When Buying A Labrador Retriever Puppy

Often I am asked the question - - “Are the conformation requirements the same for a working dog and a show dog?”

If you were to examine the history of the Labrador Retriever, you would find that the breed was bred with one purpose in mind – to be a working retriever.  The dogs in Newfoundland were bred to carry in fishermen’s nets.  They had to strong swimmers, capable of swimming in frigid water.  Thus the distinction of the Labrador Retriever having, an otter tail to use as guidance in the water, a thick dual coat that sheds water, a strong chest & thick necks and incredible jaw strength, yet a gentleness that allowed them to not harm the ropes of the nets.  The webbed feet that allowed them to swim at great speeds and distances.  Dogs of medium build, this allowed them to be hauled back into the boats easily.  A dog that was capable of working all day in icy waters required endurance needed by few other breeds.  The dogs were also used for hunting and their retrieving ability was the reason the breed was imported to England by sportsmen in the early nineteenth century.  It is also the reason why gentlemen and lady sportsmen brought the dog into this country.

The standard gives you a clear definition of what a Labrador Retriever should look like, but the current trend of shorter and shorter faces on the Show Labrador does not allow for the fact that the dog is supposed to be able to pick up geese and large birds.  Follow this up with shorter, stockier dogs and they slow down in the field and in the water.  In the beginning of Labrador Retrievers in America we had dogs that competed in both field and conformation.  The great dogs of the past such as Shed of Arden, who was a 3X National Field Champion and a Conformation Champion many times are perfect examples of a Dual-Purpose Labrador.   The notion of breeding for just conformation has been the demise of many sporting breeds.  Many people out there think that the proper standard for the Labrador Retriever is what is winning in the show ring or field trials of today.  You have to go to what the original purpose of the dog is and breed it for what it was intended to do.  That is why I breed for a Dual-Purpose Labrador that is capable of taking a ribbon in the ring or a ribbon on the field.  Not all pups will be champions but the purpose of returning the Labrador Retriever back to it’s original form and function has been successful and will be more successful as I continue through the years with my specific breeding program.  If one is not breeding to improve the breed, why breed at all?

I would like to quote an article that you can read in full at the following address http://www.thelabradorclub.com/library/workvshow.html  

We have had people call looking for a pup that don't understand the full meaning of purebred, papers, and pedigree.  In case you are unsure we will give a brief description here.  AKC stands for American Kennel Club.   They register purebred dogs.  A dog without papers may not be completely purebred, or the breeder may have failed to send in the money to register the litter.  It is inexpensive to register the litter so one would wonder why they did not if there is no registration. A purebred dog will have AKC registration papers or other registry such as CKC, UKC, etc.   When you register a dog you will get the "papers".   This is a certificate with your name, the name you give your dog and a registry number.  The pedigree is also something people think of as "papers" but is something you actually have to purchase separately from the registration.  It is a history of who were your dog's parent's, Grandparents, Great Grandparents and provides a lot of information about which dogs earned AKC titles, who has health registrations (normal hips, eyes) and often times will give the colors of all the ancestors of your dog.   Most breeders will have this information made up and available to you when you are considering the purchase of the pup.  Be sure to get a copy of this as it really provides a lot of useful information.

There are some factors to consider:

In my experience, and I have had labs for most of my life and currently own 43, the yellow labs have the most shedding, followed by the black and the chocolate has the least. But the thing that I would tell you to worry about is the health clearances on the parents. Do they have an OFA Certificate for both parents, do they have CERF for their eyes. Check out the history of the pedigree as much as you can. Is there elbow trouble, heart trouble, retinal dysplasia, hypothyroidism, Exercise Induced Collapse, Central Nuclear Myopathy or worse that has shown up in the bloodline. Does the breeder guarantee the health of the pups? Will the breeder be socializing the pup properly, getting it vet checked, getting its dew claws removed, etc.


If it is to be a gun dog you should have proof of the hunting line. Field Titles are one of the best ways to show a track record of not only the parents, but grand and great grand parents as well. Thus it is best if the breeder is able to show you titled dogs in the pedigree to help improve the odds you have a good hunting dog. All of that goes into the inherited instincts of birdiness, drive, marking capabilities, intelligence and high trainability. These are factors that are to a very large extent inherited. It is still a very good idea to get some training (even basic obedience classes) for your gun dog since you will have a much better hunting season than with an untrained dog. There are a number of AKC & UCK - HRC Retriever Clubs throughout the country. The same training that is done for a titled dog is what you want for a gun dog.

Certainly if you want the dog to run in Hunt Tests/Field Trials or HRCH, UKC, the better the field pedigree the better the chances you will get a titled dog too, once it has been trained.

If the dog is to be a family pet you will want a good disposition and again trainability. The pedigree can also show some of this since to get a title one needs to be trainable. Labradors in general are very friendly dogs. Many field dogs may spend time with trainers and are kenneled there. But many of those dogs are also family pets. Ask the breeder about the temperament they are trying to breed for. Keep in mind when visiting the breeder that most all Labs will get excited somewhat when people come over to see them. Labrador Retrievers are a friendly breed. Also, any dog that is put in an outdoor kennel will be more excited when it first comes out. An indoor dog is generally more calm due to the constant socialization with people and also responds better in hunting situations because of that. Living in the house is constant training (sit, come, quiet, etc.)


Health is a primary consideration to keep in mind. Whether your pet is to be a family dog, gun dog or a Field Trial/Hunt Test dog health is always important. The good thing about buying a pup that has a pedigree with titled dogs is that there will be a documented record of hip conformation. OFA numbers began to appear in Labrador registrations in the 1960's. Not everyone was using them at that time but it has pretty well become a prerequisite before one is even allowed to breed their female to a titled male. The more titled dogs you have the less likely one is to get hip dysplasia. Some breeders will sometimes claim they had their dog's hips x-rayed and they are good. That is fine, but then spend the extra few bucks to submit the x-ray to OFA for proof. Dysplasia still can happen even with good breeding. Most reputable breeders will stand behind their dogs with a 2 year health guarantee on the hips. The OFA number can be gotten at 2 years since dysplasia should show up by then if your dog has it. A breeder who gives any less than that is not covering the recommended 2 year length of time. We at Trinity Labradors offer a 30 month guarantee that is almost unheard of in the dog world.

Additionally dogs with Field Championship titles have generally been bred often enough to other dogs that any genetic issues they do carry will become known. A breeder will want to avoid pairing any dogs that will likely throw a genetic problem. In Labradors the main health problems include Hip Dysplasia, Progressive Retinal Athropy (PRA) or other Eye Problems, Elbow Dysplasia, Dwarfism (RD/OSD), Central Neuclear Myopathy - (CNM), Exercise Indused Collape (EIC), Hypothyroidism and a growing number of Tricuspid Valve Dysplasia (heart problems). Careful breeding will work to avoid these problems. The more knowledge the breeder has about the dogs in the pedigree the better. We have OFA health clearances on all of our dogs for the Hips, Elbows, Cardiac, Patella & Thyroid, CNM Non-carriers, EIC Clear or Carrier Only When Bred To Clear Mates. The more generations I have been breeding a specific line the more health history and very selective breeding practices are verified.  All my dogs have their DNA Profiled with the AKC and UKC most kennels only DNA Profile their males.  All my pups are sold with microchips for permanent identification.

Cost is another factor to consider when buying a pup. In general this is not the place to cut costs. A dog from the Humane Society will end up costing about $100, will have no papers, health record or any other predictability. If that is what you seek, that is certainly fine. Those dogs definitely need loving homes. If the other issues mentioned above are important, then be sure to get what you want in a pup. Over the 10-15 year life of your pup you will spend the same amount of money for food, heart worm/shots, training, perhaps hunting trips, dog supplies (crates, toys, etc.). Get the dog you want initially and you will be better off. Of course you will find pups at Shelters, back yard breeders etc. that will be less expensive but you again will not have the trainability, health, intelligence record that you would with a better pedigree. Also look at what the breeder does for socializing the pup. Young pups need to be exposed to a lot of new experiences. If they are to be hunting dogs you want them exposed to some bird wings fairly young. They should be played with as part of the socialization before you pick out your pup at 8 weeks. As a rule of thumb, you generally get what you pay for so don't be afraid to consider all angles when purchasing a pup.
 

Appearance is less important with field dogs than it is with the show dogs. There are good looking field dogs but the standard for show dogs and the appearance of the Field Champions has drifted apart over the years. There may be some Labrador show dogs who get Hunt Test titles but I know of none that have both a CH (show champion) and an FC or AFC (Field Champion) at this time. If you go back to the 1960's there were some. If appearance is the primary factor for you and you like the short, broad look of the show Labradors you are best to seek out a show dog breeder. If your primary concern were a gun dog/family pet combination I would stick to a field pedigree as in general I have found them to be much more healthy and intelligent. For the best of both worlds you might consider some CH MH’s that are available.  See what the breeder is striving for. If appearance is a consideration for them look at as many photos as you can of the ancestors to the pup's line. Often times the owner of the litter will have gone out of the area to breed to a top Field Champion and will not have the dog on the premises. See if they have photos and other information. Many field dogs breeders do strive to get a good appearance though some may focus primarily on other factors. I try to produce a good all around dog and appearance is considered.
 

See if the parents have been bred before and if the breeder has any references from people who have purchased dogs from them.


Keep in mind that a trainable dog still needs knowledgeable training. Obedience classes are offered at many locations. Puppy classes can also be great for socialization and possibly helping your children to understand how to handle a dog. All pups at 8 week old will chew. They still have teeth coming in and just like a baby need various teething rings, give them lots of chewable toys and when you take the wrong object they are chewing from them, provide them with the right one (their toy). If you don't have the time or patience to deal with a puppy and training, you may consider purchasing a "Started Dog". Some Kennels will keep a pup or 2 back from a litter initially and train the pups to sell as a started dog. You will of course pay more money for the pup/dog at this stage, but if you want to bypass the early training this is a great option if you can find one available.

Trinity Labradors seeks to breed a good all around dog for health, trainability, gun dog instincts, intelligence, good personalities and dispositions, as well as good looks. We believe this combination will fit the needs of someone seeking a family house pet, gun dog or Field Trial/Hunt Test dog and when my dreams come true for my breeding program the Next Dual Champion. I have dogs working as Service Dogs, Assistance Dogs, Bomb/Drug Detection Dogs, Search & Rescue Dogs, Canine Freestyle (Dancing), Agility, Conformation, Upland Hunters, Water Fowl Hunting Retrievers & Best Friends.

Other factors people consider when picking out a puppy:

Color & Gender of your Labrador pup
****Below are some questions people ask when buying a Labrador Retriever pup. In short color and gender are the owner's personal preference. You may need to be selective with finding the right pedigree to get the factors most people attribute to the color or gender for selecting a pup. Read on if you have questions.

With Labrador Retrievers there are 3 basic colors. Black is the most traditional color and is in fact the dominant gene. There are also Yellows and chocolates, which are recessive and double recessive genes. There is no such thing in the AKC as a silver Lab; dilute of chocolate or white Lab; white is a color phase of yellow as is fox red. If you ever find any other colors they either are not pure bred Labradors or it is something not recognized by the AKC.

Yellow Labradors range is color from a foxy red to cream and red shading, to solid cream or white with no shading. They will generally have black skin pigment though in the winter it has been noted that yellows tend to have their black noses look pinker. Sometimes in field dogs one will find a combination of black and pink in the pigment because the breeders are not seeking appearance as much as the field ability of the dog. The show people are interested in having only black noses. One will also notice that yellows can have brown pigment on the nose and lips if they are out of a chocolate line. This is acceptable among the field dogs. For the most part, the color is not going to make any difference for field titles but the dog would be disqualified in the show ring.  Chocolate Labradors range in color from a dark rich brown to a light brown sometimes with darker shading. The skin pigment is brown. Often chocolates do not seem to have quite as dark of brown pigment in the eyes as blacks. Again all of the color issues in fieldwork is personal preference not anything to do with registering the dog or earning titles however for conformation purposes the darker the eyes the better.  Hazel eyes are discouraged in the show ring.


We have been asked many times by potential dog buyers if yellows or chocolates are not as good of a dog as blacks. Our answer is always that the pedigree itself is the best predictor of a good dog. Because the colors yellow and chocolate have become more popular in the last decade there have been some indiscriminate breeders who breed simply for the color, not for the all around quality of the dog. Generally things like Titles, OFA and CERF numbers will give you the best knowledge about the pup's trainability, health and intelligence. It is true that with chocolates there are not a lot of dogs out there that have the titles at this time. So often getting a good chocolate pedigree will be more expensive than black or possibly even yellow.

Ask the breeder about the temperament of the parents if that is a concern for you. It is not true that field dogs are hyper or uncontrollable. They need to be steady in a field setting and respond to commands even when they are hundreds of yards away from the owner. That is not a hyper-out of control dog. There can be some that are more high strung so find out what qualities the breeder was striving for when they chose the pair to breed. You will see in any litter that there will be more dominant or submissive dogs. Get a good pedigree and if you are looking for a quiet dog pick a more submissive one. Some people run their own tests when picking out a pup, such as seeing who is most aggressive, outgoing, or one that doesn't put up much fuss if you gently hold it on it's back on the ground. Remember though that pups behavior goes through many different stages the wall flower one day will be the outgoing one the next.  It is best to not try to pick a pup during their nap time if at all possible :)

Check out the dynamics of inherited color at http://www.vetgen.com/color.html   

In fact they offer genetic testing to know for sure what colors your dog may be carrying genetically.

When you look at all the things that go into making a great gun dog and pet, it becomes apparent that one gene (the color gene) having the total control for a good dog would be far too simple of an answer. In fact with hip conformation there are multiple genes that make up the hips, there are 264 possible genetic combinations that make up the hip formation. So the farther back you can see OFA hip ratings of Good or Excellent the higher the chance that your dog will also have good or excellent hips.  Until genetic tests like the ones that we use to find out about PRA, RD/OSD, Narcolepsy, CNM & EIC are available and we know the genetic conformation versus the appearance of a dog tests such as CERF, OFA Health Clearances, PENN Hip Numbers, etc are all we have to help us breed to better the breed.

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In choosing whether or not you want a male or female dog, it becomes a matter of personal preference. We have heard all kinds or reasons people use for choosing the gender.  It used to be that people only wanted males and that they commanded a higher price. The belief then was that males were sturdier, could take the pressure and made better hunters. There are advantages in field tests since a male does not have a heat cycle and so will not have to be disqualified when that time comes around like for a female in heat however there is a drug that may be used to keep a female from cycling and keep her uterus young for breeding at a later time. Males are often larger and more beautiful dogs because they often have larger heads and are blockier than females. There are indeed more FC-AFC males than females though it is not clear whether that is because more males are run in the events to begin with, or whether they just do better, however in the last few years females have been taking most of the coveted National Titles and their number has been steadily increasing. Indeed, 3XNFC AFC Candlewood's Tanks a Lot (Lottie) was a female and probably one of the best FC's ever, having taken the National title 3 times. NAFC FC Hattie McBunn was also a National Amateur Field Champion and both are Hall Of Fame Dogs. The disadvantages some people say about males is that they do the leg raising thing and can ruin their new landscaping services or mark their territory in your home, they can range further or seek females in heat and might require more pressure and training because of their more independent or headstrong nature. Some people don't like the larger size if they have a small house.

Females are currently more popular at least in the Northern part of the country. People seem to have taken a complete turn around from thinking males are better to preferring females. Reasons some people give for having a female include wanting a quieter, more controllable, smaller dog to believing the female will respond better in the field to commands, close ranging, less aggressive dog. They may fit in a duck skiff a little nicer too. Also if one wants to breed their dog they may look at the potential for raising pups. Disadvantages include the heat cycle which, can do a number on your kitchen floor if kept in the house.

All in all the gender of your dog is a personal preference as well as the color. Basically the pedigree will help determine the size, disposition, intelligence and trainability of the dog. In the same litter there are different pecking orders or dominance and sometimes you can pick a quieter or more outgoing dog to meet your needs. Trained gun dogs will range within the area you want. You can always spay or neuter a dog to avoid the female's heat cycle or avoid having a male try to find a female in heat. At the present time both the colors (yellow and chocolate) tend to be more popular as well as females being more popular. If you find a price variance it is basically due to supply and demand. Often you can find a very good quality black male for much less than say a good quality yellow or chocolate female. Even in the same litter you may find a price difference.

Hopefully the tips presented above will help you learn how to understand a pedigree and put it together with whatever personal preferences you have to help you select the kind of companion you will want for the next 10-15 years.

Other information which may appear on the pedigree:
Field Titles

Field Trial Division
Hunt Test Division

OFA =Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. This is a check for hip dysplasia. This is a hip disorder, which is more common in larger breed dogs such as the retrievers. It can range from a severe case which may warrant putting the dog down due to pain and difficulty walking to a mild form which makes hard running somewhat difficult. The OFA foundation is a place where a Veterinarian can submit a x-ray of the dog's hips for evaluation and determination of their condition. If the dog is normal it will be rated with Fair, Good, or Excellent and a number. Dysplastic dogs are not assigned a number. Breeders using this information have sought to try to improve the health of the breed by trying not to pass on dysplasia. Not all the evidence is in about the cause, but some heredity is believed to be involved. Most dogs will show signs of the disorder by age 2. Trinity Labradors provides a written guarantee for 30 months, 6 months to allow you to get the evaluation - breeding your dog without this clearance will void our guarantee, this is to help ensure that only the best are bred. Certainly injuries or old age arthritis are separate issues. The OFA numbers will appear on your official AKC papers but generally do not list the complete number-just the age the dog was when the evaluation was completed. The dogs you want to be most concerned about are parents and grandparents of your pup since most of the dog's heredity is coming directly from them. For more information, to even look up a dog's OFA number and rating - check out the OFA Web Page at http://www.offa.org

There is a test called Penn Hip but it has not been accepted as a standard test for measuring hip dysplasia by the general AKC field Labrador community. I use OFA as that is a registration accepted by the AKC and actually put on your dog's official pedigree. At this time we do not use penn hip results but will use them as a second opinion if a dog is borderline as Penn Hip uses three x-ray views versus 1 used by OFA.  Penn Hip is considered the better evaluation by most people that have actually researched the differences but most people are unfamiliar with the evaluation and therefore we go with the more recognizable of the two. Also, Penn Hip is an open registration in which all x-rays taken by technician for Penn Hip evaluation are required to be submitted, there is no vet going "this dog looks dysplastic I wouldn't waste my time sending the X-rays in to the OFA" and no option to hide bad results.  The CHIC Foundation was founded in conjunction with the OFA to certify that the breeder opted to have OFA results published whether they were good or bad and the dog has had all recommended tests for it's breed.


CERF= a certification for normal eyes in dogs. A certified Veterinary Ophthalmologist is the only person who should complete this test and again there is an organization that will assign a certification number. You want your dog to have good eyesight so there is a check to make sure there are no genetic eye problems.

Pup should have 1st shots, be dedewclawed, wormed and Veterinarian checked before placement. We provide a package of food to start your pup, a health record of shots and worming as well as a statement from the Vet showing that the pup is healthy. You will need to follow up with vaccinations at 9, 12 and 16 weeks and talk to your vet about the need for Lyme Vaccination, Kennel Cough vaccination as well as the typical Rabies, Parvo/Distemper 3 in 1 shots. We do recommend that you have a Vet who uses no anesthesia do a hip x-ray for questionable OFA reading indicating excessive spacing between bones. Usually these dogs run just fine and sometimes the anesthesia can give a false impression.

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