Pet, Show Dog, or Hunter?

One of the many virtues of the Lab is his adaptability. Although the Labs started out as field dogs whose only job was to retrieve, they have since proven themselves in a number of areas. In addition to their popularity in the home, show ring, and field, Labs have found work as guide or assistance dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, arson detection dogs, therapy dogs, and more. Find out what the Lab can do and which aspects of this breed are right for you.

Whether you want your Lab to be a family friend, show dog, or hunter (or all three!), the standard will help you understand which characteristics are most important for each job. For instance, if your Lab will be a pet or hunting dog, it doesn't matter if he has black or yellow eyes, but in the show ring eyes of those colors would count against him.

The versatile Labrador Retriever is capable of fulfilling the roles of pet, show dog, and hunter. Nonetheless, what you want in a dog will determine the type of Lab you look for. The qualities a companion dog needs vary depending on family lifestyle and the presence or absence of children. And like many hunting breeds, the Lab's temperament and appearance can vary, depending on whether he's been bred for the show ring or the field. Decide what you want in a Lab before you start looking at puppies.

Family Friend

A Labrador that's going to be a family companion should have a calm, stable temperament. He should come from parents that have this same temperament and who have health certifications indicating healthy hips, elbows, hearts, and eyes. Ideally, the parents have both proven themselves to be good examples of the breed by earning a championship in the show ring. Your family dog is a big investment, and you should want to get the most for your money.

Show Dog

Show Labs, besides having the potential for excellent conformation have a charisma that's obvious even in puppyhood. Dog show judges often say that the dogs they choose were “asking for the win,” and it's this level of appeal that can help ensure a show dog's career. If you want to show your Lab, choose a pup with no obvious disqualifications and only minor faults. Light eyes and a slightly pink nose aren't going to cut it in the show ring. Naturally, the parents should have the same health certifications you would expect if you were buying a pet puppy, and they should have proven themselves in the show ring by earning a championship.

Conformation is the form and structure of a dog as defined by the breed standard. A conformation show is a competitive event where dogs compete in several classes at various levels to determine the one that most closely meets the breed standard. Dogs that earn the required number of points and combinations of points are awarded the title of champion.

Retriever Par Excellence

Labs from field or performance bloodlines are bred to have high energy levels that will carry them through an exhausting day at a field trial. This is great if you want a dog to hunt or compete with, but it's maybe not so great if you simply want a family companion. Dogs from show lines are usually bred to be somewhat calmer, but that doesn't mean they can't hunt or compete in field trials. Just be aware of the potential differences in activity levels if you're considering pups from two different litters — one bred for field work and one for show. If you want to hunt or field trial your Lab, look for a pup that's built to do the work it was bred for. Structural and movement faults will be a problem in the field, because the dog won't be able to work all day, run as fast, or carry game properly. Again, require health certifications and proof that the parents have earned field championships.

Faults are weaknesses that can cost a dog points in the show ring or field. They can be structural (for instance, a wedge-shaped head or misaligned teeth), or cosmetic (such as black or yellow eyes or ears that are too short, too long, or too large). Disqualifications are serious flaws that make a Lab ineligible for show or field competition (like eye rims or nose lacking in any pigment).

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