Labrador retrievers are called so because they are a type of dog used for retrieval. This is one of the most famous and widely sought out breeds of dog in America and in the UK.
Labrador retrievers are used for disability assistance in a lot of different countries. The dogs are given special training to be able to ably assist people who are blind or have autism. They can also serve as therapy dogs.
They can also be trained to carry out screening and detection jobs. These jobs are for helping out law enforcement agencies. Aside from all these, Labrador Retrievers are also valued for hunting or sporting.
But have you ever wondered where did Labrador Retrievers come from? Read on to learn about the history of this well-known breed of dog.
The history of the Labrador Retriever begins in Newfoundland. This is an island located in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. You can find this province in the northern region of Canada.
Here, the earliest ancestors of the Labrador Retrievers started out. They lived and bred in Newfoundland.
There is a belief that people who had settled in Newfoundland back in the late 1500s. When they settled there, they had brought dogs along with them to work on daily tasks. These tasks included fishing and hunting.
The dogs which were native to the island started breeding with the work dogs of the early settlers. This led to a creation of a lot of new dog breeds.
These include the Landseer, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, the flat-coated Retriever and the Greater Newfoundland. These dogs were mixed breeds of dogs from Canada, Portugal, and the British Isles.
Another breed which developed from this mix of breeds was the Lesser Newfoundland. It’s also known as the St. John’s Dog. It’s believed that this dog is the breed from which the modern day Labrador Retriever’s history comes from.
St. John’s Dog
The St. John’s Water Dogs became more popular in Newfoundland. They also started getting a reputation for being a special kind of dog. This is because these types of dogs had some remarkable skills.
The term “water dog” actually comes from the major role which the St. John’s Dogs played. They used the dogs in the fishing communities where they lived in.
Historical records have shown that these dogs were as comfortable in the water as they were on land. Their special tasks were to:
- Retrieve ropes, lines or nets in the water
- Or dive underwater to retrieve any fish which had slipped out of the fishermen’s hooks.
These dogs worked cooperatively with humans and so they were highly valued.
The St. John’s dog has a thick coat which was oily, therefore waterproof. They also had a thick tail and forward facing ears. The structure of the ears was more primitive. The ears were also a lot different from the Labrador Retriever we know today.
These dogs were unmindful of the cold. So they were happy to go swimming even though the waters were especially icy. This is one characteristic which had stayed with the modern day Labs.
The coats of St. John’s dogs vary. Some of them had short coats while others had longer ones. The people in Newfoundland likely preferred the dogs which had shorter coats.
This is because it’s more practical, especially if the dogs had to swim in icy waters. Because of this, they exported a lot of the St. John’s dogs which had longer coats, usually to England.
A lot of experts concur that the history of Labrador Retrievers officially started early in the 19th century. During this time, they exported many St. John’s dogs.
They sent the dogs to England, in the Dorset area of this country. From there, they moved the dogs to a relevant scene to support the fishing trade of Newfoundland.
As soon as the dogs were in England, English Aristocrats saw them. They saw how the dogs had great endurance and loyalty. They also observed how skilled the dogs were in the water.
They saw how strong their retrieval instincts were. Because of this, the English Aristocrats appreciated these dogs more. Especially in terms of how suitable they would be to work with them. They could use the dogs for hunting waterfowl, which is a well-loved sport for them.
It’s a widely accepted fact that the ancestors of the modern-day Labrador Retrievers are the St. John’s dog. As years had gone by, the descendants of these dogs had become the foundations of the Labrador Retrievers of modern times.
How the “Labrador Retriever” came to be
The term “Labrador Retriever” has no clear documentation on how or when it was coined. Yet, it was known that the Earl of Malmesbury used the phrase way back in the year 1887. He wrote a letter wherein he described the dogs and called them Labrador dogs.
He further went on to say that he made sure to keep the breed pure. He also described his dogs as having a coat which repels water, much like oil. And a tail which is like that of an otter’s.
This is the very first written documentation calling the dogs Labradors. But they were likely already known as such long before the date the letter was written.
There are 2 theories on how these dogs had come to be known as Labrador Retrievers. These theories are:
- That they were named after the place where they had originated. That was in Newfoundland and Labrador, a province found in Canada.
- That in Portugal, there is a village named Castro Laboreiro. In this village, there is a breed of dog which looks similar to St. John’s dogs. These dogs serve to protect the livestock in the village. Because the Spanish term for laborers is “labradores” and the Portuguese term for laborers is “lavradores,” the term may have originated in Portugal. Yet we are not perfectly sure.
As you have seen, though the name of the dog is Labrador Retriever, it did not come from there. Instead, these dogs may have originated from Newfoundland. This is an island in Newfoundland and Labrador.
It was an area where small water dogs lived. They then bred with Newfoundlands to create a breed of dog known as St. John’s Dog. This breed is believed to be the earliest ancestors of the modern-day Labrador Retriever.