Description & History

The Labrador Retriever, also known as the Saint John's Dog, originated from the Canadian province of Newfoundland.

Labradors were retrievers long before they were trained to be gundogs. They worked from fishing boats off the coast of Newfoundland. Trained to jump overboard, they would swim ashore dragging the nets through the water to waiting men who would haul in the catch.

Fishermen first introduced the breed to England in the middle of the nineteenth century. Fishing boats - perhaps Portuguese - crossing the Atlantic from north America brought these dogs to English ports. There is a theory that the ancestors of the breed were taken to Portugal before arriving in England. In Portuguese, Labrador means 'field workman'.

The aristocracy and leading sportsmen heard about these strong, active dogs with a fine reputation for retrieving and were eager to obtain them.

It is believed that the first owners of the breed in England were the second Earl of Malmesbury and Colonel Peter Hawker. Gradually the reputation of the Labrador spread and by the 1860's a number of large estates had acquired and were discovering the working abilities of the Labrador.

Soft mouths and a natural ability in water and in wooded and open country have made them a gamekeeper's favourite. They are very successful at trialing and retrieving wounded game.

Wildfowling, a worldwide sport, operates in areas where ducks, geese and waders are usually found - estuaries, marshes, river mouths and sea lochs. Wildfowling is a demanding sport, which takes place in the early hours of the morning and before sundown, when birds are flying to and from their feeding grounds. Participants and their dogs usually operate alone and nearly always in extreme conditions - bitter winds, mud and treacherous ground - all of which can make the sport dangerous and, for the average person, uninviting. Labradors are ideally suited as wildfowling dogs and are often given preference by shooters over other gundog breeds. Not only are they first-rate water dogs, but they also have the characteristics to withstand the rigours of the sport.

Owing to their temperament, Labradors are trained for other work - as police dogs, guide dogs for the blind and for drug detection.

The breed was recognised by the British Kennel Club in 1903.

Rosamund Walters.

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