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Have you ever wondered: Why are Labrador Retrievers so popular? It took a while for the Labrador Retriever to catch on with the American public, but once it did – wow!

With origins in Canada, but in Newfoundland – not Labrador, the breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1917. They didn’t see popularity in the rankings until the 1970s, some 50 years later. In the ’70s, they broke into the top 10 at No. 9, then jumped to No. 3 in the 1980s. They held the top spot for a record 31 years – from 1991 until 2022.

“Well-bred Labradors have absolutely the most wonderful temperaments,” says Judy Heim, longtime Lab owner who lives in Turlock, California. “Labradors are one of the most intuitive breeds I’ve dealt with. I started in Labradors 49 years ago, and have handled all breeds. I’ve wondered if I would find a breed I preferred to the Labrador — I have not.”

What Makes Labrador Retrievers So Popular?

Labradors, Heim says, with a typical temperament are “light-switch dogs.” Longtime devotees say the Lab’s full toolbox of attractions offers up something for everyone, especially versatility and temperament. “If I want to go for a hike, run, swim, play ball, or hunt, they’re up and ready to go. However, if I want to stay home and eat a gallon of ice cream, watch a movie, they are thrilled to hang right there, too,” she says.

This also makes the Lab an excellent service dog. Heim’s friend worked at a large seeing eye facility, and noted that it was one of the most successful breeds in the program. Beyond guide dog work, Heim cites the breed’s prowess at hunting, bomb and drug detection, cancer detection, and diabetic-warning.

Heim says the most common questions from potential puppy purchasers are pretty ordinary. How much to feed, what to feed, and how often to bathe. “We seldom bathe them, they’re wash-and-wear dogs. A well-bred Labrador has a well-bred, thick double coat. Bottom line, bathe as little as possible because it will get dandruff if bathed too often, plus itchy skin,” she explains.

Labrador Retriever standing outdoors.
Mikayla Nicole Photo/Shutterstock

Commonly Asked Questions to Labrador Breeders

Some of the most common questions that breeders gets from puppy seekers are: What type of health testing do you do? What if I can’t keep my puppy, will you take it back? Will you, as my breeder, help me and provide guidance as I face challenges as a new puppy owner? How much do they weigh as an adult? Does a female or male make the best pet? Do they shed?

While the breed sat atop the AKC registry for a record 31 consecutive years, its breeders didn’t sit idly by, enjoying the top spot. longtime Lab breeder and judge Nancy Arbuckle, of Zionsville, Indiana says that they’ve been busy focusing on health, better structure and temperament.

“The changes have been highly positive. We have a lot more health clearances for our breed. We are quite the target for research groups and veterinary schools as they look for new DNA tests to improve the health of dogs today,” Heim says. “We are a target because our breed population is so large. Therefore, if a research group is able to isolate a gene and establish a test for a genetic abnormality in the Labrador Retriever, there will be thousands of dogs tested, which is financially good for that facility. It is good for the breed, too, if the test is accurate.”

Linda Maffett of Bellingham, Washington, who has been a Labrador Breeder since 1987, notes there are far more testing tools available to breeders today than three decades ago. “When I started in Labradors in the late ’80s, we were only certifying hips through OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) and did annual eye exams. Now, there are a multitude of DNA tests, as well as many other screening means,” she says.

Labrador retriever head portrait indoors.
Anne Ruthmann Photography

Challenges in the Labrador Community

One of the biggest challenges facing the Labrador community today is the lack of interest in the fancy. This isn’t just the case for Labrador owners, Maffett says. “There are far fewer breeders coming up who desire to be true ambassadors for our breed who feel compelled to love and protect it for its future. Simply put, we need more dedication,” she says. “It’s imperative the breed maintains its instinct to retrieve. It, after all, is a retriever. We must keep the perfect Labrador temperament.”

Thanks to the internet, breeders worldwide are tightly connected today. Judges are able to place their hands on Labradors worldwide. Plus, people from out of the country are plentiful at the annual Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac Specialty Show, the breed’s biggest show.

“Labradors in the U.S. have not been affected by dogs brought in from other countries,” Heim says. “Conversely, the American Labrador has influenced Labradors abroad. We were, in turn, impacted greatly by Labs from Great Britain that were imported in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It made a positive change with our dogs.”

But she notes breed standards differ. The Federation Cynologique Internationale governs Labradors in Europe, while those in the U.S. are under the American Kennel Club.

And while we’re on that subject, all three breeders emphasize that the Labrador Retriever comes in three colors: black, yellow, and chocolate.

Related article: Ways to Spoil Your Dog and Enrich Their Life
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