Buying a pet

Labrador Retriever: dog breed info & health advice

Date updated: 17 11 2017

They’re lively. They’re greedy. They’re lovable and loyal. Meet one of the most popular dogs on the planet. Labradors are the perfect family pet, and have a huge appetite for life, adventure and of course... FOOD!

Labs love to make new friends, so if there are other dogs in the house already (and even the odd cat), chances are everyone will get on just fine. The flipside? Labs are famously needy - they need a lot of attention, and reeeeally don’t like being left alone for long periods of time!


Average lifespan: 12 years +

Weight: 25-45kgs

Height at shoulder: 55-57cm

Colouring: black, golden or chocolate

Grooming requirements: low-maintenance (but be prepared for plenty of shedding!)

Average purchase cost: Typically between £650 and £680 for a healthy pup.

Bet you didn’t know...

- Labs were bred to be water dogs. They were used by fishermen to bring in nets, pull ropes, and catch escaped fish. That luscious double coat is super warm and water resistant, and webbed toes make them speedy swimmers.

- It’s the go-to breed for guide dogs. In fact, if you think you could offer a loving home to a guide dog who hasn’t quite made the grade for final training, check out The Guide Dogs for The Blind Association.

- They’re not just a pretty face. Labs are ranked within the top smartest dog breeds in the world, and will nail a new command they’ve learned the first time you ask them over 95% of the time!

- A lab was once voted mayor. Yep. In 1981 “Bosco” the black lab beat two other human candidates to be the mayor of Sunol, California. We know who we’d have voted for!

- Gwyneth Paltrow, Drew Barrymore, Anne Hathaway, Hulk Hogan: they’re all labrador lovers

Great for…

Labs are playful, energetic and outgoing - perfect for anyone who likes to stay fit and active. If you’re down for a long lap around the park twice a day then you’ll get on just fine - and if you’re into running, hiking and playing fetch for hours, even better!

As pups and teens, labs can be boisterous and a little bitey - it’s their way of showing affection. So while they love being part of a family, be careful the kiddies aren’t mowed down! Labs are also big and famously clumsy, so best for bigger homes with outdoor space for them to run and play.

Behaviour & training

Being clever and super keen to please, Labradors are generally pretty easy to train. They love to play and will do anything for a treat, so start them young and keep it fun and interesting to nip bad habits in the bud during puppyhood.

So what are those habits? For one thing, labs love to chew. So for pups, plenty of chew bones and toys can stop them chomping down on your furniture.

Labradors are also curious (it comes with being smart). Thoroughly puppy proofing your home is a good idea from day one: get rid of breakables and valuables, tuck away any exposed wires and don’t leave small objects around if you don’t want them eaten.

Labradors don’t like being left alone all day. Barking, howling, chewing on the furniture, and leaving ‘little surprises’  on the carpet: these can all be signs that your absence is getting your buddy down. If you’re out of the house all day, think about getting a second dog to keep him company.


All that jumping, playing and running around really works up an appetite! But given the chance, labs will eat until they’re sick. A recent study showed that many labs carry a genetic variation which makes them predisposed to food-seeking (and stealing!) and weight gain.

For owners, it means resisting those puppy dog eyes. Go easy on the treats - and focus on a high quality feed recommended for the breed. Follow the vet’s advice on what, when and how much to give him as he grows.

For grooming, labs are low maintenance. Hair tends to be short and thick - meaning it dries quickly. That said, if you like a hair-free house, labradors might not be for you: they shed a lot! Daily brushing and a protein and oil-rich diet can help to keep it to a minimum, but be prepared to spend a lot more time hovering!

As a short-eared dog, labradors are also prone to ear infections. Regular ear cleaning is recommended to reduce the risk of this.

Common health issues to watch out for...

- We love labs because of their energy and lust for life, but this exuberance means they can be accident prone. Patch ups, scans, treatment, follow-ups: the cost can soon add up.

- Labs love to explore - and if they find something interesting, it’ll be in their mouth before you have a chance to stop it. Chances are your lab will swallow more than their fair share of foreign bodies. In cases where these don’t ‘pass through the other end’, a trip to the vet might be needed!

- Labradors can be prone to elbow and hip abnormalities. Elbow dysplasia, which causes forelimb lameness can arise where the two forelimb bones (radius and ulnar) grow at different rates. These conditions can require extensive (and expensive) monitoring and treatment.

- A love of running increases the risk of cruciate ligament injury, where the fibres within the ligament weaken over time. If you’re lab is limping during or after exercise, this may be an early warning sign.

- Like many other breeds, progressive retinal atrophy is a possibility with labs. One of the first signs is ‘night blindness. If your buddy is reluctant to go outside in the dark, or seems more clumsy than usual, speak to your vet.