeder and the Lab puppy that’s just right for you. If you find a breeder who has Labs that you like (at least from their pictures), you’ll still need to ask appropriate questions about his experience with Labs and specific practices and policies. You’ll also need to obtain from the breeder a list of previous purchasers, then contact those people to learn more about the breeder. Once you’ve ascertained that the breeder has a good reputation, there’s the matter of actually seeing the Lab you’re interested in. If the breeder doesn’t live too far away from you, it’s not much of a problem. However, if the breeder is in California and you live in North Carolina, you may not want to travel across the country to see his Lab, unless he’s a truly exceptional dog with show or breeding potential. (If you’re just looking for a pet, you’ll probably be able to find a suitable Lab closer to home.) As an alternative, you might be able to arrange to see the Lab at a show that’s reasonably convenient for both you and the breeder. Don’t hesitate to ask the breeder about arrangements—a responsible one will be willing to work with you.

What about getting a Lab at a pet store? Get a collar, or a leash, bowl or brush at a pet store, but don’t get a Lab— or any other breed of dog—at a pet store. A pet store is perhaps the worst

What Should I Know About Getting a Labrador Retriever?


place to purchase a puppy. That’s because pet store puppies are almost always poor-quality puppies from puppy mills (breeders who keep dogs for one purpose—breeding). The females are bred as often as possible, with the goal of producing as many puppies as possible. Suitability of breeding pairs, quality of the puppies and the risk of inherited diseases are not considered. Puppy mill facilities are crowded and often dirty, which increases the likelihood of parasitism and disease. Health care is minimal at best. In addition, the puppies receive little, if any, socialization to humans. As if all of that weren’t bad enough, pet stores often sell puppy mill puppies at responsible breeder prices. All too often, the unsuspecting customer gives in to that cute little face and goes home with an inferior quality, poorly socialized and possibly ill puppy. Pet stores often have replacement guarantees for puppies who become ill or die, but that’s no comfort at all when you’ve already become attached to your new little friend.

Should I adopt a Lab from an animal shelter? The advantages of adopting a Lab from an animal shelter are few, but one of them is so important that it mandates inclusion of this source: Most of the time, when you adopt a Lab from an animal shelter, you are saving a life. Although no-kill shelters are becoming more common, many shelters euthanize unwanted pets after a certain time period because they cannot afford to keep every animal they receive. The cost of adopting from a shelter is quite reasonable, and the fee often includes spaying or neutering, which virtually all shelters require before they’ll release an animal for adoption. Sadly, there are some significant disadvantages to adopting from an animal shelter. A shelter dog’s history may be unknown or sketchy at best. Likewise, it may be difficult to assess the dog’s health, especially as it relates to chronic disorders and inherited diseases such as hip dysplasia. The dog’s temperament may be hard to accurately evaluate in the shelter environment. Some of the disadvantages to shelter adoptions are related to the shelter organization itself. Most shelters are chronically short of both funding and staff members, so often little is done to assist adopters either before or after adoption. That said, shelter adoptions are not doomed to fail. In fact, thousands of dogs are successfully adopted from animal shelters each year. If you can find the right Lab at a shelter, the rewards will be great—for both you and your Lab.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

What do Lab rescue organizations do? Lab rescue organizations are found throughout the country. These groups, working in conjunction with the Labrador Retriever Club (the national breed organization), are made up of volunteers who assist Labs in finding good homes. The aid may involve rescuing a Lab from an abusive owner or a shelter, or it may involve taking in a Lab whose owner can no longer take care of him. After the Lab has been rescued, he’s placed into foster care at a volunteer’s home. Once his health status and temperament have been evaluated, treatment and/or therapy are instituted, if necessary. The Lab will also be immunized and spayed or neutered. At this point, the organization’s members work to find a suitable new owner for the rescued Lab.

How do I adopt a Lab from a rescue organization? If you’d like to adopt a Lab from a rescue organization, you can find a group near you by contacting the Labrador Retriever Club by telephone or through their web site. Some Lab rescue organizations also have their own web sites. Once you’ve found a local rescue organization, you’ll need to get in touch with its rescue coordinator. Procedures vary from group to group, but you’ll probably have to submit an adoption application and talk with the rescue coordinator, who will ask you questions about why you want a Lab, how you plan to take care of him, and whether a Lab is the right dog for you. Based on this information, the coordinator will then try to match you up with the best Lab for your situation.

What are the pros and cons of getting a Lab through a rescue organization? Members of Lab rescue groups work diligently to rehabilitate the rescued Labs, so that satisfactory homes may be found for them. Prospective owners are carefully screened and counseled about Lab ownership, particularly as it relates to rescued dogs. After adoption, most organizations provide continued assistance throughout the lifetime of the Lab. Many will also allow you to return the Lab to them if you can no longer take care of him. The adoption fees charged by Lab rescue organizations are quite reasonable. The disadvantages of adopting from a rescue organization are similar to those of adopting from an animal shelter—there are likely to be unknowns about the dog’s history and health status. However, the foster caregiver will have had time to evaluate the Lab’s temperament (and possibly initiate rehabilitation, if necessary), so the dog’s personality should not come as a surprise.

What Should I Know About Getting a Labrador Retriever?


How do I pick out a good puppy? It’s hard to tell what kind of adult dog a puppy will grow up to be. Usually you can get an idea by looking at the puppy’s parents, although there have been plenty of average puppies born to outstanding parents. The breeder can advise you about the best puppy for showing or breeding, but that’s no guarantee the puppy will be successful at these endeavors.

How can I tell if a Lab puppy is healthy? Before you reach for a puppy, take a minute to watch the litter. Is every puppy active and playful? A puppy who’s not playing with his littermates may just be shy or he may be sick. Now pick each puppy up. Look for the following: • Alert, curious attitude • Bright, clear eyes • No discharges from eyes or nose • Pink gums • Plump tummy but not potbellied • No evidence of irritation in the anal area, which may indicate diarrhea • No signs of skin irritation, rashes or external parasites • Both testicles in the scrotum, if the puppy is a male 12 weeks of age or older

How can I evaluate a Lab puppy’s temperament? Watch the puppy’s interaction with his littermates. A puppy who seems reluctant to join in the antics of his brothers and sisters may be unduly shy or submissive. While it might be tempting to adopt this little one (the underdog), such a puppy could remain somewhat shy throughout his life—and possibly turn into a fear biter if not correctly handled. On the other hand, the tough guy puppy who bosses his littermates around clearly has a lot of confidence. In fact, he might have too much confidence— puppies with this attitude often grow into would-be dominant dogs who challenge their owners at every turn. The puppy you want has a temperament that lies somewhere between these two.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

When you get down on the floor with the puppies and call them to you, they should respond immediately. Eliminate from consideration any that don’t run to you and any that seem timid or nervous. Pick up a puppy and watch how he reacts as you examine him. He should clearly accept you as dominant. If the puppy vigorously resists or tries to bite, eliminate him from consideration. Next check how the puppy responds to being handled. Turn him over on his back in your lap and hold him in that position. After a moment of wiggling, he should lie quietly. With the puppy in a standing position on the floor, gently push him down to a lying position. Again, the puppy should accept this maneuver with little protest. By observing how the puppy reacts during these manipulations, you’ll be able to get an idea of how well he will respect you as an authority figure. The ideal puppy definitely won’t be shy and retiring, but instead will be friendly, outgoing and willing to accept you as his leader. A puppy with this temperament, though lively, will be tractable and easy to train.

How can I tell if an adult Lab is healthy? A healthy adult Lab is characterized by the following: • Alert, interested attitude • Hearty appetite—you’ll have to ask the breeder about this • Normal weight—neither too thin, nor too fat. You should be able to just feel his ribs when you run your hand along his side. (If you can count every rib, he’s too thin; if you can’t feel them at all, he’s too fat.) • Clear, bright eyes • No discharges from eyes or nose • Pink gums • Clean teeth, with no tartar buildup and reasonably fresh (for a dog) breath • Soft, thick, lustrous coat • Supple skin with no bare patches, scaliness or external parasites

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What are some of the reasons people give up their Labrador Retrievers? There are many reasons why a person might give up his Lab. Whether they’re good reasons is subjective, but what may seem like a trivial problem to one person may seem insurmountable to another. Examples include: • Moving overseas and can’t take the Lab • “He’s too big!” • The Lab bit them or one of their children • He keeps getting out of the fence and running away • They can’t get their Lab housetrained • “I can’t take care of her since I broke my hip.” • The Lab chews up the furniture • The Lab barks all the time • “It’s too much trouble to have a dog.”

What should I do if I can’t keep my Lab? If you are unable to keep your Lab, you have several options. You might give your Lab to an adult family member or close friend—just make sure they actually want your dog and can take good care of him. You might be able to return your Lab to the breeder from whom you bought him. Your Lab will have a good home for the rest of his life, because the breeder will either keep him or sell him only after he’s determined that the new owner is committed to his lifetime care. If all else fails, you could give your Lab to a rescue organization. They’ll take the time and make the effort to find a suitable new owner for him.

4 What Should I Feed My Labrador Retriever? Does it matter what I feed my Lab? • What types of nutritionrelated health problems occur in Labs? • What does my Lab need to eat to be healthy? • How do I feed my Lab a nutritionally sound diet? • Are there different types of completely balanced dog food? • Can I feed my Lab table food? • What should I look for on a dog food label? • What kind of diet does a Lab puppy need to be healthy? • What kind of diet does a senior Lab need to be healthy? • How much food does my Lab need? • How often should I feed my Lab? • How often should I give my Lab water? • How much will it cost to feed my Lab? • What are the typical feeding mistakes that Lab owners make?


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Does it matter what I feed my Lab? It sure does! Your Lab’s diet provides the fuel, the building materials and all the essential components for every function of her body—from the individual cells to the major body systems. An unhealthy or unbalanced diet may have few effects if it’s fed for only a very short time, but longterm feeding of an improper diet can adversely—and permanently—affect your Lab’s growth and health.

What happens if I can’t maintain my Lab’s diet? That depends on several factors. Generally, short-term deviations, particularly if you substitute a closely related food for your Lab’s normal ration (you give her cat food one night instead of dog food), probably aren’t going to cause too many problems. If, on the other hand, you give her a big plate of fatty steak scraps even just once, she could suffer from extreme digestive upset or pancreatitis, a serious and sometimes fatal inflammation of the pancreas. Long-term deviations from a healthy diet are another story. Regardless of her stage of life, your Lab consistently needs adequate nutrition to keep her body functioning properly. If her nutritional needs aren’t met, it will be reflected in every aspect of her life—growth, development, activity, healing, immune response, appearance, mental capabilities and ultimately, her lifespan. That’s a heavy responsibility for an owner, but fortunately it’s one that’s rather easily fulfilled, given the abundant supply of nutritious dog foods.

What types of nutrition-related health problems occur in Labs? Nutrition and feeding can play a role in a number of health problems in Labs, including: • Overweight/obesity • Hip dysplasia • Elbow dysplasia • Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV, or bloat)


What About Labrador Retrievers?

Overweight and obesity are by far the most prevalent nutrition-related health problems of Labs. Why Labs tend to put on weight more easily than some other breeds is not completely understood. Certainly, overfeeding can make a dog fat, but some Labs become portly even when they’re fed what seems like a reasonable amount for a dog of their size. A lack of exercise could be partially to blame, but most Labs love to be active. Still, your Lab won’t get the exercise she needs if she’s left alone in the house all day while you’re at work. She might not get enough exercise even if she’s got a yard to run around in—she may spend all of her time napping in the sun, waiting for you to get home. Genetics may also play a role in the Lab’s notorious tendency to put on weight. When the breed was first being developed, it’s likely that only the best workers were used for breeding (thereby propagating their genetic characteristics). The best working Labs would have been those with the strongest ability to withstand the rigors of their working environment—the icy waters of Newfoundland. Because body fat is a very effective insulator against the cold, the early Lab breeders may have unknowingly bred their dogs to have a genetic propensity to accumulate body fat. Labs aren’t the only coldclimate dog breed with a tendency toward obesity. Other such breeds, Newfoundlands (close Lab relatives), Saint Bernards, Great Pyrenees and Malamutes, for example, all seem to gain weight easily, especially if they don’t get adequate exercise. Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and GDV are discussed in Chapter 6.

Why is it bad for my Lab to be overweight? Excessive weight can cause many serious health problems for your Lab. Obesity increases her chances of developing liver disease or pancreatitis. Obese dogs, like obese people, are more likely to develop diabetes. Because fat is an excellent insulator, overweight dogs have difficulty dissipating heat, which can increase their risk of heat stroke. Too much weight can also put excessive stress on your Lab’s bones and joints and aggravate hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and other arthritic conditions. It can force your Lab’s heart to work harder and even limit her ability to breathe, especially when she lies down. These problems can make it more difficult for your Lab to exercise, which in turn makes it more likely that she will continue to be overweight. Finally, even though being overweight won’t damage your Lab’s self-image (dogs have no

What Should I Feed My Labrador Retriever?


concept of self-image), she may be aware that she can no longer participate comfortably in activities—running, playing, swimming, perhaps even walking—that she once enjoyed. For a dog who is innately active and athletic, such severe physical restrictions could easily have serious psychological consequences and lead to boredom, irritability and an increase in destructive behavior.

How can I tell if my Lab is overweight? It’s easy to tell if your Lab is overweight by just looking at her. A dog that’s the right weight will have a waist—her body will be slimmer behind her ribcage, in front of her hind legs. You should be able to see her waist from the top and from the side. She should not be the same diameter from shoulders to hips, like a great furry sausage! You should also be able to just feel her ribs when you run your hand down her side. If you run the risk of bruising her when you try to feel her ribs, she’s definitely too fat!

How can I keep my Lab from becoming overweight? You’ll need to start fighting your Lab’s weight battle before she gets fat. Make sure you’re not overfeeding her (for advice on how to determine if you’re feeding the correct amount, see page 61). Don’t give her too many between-meal treats—an occasional (not every day) dog biscuit is okay. Make sure she gets enough exercise. For an average adult Lab, that means about two hours of vigorous exercise—running, playing ball, swimming— every day. If your Lab isn’t able to exercise vigorously because she’s got hip dysplasia or other health problems, you can substitute less intense exercise like walking, but you’ll need to increase the duration, if possible, and decrease the amount of dog food you feed her. For more information about exercise, see Chapter 5. Finally, you’ll need to adjust your Lab’s diet and exercise regime depending on her age and activity level. For example, a bouncy, fast-growing puppy requires more calories per pound of body weight than an adult Lab does. A senior Lab, who’s less active and has a slower metabolism, requires fewer calories than a similarly sized middleaged adult. Even two Labs of the same age and size can have vastly different caloric needs, if one of them spends most of each day sleeping, while the other hunts regularly with her owner.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

What does my Lab need to eat to be healthy? Labs, like other dogs (or other mammals, for that matter), need the following nutrients to be healthy: • Protein: This nutrient is essential for many bodily functions, such as the growth and repair of muscles, bones and other body tissues; the production of disease-fighting antibodies; and the production of enzymes and hormones. Many food products contain protein, but only meat and soybean proteins are complete proteins—proteins that contain all of the 22 essential amino acids. • Carbohydrates: Carbs provide energy for just about every function in your Lab’s body. Carbohydrates are found in cereal grains and other plant products. The body is very good at storing them. If you feed your Lab too many carbohydrates, the excess will be converted to a compound called glycogen and stored in the liver or muscles. When these storage sites are full, any additional carbohydrates will be converted to fat. • Fat: This nutrient is also a principal fuel for your Lab’s body. It’s necessary for the production of some hormones, the proper functioning of the nervous system and the transport of certain vitamins. Fat is also used as a backup fuel when carbohydrates are not available or cannot be used by the body (as in diabetes). As most people know from personal experience, fat is readily stored in the body. Stored fat helps maintain body temperature in cold weather—and keeps Labs warm when they jump into near-freezing water. Fat is found in both plant and animal products. • Vitamins and minerals: These nutrients participate in a variety of bodily functions, including bone growth and healing, metabolism, body fluid balance and muscle and nerve function. Only small amounts of vitamins and minerals are needed for these functions, and excessive amounts can be dangerous for your Lab. • Water: This major component of your Lab’s body is also an essential participant in every bodily function. Because the body cannot store water and its means for conserving it are limited, your Lab needs ample fresh water every day.

What Should I Feed My Labrador Retriever?


How do I feed my Lab a nutritionally sound diet? You can provide all the nutrition your Lab needs by feeding her a completely balanced dog food—one that’s been specially formulated to meet the nutritional needs of dogs. You must also make sure that she always has plenty of fresh, clean water to drink.

How do I know if my dog food is completely balanced? The simplest way to tell if a food is nutritionally complete is to read the label. By law, a dog food manufacturer can’t claim its product is completely balanced unless it meets certain nutritional standards. There are differences in foods formulated for different ages of dogs (puppies, adults, seniors) or for dogs with special nutritional needs, so read the label carefully to make sure the food you select is appropriate for your Lab.

Are there different types of completely balanced dog food? Completely balanced dog food is available in dry, canned and semi-moist products. In addition, some dog biscuits are also formulated to provide complete nutrition.

Why would I feed my Lab dry food? Dry dog food has several advantages over other types of foods. Dry food (without water added) will help keep your Lab’s teeth and gums healthy. It is considerably less expensive than canned or semi-moist foods—a real consideration when you’re feeding a dog the size of a Lab. Your Lab may feel more satisfied by dry food because it’s bulky and can’t be wolfed down like canned or semi-moist foods. In addition, dry food may partially satisfy your Lab’s urge to chew (and induce her to leave your shoes and furniture alone). Finally, because unmoistened dry food doesn’t spoil readily, it’s a good choice if your Lab likes to snack throughout the day, rather than eat all of her food at once.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

Dry food also has some disadvantages that must be considered. Because it’s bulky, it requires more storage space than other types of dog food. It must be stored in a cool, dry, vermin-proof environment. Dogs usually find dry food somewhat less appealing than either canned or semimoist products, but this varies with the individual. Most dogs seem to like it well enough, particularly if they’ve eaten it since puppyhood.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of feeding canned dog food? The primary advantage of canned dog food is its palatability; most dogs seem to think it tastes great. It’s also a rather concentrated source of energy. Because of these features, canned food can be used as an appetitebooster for a dog who’s recovering from an illness. You probably wouldn’t want canned food to be your Lab’s primary food, however. Canned food is relatively expensive and unless you are strict about not providing seconds, its tastiness might tempt your Lab to overeat. Finally, canned food’s moist, meaty texture promotes plaque accumulation on the teeth, which can lead to dental problems. Canned food is easy to store but must be refrigerated after the can has been opened, as it spoils rapidly at room temperature. Because of this, canned food cannot be left in your Lab’s food dish for more than an hour or two.

Are there pros and cons to feeding semi-moist food? Semi-moist food, like canned food, is quite palatable. It’s also the most expensive of all of the types of dog foods. Because it requires no refrigeration after opening, semi-moist food will not spoil if your Lab doesn’t eat it immediately and it is easily stored. However, semi-moist food probably isn’t the healthiest choice for your Lab. Because this product’s long shelf life and palatability are largely due to its high sugar and preservative content, it doesn’t promote your dog’s dental health.

Do I have to stick with one type of food? From a nutritional perspective, feeding your Lab different types of food is fine. But realistically, it may be challenging to get your dog to eat dry food once she’s accustomed to canned or semi-moist. You’ll have to be persistent

What Should I Feed My Labrador Retriever?


and possibly a little hardhearted. To make the switch, give her a cup of dry food at her regular mealtime. She might be more interested in it if you moisten it with a little water (just for now—once she’s used to eating it, you can stop moistening it). Don’t add any other kind of food (dog food or people food). If your Lab doesn’t eat it, and you’ve moistened the food, throw it away after an hour, so it doesn’t spoil. Don’t give her any snacks or treats during the switch-over period. Continue offering dry food at each meal. Once she’s hungry enough, she’ll eat it. Then all you’ll need to do is gradually increase the amount of dry food up to her daily recommended ration.

Isn’t meat the best food for my Lab? Nope. Dogs eat a lot of meat, but they eat plant-derived foods too. Wild canidae ingest plant material when they eat the internal organs of herbivorous animals or snack on fresh green grass. Domestic dogs don’t have to hunt to eat, but they do graze on grass and consume other plant material when they eat vegetables (from their owner’s table) and commercial dog food. So, while your Lab needs meat in her diet, it isn’t the best food for her because no one single food can meet all of her nutritional requirements. Those needs can only be met with a multi-ingredient diet that contains both meat and plant products.

Can I feed my Lab table food? Sure, but it’s not a good idea. Table food can have some unwanted nutritional consequences for your Lab. Specifically, feeding it can: • Cause digestive upsets, particularly rich foods like fatty meats or dairy products, which are hard for your Lab to digest. • Unbalance your Lab’s diet, if you give her too much of one food group and not enough of another. • Make your Lab a picky eater (why would she want to eat dog food when she can have that tasty table food?). • Teach your Lab to beg at the table, if that’s where you give her the treats. So do your Lab—and yourself—a favor. Feed her dog food (she is a dog, after all) and save the people food for yourself.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

Should I give my Lab vitamins? If your Lab is healthy and eating a nutritionally balanced dog food, she doesn’t need any additional vitamins. This includes pregnant or lactating bitches. On rare occasions—for instance, if your Lab is recovering from an illness or surgery—your veterinarian may recommend vitamins or other supplements.

Should I give my puppy milk? Not if you’re talking about cow’s milk, which can upset your puppy’s digestive system and cause diarrhea. The only kind of milk a puppy ever needs is the kind provided by her mother.

Can I give my Lab treats? It’s okay to give your Lab treats every once in a while, but make sure they’re nutritious and safe. Pet supply stores and even grocery stores typically carry a wide selection of suitable goodies made especially for dogs. Some products—a quick label check will tell you which ones—have even been formulated to provide complete nutrition for dogs. (Although you could use these products as your Lab’s sole food source, it’s far less expensive to use dog food.) Other goodies, while not nutritionally complete, still provide some nutrition. Treats that aren’t safe for your Lab include table food (as I mentioned before), most bones and candy. Once you’ve selected some appropriate treats for your Lab, make sure you don’t overdo the goodies. Labs don’t require many calories to maintain their body weight, so keep the treats to a minimum.

Why shouldn’t I give my Lab bones? Chewing on bones can be dangerous for dogs. It’s not just chicken bones either, although they should never be fed because of their tendency to crack and splinter. Pork chop bones can also crack into sharp pieces that can be dangerous for your Lab. Larger bones, if softened by cooking, can cause constipation if your Lab is able to chew off and swallow large portions of the bone. Smaller bones, such as short-rib bones and round steak bones, can become lodged across the roof of the mouth or around

What Should I Feed My Labrador Retriever?


the lower jaw. If you absolutely feel that you must give your Lab an occasional bone (and the emphasis is on occasional ), give her an uncooked beef knuckle bone. The bone won’t splinter and she won’t be able to chew off enough it to cause any problems. An easier, neater and safer option would be to get her a nylon chew bone.

Why is candy bad for my Lab? Candy is bad for your Lab for the same reasons it’s bad for you: It contributes to dental problems, interferes with good nutrition and promotes weight gain. Not only is it unhealthy, some candy can actually be toxic to your Lab. Chocolate, for example, contains theobromine, which is toxic to dogs if eaten in large enough quantities (and it’s not at all difficult for a Lab to devour an entire box of chocolates). The easiest way to avoid these problems is to keep all candy away from your Lab. Instead, check out the many dog treats and biscuits that are available and reward your friend with a healthy treat.

Will it hurt my Lab to give her a little beer every once in a while? She seems to like it. Yes, it will definitely hurt your Lab to give her beer or any other kind of alcoholic beverage! It doesn’t matter whether she likes it or not. Considering the size difference between you and your Lab, just one beer for your Lab would be the equivalent of two or three for you. At that rate, it wouldn’t take too many beers before your Lab was dangerously intoxicated and in need of medical attention.

Believe it or not, my Lab likes to eat raw carrots. Will they hurt her? Probably not. In fact, as treats go, raw carrots are a pretty good choice— crisp, crunchy and low-calorie, with the added advantage of letting your Lab feel like she’s getting a little people food. Just don’t overdo it—a oneinch piece once or twice a day is plenty. (Cut it into smaller pieces to make it last longer.)


What About Labrador Retrievers?

What should I look for on a dog food label? Federal law dictates that all dog food labels must contain nutritional information in a specified format. There’s no law that says the information has to be understandable, however, even if it’s physically laid out the same on every label. Fortunately, the really important information is easy to find and easy to comprehend. What is most crucial is that the dog food is labeled “completely balanced” or “nutritionally complete.” You should also know that there’s little variation in the nutritional content of balanced foods, as long as you’re comparing foods of the same type (dry, semi-moist, canned) formulated for the same age group (puppies, adults, seniors).

What does the nutritional analysis on the label mean? The nutritional analysis for the food lists the protein content, fat content, fiber content and other information. The percentages are the values for each component “as fed,” which means the food as it comes from the sack or can, without any additions or special processing. You’ll notice that the percentages for protein and fat are listed as minimum (or “not less than”) values. That’s because the dog food manufacturers are legally prohibited from listing a range, such as 20 to 24 percent protein. The content may be higher than the listed minimum percentage (that’s doubtful for protein, because it’s the most expensive nutrient), but it won’t be lower. Fiber and water (moisture) are listed as maximum (“not more than”) percentages. This means that the food may contain less fiber or water than the percentage listed, but it won’t contain more. Carbohydrate, the major ingredient of dog food, doesn’t even appear in the nutritional analysis. That’s because there’s no need to include it—after protein, fat, fiber and moisture have been accounted for, everything else is carbohydrate. The label refers to crude protein and crude fat —the amounts of protein and fat analyzed by a laboratory instrument. This analysis, while technically accurate with respect to the chemical structure of the component, tells you nothing about how much of the nutrient can actually be used by your Lab. To figure that out, you need the digestible content, such as the digestible protein. That information doesn’t have to be listed on the label, but many manufacturers will provide it by telephone or on the Internet.

What Should I Feed My Labrador Retriever?


What does the ingredient list on the label tell me? The ingredient list will state what products provide the nutrition in your Lab’s food. The ingredients are listed in descending order according to their weight in the food. One seemingly odd aspect of the list is that it will often contain several forms of the same ingredient, such as cracked corn, corn meal and corn middlings. The protein, if unspecified, may be derived from beef, lamb, chicken or other animals. You may also find some strange stuff listed, like chicken by-products, animal fat or bone meal. Those ingredients probably don’t sound like anything you’d like to eat, but your Lab will probably think they’re pretty tasty. That’s just fine—your Lab’s food doesn’t have to be made up of human quality ingredients in order for it to be nutritious (and safe) for her. If you’ve got any doubts about that, just think for a minute about the kinds of things wild canidae eat. You also don’t need to worry about the grain products in your Lab’s food, as long as the label indicates that the food is nutritionally complete. Dogs need both animal- and plant-derived foods for a balanced diet.

Should I avoid buying dog food with preservatives and additives? Dogs have been eating dog food with various added preservatives for many years with few apparent ill effects. Still, recent studies questioning the safety of some preservatives such as butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and ethoxyquin have led some manufacturers to discontinue using them. Some dog food companies now use more natural preservatives, such as mixed tocopherols (vitamin E) and vitamin C. Preservative-free dog foods are also available, but it is particularly important that they be stored under cool, dry conditions both at the retailer and in your home.

What kind of diet does a Lab puppy need to be healthy? Puppies have nutritional needs that differ from those of adult dogs. Most of these needs stem from the puppy’s rapid rate of growth and development


What About Labrador Retrievers?

in the first year of life. Protein is undoubtedly the most important nutrient for your Lab puppy, because it’s essential for muscle and bone growth and repair. Puppy food usually contains at least 27 percent protein (standard adult dog food usually has about 21 percent). Puppies also need food that supplies the correct amount of calcium and phosphorous— minerals that are important for bone structure and growth. If your Lab puppy doesn’t get enough calcium or phosphorous, she could develop weakness in her legs, which could affect her ability to walk. Although puppies need calcium for proper bone growth, too much calcium can also be detrimental. Calcium supplementation, for example, can interfere with a puppy’s zinc absorption. Zinc is involved in important reactions within a puppy’s cells, and a zinc deficiency is characterized by skin problems and hair loss. (You should never give your puppy dietary supplements without first consulting your veterinarian.)

Do I have to limit the amount I feed my puppy? Lab puppies burn more calories, pound for pound, than adult Labs do. Just watch your puppy and you’ll see why. As soon as she’s eaten a meal, she’s up and away, bounding and bouncing, using those calories up! You might think with a caloric need like that, it would be okay to let her eat as much as she wants, but it’s not. It’s true that she needs calories, but only enough of them to supply her energy needs. Any additional calories, whether derived from proteins, fats or carbohydrates, will simply be deposited as fat. Overfeeding your Lab puppy can cause serious health problems, such as improper development due to the effect of excessive weight on her immature skeleton. Research has shown that puppies who are overfed have a higher likelihood of developing hip dysplasia than those who are not. Overnutrition may also play a role in the development of panosteitis, a painful inflammation of the leg bones. So it may be tempting to let your puppy eat all she wants, but she’ll be a lot healthier if you feed her enough to supply her energy needs but not so much that she’s continually adding extra layers of baby fat.

What Should I Feed My Labrador Retriever?


What kind of diet does a senior Lab need to be healthy? Your senior Lab has some specific dietary requirements, due primarily to changes in the way her body uses energy (calories) and protein. As she ages, she’ll need fewer calories. Most Labs gain weight rather easily, but senior Labs are particularly at risk, especially if their owners don’t take into account their dog’s decreased caloric requirement. Because older dogs need less energy, most senior foods have less fat and fewer calories than food formulated for younger dogs. Many senior foods also contain added fiber, which decreases the caloric density while adding bulkiness to fill the dog up. It’s important that your senior Lab eat adequate amounts of highquality protein, unless she has a health problem, such as kidney disease, that requires protein restriction. As a dog ages, her ability to metabolize protein decreases significantly, so she needs increased amounts of protein to compensate. Even though your senior Lab is no longer growing, she still needs protein to maintain her body. Inadequate protein intake can compromise her immune system and make her more susceptible to infections and stress. In response to the relatively new information regarding the importance of protein for healthy senior dogs, many senior foods now have protein levels that are as high as those in puppy foods.

How much food does my Lab need? How much food your Lab needs each day will depend on her age, size, activity level, metabolic rate and the type and quality of food. The instructions on the package or can will give you some guidelines for feeding that particular product. Your Lab, however, may need more or less than the recommended amount. If you feed the recommended amount for a few weeks and notice that your Lab is getting chubby, reduce the amount you feed by 10 to 20 percent. If, on the other hand, she starts losing weight on the recommended ration, increase the amount you feed. Continue in this way until you determine the amount that’s best for your Lab.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

How often should I feed my Lab? Adult Labs (one year of age and up) are usually fed once or twice a day. Once-a-day feeding might be convenient for you, but it could increase your Lab’s chances of developing gastric dilatation-volvulus (bloat), which may be caused by rapid ingestion of a large meal. To be safe, feed your Lab twice a day—and remember to feed just half of her total daily ration at each feeding. If your Lab is a puppy, the number of meals per day will depend on her age. Very young puppies who have just been weaned are usually fed four times a day. When the puppy is 10 to 12 weeks old, the daily feedings can be decreased to three. When your puppy reaches six months of age, you can reduce the number of feedings to two per day.

Can I let my Lab snack all day, rather than feed her regular meals? Free-choice feeding, in which the dog determines how much and when to eat, is an easy plan for the owner, who simply provides food in excess of the dog’s daily requirement. Some dogs do quite well when fed this way. Others tend to overeat, which can lead to excessive weight gain, especially if they don’t get enough exercise. If your Lab has a hearty appetite (and most do), she may quickly morph into Pudgy Pup on a free-choice feeding plan. In addition, it may be harder for you to tell exactly how much she’s eating, which can have serious consequences if an illness-related decrease in appetite isn’t noticed right away. A satisfactory compromise might be to use a portion-controlled plan, in which you give your Lab a predetermined amount of unmoistened dry food that she can eat whenever she wants. This plan works best when you feed more than once a day—and of course, when your Lab’s total daily ration remains the same.

How often should I give my Lab water? Labs need plenty of fresh, clean water to drink at all times. Just like you, she’ll need extra water in hot weather. If she has a water bowl outside, you’ll need to be careful that her water doesn’t freeze in cold weather.

What Should I Feed My Labrador Retriever?


Don’t make the mistake of thinking that she’ll be able to get enough to drink by licking ice or eating snow.

How much will it cost to feed my Lab? The cost of feeding your Lab depends primarily on the type of food (dry, canned or semi-moist) and how much your Lab needs to eat. Interestingly, the purchase price doesn’t affect overall feeding cost very much, as long as you’re comparing products of the same type (such as different dry foods for adult dogs). That’s because the so-called premium dog foods provide more concentrated nutrition, so the dog doesn’t need to eat as much of it. For example, if a premium brand is twice as expensive (on a per-pound basis) as a bargain brand, but your Lab only needs half as much, it won’t cost you any more to feed the premium brand. Keeping in mind that dog food prices vary somewhat from region to region and usually increase year to year, you can expect to pay about $200 to $400 a year to feed your Lab dry food. Canned food will cost about $600 to $800 per year for a dog of the same size. Semi-moist food will cost about $1,800 to $2,400 per year.

What are the typical feeding mistakes that Lab owners make? Lab owners tend to make the same mistakes that other dog owners make, including: • Overfeeding • Feeding canned food • Feeding table food • Giving too many treats • Giving unnecessary supplementation You might think that giving your Lab treats and rich food is a good way to show your love, but you really should resist. Her fleeting pleasure can lead to a shorter, less healthy life. She’ll be just as happy—and a lot healthier—if you if you take her for a nice long walk.

5 What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever? What does my Lab need in the house? • How do I make my home safe for my Lab? • What equipment and supplies will I need for my Lab? • What kind of feeding equipment do I need for my Lab? • What type of collar and leash should I get for my Lab? • What are the best types of toys for Labs? • What rules of the house should I have for my Lab? • Will I be able to leave my Lab home alone while I work? • Can I keep my Lab inside, or do I need a yard? • What does my Lab need when he’s outside? • How can I keep my Lab safe outdoors? • How can I keep my Lab comfortable when he’s outside? • How much exercise does a Lab need?


What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever?


What does my Lab need in the house? In your house, you need to provide your Lab with: • A safe environment • His own space • Basic equipment such as bowls and toys • Discipline: the rules of the house

How do I make my home safe for my Lab? Labrador Retrievers—especially puppies—are like children: active, inquisitive and into everything. If you’re going to provide a safe environment for your Lab, you’ll need to dog-proof your home, or, at the very least, the designated Lab areas. This latter option is less demanding of you, but more dangerous for your Lab, who could get into trouble if he escapes his space. To be absolutely certain your Lab is safe, dog-proof your entire home. When you’re dog-proofing, try to think like a dog. Remember that puppies can often wiggle into small spots that would be inaccessible to a larger dog. It helps to get down on the floor to get a Lab’s-eye view of danger spots.

Are there specific hazards I should know about? Yes. Pay particular attention to the following: • Electrical cords: Puppies in particular seem to be magically drawn to electrical cords, which can deliver a nasty shock if chewed down to the wires. Unplug all unnecessary electrical cords and hide the others behind and under furniture. • Small objects (paper clips, erasers, marbles and the like): These objects are choking hazards, especially to puppies. If swallowed, they can cause digestive problems—from upset to obstruction—in Labs of all ages. Put these small objects where your Lab can’t get them.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

• String, yarn, cord or thread: If chewed and swallowed, these materials can cause severe digestive tract damage, which often requires surgical correction. Cord, if sturdy and unbreakable, is also a strangling hazard for young puppies. Remove access to all of these materials. • Houseplants: Many houseplants, such as philodendron, dieffenbachia, pothos, amaryllis, bird of paradise and asparagus fern, are toxic to dogs. Other plants may irritate the mouth or digestive tract if eaten. In addition, fertilizers and other products used on houseplants may be hazardous to your Lab. Put your houseplants where your Lab can’t get to them. • Toxic chemicals and products (including cleaning products, paint thinner, antifreeze and pesticides): Chemical-based products can kill your Lab. Just because they smell bad to you doesn’t mean your Lab will stay away from them, so store these products in a cabinet or area that he absolutely cannot get to. Stowing the above items out of reach doesn’t mean you can just turn your Lab loose in the house and ignore him. Even if you’re certain your house is absolutely dog-proofed, chances are your Lab will eventually find some hidden hazard. So be alert to potential dangers and be aware of what your Lab is doing.

What equipment and supplies will I need for my Lab? Here’s a list of the equipment and supplies—some essential, some just for fun—that your Lab will need: • Carrier or crate • Feeding equipment • Collar and leash • Toys • More toys (a dog can’t have too many toys!)

Why do I need a carrier or crate for my Lab? A crate or carrier is a good investment for any dog owner. You might prefer to sleep in a large, open room with high ceilings and picture windows,

What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever?


but your Lab is a den animal accustomed to sleeping in small, sheltered spaces. If you introduce him to the crate or carrier correctly, he’ll soon adopt it as his very own personal space—for sleeping or just a secluded spot where he can get away from the household hustle and bustle. Once a dog’s been crate-trained, it’s not unusual to find him lounging in his crate, watching the world go by—with the door wide open. Crates also simplify housetraining, because you can confine your Lab when you aren’t able to watch him closely. He’ll be less likely to have accidents in his crate, because dogs instinctively try to keep their den clean. (This method works well for both puppies and older dogs.) Confining your Lab puppy in a crate is also a good way to keep him from chewing everything he can get his jaws around when he’s going through that mouthy stage or teething. In addition, once your Lab is used to his crate, you can leave him in it while you run errands or go to work. Crates are mandatory for traveling with your Lab. Using a crate is the safest way to confine your Lab on car trips (even short ones), and a plastic or fiberglass crate is required for air travel.

What type and size of crate should I get for my Lab? Most crates for large dogs are constructed of wire mesh, which lets the dog see everything around him. Some Labs seem to like having at least part of the crate covered, for a more denlike effect. Many crates have solid floors or pans, but removable wire mesh floor grids can be purchased separately. Solid floors are more comfortable than mesh floors, but floor grids are usually made of high-gauge mesh (i.e., the holes between the wires are small) to keep the dog’s toes from slipping through. Mesh floor grids are convenient if you have a puppy, who might have an occasional accident, because the grid allows urine to drain. Once your Lab has been housetrained and is less apt to have accidents in his crate, you can remove the floor grid. The crate should be large enough so that your Lab, when full-grown, will be able to stand up and move around in it. Most Lab-size carriers are at least 42 inches deep by 32 inches high by 28 inches wide. To make that great big carrier seem a little cozier to your Lab puppy, you can purchase a crate divider that can be repositioned or removed as your puppy grows. Crate prices can run from about $90 to $150 and up. Don’t try to save money by skimping on the size of the crate. If you want your Lab to use it as his den, he needs to be comfortable in it.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

How long can my Lab puppy stay in a crate without being let out? That depends on your baby Lab’s age. If he’s 9 to 10 weeks old, you should only confine him for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. When he’s 11 to 14 weeks old, he’ll be able to stay in his crate for up to three hours. At 15 to 16 weeks of age, your Lab puppy should be all right for up to four hours in his crate. When he’s 17 weeks, he’ll be able to stay in his crate for up to six hours. A good rule for crate-training and housetraining is that the number of hours a puppy can go without eliminating is equal to his age in months plus one. (For example, a three-month-old puppy usually needs to eliminate about every four hours.) Of course, to reduce the chances of an in-crate accident, it’s always a good idea to give your puppy a potty break well before that critical time.

How long can my adult Lab stay in a crate without being let out? With the exception of overnight, when most dogs can stay confined for about eight hours, you shouldn’t confine your Lab to a crate for longer than six hours at a time. Your Lab will be much happier, however, if he can stretch his legs and take a bathroom break every three hours or so.

What kind of feeding equipment do I need for my Lab? Your Lab’s food and water bowls don’t have to be expensive. They don’t even have to be specifically made for a dog. All your Lab cares about is what’s inside! The most useful dog bowls are those that are wide-based and made of a material that’s either unbreakable or difficult to break, such as crockery or stainless steel. Some dog owners prefer crockery bowls, because they’re heavy and can’t be tipped over easily. This is particularly important if your Lab tends to play with his food bowl. Stainless steel bowls, while not heavy, can be used with specially designed suction-footed bowl frames that keep the dog from tipping them over. Bowl frames that clip on the wires of a crate will keep your Lab from spilling his food and water while he’s in it.

What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever?


Some people recommend avoiding plastic bowls because even when they’re cleaned with every use, bacteria can grow in the cracks and pits.

What type of collar and leash should I get for my Lab? Collars and leashes are available in a wide range of styles and prices, from plain and relatively inexpensive, to rhinestone-bedecked and quite pricey. Once again, your Lab isn’t going to care what his collar looks like, but you might. If you have a puppy, he’ll outgrow several collars on his way to adulthood, so for right now, get him a basic, inexpensive one. He won’t outgrow his leash, however, so you can get whatever you like, as long as it’s sturdy enough and not made of chain. A chain leash can hurt your Lab if it flips across his face or he gets his legs tangled up in it.

What are the best types of toys for Labs? The best toys for your Lab fall into two categories: toys to chew and toys to chase.

Does it matter what kind of chew toys I get? Some types of chew toys are safer than others. Stick with the following types: • Vinyl and rubber toys: These are those cute little toys shaped like rolled-up newspapers, fire hydrants and T-bone steaks. Often they have squeakers or bells inside them to attract the dog’s attention. Novice dog owners and children usually love these toys, but unfortunately, many Labs aren’t particularly interested in them. Most are harmless enough, although the squeakers and bells can be a choking hazard if the dog chews them out of the toy. • Rawhide and leather chews: Most Labs seem to like these toys. Rawhide products range in size from small sticks to huge bones.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

Various shapes, such as little shoes, are marketed mainly to appeal to the owner. Many dogs also enjoy other leather products such as dried pig’s ears. All of these products soften as they’re chewed, which allows the dog to bite off and swallow pieces of them. This doesn’t seem to cause any problems for the dog. • Labs also seem to enjoy chewing on natural and synthetic (but not rubber) bones. Many pet supply stores carry a selection of beef leg bones, which have been specially processed and smoked. Synthetic chew bones are made of nylon that is scented to smell like a real bone. Labs enjoy these products, because they’re able to satisfy their urge to chew with them. Owners like these products too, because they’re safe for their dogs.

Is there anything I need to know about chase toys? As innocuous as they seem, balls can cause problems for your Lab if they’re the wrong material or the wrong size. Make sure the ball you choose for your Lab is made of hard rubber. It should have thick walls (solid is better) that can’t be easily torn open and chewed up, especially if it has a bell or squeaker. The ball should be sufficiently large that it cannot be swallowed, which could cause a digestive tract obstruction. It should also be large enough that it cannot lodge in the back of your Lab’s mouth and cause him to choke. Because of this danger, when you play ball with your Lab, you should never throw the ball directly to him, but bounce it instead.

What types of toys should I avoid getting for my Lab? Unfortunately, not every toy—even those made specifically for dogs— is safe for your Lab. You should avoid giving your Lab the following: • Toys that splinter (wood, plastic and some kinds of bone) • Toys that can be swallowed (small balls, marbles and other small objects) • Toys that present a strangling hazard (ropes and cords) • Toys made of string, yarn or any material prone to fraying

What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever?


What rules of the house should I have for my Lab? Both you and your Lab will be happier if you establish some house rules. For example, do you want your Lab to have access to the entire house or only part of the house? House rules for your Lab might include: • The living room (or some other room or a certain part of the house) is off-limits • The furniture is off-limits • Sleep only in your own bed • The bathroom is outside (this one is usually not considered optional)

How do I establish that part of the house is off-limits to my Lab? If you decide that you don’t want your Lab in a certain room or area of the house, you’ll need to be firm, consistent and—given the Lab’s somewhat stubborn nature—persistent. Simply closing the doors to the restricted area will help, but if that’s not possible, you can also use removable gates such as those used with small children. If removable gates are not an option, you’ll need to watch him closely, but this doesn’t work as well as physical barriers. If your Lab trespasses, reprimand him firmly and take him back to the permitted area. Be consistent: Don’t permit him to go in the off-limits area one time and then not allow it another time. Encourage him to stay in his area by spending time with him there. It might take a while, but eventually your Lab will learn where he’s supposed to stay.

Can I teach my Lab to keep off the furniture? Sure. But you’ll have to watch your Lab closely until he understands what you want. When you catch him on the furniture, reprimand him firmly and make him get down. Praise him when he does the right thing. Once again, you’ll need to be consistent and persistent as you teach your Lab that his place is on the floor, not the furniture. (He should, however, have a soft, comfy place to relax.) And remember, you’re allowed on the floor even if he isn’t allowed on the furniture—take some time to get down on his level and play with him.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

Is it okay let my puppy to sleep in my bed? I don’t recommend it. If you let your Lab sleep with you when he’s a puppy, he’s probably going to think he can sleep with you forever. He must learn that he has his bed (the crate for right now) and you have yours. He must also learn that there will be times when he cannot be with you (not only at night but when you go to work, run errands or travel). If you bend the rules, especially now, he might never learn those lessons. As much as you and your Lab enjoy and need each other’s company, it’s not realistic to expect that you’ll spend every minute together.

What if my Lab puppy doesn’t want to sleep in his crate? At first, your baby Lab probably won’t want to sleep in his crate, but you’ll need to insist. If he cries after you tuck him in, try to ignore him. This will be difficult, but going back to him will only extend the time it takes to teach him to sleep by himself. If you hear a noise that could mean he’s in danger, such as his crate falling over, it’s okay to check on him. Otherwise try to stay away. It sounds heartless, but if you respond by going to him, he’ll learn to cry for your attention and will do it even louder when you leave again.

Would it hurt anything to check him just once? If you’re feeling like the world’s biggest meanie and you simply must go in and check him, wait until he stops fussing (if only for a few seconds), then go in. Praise him for being quiet, check him quickly, tell him goodnight and leave. If you’re tempted to check him again, reread the last sentence of the answer above.

What about putting an alarm clock in his bed? The old alarm clock trick—it sounds so good in theory: Place a towelwrapped ticking alarm clock in your puppy’s bed, where the ticking will remind the puppy of his mother’s heartbeat and soothe him to sleep. Unfortunately, it rarely works. That’s not too surprising—most puppies can tell the difference between an alarm clock and their mother! Instead of a clock, you might try playing soft music for your puppy. Just make sure the radio or CD player and its cord, if any, is out of his reach.

What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever?


What does housetraining a puppy involve? Housetraining involves teaching your puppy that the appropriate place for elimination is outside. To accomplish this: • The puppy must have sufficient mental development to understand what you want him to do and sufficient physical development to control his bodily functions. By the time he’s four to six months old, he can usually understand what’s expected of him and will have relatively good control over his urination and defecation. • You must have a place to confine the puppy. Typical housetraining methods take advantage of his natural instinct to keep his den (his crate or another small area) clean. • You must be willing to closely watch the puppy’s behavior and take him outside when necessary. • You must be patient. Housetraining usually only takes a few weeks, but it can take months or even years if incorrectly or incompletely done. Older dogs who were never reliably housetrained usually take longer to train than puppies.

Will I be able to leave my Lab home alone while I work? How well your Lab fares alone in the house will depend on both your Lab’s temperament and the arrangements you make. Some dogs get along better alone than others. In general, Labs prefer not to be left alone for long periods of time because they have a strong need for human companionship. Your Lab could also become quite destructive if he becomes bored in your absence.

What do I need to do to keep my Lab (and my house) safe when I’m gone? For your Lab’s sake, and your own, make sure that: • Your Lab has water. • Your Lab has toys and activities to keep him busy.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

• Your Lab is confined in a small room or crate, if you’re not absolutely certain that he can be trusted with free run of the house. Be aware that a puppy left alone in a crate all day will not be able to wait for you to go outside to eliminate. He’ll be forced to soil his den and is likely to develop some very unwanted habits. • The area where he’s confined has been dog-proofed.

What other ways can I look after my Lab when I’m gone? If you don’t think your Lab will do well when left at home by himself, you might consider one of the following options: • Leave him in an outside run or fenced yard. • Come home at lunchtime to take care of him. • Hire a neighbor or dog-sitter to exercise him or play with him in the middle of the day. • Take him to doggy day care.

Can I keep my Lab inside, or do I need a yard? Labs don’t have to have yards or any outside space at all. Even though your Lab is an energetic and active dog, he’ll probably adapt well to life without a yard as long as he gets sufficient exercise. This means at least two hours of vigorous outdoor exercise each day. If you have no yard for him to play in, you’ll have to put on your comfortable shoes, clip the leash on your buddy and head off to the park or some other outdoor area. If you want him to be an inside dog, you’ll also need to make sure you’ve got the space—and the tolerance—for it. Labs are not small dogs; they take up a lot of room. Given the Lab love of companionship, it’s not likely that he’ll just lie quietly in his bed—he’ll want to be right in the middle of everything you do. In fact, if you let him, he’ll probably follow you all over the house, possibly at a gait that’s quite a bit faster than a walk. You’ll also need to make sure that anything that you don’t want chewed up is put away, especially if your Lab is a youngster. While

What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever?


you’re at it, remove all breakable objects from tail-level surfaces—the average Lab can clear a coffee table with about two good swipes of that famous otter tail. It will be much more tolerable for you (and pleasant for you both) if your indoors Lab has been taught some basic manners. For more information on what he needs to know, see Chapter 8.

What does my Lab need when he’s outside? Your Lab has some basic needs that must be met if he’s to enjoy his time outside: • He needs to be safe. • He needs to be comfortable. • He needs to be exercised.

How can I keep my Lab safe outdoors? To make sure your Lab is safe outside, you’ll need to provide him with a fenced yard, enclosure or run that’s been dog-proofed. He’ll also need some sort of identification, in case he escapes from the yard.

What’s the best type of fence for my yard? It doesn’t matter much what type of fence you get, as long as it’s sturdily built and high enough to keep your Lab from jumping out. A chain link or wire fence will allow your Lab to see what’s going on in the world beyond the yard, but some dogs are able to climb these fences relatively easily. A tall fence will often discourage this method of escape, but not always. A fence for a Lab should be at least four and a half to five feet high. If your Lab’s a confirmed escape artist, the fence should be even higher. It’s better to get a fence that’s higher than you think you’ll need than to get one that’s too low.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

How can I keep my Lab from digging under the fence? Extending the fence about 18 to 24 inches below ground will help discourage him from digging under it. This technique works best with wire fences that won’t rot when buried. Sometimes a chain link or chicken wire extension can be added to the bottom of a wooden fence. Some Labs dig not to escape but because they’re bored or lonely. If this seems to be the problem, try to arrange for him to spend less time alone, and his digging may stop.

How do invisible fences work? With an invisible fence, the dog is not restrained by a physical barrier but instead is trained to stay within the boundaries. The system operates on radio waves. A wire that is buried around the perimeter of the yard emits a signal that is picked up by a special collar that the dog wears. When the dog approaches the boundary, the fence emits a high-frequency warning sound that the dog can hear. If the dog stops, nothing happens, but if he continues to approach the boundary, the collar emits a brief mild shock (it’s uncomfortable, but it doesn’t hurt the dog). The dog soon learns to turn away from the boundary when he hears the warning signal. It’s important to understand that an invisible fence is effective only if all of its components are working correctly and the dog is wearing the collar. If your Lab slips out of the collar or it—or any other part of the fence—malfunctions, he’ll be free to go wherever he wants. An invisible fence may keep your Lab from getting out of the yard, but it won’t stop other animals from coming in. That means other dogs can wander onto your property and fight with your Lab or otherwise make trouble. Cats and squirrels can run by, and if your Lab chases them he may cross the invisible fence line. Once he’s outside the fence line, he’s got a very good reason not to come back home—crossing the boundary again will give him a shock. An invisible fence also does not protect your dog from being stolen or from being teased or tormented by people who come onto your property. If this happens, your dog can’t run away and is therefore more likely to either suffer harm or bite to protect himself.

What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever?


If my yard isn’t fenced, can I tie my Lab to a tree or a telephone pole? It’s not a good idea. If he’s tied up, your Lab won’t get much exercise and could become an easy target for nasty roaming dogs, unruly neighborhood children and dognappers. He could also get caught up in the chain or rope and injure himself or even strangle.

How do I dog-proof my yard? A great way to begin dog-proofing your yard is to get a Lab’s-eye view of the area. Make sure there are no broken boards or protruding nails on the fence or gates. If you have a wire fence, check that none of the wires are broken or sticking out where it could poke your Lab. Remove all ropes, cords and strings that your Lab could chew on or get tangled up in. Lock up plant fertilizers, pesticides and chemicals. Take a look around for poisonous plants such as oleander, castor bean and yews. Dogs—even puppies—don’t usually chew or eat plants outside, but just to be safe, keep your Lab out of areas that contain these highly toxic plants.

Does my Lab need identification? Absolutely. You Lab should always have some type of identification when he’s outside. Although you keep him in a fenced yard, no owner—not even the most conscientious one—can guarantee that his dog will never escape. Your Lab may climb the fence or slip through the gate. Without identification, he could be lost forever.

What type of identification should my Lab have? Adequate identification is important for all dogs, but it’s especially critical for Labrador Retrievers because they lack distinguishing characteristics such as markings. The types of identification that can be used for dogs include: • Collar and tags • Tattoos • Microchips


What About Labrador Retrievers?

Won’t my Lab’s dog tag identify him well enough? Identification tags imprinted with the owner’s name and phone number are inexpensive and easy to use—just hook the tag on your Lab’s collar and he’s identified. The simplicity of attaching ID tags is also the major drawback: If the tag comes off your Lab’s collar, or your Lab slips out of his collar, the tag is worthless. Because of this, tags provide no protection against dog theft. On the other hand, most people who find dogs often look first (and perhaps only) for a tag, so be sure to use a tag along with any other type of identification.

What about identification with a tattoo? Tattooing can be a good way to identify your Lab. The tattoo, which may have your telephone number or other identifying information, is usually placed in the ear or on the abdomen. Tattoos are better than tags for dog identification, but they still don’t offer complete protection against theft because they can be altered.

How are microchips used to identify dogs? A special microchip the size of a grain of rice is implanted under the skin on the back of the Lab’s neck. The microchip contains an identification number that is registered with owner information in a database maintained by the microchip manufacturer or program such as the AKC’s Companion Animal Recovery Program. The information on the microchip is read with a special scanner, available at many animal shelters and veterinary clinics. It’s impossible to tell just by looking at a dog whether he has an implanted microchip. The microchip cannot be altered or easily removed. Because of these features, this method of identification offers your Lab the best protection against dog theft.

How can I keep my Lab comfortable when he’s outside? You’ll need to make sure that your yard has ample shade for your Lab to sit in. A grassy yard is comfortable, especially on hot days, but grass can harbor fleas and ticks. Concrete and other hard surfaces are easy to clean, but can be hot in the summer. It’s probably best to have both surfaces available in your yard. Your Lab will also need plenty of fresh, clean water

What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever?


to drink (although he’d probably enjoy a swimming pool too). Whether he needs to have food depends on how long he’s outside and his feeding schedule. Finally, he’ll need a doghouse for shade, shelter and the security of his very own den.

Where can I get a doghouse? Many retail stores, such as pet supply stores, discount stores and hardware stores, sell doghouses. You may also be able to find a doghouse at a garage sale or in the classified ads of your newspaper. If you’re a carpenter, you could build your Lab’s doghouse yourself.

What kind of doghouse should I get? Most doghouses are made from molded plastic or wood. The material should be impervious to the weather, to prevent leaks when it rains or snows, and insulated for warmth. How much insulation your Lab’s house will need depends on how cold your winters are and whether he’ll be using it in the winter. You should get your Lab a house that’s spacious enough that he can stand up and turn around in it, but it shouldn’t be so roomy that a Great Dane could use it. Labs generally prefer the coziness of a smaller space.

Where should I put the doghouse? Place your Lab’s doghouse in a shady part of the yard. It will be more comfortable for your Lab if it’s in an area that’s sheltered from the elements, such as up against a garage or shed that has an overhang. Position the doghouse so the door faces south. This will keep the house cooler in the summer because it will let southern breezes ventilate it. A doghouse that faces south is warmer in winter too, because it provides greater protection from cold north winds and the southern exposure tends to be sunnier. Elevate the doghouse off the ground on a platform or runners, but don’t raise it too high, because that will let cold air circulate underneath.

Can my Lab go outside when it’s really hot? It’s safe for your Lab to go outside in hot weather as long as you take precautions to keep him from overheating. Give him a chance to get used to


What About Labrador Retrievers?

hot weather by limiting his exposure to just 30 minutes or so at first, then gradually increase the amount of time he’s outside. Make sure there’s plenty of shade available all through the day and that he always has plenty of fresh, clean water to drink, even if he’s outside for just a short period of time. It’s not absolutely necessary, but being the water-lover that he is, your Lab would undoubtedly enjoy having his very own swimming pool—a low-sided plastic wading pool works well—in hot weather. Come to think of it, he’d probably enjoy it in cold weather too!

Can my Lab go outside when it’s really cold? If he’s healthy, your Lab will probably be able to tolerate cold temperatures just fine, as long as he’s gradually gotten used to cold weather and has adequate shelter. Adequate shelter means a dry, well-insulated doghouse that’s thickly bedded. Straw bales piled around the house will add extra insulation in very cold climates. Even though it’s cold, your Lab will still need fresh water while he’s outside. You’ll need to keep his water from freezing—dogs can’t take in adequate water by eating snow or licking ice. To prevent his water from freezing, you can use a heated water bowl or hang a heat lamp over the bowl. If your Lab spends a lot of time outside in cold weather, he’ll need to eat more too—the extra calories will help keep him warm.

Can my Lab stay outside all the time? Your Lab could stay outside all the time—as long as he had adequate food, water and shelter—but he probably wouldn’t be happy about it. Labs are people dogs—they want and need to be around their humans. Isolating your Lab away from his family pack can cause him to develop some very serious mental and physical problems. Labs who don’t get enough time with their human family often become lonely and bored. In an effort to relieve their boredom, some isolated Labs resort to destructive behaviors such as digging or chewing. Others bark incessantly or run back and forth along the fence for hours at a time. Some spend most of their time perfecting their escape tactics, eventually becoming so good at it that they can get out of almost any fence. Isolation can have adverse physical effects as well. Dogs who are only temporarily confined to yards often fail to get adequate exercise, preferring

What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever?


instead to nap in the shade until their owners get home. If your Lab were to live outside, deprived of human contact most of the time, he might completely forgo exercise, either out of boredom or in order to engage in destructive, but tension-releasing, behavior. Over time, his decreased activity could lead to obesity and the health problems that accompany it.

What if my Lab just won’t behave when he’s indoors? Labs who seem to go wild when they come inside and spend time with people are generally caught up in a vicious cycle. The dog spends most of his time outside by himself with little or no human companionship. When he finally gets to be around his family, he’s wild and unmanageable—jumping up, climbing on the furniture, racing through the house. His family, unable to control him, sentences him to more solitary confinement. You need to consider why you want your Lab to stay outside all the time. If he’s outside during the day because everyone’s at work or school, you should make every effort to include him in family activities in the evenings. When you get home, bring him into the house and let him stay with the family until the next morning. If he spends a lot of time outside because he’s got bad manners when he’s in the house, or because he’s not reliably housetrained, you need to work with him in those areas. If the problem behaviors are long-standing or serious, you might want to enlist the help of an expert. You may not be able to spend every minute with your Lab, but you don’t have to totally isolate him either.

How much exercise does a Lab need? How much exercise a Lab needs depends on his age, his overall health and his temperament. As a rule, a healthy adult Lab needs about two hours of vigorous exercise every day. Examples of suitable exercise include running, jogging, retrieving and swimming. Lab puppies three months of age or less usually don’t need any sort of structured exercise program—they usually get plenty of exercise during their normal playtime. If your Lab puppy is four to six months of age, he’ll probably play vigorously for 20 to 30 minutes several times a day, especially if he lives with another dog or children. Still, to make sure he’s getting enough exercise (and to get in the habit of daily exercise with your


What About Labrador Retrievers?

Lab), you should engage him in some sort of physical activity for 20 to 30 minutes at least twice a day. You might take him for a walk or jog, play ball or go swimming. As your puppy gets older, he’ll need less free play and more structured exercise time. He’ll also be able to handle longer exercise sessions. Senior Labs—those older than seven or eight—generally require less exercise than younger or middle-aged adults, but this varies considerably. Some seniors continue to be very active into their 10th year and even beyond. Others slow down a bit but still enjoy one to two hours of less strenuous exercise a day. For these Labs, walking is an excellent form of exercise. Some seniors aren’t able to exercise very much because of elbow dysplasia, hip dysplasia or other health problems. If your senior Lab is less active due to a physical problem, your veterinarian may be able to prescribe medication or other therapy for these conditions. Obviously, there’s no one-size-fits-all exercise formula for Labs. So how do you know if your Lab is getting enough exercise? The best way to determine that is to evaluate his behavior. If he’s wild and ill-mannered— crashing through the house like a runaway freight train—it’s a safe bet that he’s probably not getting enough exercise. If, on the other hand, he’s attentive and obedient and doing more cruising than crashing, his exercise program is probably fine. You can also tell whether your Lab’s getting enough exercise by checking his weight. If he’s putting on a few pounds, he may need more activity in his life (but check the behavior index too, because you might just be feeding him too much).

Are there certain kinds of exercise that my Lab puppy should not do? Yes. Because your Lab puppy’s joints and bones are still growing and developing, you’ll need to be careful when choosing his exercise activities. Exercise that involves jumping, whether over a hurdle or in the air to catch a ball or disk, should be avoided until he’s at least one year old, because these activities can damage his immature joints. You also shouldn’t run or jog with your puppy on hard surfaces because of the excessive concussion on his bones and joints (and yours too). Running or jogging on grass or other soft surfaces is fine. Another good activity is swimming, an excellent form of exercise that’s easy on the joints.

What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever?


Can my Lab get sufficient exercise even if I don’t have a fenced yard? Yes. In fact, as noted above, many yard Labs spend most of their time napping. What you need to make sure your Lab gets enough exercise is time (about two hours a day), comfortable shoes (for you), a leash, and a sidewalk, park, nature trail or other outdoor area.

How can I work full-time and make sure that my Lab gets enough exercise? There’s no doubt about it: It’s difficult, when you work full-time, to make sure a Lab gets the physical activity he needs. If your schedule runs from seven in the morning until nine at night (or later), it’s really hard. But you’ve got some options either way. First of all, remember that your Lab’s two hours of exercise don’t have to occur in a block. It’s perfectly all right if it’s made up of short sessions (even just 10 to 15 minutes) throughout the day. This might make it easier for you to squeeze in a ball game or a brisk walk. The sessions also don’t have to be the same from day to day. Don’t be afraid to vary the type of exercise, the duration and the schedule—variety is the spice of life for both you and your Lab. You also don’t have to be the only one to work out with your Lab. If you have a family, assign each of your kids some daily Lab work. If possible, let them decide what the type of exercise will be (with your approval, of course). Encourage them to be creative. Your kids and your Lab will probably love it—plus it’s a great way to teach your kids responsibility and strengthen their relationship with their dog. If you don’t have children, you may be able to hire one of your neighbor’s children (or even your neighbor) to walk or play with your Lab. To many children, this is the ideal job—being paid to play with a dog. You can also hire a professional dog-sitter or dog-walker to look after your Lab’s exercise. If these options aren’t possible, you may be able to arrange for your Lab to attend a doggy day care program while you’re at work. These programs can be pricey, but it’s money well spent if you need to be out of the house most of the day. A good day care program will provide your Lab with both entertainment and exercise, as well as the opportunity to socialize with other dogs and different people. When you come home at night, your Lab


What About Labrador Retrievers?

will be eager to spend time with you, but he won’t be crazy with the need for exercise and attention. If you keep your Lab in the yard while you’re at work, he may get some exercise on his own. This isn’t a totally satisfactory option—many yard Labs spend more time snoozing in the sun than exercising—but he’ll probably get at least 30 minutes of exercise through the day. When you add in an hour spent playing with your children and 30 minutes of jogging with you (okay, okay—brisk walking), he’s gotten his two hours of activity by the end of the day. All of this doesn’t mean it will be easy for you to make sure that your Lab gets his exercise each day. But with some creative thinking, flexibility (yours and other people’s) and determination, it can be done.

What if my daily schedule is not consistent? The same methods outlined in the answer above can work with an inconsistent schedule. The key is flexibility: realizing that your Lab doesn’t have to get the same type of exercise at the same time every day. It’s also important to realize that you don’t have to be the only one who takes care of your Lab’s need for physical activity. If other family members can’t or won’t help, you can hire someone who will.

What if I’m too busy with my social life? Having an active social life poses many of the same problems that a busy or inconsistent schedule does, with one notable exception. Your social life involves activities that you choose to do, as opposed to ones that you’re required to do (like work). This means that it’s relatively easy for most people to cut back on their social activities, if that’s what they want to do. If you’re committed to providing the best care for your Lab, but your social life is interfering, the best approach is to compromise. Decrease the amount of time you spend in social activities, increase the amount of time you spend with your Lab—and enjoy the best of both worlds. Another compromise might be to change some of your social activities to ones you and your Lab can enjoy together. Instead of brunch, ask a friend to go on a picnic with you and your Lab.

What’s It Like to Live With a Labrador Retriever?


What will happen if my Lab doesn’t get the exercise he needs? Exercise is vital for your Lab’s physical and mental health. He needs it every day, just as he needs food and water. If your Lab doesn’t get enough exercise, he may resort to destructive behaviors, such as digging and chewing. He may annoy you and your neighbors with constant barking. He may attempt to escape from confinement at every opportunity. If he succeeds in escaping, he may race wildly through the streets or countryside— a dangerous, potentially fatal activity. High energy is an innate part of your Lab’s makeup; physical activity is essential if you’re going to keep that high energy under control. A lack of exercise can also be detrimental to your Lab’s physical wellbeing by causing him to put on excess weight (something Labs have a tendency to do even when they get sufficient exercise). For a discussion of the health problems associated with obesity and overweight, see Chapter 4.

6 How Healthy Are Labrador Retrievers? Are Labs generally healthy dogs? • What do I need to do to keep my Lab in good health? • How do I find a veterinarian? • Why does my Lab need regular veterinary care if she’s in good health? • How much will it cost a year to keep my Lab healthy? • What is an immunization? • Why are immunizations important? • What are internal parasites? • Why is it important to control internal parasites? • What are external parasites? • Why is it necessary to control external parasites? • Why should I have my Lab spayed or neutered? • What are the most common health problems seen in Labs? • How can I tell if my Lab is sick or injured?


How Healthy Are Labrador Retrievers?


Are Labs generally healthy dogs? As a breed, Labrador Retrievers are generally sturdy and robust. Many of them, when properly cared for, enjoy good health for most of their lives. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case: Some Labs just seem to have more health problems than others. It’s not clear why this happens, but irresponsible breeding practices—breeding Labs without screening for overall healthiness and genetically transmitted diseases—are likely to be a significant cause.

What do I need to do to keep my Lab in good health? In addition to food, water, exercise and human companionship (all of which are covered in other chapters of this book), your Lab needs the following: • Regular immunizations • Regular checks for internal and external parasites, with treatment if needed • Spaying or neutering, if your Lab won’t be used for breeding • Regular dental care (see Chapter 7) • A caring, informed owner who can detect health problems, take action (first aid, if necessary), follow instructions and administer appropriate treatment and nursing care if necessary

How do I find a veterinarian? If you live in a small town, finding a veterinarian might be as easy as calling up the local animal clinic and making an appointment. If you live in a city, however, you’ll have to choose your Lab’s doctor from many veterinarians. You could just select one that’s close to you. That’s convenient, but it may not be the best choice. If your breeder lives nearby, you may want to ask him for a recommendation. Another option is to ask your dog-owning friends whom they would suggest. Regardless of which method you use, it’ll be easier to make the decision if you tour the clinic and interview the veterinarian and staff first. Ask about charges for


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services you expect to require, such as immunizations and check-ups. Ask the veterinarian how he feels about Labs. If the veterinarian is too busy to spend the time you feel you need, if the staff does not make you feel comfortable, or if the office is not sufficiently clean, keep looking. You and your Lab deserve nothing but the best.

Why does my Lab need regular veterinary care if she’s in good health? Your healthy Lab needs regular veterinary care so she’ll stay healthy. Even if she’s never sick and she never gets hurt, she’ll still need to be immunized periodically to protect her from serious diseases. She’ll still need to be checked for internal parasites and treated if necessary. She’ll still need regular dental prophylaxis. If she doesn’t receive this care, she probably won’t stay healthy for very long. In addition, getting regular care means your veterinarian will be able to check your Lab for problems that may be just starting, including some that you might not be aware of—such as eye problems, heart problems and suspicious lumps. Health problems that are detected early usually have a better chance of being successfully treated. So if you must scrimp—scrimp on your Lab’s toys or her dog treats, but don’t scrimp on her health care!

How much will it cost a year to keep my Lab healthy? The cost of veterinary care for your Lab will vary, depending on your Lab’s age, her overall health and where you live, including both the part of the country and whether you live in an urban or rural area. In general, routine veterinary care for a reasonably healthy young adult Lab will cost at least $150 to $275 per year. Routine veterinary care in this case includes an annual examination with any needed laboratory tests, immunizations and internal parasite control. Note that this does not include the cost of any non-routine expenses, such as care and treatment for illnesses or injuries, nor does it include treatment for chronic diseases such as hip dysplasia. A serious illness or injury could easily increase the above figures by a factor of 10 or more.

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What is an immunization? An immunization (also called a vaccination or an inoculation) is administration, usually via injection, of a special type of medicine (vaccine). Vaccines stimulate the body to develop substances (antibodies) that fight a particular disease.

Why are immunizations important? Immunizations are important because they protect against diseases that can be very harmful or even fatal. Immunizations also indirectly protect nonimmunized individuals by limiting the spread of contagious diseases. For example, because of the extensive rabies immunization of dogs and cats, there has been a reduction in the number of rabies cases seen in humans.

What diseases do immunizations protect my Lab against? Immunizations provide protection against a wide variety of diseases. They provide full or partial protection against: • Rabies: A viral disease of the central nervous system most often transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal. Treatment is ineffective. Because rabies can be spread to humans, it is a significant public health concern. • Distemper: A viral disease that initially causes flulike or cold symptoms, which eventually progress to encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). Distemper is spread to other dogs by direct contact and when bodily secretions of the infected dog contaminate bowls, brushes or other objects. The disease is not contagious to humans. • Hepatitis: This viral disease, which most often infects young dogs, may vary from mild to life-threatening. Although the mild form of hepatitis may cause little more than a fever and lethargy, the more severe form of the disease is characterized by distemperlike symptoms, bloody diarrhea, pinpoint hemorrhages and eventually death. Dogs contract hepatitis when they come into contact with the virus, which is shed in all bodily secretions. The disease is not contagious to humans. • Leptospirosis: This bacterial disease is initially characterized by fever, vomiting and lack of appetite. Later symptoms include muscle


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soreness, excessive thirst and urination, and jaundice. Dogs contract leptospirosis through contact with the urine of infected dogs. • Parvovirus: Parvovirus infections range from undetectable to rapidly fatal. Age, stress, preexisting bacterial disease and parasite infestation seem to play a role in the development of the severe form of the disease. The principal symptoms are lack of appetite, vomiting and severe, often bloody, diarrhea. Dogs who survive parvovirus infection have lifelong immunity and cannot be reinfected. • Lyme disease: This disease is caused by a bacteria that is carried by deer ticks. Symptoms include joint pain, lameness, weakness and fever. The infective tick bite may have a characteristic bull’s eye appearance with a white center surrounded by red. Antibiotics are used to treat Lyme disease. If left untreated, the disease can cause serious complications and even death. • Kennel cough: This highly contagious disease is most often caused by bacteria, but sometimes viruses are involved too. Kennel cough causes moderate to severe coughing that worsens with exercise, excitement or pressure on the windpipe. The bouts of coughing frequently end with gagging. The disease is usually self-limiting, but very young puppies may develop respiratory passage obstruction, which can be fatal. • Coronavirus infection: Symptoms of coronavirus infection include foul-smelling, orange diarrhea with or without vomiting. The disease is often undetectable or mild in adult dogs, but it can be fatal in young puppies. Dogs are exposed to the virus when they come into contact with the feces of infected dogs.

What immunizations does my Lab need? Your Lab should be immunized against rabies (it’s a legal requirement in many places). In addition, she should be immunized against several other common diseases (called “core diseases”): distemper, hepatitis and leptospirosis, which are usually combined into one injection, and parvovirus. Whether your Lab needs immunizations against less common diseases (called “non-core diseases”)—coronavirus infection, kennel cough and Lyme disease—depends on her age, where you live and whether she’s frequently exposed to large groups of dogs (such as at dog shows or kennels). Your veterinarian can recommend the best immunization program for your Lab.

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Why does my Lab need immunizations if she stays in a fenced yard all the time? The above diseases aren’t just spread through dog-to-dog contact; some of them are spread through contact with contaminated objects, like brushes or blankets. Some infectious diseases can be contracted by exposure to another dog’s bodily fluids or feces or even people. So even if your Lab stays in the fenced yard all the time, she won’t be safe unless she never— ever—has any contact with any other dog or any person or object that may have been in contact with an infected dog. Obviously, it’s a lot easier and safer to just have your Lab immunized.

Why does my puppy have to be reimmunized so often? Puppies receive a temporary immunity from infectious disease from their mothers. This temporary immunity interferes with their response to vaccines. It’s not until the temporary immunity wears off at about 14 weeks of age that a full immune response will develop. Immunizing every three weeks until that time provides the puppy with the best protection against the disease.

Why does my adult Lab need booster immunizations? Your Lab needs to be reimmunized because the body’s response to immunization gradually decreases over time, eventually becoming so weak that it won’t protect against the disease. Reimmunization boosts the response back up to the original levels, or in some cases, even higher. In the past, veterinarians routinely recommended that dogs be reimmunized every year for most diseases, but research has shown that this may not be necessary. The immunization response against some diseases, most notably rabies, distemper and parvovirus infection, may last for three years or more. On the other hand, immunization against other diseases such as kennel cough, leptospirosis and Lyme disease does not provide protection for even one year, so dogs at risk for these diseases need to be reimmunized more frequently. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate reimmunization schedule for your Lab.


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Will immunizations make my Lab sick? Most dogs don’t experience any problems with immunization, other than occasional soreness at the injection site. Sometimes puppies will be a little lethargic or drowsy for about 24 hours after they’ve been immunized. This lethargy may be a stress response rather than a reaction to the immunization.

What are internal parasites? Internal parasites are organisms that live inside animals or humans. The most common internal parasites of dogs (including Labs) are roundworms and hookworms. As adults, these parasites live in the intestines, but during development the immature parasites (larvae) migrate through various body tissues before arriving at their final destination. Other intestinal parasites include whipworms and tapeworms. Not all internal parasites are found in the digestive tract: heartworms, for instance, live in the blood vessels and heart.

Why is it important to control internal parasites? Internal parasites can cause significant health problems in infected Labs. In addition, control is important to limit the spread of the parasites to other dogs and to prevent reinfection of your own dog. Finally, some canine internal parasites can infect humans, making control a significant public health issue.

What health problems can internal parasites cause in my Lab? Infestation with intestinal parasites (hookworms, roundworms, whipworms and tapeworms) may cause few problems in healthy adult dogs. In puppies, however, these parasites can cause diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, slow growth and a dull hair coat. Hookworms are particularly dangerous because they feed by sucking the blood of the host. Lab puppies with heavy hookworm infestation may show signs directly related to blood loss,

How Healthy Are Labrador Retrievers?


such as weakness, lethargy, anemia, pale gums and bloody or tarry diarrhea. Some puppies need transfusions to counteract the blood loss. Heartworm disease is serious in Labs of all ages, but it isn’t seen in young puppies because it takes about six months from the time of contact until the disease is detectable by laboratory tests. Adult heartworms live in the blood vessels in and around the lungs and heart. Heartworm disease may cause few symptoms at first, but as the number of parasites increases, signs of impaired heart function occur, such as exercise intolerance, shortness of breath and coughing. Heavy heartworm infestation can lead to heart failure.

How do dogs get worms? Dogs of all ages can become infected with roundworms, hookworms and whipworms, although roundworms are less commonly seen in adult dogs. Infection occurs when the dog ingests feces or soil containing worm eggs. Hookworm larvae can also gain access to the dog’s body by penetrating the skin. Note that all commonly occurring canine internal parasites can be reintroduced into the environment by the host dog. Most puppies either are born with roundworms and hookworms or contract them shortly after birth. This is because the larvae of both hookworms and roundworms can pass into the placenta to infect the puppies before they’re born. Alternately, the larvae can pass into the mammary glands and infect the newborn puppies when they nurse. Roundworm infection of puppies is particularly difficult to prevent, because the larvae migrate through the mother’s body and eventually become dormant in the muscles and other tissues. Because the larvae are not within the intestinal tract, they can’t be detected by laboratory tests or treated with oral deworming medication. When the female becomes pregnant, the larvae become active again and migrate to the placenta or mammary glands, where they infect the puppies. Tapeworms, another type of intestinal parasite, are carried by intermediate hosts—usually fleas and lice, but sometimes rodents, rabbits, sheep and cattle. Dogs become infected with tapeworms when they eat the infected intermediate host. Heartworms also require an intermediate host, in this case, the mosquito. The mosquito ingests immature infective heartworms (microfilariae) when it feeds on an infected dog. After a period of development within the mosquito’s digestive tract, the microfilariae are transmitted to another dog when the mosquito feeds. The microfilariae complete their


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life cycle within this dog, eventually maturing into adult heartworms, which produce more infective microfilariae.

How can I tell if my Lab has internal parasites? You may discover that your Lab has roundworms by seeing the adult roundworms (white, two to three inches long, about one-eighth of an inch in diameter) in the stool. Tapeworm infestation may be evidenced by the presence of small, rice-size tapeworm segments in the stool or around the anus. However, just because you don’t see worms in the stool doesn’t mean your Lab is free from internal parasites. Some worms, such as hookworms, are too small to be seen with the naked eye. The worms that can be seen are only periodically shed in the Lab’s feces. Intestinal parasites usually cause few signs of disease in healthy adult dogs. In puppies, however, they can cause diarrhea, bloating, weight loss, and in the case of hookworms, which feed on blood, anemia. Heartworm infestation doesn’t cause any signs of disease until the worms become large enough to obstruct the blood vessels of the lungs and heart. The most reliable way to determine whether your Lab has internal parasites is to have your veterinarian check a fecal sample for intestinal parasites or check a blood sample for heartworms.

How do I get rid of internal parasites? If your Lab has intestinal parasites, your veterinarian can prescribe oral medicine that will kill the adult worms living in the intestinal tract. The medicine isn’t effective against the immature worms that may be migrating through other body tissues, so retreatment may be necessary after a few weeks. You’ll also need to take steps to prevent reinfection—a difficult task because hookworm and roundworm eggs are shed in the feces and can live for months or even years in the soil. Keeping your Lab away from canine rest areas in parks and other public spaces will limit her contact with contaminated grass and soil. In your own yard, disposing of your Lab’s stools and keeping the grass short will reduce the number of worm eggs, but it may be difficult to completely eliminate them—unless you replace your lawn with concrete. Getting rid of heartworms is more complicated than getting rid of intestinal parasites. Two types of treatment are needed: one to kill the adult heartworms and another to kill the infective microfilariae. Heartworm

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treatment carries some risk for the dog. It’s much easier to prevent heartworm infestation in the first place than to treat for it after it occurs. Your veterinarian can prescribe oral medication to be administered once a month for this purpose. Your Lab will need to be checked for heartworm disease before you start the preventive medication, to avoid possible adverse reactions. Heartworm preventive is usually discontinued during cold-weather months, but may be prescribed year-round in warmer climates. Annual or semi-annual (in warm climates) heartworm checks are recommended. Your veterinarian can outline the best preventive regimen for your Lab.

Which worms can infect humans? Roundworms are the only common canine internal parasite that can infect humans. This occurs when roundworm eggs shed in the feces hatch and become larvae. The roundworm larva can penetrate human skin and migrate through various organs in the body. This disease, which is called toxocaral visceral larval migrans, is a potential health hazard to people, especially children, who come into contact with contaminated dog feces or soil. Keeping yourself and your family safe from roundworms is another good reason to clean up after your Lab.

What are external parasites? External parasites live and feed on the outside of the dog. The most common external parasites of dogs are fleas, ticks (including American dog ticks, brown dog ticks, lone star ticks and deer ticks) and mites. Ear mites, which, as the name suggests, live exclusively in the ears, are the most common dog mite. Two other types of mites (Demodex and Sarcoptes) can live elsewhere on the body and cause the skin disease commonly known as mange.

Why is it necessary to control external parasites? Control of external parasites is important for a number of reasons: • They cause itching and irritation, which makes the dog uncomfortable. • Many external parasites feed on the dog’s blood, which can cause anemia if infestation is heavy.


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• Some dogs are allergic to external parasites, especially fleas. • Ticks can carry dangerous diseases, such as Lyme disease. Some external parasites can live or feed on humans. This can cause a variety of problems ranging from minor skin irritation to serious diseases such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Saint Louis encephalitis.

How can I tell if my Lab has external parasites? Sometimes it’s easy to tell if your dog has external parasites, because you can see them. Ticks are especially easy to detect, unless they’re tiny seed ticks, which are about the size of a grain of sand. Feeding females, in particular, are hard to miss: They’re those big, fat gray ones. If you look closely, you’ll often find several small dark ticks (the males) clustered around the female as she feeds. Labs are great dogs for ticks because they spend so much time outside. If your Lab accompanies you into fields and tall grass, be sure to give her a thorough tick check as soon as you get home. Fleas are harder to detect than ticks, but if you ruffle your Lab’s fur on her abdomen, the back of her neck or at the base of her tail, you may see the small, elongated critters scurrying out of the way. You may also see what looks like dark brownish dirt—that’s flea excrement. Mites can’t be seen with the naked eye, but your Lab might show some of the following signs, depending on the type of infestation and where it occurs: reddened skin, hair loss, scratching or rubbing the affected area or head-shaking (with ear mites). For a definite diagnosis of lice or mites, your veterinarian will need to examine your Lab and possibly do a skin scraping, a laboratory test in which cells and debris from the skin are examined under a microscope.

How do I get rid of fleas? Getting rid of fleas can be difficult because these pests are well adapted for survival in the environment. In fact, fleas spend most of their lives off the dog. To fleas, your Lab is just a great big cafeteria—a place to go when they’re hungry. Once they’ve fed, they hop back into the grass (if the dog is outside), or into the carpet, the draperies or upholstered furniture (if the dog is in the house). This means that to control fleas, you’ll need to get rid of them on your Lab and get rid of them in your house and yard too.

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A number of flea-control products are available for use on dogs, including shampoos, dips, sprays, liquids (spot-ons), powders, collars and oral medications. Of these, the liquids, which are applied to the skin once a month, and the oral medications, which are also administered monthly, seem to provide the best control. In some cases, it may be necessary to use more than one product. Keep in mind that all flea control products are potentially toxic and should be used with care. Your veterinarian can help you plan a safe and effective flea control program. If you have fleas in your yard and home, you’ll probably need to consult an exterminator, who can recommend the best course of action.

What can I do about ticks? Ticks are even harder to control than fleas. Like fleas, ticks spend time both on the dog and in the environment, so you’ll need to mount a twopronged attack for effective control. Many products that work for on-thedog flea control don’t seem to faze ticks, with the exception of some of the newer spot-ons and oral medications. These products will control ticks but for a shorter period of time. Since tick control products can be toxic, especially when combined, you should consult your veterinarian before treating your dog or your yard or home. Professional extermination may be required to eliminate ticks in your immediate environment.

What do I do if my Lab has mites? You’ll need your veterinarian’s help to rid your Lab of mites. The treatment prescribed will vary depending on the type of mites you’re fighting. Ear mite infection is usually treated with drops applied in the ear. Because the infection tends to spread easily from animal to animal (dogs and cats share the same mites, too), your veterinarian may recommend that you treat all of your dogs and cats. Mange can be more difficult to treat than ear mites, partly because the Demodex and Sarcoptes mites live deep in the skin, where they’re relatively protected from treatment. In addition, factors such as age, stress and immune system function play a role in the development of mange. Mites are often found on normal dog skin with little apparent problem, but they’re likely to cause overt disease when the dog is compromised by other conditions. Mange can vary widely in severity, from a single, small, localized patch to generalized involvement of the entire body. Your veterinarian can prescribe appropriate treatment.


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Why should I have my Lab spayed or neutered? Every day, thousands of puppies and dogs are destroyed because there are no homes for them. This is what happens when dog owners fail to take responsibility for the reproductive capacity of their dogs. Spaying or neutering is the best way to prevent the needless deaths of countless dogs. Your Lab will benefit in other ways as well—spayed or neutered dogs are usually healthier, happier pets.

What are the health benefits of spaying or neutering my Lab? Spaying or neutering will decrease the incidence of certain canine diseases. Spayed females, for example, have a greatly reduced likelihood of developing cancer of the mammary glands, one of the most common forms of canine cancer. In addition, because the uterus is removed during the spaying operation, your female Lab will have no chance at all of developing a potentially serious uterine infection known as pyometra. Neutered male dogs are less likely to develop certain prostate diseases. The procedure also eliminates the possibility of testicular cancer. The health benefits of these procedures are not limited to prevention of disease. Spayed or neutered dogs are less likely to roam, which means they’re not as apt to encounter dangers such as automobiles, hostile dogs, sick dogs or unfriendly people.

How will spaying or neutering make my Lab a better pet? Neutered or spayed dogs make better pets because they no longer have the natural urge to seek a mate. As mentioned above, this means if your neutered male Lab somehow manages to escape from the yard, he’s unlikely to wander off in search of a lady friend. Even if he’s difficult to catch, you’ll at least know he’s not out there fathering puppies. Roaming isn’t such a problem with unspayed females, except when they’re in heat—about every seven months or so. At that time, you’ll have twice the trouble—your female Lab will be constantly trying to get out of

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the yard or house and every male dog in the neighborhood will be trying to get in! In addition, you’ll also be trying to protect your carpets and rugs from the spotting that occurs when females are in estrus. Spaying will take care of all of those problems quite nicely. Moreover, some intact Labs—both male and female—can be aggressive, particularly to dogs of the same gender. Spaying and neutering decrease this tendency, so your altered Lab will probably be more relaxed around other dogs—a definite plus if you enjoy spending time with your friends and their dogs.

What if I want my female Lab to have puppies or my male to be a father? Before you decide to breed your Lab, you should think very carefully about why you want to do so. Ask yourself the following questions: • Is my dog truly an outstanding Lab—a high-quality, top-of-the-line dog, with excellent conformation and an exceptional temperament? • Is my Lab (along with parents and siblings) certified free from inherited diseases? • Does the prospective mate have all of the above qualities too? • If you own the female, are you willing to devote the time, effort and expense necessary to provide the best of care for your Lab and her puppies? • Are you willing to do everything possible to find caring, responsible owners for each puppy, or if you can’t, keep the puppy or puppies yourself? • Are you willing to offer advice and support to each new owner with regard to the care of the puppy—for the puppy’s lifetime? If you can truthfully answer “yes” to each of these questions, then breeding your Lab might be an option. If you’ve got even one “no” on the list, or if you want your Lab to have puppies because she’s just so nice (of course!)—or you just love puppies (who doesn’t?)—or you want your kids to experience the “miracle of birth” (get a video instead)— leave the breeding to the breeders. Have your Lab spayed or neutered and just enjoy your pet without all the hassles and responsibilities of puppy parenthood.


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What are the most common health problems seen in Labs? Some of the most common Lab diseases include gastric dilatationvolvulus (GDV or bloat), hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and atopy (skin allergies). These diseases occur in other breeds as well. Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and atopy are inherited diseases—diseases that can be passed from the parents to the offspring. Other inherited diseases that occur less frequently in Labs include progressive retinal atrophy, cataracts, muscle diseases (myasthenia gravis, muscular dystrophy) and epilepsy.

What is gastric dilatation-volvulus? Gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV) is an excessive accumulation of gas in the stomach (dilatation), which, if untreated, can lead to twisting (volvulus). The disorder most commonly affects large, deep-chested dogs. The cause of GDV is not completely understood. There may be an inherited predisposition (beyond inherited conformation) for the problem in some breeds. Dogs may be more susceptible to GDV if they rapidly eat large meals (especially if the food is dry or soy-based), drink large amounts of water after eating and exercise strenuously after eating.

How can I tell if my Lab has GDV? If your Lab has GDV, she’ll have a severely distended abdomen that will sound drumlike when tapped. She will be restless and uncomfortable. She may try to vomit but fail to bring anything up. Gastric dilatation-volvulus worsens rapidly, accompanied by signs of shock. The disorder is fatal if left untreated.

What should I do if my dog has GDV? If your Lab shows signs of GDV, get immediate veterinary care. Your veterinarian may be able to treat the problem with uncomplicated stomach decompression if twisting has not occurred. If twisting is present, your Lab will probably need major surgery to correct it and prevent recurrence. In addition to treating the primary problem, your veterinarian may need to treat your Lab for shock.

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What is hip dysplasia? Hip dysplasia is a malformation of the ball and socket joint of the hip. The malformation causes looseness of the ball of the hipbone in the socket of the pelvis. The looseness causes abnormal movement in the joint, which eventually leads to arthritis. As an inherited disease, hip dysplasia is passed from parent to puppy, but other factors, such as nutrition and obesity, play a role as well. Hip dysplasia occurs most commonly in large and giant breed dogs.

How do nutrition and obesity affect the development and progression of hip dysplasia? Research studies suggest that overfeeding during puppyhood may increase the likelihood that a susceptible puppy will eventually develop hip dysplasia. The reason for this is not completely clear, but may be related to abnormal development of the hip joint coupled with increased joint stress due to excessive weight. Does this mean you should switch your Lab puppy from puppy food to celery sticks? Not at all—puppies need the nutrition that balanced puppy food provides. What they don’t need is all the puppy food they can possibly stuff down. Feed your puppy enough to maintain steady growth, but watch that she doesn’t become a butterball (a little puppy fat is okay, but you should still be able to feel her ribs). Once a dog has developed hip dysplasia, obesity can only make things worse by increasing joint stress and aggravating arthritic changes, which, of course, will make the condition even more painful. Obese dogs generally get less exercise than they should even if they’re reasonably healthy; an obese dog with hip dysplasia probably won’t want to exercise at all. This lack of exercise leads to muscle wasting and a subsequent loss of support to the joint, which makes the arthritis worse. If your Lab has hip dysplasia, you won’t be able to keep her completely free from arthritis and pain, but feeding her just enough to keep her at a normal (or even slightly less than normal) weight will slow the progression of the disease.

How can I tell if my Lab has hip dysplasia? If your Lab is just a puppy, you probably won’t see any signs of hip dysplasia even if she has it. That’s because the arthritis associated with hip dysplasia takes a while to develop, so the lameness most often appears in adult dogs (older than one year of age). An older Lab with hip dysplasia may have hindquarter stiffness, especially when she first gets up from lying down or when she climbs stairs. The stiffness eventually progresses


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to more constant lameness. Advanced cases are characterized by pronounced lameness with severely limited mobility. You (and your veterinarian) may suspect that your Lab has hip dysplasia, but X-rays will be needed to confirm the diagnosis. For borderline or early cases in which the changes are subtle, it’s best to consult a veterinary radiologist (a veterinarian who has had advanced training in radiology, the medical discipline dealing with radiographic examination (X-rays) and other specialized imaging techniques). For official certification of your Lab’s hip dysplasia status, your veterinarian will need to send the X-rays to one of the certifying organizations, such as the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) or PennHip.

What’s the procedure for OFA certification for hip dysplasia? Your Lab needs to be at least two years old in order to receive official OFA certification. Younger dogs can be evaluated, but they can’t be certified as normal. The first step is to have your veterinarian take X-rays of your Lab’s hips. Your Lab may need to be heavily sedated or anesthetized so she can be properly positioned (on her back with her rear legs stretched out) for the procedure. Your veterinarian will then send the X-rays to OFA for evaluation. From OFA, the X-rays will be sent to three independent veterinary radiologists. Each radiologist will evaluate the hips and assign a grade of excellent, good, fair, borderline, mild, moderate or severe. The final hip grade is a consensus of the evaluations; a dog whose consensus grade is excellent, good or fair is considered to be normal and receives an OFA certification number. If your Lab receives a grade of borderline, mild, moderate or severe, an OFA radiologist will review the X-rays and generate a report describing the abnormal findings. If your Lab’s grade was borderline, you can submit new X-rays in about six months. At that time, a radiologist will compare both sets of X-rays and check for progressive dysplasia-related changes. If no changes are found, your Lab will be given a normal hip rating (usually fair). The OFA also allows resubmission of X-rays for mild cases in young dogs (24 to 30 months old), because hip conformation will occasionally improve with age.

How is a PennHip evaluation different from the one that OFA does? PennHip, like OFA, evaluates hip X-rays, but different positioning is used and the evaluation procedure is different. In order to submit X-rays to

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PennHip, a veterinarian must have appropriate radiographic equipment and be trained in the proper techniques. General anesthesia or heavy sedation is required to ensure correct positioning when the pictures are taken. Three different X-rays are taken, including one after application of a distraction device that exerts outward pressure on the hips so that the degree of laxity can be evaluated. When the X-rays are submitted to PennHip, a radiologist evaluates them and mathematically calculates what is known as a distraction index—purportedly an indicator of the degree of looseness of the hip joint when completely relaxed. The distraction index is expressed as a number between 0 and 1. A dog with a distraction index of 0.3 would have tighter hips (and less likelihood of developing hip dysplasia and subsequent arthritis) than a dog with a distraction index of 0.7. Rather than receiving a grade indicating the presence or absence of hip dysplasia, each dog is compared to others of its breed who are in the PennHip database and given a percentile ranking. For example, a Lab with a percentile ranking of 30 percent would have tighter hips than 30 percent of the Labs who had been evaluated by that organization.

Can my Lab be evaluated for hip dysplasia at any time? As I noted earlier, she can be evaluated, but she may not be able to be certified. In order to receive official certification from OFA, your Lab must be at least two years old at the time the X-rays are taken. PennHip will certify dogs as young as 16 weeks, but they recommend multiple evaluations. For the most accurate assessment, you shouldn’t have your Lab evaluated by either organization when she’s in season, pregnant or nursing puppies. That’s because the hormonal changes can cause her joints to be abnormally loose. You also should make sure your Lab is in good physical condition. Extended periods of inactivity can cause muscle shrinkage, which can also increase the looseness in her joints.

How can I find out the OFA or PennHip information about a dog? OFA certification numbers (that is, the information that a dog is free from dysplasia) are in the public domain, but non-certification is confidential information. If a dog is certified by OFA as being free from hip dysplasia, the certification number is placed on the AKC registration certificate, as long as the dog is permanently identified with a tattoo or


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microchip. In addition, the AKC regularly publishes the names of dogs who have received OFA certification. PennHip information is not included on AKC registration certificates. PennHip considers all of its evaluation reports to be confidential and will not release any information (either positive or negative) to anyone other than the PennHip veterinarian or the dog owner, unless the owner requests it. Overall, the best way to find out about a dog’s hip dysplasia status, regardless of the certifying organization, is to ask the breeder. A responsible breeder will be happy to provide you with proof of certification.

How is hip dysplasia treated? If your Lab has hip dysplasia, she can’t be cured, but several treatment options are available. Which treatment will be the most effective will depend on the severity of the disease. It will also depend on your Lab’s age, activity level, mental attitude and tolerance for pain. Weight control and exercise are recommended for nearly every dog with this condition. That’s because excess weight increases the stress on the hips and worsens any arthritic changes that may be present. Exercise will help maintain your Lab’s muscle tone, help stabilize her hip joints, improve the range of motion in her hip joints (which will make her more comfortable) and improve her cardiovascular function. You can’t just take her out and start running, however; you’ll need to start slowly, perhaps with short walks. Swimming is also a good form of exercise for dogs with hip dysplasia. In addition to weight control and exercise, your veterinarian may recommend anti-inflammatory medication, such as buffered aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Other medications that may be recommended include disease-modifying osteoarthritic agents, alternative therapy products that are thought to work by providing the raw materials needed to maintain the cartilage lining the joints. They may also inhibit production of damaging enzymes produced within arthritic joints. These therapies are available in oral or injectable form; your veterinarian may recommend a combination of both. It’s important to note that you should never give your Lab any type of medication without first consulting your veterinarian—some medication that’s safe for humans can be very harmful for dogs. Surgery may be recommended for some dogs with hip dysplasia. If your Lab is young (less than 10 months old) and has early hip dysplasia with no

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arthritis, your veterinarian may recommend a surgery called a triple pelvic osteotomy. During this surgery, the pelvis is split into three sections and the part containing the socket is rotated to hold the ball of the hipbone more securely in place. Total hip replacement may be recommended for older dogs for whom medication is no longer effective. Though highly successful, this procedure is quite expensive and only performed in academic veterinary institutions and other large veterinary hospitals. Removal of the top of the hipbone may be recommended as a less expensive alternative to total hip replacement. After the procedure, the joint is pain-free, but its reduced stability and limited range of motion result in an abnormal gait. This surgery is most successful in dogs who weigh less than about 45 pounds and so is not usually a preferred option for Labs.

What is elbow dysplasia? Elbow dysplasia is a malformation of the elbow joint caused by several concurrent conditions: disruption of the cartilage of the elbow joint, detachment or malformation of the upper end of the ulna (one of the bones of the foreleg) and uneven growth rates of the bones forming the elbow joint. The conditions cause the elbow joint to be unstable, which eventually leads to arthritis. Although elbow dysplasia is an inherited disorder, certain environmental factors such as diet, activity and trauma influence its development and progression.

How can I tell if my Lab has elbow dysplasia? Physical symptoms of elbow dysplasia usually begin when the dog is between 6 and 12 months of age. At first she may only have minor foreleg lameness and elbow pain. The lameness may be more noticeable when she gets up or tries to run. Over time, the arthritic changes will worsen and the lameness will become more pronounced. As with hip dysplasia, your veterinarian will need to take X-rays to diagnose the disorder.

What sort of certification, if any, is available for elbow dysplasia? The OFA has a program for elbow dysplasia evaluation and certification. To have your Lab evaluated, your veterinarian needs to send X-rays of her elbows to OFA. OFA then passes the X-rays on to veterinary radiologists. Elbows are graded differently than hips, in that only abnormal elbows are graded. The grades are assigned based on the severity of changes that are


What About Labrador Retrievers?

present, with Grade I being the least severe and Grade III being the most severe. Normal elbows are simply certified as such.

Can elbow dysplasia be treated? Like hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia can be treated, but it cannot be cured. If your Lab has elbow dysplasia, your veterinarian will probably recommend surgery to remove loose fragments of cartilage or bone from the joint. Surgery may also provide pressure relief in cases of unequal bone growth. Arthroscopic surgery, which involves only a tiny incision into the joint, usually produces the best outcome, but this procedure is not available at all veterinary facilities. Your veterinarian will probably also recommend some of the same medical treatments described for hip dysplasia. Weight control is an important factor in the management of this disease as well. Low- or nonweight-bearing exercise like walking or swimming may be recommended to maintain the elbow joint range of motion and improve joint stability by strengthening the surrounding muscles.

What is progressive retinal atrophy? Progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) is degeneration of the retina, the structure on the back of the eye that transmits a visual image to the brain. Several different forms of the disease exist. One form, which only affects the central part of the retina, impairs vision, but may not cause total blindness. The forms that affect the entire retina lead to complete blindness.

How can I tell if my Lab has PRA? Both of the types of PRA that most commonly affect Labs typically have a slow onset, with signs occurring in mature dogs from two years of age and up. You won’t be able to tell if your Lab has PRA just by looking at her, because the disease causes no externally visible changes in the eyes. You may, however, notice that she has difficulty seeing things at night. Sometimes dogs with PRA have problems seeing still objects in bright light. The vision abnormalities observed depend on the type of PRA. One type of PRA progresses slowly and does not always cause blindness. Dogs afflicted with the other type become totally blind within one to two years after the onset of the disease. Once the retina has started to degenerate, the disease can be detected by an eye exam that allows visualization of the retina. A more complicated

How Healthy Are Labrador Retrievers?


procedure called an electroretinogram can identify PRA before any vision abnormalities occur. Genetic testing is also being developed for many of the breeds affected by PRA.

How is PRA treated? There is no treatment for PRA, but Labs with impaired vision or even complete blindness often compensate remarkably well by relying on their senses of smell and hearing.

Do Labs really get cataracts? Yes, they do. Cataracts (opaque spots or areas in the lens of the eye) can be due to environmental or metabolic factors, but in Labs they are often inherited. They often occur in relatively young dogs (from birth to six years of age). The primary symptom is a bluish-white or milky appearance to the lens. In some Labs, cataracts are non-progressive and do not interfere with sight. In others, the disease is progressive, eventually leading to blindness. Some dogs seem to see quite well even with relatively advanced cataracts, perhaps due to reliance on their other senses.

What can be done if my Lab has cataracts? Cataracts cannot be treated medically; the only effective treatment is surgical removal. Prior to surgery, your Lab should be tested to make sure that there are no retinal abnormalities—it would do little good to remove the cataracts if she was going blind from a retinal disease such as PRA. The two methods for surgical removal of cataracts include extracapsular extraction, in which the lens capsule (covering) is opened and the lens is removed through the opening, and intracapsular extraction, in which the entire lens and capsule are removed. Although intracapsular extraction is more effective for restoring vision, extracapsular extraction is preferred because there is less risk of secondary complications. The surgery is successful in about 90 percent of the cases.

What is atopy? Atopy is an allergic skin reaction to substances (dust mites, human dander, molds, pollens and the like) that are either inhaled or absorbed through the skin. Atopy causes skin inflammation and intense itching. Besides making the dog extremely uncomfortable, it also increases her susceptibility to secondary skin infections caused by bacteria or yeasts.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

How will I know if my Lab has atopy? If your Lab has atopy, her skin will be red and itchy. She’ll also be scratching, chewing and/or rubbing her skin in an effort to relieve the itching. You may even notice raw patches where she’s scratched or rubbed hard enough to abrade the skin. Because of the intense itching, she may be restless or grouchy. Although these signs are indicative of atopy, they can also be seen with other skin disorders. Your veterinarian can confirm the diagnosis—and prescribe a treatment plan to give your Lab some much-needed relief.

How is atopy treated? Atopy responds most effectively to a combination of treatments and management techniques. First, an effort is made to determine what substance (allergen) is triggering the sensitivity and, if possible, reduce the Lab’s exposure to it. This can be difficult because dogs—like people—are often allergic to multiple allergens. Medications such as antihistamines or short-acting corticosteroids (administered intermittently, to prevent serious side effects) may be prescribed. Special shampoos to moisturize the skin and relieve itching may also be recommended. For difficult cases, the veterinarian may recommend allergy testing (to positively identify the allergens involved), followed by a series of injections specially formulated to desensitize the dog to the allergens (allergy shots).

What are the muscle diseases that are found in Labrador Retrievers? The most common inherited muscle diseases of Labs are myasthenia gravis and muscular dystrophy.

What is myasthenia gravis? Myasthenia gravis is a decrease in the number of acetylcholine receptors on the muscles. Acetylcholine is a neurotransmitter than transmits nerve impulses to the muscles. The disease is characterized by generalized muscle weakness and fatigue. Exercise worsens the symptoms, while resting improves them. In Labs, we see the type of myasthenia gravis that is acquired: The receptor numbers are normal until the dog’s immune system destroys them, usually in adulthood.

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How can I tell if my Lab has myasthenia gravis? In Labs, the signs of myasthenia gravis first start to appear at about five years of age. The disease may affect only certain muscles or may be generalized. Your Lab might seem to be weak and easily fatigued, and she may seem better after she’s rested for a while. If the disease affects the muscles of her esophagus, she may regurgitate (passive vomiting that the dog is unaware of ) after eating. Your veterinarian will diagnose myasthenia gravis based on your Lab’s symptoms and the results of specialized laboratory tests, including a blood test that can detect the antibodies to the acetylcholine receptors. Your veterinarian may also take X-rays to look for enlargement of the esophagus.

What can be done for Labs with myasthenia gravis? Labs with this disease are treated with a drug that slows the breakdown of acetylcholine (normally a rapid process) at the muscle receptors, which allows more time for neurotransmission to occur. If your dog has esophageal problems, your veterinarian may recommend elevating your Lab’s food and water bowls and having her stand for a few minutes after eating or drinking. These actions will help prevent regurgitation and decrease the likelihood of aspiration pneumonia, a serious complication of myasthenia gravis. Many dogs with acquired myasthenia gravis respond very well to medical treatment and may even recover completely in weeks to months. In some dogs, however, the medication will initially alleviate the symptoms but lose its effectiveness after a time.

What happens to Labs with muscular dystrophy? Labs with muscular dystrophy have a deficiency of a certain type of muscle fiber. The disease initially causes stiffness and a peculiar gait called bunnyhopping in puppies. Generalized weakness, which is usually accompanied by muscle atrophy (shrinking), becomes apparent by about five months of age. Exercise, excitement and cold temperatures aggravate the weakness.

How will I know if my puppy has muscular dystrophy? You—and your veterinarian—might suspect that your Lab puppy has muscular dystrophy if she has an abnormal, hopping gait and progressive weakness that worsens when she’s active, excited or cold. Your Lab’s bones


What About Labrador Retrievers?

may protrude abnormally (due to muscle atrophy) and she may be smaller than other Labs her age. Despite these changes, she’ll be alert and interested in what’s going on around her—muscular dystrophy doesn’t seem to affect mental function at all. Your veterinarian will make the diagnosis based on these findings, the results of laboratory tests and a muscle biopsy.

Can muscular dystrophy be treated? Unfortunately, muscular dystrophy has no specific treatment or cure. Your veterinarian may prescribe medication to decrease some of the clinical signs of the disease. Esophageal problems, if present, can be managed as described above. Interestingly, in many Labs, the clinical signs of muscular dystrophy remain stable after about six to eight months or so. Some dogs will gradually improve. Mildly affected dogs may have a reasonably good quality of life, with some adjustments, but severely affected dogs will become very debilitated.

What is epilepsy? Epilepsy is a condition characterized by recurrent seizures caused by disturbances in the electrical activity of brain cells. The seizures are not associated with disease conditions such as infection, trauma, metabolic disease or cancer.

How can I tell if my Lab has epilepsy? The onset of epilepsy typically occurs between the ages of one and three years. Seizures vary greatly with respect to clinical signs and severity, depending on the part of the brain that’s involved. In general, seizures affect behavior (the dog may be confused, fearful or agitated), consciousness (loss of consciousness may occur), motor activity (there may be muscle spasms or leg-paddling), autonomic activity (salivation, urination or defecation may occur) and sensory function (the dog may bite at her body or chase her tail). A mild seizure usually causes just a few of these signs— trembling, confusion and weakness, for example. On the other hand, severe (grand mal) seizures often cause unconsciousness, stiff or jerking legs and involuntary salivation, urination and defecation. Seizures may also vary in frequency, from rarely occurring to status epilepticus—a single continuous seizure or a series of seizures in rapid succession that requires emergency treatment. Dogs often show unusual behavior (nervousness, hiding, attention-seeking) for hours or days prior to the actual seizure.

How Healthy Are Labrador Retrievers?


Unusual behavior (fatigue, depression or hyperactivity) may also last for days following the seizure (the post-ictal phase). Veterinarians diagnose epilepsy primarily by ruling out other causes of seizures.

How is epilepsy treated? Epilepsy treatment depends on the severity of the seizures and how often they occur. Labs who have mild, infrequent seizures often don’t need any medical treatment. However, the owner will need to take precautions to keep the dog safe (for example, by preventing her from bumping into the furniture or falling down the stairs) during seizures. Medication is usually indicated for seizures that are more severe and more frequent. In either case, the veterinarian will probably ask the owner to keep a record of any seizures. Sometimes it’s possible to discontinue the seizure medicine, but this should never be done without first consulting the veterinarian. With appropriate medication (if necessary) and management techniques, most dogs with epilepsy can lead normal lives.

How can I tell if my Lab is sick or injured? A detailed description of all the various signs and symptoms of illnesses that may afflict your Lab is beyond the scope of this book. However, the following questions will help you determine if she is sick or injured: • Is she acting funny (hyperactive, lethargic or in another strange way)? • Is she eating and drinking normally? • Does she have a fever? • Is she urinating and defecating normally, and are the urine and feces normal in color, consistency and amount? • Does she have any abnormal bodily discharges (bleeding, vomiting or a runny nose)? • If female, does she have an unusual vaginal discharge? • Is she in pain? Be sure to consult your veterinarian if you have any questions about your Lab’s health. Never give her any medication or home remedy unless your veterinarian recommends it.

7 How Should I Groom My Labrador Retriever?

What type of grooming care does my Lab need? • What are the characteristics of a Lab’s coat, and how will they affect the way I groom my dog? • How much time will I need to spend on grooming? • What type of equipment will I need for grooming? • What will happen if I don’t groom my Lab regularly? • Do Labs tend to be smelly? • Why do I need to brush my Lab? • Why is bathing important? • Will I have to trim my Lab’s nails? • Why is it important to take care of my Lab’s ears? • What type of dental care will my Lab need?


How Should I Groom My Labrador Retriever?


What type of grooming care does my Lab need? Labs don’t require any specialized grooming care, just a few basic necessities, such as: • Brushing • Bathing • Nail trimming • Ear care • Dental care

What are the characteristics of a Lab’s coat, and how will they affect the way I groom my dog? Your Lab’s coat is one of his most distinctive features. Designed to repel water and provide warmth, his coat is short, somewhat oily and extremely dense. It’s actually two coats: a sleek, hard-finish outer coat for water resistance and a soft, dense undercoat for warmth. The shorthaired Lab predecessors who were used as fishing dogs in Newfoundland were preferred over their longer-haired counterparts because their coats held less water. The short coat made it easier for the Labs to swim and made it less likely that they would swamp the boat when they jumped back into it. When you groom your Lab, you’ll need to make sure that you brush all the way through the soft undercoat. If you don’t, especially when he’s shedding, the dead undercoat hair could remain trapped, a phenomenon that groomers call packing. Regular brushing will also help distribute the natural oils that give your Lab’s coat its water resistance and that classic Labrador shine.

How much time will I need to spend on grooming? If you’re a busy person (and who isn’t?) and don’t have a lot of time to spend grooming a dog, you’ll get along just fine with your Lab. His easycare coat will stay shiny and clean with just minimal care—about 20 to 30


What About Labrador Retrievers?

minutes of brushing once a week. You probably won’t need to trim his nails more frequently than once every six to eight weeks, and it’s just a 5to 10-minute job once you’re used to doing it. As for baths, your Lab probably won’t require more than three or four a year. Depending on his love of—and your tolerance for—dirty and smelly stuff, he may not need that many.

What type of equipment will I need for grooming? You’ll need the following equipment and supplies to keep your Lab’s coat in tip-top shape: • Rubber curry brush or grooming mitt • Wire-bristle slicker brush • Toenail clipper • Dog shampoo Optional items that you might want to consider purchasing include a shedding blade (a great way to get rid of all that loose hair when your Lab is shedding) and dog conditioner (for that finishing touch after a shampoo).

What will happen if I don’t groom my Lab regularly? To be honest, probably less than you think. Okay, his coat won’t be as glossy and he’ll be a walking cloud of Lab hair during shedding season and you probably won’t want him to sleep on your bed (you shouldn’t let him do that anyway!) because he’ll smell like . . . a dog. But probably nothing more serious will occur. Elaborate grooming is a rather recent practice when you consider how long dogs have been domesticated. Certainly no one ever grooms wild canidae. (Despite their lack of grooming, some wolves have beautiful, even luxurious, coats, particularly in the winter.) This is not to say that you shouldn’t care for your Lab’s appearance—you should. And you should definitely take the time to periodically check his skin to make sure it’s healthy and rash-free. But you don’t need to feel like you’ve got to keep him absolutely gleaming and powder-puff sweet at all times—he’ll probably be just as healthy if you don’t.

How Should I Groom My Labrador Retriever?


Do Labs tend to be smelly? Unfortunately, yes. That oil that makes your Lab’s coat gleam like it was polished comes from his skin. As your Lab sheds dead skin cells (a constant occurrence, even in people), they combine with the oil to form a thin layer of greasy gunk that traps dirt and makes a great breeding ground for bacteria. This is what causes that—well, doggy odor. Regular brushing helps in several ways: it distributes the oil in his coat, removes dead skin cells and gets rid of dirt. Your Lab won’t smell as much if you keep his bed and doghouse clean. While you’ll want to keep your Lab clean, increased bathing may not help as much as you might think. That’s because too much bathing, especially with harsh shampoos, can dry and irritate the skin, which then seems to react by producing even more oil. So grooming can both alleviate and increase a Lab’s doggy smell. If your Lab continues to be smelly despite your best efforts, consult your veterinarian; your dog may have a skin problem that needs medical treatment.

Why do I need to brush my Lab? Regular brushing will help keep your Lab’s coat and skin healthy. It will also remove dead hair, which (in theory at least) will help reduce the amount of Lab hair on your clothes and in your house. During brushing sessions, you can also check your Lab for problems such as fleas, ticks, rashes or injuries. Finally, you and your Lab can use the sessions as a special together time for just the two of you.

How often will I need to brush my Lab? You’ll probably only need to brush your Lab about once a week. When he’s shedding, however, you may want to temporarily increase your brushing sessions to several times a week or even once a day. Your Lab will appreciate it—that shedding hair can get itchy—and you’ll undoubtedly appreciate the fact that the hair is going into the trash rather than on you, your furniture and your carpet (and just about everywhere else you can think of ). You don’t really have to limit your brushing sessions, however. They can be a great way to connect with your Lab, especially when you’ve both had a busy day (just think about how good it feels when someone brushes your hair or rubs your back).


What About Labrador Retrievers?

Will my Lab let me brush him? The best way to get your Lab comfortable being brushed is to start grooming sessions while he’s just a puppy. Work slowly and make brushing fun and enjoyable. Because he’ll probably get bored (and restless) quickly, begin with several short periods rather than a single long one. Use a soft brush. Talk to him while you work and praise him when he sits still. While you’re at it, get him used to other grooming chores: Wipe his eyes and ears, handle his paws, and give him a quick skin check. If he tries to resist, stop and reassure him, then go back to the task. Be sure to praise him when he lets you continue. If you work with him like this every day, he’ll soon let you do all of your grooming tasks without protesting or fidgeting.

Why is bathing important? Most of the time, bathing your Lab is more important to you than it is to him. After all, he doesn’t really care if he’s muddy or smells bad.

How do I know if my Lab needs a bath? If your dog doesn’t smell fresh or his coat is very oily, he could probably use a bath. Obviously, you’ll want to bathe him if he’s gotten into something that’s messy, sticky or smelly. Truthfully, the only time it’s absolutely essential to bathe your Lab is if he gets into a toxic substance that he might lick off or absorb through the skin. Be sure to contact your veterinarian first to find out if it’s safe for you to bathe your Lab (the toxin might be dangerous for you as well) and if so, what product to use.

Why wouldn’t I bathe my dog? Excessive bathing can remove the natural oils in your Lab’s coat and skin and leave him with a dull coat and dry, flaky (and often itchy) skin. In between baths, thorough, regular brushing and spot cleaning will keep your Lab reasonably clean most of the time.

Will I have to trim my Lab’s nails? Trimming your Lab’s nails is important. Doing so will protect you, your belongings and—surprisingly—your Lab.

How Should I Groom My Labrador Retriever?


Why should I keep my Lab’s nails short? With trimmed, short nails, your Lab will be a lot less likely to scratch you if he jumps up or extends a paw. He also won’t shred the carpet—or the sofa, if he arranges it a bit before sneaking a nap on it. And with welltrimmed nails, he won’t be so apt to damage the finish of the door if he impatiently paws it while waiting to go out. Keeping your Lab’s nails short won’t prevent these things, but it will lessen the damage. Another major reason for trimming your Lab’s nails is to keep him from snagging them, a rather common occurrence in dogs. This seemingly minor incident can be quite painful if the nail breaks (which it often does), especially if it breaks off at the level of the nail bed. In addition, broken nails often remain partially attached and can be easily resnagged. Since the nail can’t be reattached, the only way to resolve the problem is to trim off the broken part of the nail with nail clippers. The treatment is painful but not as painful as repeatedly catching the nail. Obviously, it’s far easier on your Lab (and you) if you prevent broken (and half-broken) nails by keeping them trimmed.

How often should I trim my Lab’s nails? Most Labs need their nails trimmed about every four to six weeks. The frequency of trimming depends on how fast the nails grow, which depends on where the dog spends most of his time. For instance, if your Lab spends most of his time in the house, he’ll probably need a manicure more frequently. If he spends a lot of time outside, he’ll probably need less frequent trimming, especially if he exercises on hard surfaces or does a lot of digging. A weekly check of his nails will let you know when they’re getting too long.

Is it hard to trim a Lab’s nails? Many dogs, Labs included, are uncomfortable having their paws handled, so nail trimming can be a little tricky. If you’re inexperienced, get someone to help you the first few times you try it. You’ll probably feel awkward at first, but you’ll get the hang of it after a foot or two. Your assistant should hold your Lab and distract him by talking (ear-scratching helps too). Grasp one of your Lab’s paws and gently spread the toes apart. If


What About Labrador Retrievers?

your Lab pulls his paw away, your assistant can gently hold the leg. Trim all of the nails that need it, including the dewclaws (thumbnails) if your Lab has them.

Can I over-trim my Lab’s nails? Yes. Each nail has a pinkish core (the quick). If you cut the quick of a nail, it will bleed. Your Lab will be very unhappy, too, because it hurts. Your Lab probably has black toenails, so you won’t be able to see where the quick is. To avoid cutting it, trim off just the sharp point of each nail. As you become more experienced, you’ll learn how much nail you can safely remove. If your Lab has white or light-colored nails, it’ll be easier to judge how much to trim because you’ll be able to see the quick through the nail.

What should I do if I clip a nail too short? If you trim a nail too closely, you’ll know it immediately. The bleeding can be difficult to stop because it’s harder to apply pressure to the hard nail than it is to put pressure on soft tissue. However, the main reason it’s difficult to stop the bleeding is that the dog’s excitement and movement increase the bleeding and smear the blood around—which makes it look like a lot more blood than it really is. The important thing is for you to remain calm, reassure and comfort your “injured” Lab and remember that he won’t bleed to death from a nicked quick. To stop the bleeding, apply styptic powder or an anticoagulant stick to the end of the nail, or use an old home remedy and dip the nail in a bit of flour. Holding a small piece of tissue or cotton over the end of the nail for about five minutes will also stop the bleeding.

Why is it important to take care of my Lab’s ears? Your Lab’s floppy ears and active, amphibious lifestyle make him particularly susceptible to both ear infections and to getting foreign objects (such as burrs and grass awns) in his ears. You won’t be able to prevent these problems, but regular at-home ear care will help you detect them before they cause major concerns.

How Should I Groom My Labrador Retriever?


Will I have difficulty looking after my Lab’s ears? Normally, at-home ear care is quite simple and consists mainly of the following procedures: • Occasional swabbing with a finger wrapped in a soft cloth • Checking for foreign objects • Checking for evidence of infection or ear mites To prevent injury to your Lab’s ears, don’t clean them with cotton swabs and never apply alcohol or other irritating substances to any part of them. If your Lab’s ears have an abnormal odor or discharge or your Lab seems to be scratching and shaking his head a lot, take him to your veterinarian. You may be able to remove some foreign objects yourself, particularly if they’re just on the surface of the ear. Your veterinarian should remove any deeply lodged foreign objects.

How often should I check my Lab’s ears? Checking your Lab’s ears once a week should be sufficient if he spends most of his time in your house or yard. However, if the two of you spend a lot of time in rough country (for example, hunting or hiking) or in the water, you’ll need to check his ears more frequently. In fact, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of checking your Lab’s ears at the end of every day spent engaged in those activities. It doesn’t take much time and you’ll be able to catch problems before they have a chance to develop into something serious.

What type of dental care will my Lab need? To keep your Lab’s teeth and gums healthy, you’ll need to provide the following: • Daily brushing with a soft brush and toothpaste made especially for dogs • Regular dental exams and cleaning by your veterinarian • Dry dog food


What About Labrador Retrievers?

Chewing on hard chew toys may also help keep your Lab’s teeth clean, but this is only in addition to the above necessities. Don’t rely on chew toys to take care of your Lab’s teeth.

Why is dental care important? Your Lab needs proper dental care to stay healthy. Cavities aren’t the problem for Labs that they are for humans, but all breeds of dog are prone to developing gum diseases such as gingivitis, periodontitis and periodontal abscesses. Regularly brushing your Lab’s teeth will reduce plaque—a soft, colorless tooth-coating scum that is the primary cause of gingivitis (inflammation of the gums). Calculus—hard yellowish or brownish deposits found on the teeth—promotes plaque formation. Brushing won’t decrease calculus, but your veterinarian can remove it when cleaning your Lab’s teeth. Persistent gingivitis can lead to periodontitis and periodontal abscesses, which can cause tooth loss by destroying the supporting structures that hold the teeth in place. Poor dental health can affect other body systems too: The bacteria found in chronic periodontal disease can enter the bloodstream and travel to the heart, where they can produce a life-threatening infection called endocarditis.

8 What Does Training a Labrador Retriever Involve? Why is training my Lab important? • What do I need to know about Labs for training purposes? • Are Labs easy to train? • Can I train my Lab when she’s a puppy? • What effect does a Lab’s strength have on training? • What techniques should I use to train my Lab? • Will my Lab enjoy training sessions? • When should I start training my Lab? • What should I teach my Lab? • How much time will it take to teach my Lab basic manners and obedience commands? • How can I learn how to train my Lab?



What About Labrador Retrievers?

Why is training my Lab important? A well-trained Lab is safer and more pleasant to be around. Training in this instance doesn’t refer to highly specialized tasks that you might see in advanced obedience competitions. Rather, it refers to simple good manners, such as not jumping up and walking agreeably on a leash. It also includes basic obedience commands that every dog should know: sit, lie down, heel, stay and come. Training is also important because it gives your Lab a job (the best possible job, in her eyes—working with you!), which helps prevent boredom that can lead to destructive habits. Training can even protect your Lab. For example, if she were to escape from the house, you’d be able to call her back before she reached the street. Training also reinforces your dominant status over your Lab, which makes it easier for you to control her in all situations.

What will happen to my Lab’s behavior if I don’t have time to train her? Your Lab needs discipline. She needs to know that you expect her to have good manners and obey certain commands. If you don’t teach her these things, she certainly won’t learn them on her own. If you teach her but then don’t reinforce the lessons with regular training sessions, she’ll soon forget what she learned. Training your Lab is something you’ll need to do for her whole life—you’ll never be done. If you don’t keep up with regular sessions, and if you don’t enforce the sessions in your daily interactions, your Lab will become wild and undisciplined. She’ll jump up on people, climb on the furniture and drag you along by her leash. No one, including you, will want to be around her. If, as result, you isolate her, this will only make her behavior worse. It can also lead to destructive and annoying habits such as digging, chewing and nuisance barking. When this happens, it’s sad for everyone concerned, but especially for the dog: She wasn’t trained, so she had bad manners, which made her family isolate her in the yard, which made her manners even worse. All of this could have been prevented with a little training. As I mentioned in Chapter 2, the happiness of your life with your Lab is dependent on the proper nurture of her nature. As a pack animal, your Lab perceives you as either dominant or subordinate, but never equal (there are no equals in a wolf pack). Her perception of your dominant

What Does Training a Labrador Retriever Involve?


status is what keeps you in charge. If, on the other hand, she perceives you as subordinate, she won’t obey you and, what is more important, she will consider herself to be dominant—and in charge. Every time you give your Lab a command and she obeys it, you are reinforcing her perception of you as a dominant figure. The more you work on training, the more it reinforces your status. This reinforcement of your dominant role will carry over into every aspect of your life with your Lab. For example, it’s helpful to have dominant status when you need to do something to your Lab that may be uncomfortable for her, such as remove a grass awn from her paw. She’s also more likely to be well-behaved in public places if she knows you’re in charge. And you can use your dominant status to insist that she display only good manners to visitors in your home.

What do I need to know about Labs for training purposes? Certain basic facts about training apply to all Labs. Some apply because your Lab’s a Lab, and some apply because she’s a dog. For training purposes, you should be aware that: • Labs, even though they’re intelligent, have limited powers of concentration • Labs respond best to consistency and positive reinforcement • Training reinforces your dominant role with your Lab • Labs enjoy having a job to do • Your Lab will enjoy spending time with you

Are Labs easy to train? That’s a difficult question to answer because Labs, like all dogs, have traits that make them easy to train and traits that make them hard to train. For example: Labs can be easy to train because they like to work. Originally developed as working dogs, Labs have steadfastly worked with their human companions for generations. Even though most Labs today are pets, they still enjoy having a job to do.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

Labs can be easy to train because they thrive on human companionship. Your Lab doesn’t really care what you want to do, just as long as she can do it with you. You may feel like the teacher of your dog’s class, but to your Lab it’s an opportunity to spend more time with her favorite person. Her devoted attitude will make training more enjoyable for both of you. Labs can be hard to train because they are active, energetic dogs. Your Lab may be more interested in running laps around the yard than in learning how to sit (or worse yet, how to stay). On a more positive note, this abundant energy can make your Lab an enthusiastic student once she decides to settle down and concentrate on her lessons. Labs can be hard to train because they tend to be headstrong. Your Lab’s enthusiasm and energy may brighten your training sessions, but her stubbornness is likely to try your patience, even if you’re normally a very easygoing person.

Can I train my Lab when she’s a puppy? You can start some training in basic manners when your Lab puppy is quite young. However, before the age of four to six months, puppies have very short attention spans, which can make training difficult. Just make sure to keep the lessons very short and use lots of positive reinforcement.

What effect does a Lab’s strength have on training? Because Labs are strong, sturdy dogs, they can spend their lives walking their owners, rather than the other way around. To prevent this habit, it’s important to train your Lab to walk on a leash while she’s still a puppy. Remember, that cute little 20-pound puppy is going to grow into a 60pound bundle of hardheaded muscle in about six to eight months. It’ll be a lot easier to teach her to walk quietly on a leash now, while she’s still a reasonably manageable size and hasn’t yet developed a strong independent streak. Does this mean you’re doomed to being dragged everywhere if you wait until your Lab is full-grown to introduce her to a leash? Not at all. It’ll just be a much, much bigger job.

What Does Training a Labrador Retriever Involve?


What techniques should I use to train my Lab? Your Lab will respond best to training that focuses on consistency and positive reinforcement. Most canine training programs also emphasize persistence and repetition, tactics you’ll probably employ quite frequently when your Lab obstinately resists what you’re trying to teach her. You may find that your Lab’s stubbornness taxes your ability to stick with the program, but you’ll just have to resign yourself to going over and over the same lesson until your Lab finally decides to do it your way. The good news is that once your Lab has learned something, she’s really learned it and isn’t likely to forget.

What does consistency in training entail? Consistency in training means being consistent both in what you teach and how your teach it. For example, if you’re working on manners (and you should always be working on manners) you should consistently enforce all the rules all of the time. Don’t bend the rules one day (for instance, by letting your Lab jump up on you), then reprimand her the next day for the same behavior. You should also be consistent with more specific aspects of training, such as how you give a particular command. For example, when you give the command to sit, it should always be preceded with your Lab’s name, followed by the command, “sit!” Don’t tell your Lab “sit!” one day and “sit down!” the next. It doesn’t make any difference to you, but it will to her. Likewise, when you correct your Lab, you should always use the same words and the same actions. It will even help if you praise her using the same words (“good girl!”), actions and tone of voice. Consistency, moreover, must come from everyone in the home. Every family member needs to uphold all of the house rules all of the time. Unfortunately, this is difficult, especially in families with young children. The result is a dog who follows the rules with some family members but completely ignores them with others. For example, your Lab might lie quietly on her bed while you eat lunch alone but actively seek handouts when your children eat their after-school snack. She’s obviously learned who will enforce the rules and who won’t.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

What will happen if I am not consistent in my training? Dogs understand, and love, consistency. If you’re consistent with your Lab—not just in training but in other areas as well—she’ll know what to expect. This gives her a sense of security and lets her know what she’s supposed to do next. Good training is closely related to the dominantsubordinate hierarchy of the pack, which is based on a very definite set of rules that let the pack members know how they’re supposed to behave. If you’re not consistent when you train your Lab, it will confuse her and make her nervous, which can make it even harder for her to understand what you want her to do. That’s going to be frustrating for both of you. It’s also important for you to be consistent when you train your Lab because that will convey to her that you mean what you say. For example, if you make her get off the sofa on Tuesday but then allow her to sleep there on Wednesday, she’ll probably think you don’t mean it when you tell her to stay off it on Thursday. If this sort of thing happens too often, it won’t be long before you won’t be able to get her to do anything.

What is positive reinforcement? Positive reinforcement is rewarding your Lab for doing the right thing rather than correcting her for doing the wrong thing. Positive reinforcement is smiling at and praising your Lab when she sits on command, walks nicely with you on a leash or refrains from chasing the jogger who passes you on the sidewalk. Each dog is unique in the way she responds to different types of positive reinforcement. Your Lab may love to be praised or petted, she may love a quick game of catch or she may only get excited over a treat. When training, you will probably want to vary the rewards and weight them—coming to you when she could be chasing a squirrel may warrant an ecstatic response from you, whereas not lagging when you walk together may warrant a soft “good girl.” Because she gets things she likes when she obeys you, your Lab learns that it’s smart to obey you. This is not to say that you’ll never correct or discipline your Lab. You will—but make a point of praising her much more than you correct, even if you have to praise her for some tiny thing that you’re not even sure she meant to do. You’re the most important person in your Lab’s life. Once she figures out that she’ll be praised for doing what you want her to do, she’ll work very hard to earn that praise.

What Does Training a Labrador Retriever Involve?


Will my Lab enjoy training sessions? If you keep sessions short (and keep a sunny disposition), your Lab will have fun at training sessions. Labs were developed as working dogs and have worked side by side with their human companions for hundreds of years. Labs still enjoy working with humans, although their work today is considerably different from in the past. You may feel that the tasks you ask your Lab to do are simple, but to your Lab, they’re work—a job to be done. By giving her a sense of purpose, training will keep her from becoming bored and lapsing into the unwanted habits that boredom breeds. She’s a working dog at heart, and when you give your Lab a job to do, she’ll most likely respond just like the generations of working Labs before her—with cheer and dedication. Remember too that to your Lab, you are the most important person in the world. If she had her way, she’d spend every minute of every day with you. Because of this attitude, your Lab will probably be an enthusiastic student and welcome training sessions whenever you want to have them. And once she’s mastered her lessons, she’ll be a tireless and obedient partner, simply to please you.

When should I start training my Lab? There’s no time like the present! If your Lab is an adult, you should start right away. Puppies usually do better with obedience training if you wait until they’re four to six months old, but you can start teaching them basic manners much earlier than that. Some obedience schools offer classes specifically designed for puppies. They’re a great way to get your Lab familiar with basic commands and to get her used to being around new dogs and new people.

Is it ever too late to start a training program? The saying may be “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” but you certainly can teach them basic manners and obedience. If your Lab is a senior, that’s no reason to neglect her training. You may need to modify some of the training tasks if she’s lost some mobility. But even if she’s not as spry as she once was, she’ll still enjoy working with you.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

What should I teach my Lab? You should teach your Lab the basic obedience commands of sit, lie down, heel, stay and come (recall). You will also want to teach her basic manners, such as not jumping up, not begging, not biting and not being wild in the house (these are only suggestions: you may have other manners you’d like your Lab to learn). You should always be teaching and reinforcing good manners, no matter where you and your Lab are. In a way, however, obedience commands and manners are flip sides of the same coin—a Lab who is sitting nicely isn’t jumping up on you or your guests.

How much time will it take to teach my Lab basic manners and obedience commands? There’s no question about it: Training your Lab to be a well-behaved pet (including basic manners and obedience commands) will take some time. The good news is that it doesn’t take huge blocks of time, it’s fun to do, will strengthen the bond between you and your Lab and make her a more enjoyable pet. The length of time it takes to teach a dog basic obedience commands varies considerably with the skill of the owner or handler and amount of time spent each day on lessons. For most Labs aged six months and up, it will probably take about six months of working at least twice a day for 20 to 30 minutes per session five days a week. It may take a little longer to teach the same commands to a senior Lab. As mentioned elsewhere, your Lab’s etiquette lessons won’t be restricted to formal sessions, but will occur during the course of your everyday routine, as you teach and reinforce appropriate behavior. (Similarly, you should strengthen the impact of your Lab’s obedience lessons by giving her commands whenever possible throughout the day.) It’s important to remember that you’ll never be completely finished with your Lab’s training—obedience and manners need continual reinforcement. Regular review sessions will keep your Lab’s behavior skills in tune, and keep her happy as well.

What Does Training a Labrador Retriever Involve?


What if I can’t spend this much time training my Lab? There’s nothing hard-and-fast about these guidelines. They’re just that— guidelines. If you can’t follow that program, you should try to work with her at least once a day for 20 to 30 minutes on most days of the week. It may take a little longer to reach your goal, but if you keep working at it, you’ll eventually achieve it. Many owners think if they can’t meet some minimum training time that it’s useless to try to train at all. This is incorrect; any time spent training your Lab will yield positive results. Many dogs have been taught their basic obedience commands during repeated lessons that never lasted more than five minutes. I recommend short sessions; ending a lesson on a positive note, before your Lab loses her focus, is more effective than repeatedly trying to elicit a certain behavior.

Can I work with my Lab on her behavior even if I can’t have training sessions every day? You may think you’re not training your Lab if you don’t have structured training sessions, but in reality you’re always training her—to do the right thing or the wrong thing. Every time you insist on good manners or make her sit before you give her a dog treat, you’re training her to behave correctly. When you pretend not to notice that’s she’s sleeping in your favorite chair that’s supposed to be off-limits, you’re training her to misbehave. So, even if you don’t want to have formal training sessions, try to be aware of all the little lessons that you’re teaching her throughout the day—and make them count. If you make sure that your Lab has adequate exercise every day, it will be easier to get her to behave. She’ll be more likely to listen to you if she’s a little worn out. If she tends to run through the house, confine her in the room where you’re working. Consistently enforce your house rules. Praise her when she does what you tell her to do, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Work on some basic obedience commands if you can (start with “sit”). Your Lab probably won’t behave very well at first, but if you’re persistent and praise her when she does behave, she’ll eventually get the idea. This non-training method of training takes a while (your Lab won’t be ready for an obedience trial any time soon), but those little lessons will pay off in the long run.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

How can I learn how to train my Lab? There are several ways that you can learn to train your Lab. One of the best ways is for you and your dog to attend obedience classes together. Usually held weekly, obedience classes are really for the dog’s owner, rather than for the dog. However, obedience classes also give your Lab valuable socialization experience as she works around other dogs and their owners. If you’re not comfortable in a class setting or you prefer a smaller group, you can enlist the help of a trainer. This is usually a more expensive option, but you and your Lab may get more individual attention. Another way to learn how to train your Lab is to learn as much as you can about dog training from books and videos. This may be a useful option if you’re an experienced dog owner, but novices may encounter problems that they have difficulty solving. Obedience training undertaken in this way can lead to a frustrated owner and a confused (and poorly trained) Lab.

9 What Do Labrador Retrievers Do for Fun?

What types of activities can I do with my Lab? • What do I need to know about walking and jogging with my Lab? • Can I go swimming with my Lab? • What are some games that my Lab and I will like? • What do dog clubs do? • What is the Canine Good Citizen program? • What types of competitions can my Lab and I enter? • How can I get started in an organized dog sport? • What types of service activities do Labs participate in?



What About Labrador Retrievers?

What types of activities can I do with my Lab? There are many activities that you and your Lab can enjoy together. These include: • Independent activities: walking, jogging, playing ball, swimming and the like. • Organized activities: dog clubs, Canine Good Citizen program, AKC competitions and tests. • Service activities: assistance dogs and therapy dogs.

What do I need to know about walking and jogging with my Lab? Your Lab will be more than happy to join you any time for a walk, jog or run. In fact, he’ll probably want to go even when you don’t. If your Lab’s a bit on the pudgy side, take it easy at first—start with 15 minutes of walking (10 minutes if he’s seriously overweight) and work up from there. Do your running and jogging on soft surfaces, especially if your Lab’s a youngster (less than a year old) or a senior citizen. It’s okay to motivate each other—after all, it’s more fun to exercise with a friend—but remember to be safe. Don’t overdo the strenuous exercise in hot, humid weather. (Your Lab will most likely follow your lead, so it’s up to you to set the limits.) Cold weather probably won’t bother your Lab—Labs originated in Newfoundland, not exactly a tropical paradise. If it’s recently snowed, be sure to wash off your Lab’s feet to remove any chemicals that may have been used to treat the snow.

Can I go swimming with my Lab? Sure. Most Labs love the water. If your Lab is an adult, he probably already knows all about water. If he’s still a puppy, you’ll need to introduce him to water gradually to prevent him from being frightened by it. Even

What Do Labrador Retrievers Do for Fun?


though most adult Labs are talented swimmers, puppies still have to learn how to handle themselves in the water.

Where should I swim with my Lab? Suitable swimming spots include lakes, streams and some rivers. For your Lab’s safety (and your own), don’t swim where there are strong currents, rapids or sharp drop-offs. Sand, gravel or grass along the shore will make it easier for you and your Lab to get out. Avoid swimming in areas with cliffs or large boulders along the shore. The water should be reasonably clean and odor-free, without oiliness or stagnation. You shouldn’t swim with your Lab in a swimming pool because he might later decide to go for a swim alone. Dogs—even strong swimmers—have drowned in swimming pools after they jumped in and then couldn’t figure out how to get out. Finally, regardless of where you decide to swim with your Lab, never swim without another person present. As loyal and trustworthy as your Lab is, he may not be able to rescue you if you have a problem in the water.

How do I go about getting my Lab puppy used to the water? Most puppies are ready for their first water experience by the time they’re about four months old. Wait until the weather is sunny and warm. Choose your swimming hole carefully—a lake or quiet river or stream (no fast currents) with a gently sloping bottom is a good choice. Try to go when there aren’t too many people and dogs around—you don’t want your puppy to be distracted by a lot of activity or, worse yet, frightened by another dog. Your Lab will probably be more willing to go in the water if you go too, so wear your swimsuit or at least be prepared to get your feet wet. Don’t try to force your puppy to go in the water immediately. Instead, set him down on the shore and let him investigate. Let him decide when to go in the water. If he seems reluctant, wade into ankle-deep water and encourage him to join you. If he won’t enter the water, don’t try to drag him in and don’t throw him in to “teach him to swim.” Just wade around a little and let him watch you having a good time. If he still doesn’t seem interested in joining you, go for a walk on dry land instead and try it again another day. Eventually, he’ll probably decide that the water looks like too much fun to pass up.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

What are some games that my Lab and I will like? Your Lab will enjoy just about any game you invent. Retrieving games, as you might guess, are big favorites, and your Lab will enjoy a retrieving game even more if he gets to retrieve the object from a body of water. If you’re playing with a ball, make sure that the ball is rubber or vinyl and large enough that it can’t get stuck in the back of your Lab’s mouth. You don’t have to limit your retrieving games solely to balls, though. Your Lab will be happy to fetch a Frisbee, bumper or anything else that you throw. Just make sure that whatever you use is safe for your Lab.

Are there games I should avoid playing with my Lab? Yes, there are several types of games that you shouldn’t play with your Lab. These include: • Chasing games • Games that encourage biting • Wrestling games • Tug-of-war All of these games can encourage your Lab to display dominant behavior, which is inappropriate when he’s interacting with people. It’s just too easy for games like this to get out of hand. If your Lab learns that he can make you do what he wants by using his teeth, he might try it the next time he wants his way.

What do dog clubs do? Dog clubs are a source of information and networking for dog fanciers of all types from novice owner to professional handlers. In the United States, there are nearly 5,000 AKC-affiliated dog clubs, including national parent clubs (such as the Labrador Retriever Club), regional specialty clubs (breed-oriented clubs in a certain area, such as the Spirit of St. Louis Labrador Retriever Club) and event clubs (clubs that focus on specific events, such as agility, obedience or field trials).

What Do Labrador Retrievers Do for Fun?


Members of dog clubs share a common interest in raising, training, breeding and competing with purebred dogs. The best-known function of dog clubs is their sponsorship and organization of dog shows and other events for AKC-registered dogs. In addition to this, however, dog clubs are highly involved in many other activities that further the welfare of dogs, such as: • Promotion and protection of dogs in their communities • Educational programs • Sponsorship of training classes • Sponsorship of health clinics • Operation of rescue networks • Responsible breeder location services Because Labrador Retrievers are so popular, there are lots of Lab clubs all over the country. You may be able to find one near you by contacting the Labrador Retriever Club and the AKC (see “How Can I Learn More?” for addresses and web sites). A local Lab breeder or veterinarian may also be able to give you the name of a dog club near you.

What about clubs for people interested in hunting activities with their Labs? As I’ve already noted, the AKC recognizes clubs that specialize in Lab hunting activities such as field trials and hunting tests. In addition, the Hunting Retriever Club (HRC), which is affiliated with the United Kennel Club, has 105 member clubs throughout the country. Unlike AKCaffiliated dog clubs, these clubs focus solely on retrievers (all breeds, not just Labs) and hunting activities. A primary activity of the HRC and its member clubs is the sponsorship of hunting tests. The North American Hunting Retriever Association and the National Field Retriever Association also specialize in hunting activities for all retriever breeds.

What is the Canine Good Citizen program? Canine Good Citizen (CGC) is an AKC award given to dogs who pass a test demonstrating that they have exemplary manners. Any dog, regardless


What About Labrador Retrievers?

of whether he’s purebred or not, can earn this award. The test is often administered by local dog clubs. The names of clubs and CGC evaluators can be obtained from the AKC. The CGC test is graded on a pass-fail basis. Preparing for the test provides a great set of training goals for the Lab owner. Canadian dogs can complete a similar test to earn the Canine Good Neighbour Award from the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC). Contact information for both the AKC and the CKC can be found in “How Can I Learn More?”.

What types of competitions can my Lab and I enter? If your Lab is registered with the AKC, he is eligible to participate in many different types of shows, trials and tests offered by this group. These include: • Conformation dog shows: Competitions in which each dog is judged according to his breed standard in order to determine which dog comes closest to the ideal for his breed. • Obedience trials: Competitions in which dogs perform exercises designed to demonstrate their obedience to various commands • Field trials and hunting tests: Competitive (field trials) or noncompetitive (hunting tests) events in which a dog’s hunting ability is judged. • Agility trials: Competitions that combine precision and speed as dogs negotiate various obstacles on their owners’ commands. • Tracking tests: Non-competitive events in which a dog must follow a pre-laid scent trail over and through different obstacles and terrain. Other registries, such as the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and the United Kennel Club (UKC) (or its affiliated Hunting Retriever Club) also offer these events and competitions. You and your Lab might also enjoy competing in flyball—a type of relay race that’s governed by the North American Flyball Association.

What Do Labrador Retrievers Do for Fun?


How can I get started in an organized dog sport? If you’d like to get started in an organized dog sport, a good place to start is the AKC web site. On that site, you’ll find information about all of the organized dog sports mentioned above, except flyball. For each sport, the AKC web site provides descriptions, explanations, regulations and advice about how to get involved. The web site also contains a vast amount of information about dogs in general. For information about entering flyball competitions, contact the North American Flyball Association. “How Can I Learn More?” contains the addresses and web site addresses for both of these organizations.

What types of service activities do Labs participate in? Labrador Retrievers make great service dogs. They are often chosen to be trained as: assistance dogs, therapy dogs, detection dogs and search-andrescue dogs.

What do assistance dogs do? Assistance dogs assist people with disabilities. The best-known assistance dogs are guide dogs, who assist blind or visually impaired persons. The Labrador Retriever is the most commonly used breed for this work. Hearing dogs, another type of assistance dog, assist deaf individuals by alerting them to sounds, such as doorbells, smoke alarms, crying babies or intruders. The third type of assistance dog, the service dog, may perform a wide variety of tasks, depending on the needs of the individual person. When working with someone who has impaired mobility, the dog may pick up dropped objects, assist with dressing or undressing, or retrieve needed items. Other service dogs are trained to work with individuals who have epilepsy or other seizure disorders. Some of these dogs detect impending seizures so the person can take preventive medication. Others are trained to gently revive their companions after a seizure has occurred.


What About Labrador Retrievers?

What is a therapy dog? Therapy dogs bring comfort and cheer to patients in hospitals, nursing homes, care centers and other settings. Therapy dogs provide the therapeutic benefits of pet contact to people who might not otherwise experience it.

Can my Lab and I do therapy work? Probably. Many animal therapy teams are simply average owners and their dogs—just like you and your Lab. Therapy work can be interesting and rewarding for both of you, but most of the time you can’t just walk into a hospital or nursing home and start working. You and your Lab will need some training first. The type of training required varies with the organization and the type of work you want to do.

What do detection dogs do? Detection dogs find objects that are hidden or otherwise undetectable to humans. Most people have heard about dogs who detect drugs or explosives, but detection dogs are also used to find firearms, abused medication, beverage alcohol and smuggled goods.

What do search-and-rescue dogs do? Search-and-rescue dogs work with handlers to find victims of hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, avalanches, and other disasters. They are also used to find people who are lost. Labs who perform search-and-rescue work need to be specially trained for this demanding work.

How Can I Learn More? Labrador Retriever Clubs Contact a national club to find a local Labrador Retriever Club or to find a reputable breeder. You can also find local clubs listed on the AKC web site. If you want to adopt a rescued Lab, the national clubs should be able to help you find a rescue group in your area. National Labrador Retriever Club Patty Streufert, Membership Chair 2700 Mullins Rd. Millstadt, IL 62260-3258 618-538-7795 www.labradorretrievers.org Labrador Retriever Club Inc. Christopher Wincek, Secretary 14686 Grand Army of the Republic Hwy. Hamden, OH 44024 (440) 285-8114 www.thelabradorclub.com Labrador Retriever Club of Canada Gail Kleebaum, Secretary 195 Dearman Rd. West St. Paul, Manitoba Canada R4A 9A1 (204) 338-0298 www.labrador-canada.com



How Can I Learn More?

Purebred Dog Clubs American Kennel Club 5580 Centerview Dr. Raleigh, NC 27606-3390 (919) 233-9767 www.akc.org Canadian Kennel Club Commerce Park 89 Skyway Ave., Ste. 100 Etobicoke, Ontario Canada M9W 6R4 (416) 675-5511 www.canadiankennelclub.com Field Dog Stud Book American Field Publishing Co. 542 S. Dearborn St., Ste. 1350 Chicago, IL 60605 (312) 663-9797 www.americanfield.com United Kennel Club 100 E. Kilgore Rd. Kalamazoo, MI 49001-5598 (616) 343-9020 www.ukcdogs.com

Hunting Dog Clubs Hunting Retriever Club Claudene Christopher, Secretary P.O. Box 3179 Big Spring, TX 79721-3179 (915) 267-1659 www.hrc-ukc.com

How Can I Learn More?

National Field Retriever Association 2003 N. Boomer Rd. Stillwater, OK 74075 www.nfra.us North American Hunting Retriever Association P.O. Box 5159 Fredericksburg, VA 22403 (540) 286-0625 www.nahra.org

Activity Organizations Agility Association of Canada Rob Chipman, President 957 Seymour Blvd. North Vancouver, British Columbia Canada V7J 2J7 (604) 230-4225 www.aac.ca North American Dog Agility Council 11522 S. Hwy. 3 Cataldo, ID 83810 (208) 689-3803 www.nadac.com North American Flyball Association 1400 W. Devon Ave., #512 Chicago, IL 60660 (800) 318-6312 www.flyball.org United States Dog Agility Association P.O. Box 850955 Richardson, TX 75085-0995 (972) 231-9700 www.usdaa.com



How Can I Learn More?

International Disc Dog Handlers’ Association 1690 Julius Bridge Rd. Ball Ground, GA 30107 (770) 735-6200 www.iddha.com SkyHoundz 4060-D Peachtree Rd., Ste. 326 Atlanta, GA 30319 (800) 786-9240 ww.skyhoundz.com Canine Freestyle Federation 21900 Foxden Lane Leesburg, VA 20175 www.canine-freestyle.org World Canine Freestyle Organization P.O. Box 350122 Brooklyn, NY 11235-2525 (718) 332-8336 www.worldcaninefreestyle.org

Health Organizations American Animal Hospital Association 12575 W. Bayaud Ave. Lakewood, CO 80228 (303) 986-2800 www.aahanet.org www.healthypet.com American Veterinary Medical Association 930 N. Meacham Rd. Chicago, IL 60173 (847) 925-8070 www.avma.org

How Can I Learn More?

Canadian Veterinary Medical Association 339 Booth St. Ottawa, Ontario Canada, K1R 7K1 (613) 236-1162 www.cvma-acmv.org Canine Eye Registration Foundation Veterinary Medical Data Program South Campus Courts, Building C Purdue University West Lafayette, IN 47907 (765) 494-8179 www.vet.purdue.edu/~yshen/cerf.html National Animal Poison Control Center 1717 S. Philo, Ste. 36 Urbana, IL 61802 (800) 548-2423 (888) 426-4435 www.aspca.org/site/PageServer?pagename=apcc Orthopedic Foundation for Animals 2300 E. Nifong Blvd. Columbia, MO 65201-3856 (573) 442-0418 www.offa.org PennHip 3900 Delancey St. Philadelphia, PA 19104-6010 www.vet.upenn.edu/ResearchCenters/pennhip



How Can I Learn More?

Service Organizations Delta Society 580 Naches Ave. SW, Ste. 101 Renton, WA 98055-2297 (425) 226-7357 www.deltasociety.org Therapy Dogs, Inc. P.O. Box 5868 Cheyenne, WY 82003 (877) 843-7364 (307) 432-0272 www.therapydogs.com Therapy Dogs International 88 Bartley Rd. Flanders, NJ 07836 (973) 252-9800 www.tdi-dog.org

Books The Complete Dog Book, 19th Edition, Revised, American Kennel Club, Howell Book House, 1998. Dog Training in 10 Minutes, Carol Lea Benjamin, Howell Book House, 1997. Game Dog: The Hunter’s Retriever for Upland Birds and Waterfowl: A Concise New Training Method, Richard A. Wolters, E.P. Dutton, 1995. The Labrador Retriever: The Dog That Does It All, Lisa Weiss and Emily Biegel, Howell Book House, 1999. UC Davis Book of Dogs, Mordecai Siegal, Harper Collins, 1995. The Ultimate Labrador Retriever, 2nd Edition, Heather Wiles-Fone, Howell Book House, 2003.

Index activities CGC (Canine Good Citizen), 135–136 competitions, 136 dog clubs, 134–135 games, 134 hunting clubs, 135 jogging, 132 organized sports, 137 service dogs, 137–138 swimming, 132–133 walking, 132 activity organizations, 141–142 additives, food/health issues, 59 adoptions abandonment reasons, 47 animal shelters, 43 rescue clubs, 44 adult dogs booster immunizations, 91–92 crate confinement timeline, 68 exercise requirements, 82 feeding schedules, 62 health check elements, 46 ownership considerations, 32–33 temperament traits, 23–24 yearly costs, 35–36 aggression, pack mentality, 15–17 agility trials, activity type, 136 AKC (American Kennel Club) breed registration authority, 36–37 CGC (Canine Good Citizen) program, 135–136 competition types, 136

limited registration, 40 recognized retriever breeds, 2–3 AKC Gazette magazine, breeder resource, 38 alarm clocks, new puppy use, 72 alcoholic beverages, reasons for avoiding, 57 American Kennel Club (AKC) breed registration authority, 36–37 CGC (Canine Good Citizen) program, 135–136 competition types, 136 limited registration, 40 recognized retriever breeds, 2–3 animal shelters abandonment reasons, 47 adoption pros/cons, 43 assistance dogs, 137 atopy, 107–108 backyard breeders, pros/cons, 41–42 balls, toy selection guidelines, 70 baths, frequency guidelines, 116 bedrooms, house rules, 72 beer, reasons for avoiding, 57 behaviors, house rules, 71–73 bleeding, toenail trimming, 118 body language dominate dog, 18 subordinate dog, 17–18 bones, reasons for avoiding, 56–57 books, 144 bowls, food/water, 68




brains, epilepsy, 110–111 breed characteristics, 15–17 breed description, 2 breeders backyard, 41–42 desirable traits, 38 locating, 38 puppy mills, 43 questions for, 38–40 questions from, 40 brushes, grooming aid, 115–116 Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) breed registration authority, 37 competition types, 136 candy, reasons for avoiding, 57 Canine Eye Registry Foundation (CERF), 36 Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program, 135–136 canned foods, pros/cons, 54 carbohydrates, nutrition element, 52 carrots, treat use, 57 cataracts, 107 chaining, avoiding, 77 Championship (Ch) title, pedigree appearance, 41 Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, AKC recognized retriever breed, 2 children exercise opportunity, 83 good companions, 25–26 pack mentality, 18–19 chocolate, health concerns, 57 CKC (Canadian Kennel Club) breed registration authority, 37 competition types, 136

coats, characteristics, 113 collars, selection guidelines, 69 companionship children, 25–26 elderly owners, 27 consistency, training element, 125–126 coronavirus infection, immunization against, 90 costs food-by-type, 63 ownership considerations, 34–36 price variation reasons, 34–35 yearly, 35–36 yearly veterinarian care, 88 cow’s milk, puppy avoidance, 56 crates, selection guidelines, 66–68 Curly-Coated Retrievers, AKC recognized retriever breed, 2 detection dogs, 138 digging, fenced yard deterrence, 76 distemper, immunization against, 89–90 dog clubs, activity types, 134–135 doggy day care, exercise alternative, 83–84 doghouses, 79 dog shows, activity type, 136 dog-sitters, home alone dogs, 74 dogs (other), acceptance of, 27–28 dog-walkers, exercise alternative, 83 Dog World magazine, breeder resource, 38


domination body language, 18 family members, 18–19 pack mentality, 15–17 dry (kibble) food, pros/cons, 53–54 ears, grooming, 118–119 elbow dysplasia, 105–106 elderly owners, good companion, 27 epilepsy, 110–111 exercise health requirement, 85 puppy types to avoid, 82 time requirements, 83 types, 81–82 external parasites, 95–97 eyes cataracts, 107 PRA (progressive retinal atrophy), 106–107 family members exercise opportunity, 83 pack mentality, 18–19 fat, nutrition element, 52 feet, toenail trimming, 116–118 females acceptance of other dogs, 27–28 ownership pros/cons, 33–34 single-litter issues, 99 spay benefits, 98–99 fenced yards. See also yards digging deterrence, 76 doghouses, 79 dog-proofing, 77 exercise opportunity, 84


height considerations, 75 home alone dogs, 74–81 immunization reasons, 91 invisible fences, 76 field (hunting) Labs, versus show Labs, 3–4 Field Dog Stud Book (FSB), breed registration authority, 37 field trials, activity type, 136 Flat-Coated Retrievers, AKC recognized retriever breed, 2 flyball, activity type, 136–137 food bowls, 68 foods alcoholic beverages, 57 BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), 59 BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene), 59 bones, 56–57 candy, 57 canned, 54 cost-by-type, 63 cow’s milk, 56 dry (kibble), 53–54 label information, 58–59 meat only diets, 55 mixing types, 54–55 nutrition elements, 52 nutrition-related health problems, 49–51 puppy nutritional requirements, 59–60 raw carrots, 57 semi-moist, 54 senior dog nutritional requirements, 61



table scraps, 55–56 treats, 56 types, 53–57 vitamins, 56 water requirements, 62–63 free-choice feeding, pros/cons, 62 FSB (Field Dog Stud Book), breed registration authority, 37 furniture, house rules, 71 games, activity type, 134 gastric dilation-volvulus (GDV), 100 Golden Retrievers, AKC recognized retriever breed, 2 Great Pyrenees, obesity trend, 50 grooming baths, 116 brushes, 115–116 coat characteristics, 113 ears, 118–119 lack of affects, 114 odor (smell) elimination, 115 teeth cleaning, 119–120 time requirements, 113–114 toenail trimming, 116–118 guide dogs, 137 health factors affecting, 87 immunizations, 89–92 neuter/spay considerations, 98–99 regular checkup reasons, 88 health check adult dog selection elements, 46 puppy selection elements, 45

health organizations, 142–143 health problems atopy, 107–108 cataracts, 107 elbow dysplasia, 105–106 epilepsy, 110–111 external parasites, 95–97 GDV (gastric dilation-volvulus), 100 hip dysplasia, 101–105 infectious diseases, 89–92 injury/sickness indicators, 111 internal parasites, 92–95 muscle diseases, 108–110 muscular dystrophy, 109–110 myasthenia gravis, 108–109 nutrition-related, 49–51 PRA (progressive retinal atrophy), 106–107 hearing dogs, 137 hepatitis, immunization against, 89–90 hip dysplasia, 101–105 house rules, allowed/unallowed behaviors, 71–73 households dog-proofing, 65–66 home alone dogs, 73–74 house rules, 71–73 housetraining, new puppy, 72 hunting dog clubs, 140–141 hunting (field) Labs, versus show Labs, 3–4 hunting tests, activity type, 136 hunting, activity type, 135


ID tags, 77–78 identification, methods, 77–78 immunizations, 89–92 internal parasites, 92–95 Internet, breed referral source, 42 invisible fencing, pros/cons, 76 isolationism, outdoor dog concern, 80–81 jogging, activity type, 132 kennel cough, immunization against, 90 kibble (dry) food, pros/cons, 53–54 labels, nutrition information, 58–59 Labrador Retriever clubs, 139–140 leashes, selection guidelines, 69 leather chews, 69 leptospirosis, immunization against, 89–90 lifestyles, exercise obligation, 84 limited registration, purebred dogs, 40 Lyme disease, immunization against, 90 Malamutes, obesity trend, 50 males acceptance of other dogs, 27–28 neuter benefits, 98–99 ownership pros/cons, 33–34 single-litter issues, 99 meats, food pros/cons, 55 microchips, 77–78


minerals, nutrition element, 52 muscle diseases, 108–110 muscular dystrophy, 109–110 myasthenia gravis, 108–109 neighbors exercise alternative, 83 home alone dogs, 74 neuter, male ownership considerations, 34 Newfoundlands, obesity trend, 50 non-family members, acceptance of, 27 North American Flyball Association, 136–137 Nova Scotia Duck-Tolling Retrievers, AKC recognized retriever breed, 3 nutrition elements of, 52 food label information, 58–59 health problems, 49–51 puppy requirements, 59–60 senior dog requirements, 61 water requirements, 62–63 nylon bones, 70 obedience training, 128–130 obedience trials, activity type, 136 obesity, nutrition-related health problem, 49–51 odors (smells), grooming elimination, 115 OFA (Orthopedic Foundation For Animals), 36, 101–105 otter tail, breed trait, 2 outdoor dogs, weather (temperature) issues, 79–81



overweight, nutrition-related health problem, 49–51 owners, desirable traits, 19 ownership abandonment reasons, 47 breeder questions, 38–40 cost considerations, 34–36 exercise time requirements, 83, 84 female versus male, 33–34 lifestyle adjustment, 83, 84 neuter/spay considerations, 34 puppy versus adult dog, 32–33 quality evaluations, 31–32 responsibilities of, 30 selection guidelines, 30–36 pack mentality, 15–19 parasites external, 95–97 internal, 92–95 parvovirus, immunization against, 90 pedigrees Championship (Ch) title appearance, 41 registration certificates, 36–37 PennHip, hip dysplasia, 101–105 pet sitters, exercise alternative, 83 pets (other household), acceptance of, 28 pet stores, dog purchase avoidance, 42–43 positive reinforcement, training element, 126 PRA (progressive retinal atrophy), 106–107

preservatives, food/health issues, 59 progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), 106–107 protein, nutrition element, 52 puppies acceptance of other dogs, 27–28 cow’s milk avoidance, 56 crate confinement timeline, 68 exercise requirements, 81–82 exercise types to avoid, 82 feeding schedules, 62 health check elements, 45 housetraining, 72 immunization reasons, 91 nutritional requirements, 59–60 ownership considerations, 32 temperament testing, 45–46 temperament traits, 21–23 trainability, 124 yearly costs, 35 puppy mills, avoiding, 43 purebred dog clubs, 140 quality evaluations, 31–32 questions, breeder, 38–40 rabies, immunization against, 89–90 rawhide chews, 69 registration AKC (American Kennel Club), 36–37 limited, 40 rescue clubs, adoption pros/cons, 44


retrievers, AKC recognized breeds, 2–3 rubber toys, 69 Saint Bernards, obesity trend, 50 search-and-rescue dogs, 138 semi-moist foods, pros/cons, 54 senior dogs exercise requirements, 82 nutritional requirements, 61 temperament traits, 24 service dogs, 137 service organizations, 144 skin, atopy, 107–108 smells, eliminating, 115 sources, breeders, 37–42 spay, female ownership considerations, 34 subordination body language, 17–18 family members, 18–19 pack mentality, 15–17 swimming, activity type, 132–133 synthetic bones, 70 table scraps, nutritional consequences, 55–56 tails, otter tail, 2 tattoos, 77–78 teeth, dental care, 119–120 temperament testing, puppy, 45–46 temperament adult dogs, 23–24 breed traits, 20 home alone dogs, 73–74 puppy testing, 20–21


puppy traits, 21–23 senior dogs, 24 temperature (weather), outdoor dogs, 79–81 therapy dogs, 138 tie-out lines, avoiding, 77 toes, nail trimming, 116–118 toys, selection guidelines, 69–70 tracking tests, activity type, 136 trainability, issues, 122–123 training consistency importance, 125–126 disposition issues, 127 housetraining, 72 importance of, 122–123 obedience commands, 128–130 positive reinforcement, 126 strength issues, 124 trainability issues, 122–123 when to begin, 127 treats nutritional considerations, 56 raw carrots, 57 UKC (United Kennel Club), breed registration authority, 37, 136 veterinarians immunizations, 89–92 locating, 87–88 neuter/spay decisions, 98–99 yearly costs, 88 vinyl toys, 69 vision cataracts, 107 PRA (progressive retinal atrophy), 106–107



vitamins food supplements, 56 nutrition element, 52 walking, activity type, 132 watchdogs, breed trait, 25 water intake requirements, 62–63 nutrition element, 52 water bowls, 68 weather (temperature), outdoor dogs, 79–81

X-rays, hip/elbow dysplasia diagnosis, 101–106 yards. See also fenced yards doghouses, 79 dog-proofing, 77 exercise opportunity, 84 home alone dogs, 74–81 yearly costs food-by-type, 63 types, 35–36 yearly health care, cost estimates, 88