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Guide to Labrador Retriever Gundogs

The Labrador retriever needs little introduction, being the most popular pet dog in the UK, and also one of the favourite working gundogs in the country. Labrador retrievers are a popular choice for working dogs, being guide dogs for the blind, therapy dogs, helper dogs for deaf and disabled and drug sniffer dogs too. The breed has definitely made its mark with their easy-going temperament, general good health and hardworking attitude.

A labrador retriever sundog

Why a Labrador retriever?

Labrador retrievers are a versatile breed and a very good companion. The breed is also easy to train; even your cuddly pet Lab has some retrieving instincts. The retriever is bred for soft mouths and has a willingness to learn and obey. As the most successful and most popular working retriever in the UK, it makes sense to choose the Labrador retriever when deciding which gundog you want.


Labrador retrievers were imported from Newfoundland, Canada to the UK in the 1820s to 1830s for use as a gundog due to their excellent retrieving capabilities. After being brought to the UK in the 19th century, they were mostly bred for duck shooting, as they had an unmatched expertise for waterfowl hunting, with their close coat and otter-like tail. This affinity for the water can be traced back to the founding breed of the Labrador, the St John’s water dog or Lesser Newfoundland, a breed now extinct. Early descriptions of the dog stated they were very good for any kind of shooting.

The first yellow Labrador was recorded around 1899, and the breed recognised by The Kennel Club in 1903 with chocolate Labradors emerging later in the 1930s. Labrador retrievers can be categorised into English or American, differing in behaviour and a slight difference in appearance. English Labs tend to be more easy to train and better to have as non-hunting companions. American Labs tend to be more energetic and have been bred to compete in field trials.

Close up of Labrador retriever


Labrador retrievers natural energy and enthusiasm can be channelled into their training, which can also give you better control over your dog. Like with any other gundog, continuous training will produce better work from them out on the field, but Labrador retrievers have another advantage in that they are clever dogs that want to cooperate and please their owners. This biddable nature has made them ideal to be all sorts of working dogs.

The intelligence and cooperation of Labradors are central to their success and popularity as a breed, for pets and working dogs. The Labrador was born to retrieve and gladly run around with whatever it can get it its mouth. A well-trained dog can be sent as far as 150m to find game, even if it didn’t see it come down. It then has to negotiate all types of terrain, water and land, to deliver the game undamaged. Trust between dog and handler is key, along with months of dedicated training, to achieve that outcome. To help with training your dog, take a look at the dog accessories we have available at Fur Feather & Fin.


The Labrador belongs to a group of retriever gundogs, such as the Golden retriever and Chesapeake Bay retriever, but the Labrador has a short coat. The breed is medium to large in size, and range from being stocky to lighter frame bodies, depending on which line you go for, but always have a powerful and muscular build. Their heights can range from 56 to 57 centimetres for males and 55 to 56 cm for females.

The requirements for Labradors are that their coat should be short and dense, but not wiry. The coat is also water-resistant, so the dog does not get cold when in the water, an important aspect for a gundog which excels in the water. Acceptable colours are yellow, chocolate and black.

Labradors have broad heads, pronounced eyebrows and kind, expressive eyes. Eye colours are often brown or hazel, and their ears hang close to the head, slightly above the eyes.

A Labrador retriever swimming


Labradors have been bred for many years to be very active, which means they do not suffer from major health issues brought on by excessive exercise as other breeds can. They are usually healthy and physically well-balanced, though, like all other floppy eared dogs, they are prone to ear troubles. The breed is also prone to obesity, and even hard working Labradors need to have carefully managed portion control. Being a dog of high energy, they also require a lot of exercise, long daily walks about an hour long and space to run around when just at home. If not exercised enough, Labradors can become bored and resort to destructive behaviour and excessive barking.

Labradors are also very social dogs and require company. They can even develop anxious behaviours if left alone all day, and if you are prepared for taking on the loving, lovable and energetic breed, Labrador retrievers are a great starting point for beginners to the world of gundogs. Read our previous blogs on gundog, from other popular breeds such as spaniels to tips on training gundog puppies