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Labradors have been the most popular dog breed in the US for nearly three decades. They’ve won the hearts of millions of families with their loving personality. But are these dogs only friendly companions, or can they be used to help us with some important tasks as well?
Labradors are good for various activities apart from being loyal family pets. Having an exceptional sense of smell allows them to work as detection, service, and hunting dogs. Also, their friendly nature make them excellent therapy dogs, offering emotional support to patients.
Labs are very versatile dogs and have been a part of our families for over a century. In this article, we’ll discuss seven activities Labradors are skilled at and how they’re used in different sectors of society.
Why Labradors are so versatile
While Labradors are among the most popular breeds, a large percentage of working dogs are Labs. So, what makes Labradors more suitable for work than other dogs?
Labs are an intelligent breed that loves to work. They are highly energetic, which means they can work for long periods while maintaining their enthusiasm and focus. Labs are also very easy to train, making them ideal for different types of canine jobs.
Apart from that, Labradors’ calm and easy-going demeanor helps them stay composed when encountering new and potentially dangerous situations and obstacles. Lastly, they have an extraordinary sense of smell, allowing them to sniff their way to success.
Let’s discuss seven ways Labradors help professionals do their jobs more effectively.
Labradors are excellent service dogs
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) define service dogs or assistance dogs as canines trained to perform tasks for people with disabilities. They help disabled individuals with essential everyday tasks like guiding around obstacles, signaling sounds, retrieving items, etc.
Labradors make excellent service dogs. Their need to please their master and need for positive reinforcement make them highly trainable. These dogs were initially bred to retrieve fish and ducks from water. So they are naturally skilled at holding objects in their mouth, making them ideal mobility dogs. Opening doors, collecting posts, playing with children, and pressing buttons are easy tasks for a Labrador.
Labs can be trained to become one of several types of service dogs, including:
- Guide dogs: These Labs help visually impaired, and blind people navigate the environment around them. Labs are also the most popular guide dogs throughout the world, thanks to their intelligence and loyalty.
- Hearing dogs: They are trained to alert hard-of-hearing and deaf people to important sounds like a person entering the room or knocking on the door.
- Medical response dogs: They help persons with medical disabilities by alerting their handlers to issues before they occur. For example, Labradors can be trained to detect high or low blood sugar levels and seizures.
- Psychiatric assistance dogs: These Labradors are trained to assist people suffering from mental illnesses like OCD, PTSD, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc. They perform tasks like reminding their handler to take medication and interrupting any repetitive behaviors.
- Mobility dogs: They help individuals with physical disabilities. Mobility Labradors perform tasks like opening doors or cabinets, carrying things, or fetching items that their handler cannot reach.
Therapy dogs are another Labrador specialty
Therapy dogs are dogs trained to provide comfort, affection, and support to those in need. They usually visit places like hospitals, schools, nursing homes, daycares, retirement homes, and disaster areas. Research has proved that therapy dogs can provide people a greater sense of connection and reduce their stress levels in challenging times.
Therapy dogs are not to be confused with service dogs. The former provides psychological or physiological therapy to patients, while the latter helps disabled persons with their day-to-day activities. Both groups go through thorough training and registration. However, therapy dogs do not have the same legal status as service dogs.
Potential therapy dogs are assessed to make sure they have a calm, stable temperament. They must not be frightened by new places, situations, or people. Anyone can train therapy dogs, but they must meet the set standards to receive a certification and participate in the program.
No breed fulfills the criteria for therapy dogs better than Labrador. They’re intelligent, friendly, devoted, and calm. Their affectionate and easy-going personality makes them suitable for spending time with the vulnerable and traumatized. Even though these dogs are large, they are gentle and caring.
Everybody knows that labs are highly energetic. But they are also calm and patient. It’s not difficult for them to sit beside patients for hours if that’s what is required. Lastly, Labs are also easier to train than most other breeds as they love to please people. This is why most service dogs and therapy dogs are either Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, or their mixes.
Hunting dogs: You can’t go wrong with a Lab
It’s easy to imagine how dogs serve as hunting partners for their owners. Their sense of smell and tracking abilities help them track and kill animals for the hunter. These dogs are of several types; here are the major ones:
- Gun dogs are suitable for tracking and hunting birds and smaller animals.
- Sighthounds are tall dogs trained to spot prey from a distance and chase it.
- Scent Hounds follow prey trails with the help of their nose, making loud calls all the while for the owner to follow them.
- Terriers are suitable for rooting out, treeing, or killing small animals like squirrels. They may also be used to track small mammals.
Labradors are the most popular gun dogs. They have a sturdy build with a thick, water-resistant double coat and strong bones. Along with their strength, they also have a remarkable ability to maneuver their way to places difficult to access. This toughness and agility make Labradors ideal hunting dogs. They also possess the incredible ability to learn new skills quickly and follow instructions correctly.
Labs can work for long periods regardless of the weather condition. Thanks to their high energy levels, they’re ready to play fetch even when other dogs may want to lie down for a nap. It also means they can work for hours in the field without getting tired.
As we’ve already discussed, these dogs were initially bred to hunt and retrieve animals from freezing waters. This means hunting is deeply ingrained in them. They are especially suitable for hunting ducks.
Detection dogs or sniffer dogs are canines trained to use their sense of smell to detect substances like illegal drugs, explosives, mobile phones, blood, etc. Some dogs can even detect wildlife parts like rhino horns that smugglers often try to sneak across countries.
There may be some overlap between the duties of hunting dogs, detection dogs, and search & rescue dogs, but they’re not the same. Detection dogs are typically used by police when they have to locate stashed money or conduct narcotics raids. However, they may also assist wildlife biologists, where they find animal scat for research.
Today, Labs protect our communities by detecting bombs, currency, narcotics, and anything else that the police need them to track. You’ll often see Labradors sniffing bags at airports or other centers of transportation. This is because not only Labradors are gentle enough to be therapy dogs, but they’re also tough enough to work with the police. They are extremely useful partners for men and women in blue.
We’ve already discussed that Labs are used for hunting because their hunting instinct is powerful. Apart from that, their sense of smell is exceptional, making them ideal for sniffing jobs. Since Labs are highly energetic, they are ecstatic when they get mental stimulation and exercise. Their strong legs and shoulders make them fast runners.
Are Labradors used as War dogs? A resounding Yes!
War dogs or military working dogs are canines trained to help soldiers on the battlefield. These dogs are proficient at detecting narcotics, explosives, and weapons. They are usually trained to catch only one of these things so that their handler doesn’t have to guess what the dog has sniffed out. They can detect various drugs, explosives, and weapons, no matter how well they are hidden.
You’ll often see these dogs sniffing for substances at airports, borders, entry points, and checkpoints. They can also be used to carry messages from one post to another on the battlefield. Just as they can detect drugs and bombs, war dogs can also locate wounded soldiers. They usually carry medical supplies so that they can sniff out soldiers and hand over the supplies.
When we think of war dogs, German Shepherds are the first to come to mind. However, Labradors and other breeds are also used by armies to help them succeed in their missions. Labs are successful war dogs because not all of them have to be aggressive. Canines were used for fighting in ancient times, but troops generally use them for other purposes. They may still attack, but we have better ways of dealing with enemy soldiers.
Retrievers like Labrador Retriever and Golden Retriever are best suited for detection jobs because they possess a remarkable sense of smell. They can not only sniff out explosives but also the person who planted them. As a result of their extreme concentration and high obedience, Labradors are often used for search and rescue missions.
Search and Rescue Dogs
Most valuable after natural disasters or other medical emergencies, search and rescue dogs are trained to find missing persons. A potential SAR dog must be completely reliable and trained extensively by their handler.
SAR dogs are mainly of two types: Tracking dogs and trailing dogs. Tracking dogs have their nose to the ground while they work. They don’t really search; instead, they follow a trail of human scent through a variety of terrain. They need an item with the person’s scent on it to start working.
On the other hand, trailing dogs or air-scent dogs may have their nose up in the air while working. They pick up a human scent around them and work to find its source. In the process, they may venture off the path taken by the subject. Search and rescue dogs may also search corpses, under the water, beneath the ground, or wilderness.
Labradors are excellent search and rescue dogs because they have superior concentration. They can stay focused on a scent for prolonged periods, making them an integral part of rescue teams. Their keen sense of smell also helps them find people buried under the debris of buildings due to earthquakes.
Labradors can handle new and dangerous situations more calmly than other breeds. They are also skilled at maneuvering, which is an essential skill for SAR dogs because they have to climb over obstacles like thin walkways, broken trees, rocks, and ladders. They must also be able to avoid harmful objects like broken glass and collapsing surfaces.
Labradors as Family Dogs
Labradors are easy-going and incredibly gentle with children. They are perfect pets for active families, and they can adapt to pretty much any situation you put them in. They will run around with all their energy, and five minutes later, they will lie down beside toddlers and watch them play. Their loving personality has won the hearts of thousands of families across the country.
Labs are also excellent companions for your camping trips and other outdoor activities if you’re the adventurous type. Or if you’re into running or swimming, a lab can be a great partner.
Whatever you do, rest assured that your Lab will love to be a part of it. These dogs are at their best when they’re around people, so they’ll happily accompany you on your indoor or outdoor adventures.
Labs don’t need lots of grooming, but they shed heavily during the shedding season and moderately throughout the year. Bathing them occasionally, trimming their nails, and brushing their coat two times a month will keep them clean and happy. Labs love to cuddle and sit beside you, perhaps even in your lap, despite being a large breed.
You can train them easily because they are very intelligent and love to please their owner. They are also highly energetic and will happily play or work for hours at a stretch. It can sometimes be difficult for your Lab to rest at night, so you’ll have to give them plenty of exercise and playtime throughout the day.
What Labradors are not used for
As we’ve discussed, Labs are versatile dogs that excel in several activities. However, their calm and friendly temperament mean they’re not aggressive. This makes them unsuitable for some jobs, including:
Labradors have been bred to hunt and retrieve animals using their strong sense of smell. They don’t have herding instincts like some other breeds. A farmer looking for a good sheepdog would not consider Labs as their first choice. Breeds like the Border Collie and Australian Shepherd are genetically predisposed to this task. They will take to herding much more quickly and efficiently than Labradors.
Of course, with effort, you can train most dogs to do just about anything. Labs are very intelligent and highly trainable, so you may have some luck training them to make sheep move in particular directions. But is it efficient to teach herding to a Labrador? Definitely not. It’s just not their thing.
Breeds like Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherd have undergone selection for guarding livestock. They have been bred to have a high defense drive and low prey drive. Lambs and other prey animals may walk past them without their hunting instinct getting stimulated.
Most dogs in the West, including Labradors, have been bred for the opposite purpose. They have a strong prey drive and are more likely to engage in predatory behavior. German Shepherds and Rottweilers have muscular builds and prey drive. But they are also very protective of their pack (family), making for excellent guard dogs for your home.
However, breeds like Labradors and Golden Retrievers have been specifically bred to have low defense drive. They rarely make for good guard dogs. If a coyote shows up on a farm guarded by a Labrador, odds are, the Lab will try to play with him.
The same goes for strangers. Labs may bark to intimidate them, but they likely won’t fight an animal approaching sheep or lunge at a stranger intruding your house. The only way you can expect Labs to protect you is if they can lick the intruder to death.
Labradors are highly energetic, intelligent, and friendly dogs. They are easy to train and love to work out in the open. Therefore, they are the most suitable for serving as working dogs.
Detecting drugs and explosives, finding missing persons, assisting people with disabilities, hunting small animals, and providing emotional support are some of the activities they excel in. And, they’re the most popular family pet in the United States, so they must be nailing that job too.
At the same time, though, Labs’ friendly personality prevents them from being a guard dog, and they are also not bred for herding.
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