Labrador Retrievers

Before you can choose a breeder or a pup, you must first decide what type of Lab is right for you.

By Virginia Parker Guidry |

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Instead, contact a local or national Labrador club where you're likely to meet knowledgeable breed enthusiasts. Some clubs publish a breeder's directory. "These people probably have to meet some criteria before they can list their puppies for sale," Mickelson says. "And, because they're in the ball game, and they understand the problems in the breed and what to be careful about, they're more likely to take the right precautions."

Ask a veterinarian, trainer, groomer or a friend who owns a Lab for the names of reputable breeders. Then make a few calls, and ask for references. It may require some effort to find a Lab breeder with whom you feel comfortable, but it'll be worth it in the long run. "There isn't going to be the perfect breeder for just everybody," Foote said. "You need to find a match for yourself. It's like finding a doctor. You need to find somebody you can communicate with, and who communicates well with you, and who's going to be a support for that first year [after] you take that dog home."

A Healthy Choice
How can you be sure the pup you buy is healthy? A visual inspection can reveal a lot. Generally, healthy pups should:

  • be a proper weight (not too chubby or too thin);
  • be clean and odor-free, and kept in clean surroundings;
  • have clear eyes, not runny or red;
  • have clean ears;
  • have a full, healthy hair coat (no balding patches);
  • not scratch excessively; and
  • appear well-socialized, playful and friendly.

Unfortunately, like most purebred dogs today, the Labrador is susceptible to a variety of heritable diseases, which cannot be pinpointed by a quick once-over. Hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia and retinal deformities are the most common conditions found in Labs; cardiac disorders and epilepsy also affect the breed. Prospective owners should deal only with breeders who routinely screen for diseases and conditions that affect the breed. This is the best assurance-though it's no guarantee-of taking home a pup that's free of these conditions. You should also ask to see the puppy's health record. And, after you buy a pup, take it to your veterinarian right away for a complete exam.

Yardsticks of the Breed
"Temperament is clearly the hallmark of the breed," Wincek says. "The temperament is unflappable, 100-percent forgiving. I'll tell you, if pharmaceutical companies could somehow put in a pill whatever makes a Labrador a Labrador, they'd put the manufacturers of Prozac and others right out of business."

Wincek advises potential puppy buyers to ask lots of questions about temperament. "Because the majority of Labs in this country-being the most popular breed-are owned strictly as companions, he says, "that's probably going to be its most important function: something to love and be loved. Temperament is the most important consideration.

"The other thing I recommend: Once you find a good puppy, remember that great dogs are also made, not just born," Wincek emphasizes.

Raising a Lab requires commitment. "The first thing in choosing any pup is to remember it's a long commitment," Watkins says. "It's not an overnight commitment. It's like bringing an infant into your home. You're making a 12- or 13-year commitment. Look around, then look around. It doesn't have to be the first puppy you see. Make sure it's one that's going to fit your situation."

Ask yourself if you're ready to own a dog. "Make sure that your life is stable, and that you're going to be able to provide the right kind of environment and the right kind of support for this animal before you make a decision to buy," Mickelson says.

Finally, don't be in a hurry. It can be frustrating when you want a dog, but don't rush. Search diligently for a sound, healthy dog and don't feel compelled to buy from the first litter you see. "Take your time," Foote says. "The wait is well worth it."

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Sally   Indianapolis, IN

3/13/2007 7:04:18 PM

Excellent article.

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