Labrador Retriever

George Kramer: Yellow labs can produce chocolate labs. You can have all three colors in a litter. My first dog was named stormy.

Amy Dahl: I have my family because of my first lab.

George Kramer: I became a veterinarian because I was so in love with my dog when I was a kid.

Amy Dahl: I fell for that dog like a ton of bricks.

Narrator: It’s hard not to love the lab – big, friendly, full of life. They’re called the Labrador, but actually they come from Newfoundland. Yeah, Newfoundland. What we know as the lab today originated in the early 1800 when fishermen bread a smaller version of Newfie to retrieve fishnets and sometimes the fish that fell off hooks. They created a dog who loved to swim, had great stamina, and had strong haunches to leap dramatically into the water. The record is 27 feet. The breeders couldn’t name the new dog Newfoundland, that name was taken. So the dog was named for the sea they worked – Labrador.

Andrea Arden: From there they were brought to England and the breed as we know it today was developed.

Narrator: Those early breeders created a lab with characteristics to help them become great hunters. And then a 5th special trait was added that made the labs the most of versatile. Leading off the list like all retrievers the lab has webbed paws. These natural flippers make him one of the strongest canine swimmers around. Able to hit speeds around three miles an hour. Okay, that might not sound … but it’s twice as fast as a duck swims.

The second trait is an otter like tail. They get the base and strong. It acts like a rudder in the water.

Amy Dahl: They’re not the best dogs for people who have a lot of knickknacks in their homes, because that tail will clear off the coffee table in half a second.

Narrator: Number three is a layered slightly oily coat that keeps them warm, helps them float, and is also drip dry. They come in three bold colors. Black is the most common and the most successful in competitions. Yellow’s next and it’s the most popular for labs working as police dogs. Chocolate is the rarest.

George Kramer: There’s the misconception that people think the black labs come from black labs and chocolates just come from chocolates. But you can have …

Narrator: Carry an egg in its mouth without cracking the shell. And then there’s that fifth special trait, their unique ability to learn.

Amy Dahl: They try to work with you and they actually do believe that there’s something that you want them to do. And they will concentrate on trying to work out from you what that is. And so you don’t have to be the best trainer in the world, you just need to be making an effort and the dog will meet you halfway and try to do the rest.

Narrator: Labs can remember up to 300 human phrases. But they’re not the smartest dog on the planet. They’re actually number seven. Both the Border Collie and the Standard Poodle outrank them. While smart they’re intense desire to please makes labs the most trainable dogs of all, from bomb-sniffing, to search and rescue, to guide dogs, no breed is in greater demand. Mark Dawson had a special relationship with his rescue lab Elvis. When terrorists struck the world trade on 9/11, Mark and Elvis were called into action to search for survivors.

Mark Dawson: Elvis was extremely brave. There were a number of times where he went into areas that I didn’t know if I was going to see him when he came back. And I went out with a captain one night and we got to this void area and there was a ladder, an extension ladder sticking up the captain. He looked at me said, “So do you want me to carry your dog down or are you going to carry your dog down?” And I said, “Neither.” And I gave Elvis that climb down command and he climbed down and the captain just looked at me and said, “I’ve seen it all.”

Narrator: That bond between dogs and humans, the emotional connection they make is especially strong for lab owners. Ask strainer Amy Dahl about her first lab.

Amy Dahl: I love the dog a great deal, having a hard time talking about it. He was monumental in my life. Before he died he clearly was ill and in a certain amount of pain and I looked at him one day and he really was not wanting to get up, because he felt bad but he was tracking me with his head. And I had a feeling from him that as long as he could look after me he wanted to be with me.

Narrator: Amy’s not alone in feeling grief for her dog. Mark Dawson watched his partner Elvis passed away a few weeks before this interview.

Mark Dawson: Up until a few weeks ago he was actually doing wilderness problems out here in the woods. To be so sudden, so quick it was kind of hard, still hard.

Narrator: They say one of the best ways to get over the loss of a beloved pet is to get a puppy. Mark now has a new lab – Hero. If you’re thinking of raising a lab there are considerations.

Andrea Arden: People would be surprised that Labradors while they can be wonderful adult companions, these often times are the mouthiest dogs. So you have to be prepared if you’re raising a Labrador puppy to teach them from a very, very young age to have what trainers called bite inhibition. That is to be really careful with the razor sharp teeth.

Amy Dahl: There are some people who are not necessarily the best people for a Labrador. The dogs tend to have a high activity level.

Narrator: This is a dog that needs room to run. He’s a sprinter. Able to hit speeds of 12 miles an hour in three seconds. They aren’t quite Super Dogs, while robust the lab is prone to several elements. One of the best known is a problem of the hip called Dysplasia. It’s caused by an abnormal formation in the hip. It leads to a loss of cartilage and pain. Labs are also susceptible to a genetic eye defect called Retinol Dysplasia which causes blind spots. And like most athletes labs have problems with knees and elbows.

The Labrador Retriever could be the most versatile breed of dog in the world … They live up to 13 years.

George Kramer: Labs as a breed to be pretty healthy dogs. There are some issues that they’re prone to on a genetic basis.

Narrator: Grooming is minimal but they shed moderately in the spring and fall. They are athletes who adapt well to cold environments.

Amy Dahl: The lab is a very secure, comfortable, adaptable dog.

Narrator: Labs adapt well to families and pose a low-risk for bites.

Amy Dahl: It loves to participate in family activities. It’s hard to imagine a better dog than a Labrador.

Narrator: Labs are easy to train and eager to please.

Andrea Arden: As with any dog even though Labradors are wonderful companions it’s important to start training them when they’re very, very young.

Narrator: So in general labs love the cold, but thrive in most environments. Though labs get high marks for health, they’re prone to hip elbow and joint problems. Labs are very easy to groom. They’re easy to train. These loyal dogs make wonderful pets.

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