GUIDE TO BUYING A LABRADOR
Written by Vicki Blodgett
Considering buying a Labrador Retriever? We think you're choosing a wonderful breed!
Before you decide, ask yourself some questions. Can you resist buying the first cute
puppy you see, on impulse? Are you prepared to make a commitment to a dog for the
next 10-15 years, even if you have life changes such as moving, new babies, or kids going
off to college? Full responsibility for a dog is not a job for children; it requires a
responsible adult, at least supervising, and should be carefully considered. The
commitment is not a small one; training a Labrador to be a pleasant companion requires
considerable time and patience. Labs don't become well-behaved all by themselves!
They require substantial attention and exercise throughout their lives; they are active and
social animals and don't do well when stuck in the backyard and forgotten.
Labrador puppy chewing and digging can be destructive. Do you have an appropriate
environment for a puppy and are you willing to live with puppy mistakes? Remember that
Labradors are not fully mature until around three years of age, so that's a long
puppy-hood. Are you willing to spend the money it takes to provide appropriate care,
including quality food and supplies, annual vaccines, heartworm testing and preventative,
and spaying or neutering? Are you willing to wait for the right puppy from the responsible
breeder of your choice? Remember, finding the best puppy for you is well worth the wait.
Buy a well-bred dog from a responsible breeder. Responsible breeders take care to
produce healthy, typical Labradors with good temperaments. Don't bargain-hunt and don't
buy a puppy from a pet store; often those puppies come from poor breeding, may have
been kept in poor conditions with inadequate socialization, and are sometimes more
expensive than puppies purchased from a responsible breeder. Responsible breeders
do all they can to avoid producing serious problems, including aggressive or shy
temperaments, hereditary health defects such as hip or elbow dysplasia, or early
blindness from hereditary eye diseases. Remember that "AKC papers" are not an
indication of quality in the dog. They only mean that the dog's parents were AKC
Is a puppy really the right dog for me?
If you don't have the time or facilities for socializing, housetraining, and obedience training
a puppy, it's possible that an older dog would be a better choice. Mature Labradors
usually adapt very well to new homes and can form very deep bonds. You can investigate
Labrador rescue or find a responsible breeder who may have an older dog to place in a
How do I know a breeder is responsible?
Look for a breeder who:
- Is knowledgeable about the breed. Most responsible breeders continually test the
results of their breeding programs by participating in conformation shows,
obedience trials, field trials, or hunting tests.
- Is knowledgeable about raising puppies. Even puppies with the best hereditary
temperaments can exhibit behavioral problems if they are not socialized sufficiently
or if they are removed from their dam and littermates before seven weeks of age.
Socialization done by the breeder should include ensuring that each pup receives
frequent human attention, is handled frequently, and is exposed to a wide variety of
noises and experiences.
- Takes steps to keep the puppies as healthy as possible. Before puppies go to their
new homes, they should have been wormed or checked for worms, and should have
received their first shots.
- Takes steps to prevent occurrence of hereditary defects in the puppies. Both
parents should have hip clearances from at least one of the following registries:
OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals), PennHip, Wind-Morgan, or a foreign joint
registry. Many breeders are checking parents for elbow defects as well as hips.
Both parents should also both have current eye clearances, either from a
veterinarian who is a diplomat of the American College of Veterinary
Ophthalmologists (ACVO) or from a foreign eye registry. Be sure to ask about
health clearances; responsible breeders will be happy to tell you about them and will
honestly discuss problems that might occur in the parents' lines. Avoid breeders that
tell you their dogs don't need health clearances because they've never had a
problem, or those who tell you that their "vet said the dog was ok." Remember that
clearances on the parents don't guarantee that the puppies will be free of problems,
but your chances of buying a healthy puppy are greatly improved if the parents have
- Does not breed bitches every time they come in season. This is extremely hard on
the bitch and may indicate that profit is the breeder's primary motive.
- Chooses breedings carefully. Ask why the particular sire was chosen. The answer
should be thoughtful and knowledgeable. Answers such as "because he lived close
to me" or "because he's such a cute dog" generally don't indicate a breeding that is
being done to produce puppies that are better than their parents (the goal of every
responsible breeder). One indication of a quality breeding is if the majority of dogs
in the first few generations are titled (CH, OTCH, FC, CD, JH, WC and so on, before
or after the dogs' names). If the titles only appear generations back or if there are
only a few in the entire pedigree, they don't mean much.
- Lets you meet the parents of the puppies. Bitches may be sent long-distance to
stud dogs, but the breeder should be able to show you photographs of the sire and
answer questions about him.
- Evaluates puppy temperaments and helps you choose the puppy that is best suited
to your lifestyle. A very active puppy won't do well in a sedate environment, and a
quiet puppy may be overwhelmed in an active household with noisy children.
Remember that most breedings are done so the breeder can choose a puppy to
carry on his or her own lines, so you may have to wait until this choice is made when
the pups are 6-7 weeks old. After that, the breeder can help you decide which pup
would be most suitable for you. The breeder has spent extensive time with the litter
and know the puppies best, so their advice is important.
- Will be willing to take the dog back at any time if you cannot keep it. Responsible
breeders do NOT want their puppies to end up in an animal shelter or in a
- Is someone you feel comfortable with. You may not be an expert on Labradors, but
you do know about people. Use your intuition. The breeder should be available for
the life of the dog to answer questions, so this could be a long-term relationship. If
you don't trust the person, don't buy a dog from them.
- Will provide appropriate documentation with the puppy, including registration
papers, pedigree, and a health record.
- Is concerned about your future plans for the puppy, particularly whether you're
thinking of breeding the dog. Many responsible breeders sell pet-quality animals
with mandatory spay/neuter contracts and/or Limited Registration (meaning that
offspring of the dog cannot be registered). This is a good indication that the breeder
cares enough about the breed to ensure that only the very best representatives are
bred. Some breeders may be willing to change the Limited Registration to a Full
Registration if you present the dog to them after maturity, having had all its health
clearances. Then, if the breeder thinks the dog is of good quality and temperament,
they may change the registration and help you with the selection of a good stud dog.
Only the dog's breeder can make this change.
How do I find a responsible breeder?
First, educate yourself. Read books on the breed. Attend dog shows, hunting tests, field
trials, or obedience trials, and talk to the Labrador exhibitors. Be willing to spend some
time on the phone, talking to breeders, and looking for referrals. Most responsible
breeders will have a list of puppy buyers before they do a breeding, and usually don't have
to advertise in the newspaper.
Please remember that the great majority of Labrador breeders are hobby breeders.
They are not "in business," breeding is not their profession, and very few of them make
money on their dogs. It's a labor of love for the breed. Please give them the courtesy
you'd give to your own friends and neighbors.
You may not find a breeder that satisfies all these criteria, but these guidelines should be
helpful in finding the best puppy for you and your situation. Good luck in your search and
enjoy your new Labrador friend. Your time and effort will be well rewarded!
GUIDE TO BUYING A LABRADOR Copyrighted © 2000 by THE LABRADOR CONNECTION,
Newsletter of the National Labrador Retriever Club, Inc.
Reprinted by permission.