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Everything you need to know about Labrador Retrievers

Written by Napo HQ
Reviewed by Dr Louisa Lane
5th Jul 2022
6 mins read
Bouncy and bubbly Labrador Retrievers were bred to retrieve prey for hunters. Nowadays, they’re famous family pets and the most popular dog breed here in the UK.

Key Stats

10-12 years
Short, straight
1.5 to 2 hours a day
Friendly, outgoing, gentle

Breed history

Labradors were created in the 1800s by mixing together lots of different working dog breeds. The aim was to create a new “retriever type” dog that could work on land and in the water, retrieving prey shot by hunters. In other words, fetch is their profession.
One of the main breeds in their ancestry is the now-extinct St John’s Water Dog, from Canada, which is where the breed’s name comes from. Yet despite the name, Labrador Retrievers were developed here in the UK.
The St John’s Water Dog, as you might expect, worked in water. They were then bred with English hunting breeds to create a hunting companion that loved swimming and had lots of advantages that allowed them to swim well, like webbed feet and their rudder tail!


Labrador Retrievers are a medium size dog, sturdily built, well-muscled, with a thick tail. They have a thick double coat, which helps to waterproof them. They have a sweet expression, and always have brown or hazel eyes. Labradors also have triangular, drop ears.
Labradors should look sturdy, but not chunky. Your Labrador Retreiver should have a defined waist and a tuck up after their ribs.
Sadly, there’s a misconception that Labradors should look round and chunky, which leads to many dogs becoming overweight without owners realising.
Obesity is a common, and preventable, problem that has a huge impact on your dog’s overall health and lifespan. You can find out more in our podcast.

Labrador Retriever colours

There are only three Labrador Retriever colours recognised by the breed standard. These are:
  • Black
  • Chocolate (or Liver)
  • Yellow
Red or “Red Fox” Labradors are actually a variety of Yellow Labrador because a “yellow” Labrador can range in shade from shades of off-white to gold or red.

Is there such a thing as a silver Labrador?

Meanwhile, “Silver Labradors” (also known as platinum, blue, or charcoal Labs) have recently become popular for their silver-grey coats.
Silver Labs are born when they inherit a dilute gene which turns chocolate fur grey.
However, there is a lot of controversy around this colour and concerns it could lead to unethical breeding practices.

Why are people worried about Silver Labradors?

Breeding for a specific colour or look, rather than breeding for good health and temperament, could lead to dogs inheriting other traits including health problems. This has led many Labrador clubs to condemn the colour and disqualify dogs billed as “Silver Labs”.
Similarly, it’s believed that “silver” Labradors were created by crossing Labradors with Weimaraners to achieve the desirable silvery-grey puppies. It’s possible some unscrupulous breeders still cross these breeds but sell them on as “Labradors”.
Selling a dog as something it’s not is a nightmare for potential owners, as what they expect and what they get are different. It means the dog’s appearance, size, temperament, and health might not match up to what was advertised.


The Labrador Retriever temperament is gentle, loving, and friendly. It’s one of the reasons these dogs are so popular around the world!
As working dogs, they’re intelligent, easy to train, and obedient. These traits all make them popular pets too.
They are also even-tempered and gentle-natured, which is why many people consider Labradors good family pets.

How much exercise does a Labrador need?

Labrador Retrievers need a lot of exercise. You should expect to commit to giving them
1.5 to 2 hours of exercise every day
These dogs were bred to have enough stamina to be able to work outside all day fetching things for their humans, so a quick stroll around the block will not be enough to wear them out. Ensuring your Labrador exercises enough will also help to prevent health problems like obesity.
Labradors are also very intelligent dogs. Providing enough exercise and stimulation is vital to prevent boredom and the problem behaviours that it can cause.

How to groom a Labrador Retriever

Labrador Retrievers don’t have extensive grooming needs. Just bathe your dog whenever they’re smelly or visibly dirty, and brush them regularly to keep their fur clean and healthy.
Labradors have a double coat, and the top coat is oily to waterproof them and protect them when they’re swimming.
Brushing them at least once a week with a stiff brush will help to spread these oils evenly through their coat and give their fur a nice shine.
Brushing regularly will also help to remove dead fur, minimising the impact of your Labrador’s seemingly ever-shedding coat.
You don’t need to trim or shave your Labrador’s fur. But you will need to trim their claws once a month to prevent them from overgrowing. Finally. remember to brush your dog’s teeth regularly to prevent gum disease!

Common Labrador Retriever health problems


Labrador Retrievers are one of the breeds most prone to obesity. They love food, and they're often known to be “greedy” (or food motivated,) dogs. They can also inherit a gene variant, meaning they can't recognise when they feel full. So they tend to overeat, leading to weight gain. There's also a misconception that Labradors should look chunky, which can lead to overweight dogs being seen as “normal”.
Obesity is a real problem because it shortens your dog's lifespan and makes other health conditions, like hip dysplasia, much worse. Find out more in our podcast.

Hip dysplasia

Hip dysplasia is common in many large dogs, including Labradors. It's a painful condition where the ball and socket of your dog’s hip joint don’t fit together properly.
It’s often managed with exercise, medication, weight management, and physiotherapy. However, some dogs require surgery to correct their joints when they skeletally mature.
It’s typically an inherited condition, so a good breeder will screen parent dogs for hip dysplasia before breeding them.

Elbow dysplasia

Elbow dysplasia is when one or both of your dog’s elbow joints in their front legs don’t grow correctly.
Dogs usually show signs of elbow dysplasia when they’re 4-8 months old.
It’s common in medium and large breeds, and Labrador Retrievers are at higher risk of developing the condition. Again, a good breeder should scan for the condition.

Eye problems

Labradors can be prone to a condition called “progressive retinal atrophy”, which means their retina deteriorates. This can cause vision loss, and in some cases, blindness.


Labrador Retrievers are prone to allergies, which often manifest as ear infections and itchy skin. Your dog may require testing and treatment to identify the cause of their reaction.

Ear infections

Allergies often manifest as chronic, recurrent ear infections. Because Labradors are prone to allergies, they're prone to ear infections too.
Looking for Labrador insurance? Napo can offer lifetime dog insurance for your furry friend.

Frequently asked questions about Labradors

Are Labradors easy to train?

One of the reasons Labradors are so popular is because they are considered easy to train.
As a working breed, Labradors were bred to have a temperament that made them obedient and eager to please. That usually makes them more willing to listen to you. They’re also very intelligent dogs, so learn quickly.
It also helps that most Labradors are “food motivated”, and they’ll normally do anything you ask in exchange for a tasty treat. This does have the downside of making them prone to obesity, however. So keep treats as small as you can, and use the minimum you need.

Do Labradors shed?

Yes, Labradors shed and you should expect to find fur on your clothes and furniture most of the time. They have a thick double coat, so there’s a lot of hair to shed.
Labrador Retrievers will shed continually throughout the year, but more so in the spring and autumn as they change into their summer or winter coats.
You can’t stop your dog from shedding, but brushing them regularly will help to minimise the impact.

Why are Labradors so greedy?

Labradors are so greedy because of their genetics. According to vet Dr Louisa Lane, Labradors can inherit "a gene variant that is associated with weight gain and obesity, because it can make it difficult for them to recognise when they're full." Which means some Labs won't feel full, and want to keep eating, and eating, and eating.

When do Labradors stop growing?

Labradors usually stop growing when they’re 18-24 months old. They often reach their adult height by the time they’re 12 months old, but look quite skinny and lanky for a few months as they develop their muscles and fill out. However, they might keep their puppyish personality until they are 2 to 4 years old. For more info on when puppies stop growing, check out our puppy growth guide.

When do Labradors calm down?

Labradors are known to keep their bouncy, puppyish personality for a while. There's an adage that Labradors tend to mature mentally and calm down between 2-4 years old.

Working Labrador vs Show Labrador

Working Labradors are smaller than Show Labradors, with a narrower head and snout, and a slighter, more athletic build. Meanwhile, Show Labradors generally look stockier, with a broader skull and muzzle. Anecdotally, Working Labs have more energy, however both Working Labradors and Show Labradors will require plenty of exercise to keep them active and prevent obesity, and enough enrichment to keep their intelligent minds sharp.

Labrador vs Golden Retriever

Labradors and Golden Retrievers were both bred as hunting companions and make popular family pets. They have similar friendly, gentle temperaments, and smiley expressions.
However, Labrador Retrievers are known to be the more boisterous and bouncy of the two breeds.
The main difference between a Labrador and a Golden Retriever is that a Labrador has short, straight fur that’s either a shade of yellow, chocolate or black. Meanwhile, Golden Retrievers have long, wavy fur that is always a shade of yellow.

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