Number one with staying power---that's the Labrador Retriever, most popular AKC breed in America since 1990. And with good reason. He's handsome, handy and an all-around good ol' boy.
He originated in Canada, where his ancestors, called Lesser Newfoundlands or St. John's Dogs, plunged into icy waters to fetch fishing nets. But it was when they traveled to Europe that their true talent as duck retrievers was appreciated. Renamed Labrador Retrievers, after their homeland, they gained a reputation as the breed of choice for cold-water retrieving. But you don't need a duck or a goose, or even an icy pond to make your Lab happy. Give him a tough toy, a puddle or a pool, and he'll be wagging and smiling until your arm can't throw any more.
This ability to bring a happy attitude to everything he does is one reason Labs have become favorites as family companions, service dogs, therapy dogs, search and rescue dogs, obedience competitors and contraband detection dogs.
Retrievers naturally follow commands---they had to, in order to follow directions to downed birds that fell out of sight--- which is why they're among the most biddable of breeds.
Besides playing, swimming and retrieving, Labradors love eating. Leave one with an unguarded full bag of food, and you're likely to find an empty bag of food and a sick---but happy---Lab. Watch your Lab's diet and weight! When dieting a dog, you must make sure he gets enough essential nutrients. We suggest supplementing with a good multi-vitamin, probiotics and, if the coat is dry, a fatty-acid supplement.
Besides the usual problems of obesity, Labs have a special concern: joint problems, including hip and elbow dysplasia. Feeding a diet formulated for large-breed puppies during the first year of life will help decrease the possibility of hip dysplasia, and probably elbow dysplasia. These diets allow the puppy to grow more slowly, while still achieving the same adult size---just a little later. Joint supplements, such as glucosamine chondroitin supplements, are also vital for protecting joint health.
Grooming is simple. Brush once a week. During shedding season, use a comb or tool designed to remove excess undercoat. The normal Lab coat has a soft undercoat and a coarse, slightly oily, outer coat. If the coat becomes too oily and starts to smell, use a deodorizing shampoo. If your Lab swims in chlorinated water, you may want to use a moisturizing shampoo, such as one with an avocado oil base. You can even get color-enhancing shampoos that bring out the black, chocolate or yellow.
Keep the ears dry after swimming. Ear cleansers have a drying agent that can dry deep into the canal, so it's a good idea to clean the ear after swimming, or once a week in dry conditions. Any time the ears get goopy, clean with an ear-cleanser. If the goop comes back, see your veterinarian.
Brush the teeth daily.
Use a heavy-duty nail clipper to keep the nails short.
As your Lab ages, he's more likely to be affected by arthritic changes. Besides any intervention recommended by your veterinarian, a soft cushion to lie on and glucosamine chondroitin supplements added to the diet can help soothe aching joints, and keep him young at heart and in body well into old age.