An Expert’s Concern over Labrador Retriever Standards

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Last week we wrote a post that compared the US Labrador Retriever standard over the past 50-60 years. The change in the standard and the photographic evidence is quite dramatic – check our post if you didn’t see it.  Our concern is that by awarding show championships to “heavier” dogs, judges are unwittingly contributing to the Labrador weight and obesity problem as breeders react to the judging by breeding more overdone dogs and in turn, the general public sees these heavier champions and thinks that bigger and fatter is better.


We continue to pursue this matter and have identified a number of the US Labrador Retriever Club (LRC) members, judges, concerned breeders and show dog owners that we will be contacting.  We hope to gain their perspective on the direction the breed is heading and how they feel about the health of the animals.  Our goal is to get a call-to-action movement started so that the trend towards overdone, overweight, squat Labs can be turned around and the focus returned to the health and functionality of the breed.


One very significant source we discovered was this video interview from Dr. Frances O. Smith, DVM, PhD.,  for Retriever Life. Dr. Smith’s interview is really worth watching for all of us who love the breed and want to see the health and vitality of this wonderful sporting dog upheld and honored.



Who is Dr. Smith you ask, and why should we listen to her? Well, let’s take a look at her credentials:

“Dr. Smith breeds Labrador Retrievers under the registered kennel name Danikk. She serves on the board of directors of the Labrador Retriever Club, Inc, where she is the Health Committee Chair. She is the President of the Orthopedic Foundation for Animal (OFA) – the foremost animal health data base in the world. She competes in hunt tests, conformation dog shows, obedience trials and occasionally field trials. She is an approved hunt test judge. She is a nationally recognized lecturer and author. She has served Minnesota as a member and President of the Board of Veterinary Medicine.”


She is a credible expert, and while she doesn’t appear to speak directly for the LRC in this interview, there is no denying that her opinion in this matter as a member of the Board, a veterinarian and Labrador breeder carries (or should carry) considerable weight.


In this interview, Dr. Smith discusses the development of the ‘types’ of Labradors (American and British or field and conformation) and how the standard has evolved away from the tasks for which Labs were originally bred. She expresses concern over the tendency towards heaviness and shortened leg length of the conformation dogs and issues a warning that breeders should guard against dogs being so overdone that they are no longer able to function as intended (i.e. hunting & retrieving).


She expresses equal concern over field dogs being too sleek and showing a lack of substance resulting in potential joint issues and the possible loss of the Labs critical waterproof coat.


These ‘fall-aways’ from the standard as Dr. Smith calls them are avoidable if more responsibility was shown by breeders and judges towards moderation rather than breeding and judging to extremes. (1)



Dual CH Hiwood Shadow

In another piece, Smith once again calls out the interpretation of the standard, not the standard itself, saying the fault lies in “this idea that if one wrinkle is good, then 12 wrinkles is better. If a 4-pound Chihuahua is good, then a 1-pound Chihuahua would be spectacular.” (2)


She admits that the day has passed where we will see a Dual Champion Labrador again in the US. This is truly a shame because dogs such as Briggs that we pictured in our post last week was a gorgeous example of a Labrador. The last US Dual Champion Labrador Retriever was in 1984, Dual CH Hiwood Shadow from Kerrybrook shown in this photo. Gorgeous, isn’t he?

Thirty years is a long time. As caring and loving owners and admirers of Labradors, our goal should be to return the dog to it’s former ‘glory’ and restore its ability to be a Champion in the ring and in the field. That starts with an emphasis on the health and fitness of the dog.

Our research into this issue has lead us to uncover overwhelming evidence of many breed’s ‘breeding programs’ gone awry and the quest for ‘beauty’ supplanting the health of the dogs. Our perspective on what’s happening to the Labrador is fairly tame relative to what is happening to other breeds. We will continue to write about and follow this story and share with you our findings.


NOTE: Our research and commentary expressed here is relative to US-based Labrador Retriever standards, shows, judges, etc. While many of you joining the conversation are from other countries, and we welcome you, please note that our standard may or may not be the same as yours and you may or may not be experiencing the same issues. Please feel free to voice your concerns and join our cause.



(1) What is a Labrador Retriever, Retriever Life, 2013
(2) The Purebreed Paradox, The Humane Society
Please visit our Fitness, Food and Health sections for more information on keeping your dog fit and healthy.

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  1. Eye-opening information, need to spread word to other breeds also!

  2. Very interesting. What exactly is “wrong” with Ch. Hilwood Shadow, that breeders WOULDN’T want to breed dogs to look like him?

  3. It’s so true – there are some terrible things happening with other breeds. I read that bulldogs can often no longer give birth naturally, because of the tendency to breed them with such an exaggeration of the width of the chest vs. the hips. Same with Cavalier King Charles spaniels who are being bred so “cute” and small that their skulls are sometimes not big enough for their brains. They can end up with terrible neurological problems. It’s so hard to understand why folks have to take these things to extremes – like her comment that if 1 wrinkle is good, 12 is better.
    Jackie Bouchard recently posted…Monday Mischief: Another Mischief-Maker in the HouseMy Profile

  4. When I think of a lab’s standard I think of your dogs and I think of Sydney (today). I think our dogs are beautiful in their personality, coat, coloring, and in their body style. I love how healthy and happy Sydney is. When she was overweight, she didn’t do much of anything – now she runs, plays, she even plays with toys – it’s the cutest thing ever, because we thought she wasn’t in to toys; nope, she just didn’t have the energy.

    I think the standard should contribute to the longevity of a lab’s life and extra weight has shown to shorten our dogs’ lives.
    Kimberly Gauthier recently posted…I Found an Alternative to Dr. Google for Dog Owners #PearlMy Profile

  5. I applaud your continued attention to this. For a long time, I haven’t even considered non-field Labs because show Labs are so short and fat that they could never keep up with our active lifestyle. But, field Labs have their drawbacks too. The level of drive that our Labs have can be hard to handle sometimes (and would definitely be too much for most families).

    One Lab we had was a cross between a field Lab and an English Lab. Her personality was absolutely perfect – happy and upbeat but not too intense. Alas, she didn’t live long (osteosarcoma at a young age) so we didn’t go back to that breeder again.

    Sorry to bore you with all these details of my life with Labs – but I feel the same way as you do about what is happening to the “show” side of the Labrador world. It’s awful for the dogs, and they are not dogs who are athletic like a tradition Lab. Thanks for continuing to post about this!

    (If you happen to see my post today, you’ll see a silhouette of one of our Labs – we like to keep them lean and healthy!)
    KB recently posted…A good day!My Profile

    • Thanks for the support. I’ve been doing so much research on this, it’s a little overwhelming – not just the Labs, but other breed issues too. LOVE hearing about your Labs, they are so beautiful. Your Shyla reminds me so much of our dear Sally. I think you are right – the middle ground is where Labs should be…ah and where they USED to be before this craziness started!
      mkob recently posted…Dog Food Ingredients A to Z: Xanthan GumMy Profile

  6. But don’t discount what the field breeders are doing to the breed. Many of the dogs they produce are just not sound. Terrible fronts and back ends. Horrible movement. Narrow narrow heads. Joint issues at a very early age. It is not just a problem with show bred labs diverging from the standard. Labs are lucky because they have such a deep gene pool to pull from. With Chessies, we have to be very careful because we do not have the number of breeding animals that labs or goldens have. Picking bad type in the ring could ruin our breed in short order.

    IMO the real problem is that so few breeders actually hunt their sporting dogs. If they did they would understand why standards are written as they are and why proper structure/weight is important.

    I do not agree that labs can’t ever have a Dual Champion again. Why not? It won’t be easy though. In the field trial world the lab dominates. However many of those dogs are not in the standard and not always sound. Most field breeders breed on pedigree only. They don’t look at the structure of their bitch or its head shape and say how can I find a stud to help improve my breeding program to meet the standard. Having a DC would require moderation in breeding on both the field and show side. It would require field dogs to get into the ring and compete. If all the lab judges see are pot-bellied pigs well that becomes the norm.
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Crunchy SnowMy Profile

    • You are spot on. There are issue with the field Labs too – see KB’s post just before yours. There’s no easy answer to any of this, what started as a gut reaction to the overweight Labs we saw at Westminster has led to an eye-opening education on the problems associated with pure breed breeding programs. I applaud your dedication – unfortunately, not everyone is as thoughtful as you. Do you have DC in the Chessie world?
      mkob recently posted…Dog Food Ingredients A to Z: Xanthan GumMy Profile

      • But the Field Champion or the Show Champion are the extremes. There are far far more dogs in the middle that never attend a field trial or a dog show. They are the leader dog (but there are problems there because they are bred for lack of drive) or the hunting dog (may lack health clearances). Dog breeding is not an exact science and if someone tells you it is, well I would say they really have not thought it through. I know several dedicated breeders. Just Sunday we were celebrating with one of our training buddies who put a Master Hunter title on her bench Champion lab. The dogs are out there but don’t capture the attention of the masses.

        To answer your question, Chessies have many DC’s. The last one was born in 2008: Dual CH AFC Yakity’s Shake Rattle ‘N’ Roll “Comet”.

        But don’t misunderstand. DC’s are still very very rare and for many reasons. Here is an article written that discusses the rarity of a DC. I am not sure of the date of this article. The numbers for CH/MH dogs are outdated as is the list of chessie DC’s. But it is still a good discussion.
        2 brown dawgs recently posted…Crunchy SnowMy Profile

        • Thanks for the article, I’ll check it out. I think our biggest concern over all of this is that the average dog owner looks at the dogs at Westminster as the ‘best’ dogs out there. And the best dog for Labs are being represented by overweight examples. This is why 60% of Labradors are overweight in this country. I don’t show or hunt with my dogs, they are just our pets and for most people that’s the reality. While Labs (and Chessies) were bred originally to hunt & retrieve – to be ‘sporting dogs’, that’s long been bred out – at least for Labs. And now they are becoming fat couch potatoes because that’s what they see represented in dog shows.
          mkob recently posted…Dog Food Ingredients A to Z: Xanthan GumMy Profile

          • I think the number one waterfowl and upland retriever is still the lab. Come to the midwest or go south, they are everywhere. 🙂
            2 brown dawgs recently posted…Fond MemoriesMy Profile

  7. I’m glad to see someone with Dr. Smith’s credentials weighing in (excuse the pun) on the canine weight issue.

    Delilah is pure chocolate lab and would make an amazing example of ‘healthy’ lab. She is sleek, slim and is so athletic, it actually takes your breath away to watch her. I’m so glad we got that weight off her and gave her the chance to shine.
    Jodi recently posted…But The Old Bed is Soooo Comfy!My Profile

    • I think given the option, most dogs would choose to be fit and healthy…even if it meant cutting back on their food a little. I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong, but I know Jack is sure happier that he shed those extra 25lbs.
      mkob recently posted…Dog Food Ingredients A to Z: Xanthan GumMy Profile

  8. This is a great movement that SlimDoggy is supporting. I’ve recently gotten much bolder in talking to walking/boarding clients about their dogs if they have weight issues. I don’t work directly with many labs but a colleague of mine does and works closely with a lab rescue here locally. They actively talk with adopters about the importance of keeping their dogs’ weight at a healthy level. It’s an important movement and I applaud SlimDoggy for raising awareness.
    BoingyDog recently posted…If Your Dog Tilts His Head, Listen UpMy Profile

    • Thanks Boingy. I know that YOU will never have an issue with weight because you are one ACTIVE pup!
      mkob recently posted…SlimDoggy Wordless Wednesday 2-26-14My Profile

  9. Very interesting – the point that there probably won’t be any more dual champions really stuck out to me – that’s insane and doesn’t make any sense! And I highly doubt labs are the only breed for which that is true.
    Jen K recently posted…Wordless Wednesday 26: Dog Park DateMy Profile

    • You are exactly right. Sadly the original purpose for our dogs be it hunting, working, guarding, etc. is slowly being bred out in the pursuit of ‘beauty’. And I use those quotes sarcastically 😉
      mkob recently posted…SlimDoggy Wordless Wednesday 2-26-14My Profile

  10. Sometimes the experts have such skewed ideas of what looks right!
    emma recently posted…Does This Sign Apply to Hounds? | GBGV | Wordless WednesdayMy Profile

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