The following information is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not constitute pet medical advice.
Paws&Furs is reader-supported. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.
You’re thinking about getting a new dog, but which breed have you been looking for?
There are so many to choose from, but no matter where you look, labrador retrievers are on every list out there for the best possible dogs you could ever own.
Well, we plan to explain every positive and negative attribute to owning a labrador retriever. Concerning their temperament, attitude, activity and a lot of other key points you consider when looking for a dog, you’re going to see why labs are one of the most popular choices out there.
This labrador retriever guide will cover just about everything you need to know and help you decide whether or not a lab is the right pick for you and your family. Although, not to spoil anything, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who couldn’t love a labrador retriever.
What Are Labrador Retrievers?
Labrador retrievers are more commonly referred to simply as labs.
These are a breed of very active, very friendly dogs that are commonly sought out for their joyful personalities and friendliness with children, infants, and even other animals in the house (not just other dogs).
They’re among the top three most popular breeds of dog in North America, and in many other areas of the world as well, such as the UK. Overall, labs are generally very loyal and obedient dogs who enjoy being with a master who treats them well, just like another part of the family.
For a less formal representation of what a lab is, they’re commonly golden in color (most favored coat color), live long lives, and retain a fairly gentle and friendly demeanor towards everyone around them even as they age.
Some dogs can get bitter as they get older, but labs generally stay the same way until the very end.
Why Are They One of the Most Popular Dog Breeds in the World?
The first argument you hear regarding why people want a lab as their next dog is because of their family.
Maybe they have a little one on the way, or they’re expanding their kennel for another pup and want one that gets along with the rest. Whatever the case may be, their popularity comes from their friendliness.
Labs are by no means small or petite dogs, but that’s another thing people love about them – they can be medium-sized or large without having aggression or being potentially dangerous to others.
Because they are well-behaved and gentle dogs, it’s rare to run into a lot of problems when you take them on walks or to the dog park, which is always a good thing.
Another favored feature of labs is that they’re fairly independent. Yes, they love when you come home from work and wag their tails like nobody’s business, but they can get in and out of the doggy door and go to the bathroom outside when they need to, even if you’re at work.
They’re not destructive pups (generally speaking), so they end up making great companions for those who live alone and aren’t home all day due to work.
Types of Labrador Retrievers
In total, there are two types of labrador retriever when all is said and done. You have American labs, and English labs. This is commonly confused with golden retrievers, who have three separate breeds.
Typically, you’ll see shinier coats and lighter fur colors on American labs.
This is partially due to England being shrouded in clouds and/or rain fairly often. Over time, dogs who spend more time in the sunshine pass on that bleached color in their coat down to the next doggy generation.
You have a few options, but nothing that’s going to make your head spin. If you’re set on the temperament and kindness of a lab, you’re going to get lucky no matter which breed you select from. That’s just another great thing about them.
Is There a Difference Between American and British Labs?
There are a few rather minor differences. Still, they’re good to know if you decide on one or the other.
American labs tend to be taller than British labs, but British labs have wider nose and facial bone structures. Overall, their necks and general stature are wider than American labs.
While there aren’t too many biological differences that have major factors in whether you should choose a lab or not, there is one specific set of differences that you should know about.
Breeders agree that British labs, for whatever reason, have a calmer temperament and demeanor than American labs.
However, British labs are less active than American labs, who are generally more athletic, so that could be the cause. It’s a negligible amount, but if you want the most family-friendly dog out there, a British lab might be the better option.
Adoption or Raising a Breeder Puppy
Well, which route should you go with?
It depends on what you value most. Let’s go over a few differences between going with a breeder puppy, or adopting one from a no-kill shelter.
Breeders don’t just fall into this career – they choose it because they absolutely love dogs and want to give them the best lives possible. They really like dogs, which is why they’re going to treat them better (on average) than shelters will.
I’m not putting down shelters, but their jobs are simply different from breeders. That, and dogs might come from abusive homes when you get them from shelters. You’re getting a host of problems with shelter dogs that you just don’t get with breeder pups.
Breeders make thousands per dog, in most cases. They’re not going to waste their time on breeds that can’t offer them a high amount of money, and while that means they take care of these dogs exceptionally well, they’re also going to charge an arm and a leg to sell them to you.
Labs aren’t the most expensive dogs out there, but if they’re purebred, they can be pricey.
Saving a Life
Even if it’s a no-kill shelter, dogs are less likely to live long and healthy lives in shelters as opposed to being with individual owners.
Shelters can’t offer much more than the bare minimum necessary time that your dog needs, meaning that they’re doing their best, but it’s not enough on an individual level for your dog.
You help to save them, and offer up an empty spot for these shelters to save more lives. Your dog will live a longer life with you than they will in a kennel like that.
Shelter pups can come with medical conditions that you might not even be aware of. Shelters do their best to diagnose any issues that your dog might have, but they’re not perfect.
Even if they do detect them, your pup might have gone for years with this unchecked, lowering their lifespan even when you get them out of the shelter.
Things You Need to Know Before Getting a Labrador Retriever
Labrador retrievers are some of the best dog breeds in the world, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. They come with medical risks, high costs, and they grow to be rather huge. It’s time to find out exactly what you need before you get a labrador retriever, and what to look out for.
Labrador retrievers get to be big dogs, and it’s awesome if you’re a big breed kind of person. On average, they’ll be about two feet tall (22 – 24.5 inches for males, 21.5 – 23.5 for females).
Their size can vary, though, especially if they were rescue dogs and didn’t receive the proper nutrition when they were puppies. Your vet will be able to make a weight and height history chart with your vet so that you can determine what will be best for your dog.
Labrador retrievers end up being as heavy as 80 lbs. That’s a lot of food to get them there and maintain their weight, as well as a lot more work if weight management ever becomes an issue.
With larger dogs, it’s a lot harder to see if they become obese. Maintaining a healthy weight is vital to a lab’s growth, especially as they go from being a puppy to a full year old.
Labrador retrievers, for whatever reason, are more susceptible to bacterial and viral infections than most breeds out there. We’re not fully sure why, but it has something to do with their immune system being insufficient in combating these issues.
That being said, they can be prevented with supplements and the right diet, but even then, they still run a higher risk of this happening to them.
One other thing to notice is that labrador retrievers are more prone to hemangiosarcoma, which is a type of bleeding tumor. It’s not something that happens and then your dog yelps, although they might feel discomfort moving one part of their body.
These tumors commonly form around the spleen or inside of them, but can also appear on the outside of other organs and rupture at random. For this, labrador retrievers absolutely need to have regular vet visits.
Like I said before, larger dogs can gain weight without us knowing right away. When you have a two-foot-tall, eighty pound labrador retriever, then you’re not going to notice that climb to eighty-three, or eighty-five.
That’s another reason that vet appointments are so important. You can mediate when they’re gaining one or two pounds, but having them lose ten or more is going to be a feat, and not one that you’re going to enjoy.
On average, the lifespan of a labrador retriever is about ten to fourteen years. That’s a pretty wide gap. That’s 1,460 additional days you could have with your dog depending on their life.
I want to point out that plenty of labs have lived past fourteen, it’s just not all-too common. It usually depends on a variety of factors, some of which are in your control, and others aren’t. Factors such as:
- Diet: Ensuring high-quality ingredient diets that benefit your dog.
- Exercise: Even in old age, dogs should be active to maintain a healthy body.
- Medical Conditions: Some dogs are lucky, some aren’t; medical conditions are hard to fight and can’t always be avoided.
- Environment: Stress releases chemicals in the body that kill us faster, and the same goes for dogs. A stress-free, smoke-free and safe environment is needed for a longer lab lifespan.
- Mood: A happy home can literally make you live for longer, and the same goes for your labrador retriever.
Lifespan can most effectively be assisted by diet and exercise. Labs are affectionate dogs, and we know that socialization has links to a longer lifespan, so be sure they know they’re loved and have doggy friends to play with.
The initial cost of purchasing a labrador retriever is entirely up to you.
It’s up to you what you’re willing to psy, if you find one at a no-kill shelter, from a family friend, or buy a puppy from a breeder. There are a lot of avenues to go, and none of them are the wrong way, it will just affect your lifetime cost of owning your lab.
Accounting for those upfront costs, a labrador retriever can cost you between $10,000 and $14,000 over a decade. That’s a ten-year period of $1,000 to $1,500 per year, or $100-150 per month to own and assist your lab. These come down to the following factors:
- Dog Food: It’s not cheap, especially if you go for a higher-quality diet. Better food means a longer lifespan and healthier dog along the way. That can cost more now, but save you more in vet bills.
- Veterinarian Costs: Individual appointments, pet hospital visits, and repeat appointments to take care of medical issues. Vet bills can get pretty high, and since each dog is different, you don’t know if these costs will bring you out of the $15,000-per-decade framework. Some vets cost more than others as well.
- Grooming: Taking your dog to the salon? Shelling out money on high-end grinders instead of clippers? Grooming is subjective; as long as you’re taking care of your dog, it’s up to you. The cost will vary depending on whether you go the DIY route, or hire a professional.
- Supplements: Joint supplements are essential for all senior dogs, and when your pup hits their seven to ten year mark, it’s time to start taking them. These help with ligament and joint maintenance and can help them live a pain-free or less painful senior life.
There are plenty of costs that fall out of the range of normal expenses, as well.
Kennel costs when you go on a trip, hiring a professional dog walker, and things of that nature. However, those aren’t critical to their health or wellbeing, so they’re not something you can really account for. You don’t know when those needs will crop up.
Can Labradors Be Left Alone at Home for Extended Periods?
It’s not so much about being a labrador as it is about their training and what you know they can tolerate. Most adult dogs are fine for about four to six hours at home, but that might be about it.
Labrador retrievers are generally better as being behaved and don’t cause problems as often as other breeds, so they may be okay for eight hours (the average workday).
Keeping that in mind, you’ll need to leave sufficient water and food out. Ideally, you’ll have a doggy door that’s big enough for them to grow into so that they can go outside to do their business at their leisure. They shouldn’t have to wait around for you to get home if it can be avoided.
Do Labs Bark a Lot?
They do, but only when they’re bored. That sounds like a cop-out, but it’s true – labs are affectionate and social dogs, so when they don’t have something stimulating to do, whether it’s play with you or go on a walk, then they end up barking more often.
It’s like having pent-up energy and needing to do something physical to channel it, whether that means an intense workout or a night out on the town.
Equivalently, your dog needs to go to the dog park and mingle with other pups, or play in the yard for an hour so that they can tire themselves out to prevent excessive barking. If you leave your lab at home often and hear complaints about barking, they very well could be true.
Getting Your Home Ready for Your New Labrador Retriever
It’s time to prepare your home for the new lab. Keep in mind that we’re preparing for two things: either a puppy, or a new-to-you lab that might not have all their behavioral patterns down pat. Either way, these will help both of them.
- Secure Furniture: End tables, coffee tables, bookshelves – anything that’s going to be knocked over and hurt your pup or cause property damage should be secured. You can use L-shaped wall brackets and plastic anchors to keep furniture against the wall, as well as other measures to keep couches from moving, etc.
- Designate a Feeding Spot: Your dog has to know where to go to feed. They can’t just be grazing all day long, so they need that designated spot. This also lets them know that when you say it’s feeding time, they know where to run to.
- Determine Walking Times: You now have to go on walks every single day, so what are you going to do? Designate the right time to do it, and from there, you’ll be able to formulate your new schedule around these.
- Spot a Sleepy Place: Dog beds – we know that dogs can be trained to use them, though many owners end up letting the pooch sleep in their bed with them. Either way, even if you’re okay with it, it’s time to find a space for them.
- Rules: Set rules, like no being on the couch, or no tugging on the leash before you leave for walks (to keep them calm), and then actively work towards them. Your dog will act the way you want it to, so long as you can be domineering and demand it. Do that from the start, and everything will be easier down the line.
You’re also going to need a small list of things for your doggo to have when they come into their new home.
- Collar: For identification purposes right from the start.
- ID Tag: Either a medallion or a laminated paper tag to hang from the collar.
- Dog Bed: Somewhere for them to sleep.
- Food Supply: Whether this is for a month or three, you just need to start with a proper food storage.
- Shampoo: Your dog has to stay clean, might as well get a hold of this now before they’re in the house.
- Leash: Whether it’s retractable or on a harness, you need one.
- Supplements: Puppy or an adopted dog, they need supplements for strong joint and ligament growth.
What else do you think your dog needs?
Try to have all of their needs met before they enter the home so you have more time to spend with them, and less things to do later.
Welcome Home, Little Lab
Whether you go with a breeder or find a rescue lab, your new retriever is finally going to have a forever home, and that’s with you.
Now that you know everything about labs from what they need to what they want, and everything in between, you’re finally equipped to handle your new lab.
It’s time to welcome them home and into your family. If you need help with anything else lab or puppy-related at all, we have guides on the most popular dog breeds, as well as information about the right diets and leash recommendations for your dogs.