Origins of Labrador Retrievers

Origin of Labrador Breed

Labrador Retriever – No doubt the world’s most popular dog breed over many years! But how was the lab bred? What are its origins? In this post let’s take a deep dive into the origins of the Labrador Retriever breed. But first let’s quickly look at some FAQs.

What was the original name of the Labrador Retriever?

The foundational breed of what is now the Labrador Retriever was known as the St. John’s water dog, St. John’s dog, or Lesser Newfoundland.
St. John’s water dogs

The St. John’s water dog became extinct in its homeland (Newfoundland and Labrador province in Canada) due to heavy restrictions and taxes placed on dog ownership during the 19th century. The Labrador territory after which the breed is named is actually northwest of the island of Newfoundland – the two together make a province of Canada. The St John’s dog or St John’s water dog from Newfoundland was the ancestor of the modern Labrador Retriever.  It’s  descendants formed the basis for our Labrador Retrievers today. These smaller dogs were also the ancestors of the much larger Newfoundland breed.

When did the Labrador Retriever become a breed?

The Labrador Retriever was officially recognized as a breed by The UK Kennel Club in 1903. The first registration of a Labrador Retriever in The American Kennel Club was in 1917.

Who was the most important person in Labrador Retriever history?

The Earl of Malmesbury used St. John’s Dogs for hunting and retrieving in England from as early as 1809. The second Earl of Malmesbury is widely credited as being the most important person in the survival of the Labrador breed.
The secondEarlofMalmesbury was born in 1778 and was the most influential person in keeping the Labrador breed alive. He started the first kennel of Labradors. He kept his kennel well stocked until his death in 1841. The 5th Duke of Buccleuch (1806-1884) started his kennel in Scotland about 1835 independently from Malmesbury.
Labrador Retriever in action

The modern Labrador and its origins

Hunting and retrieving water dogs with oily coats were first introduced to Britain from ships trading between Newfoundland in Canada and Poole in Dorsetshire. These were then bred with British hunting dogs to create what became known as the modern Labrador Retriever breed in England. By 1870 the name Labrador Retriever became common in England. The first yellow Labrador on record was born in 1899 (Ben of Hyde, kennels of Major C.J. Radclyffe).

The Labrador Retriever breed eventually evolved in USA and England seperately. Labradors bred for show and conformation have become commonly known as English type Labradors as they’re way more common in the UK. Labradors bred for field trials and hunting have become commonly known as American type Labradors as they’re way more common in the USA.

So how did the different colors originate?

Black is the original Labrador color, and genetically the most dominant. In fact, from the breed’s inception in the early 19th century until the turn of the 20th century, it was the only acceptable Labrador color. Chocolate and yellow puppies were frequently put down at birth.

The different colors originated from different genes. Three colors (Black, Brown, Yellow) are recognised and accepted by the AKC in the United States, and the Kennel Club in the United Kingdom. In practice, there is a wide range of shades of yellow Labrador color, from palest cream to richest fox red.

What makes a Labrador brown, or black, or yellow? And what about Silver Labradors?

Every Labrador has a combination of B and E genes – called their genotype. There are nine different possible genotypes and the combination which results into a variety of colors.

The ever evolving Labrador Retriever breed

The future seems unpredictable and full of pleasant surprises. We already have unique colors and even miniature Labradors – They have the same kind of friendly temperament as the larger labs and they are wonderful with children. So that makes them an ideal family dog. Mini Labs are usually between 16 to 19 inches tall. Other than their diminutive size these Labs have the same physical appearance as the larger Labs. They are the same colour as the full size Labrador, either black, yellow or chocolate. They also share the same physical attributes of the full size Lab, with a good strong physique, and broad head, chest and hindquarters. It’s an interesting topic to be covered in detail in another post.

We hope you enjoyed reading about the origins of Labrador Retriever dog breed. Please share your valuable insights in the comments section below.

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