Labrador retriever lookalikes were depicted in Italian paintings in the 15th and 16th centuries, but it was 1917 before Labradors, affectionately known as Labs, were recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club. In the AKC breed standard, Labs are described as medium-sized, strongly built and athletic dogs. Although Labradors are popular as pets, many of their physical characteristics are a result of being breed as working water retrievers.
Adult male Labrador retrievers in working condition weigh 65 to 80 pounds and are 22.5 to 24.5 inches tall at their withers or shoulders. Females are generally slightly smaller, weighing in at 55 to 70 pounds and stand 21.5 to 23.5 inches tall at their withers. Labs have strong, stocky and well-muscled bodies that are usually slightly longer than they are tall. The females tend not to be as heavily boned or muscled as the males.
One of the distinguishing characteristics of Labrador retrievers is their short, dense and straight double coats. The topcoat, which helps to repel water, feels a bit rough when stroked, while the soft, thick undercoat helps protect Labradors from the cold and the undergrowth. Labrador retrievers shed seasonally. They benefit from a weekly brush to remove dead hairs and to help keep their coats water resistant.
Modern Labradors can be one of three solid colors: black, yellow or chocolate. The original Labs were always black, but in 1899 the first yellow Labrador pup appeared in a litter of black puppies. All of today's yellow Labs -- their coloring may vary from pale cream to fox-red -- come from that original puppy. The shade of yellow can also vary on different parts of the dogs' bodies. Chocolate Labradors can be anything from a light to a dark chocolate brown. The color came about by breeding Labradors with other chocolate colored breeds. Labradors sometimes have a white patch on their chests.
Labradors have fairly wide skulls and strong muzzles. Their medium-sized ears hang down close to their heads. To help them pick up scents, Labs have wide noses and well-developed nostrils. Black and yellow Labs have black noses and Chocolate Labs have brown. Their noses can fade to a lighter shade. Labradors' eyes usually have a kind, friendly and alert look about them. They are brown with black rims on black and yellow Labs, and brown or hazel colored with brown rims on chocolate dogs. Because Labrador retrievers need to be able to carry large birds like geese, they possess strong jaws. When their mouths are closed, Labradors' bottom teeth sit behind, and just touch, the inner side of their top incisors. This is called a scissor bite and creates the Labs' soft mouth that enables them to carry their quarry without marking or damaging it.
Labrador retrievers have strong, straight backs and their shoulder blades are ideally in line with their hips. Their rib cages should be tapered, getting slightly wider from the waist to the chest. Labs have muscular necks that need to be long enough to allow the dogs to retrieve game easily. Their forequarters and hindquarters should be in balance. They have straight front legs and the rear legs are bent at the knee with well-muscled thighs. Labradors' strong feet have arched toes and well-developed pads. These physical characteristics help Labradors to move freely and have the stamina to be able to work all day, hunting and retrieving over difficult terrain.
Labs' medium-sized tails are sometimes referred to as otter tails. They appear rounded, where they're thickly covered with the Labs' dense coat. There's no feathering and their tails are wide at the base and get thinner towards the tip. Whether Labradors are walking, running or swimming, their tails are characteristically held out straight from their bodies, creating a flowing line from the dog's head to the tip of his tail.
- The Everything Labrador Retriever Book: The Complete Guide to Raising, Training, and Caring For Your Lab; Kim Campbell Thornton
- American Kennel Club: Getting to Know the Labrador Retriever
- American Kennel Club: Labrador Retriever Breed Standard
- Your Healthy Happy Pet Labrador Retriever; Liz Palika
- The Dog Breed Bible: Descriptions and Photos of Every Breed Recognized by the AKC; D. Caroline Coile Ph.D.
- Comstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images