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Purchasing a Labrador

Canine Health & Genetics

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Canine Legislature

Pamela A. Davol, 76 Mildred Avenue, Swansea, MA  02777-1620.



    Shortly after purchasing my first Lab puppy I remember telling myself, "This is the last time I'll ever get a puppy." After acquiring my second Lab puppy, it was my husband who threatened that "if the 'little darling' chewed up one more thing she would be booted out the door." She reciprocated his feelings by getting into his prized record collection, chewing up one of the album covers, and topping it all off by defecating on the LP (he didn't find out about this until six months later when I was sure that they were inseparable). Needless to say, I somehow acquired amnesia between each puppy and eventually went over the edge when I decided to become a breeder-hobbyist.
    Puppies are not for everyone, however. It takes a great deal of patience, time, and love to raise a puppy into a well mannered adult dog. Teething, crate training and housebreaking are just a few of the disadvantages of puppy raising. For those persons seeking a companion dog, but who don't have the time to put into raising a puppy, I suggest purchasing an adult dog. There are many adult Labs which have been given up for one reason or another (death of an owner, a divorce settlement, etc.) that need loving homes. If a breeder doesn't have an adult available, he may know of another breeder who does. A disadvantage of acquiring an adult dog is that a new owner may have to break what he may consider bad habits. For example, if the previous owner allowed the dog up on the furniture, the new owner may have a difficult time breaking the old habit.


    If one eventually plans to breed, one should begin by acquiring a female (bitch). It is also imperative that she be of excellent breeding and quality. Therefore, it should be understood at the time of purchase that you intend to use her for breeding so that her breeder may assist you in choosing a breeding-quality puppy from the litter. If you need a dog for hunting and retrieving, your best bet is to choose a male (dog) because a female may come into season when you need her to work for you.
    There are advantages and disadvantages to both sexes. As far as trainability is concerned, there is no significant difference between a male and a female. That is to say, I may find females easier to train based on my experience, however, another breeder may disagree based on his own experience. The answer lies in the individual dog. Anyone who has ever owned or bred dogs knows that no two are alike. Each has a unique personality which sets it apart from others. My advice on the matter is this: if you are concerned with a particular behavior (for instance, a person searching for a good hunting dog may want a puppy which exhibits more curiosity and eagerness, while one searching for a house dog may want a puppy that's more laid back) talk to the breeder. The breeder should have been observing the puppies for different personality traits during the eight weeks they have been developing and will be able to assist you in making the correct choice.


    Labradors come in three flavors: black, yellow and chocolate. Often the question is asked whether or not coat color plays a part in trainability, intelligence, etc.. Again, there is no significant difference in these areas in regard to color; color preference is probably based more on color history of the breed. Perhaps it is true that many breeders prefer black over the other colors, but this may be due in part to the fact that "type" has been well established in the black Labs for many years. The yellow color has gained much popularity in recent years. Originally, the yellow color was probably introduced into the breed during that period of time in England when much interbreeding took place. Yellow was most likely introduced when the Lab was crossed with members of the hound group (Foxhound, etc.). In support of this theory, many of the first yellow labs had very "houndy" appearances; large ears, snippy muzzles, light leg bone, etc.. Through the efforts of many breeders dedicated to the Labrador breed, the yellow Lab for several decades has taken its place along side the black Lab as having a well substantiated "type."
    It is more recently that the chocolate coloration has gained popularity. As was the case of the early yellows, the chocolate Labs initially had physical flaws which made them less popular and less attractive to prospective buyers. Again, through efforts of dedicated breeders, the chocolate Labs are quickly gaining popularity in all areas: show, field, obedience and companion.


    Out of a litter which averages about eight puppies for a Labrador, a breeder will be lucky if he acquires two potential show prospects. If his luck holds out, one of those two may go on to have a successful show career. Chances are, though, the dog may never acquire his championship title for one reason or another.
    There are no guarantees that a puppy who looks as though he may be show material will actually grow up to fulfill his breeder's and owner's dream. Show dogs are risks. The same story holds true for the field trial litter. A breeder can only attempt to stack the odds in his favor by choosing superior individuals to breed and being familiar with the bloodlines of each; but when it comes down to facts, only Mother Nature can determine the true outcome.
    Of the three... show, field, companion... the request for the companion Labrador is probably the easiest order to fulfill.


    The fact that a puppy is eligible to be registered with the American Kennel Club does not attest to the quality of the puppy or to the quality of its breeding. It simply means that the A.K.C. has the ancestry of the puppy on file.
    This leads to the discussion of the pedigree which is simply the puppy's family tree. The new owner may be impressed by the pedigree which has the most champion-titled ancestors; the breeder, however, is not. The breeder knows that breeding a champion to another champion may produce very average puppies, or breeding two individuals without titles may produce outstanding puppies. He also realizes that a pedigree isn't something just to impress prospective puppy buyers; rather; it is a tool for both himself and for future breeders which may come to use his lines in their breeding programs. Through the system of the pedigree, one can trace the beginnings of undesirable traits, as well as, the desirable ones.


    The key to prevention of hip dysplasia lies in the attempt to control for both environmental and genetic influences responsible for its occurrence. Proper nutrition in the form of restricted feeding of growing puppies is a step in prevention from an environmenta l perspective. From a genetic perspective it is recommended that only dogs with radiographically normal hips be used for breeding to prevent occurrence in future progeny; however, it is important to realize that this method has its limitations.
    Prospective puppy owners should ensure that the breeder of their puppy has had radiographs of the dam's hips submitted to the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals for review by experts in the field of canine orthopedics and hip dysplasia; likewise, the breeder should have ascertained the sire's OFA certification. All certificates should be readily available to the prospective puppy owner for inspection and assurance of validity. For an OFA certification and number, the dog must be at least two years of age at the time the x-ray is taken but not older than 5-6 years of age. Below the age of two years it is difficult to draw the line between what is normal and abnormal; above 5-6 years of age, primary arthritis of old age may be impossible to differentiate from slight hip dysplasia. X-rays taken prior to 2 years of age will be reviewed and a preliminary rating issued, but x-rays must be retaken at 2 years to acquire certification.
    Three members of the OFA will evaluate a radiograph of an individual dog based on conformation of hip joints of other individuals of that particular breed and age group. Currently, the OFA issues "phenotypic" (genetic expression) ratings of "excellent," "good," or "fair" to those individuals found to be free of hip dysplasia, and "borderline," "mild," "moderate," or "severe" to those individuals found to have hip dysplasia.


    The key to prevention of eye disorders lies in the attempt to control for both environmental and hereditary factors. Proper nutrition is essential to healthy eye development. From a hereditary standpoint, screening breeding stock for the presence of eye disorders and eliminating affected individuals from the gene pool is a major contribution toward eradicating eye disorders within a breed.
It is recommended that dogs which are destined to be bred first have their eyes examined by a member of the American College of Veterinary Opthamology (ACVO). Puppies may be screened as early as 6 weeks of age for the presence of congenital eye disorders, but since many of these disorders do not present until adulthood, it is recommended that dogs be examined yearly. A dog found to be free of eye disorders will receive an application for number certification with the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). CERF has developed a network in co-operation with the ACVO and breeders to collect and distribute information on occurrence of eye disorders within the various breeds of dogs in an effort to prevent further spread of hereditary eye disorders. Prospective puppy owners should require that the breeder present proof of current eye certification of both the sire and dam of a litter.

For more information and educational links on purchasing a puppy or adult dog, Wing-N-Wave recommends the following site:

        Dog Infomat's

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'Copyright 1992 Pamela A. Davol'