THE PEDIGREE LABRADOR IN NEW ZEALAND
HISTORY OF THE BREED
The Labrador Retriever originated in St Johns, Newfoundland where it was used as an all purpose working dog on the cod fishing boats. They were used on land for hauling sleds and at sea for retrieving fish and boat equipment that had fallen overboard. They were introduced to the English in the 1800's when the fishing boats from St Johns visited harbours in Dorset. With it's thick water repellant double coat the Labrador could handle the very worst of weather conditions and was ideally designed for work on land or water. The landed gentry soon discovered what hardy, intelligent and loyal retrievers these fishing boat dogs were and so the Labrador Retriever was developed into the supreme gundog that it is today. Black, chocolate and yellow varieties of the breed were known in the breed right from the early days but blacks were originally preferred. Nowadays all three colours are highly sought after as pets, show dogs and working gun dogs.
ABOUT THE BREED
The Labrador (officially known by kennel clubs as the Labrador Retriever) is the most popular pedigree breed in New Zealand. Labradors are extremely versatile dogs and serve mankind in a multitude of roles ranging from guide dogs, sniffer dogs, therapy dogs etc to working hunters. They are supreme water dogs due to their double, waterproof coats and otter tails. Because they form such close bonds with people they are not happy in an environment where they are left home alone for extended periods every day. Separation anxiety frequently occurs in Labradors that cannot spend much of their time with their owners. Medium in size and strongly built, they have a biddable, steady temperament. They make ideal family pets if given sensible and consistent training from puppyhood. The Labrador is a strong and active breed which requires a moderate amount of exercise. They will happily live in an urban or rural environment provided that they are given an adequate amount of mental stimulation and physical activity.
They are not the breed for everyone however and many owners find them to be a little too much dog to handle! Many young Labradors (especially the males) can go through a boisterous stage and this can be rather hazardous for the disabled, the elderly or very young children who could be knocked over by an over-enthusiastic Labrador. There is no malice involved in this behaviour and it is simply an expression of their happy go lucky temperament. The breed also has a tendency towards destructive chewing and that can become a problem in dogs left home alone every day. Patience and common sense will overcome these difficulties but an owner has to be prepared to put the required time and effort into training.
The waterproof double coat is a characteristic feature of the breed and should be short, dense and quite harsh to the touch but always accompanied by a softer undercoat. Their weatherproof coat makes them ideal water dogs and the premier retrieving breed.
Only three colours are permissible under worldwide breed standards and they are: black, yellow and chocolate. Yellows can range in colour from almost white to rich fox red. Chocolates can vary in shade between milk and dark chocolate. Black is black!
Beware of silver/charcoal/platinum/champagne (dilute) Labradors
In the USA designer dog breeders created what is known as the silver or platinum Labrador probably by crossbreeding Labradors with Weimaraners. Some of the darker silvers are marketed as charcoals and silver breeders even claim to have invented a champagne coloured Labrador! Silver Labradors are a threat to the pedigree integrity of the Labrador breed and are not accepted as purebred dogs by any legitimate kennel club registration authority in the world. Due to the coat colour dilution gene locus from the Weimaraner, these silver dogs suffer from debilitating skin and thyroid problems. Many silvers/charcoals have problems with hip dysplasia due to generations of breeding from untested dogs. Neurological disorders such as epilepsy are also widespread in silver Labradors due to the intensive in-breeding that is required to maintain the unnatural silver colour. Every silver Labrador in the world eventually traces back to a few kennels in the USA that housed Weimaraners and Labradors together. The colour has never been known to occur naturally in the breed. Black, chocolate or yellow Labradors do not appear in "dilute" form. Silvers imported from the USA are now present in Australasia so it is a case of buyer beware and always check with a reputable breeder or breed club before purchasing any Labrador Retriever puppy.
Avoid Pet Shop Puppies
It is sensible to purchase Labradors from reputable and experienced NZKC registered breeders who make full use of the eye, hip and elbow testing schemes. Buying Labradors from pet shops is not recommended due to the lack of after sales support from such commercial traders along with their tendency to purchase puppies from breeding stock that may not make the grade physically, temperamentally or genetically. Many pet shops will actually charge more for a pedigree puppy than a reputable breeder will charge.
PUPPY BUYING GUIDE
Hip and elbow dysplasia (arthritic disorders of those joints) is not uncommon in many larger breeds of dog and the Labrador is no exception. When purchasing any Labrador puppy (whether it be intended for pet, showing, breeding or hunting purposes) make sure you see copies of the hip, elbow and eye certificates for the sire and dam of the litter. Where possible ask to sight the original certificates. If the breeder cannot (or will not) produce any hip or elbow scoring certificates (either originals or copies) it implies that they have either not been done or the results were not satisfactory. Do not be fobbed off with verbal assurances about test results .... you need to sight the certificates. A reputable breeder would be happy to show you proof that all the necessary health tests have been carried out.
Hips and elbows of a mature Labrador (over 12 months of age) are x-rayed and graded using a scoring system. Each hip is scored with a score of 0 representing a perfect score and 53 being the worst possible score. The scores of each hip are then combined to give the official score. At present the average worldwide score in the Labrador breed ranges from 12 to 15 therefore a total hip score of under 15 could be regarded as better than average. Breeders hope to achieve the lowest scores possible. Hip dysplasia is a polygenic disorder which means it is inherited through many different genes which makes it difficult to eliminate. HD is also exacerbated by poor rearing practices such as over feeding and over exercising young pups. Elbows are scored slightly differently with 0 being the best possible score and three being the worst. Scores possible are 0, B, 1a, 1b, 2 and 3 on each elbow. Scores of 2 or 3 are regarded as highly undesirable and represent significant arthritic changes in the elbow joints.
Some inherited eye conditions have also been noted in the breed. Eyes are examined by veterinary specialist opthalmologists and unlike hip and elbow testing (which is done only once in a dog's lifetime) these eye certificates need to be updated yearly for all breeding Labradors. Eyes are tested for such inherited conditions as PRA (night blindness), retinal dysplasia, corneal dystrophy and cataracts. A DNA test is now available to discover if a dog is affected by PRA, a carrier of PRA or clear of PRA. Ask the breeder to show you the eye certificates for the sire and dam of the litter.
Most breeders also DNA test their Labradors for an inherited condition known as EIC (Exercise Induced Collapse). This condition is rarely fatal and when present may cause a dog to collapse for some minutes after a period of intense excitement or strenuous exercise. It was first noted in American hunting and field trialling Labradors. Many dogs genetically affected with EIC will never collapse in their lifetimes so it is important to keep this disorder in perspective.
A good dog breeder's establishment should not be dirty or malodorous and the premises should be free from fleas, flies and vermin. Labrador puppies should appear well covered but not fat. A fat pup is an unhealthy pup. However, when you pick up a Labrador puppy he will feel heavy for his size which denotes good substance. Regular wormings need to be carried out and any pup sold should have been given preliminary vaccinations. Check the pup's mouth to ensure that his bite is correct (his top teeth should slightly overlap his bottom teeth as in a human's mouth). Any serious mouth faults in a young puppy should ring alarm bells. Puppies should leave for their new homes no younger than eight weeks of age. Before this age they are easily stressed and not mature enough to cope with environmental change. Prices for pedigree Labrador Retriever puppies can range between $800 and $2,000 for a well bred animal from hip, elbow and eye tested parents. Registration of puppies with the New Zealand Kennel Club costs as little as $29 per puppy so do not be fooled by those who charge exorbitant amounts for "papers". Colour should make no difference to price. Chocolate Labradors are not at all rare or more valuable than the other two colours in the breed.
Genomic Diagnostics DNA Testing Agent
English Kennel Club Canine Health Testing Records
The Myth of Silver Labradors
Labrador Coat Colour Inheritance