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Highlights on Hunting Dogs: Labrador Retriever

The Labrador Retriever epitomizes the hunting breed.


Perhaps the iconic hunting dogs, the Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog in the United States, and for good reason. There’s no better dog to take out for water retrieving.

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Check out these interesting facts you may not know about the Labrador, and leave a comment below if the breed is your hunting dog of choice.

Newfoundland dogs

The modern Labrador is descended from the St. Johns dog in Newfoundland, where it was brought over in the late 1500s by settlers. But, surprisingly enough, it did not come from the area known as Labrador. That moniker was likely bestowed later on, after the breed had been well removed from its Scandinavian roots.

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The original St. Johns dog was bred as a water dog, specifically a companion to fishermen. Because of the treacherous rocks, preventing boats from comfortably unloading the day’s haul, the dog was bred and trained to haul the nets in themselves. Better still, they could easily retrieve items that sailors dropped overboard, making them a doubly useful fishing companion.

How they came to be the modern breed

The Labrador Retriever as we know it today came about due to the efforts of the English gentry in the early 19th century. Dorset, England, was a chief trading center for the Newfoundland fishermen, and the aristocracy of England inevitably took notice.

Charmed by the dogs that accompanied their fish traders, they saw fit to breed the St. Johns dog with their own retriever lines to create a better gun dog. Their success can be largely attributed to two aristocrats: The second Earl of Malmesbury and, later, the fifth Duke of Buccleuch, each of whom invested the time and effort into breeding the St. Johns dog, but also maintaining the bloodlines throughout the century, even when they nearly went extinct at the end of the 19th century due to strict taxation laws on importing dogs.

To America

As the breed struggled to continue in England, it was imported to the United States during World War I, where the population was maintained as the Labrador Retrievers in England continued to dwindle in number. After World War II, the United States as a whole finally came to recognize the value of the breed, and it exploded in popularity, propelling it comfortably to its place as America’s number one dog.

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Water dogs

The Labrador Retriever maintains many of the traits of its ancestors in Newfoundland, making them excellent fishing dogs and retrievers, particularly of waterfowl. Their double coats repel water, and is sleek enough to prevent heavy formation of ice in freezing temperatures. Better yet, they have a high tolerance for pain, making them that much more comfortable when it comes to retrieving in unfavorable conditions.

The St. Johns Dog had a coat that would repel water and enabled the breed to stand the icy cold temperatures of winter seas. If you have any doubt, look at a Labrador’s paws. Their webbed feet make them as comfortable as ducks in the water.

As pets

Labradors are also beloved family pets, even for non-hunting families. They adore children and other animals, and mature slowly. So for the first four years, a Lab will maintain its puppy-like enthusiasm for running and playing.

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However, whether or not it’s a working dog, labs do require strict attention. Their high energy levels necessitate early training, and not just in behavior. If given the chance, a lab will happily overeat to the point of obesity. Additionally, the prevalence of overbreeding has created a laundry list of potential health issues that may arise in a lab’s lifetime, including hip and elbow dysplasia, PRA, and even eye disorders. However, if properly maintained and trained, a lab promises to be the best companion a family or hunter could ask for.

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Highlights on Hunting Dogs: Labrador Retriever