Labrador Retriever (Labrador / Lab)

Labrador Retriever (Labrador / Lab)


Group: Gundog

Size: Medium - Large


The Gundog group is made up of dogs that were originally trained to retrieve game. This group is divided into four categories - Retrievers, Spaniels, Hunt / Point / Retrieve, Pointers and Setters - although many of the breeds are capable of doing the same work as the other sub-groups.

The Labrador Retriever (Labrador / Lab) is a medium to large breed and belongs to the Gundog group. This is defined by the Kennel Club as "dogs that were originally trained to find live game and / or to retrieve game that had been shot and wounded".


Clinical Tip: From a clinical perspective we need to consider the wide variety of personalities in this biddable breed, as they can be sensitive to new experiences in the clinical setting. Always use Therapeutic Handling and make every Therapeutic Touch count.

Labrador Conformation + Morphology

  • Head shape; mesaticephalic
  • Body shape; mesomorphic
  • Coat type; double coat which is short, dense and water-resilient
  • Coat colour; black, yellow, chocolate and fox red
  • Paw shape; oval
  • Tail shape; otter
  • Ear shape; semi-erect

Labrador: Breed Gait Facts

Understanding the conformational differences within this breed (interbreed variation) linked to their various roles of pet, working, show and assistance dogs, is an important viewpoint for all therapist's to consider when working with the Labrador Retriever.

As well as conformation interbreed differences the therapist needs to be aware this breed is prone to dwarfism.

Dwarf Labradors are born when two Labrador parents who carry the genes for dwarfism produce a litter of puppies.


There are two different sets of genes that produce dwarfism in Labradors.

Dwarfism has several different causes and may or may not require medical intervention and treatment. Though just as lovable as their taller counterparts, small lab puppies should be monitored for dwarfism, so they get any help they need to live a long and happy life.

Dwarfism in Labs is often caused by issues in the pituitary gland. Some dogs experience hypopituitarism, which is where the dog's pituitary gland is unable to manufacture enough growth hormone. This results in a dog who appears healthy at birth but who will be noticeably smaller than his litter mates by 2 -3 months of age.

In other dogs, the pituitary gland itself is not fully developed due to damage or disease, which in turn causes dysfunction of the gland when regulating growth. Both of these conditions tend to result in a dog whose entire body is smaller than normal.

Dwarfism in Labs also occurs due to skeletal dysplasia and osteochondrodysplasia. Both of these conditions affect the dog’s legs, causing them to be short while the remainder of the dog’s body retains a normal size. The gene (SD2) that causes skeletal dysplasia has been tentatively linked to the gene which causes deafness, but more research is needed to confirm this relationship.

Osteochondrodysplasia, on the other hand, often leads to joint and eye problems in addition to dwarfism.

Conformational and size variances will impact on the speed and the efficiency of the Labrador Retriever and impact the quality of their movement.


Clinical Tip: Understand the normal size and conformation of Labs, to appreciate the issues which may occur with dwarfism. When administering hydrotherapy techniques be aware of the amazing double coat of the Lab. This traps air and contributes to the water properties of buoyancy, which you need to balance and work with during your session.

Labrador Common Conditions + Problems

  • Hip Dysplasia (HD) ; is the abnormal development of the canine hip joint and is one of the most common joint conditions seen in dogs
  • Elbow Dysplasia (ED); is a condition involving multiple developmental abnormalities of the canine elbow joint, specifically the growth of cartilage or the structures surrounding it
  • Luxating Patella; this occurs when the patella (knee cap) moves out of its natural functional position
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA); is an inherited disease that causes slowly progressive blindness over a period of months or years
  • Cataracts; this is an opacity in the lens of the dog's eye, causing blurred vision. The thicker and denser they become, the more likely it will lead to a complete loss of vision
  • Corneal Dystrophy; is a term used to describe several conditions that occur in dogs and cause the corneas to become opaque
  • Retinal Dysplasia (RD); is the abnormal development of the retina
  • Hereditary Myopathy; is an inherited disease of muscle, which causes muscle weakness due to a deficiency of type II muscle fibres
  • Auto-immune Diseases; cause the immune system to attack the body’s own cells and tissue, and there are many types of auto-immune diseases in dogs
  • Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC); is a genetic disorder and affected dogs have no problem with regular exercise. The collapse occurs only with very strenuous exercise such as retrieving or participating in trials


This breed has notable inter breed conformational differences. In East Anglia we have 2 distinct shaped companion (pet) Labradors; a large dog with long legs and a dog with shorter legs and longer back length, reflecting the local breeding programme. There is also a significant difference between the show Labrador and the working field trial Labrador, where the show Labrador is stockier and field trial Labrador tends to smaller and "fit for purpose".

Labrador Temperament + Personality

This breed is intelligent with a good work ethic and generally good temperament. They are kind, pleasant, outgoing, biddable and very even-tempered, making an excellent family dog.

There is a reason they are one of the most consistently popular breeds in the UK due to their ability to be an excellent companion, working dog or guide dog.

Labradors are incredibly popular due to their amazing versatility and wonderful nature.

Introducing the Rushbrigg Gundogs

From left to right; Dylan, me (Watson), Annie, Radar, Margot + Baldrick.
From left to right; Dylan, me (Watson), Annie, Radar, Margot + Baldrick.

"I am a male, 8 year old black Labrador Retriever and let me introduce you to my gang on the left. We are the Rushbrigg Gundogs and you may ask, what is so special about us? 

Well, we are all (apart from Baldrick, due to his baldness!) working gundogs. The training we undergo depends on our age, maturity and whether we are competing or not.

We work on shoots, retrieving game and some of us compete in Kennel Club licensed Field Trials and for fun we compete in Kennel Club Working Tests as well. 

In order to work and compete we have to be fairly fit and we enjoy variety of fun and fitness activities every day. These range from long walks split into walking, trotting and full on galloping with the wind in our hair! (apart from Baldrick!) 



Margot is only 10 months old at the moment so hasn’t started any jumping. The older dogs get to jump ditches, streams, fences and dry-stone walls, depending on where in the country we are being trained. Margot is also getting directional (that’s left, right and back to you and me!) and whistle training.


Radar is an Open Field Trial Award Winner (show off!) so his training is quite technical and tends to be just tweaking those bits that he has momentarily forgotten(!)

We all get trained every day and what we do depends on our age, maturity and whether we are competing or not. We go training all over the country; not just in Suffolk. 

We have to learn how to cope with the terrain in Northumberland, Scotland, the Yorkshire and Welsh Moors, the South Downs, sugar beet fields, as well as lakes and rivers. It's brilliant! 


Dylan, my black lab ally and the biggest of the gang, always needs a few reminders of how to stop. He is very good at the go bit but slightly more reluctant to do the stopping bit!

I am also an Open Field Trial Award Winner (so I am a bit of a show off as well!) but I get let off all jumping as at the age of 4½ I developed Elbow Dysplasia which means I get to do all the fun things excluding the jumping part! Stem Cell treatment was undertaken and six weeks later I was back to working full days again. Phew! Although I will never compete again, I enjoy life to the full and am now the oldest of the Rushbrigg team. I visit Barbara at K9HS once a month to keep those elbows working properly and avoid any deterioration in my condition.


Annie works in front of us as we are training and gets to do a few retrieves during the training exercises, although she prefers just running (very fast) really!

Baldrick is Annie’s son and still a puppy and won’t be able to work as he is totally " folicly challenged" so our Dad is going to take him to agility classes.

Our Mum brings us to K9HS to be kept in top condition under the watchful eye of Barbara.

We also get to see some of Barbara’s students on courses as we are quite calm in the water. I think this is because of our training and trust in Mum and Barbara as we know everything will be just fine as they gives us secret information by just looking the way they move – it’s great, it’s like a secret code! "

We have the most amazing life working and playing with our human Mum and Dad!

Labrador Role Historically + Now

Originally used in Newfoundland as fishing dogs, the Labrador would help bring in the fishing nets and retrieve any fish that had escaped the nets. Additionally, they were used as sporting, hunting, gundogs and water fowling dogs.

Labradors are also one of the most widely used breeds in a variety of roles including;

  • Disability assistance
  • Therapy dogs
  • Screening and detection
  • Search and rescue

Labradors are powerful swimmers noted for their ability to tolerate the coldest of water for extended periods of time. They work quietly alongside hunters while watching for birds to fall from the sky, marking where they land and then use their outstanding nose to find and retrieve dead or wounded birds. This has made them the "king of waterfowl retrievers". They are also used for pointing and flushing and make excellent upland game hunting partners.

Labrador Bitesize History

The Labrador is a medium to large sized breed and is the most popular of all breeds which comes from the breeds versatility as a family companion, service dog, guide dog and working gundog.

The breed originates from Newfoundland, which from the 16th century was renowned for the fishing industry with well-established trading routes between England and Canada. Dogs were used to help fishermen retrieve nets and lost lines and pull carts loaded with fish.

The Newfoundland dogs were smaller than they are today and a smaller variety was known as the St John’s dog. It is thought that these breeds crossed with hunting dogs taken to Newfoundland by English traders and fishermen formed the basis for the modern Labrador.

Some of the dogs resulting from this breeding were taken back to England where their retrieving skills were recognised by the sporting gentry. One of the early patrons of the breed, the Earl of Malmesbury gave the breed its name. The first breed club was founded in 1916.

Even More History

The Vietnam War is the only war in American history in which US war dogs were officially classified by the military as "military working dogs" and were not allowed to officially return home after the war. Classified as expendable equipment, of the approximate 4,000 dogs deployed to the Vietnam War, it's estimated that only about 200 dogs survived Vietnam, to be put into service at other outposts stationed overseas.

The Labrador Retriever was the military's choice for their Combat Tracker Teams (CTTs). Combat Tracker Teams consisted of one Labrador and four or the handler, an observer, one or two cover men, and the team leader. Labradors were selected by the military for tracking because of their distinct smelling qualities, and were used to locate wounded US servicemen, enemy patrols, and downed allied airmen in Vietnam. The US Army Labrador Retrievers received their combat training at the British Army's; Jungle Warfare School in Malaysia.

In November 2000, President Bill Clinton signed into law an amendment that allowed retired US military working dogs (war dogs) to be adopted by personnel outside of the military, leaving the Vietnam War as the only war in US history in which American war dogs never returned home.


The amazing intelligence, initiative and self-direction of Labradors in working roles is exemplified by Endal, who is trained to put his wheelchair-bound human in the recovery position, cover him with a blanket, and activate an emergency phone.


A number of Labradors have also been taught to assist their owner in removing money and credit cards from ATM machines.


The Labrador is used in water rescue / lifesaving. It continues in that role today, along with the Leonberger, Newfoundland and Golden Retriever dogs; they are used in this role at the Italian School of Canine Lifeguard.

Labradors are a curious breed who love to explore their environment and enjoy human company. They follow both people and interesting scents for food, attention, and novelty value. As a breed, they are highly intelligent and capable of intense single-mindedness and focus if motivated or their interest is caught. Therefore, with the right conditions and stimuli, a bored Labrador could "turn into an escape artist par excellence".

The steady temperament of Labradors and their ability to learn make them an ideal breed for search + rescue, detection and therapy work. They are a very intelligent breed and their primary working role in the field continues as a hunting retriever. They make a fantastic companion and friend for life.

This Bitesize Resource was produced for you and is owned by K9HS Courses