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Labrador Retrievers: Wonderful Family Pets and Companions

Linda Crampton is a former biology teacher, a writer, and a long-time pet owner. She has or has had dogs, cats, and birds in her family.

Misha was a small Labrador Retriever with a big personality.

Misha was a small Labrador Retriever with a big personality.

Labrador Retrievers as Pets

Dogs have been members of my family for many years. During that time, Labrador Retrievers of all three colours have lived with us. We've had two yellow, one chocolate, and one black Lab in the family. We've brought so many Labs into our home because we love the breed.

Labrador Retrievers make great family pets and companion animals. They are clever dogs with a playful, friendly, and affectionate nature. They get on well with people of all ages, including children, and also get on well with other pets. They are usually energetic animals with a healthy appetite and require quite a lot of exercise. Most Labs love water, swimming, and retrieving. They are eager to please their humans and love to take part in family activities.

Misha on the dog bed

Misha on the dog bed

Did You Know?

The Labrador Retriever originated in Canada's most easterly province of Newfoundland and Labrador. (Labrador is on the North American continent and Newfoundland is a nearby island, but the two regions form one province.) The Labrador Retriever was originally know as a St. John's dog. St. John's is the capital city of Newfoundland.

Types of Labrador Retrievers

In addition to the different colours of Labrador Retrievers, there are two lines. These can look quite different from one another. The show or English line dogs are generally stockier and have shorter legs and wider faces than the field or American line dogs. Field dogs are leaner and longer-legged animals with longer and narrower faces. Some dogs seem to fall in between these two types.

All Labs can make lovely pets if they receive suitable training. It's often said that females are more independent than males while males like to stay closer to their owners, but some Lab experts say this depends on the dog's genetics more than its gender.

Male Labs generally reach a maximum weight of 65 to 80 (or even 90) pounds. Misha was a small male and weighed 65 pounds (provided I was careful with his food intake and gave him enough exercise). The weights of females range from around 55 to 70 pounds. The dogs are about 21 to 23 inches high at the shoulders, although Misha was a little lower.

Owen was a chocolate Lab

Owen was a chocolate Lab


Most Labs have wonderful personalities. As is true for all dogs, however, training from an early age is necessary in order to bring out their best qualities. Bad socialization or lack of training when a dog is a puppy may result in an adult with undesirable behaviours.

The Characteristics of a Labrador Retriever

Although there are always some dogs that are unusual for their breed, in general Labs have a strong retrieving instinct. They like to mouth objects and to carry them around, so they should be given lots of safe toys to play with. If there are transport jobs around the home that they can do—such as bringing their owner his or her slippers—they will usually be very happy to help. They also enjoy finding objects that have been deliberately hidden. Hide and Seek is a fun game for them, especially if the hidden object is edible.

Labrador Retrievers generally get on well with other animals. The ones in my family were friends with our cats and tolerated our birds, who were free-flying during the day when family members are around. One of our birds landed on Simba, a yellow lab, during a flight. Simba was surprised by the incident but stayed calm.

Labs require regular exercise. They love swimming and are strong swimmers. They may try to enter every patch of water that they find during a walk. They tend to have a large appetite, so their diet should be monitored carefully to avoid obesity.

Labs have a tendency to be barkers if they aren't trained. They are good watch dogs, but they are usually too friendly to make good guard dogs. They have gentle mouths, provided they're trained to be calm with their mouths even when they are excited.

Food Choices

It's very important to control the amount of food that is given to a Lab. The breed certainly loves to eat! If Labs eat too much and don't exercise enough, they can become obese. It's especially important to watch the bodyweight of show line dogs, who are naturally bulkier than field line dogs. Some "stocky" dogs are actually overweight.

It goes without saying that a Lab should be fed healthy food. There is a lot of debate about the ideal diet for a dog, however. Both a Lab's breeder and their vet should be consulted about the advisability of feeding dry, canned, cooked, or raw food, the proportion in which these should be given, and the brands of food that should be bought.

Bess was my yellow Lab. Here she is trying to pick a pear.

Bess was my yellow Lab. Here she is trying to pick a pear.

Exercise for Your Pet

Even though the personality of a well-bred and well-trained Labrador makes it an appealing pet, it's best not to get a Lab if there's no one in the family who can give the pet regular exercise. Most of the exercise sessions should be longer and harder than just a walk around the block (although this type of exercise is perfect for an older dog). The lifespan of a Lab is around twelve years, but some have lived considerably longer.

Labrador Retrievers are often strong animals with strong necks, so leash training from the puppy stage is very important. It's not fun taking a dog for a walk if he or she is pulling on the leash. Puppy training classes are a great idea if someone feels that they need extra help in training or socializing their dog.

Owen enjoyed carrying multiple items in his mouth.

Owen enjoyed carrying multiple items in his mouth.

Grooming and Skin Care

A Lab's coat is short and dense and is easy to care for. A regular brush is generally all that's required to keep the coat in good condition. Grooming can be a pleasant and relaxing activity for both the dog and the groomer. It's a great way to bond with a dog when it's done regularly. It's also a chance for the groomer to detect any skin problems in the dog, such as cuts, warts, lumps, and hot spots.

Lumps should always be checked by a vet. There's a good probability that they're harmless, but they may not be. All the lumps that my Labs experienced were filled with fat and were harmless. I always got any new ones checked, however. If a lump is cancerous, it's important to get it removed before cancer spreads through the body.

A hot spot is a red, moist, and uncomfortable patch on a dog's skin. The inflammation may develop due to an allergy, an insect bite, or a skin infection. The dog may frequently lick or nibble the area in an attempt to relieve the discomfort, which makes the irritation even worse. A vet visit is often required to treat a hot spot and to get advice in relation to any future occurrences of the condition.

Care Note

Grooming and caring for the visible parts of a dog's body is important, but it's also important to look at the pads on the bottom of the paws to check for any problems.

Teeth, Nails, and Ears

Teeth and nail care are very important for a pet dog. Dog toothbrushes and toothpaste that tastes nice to a dog are sold in pet stores. The stores also sell nail clippers. Veterinary assistants will probably cut your dog's claws if you don't want to do it yourself, although there will be a fee for this service. Ears need to be cleaned, too, but it's important that this isn't done too often and that the ears aren't cleaned too deeply.

The ASPCA website mentioned in the "References" section below gives advice about a dog grooming and cleaning schedule. It also gives tips about the best way to perform a dog care routine.

Veterinary Care

Anybody who brings a pet into their family should be prepared for vet expenses. These include not only the cost of regular checkups but also of potential emergencies. Emergency pet care can be very expensive.

Insurance schemes for vet visits are available. It's important to be clear about what these schemes cover before signing up for one of them. Although it's not a nice topic to think about, it's vital to investigate how insurance would help in a serious situation like cancer treatment. A pet emergency savings fund could also be useful for vet expenses.

Care Note

Any family with a dog should know dog first aid procedures and the route to the nearest emergency clinic for pets. The operating hours of the emergency clinic (or clinics) in the area should also be known.

Special Activities for Labs

Since Labs are usually intelligent and friendly, they are ideal helpers for people with difficulties. They are trained as guide dogs for blind people and as assistance dogs. Misha came from a breeder who bred her dogs for the PADS program (Pacific Assistance Dogs Program), which trains dogs to help people with disabilities.

Labs are sociable animals and sometimes act as therapy dogs. Their strong retrieving instinct and love of water make them good companions for hunters. They also compete in show events, obedience trials, and agility competitions.

An agility event requires dogs to complete a timed course involving obstacles such as weave poles, tunnels, jumps, and items to climb. Whenever I watch an agility competition, the dogs always look like they are having fun. It's an enjoyable event for the spectators, too.

Pets must be trained correctly for dog sports in order to prevent injury. My sister took Owen to a few training classes for dog agility competitions. He seemed to enjoy the activity, but neither my sister nor I had time to continue his training. It's important that a dog enjoys agility or other special activities if we ask him or her to participate in them.

A yellow Lab going through the weave poles during an agility event

A yellow Lab going through the weave poles during an agility event

Did You Know?

Labrador retrievers sometimes develop osteoarthritis. This is a condition in which the cartilage lining the bones in a joint breaks down. The cartilage acts as a cushion that helps the bones in the joint to glide smoothly over each other during movement.

Hip Dysplasia and Osteoarthritis

In general, Labradors are healthy dogs. They do have a tendency to develop hip or elbow dysplasia, however. This is a condition in which the head of a bone fails to fit into its socket correctly due to a malformation of the joint. The problem can cause pain, inflammation, and eventually osteoarthritis, although the amount of discomfort varies. Some dogs don't seem to be in pain even though x-rays show bad dysplasia, while others may be in such great discomfort that surgery is necessary to improve the condition of the joint.

It's important to buy a puppy from a good breeder who tries to eliminate joint problems in his or her breeding program. A puppy's parents should be certified free of hip dysplasia. One organization that provides an acceptable certification is OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals). It's a good idea to investigate the health of the grandparents as well as the parents. Even if the parents' and grandparents' joints are healthy, there is no guarantee that a pup will remain free of hip dysplasia. The probability is increased, however.

In order to decrease the chance of joint problems or at least of joint pain, dogs should be kept lean and a puppy shouldn't exercise excessively or with a repetitive motion. That's one reason why it's usually recommended that a dog doesn't begin jogging with a human until the pet is at least one year of age. Joint injuries at a young age may stimulate the development of hip dysplasia symptoms.

Owen and Bess

Owen and Bess


I describe osteoarthritis in my dogs below. My dogs' experiences with the disorder may not be the same as yours. It's important that you consult a vet and ask them about suitable treatment if your pet has the problem.

Osteoarthritis in my Labrador Retrievers

Bess was my yellow Labrador Retriever. She had hip dysplasia and osteoarthritis, but these didn't cause serious problems until she was around fourteen or fifteen years old. Misha was only seven when one of his joints became painful and his movement was affected. He was subsequently diagnosed with osteoarthritis.

Happily, Misha's pain and movement problem disappeared, although continued treatment was needed to keep him pain-free and mobile. He received a daily canine supplement containing glucosamine, chondroitin, and manganese, daily MSM and omega-3 fatty acid supplements, and a periodic injection of cartrophen.

It may be that not all of the above treatments were required in order to help Misha, but he did very well with the combination. The frequency of the cartrophen injections was eventually reduced, however, (as is recommended after the initial treatment period), with no apparent ill effects. The cartrophen was most likely the major contributor to Misha's improvement because if we were late with the injection his symptoms reappeared. Perhaps some or all of the other components of the treatment helped as well.

It's important that you ask your vet about appropriate treatments for your dog if he or she has osteoarthritis. You should discuss prescribed treatments and ones that are available in pet stores. In addition to being able to describe the pros and cons of each available medication, the vet will know about new treatments that have appeared.

Bess playing with Owen when he was a puppy

Bess playing with Owen when he was a puppy

Possible Osteoarthritis Treatments in Dogs

Glucosamine and Chondroitin

Glucosamine and chondroitin are natural chemicals found in the cartilage of both dogs and humans, including the cartilage in joints. The benefits of glucosamine or chondroitin for osteoarthritis when given as nutritional supplements are unknown. Some people involved with dogs say that one or both of the chemicals help their dogs while others say that they don't. There is some evidence that an injectable form of chondroitin sulphate may help to maintain cartilage.

MSM or Methylsulfonylmethane and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

MSM is also a natural chemical in the body. As a supplement, it may reduce the inflammation present in osteoarthritis. Once again though, this is uncertain. Like the two chemicals mentioned above, MSM isn't considered to be harmful when taken at recommended doses. Side effects of all the medications are reported to be mild, if in fact there are any, so I gave them to Misha. Omega-3 fatty acids are also thought to reduce inflammation and help joints.

Cartrophen or Pentosan Polysulphate Sodium

Cartrophen Vet is a brand name for pentosan polysulphate sodium. This is a semi-natural chemical based on one obtained from the bark of beech trees. Both scientific and anecdotal evidence show that cartrophen can be beneficial for canine osteoarthritis. How it does this is uncertain, but researchers have found that it has a number of effects that may protect cartilage in joints. Many people report that cartrophen has been very helpful for their pets. I wish the chemical had been available when Bess was alive.

 Simba, our first lab, as a young dog

Simba, our first lab, as a young dog

Veterinarian Visits

One reason why reasonably regular vet visits could be useful is that a pet owner may not notice a health problem in their pet. The vet may notice the problem and suggest treatment, sometimes before the condition has become serious.

Other Potential Health Problems in Labs

Labrador Retrievers sometimes develop eye problems such as cataracts, even at a young age. They may also develop PRA (Progressive Retinal Atrophy), a condition in which the retina deteriorates. This problem doesn't develop until a dog is an adult. Another possible eye problem is retinal dysplasia, a condition in which the retina doesn't develop properly. A puppy's parents should be certified clear of eye problems.

Labs may also suffer from less common health problems, such as a luxating patella, a disorder in which the kneecap moves out of position. There is a small possibility of autoimmune deafness developing in later life. This happened to Bess, who lost her hearing for no apparent reason. It didn't seem to affect her enjoyment of life, though.

Owen asleep

Owen asleep

A Lovely Pet and Member of the Family

A well-bred and properly trained Labrador Retriever is a lovely pet. This is why my family has had four members of the breed over the years. Labs are loyal, loving, and (if trained) well mannered dogs. They need to be involved in family activities and love to be given jobs that fit in with their instincts, such as retrieving and carrying. They require a healthy diet and careful monitoring of their food intake, as well as adequate exercise, but in return they will be a wonderful companion for people of all ages.

References and Resources

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2012 Linda Crampton


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 11, 2018:

It sounds like a great relationship for each dog. Labs can be wonderful pets.

lad on September 11, 2018:

I love labs, I have two, one 10 years old (Nora) and a 7 month old puppy (Auley) ,they are so funny together

the pup keeps my older dog active wich is very good for her and my older lab traines my pup it's amazing .

Maria Jordan from Jeffersonville PA on July 12, 2013:

What a comprehensive and beautiful article about my favorite dog breed, Alicia.

We adopted our Black Lab, Alvin at 5 yo and he lived a wonderful life with us until he died at 12. We now have our sweet yellow Lab, Aunt Baby, who is 9 yo.

Your photographs and videos are awesome...excellent job! UP and UABI.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on September 25, 2012:

Thanks for the comment and the votes, oliversmum. Labs are lovely family dogs, but any dog can bring joy to our lives, as you say!

oliversmum from australia on September 25, 2012:

AliciaC Hi. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about your Labrador Retrievers.

They are such beautiful and intelligent animals and do bring a lot of happiness and joy into our lives.

Thanks for all the information, and the photos and video are just beautiful. Thumbs up and Beautiful. :):)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 05, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment, teaches. It's wonderful when a happy dog can help people, as your friend's dog did during hospice therapy!

Dianna Mendez on August 05, 2012:

I love these friendly dogs and they are indeed very big with large thick necks. Early training would make a difference. My friend's dog was used at hospice therapy and it loved being with people. Great post and so enjoyable to read.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 05, 2012:

Thank you for the comment, sgbrown. I'm glad that Jake found such a good home with you. I've read your hub about Jake before - it's a touching story. I agree with you - Labs are wonderful dogs. Thanks for the vote and the link, and I hope that you are having a wonderful day too!

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on August 05, 2012:

We have had 2 labs in our family. We kept a black lab that had wandered onto our property one night. The next morning we checked him over to find that he had been horribly abused. You might like my hub on him - God Sent Us Jake - The Black Lab. We now have a yellow lab, Sadie. The pictures of your yellow lab looks just like our Sadie! She is out protector. She wants to stay outside at night so she can keep all the keller deer and rabbits away! LOL Labs are such wonderful dogs! I have voted this up and would like to include a link to this hub in my "Jake" hub. Have a wonderful day! :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 04, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment and the votes, Mary. I appreciate your visit. It is nice to have a Lab in the family - they are wonderful dogs!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 04, 2012:

Hi, Nell. Thank you very much for the comment, and thanks for the vote and the share as well! I've loved every dog I've owned, including my first one, who was a mixed breed, but the retrievers have had lovely characteristics.

Mary Hyatt from Florida on August 04, 2012:

As a dog lover, I enjoyed this Hub very much. Your dogs are beautiful. I loved your video. I have never had a Lab but I have friends who do and they brag all the time about their wonderful Lab.

I voted this UP, etc.etc.

Nell Rose from England on August 04, 2012:

Hi Alicia, I loved your video! these are my favorite dogs, I always wanted one so I loved this! we had an alsatian and after we lost her we were going to get a retriever, but it never happened, this was a great hub, really interesting, and the photos were lovely! voted up and shared, nell

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 04, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment, Barbara. I expect Milo will get on very well with his new brother! Bess was nine when Owen joined the family, and she quickly became friends with him.

b. Malin on August 04, 2012:

My Son owns a Black Lab, named Milo...and for many years until it's death a Golden one, named Colby...Labs make Wonderful Pets, and are so Smart and kindhearted. Now that Milo is almost 4, they are going to get him a "little Brother".

Wonderful Hub as usual Alicia, I also Enjoyed watching your Video of Misha & Bess, they look so Happy & Healthy, and play so nicely together...Good Job!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 03, 2012:

Thank you for the visit and for the comment, drbj. Yes, Labs are sweet and friendly, and I've loved having them in my family!

drbj and sherry from south Florida on August 03, 2012:

Labs are such sweet, friendly dogs and it's easy to see how fond you have been of your Lab pets. Your hub has enhanced my Lab learning tremendously, Alicia. Thank you for this well-written information and the fun video.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 03, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment, the vote and the share, Tom! I appreciate them all. Well-trained Labs are great dogs and make lovely pets. It's nice that you have some to meet in your neighborhood!

Thomas Silvia from Massachusetts on August 03, 2012:

Hi my friend, very well written and interesting hub about a very beautiful dog. There are a few people around my home who have these wonderful Labrador Retrievers and they are so good and friendly. Well done !

Vote up and more !!! SHARING !

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 03, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment and the vote, Seeker7. Yes, even with a potentially wonderful dog like a Lab, a person needs to educate the dog - preferably as a puppy - in order for it turn into a well behaved adult. Have fun with Kassy!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 03, 2012:

Hi, Becky. I've often wondered how Misha would behave if someone broke into the house. He loves meeting visitors, but in these situations he observes that I am welcoming the people. It might be a different situation if a stranger entered the house uninvited! Thanks for the comment and for the interesting information about your Labrador retriever.

Helen Murphy Howell from Fife, Scotland on August 03, 2012:

It never surprises me when I look at surveys and polls and Labradors are always at the top of people's favourite dogs. I have a 5 month old Yellow Labrador girl at the moment called Kassy. Basically she is fun, beautiful, wonderful and a little horror all rolled into one - in other words a very healthy puppy!! LOL!

I loved this hub that highlights the great things about these wonderful dogs but also that it's just as important for them, friendly as they are, to be socialised and exercised properly.

Fabulous hub + voted up!

Becky Katz from Hereford, AZ on August 03, 2012:

This was wonderful information on labs. had one a few years back. She had a huge yard to play in as well as two other dogs. She did not seem to have a problem with her weight. She was a small female and so friendly, except for the night when someone tried to break in. She turned into a vicious beast for just long enough to corner them and hold them for the police. Then as soon as I called her to me, she came gallumping over to start chasing her ball. She loved her ball.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 03, 2012:

Thanks for the comment and for the vote, Mama Kim 8. I hope you're happy with your new dog, whatever kind you get!

Aloe Kim on August 03, 2012:

This couldn't come at a more perfect time! Great hub ^_^

We've been trying to decide what our next family dog will be. We've been going between Lab, G shep, rott or pit. This definitely adds to the discussion! Voted up!!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 03, 2012:

Thank you very much for the comment, Judi. I appreciate your visit. That's a funny story about your Airedale!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 03, 2012:

Hi, The Writers Dog. (I love your name!) I'm glad that Rusty was rescued and ended up with a good home. Lead training must have been very difficult, though! Thank you very much for the comment and vote.

Judi Brown from UK on August 03, 2012:

Good to see that your retriever still has his breed instincts - my Airedale (bred to hunt water-rats in water) hates to get even her paws wet and quietly watched a rat scurry past us the other day!

Lovely photos and video, very enjoyable and informative hub.

The Writers Dog on August 03, 2012:

A beautiful Hub about beautiful dogs! As youcan see, my Rusty is a choc Lab with a little Kelpie (Aust. cattle dog). I know exactly what you mean when it comes to lead training! Rusty was rescued at 2 years, and I doubt had ever seen a lead, let alone been on the end of one.

Voted up by me AND Rusty :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 02, 2012:

Hi, Maria. I think that it's important that someone finds a pet that they can love and that needs a home, no matter where the dog comes from or what type of dog it is! For people who are looking for a certain type of personality or certain characteristics in a dog, though, Labrador retrievers can be a good choice, but they can be expensive. I'm glad that you're happy with Peso and PM! Thanks for the visit.

Maria Cecilia from Philippines on August 02, 2012:

wow it's a dream for me to have dogs like them three different colors, but you see responsible pet ownership is knowing what you can afford for now they are dreams for me... I am happy with Peso and PM anyway...

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on August 02, 2012:

Thank you for the comment and the vote, moonlake! It's interesting that your son has owned Labs of all three colors too. They do make lovely pets.

moonlake from America on August 02, 2012:

Beautiful dogs. Loved the video. My son has always owned Labs. He has had all three colors. Voted up on your hub it was very interesting.