What are the origins of Labrador Retrievers?

brown labrador looking at the sky

The Labrador Retriever is the most popular breed in North America since 1991. Pretty impressive huh? But why?

That's a good question.

It's because these fluffballs have all that a traditional family can hope for... They are intelligent, outgoing and famously friendly!

But were they always like that? Where does this temperament comes from?

To find out, we need to dive in the history of the breed.

yellow lab diving from a dock

I wondered if I should send you this email because your pup is not a lab... I decided to send it to you. I'm sure this will be useful to you for small talk at the dog park.

The History of Labrador Retrievers

To understand where the lab comes from, we must go back to the 1800s in Newfoundland.

At the time, Newfoundlanders were mostly fishermen.

Fishing was hard, they didn't have the technology that we have today.

One of the methods used to catch fish was called trawling

trawling drawing

If you are not familiar with it, trawling implies throwing a giant net behind the boat. As the boat moves forward and the net collects the fish in it.

But the process was far from perfect...

Ropes would break and fish would escape.

Fishing was all but a walk in the park. And the fishermen lives depended on it. If they didn't catch anything, they wouldn't get paid by european merchants.

They couldn't afford lean harvest. This constant risk needed them to be more creative.

That's when fishermen started to use dogs.

The coat

The dogs were used to close the nets and catch any fish that would fall off the boat...

Sounds easy?

Not really in waters that ranged from 31°F to 45°F.

Once again, evolution did its thing and the dogs developed their water-resistant coat.

Often when they came out of the water, their coat would be full of ice.

The "Otter Tail"

It's during the same period that the ancestor of the labrador developed its “otter tail” that served as a powerful rudder, constantly moving back and forth as the dog swam and aided the dog in turning.

ancestor of labrador retrievers

a painting of the ancestor of the labrador retrievers

Around 1800s, English nobles visiting Canada spotted the dogs. They could not believe the dogs' considerable stamina, loyalty, skill in the water and innate retrieving drive.

The nobles brought some of the dogs back to Britain, more precisely to Poole, Dorsetshire.

They saw the potential in these dogs to become loyal companion in their favorite sport, waterfowl hunting.

waterfowl hunting

waterfowl hunting

The dogs were bred with english hunting dogs to create what we know today as the Labrador Retriever.

It is said the the Earl of Malmesbury himself saw a Labrador in action (jumped off the boat and catched a fish that had escaped a fisherman) and since then became obsessed with the breed.

Btw, an "Earl" was a title of nobility back in the 19th century in Britain.

There's two potential reasons why it is called a Labrador Retriever:

1. First, geography was not the merchants forte. While today Newfoundland and Labrador are one canadian province, they were two separate entities at the time as pointed by this map: 

map of newfoundland and labrador

And the name would be related to the general region from where the dogs originated.

2. The 2nd might come from the Spanish/portuguese word "worker" which is labradores and lavradores respectively.

We will never know for sure.

Over the 20th century, the breed would nearly extinct. If it wasn't from the families of the Dukes of Buccleuch and the Earls of Malmesbury, the first to fully appreciate the beautiful qualities of the Labrador Retriever and without whom, the breed would have been in danger of extinction.

The first Labrador Retriever was registered to the UK Kennel Club in 1903 and in 1917 at the American Kennel Club (AKC).

You want more? access more landmarks in the history of the Labradors.

Cool story huh?

Have a good night,


P.S. Next email is quite different, I'll show you how to create an Instagram account for your dog and how to grow it.

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