History of the Labrador Retriever
Labradors were originally found, not in Labrador as the name implies, but in Newfoundland, where they were used in many capacities by cod-fishermen. With their short but exceptionally dense coat, they were well suited to cope with freezing salt spray, snowy and icy near-Arctic winds, and with their willingness to help and please which persists to this day, they must have been the most useful helpers.
They were expected to retrieve the fish that slipped out of the net and flapped on the icy surface of the sea. They had to carry the rope end from the boat to the shore in the strongest of tides and stormiest weather. They were strongly built so that they could pull a heavy sled carrying firewood, barrels of fish, and other necessities of life in a place where horses would be useless.
They had to survive and indeed thrive and breed, on the scantiest of food – probably half frozen fish guts, a piece of dried meat, and a surreptitious chew at their own leather harness.
All these activities took place in terrible weather conditions, needing the dense waterproof coat which had to be short enough not to ball up in the snow and freezing salt spray. As the work was done in water and on land, in forests, snow drifts and over slippery rocks, an extremely active, well made and balanced dog was required without any structural weakness in its frame, and free from exaggeration anywhere.
The Labrador of today still works in strong tides, and on slippery rocks, in woods and on snow and ice, and exactly the same type of dogs are required today as was used by the fisherman of the cod banks.
In the early 1880’s, in the north of England, a few landowners mated together a handful of Labradors that had survived from an earlier importation. These landowners were quick to realise the value of the dogs as a sporting and working dog, and a breeding strain was soon established.
Most early Labradors were black, the yellow making its appearance when, in 1889, Hyde Ben was whelped in a litter of blacks from black parents. The odd yellow continued to turn up in black litters, but were regarded with great suspicion by breeders and were mostly drowned until one or two people saw their possibilities and proceeded to establish the colour, and did it to such effect that today yellows outnumber blacks. Chocolates were well known in England at the turn of the century and today form an integral part of the breed.
In 1916 the Labrador Club (Eng) was formed to ensure purity of the breed, and it was they who drew up the Standard.
The Standard as it is today, has as its keynote soundness and activity, coupled with strength and build. Great stress is placed on three points: the head, the coat and the tail. These are not fancy points but in a subtle way lead to the correct type of dog.
In England in 1924 the Yellow Labrador Club was formed to protect the colour and provide classes and Trials for the yellows.
In the early 1930’s, a Mrs Austin imported the first Labradors into Australia.