The Labrador breed standard was created in the early 1900’s and while there have been a few minor changes and extensions since, it’s still the same standard that’s in use today. (You can read about Labrador History here.)
Breeders use the standard as the blueprint in their breeding programs, as the ideal dog to aim for, to ensure the purity, continuation and future of the breed.
Conformation judges use the standard as a guide to score against when judging Labradors in the show ring.
The standard dictates what everyone in Labrador circles should adhere to.
It governs how a Labrador should look, what its temperament should be, it’s what makes a Labrador a Labrador and entirely different from the 210+ other recognized pedigree dog breeds worldwide.
Contents & Quick Navigation
- The Labrador Breed Standard Around the World.
- General Appearance
- What Should A Labradors Head and Skull Look Like?
- What Should A Labradors Eyes Look Like?
- What Should A Labradors Ears Look Like?
- What Should A Labradors Mouth Look Like?
- What Should A Labradors Neck Look Like?
- What Should A Labradors Forequarters Look Like?
- What Should A Labradors Body Look Like?
- What Should A Labradors Hindquarters Look Like?
- What Should A Labradors Feet Look Like?
- What Should A Labradors Tail Look Like?
- What Should A Labradors Gait / Movement Be?
- What Should A Labradors Coat Look Like?
- What Color Should A Labrador Be?
- What Size And Weight Should A Labrador Be?
- VIDEO: A Labrador Being Judged
- The Labrador Breed Standard From The Official Kennel Clubs Of The World:
- Feedback, Questions and Comments
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The Labrador Breed Standard Around the World.
The major kennel clubs around the world mostly agree on the essentials of the Labrador standard but after studying a few, I’ve found a few minor differences between them (height being one of them).
These differences mostly come down to just the use of language and the depth of the description within the standards.
Some of the standards are quite short and concise, whilst others are very long and wordy. However, they all describe the same animal and agree on how a Labrador should look and on its characteristics and temperament.
For my descriptions below, I shall quote the original UK Kennel Club breed standard with additions from some other standards where I feel it aids the description.
“Strongly built, short-coupled, very active; broad in skull; broad and deep through chest and ribs; broad and strong over loins and hindquarters.”
This describes a strong, well-balanced dog suited to the work for which he was first bred.
A retrieving / hunting dog must be able to work for long hours and be able to move freely through grasses, woodland and water. As such, it’s desirable to have no exaggerating features to slow him down and to have a strong athletic build with the ability to carry heavy objects over all sorts of terrain.
“Good-tempered, very agile (which precludes excessive body weight or excessive substance). Excellent nose, soft mouth; keen love of water. Adaptable, devoted companion.”
The Labrador temperament is as important and famous as their looks! Well known for its kindness, confidence, intelligence and willingness to please, a lab should display all these qualities.
In fact in the show ring if a lab shows any aggression or shyness it’s heavily marked down as not being a trait of the breed.
With regards to body weight, sadly I see so many overweight Labradors in the UK. It’s a real shame and although could be partly due to genetics, I have to say that it’s mostly owners overfeeding and not exercising their dogs enough.
As a working breed, they must be agile and athletic. And hey, no dog should be overweight, it’s basically neglect!
The excellent nose, soft mouth and love of water are all in the standard due to the breeds working nature.
If he is to retrieve fallen game, he needs the ability to sniff out where it has fallen, perhaps to retrieve from water and especially needs the ability to bring the bird back without crushing or damaging the bird within its mouth.
“Intelligent, keen and biddable, with a strong will to please. Kindly nature, with no trace of aggression or undue shyness.”
As described in the characteristics above the temperament is of vital importance.
A Labrador is confident and eager to please due to being a working breed that spends a lot of time working with and for humans. If it was shy or too aggressive, it wouldn’t be comfortable or suited to such a role.
A Labrador is also highly biddable so it can be easily trained for the work that is desired of it.
A stubborn and highly independent dog that doesn’t aim to do as asked by its owner will be of no use. It would be too hard to train and unreliable when working.
Intelligence, kindness and willingness to please is hard to judge in the ring, but breeders especially should take note of this requirement.
What Should A Labradors Head and Skull Look Like?
“Skull broad with defined stop; clean-cut without fleshy cheeks. Jaws of medium length, powerful not snipy. Nose wide, nostrils well developed.”
The Labradors head is one of its defining features. Neither long and elongated, or short and stubby, it is in proportion to the strong yet agile looking body.
Kind of square, but in keeping with the athletic yet kindly look of the breed.
The broad skull is in keeping with the strength and working nature of the breed that’s able to navigate obstacles without easily injuring and to have a mouth wide enough for carrying game it has retrieved.
The nostrils wide and developed signal a strong scenting ability that’s essential in a retrieving breed that is able to sniff out fallen game.
Although not explicitly expressed in the standard, whilst looking at the head of a Labrador, you can definitely sense the intelligence and kindness of the breed.
They are very alert, have a thoughtful look about them but don’t seem in any way intimidating despite their clear look of strength.
What Should A Labradors Eyes Look Like?
“Medium size, expressing intelligence and good temper; brown or hazel.”
The eyes are the window to the soul and the soul of a Labrador is kindly and good-tempered. This should be instantly recognizable.
They shouldn’t have eyes that are too large or protruding as these would be too easily damaged when working in dense undergrowth.
The color of brown and hazel is almost certainly just down to aesthetics and suits the overall color and look of the breed.
What Should A Labradors Ears Look Like?
“Not large or heavy, hanging close to head and set rather far back.”
The ears hanging close to the head give another level of protection to the animal when retrieving in thick undergrowth by covering the entrance to the ears.
The ears not being too large or heavy prevents the ears being out of proportion with the rest of the animal or making the Labrador look a little too much like a hound.
Larger ears would also more easily snag on bramble and branches when traveling through dense cover, so making the dog more easily injured whilst working.
Stating the ears must be hanging close to the head prevents the breeding of animals with pointed ears that would be out line with the look of the breed.
What Should A Labradors Mouth Look Like?
“Jaws and teeth strong with a perfect, regular and complete scissor bite, i.e. upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws.”
This description ties in with the Labradors ability to easily grip and hold game that it has retrieved.
What Should A Labradors Neck Look Like?
“Clean, strong, powerful, set into well placed shoulders.”
Again, this ties in with the strong and athletic build of the breed, requiring a good strong neck in balance with the body and strong enough for the dog to carry game it has retrieved with ease.
What Should A Labradors Forequarters Look Like?
“Shoulders long and sloping. Forelegs well boned and straight from elbow to ground when viewed from either front or side.”
This pertains to the breed needing to have restriction free movement, to be balanced and agile.
What Should A Labradors Body Look Like?
“Chest of good width and depth, with well sprung barrel ribs – this effect not to be produced by carrying excessive weight. Level topline. Loins wide, short-coupled and strong.”
The good width and depth of the chest is to accommodate a powerful set of lungs needed by a dog that was bred for long days working and retrieving. Strength and stamina are important characteristics of the breed.
The well sprung ribs refer to the Labrador look having a chest that extends out from the spine and nicely curves down into the belly giving a nice, filled out strong-looking shape. A Labrador that has a narrow chest and appears flat down its sides is not typical of the breed.
What Should A Labradors Hindquarters Look Like?
“Well developed, not sloping to tail; well turned stifle. Hocks well let down, cowhocks highly undesirable.”
Well developed to provide strength and stability. The hindquarters are the engines for movement and provide much of the force for power in movement.
Underdeveloped or weak looking hindquarters wouldn’t suit a retrieving breed that’s expected to work and run about all day.
The ‘cowhocks’ described are when the dogs hindquarters bend inwards under the tail. Much like ‘knock knees’ appear in humans. This isn’t desirable and the Labradors legs should be straight when viewed from the rear.
What Should A Labradors Feet Look Like?
“Round, compact; well arched toes and well developed pads.”
The description of the feet are suited to that of a working breed. Long ‘hare’ feet, flat footedness or splayed feet will certainly be marked down in the ring and would be a hindrance to the agility and hardiness of the dog when working.
What Should A Labradors Tail Look Like?
“Distinctive feature, very thick towards base, gradually tapering towards tip, medium length, free from feathering, but clothed thickly all round with short, thick, dense coat, thus giving ‘rounded’ appearance described as ‘Otter’ tail. May be carried gaily but should not curl over back.”
The thick, medium length tail of the Labrador gives a nice flowing and balanced line right from head to tip of the tail.
It’s likely this was written in because the tail has a purpose for the breed, useful when swimming and providing balance during movement on land.
Not having a tail that curls over the back is useful in a breed that may have to crawl through thick cover, avoiding any chance of snagging on bramble or branches.
What Should A Labradors Gait / Movement Be?
“Free, covering adequate ground; straight and true in front and rear.”
A Labrador Retriever should be balanced in movement, moving steadily and gracefully with minimal effort.
The legs should not splay outward, nor splay inward There should be no weaving, bobbing, toeing out in the forequarters or elbows sticking out during motion.
The Labradors effortless and graceful motion is essential in a breed that should be able to work all day. Any inefficiencies in movement will only hinder its working performance in high activity pursuits.
What Should A Labradors Coat Look Like?
“Distinctive feature, short dense without wave or feathering, giving fairly hard feel to the touch; weather-resistant undercoat.”
A Labrador in fact has two coats, a top coat and an undercoat.
The top coat provides a tough protection for a dog that has to wade through thick undergrowth and grassland areas.
The undercoat provides a dense weather and water-proof layer allowing the Labrador to work in cold conditions and be able to swim in somewhat unforgiving cold waters.
The undercoat is usually lighter in color than the overcoat but does not show through it. You can see the undercoat by running your hand against the lay of the fur.
What Color Should A Labrador Be?
“Wholly black, yellow or liver/chocolate. Yellows range from light cream to red fox. Small white spot on chest permissible.”
You will notice there are only three colors within the Labrador breed standard: black, chocolate and yellow.
The so-called ‘White Labradors’ and ‘Fox Red Labradors‘ are in fact shades of yellow. And the ‘Silver Labrador‘ that you may see advertised is just one of the three colors with a diluted coat color that is NOT recognized in the breed standard.
A Labrador should be of a solid coat color, but a small white patch is permissible on the chest, this coloration having been very common in the St Johns Dog, the ancestor of today’s modern Labrador.
What Size And Weight Should A Labrador Be?
From the UK Kennel Club:
“Ideal height at withers: dogs: 56-57 cms (22-221/2 ins); bitches: 55-56 cms (211/2-22 ins).”
And from the AKC:
“Size–The height at the withers for a dog is 22½ to 24½ inches; for a bitch is 21½ to 23½ inches. Any variance greater than ½ inch above or below these heights is a disqualification. Approximate weight of dogs and bitches in working condition: dogs 65 to 80 pounds; bitches 55 to 70 pounds.”
So there’s some disagreement worldwide on the ideal height of a Lab. But judges in the ring can and do make some room for small differences here, though a Labrador shouldn’t be too large or too small.
The size is written into the breed standard to prevent attempts at selectively breeding Labradors into toy or giant sizes. The Labrador is a medium-sized dog.
“Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.”
“Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.”
VIDEO: A Labrador Being Judged
This is a video of Linda Harvey Major taking us through some of what a judge looks for when judging a Labrador Retriever. Linda has bred labs for many years as well as traveled the world extensively whilst judging them and really knows what they look for in the ring.
You should note that the four main areas that make a Lab a Lab, are the three physical attributes of its head, tail and coat, but with high importance also placed upon its temperament.
The breed was initially developed as a working animal and it’s the physical features described that enable a Labrador to endure the rigors of working in harsh environments such as cold water and thick undergrowth.
The physical attributes described allow the ease of movement and stamina to work long days and the strength and balance required to carry heavy loads over reasonable distances in its mouth.
A Labradors temperament of being loyal, biddable, intelligent, eager to please and highly adaptable is what makes the Labrador such an excellent working animal, but also dearly loved as a family pet.
The Labrador Breed Standard From The Official Kennel Clubs Of The World:
For further reference, I’d like to point you to a few official Labrador breed standards around the world:
- For the UK kennel Clubs, please follow this link: The Kennel Club Labrador breed standard.
- For the American Kennel Club, please follow this link: The AKC Labrador breed standard.
- For the Canadian Kennel Club, please follow this link: The CKC Labrador breed standard.
- For the Australian National Kennel Council, please follow this link: ANKC Labrador breed standard.
- For the New Zealand Kennel Club please follow this link: NZKC Labrador breed standard.
Feedback, Questions and Comments
I’d welcome any feedback or questions on this article so please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. I will try to answer every one :-)