Do you know the difference between English and American Labrador Retrievers?
My boy Duckie
What? I'm bored and this table tastes good!
The Labrador Retriever is the number one dog in America in terms of registration with the AKC, or American Kennel Club. If you looked at overall numbers, you would be hard pressed to find any other breed with more dogs living in households across the country. Loving, kind, family oriented, and great with kids, they are the perfect pet. Or are they? Did you know there is a difference within the breed? A difference that could result in whether you keep your pet, or find yourself re-homing it. If you go into this little adventure well armed with a few facts, you can make it better for all concerned.
The Labrador Retriever is the all around dog. They will hunt, swim, perform search and rescue, be an assistance dog, be a drug sniffing dog, or just be your lovable dog in the house. Easily trainable, they can and indeed prefer to be a working dog. This is not the dog you want if you are a couch potato! They love to work, and they love to please their master. But not all Labs are the same, and by knowing the difference, you will prevent a possible disaster.
This breed has its beginnings not as far into the past as you might think. Although it can trace its lineage to the St. John's Water Dog of the 16th century, the actual breed by definition did not come into its own until much later. In the early 19th century, a few of the breed then known as St. John's Water Dog were brought to the Poole area of England. The more affluent people of the time who were sportsman quickly came to admire their hard working traits, and their gentle nature. The first and second Earls of Malmesbury, and the fifth and sixth Dukes of Buccleuch were the first to recognise and develop these traits, and thus created the what became the modern breed of Labrador Retriever, first recognised by the AKC in 1917.
While the first of the breed were primarily black, there were some shadings of other colors. Breeding certain types and colors together resulted in the Yellow and Chocolate phases. Along with the Black, these are the only recognised colors of Labrador. Fox, or reddish, is an offshoot of Yellow, as is the Cream, or White; and Silver is thought to be a variety of Chocolate, although the thought has been raised that possibly a Weimaraner slipped into the bloodline at some point.
Some people choose to pick their pet based solely upon the color, thinking the color will influence the behavior. I hate to burst your bubble, but this has nothing to do with it. In addition, just because you have, let's say a black dog, that does not mean that he will produce only black puppies if allowed to breed. Virtually every Lab today has recessive genes of another color other than the exterior coat shown. It is entirely possible to breed two of the same color and have the litter mixed in colors. Casual breeders should know this, and be aware of this fact if and when they decide to breed. Color of the nose and skin can play into the equation, as well. You don't want a Black Lab to come out with a Pink nose; this is cause for disqualification in the show ring.
But maybe you don't want to show your Lab; maybe you just want a pet for the kids. Okay, no sweat; but you still need to be informed. The single biggest difference I have found in close to 30 years of being around Labs is the difference in behavior of American versus English Labs. And this could be the biggest difference of all. Show Labs are primarily English Labs, and the AKC has very stringent rules as to what makes a show-worthy animal. Height, weight, coloration, length all play a factor in this. In addition, these things also have created a variance within the breed itself. AKC states they are to be 22.5" to 24.5" tall at the withers (shoulders) for males, and 21.5" to 23.5" for females; weight for males 65 to 80 pounds, and females 55 to 70 pounds. The UK (United Kennel Club) standards are even tighter, being 22" to 22.5" for males, and 21.5" to 22" for females. But just because a dog is registered AKC or UKC does not mean they meet this standard, and that is where the trouble begins. Not every person wants a dog bred for the ring; maybe they want a dog to hunt with. At some point, a second Lab appeared. The hunting variety, commonly known as the American Lab, is longer of leg, somewhat leaner, often having a more pointed nose and domed head, and it was bred to hunt. And as a result, they are longer, faster, and more "driven" - read more hyper and high strung. These have become the common Lab you see almost everywhere. And this is the dog that ends up being bought for a lesser amount of money and is expected to be just a pet. The problem is, this drive is exactly what most pet owners do not want. Drive means energy, and if you are not providing a release for that energy, you end up with a dog that chews, that runs, that barks, that drives you crazy! And you end up re-homing this dog, because you cannot handle it. The shelters are full of this type of dog; and it is a tragedy.
English Labs are calmer, sturdier, more levelheaded, and much, much easier to train. They tend to be a bit shorter in stature, meeting the AKC regulations; have a heavier build; thicker tail; and a block head. If you have never seen an English Lab, let me tell you they are beautifully put together. But, they are more expensive to buy. This type of dog is more costly in the initial investment, but you will be paid back a hundredfold by the calm and well mannered dog you will receive in return. If you go online and search, you will most likely be shocked by the apparent cost of a puppy. Don't be: although they are more expensive, they tend to be healthier, calmer, more tractable and will become all around better pets and family members. In addition, the breeders will be much more informed and better equipped to answer your questions and help you select a companion for the next 10 to 15 years.
Almost everyone can become a casual breeder; all it takes is a male and a female, preferably AKC registered, and about a year. Then, for as often as twice a year, they will produce puppies. Lots of puppies. Puppies that are cute and cuddly and lovable and just what the kids want. Until. Until they are big and strong and jumping and nipping because they are bored. Then the kids hate you because you took their dog to the pound. People, it can all be avoided. First do not become a breeder unless you truly desire to better the breed by producing quality animals. Also, know this is not an easy road to riches; any money you make you will simply be recovering what you have spent on them. This is not, I repeat not a place to make money! And lastly, be responsible: to the dogs, to the breed, to the people of the world. Do not add to the surplus population already in shelters.
First, I will advise you to not buy from a pet store; or from someone in the paper or on a sales list online. These will primarily be American Labs that come from "puppy mills". If you are a hunter, and you desire these traits, great! But I still wouldn't buy from one of these places. These dogs, I am sorry to say, have been bred to pique your interest and separate you from your money. Nothing else. Research the internet for responsible breeders who care who buys their puppies, and will offer to take the dog back should you choose to not keep it anymore.
I began with a Lab in 1982. I was making a whole $4.50 an hour back then, and a friend that I hunted with wanted to raise Labs. He had purchased a pretty little Black female, and wanted me to get a male. I searched the area, and found a man who had a litter. I knew nothing about the breed. Nothing. I went to the house and spoke with the man. He brought out the Sire, and put him through his paces. All silent, hand signals only. Throw the stick, retrieve, sit, release. He put this dog up, and brought out the Dam. Same thing. Impressive, to say the least. Then he brought out the seven puppies. Six went frolicking away, bouncing and jumping and barking. One little male strode over to the stick the man had used for showing me his Labs, picked up the stick, and came and sat in front of me as if to say "Ok, I'm ready; let's go hunting." Amazing. The price was high for the time: $150.00. Or, almost a full weeks wages at the time.
Ubar, as he came to be known, was a great Lab. Smart, quick on the picking up of training, I sometimes think he trained me more than I trained him. Then, after less than a year, he was gone; stolen right out of my back yard. I have owned a few others in the interim years, some American, some not. My current Lab is an English, born and bred, and I have traced his lineage back into the 1870's, back to the original Malmesbury and Buccleuch stock that began this journey. Back some 40 generations. My wife and I did some serious internet browsing and searching before I made the almost four hour drive to look at the puppies and their parents. Tip #2: visit the breeder and see the parents. DO NOT accept a puppy if you cannot see what the parents look like. This will give you an idea of what they will end up looking, and acting like. I visited with the parents, and viewed all of the puppies available before I made my selection. And I surprised myself. The one I liked online looking at the pictures was not the one I came home with. In person, there were differences in body and temperament that changed my mind on site. I ended up with a male whom we named Duckie, after the doctor on NCIS, my favorite show. Misty Woods Ducks On The Pond is his AKC name, and a smarter Lab I have never seen; we were 3 weeks into a 6 week puppy class before we learned anything he didn't already know. I mean, he is smart! As a matter of fact, we got into "trouble" in one class because we were so far advanced. The drill was "Sit" and "Stay". Well, I would issue the command "Sit" with only a gesture. Oh, he was three months old at the time; I had had him all of 4 weeks. After Sit, I would command "Stay" and turn my back to walk away some thirty feet before turning around and looking at him. A flick of my wrist and he came; sitting at my feet. A pat on the head, and a tidbit of a reward, and we did it over and over again. until the teacher saw I was turning loose of his leash to walk so far away. "No, no, no!" she admonished me. "You must keep hold of his leash in order to control him!" Silly me, I thought that's what I had already trained him to do: respond to the command and come when called. Problem was, the other dogs in the class weren't that advanced and it made them look bad. So sorry! (Not!)
Duckie is smart, happy, playful, and the best pet I have ever had. But he was expensive. And the breeder we purchased him from just raised their prices again this year. But, you get what you pay for. If you want what may end up being a rental, and are happy paying $150 or $200 for a few months worth of pets, fine. Don't be selective. But know you will add to the problem in the shelters all over this country, and know that far too many dogs get euthanized because their owners did not pay attention to what they were buying. But, if you pay more, say $800 and up, you just might get a pet that will make it through those first few months of trial and error, and end up making you both look good to your family and allowing you to form a lasting relationship with a quality animal that can still hunt, play, and take its place in the show ring, which has the added benefit of getting you up off your keester and out, and meeting new friends. Taken in that context, $800 may not be too much of a price to pay.
My Duckie has taken a 1st place in Best of Breed - Male and Best of Breed - Overall in a show at under 6 months of age. It was my first show, and I had no clue what I was doing; but he did. Head up, chest out, striding around the ring like he had been born to it. Which, when looking at his breeding, he was. If you take into consideration only his Father's side, there are no less than 270 champions in the ring or in the field in 10 generations. He knows what to do and he does it.
I hope this little ramble has helped somebody out there make an informed decision on a pet. While it is easier to just look in the paper and see puppies for sale, oftentimes those may not make the best of pets. You have to look at yourself, your lifestyle, your family, your time you can allot to the dog, and what you are desiring in that dog. Will this be just a dog to keep in the back yard, feed once a day, throw a ball around periodically, rarely interact with? If so, you don't want a Lab. In fact, you might not need a dog at all. All too often, I think people become enamored in the idea of a dog: that faithful companion, lying by the hearth with a fire roaring, master in a chair, pipe in mouth and paper in hand. Folks, that's Norman Rockwell; not reality. Reality is jumping, barking, pooping, chewing, slobbering. But, reality is also a loving, adoring look; a smile to meet you at the door; a tail wagging ninety to nothing in sheer joy at your presence. Reality is that with wise decisions and informed choices, you will end up with a companion you will be blessed with for many years to come.
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