17 Things You Didn't Know About The Labrador Retriever

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Labradors are common today, but they almost went extinct back in the 1800s. There are other interesting things you didn't know about the Labrador Retriever.

If you have a Labrador Retriever, you should know a little about the breed. You might want to know where the breed originated (it is not Labrador), about famous Labrador Retrievers that saved many lives, what jobs Labrador Retrievers do, and some characteristics of the breed.

Labrador Retrievers were not only hunting dogs but herding and fishing dogs. Today they serve in the military, help the blind, warn people that are going to have seizures, and sniff out explosives and weapons.

Labrador Retrievers are faster, healthier, and available in more colors than commonly believed. Many presidents owned Labs, and some of the world's most famous working dogs are Labradors.

I have bred dogs including Labrador Retrievers for decades and I know all about the breed. The breed will probably be around for as long as people have dogs. There are many varieties of Labrador, including the pink-nosed Dudley Labrador.

1. Labrador Retrievers Are From Newfoundland

Labrador Retrievers are not from Labrador. Labrador Retrievers are from Canada but from Newfoundland (the island) and not Labrador (the mainland). They were first called "St.John's Dogs," after the capital of the Canadian province.

2. Labrador Retrievers Almost Disappeared

Today, it seems impossible that such a popular breed - possibly the most common breed in the world - could have come close to extinction. However, back when the breed was new and not very numerous, their numbers decreased until there were almost none left. A tax on people with more than one dog in 19th century Newfoundland almost wiped out the breed.

People also had to pay a higher tax for female dogs, and it was enough that they did not want Labrador Retrievers. Thankfully, the dog had spread outside of Canada by then. There were many Labradors in Britain, where there was no reason not to own a lab.

Some breeds have been around since ancient times, others are much newer. Not all breeds survive forever - people have allowed many breeds to go extinct before. Some of the better-known extinct breeds are:

  • English Water Spaniel
  • Alpine Mastiff
  • Alpine Spaniel
  • North Country Beagle

3. Many Labrador Retrievers are Famous

Many famous service dogs, search and rescue dogs, and military dogs are Labrador Retrievers. Among them is Jake, a 2000s search and rescue dog who saved lives first after the 9-11 attacks and then after Hurricane Katrina. After being found abandoned and injured on the street, Jake was nursed back to health and went on to save lives.

During a series of bombings in Bombay, India, in 1993, a Labrador named Zanjeer saved many lives. Bombers set off a large number of explosions in the city, and Zanjeer found countless bombs before they could go off. Zanjeer found 242 grenades, 175 petrol bombs, 3,329 kilograms of RDX, and other bombs and detonators.

Another dog that found bombs is Sasha, who found 15 bombs and weapons in Afghanistan in the 2000s. She was killed in a rocket launcher attack in 2008. Guide dogs Roselle and Salty led their blind owners down dozens of flights of stairs to escape from the twin towers during the 9-11 attacks.

4. There Are Many Famous Labs in Law Enforcement

Some dogs used in law enforcement are so successful that people offer rewards for anyone willing to assassinate the dogs. In the 2000s, many dogs were trained to detect counterfeit DVDs. Two of these dogs were so successful that there was a 30,000-pound contract on the dogs' lives in 2007.

5. An Army Lab Was Lost in Afghanistan for a Year Before Being Found

After being lost in Afghanistan in 2008 and presumed dead, a military bomb-sniffing dog named Sabi was found still alive after more than a year. The dog was lost during a battle when nine troops were wounded.

Sabi managed to survive for 14 months in a remote desert area before being found. A US serviceman saw the dog with an Afghan man near a patrol base and noticed that the dog could obey military commands.

Only days later, the dog was returned to its Australian army unit. The Labrador became famous and had their picture taken with the Australian Prime Minister.

6. Labs are Capable of Sprinting

Labrador Retrievers aren't known for their speed. However, they can sprint quite fast, even if many dogs can run faster. They can speed up very fast - from a standstill to 12 MPH in only a few seconds.

Their speed was useful to hunters back when most of them were hunting dogs. If a hunter shot a bird down, the Retriever could find it and bring it back to its owner quickly.

How Fast are Labs?

Labrador Retrievers can run up to 30 or 35 MPH, although many labs are only able to run 20.

Labradors are better endurance dogs than sprinting dogs. While they cannot compete with very fast breeds at sprinting, they can be marathon runners. They are tireless and were used for herding as well as hunting.

Your dog cannot learn to be very fast right away. To train your dog to be an athlete, you need to spend a lot of time running with it or take it to a professional trainer. Even if you don't want to train your dog to race, you can take a lab on a long hike without the dog getting tired.

7. "American Labs" and "English Labs" are the Same Breed

Many people think that English labs are a different breed from American labs. However, they are not quite two different breeds, and both breeds are common in both countries.

Instead, a dog that would make a better work dog is called an American Labrador, and a dog that would make a better work dog is called an English Labrador. English labs and American labs have different body shapes.

8. Labs Love the Water

Labrador Retrievers are great swimmers and naturally love the water. They have a double-layered coat that repels water. Their webbed paws and athletic abilities also make them fast swimmers.

9. Labradors Are By Far the Most Common Guide Dogs

Labradors do far more for blind people than any other dog. They can be reasonably happy as pets, but they love to work. They love to feel like they are doing something useful for other people.

Their love for working plus their niceness, loyalty, and intelligence make them excellent guide dogs for the blind. They can also help the deaf - for example, if someone is at the door, their dog can alert them.

10. Labradors Still Have Jobs

Labradors are not only the most popular pet dogs in the United States but popular working dogs also. The dogs are still popular with hunters, plus they are great herders and assist people with disabilities.

Labradors Are Used by Search and Rescue Teams

A Labrador's sense of smell, trainability, and intelligence make it one of the best search and rescue dogs. When an earthquake or other disaster happens, people are often still alive while trapped in collapsed buildings. The Labrador's sense of smell helps it find trapped people.

Labrador Retrievers are also tireless, so they can continue to work with rescue workers for a long time without becoming exhausted. Even with smoke in the air, a Labrador Retriever can pick up the scent of a trapped victim. They can then scratch at the person's location to show a rescue worker where to go.

Labradors also respond to commands instantly. If a rescue worker sees something dangerous that the dog doesn't see, they will tell the dog to move back. A trained Labrador will do this immediately without hesitation.

Labs Can Detect Diseases

Until recently people did not know that dogs could detect diseases at an early stage. It was discovered that a dog can tell if someone has a tumor with their powerful sense of smell.

Labrador Retrievers are excellent cancer-detecting dogs. They save many lives this way. The earlier the cancer is detected, the higher the recovery rate is.

Labs Can Alert People Who Are About to Have Seizures

Seizures often happen unexpectedly. A person who has seizures does not always know that they are about to have one, nor can other people tell. However, a dog can notice some subtle signs that a person is going to have a seizure and warn them.

While it is not yet proven that dogs can predict seizures accurately, many people rely on dogs to predict them. Most likely, dogs do actually have this ability, though it is not yet proven beyond doubt.

How dogs are able to predict seizures is not known, as other people often don't notice any difference in the person's behavior when they are about to have a seizure. Possibly, they can smell a chemical that a person gives off a tiny amount of when they are about to have a seizure.

Labs Can Calm People Having Panic Attacks

Many people, especially those with traumatic memories, have panic attacks. Since Labradors have so much empathy, they can notice people having panic attacks or flashbacks and help calm them.

11. Labs Don't Make Good Guard Dogs

While you can count on Labrador Retrievers not to attack people, they are not the best guard dogs. Some breeds, including labs, are a bit too gentle to protect people.

While Labrador Retrievers are relatively big dogs with a fairly powerful bite force, they may fail to attack when it is necessary. If you need a guard dog, you need a more aggressive breed.

12. Labs Have a Strong Bite Force

Despite being gentle, Labrador Retrievers have powerful jaws and can bite very hard in unusual cases where they do. A Labrador's gentleness does not come from a lack of strength.

13. Labs are Also Fishing Dogs

As well as helping hunters and herders, labs helped people catch fish. They were originally bred to help catch fish. This is part of why their coat is so water-resistant.

14. Labs Are the World's Most Popular Breed

Labrador Retrievers might be the most popular breed of dog in the world. Labs are the most popular breeds all over the English-speaking world. In the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand they are the most popular breed.

Labrador Retrievers are by far the most popular breed of similar-sized dogs in the US and the UK. While Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are also popular, they are several times less popular than Labrador Retrievers.

Israel is another country where Labradors are the most popular breed. The USA, France, Britain, Sweden, and Finland have the most Labradors by dog registrations.

15. Many Presidents Have Had Labradors As Pets

Vladimir Putin currently has a pet Labrador. Bill Clinton formerly had two of them ("Seamus" and "Buddy"). A service dog assisted president George HW Bush during the last months of his life.

16. Labradors Are a Relatively Healthy Breed

While Labradors are not the longest-lived (12 or 14 years) or the healthiest breed, they are not usually sickly. They can usually live for a fairly long time without major health problems.

Some of them get eye diseases, others inherit genes that make them vulnerable to obesity. Hip and elbow problems are also common. However, most of the dogs are healthy.

17. Silver-Colored and Red-Colored Labs Exist

You can find gray/silver labs and reddish brown labs if you look around. They are not as common as the usual black, chocolate, or brown Labradors, but these dogs are easy to find if you want one.

You can also get a Dudley Labrador, which has a pink nose and pink feet regardless of age. Most Labradors lose their pink noses, pink circles around their eyes, and pink feet early in life, but a Dudley Labrador keeps them. Dudley Labradors are either chocolate-colored or yellow.

About THE AUTHOR

Mark Brunson

Mark Brunson

Mark is the founder of Everything Labradors and a husband and father of 3. He enjoys spending time with his family, including his dog Molly, a Labrador/Golden Retriever mix. He’s a big fan of the outdoors and loves to travel to new places.

Read more about Mark Brunson