Labradors have a long tradition of working as service dogs.
In recent years these roles have become increasingly diversified.
From his origins as a hunting dog, the Labrador Retriever has arguably emerged as one of the most able, intelligent and useful animals ever to work with their human companions.
Let’s take a look at some of the roles that Labradors now play in enhancing and protecting the lives of people across the globe.
Assistance Dogs for the disabled
We are all familiar with the Labrador’s role in working as a guide for people with impaired sight.
And most of us are familiar with the work of the international charity ‘Guide Dogs’, previously known as The Guide Dogs for The Blind Association.
A number of different breeds of dog are trained as Guide Dogs, but overall the Labrador is by far the most popular.
Guide dogs play a vital role in supporting blind people, by allowing them to have more access to their community and live a more independent life.
Less well known, but equally important, are a range of other services performed by Labradors on behalf of people with other disabilities.
We liked the news story of service dog Rita who spent time recently with twelve year old Mikaela Buhr from Iowa.
Mikaela has a genetic disorder which causes bone and joint problems making some physical activities difficult or painful.
Dogs like Rita can help with many daily tasks which cause difficulties for disabled people. Rita was trained by Canine Assistants a charity in Georgia USA.
Here in the UK assistance dogs for physically disabled children and adults, are trained by ‘Dogs for the Disabled’ a registered charity based in Oxfordshire
Dogs for the Disabled also train assistance dogs for families with a child with autism. Do check out their website which features some stunning labradors.
Here are some of the cool things that trained assistance dogs can do:
- Pick up really difficult to reach things such as a phone, keys or a wallet. Some can even pick up a credit card!
- Help people to get dressed and undressed, they even tackle zips!
- Collect the post rather than attack the postman!
- Load and unload the washing machine. (Yes, really!)
- Open doors
- Interrupt a child’s tantrum
- Stop a child from running into the road
- Play games – one even plays pairs with his owner
- Speak – although their conversation is a little limited!
- Press the button on a pedestrian crossing
Dogs for the disabled will train about 70 dogs this year and would be very grateful for any donation, no matter how small.
The tasks carried out by disability dogs are many and varied.
From hearing dogs who let their owners know when someone is at the door, to disability dogs who help with essential daily tasks like unloading the washing machine.
Routine tasks which enable the owner to live their lives without relying on other people.
Often unremarked but definitely worth a mention are our ‘unsung heroes’, the puppy walkers.
These are the people who take service dogs into their lives for that all important first year, until they are ready for training.
Service dog for our Armed Forces
Labradors are also important members of our armed forces teams.
Their incredible noses, bred to enable them to track wounded game, are also ideally suited to detecting tiny traces of explosive material.
In February 2011 a Labrador called Treo from Rutland, UK was awarded the Dickin medal with his handler Sgt David Heyhoe.
For his role in protecting his human comrades from Taliban traps.
In the USA Labradors are also employed by the Marines in detecting IEDs in Afghanistan and other dangerous warzone.
They are highly regarded members of their teams, and are responsible for saving the lives of soldiers and civilians alike.
Drug and Bug Detection
Service dogs don’t just use their noses in support of the armed forces.
They play vital roles with the police and custom and excise officials too.
Labradors, along with spaniels, play leading roles in drug detection throughout the Western World.
Patrolling borders at airports and ferry terminals, preventing illegal and dangerous materials from being brought into the country.
Labradors are also used by private companies, like pest control companies.
Here they have been found to play an important role in sniffing out ‘bed bugs’!
Medical Detection Dogs
A more recent development has been the training of Labradors to detect all kinds of medical emergencies and health problems.
From alerting owners to an impending seizure, to detecting low blood sugar in diabetics, and tumors in cancer sufferers.
You can find out more about these amazing dogs on the Medical Detection Dogs website. This is another very worthy charity that needs all the help it can get.
Search and Rescue
In the appalling aftermath of terrible disasters such as earthquakes and tornadoes, Labradors and other search and rescue dogs offer a lifeline of hope.
Working in detecting living humans trapped beneath piles of rubble or debris.
In the UK search dogs are used on a regular basis to search for missing people, the elderly or confused for example, and also hill walkers that have become lost in remote areas.
For more information visit the National Search and Rescue Dog Association
Last but not least, is the Labrador’s supreme ability as a working retriever in the shooting field.
This is of course the Labrador’s original purpose and true vocation, a role at which he excels and in which he is utterly at home, on land and on water.
Labradors as service dogs
Due to their intelligence, sensitivity and kind natures, the enthusiastic Labrador Retriever breed has been welcomed into so many walks of life.
From the police, to the armed forces, to private companies, but perhaps most importantly into our homes as well.
Whether it’s as a supportive service dog, or a valued and treasured pet. The Labrador really is an amazingly versatile breed.
If you have any interesting stories about Labradors and the roles they play in helping humans, we would love to hear them in the comments box below!
More information on Labradors
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References and Resources
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website
I really liked the article. My current guide dog and my previous one are both black labs. When I lived back in the US, I wanted home training and a German Shepherd, but that was with the school at the time they only did the six New England states and yes, I did live in one of them and it’s still took forever for them to Find a match and by the time they were thinking of it I was coming to Germany to finish my education and get my degree in music education over here so then they said I had to go elsewhere and I didn’t care what type of dog it was. First one was a black lab female her name was Salem. I got her in 2011 from guiding eyes for the blind, When she retired, I kept her as a house pet. Current one is from an internationally accredited trainer here in Germany. The dogs name is. Castor.
What is the process for adopting a labrador therapy dog? i am 20 years post a traumatic brain injury. i am a survivor!! and am now 74 years old
thank you, in advance, for your help!
Hi Pippa My wife suffers from Fibromyalgia and I am wondering if we could find someone to help us train our 12 month old male Labrador to help my wife if I am out at the shops or doing some shopping we are on a low income with her being disabled and uses a powered wheelchair when she is out of the home so I am looking for someone to train him to be an assistance dog as well as a family pet many thanks Andy Rhuddlan Denbighshire N.Wales
I am a 45 year old male that has PTSD anxiety, adhd. Two months ago I lost my 12 year old male Blockhead black lab. And my lab was everything he was my best friend you know and they are great service dogs and I’m currently in Memphis Tennessee and basically am looking for another best friend and helper. Was he going to the disability process I don’t have the means of affording one but if anybody is aware of anybody that has a black Blockhead male puppy that they would like to donate that would be awesome thank you very much for your time and for anybody that response thank you very much have a blessed week bye bye.
We have 2 chocolate Labs who visit our local hospital. They visit all the wards from Intensive Care to children’s. They also visit patients in A&E. This week they have visited the area around the Grenfell Tower fire twice and have provided emotional support and acted as a distraction to many people.
How lovely! 🙂
I am in need of an emotional support dog. I have had cancer, nervous breakdown.terrible depression and getting to the point of not wanting to leave the house. Where can I get a black lab and get help with training. My anxiety and depression – I need help I also suffer from short term memory lose due to An accident that left me with a plate and a cadaver bone on my c6 & c7
I have two black lab brothers who were rescue dogs. One if them, though untrained, stays right by my side when out in the yard. I am 67 and a small woman and my balance is not good any more. I can stump my toe on a rock and fall. I guess Blackie senses my age and need for a watchful eye. It’s amazing that he has taken me on as my protector. I used to get annoyed at his constant closeness outside but I now realize he’s trying to protect me. His brother is not so inclined but that’s ok. At least one if them is.
I have had and do have labs. I did have a female chocolate lab that when I would have a seizure at home alone, she would be be my side liking me when I came to everytimemail and she would stay by me til I was ok again. We had to put her down in September due to cancer and now have rescued a 2yr old yellow lab that is very loving just hyper for her age. I was wondering how to train her to let me know before I have a seizure? I’ve had people tell me they can. She is very smart and is starved for attention. I’m alone with her everyday and have the time to train her. Can anyone answer my question?
I think labs are great service dogs. I am on my third dog. this one is a black lab named Roker. I got him when he was two, and he is now 7. He is a great help to me. I am a disabled Vet and he has been trained to help me by opening and closing doors, picking up anything I drop, helping me to dress and undress, and just being near to profide comfort when I need it. LABS are Great.
As an autistic person, I’d like to point out that pretty much the only people who use “person first” language (“a person with autism” vs. Identity first: “An autistic person”) are people who aren’t autistic, or people who don’t listen to autistic people. We generally always use identity first, as our autism is not something separate from ourselves, like cancer is from people with cancer. It is just the way our brains have developed, a developmental disability, not an illnesses or disease. It’s a bit like saying “a person with lefthandedness” rather than a lefthanded person, though lefties aren’t considered disabled for what hand they use.
Also, if the “They can interrupt a child’s tantrum” is meant to refer to autistic children, then it is ill informed, as autistic children, and adults, aren’t throwing tantrums, but having meltdowns, which is something all together different. A meltdown is unavoidable, though interruptable. It is often fear or confusion, not anger. It is often because you are overwhelmed with whatever situation you are in and unable to cope. A tantrum is something meant to manipulate the situation around you by acting out. A meltdown is an inability to cope with the situation, and by it’s nature not manipulative. It’s like saying that someone crying at a funeral is throwing a tantrum, rather than expressing their emotions in the only way available to them.
I really love this site, I am 74 and my wife and I are truly heartbroken at the loss of our wonderful Alfie so your site is a great comfort having had a Labrador at my side ALL my life..Thank you for a wonderful site LOL Jenny and Geoffrey location Tamworth Staffs…..
Very sorry for your loss Geoffrey and thank you for your kind comment, best wishes, Pippa
I have a 5 months old female Labrador. I named her Laila. I agree with you all she is very intelligent. I am training her in my own way.
She is a great retriever. I will be happy to take tips to train her.
I have 3 amazing black Labrador retrievers Bailey (12 1/2, Kenna (7 1/2) and Kash (2 1/2) who are certified Therapy Dogs. Their job is to visit people in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities and schools to provide love, comfort and emotional support to patients, families, students and staff members. They also visit libraries where struggling readers can read to the dogs to develop confidence and improve their reading skills. My labs are registered with Therapy Dogs International. TDI-dog.org
Me and my three year old chocolate lab Abby are a team for life she is my service dog my für child and my best friend .She helps me overcome severe anxiety disability and panic attacks. She is my hero.
Would just like to say I have suffered with depression bad over the years on and of this year has been a particularly bad year for me. My brother brought me a beautiful golden lab on November 14 this year as a surprise early Christmas present and I can honestly say that Milo my puppy has turned my life around I can’t imagine life with out him his such a beautiful cleaver funny loving dog