Labrador Retriever History
The history of the Labrador Retriever can be traced definitely back to the late 1700’s in Newfoundland. At that time there were two breeds, the Greater Newfoundland and the Lesser Newfoundland. These two breeds of Newfoundland ‘s were also known
as the Greater and Lesser St. John’s dogs. The Greater Newfoundland was used primarily for draft work working in a four-dog
team they would haul carts, including the driver, loaded with 200 to 300 pounds of fish. They were the larger of the two breeds and possessed a long thick coat.
The Lesser Newfoundland was a smooth coated black dog, which was unrivaled for hardiness and stamina.
These dogs were the constant companions of the fishermen of the Labrador Sea.After a hard day’s work, which would
sometimes last twenty hours, one could find these Lesser Newfoundland’s playing with the children of the fisherman.
The Lesser Newfoundland had such a reputation for its loving devotion, loyalty, and hunting and retrieving abilities th
at there was established an importing of these dogs to Great Britain.
In Great Britain, the Lesser Newfoundland became very popular on the large estates, and a breeding program by the estate owners was put into place.
The third Earl of Malmesbury wrote i
n 1887 to
a friend, “We always called mine Labrador dogs, and I have kept the breed as pure as I could from the first I had from Poole
(Harbour), at that time carrying on a brisk trade with Newfoundland. The real breed may be known by their having a close
which turns the water off like oil, above all, a tail like an otter.”
Without written records from the earliest days, the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, to detail which dogs
came from where and to whom they were bred, we can only spe
culate about the ancestors of these St. John’s dogs. The black St.
Hubert’s hound from France, working water dogs from Portugal, old European pointer breeds and dogs belonging to the native
Indians have all been suggested as possible predecessors.
nd it has been suggested that pointers were breed with
St John’s dogs for a more versatile dog.
They bred long coated and short coated dogs, as well as curly coated dogs.
The Lab’s gene pool is dominant to the point that when crossed w
ith some other breed type, the Labrador quality and looks usually
dominate the looks. Certainly some mixture of these or others is logical since tradesmen from around the world frequented
Newfoundland for several centuries, plenty of time to develop breeds
with the desired working traits. Two distinctly different
breeds resulted, the larger longer haired dog used for hauling that became the Newfoundland we know today and the smaller
shorter coated retriever that led to our present day labs.
It was a good t
hing they had established the breed in England because the Quarantine Act of 1885 stopped the further
importation of the Lesser Newfoundland dog.
By 1903, the Lesser Newfoundland, now known as the Labrador Retriever, was established as a separate, tr
ue breeding strain,
and it was granted a registration status by the English Kennel Club.
Finally, in 1917, the American Kennel Club recognized the
Labrador Retriever as a separate retriever breed.
The Labrador Retriever Club recognizes the importanc
e of keeping the Lab true to its original purpose and therefore, requires
that before the Club will recognize a conformation championship, the Lab must also have a Working Certificate, to prove that
meets minimum standards of field work.
The AKC does n
ot put any restriction and so the dual champions of the past have been
The popularity of the Labrador Retriever can also be a hidden curse as well.
People see the breeding and selling of puppies as a
way to make money. So you end up
having puppy mills that crank out hundreds of puppies that may or may not be sound of body
The puppy mills have no interest in the continuation of the health, intelligence or stamina of the breed.
only interest is in the money they
will make. Today’s Labrador Retriever is prone to hip dysplasia, peripheral retinal atrophy, and
retinal dysplasia. The medical conditions of the Lab is discussed further under our breed medical section. With the puppy mil
practices, these conditions h
ave become more acute in the Lab bloodline and care must be taken by the new owner to insure that
the dog he is purchasing is sound.
The importance of finding a reputable breeder, not a puppy mill or backyard breeder, will help
the new owner in getting th
e most healthy dog possible.
Labrador History Time Line
First St. John’s dogs arrived in England, some imported by the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury to Heron (Hurn) Court,
First written reference to the Labrador in “Instructions t
o Young Sportsmen…” by Colonel Peter Hawker who observed
them on Newfoundland
Sporting artist Edward Landseer painted a black dog with white markings
entitled “Cora. A Labrador Bitch.”
5th Duke of Buccleuch started kennel of St. John’s dogs i
5th Duke of Buccleuch wrote a letter referring to his “Labrador” Moss as well as the “Labrador” Drake belonging to the
10th Lord Home
the name Labrador Retriever becomes common in England
3rd Earl of Malmesbury gave 6 of his
Labs to the 6th Duke of Buccleuch and the 12th Earl of Home so that the closely held
breeding stock would be preserved
Inauguration of the Newfoundland Sheep Protection Act, which imposed a duty on all dogs, along with the Quarantine Act
and the decreasing fishing trade led to the dwindling supply of imported dogs from Newfoundland to England
Letter from the 3rd Earl of Malmesbury to 6th Duke of Buccleuch refers to the breed… “We always call mine Labrador
dogs and I have kept the b
reed as pure as I could from the first I had from Poole….known by their having a close coat which turns
the water off like oil and, above all, a tail like an otter.”
Two “liver” colored Labrador pups born at Buccleuch’s kennel
First yellow La
b on record, Ben of Hyde born at kennel of Major C.J. Radclyffe
Labradors recognized by the kennel club in England
Early 20th Century
Scottish style shooting and the prestige of bringing over a Scottish gamekeeper led to the importing of Labs
Labrador Club formed in England; instrumental in this were Lord Knutsford (Munden Kennel line) and Lady Lorna,
Countess Howe (Banchory Labradors)
First Labs registered in the American Kennel Club
The Labrador Retriever Club inco
rporated in the U.S. and the first American field trial for Labs held at the Glenmere Court
Estate in Chester, NY
Field trial clubs spread throughout the U.S.
First American specialty for Labs; held in NYC and judged by Mrs. Marshall Field
Chocolates became known in 2 British kennels, Tibshelfs and Cookridge
First dog to appear on the cover of Life Magazine
“Blind of Arden”, a black Lab belonging to W. Averell Harriman. At 4
years of age he won the top US Retriever stake
National Retriever Club established in the U.S.
Late 1940’s and 1950’s
Social and economic changes that developed after World War II led to the growing popularity of the Lab
with Americans from all walks of life
First dog ever t
o appear on a U.S. stamp, the famous black Lab, “King Buck”
Labradors leap into first place in AKC registrations
A Lab by any other name would be as sweet…
The name assignment may have resulted from a geographical association since Labrador is situa
ted just northwest of
Newfoundland and the sub
arctic waters of the Labrador Current flow down the east coast of insular Newfoundland. The name
may also be explained by the origin of the word labrador, Portuguese for yeoman or laborer and the Spanish word
labradores. A related connection could be the village in northern Portugal called Castro Laboreiro where the dogs that guard
livestock bear a striking resemblance to Labrador Retrievers
Some of the many names used over the centuries to refer t
o the lab and its ancestors:
St. John’s Dog
Lesser St. John’s Dog