Labrador Breed Standard

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We find out who sets the Labrador breed standard, the purpose of Labrador Retriever breed specifications and how they vary between different countries.

We will let you know how breed standards are controlled, exactly what color a Labrador is permitted to be and what your pedigree Labrador should look like from head to tail.

We will also look at what exactly the Labrador breed standard says about Labs. And where you can find more information about the characteristics, role, and history of the world’s favorite dog!

What is a Breed Standard?

A Breed Standard is the name given to the set of criteria or specifications that a Kennel Club uses to describe a pedigree dog of a particular breed.

It will include a note of the group to which the dog belongs, in the case of Labradors this is the Gundog Group of dogs. Other groups include toy, utility, pastoral, working and hound dogs.

The breed standard will begin with a summary of general appearance, characteristics and temperament.

It will then move on to more specific points regarding the dog’s anatomy and conformation. Covering everything from the shape and set of their skull, facial features, body, legs and tail.

The standard will include the dog’s gait, how well and freely the dog moves around.

It even describes coat texture, colour and the ideal size for the adult dog.

These criteria form the guidelines by which these dogs are judged if they are entered in shows.

The breed standard for the Lab and for all other breeds of pedigree dog is owned by the Kennel Club, and any changes to the Labrador breed standard must be approved by them.

What is a Kennel Club?

A Kennel Club is a charitable organization run by a committee. It exists to promote the mission or objectives of its members, and it also represents the breeders of pedigree dogs and their interests.

What should a Labrador really look like, check out the breed standard on the Labrador SiteEach country has their own Kennel Club, and although the breed standards will be similar between them they are not exactly the same for every breed.

The Kennel Club

The UK Kennel Club is simply known as The Kennel Club. It was founded in 1873 by thirteen men who wanted a consistent set of rules for showing and trialling their dogs.

In 1939 they acquired the famous Crufts dog show as their flagship event.

Their objectives are listed as being to promote the general improvement of dogs. To classify breeds and register dogs, organisations and related societies. They also aim to award and approve judges and provide a stud dog register, amongst other activities.

You can visit their website here.

The American Kennel Club 

The American Kennel Club was founded in 1884, shortly after the British Kennel Club.

Their mission statement is short and clear. That they intend to advance the study, breeding, exhibiting, running and maintenance of purebred dogs. This is supported by some core values that they intend to uphold, including loving purebred dogs and committing to the interests of dog owners.

You can visit their website here.

The ANKC

The Australian Kennel Club is known as the ANKC. It was formed quite a while after the UK and US Kennel Clubs. They first met in 1949, and formally began a few years later under the ANKC title from1958.

Their mission statement notes their aims as being ‘to promote excellence in breeding, showing, trialling, obedience and other canine related activities and the ownership of temperamentally and physically sound pure bred dogs by responsible individuals across Australia.’

You can visit their website here.

There are Kennel Clubs all over the world working to produce standards to describe their pedigree breeds.

Who Runs The Kennel Club?

Kennel Clubs are made up of committees. The members of their committees are people who have an interest in promoting the continuation of a particular breed or breeds.

They will usually be those heavily involved in exhibiting and breeding dogs.

The decisions on breed standards are made by the breed club based upon what they believe is the correct set of characteristics for each dog.

Most of our breed standards were written a long time ago.

Who sets the Labrador Retriever breed standard

So who exactly lays down the breed standard? It sounds like a pretty important job doesn’t it?

And it certainly is an important job, because the breed standard has huge influence over breeders, and consequently over the appearance, capabilities and even health of our pedigree breeds.

The specifications for breed standards are set down by breed clubs.
These are associations of people passionate about their breed and the committees of these clubs are comprised of breeders and exhibitors with a long history of experience and knowledge about their breed.

Can breed standards be changed?

People often talk about the breed standard as though it is something that just exists and is not to be questioned. Rather like a religious book.

Sometimes the breeding of unhealthy dogs is justified by the comment “well that’s what the breed standard says the dog should be” as though breed standards are written in stone and can never be changed.

In fact that isn’t true, breed standards can be and are changed if the will to do so is there.

For example, at one time the Labrador breed standard allowed dogs of all colors as long as they were solid. This is what the Labrador Retriever breed standard (UK) specified for permitted coat color in 1916

Colour
The colour is generally black, free from any rustiness and any white markings except possibly small spot on the chest.  Other whole colours are permissible

You can find the rest of the original breed standard for 1916 on the Labrador Retriever Club’s website.
Nowadays Labrador colors are more restricted, and we’ll look about that in a moment.

What are Labrador Specifications for?

So why have these ‘specification’ for each breed. What is the purpose of the Labrador Retriever’s breed specifications.

The original 1916 breed standard was intended to protect the Labrador’s qualities as an exceptional working gun dog. And the specifications were set out by members of the shooting community.

Nowadays, breed clubs and therefore breed standards are often more heavily influenced by the show community.

The modern breed standard is intended to help judges give awards to dogs that most closely match the concept of the ideal specimen of that particular breed. It gives Labrador breeders standards to aspire to when choosing how to continue the lines of Labradors that they are producing.

It is of course open to a certain amount of interpretation.  And because of this, some of the characteristics of our show Labradors have gradually changed over the generations.

“labrador
People often asked me how tall a Labrador is supposed to be or how much a Labrador should weigh, and we do look at these issues in our articles on growth and feeding.

However, the breed standards do set out some guidelines for weight and height, so let’s look at those next.

Labrador Breed Standard USA

The American Kennel CLub opens its Labrador breed standard with a great description of the Labrador as a working gundog

“The Labrador Retriever is a strongly built, medium-sized, short-coupled,
dog possessing a sound, athletic, well-balanced conformation that enables it to function as a retrieving gun dog; the substance and soundness to hunt waterfowl or upland game for long hours under difficult conditions”

It describes the breed’s broad skull, otter tail and kindly eyes, and finishes the general description by stating that the labrador is bred primarily as a working gun dog. This is not really true any longer, as the vast majority of modern Labradors are now bred as pets, service dogs, or for the show ring.

Height:

  • 22 1/2 inches to 24 1/2 inches for a male
  • 21 1/2 inches to 23 1/2 inches for a female

Weight in working condition:

  • 65 to 80lbs
  • 55 to 70lbs

Color:

  • Black
  • Yellow
  • Chocolate

With variations in yellow from light cream to fox red. Any other color or mismark is a disqualification.

Importantly the term disqualification refers to the show ring, not to whether or not the dog may be registered as a pedigree.

Mismarked dogs (for example, a black dog with a white patch or tan markings) born from pedigree parents can still be registered. And controversially, in the USA, so can silver Labradors – we look at this complex issue more closely in another article.

Incidentally, I love the AKC’s repeated emphasis on the Labrador’s role as a gun dog. An emphasis that some believe is not being sufficiently reflected in the judging choices made in modern show rings.
You can download the current full AKC Labrador Retriever breed standard from the AKC website in a four page pdf document.

Labrador Breed Standard UK

The Kennel Club describes the Labrador as being “Strongly built, short-coupled, very active; broad in skull; broad and deep through chest and ribs; broad and strong over loins and hindquarters.”

It also refers to the dog’s intelligence, good biddable temper,  agility, excellent nose, soft mouth and love of water”

These are some of the attributes which make the Labrador such a superb working gundog.

Another specification mentioned by the Kennel Club (and again, sadly passed over in some show dogs) is that the Labrador should not have excessive body weight or excessive substance.

Height:
In the UK the height guidelines are slightly less tall than for dogs in the USA
22 to 22 1/2 inches for a male
21 1/2 to 22 inches for a female

Weight is not specified on the breed standard page on the KC website though it does say this:

“Chest of good width and depth, with well sprung barrel ribs – this effect not to be produced by carrying excessive weight.”

The breed standard also includes notes on facial features including that eyes should be medium sized and brown or hazel in colour, and ears not large or heavy and set back.

They describe the mouth as having well fitting and even teeth.

Details are described all the way down to their feet and the classic ‘otter tail’, which is  thick at the base and carried low (and often underdeveloped in working bred dogs).

Permitted colours are black, yellow or liver/chocolate.  With yellow ranging from light cream to fox red and small white spots on the chest permitted.

Labrador Breed Standard Australia

In Australia, the Australian National Kennel Club have adopted the breed standard of the UK Kennel Club above.

They also recognised and adopted an extension and full interpretation of that breed standard in a PDF document which you can download. There is an interesting bibliography of historical books about Labradors on the last page

In 2010 the Australian National Kennel Club also took the step of issuing a position statement about Silver Labradors.

Some might find it rather alarmist in nature, concluding as it does with a statement “If you require more information or you wish to report the activities of a suspected Silver Labrador breeder please contact the Labrador Retriever Club”

But if you were not already aware – you can see that silver labradors arouse some passionate feelings in Labrador devotees
All the breed standards refer to the Labrador’s lovely ‘otter tail’ sadly missing in some of our working lines both here and in the USA

Does it matter if my Labrador doesn’t meet the breed standard?

So, does it matter if your Labrador doesn’t meet the breed standard? If he is too tall, or has a large white patch on his chest? What does that mean for you?

To win in the show ring of course, your dog will be judged by the breed standard. So the closer he matches up to it, the better your chances of success will be. But for most of us, that isn’t an issue.

In fact the reason that most people who write to me and send me photos of their dogs asking if they meet the breed standard is not because they are hoping to win in the show ring, but because they are concerned about whether or not their Labrador is a genuine pedigree dog

Why do some Labradors not meet the breed standard

Many decades ago, it was not possible to tell apart those Labrador that were bred for exhibiting, and those Labradors that were bred for work, but this is no longer the case.

greenies for dogs
Nowadays, field and bench lines of Labrador Retrievers look very different.

So it is quite possible to have a genuine pedigree dog who not only doesn’t meet the breed standard, but is also easily mistaken for a cross breed or mongrel.

I have a fox red Labrador female from working lines with a very racy body and long slim face.

She lacks an otter tail and carries the one she does have far too high.

She is a great working gun dog but would be thrown out of a show ring without a second glance, and people often say to me “ what breed is that?”
She has an impeccable Labrador pedigree so my point is, deciding whether or not your Labrador meets the breed standard, is not going to help you decide whether or not he or she is purebred.

Purchasing a Labrador puppy with the appearance you like

If you are buying your Labrador to compete in field trials then make sure that his pedigree contains working bred Labradors indicated by dogs with field titles –  MH, HRCH, and FTCH in the USA,  FTCH in the UK (Field Trial Champion)

If appearance matters to you and you are interested in a classically built middle weight lab with a big skull and otter tail, or want to try your chances in the show ring, look for plenty of SCH (Show Champions) instead.

and lost the athletic attributes and energy that is part of the breed.
Watch out as you do so for those show lines that have gone too far. Just as some field bred dogs have diverged too far from the original Labrador of the 1920s and 30s, so have some show dogs.  Very heavy heads, excessive weight, and overly short legs can now be found in some show lines, and this is not good for our breed as a whole.

Summary

Breed standards are specifications about what our dogs should look like. They are decided by people and can be changed by people, and should always consider first and foremost the health and original purpose of the breed.

These breed specifications are compiled by breed clubs under the jurisdiction of our regional Kennel Clubs. And they do vary slightly from country to country

When you buy a Labrador puppy you will have a strong idea of what their purpose will be. For most people, it will be to provide a family companion and pet.

If you have a pet Labrador and are not interested in working or showing him, then it doesn’t matter at all whether he matches up to the breed standard.

What matters is that he is healthy and happy.

You need to make sure that even if your pup’s parents are not Kennel Club registered, that they have been health tested extensively. If this is the case, and the parents seem of sound temperament, then the breed standard is fairly irrelevant.

In principle, the breed standard is a good idea.  It was developed to ensure that we keep the athletic shape, structure and performance abilities of our Labrador Retriever breed intact from one generation to the next.

In practice, there is potential for the breed standard to be misinterpreted or exaggerated and while this has not happened to a great degree in our Labradors, there has been a significant change in Labrador body shape in both show and working Labs as these two strains of Labrador have diverged.

More information

Does your Labrador meet the breed standard, and do you care about whether he matches up to the criteria given by the Kennel Club? Why not let us know in the comments box below!

The Labrador Breed standard has been updated for 2016


 

13 COMMENTS

  1. I’m going to “try” my field dog in some shows in the upcoming months. He’s a beautifully muscled yellow with no less than 7 NFC/AFC/NAFC titles in his lineage and lots more MH’s!
    My girlfriend is a professional handler for other breeds and is going to help me as she also has seen the joke that the breed has become in the ring….a literal laughing stock of the show world.
    I’ll post back what I assume will be negative results from the show world that, IMO are ruining our breed.

    • Hello.as an owner of a “European show labrador” just go for it. Every judge is different. Every show is different. My boy is either too large/ over weight or too muscular and too small, too large in head or not enough muzzle or not enough in the eye… blah blah. I have seen many variations, but personally believe that the “fit for purpose ” clause is too important to ignore. Labradors should look like they can work in the way they are meant to. Good luck.

  2. I have a working fox coloured labrador who picks up regularly I am thinking of putting him in the Gamekeeper Class at Crufts fro working labs Do I have to hit the breed standards if he is to have any chance of winning he is probably a bit too long and a bit too narrow for the show classes

    • The dogs in the Gamekeeper’s Class at Crufts are usually of working type. The judges will have the breed standard in mind though. Good luck if you decide to have a go 🙂

  3. My chocolate lab is almost 6 months old and I cannot seem to get her potty trained. She does really well when I am at home but as soon as I leave she has an accident. Please help

  4. I have bred a litters of Labs and now just keep a stud dog , but I don’t really follow the Kc bred standard ever since it permit a very over weight dog to win the best of bred at cruffs a few years ago ,, vets through out the country condemned this winner as being obese ,, I think it was from Italy but may be wrong ,, now the problem I have at the moment is my current Lab is not over weight he’s very muscular and weighs in at 48 kilo I have been asked on several occasions what breed of a dog is he!! I personal feel that the Labradors are being bred to small and this is a worrying trend getting away from what the bred was a big hard working strong dog ,, but at the end of the day it’s just an opinion,, I love my labs no matter what standard the reach ,, cheers C

    • I couldn’t agree more ! I went to a show for gundog breeds and I have never seen so many fat Labs in one place, my Lab is very fit and can run all day with very little body fat but she is still 35kg, I doubt if those could manage the end of the street.

  5. My boy is from working stock…Is the same criteria applying? He doesn’t quite match all and has a slight undershot which make him have that permanent goofy look we love. I love him just the way he is and am not an advocate of Kennel Club and showing them in the ring. They are just so gorgeous and they are quite individual in their looks and personality. Love your Lab! He’s special.

  6. Hi Pippa,

    Please can you explain what “short-coupled” means. Are there photographs that show what a breed-standard-compliant Lab looks like?

    Thanks, amd much appreciated,
    Marilyn

    • That would be the distance between the last rib & the beginning of the hindquarters being relatively short. A compact looking Lab as opposed to a lanky looking one.

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