Much like golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers are enormously popular as pets—it’s the American Kennel Club’s number 1 ranked breed—and one of the most common breeds trained for use as various types of assistance dogs. This is mostly thanks to their ideal size and personality traits for typical work as a service dog.
Of course, everyone who needs an assistance dog has individual factors to consider when deciding which dog breed would make the most favorable match. Labs often fit the bill, but that’s not always the case. The specific tasks you need your canine partner to perform, your disability, your home and yard, how much day-to-day care you can provide, your own taste in companion animals, and other considerations all matter.
Below is some introductory information about the Labrador retriever breed. Use it for basic guidance in determining whether or not this might be the right type of dog to partner with.
Why Labrador Retrievers Make Good Assistance Dogs
Size and strength are important physical traits in service dogs, especially when the need to offer their human partner physical support and retrieve and carry items. As reflected in their name, Labrador retrievers were originally bred to fetch—though not shoes so much as large game birds for hunters.
These dogs are active but not hyperactive, with enough energy, stamina, and interest in moving about to perform lots of tasks and accompany their people partners everywhere they go. They stick close and remain loyal, but don’t tend toward aggression or have the protective instinct of many other breeds that can make it risky to take them into public, populated areas. In fact, they are friendly with everyone, including strangers, children, and other animals.
Labrador retrievers are also highly trainable, with the smarts and the curiosity to do a wide variety of things. They respond obediently to commands without being too submissive.
Labrador Retriever Physical Characteristics
Dogs of this breed are black, chocolate, or yellow. Their outer coats are short, straight, dense, and water-resistant, and they have a downy undercoat that provides good insulation, so they’re designed well for accompanying people out in the elements. Averaging just under 2 feet tall as adults, Labs aren’t particularly tall. However, their solid, square, big-boned, athletic build and 65 or so pounds make them sturdy and strong.
Labrador Retriever Temperament
Labs brim with enthusiasm and affection, but have the restraint and obedience to temper them as needed; however, they need considerable physical activity and affection in return to remain happy and well behaved. These are alert, patient, intelligent, playful, outgoing, amicable, and devoted dogs, but they can easily become bored, which may prompt destructive behaviors.
Labrador Retriever Care and Health
Because of their personalities, Labrador retrievers require a good deal of physical and mental stimulation every day. Working as an assistance dog often satisfies these needs, but consider your ability to provide both before deciding on this breed. Also, these dogs love to swim, so really flourish with people who can provide opportunities to get in the water. They don’t have high-maintenance coats, but they should be brushed out once or twice per week. Expect moderate seasonal shedding.
Labs generally live 10 to 12 years and are a fairly healthy breed. Joint problems like hip and elbow dysplasia are a concern in later years. The breed is also prone to various ear and eye problems.
As you can see, many characteristics of Labrador retrievers make the breed well suited to the life and work of an assistance dog. However, many individual factors come into play when deciding which dog breed will make the best match for you. For further guidance, see Some Things to Think About when Choosing an Assistance Dog Breed.