This Popular Dog Breed Has Spent a Record 28 Years at No. 1 in the US

The results are in: For the 28th year in a row, the Labrador retriever is the most popular dog breed in the United States, according to the American Kennel Club. Interestingly, Labs didn’t even appear in the AKC’s top 10 most popular dog breeds until the 1970s, when they took the No. 9 spot. Their rise to top dog continued in the 1980s, as they soared up to No. 3 on the list. And they finally settled at No. 1 in the ’90s.

If you’re considering adopting a Labrador retriever or a Lab mix — their popularity sadly (or fortunately for you) does make them easier to find in animal shelters — here’s what you need to know about the breed.

The history of the Labrador retriever

Black Labrador retriever fetching a stick from waterCredit: stuartrenn/Getty Images

If you guessed Labrador retrievers are from Labrador, Canada, you would be wrong — but close. Their ancestors actually originated on Newfoundland, where they worked as retrieving dogs. Further confusing matters, this ancestral waterdog “was first known as the lesser Newfoundland — probably to distinguish him from the giant breed known as the Newfoundland — the St. John’s Newfoundland or the St. John’s dog,” according to VetStreet. And because the breeds evolved in close proximity, modern Labradors likely share some lineage with today’s Newfoundlands.

The lesser Newfie was a black, medium-sized dog with a smooth coat, whereas the greater Newfie was (surprise) much larger, PetMD says. Both dogs had webbed feet, a water-repellent coat and a broad tail that could act like a rudder — and consequently both were strong in the water. Because of their size and power, greater Newfies typically were used to pull heavy loads. But like today’s Labs, the lesser Newfie was actually the favorite between the two.

“Its great agility at fetching fishing lines and nets in the water and delivering them, along with its noteworthy style of affection and playfulness with families at the end of a long work day, made the smaller of the Newfoundland dogs the more popular choice,” according to PetMD.

It’s not exactly clear where the name Labrador came from for these dogs, but there are some theories. “One is that the name is borrowed from the Spanish word for laborer — labrador — which is certainly a fitting description,” VetStreet says. There also might be some relation to dogs known as “cani di castro laboreiro,” who belonged to Portuguese fishermen working off the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland.

Regardless of how it originated, the name Labrador really stuck after British nobles visited Canada in the early 1800s and took note of the dogs. “These sporting earls and lords returned to England with fine specimens of ‘Labrador dogs,’” according to the AKC. British breeders continued to refine the dogs, aiming to preserve their good demeanor and retrieving instinct.

The Kennel Club of England officially recognized the breed in 1903. Just a little while later, the AKC registered its first Labrador retriever in 1917. And over the next century or so, the breed’s popularity worldwide skyrocketed — largely thanks to its crowd-pleasing characteristics.

Life with a Labrador

yellow, chocolate and black Labradors sitting on a benchCredit: lizcen/Getty Images

Yes, there are several good reasons Labradors are the most popular dog breed. “Labs are friendly, outgoing, and high-spirited companions who have more than enough affection to go around for a family looking for a medium-to-large dog,” the AKC says. This is what makes them excellent family dogs, service dogs, therapy dogs and more. But if you’re interested in adopting a Lab, it’s still critical to understand what you’re getting into.

Although a good temperament is a hallmark of the breed, it’s important to remember each dog is unique. “Some are serious, some are clowns, some are reserved, some never meet a stranger,” VetStreet says. Genetics, training and socialization all will greatly influence a Lab’s individual personality. Still, VetStreet rates the breed highly for its adaptability, trainability, intelligence and playfulness — as well as its friendliness with children, strangers, other dogs and even cats.

Furthermore, just because Labs are typically affable and easygoing, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re well-behaved. “Before the age of two or three, many Labradors can be extremely active and destructive despite their breed reputation for calm dispositions,” according to VetStreet. “It’s in their extended adolescence that many Labradors find appeal in swallowing rocks, socks and Barbie dolls, all of which — and more — have been surgically removed from these dogs.”

In a nutshell, Labradors are energetic. They love water. And the only thing that might rival their relationship with water is their love of eating.

Plan to channel their energy into a couple good walks each day, and throw in other activities — including swimming, hiking and dog sports — whenever you can. Just be warned that if a Lab sees even a puddle of water, there’s a strong chance they’ll dive in. Luckily their coat tends to dry quickly — though they will require a bath to remove any chlorine, saltwater or mud. And speaking of grooming, Labs have a propensity to shed a lot, so it’s ideal to brush them once or twice a week to remove loose fur.

Plus, in terms of their eating habits, it’s often necessary to put away any items — food and otherwise — that they might be tempted to chew and swallow. “They are professional countersurfers, and they will eat anything that looks like it might be food,” VetStreet says. And that might lead to one of the most common health issues in the breed.

The health of Labradors

chocolate Labrador retrieverCredit: happyborder/Getty Images

Labrador retrievers live about 10 to 12 years on average, according to the AKC. They typically weigh somewhere between 55 and 80 pounds, and many Labs are prone to obesity. “This breed has a tendency to retain weight if it is sedentary too often, or if it is given too many treats,” PetMD says.

As with many purebred dogs, there are several health issues Labs face that are thought to be inherited. According to the Canine Inherited Disorders Database, the breed is prone to hip and elbow dysplasia — an often painful condition involving abnormal formation of the joints. And it’s susceptible to retinal dysplasia, which can affect the dog’s vision.

The breed also faces other eye diseases, exercise-induced collapse, heart disease, orthopedic issues, epilepsy, cancer and allergies, according to VetStreet. Plus, Labs are prone to ear infections — commonly from allergies or moisture — so it’s critical to dry their ears thoroughly whenever they get wet, and ask your vet about an ear cleaner.

Furthermore, chocolate Labs might experience more frequent health issues, according to a study published in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology. The study found chocolate Labs tended to have a much shorter median lifespan than their yellow and black counterparts. And they experienced significantly more ear and skin problems. The researchers noted that the chocolate coat is recessive, so those dogs are from a smaller gene pool that might put them at a higher risk of disease. So that’s definitely something to be aware of if you adopt a chocolate Lab.

But on the plus side, because Labs are so energetic and eager to please, the world is your oyster when it comes to mental and physical activities that can help keep them healthy. Many Labs are just as enthusiastic about retrieving a tennis ball to release some pent-up energy as they are going to a canine class or visiting hospital patients as a therapy animal. And that kind of active lifestyle — paired with a quality diet and limited treats (but lots of praise) — will help give this popular dog breed its best shot at a long, healthy life.

Main image credit: lizcen/Getty Images

52 comments

Thomas M
Thomas M15 days ago

Thank you

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Anna R
Anna R22 days ago

thank you for sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W22 days ago

Adorablr dogs Thank you for caring and sharinb

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Glennis W
Glennis W22 days ago

Thank you for caring and sharinb

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HEIKKI R
HEIKKI R25 days ago

thank you

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j W
j W25 days ago

My family has only adopted dogs but I've got to say my first yellow lab was the best dog I ever had. My 2nd is now 2 and is very sweet. He loves everybody and especially loves playing with the kids. But my older wiener dog mix twins have him thinking he's a lap dog and the long lanky guy weighs in at about 85 lbs. He can knock you back in your seat wanting to cuddle if you're not paying attention.
How I love (all) dogs!

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Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer26 days ago

If someone visits who might be sick, Brisa lies down at his/her feet all the time of the visit instead of my brother's feet (my brother is her owner).

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Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer26 days ago

Brisa almost never barks - only, maybe once a week, if she thinks there is a wild animal close (we live next to a giant public park).

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Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer26 days ago

Brisa was born in Peru and now lives in El Salvador.

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Naomi D
Naomi Dreyer26 days ago

My brother's beige Lab, Brisa, only sleeps (even when a puppy!! ) that's why he picked her from the litter of pure breds.

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