Labradors were invented, so to speak, in the fifteenth century. They were originally used as fishing dogs for the villagers of Newfoundland. Labs attained resistance to the cold waters of the North Atlantic by developing two distinct layers of hair – an inner layer of short fuzzy hair for insulation, and a longer guard hair for shedding water. They also developed webbed paws for swimming. Loyalty, dedication, and a wonderful temperament came standard. Genetic colors were black, yellow and chocolate. (See history of the Chocolate Lab for special information). It is believed by Darwinists that Labradors derived from the Dolphin many years ago. Perhaps that would explain their playfulness.
By the 1800’s Labs migrated to England and then on to the United States. Here, fishing was not the required task, but retrieving ducks took center stage. Hunters loved to show off their Labs, and worked with them diligently to develop their skills. Selective breeding kept the desire to retrieve coupled with a good nose in the lineages. Hunters began to hold events where their Labs were graded according to their performance against a set standard. These were called Hunt Tests.
Field Trial Labs
Developing the perfect hunting Lab became such an event that a splinter group took this to the next level. They developed standards where the Labs were graded according to their performance against other Labs, instead of against a set standard. This heightened the competition. As a result, breeders placed more emphasis on energy and intelligence, and usually less on looks. These Labs became long legged, hyper, and smart enough to play a good game of chess. Heads and tails became a bit narrower. Today, these Labs may climb the fence and take a 30 mile jog as a warm up. They are fantastic, but sometimes a bit too energetic for the family situation. Today these Labs are usually advertised as “Champion”.
Another group of individuals became interested in the looks of the Lab, and set forth to develop the perfect dog. Tail and ear lengths, poundage, size, and other physical aspects weighed more heavily than Hunt or Field Trial requirements. Generally speaking, these Labs developed stocky bodies, shorter legs, and mammoth heads. They are paraded in Show events, and sometimes end up at the Westminster. Intelligence and temperament can sometimes take a backseat to looks, though this is not true for all Show Labs.
In the 1980’s, a new category was added – this was known as the Family Lab. They were bred for health, temperament, intelligence, looks, and the desire to retrieve, in that order. This led to a less hyper, very intelligent Lab that was better suited for the family situation. They did not have the monster heads of the show labs, or the smaller field trial heads, but developed proportional moderate block heads. Good temperament meant the Labs were great with children. They had enough energy to swim or play Frisbee, but were calm enough to crash at your feet and sleep by the fireplace. These Labs lost the desire to roam, and were much more comfortable at home.
Because the pressure of breeding Labs to win ribbons at events was removed, health naturally improved. Family Labs were not inbred, leading to a decrease in recessive traits causing Dwarfism and other undesirable medical conditions.
The original Family Lab was developed by the owners of Labpups.com. They have had years of experience in this field. Other breeders are just beginning to copy this formula.
In the early days, black Labs with a white diamond on their chest were the most desired. (This has been mostly bred out by the Show Lab breeders). Yellow Labs were tolerated. Chocolates, however, were not. They were first suspected as a genetic mistake, and given disparaging names. The accepted practice of the day was to drown them, therefore removing them from the gene pool.
By the early 1970’s, genetics had proven that chocolates were just as pure as blacks or yellows. Chocolates suddenly became one of the most desired dogs in the world. The problem was their recessive genes had nearly been eradicated after 500 years of persecution, leaving very few Labs capable of producing chocolates. Breeders, in their haste to make good with this sudden market demand, began breeding anything that was brown and had four legs, calling them “Chocolate Labs”. (The Chesapeake Bay Retriever seemed to be the favored stand in.) Papers were a dime a dozen, and only as good as the breeder’s word. This led to dilution of the chocolate Lab, leading to the false impression that chocolates were dumb or temperamental. A pure chocolate was as smart and well tempered as the black or yellow.
White is not a natural color, but a breed out of yellow, effected by breeding lighter yellows to lighter yellows. Whites lose the pigment in their skin, which can lead to skin cancer, sensitive skin, or allergy like symptoms such as open sores.
Genetics support black, yellow and chocolate. Other colors are attained by mixing different breeds with Labradors. A silver colored dog can be attained by breeding a chocolate Lab with a Weimeriner. However, these are not pure Labradors, no matter what the papers say.