GUIDE TO BUYING A LABRADOR
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
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 new home.
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 been cleared.
- 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 less-than-ideal home.
- 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!
Suggested Reading List
The Art of Raising a Puppy by The Monks of New Skete. 1991. ISBN
How to Raise a Puppy You Can Live With by Rutherford and Neil.
1981. ISBN 0-931866-09-X
The Versatile Labrador Retriever by Nancy Martin. 1994. ISBN
0-9944875-31-9 Written by Vicki Blodgett
Reprinted from THE