It's hard to believe that round-bellied, fuzzy Lab pups could be relied on to do more than sleep and play. But they belong to a breed well-known for its hardworking, gentle nature. Born to the water, the Labrador retriever once assisted Newfoundland fisherman haul in nets full of fish. Today the Lab is commonly considered the most popular dog in the world. Labrador pups grow up to be reliable family dogs, as well as hunting and service animals.
Labrador retrievers are known for their friendly temperament, so your puppy should not be afraid when you approach and should allow you to pick him up without prolonged resistance. A well-tempered Lab pup should show an interest in you and be energetic and playful.
Lab puppies are born chocolate, yellow or black in color. The breed is known for its strong build, somewhat triangular head, and wide forehead and nose. Labs have moderately floppy ears, a tail like an otter, and kind, intelligent eyes.
Your Lab puppy can eat adult dog food with a protein content of 25 percent or less, or a puppy food for large breeds. Feed him up to three times daily, but don't leave food out all day. Labs tend to overeat and extra weight can lead to health problems, according to SPCA International.
Labs were bred to hunt, swim and work, so being busy is in their bones. Keep your athletic puppy active and offer plenty of opportunities for outdoor exercise. Your pup is a water dog, and if you introduce him early to a lake or backyard pool, he will be a swimmer for life. Playing fetch is another natural game for a retriever, but your fun-loving Lab puppy will be ready to jog, hike and follow you anywhere.
Labrador puppies are prone to health problems common to the breed. Your puppy could inherit hip dysplasia or a serious eye disease such as cataracts or progressive retinal atrophy. These health issues may be hard to detect in young pups, so it is important to know his parents' health history. An X-ray can determine whether either parent has dysplasia, and a veterinary ophthalmologist can examine a puppy's eyes for signs of disease.
Lab puppies may be roly-poly little butterballs when you bring them home, but the average Labrador retriever can grow to 75 pounds, according to the American Kennel Club. Make sure your house and lifestyle are a match for a dog this size, and that you can offer a large yard or active exercise routine. Consider whether you can commit to a decade or more with your puppy, since Labs generally live 10 to 12 years. Labs are loyal companion dogs, so if you work a lot and are rarely home you may want to consider a different pet.
Based in Los Angeles, Mary Helen Berg has been writing about pets, travel, families and parenting since 1989. Her work has appeared in publications such as "The Los Angeles Times" and "Newsweek." Berg holds a Master of Science from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.