When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?

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Last week we posted a provocative article regarding what we viewed as overweight Labradors representing the breed in the Westminster Dog Show. We have gotten lots of feedback on the post, from Veterinarians and Lab owners supporting our view and some folks, mostly breeders and show dog owners, telling us how wrong we are.
 

Given the firestorm and strong feelings on both sides, we decided to take a step back and look at what the real issue is – not whether those particular dogs are overweight or not, but what has happened to the AKC Standard for Labradors and is it healthy for the dogs. And let’s be clear, it’s not just Labs who are impacted by a drift from the standard, other breeds are as well (i.e. German Shepherds, Bulldogs and Sussex Spaniels just to name a few.)

 

Labrador Retriever Standard

The Labrador Standard as it exists today was updated and approved by the The Labrador Retriever Club of America in 1994. There is only one standard in use by the AKC and The Labrador Retriever Club and this is the standard used to judge the entrants at Westminster. Contrary to some of the comments we received regarding our post, there is no ‘English’ Standard or ‘American’ Standard – there is one Labrador Standard. Yes, admittedly, there’s controversy over this and advocates on either side state there should be different standards for the different types. Maybe so, but as of now, there is only one breed and one standard.

 

We spent the weekend looking back at Labrador Champions over the years. Since a Lab has never won at Westminster, we looked at Best of Breed, Best in Show (BIS) and Best of Opposite Sex (BOS) Champions at Westminster and other shows around the country. There are many great Labradors throughout the years, and several that are considered foundation dogs because of the success of their progeny in both the show ring and the field. One of them is Champion Shamrock Acres Light Brigade, born in 1964 and known as Briggs. He sired 94 champions, making him the Top Sire in the breed. His personal record was twelve Best in Show, 45 Group Firsts, 30 Group Placements. It would be hard to argue that this is not a fine specimen of a Labrador. Here’s a photo of Briggs (on the left) in his prime alongside the Westminster 2014 Breed BOS winner.

lightbrigade

 
And here’s a photo of a more recent Champion – CH Ridge View Heartland Hit Man, BOB in the 1997 Westminster and #1 Labrador in the U.S. in 1997 & 1998.
BOBwinner1997and2014

The differences in these dogs is obvious and marked. If we are judging to a ‘standard’ then it appears the ‘standard’ has somehow skewed to shorter, stockier and heavier. Our question is why?

 

Many of our readers breed and show their dogs. Many have decried the state of judging and the rewarding of ‘substantial’ or over-conditioned dogs and it is not just Labs, they are just the most apparent and prevalent example. They tell us they are often instructed to put more weight on their trim and fit dogs and it is the heavier dogs that win the prizes. Competing in dog shows is expensive and you need to win or place in order for your dogs to be in demand for breeding, so you do what you need to do in order to win. In order to win, you look at who won last time and try to emulate that dog and if the dog was heavier, well, you make your dog heavier. Sad but true.

 

Rewarding Extremes in Dogs and Humans

steverreeves
There are parallels to this phenomena in other competitive arenas. Look at competitive body building. Back in 1950’s, body builder and movie star Steve Reeves was the standard for male competitors. He was big, but look at him compared to the competitive body builders of today. At least he looks fit, functional, and even healthy.  Judges started awarding trophies to the bodybuilders that showed up with more and more muscle, and so naturally, more bodybuilders started doing whatever it took to get bigger.

 

The opposite has occurred in modeling. When Twiggy came on the scene in the 1960’s, people were appalled at her slight frame. Twiggy’s size is the new normal for modeling. It’s the opposite body composition, skinnier and skinnier, but the same problem.

 

We have allowed the extremes to become the accepted and lost sight of the normal. 

 

Who Cares if the Labrador Show Dog is “Stocky”?

Why are we so concerned about this? What difference does it make if show dogs are overweight or not?  The fact of the matter is, we don’t care if these dogs are to the ‘standard’. If that is the standard, however, then the standard is wrong. A dog of that size is overweight.

 

What truly concerns us is that the health and longevity of these dogs are negatively impacted and, more importantly it sets a bad precedent. The average viewer watching the show views these dogs as the epitome of the breed, and naturally they think that this is how their Lab is supposed to look. So, they feed Buster another scoop of food at dinner or toss him more and more treats in order to pack on a few more pounds, or they just deny it when their vet says their dog should lose a few pounds thinking that Buster looks like the dog in the dog show.

 

Pet obesity is a REAL problem in this country and denying it or excusing it by saying that an overweight dog meets the standard is just perpetuating the myth that Labs are supposed to look like that. They aren’t. They didn’t in the past and there is no sound or sane reason that they should now, just as there is no sound or sane reason that body builders should look like that guy on the right.

 

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 53% of dogs in this country are overweight.  For Labs, it is even worse with an estimated 60% being overweight. People are literally killing their dogs by feeding them too much. A lean dog lives up to two years longer than an overweight dog. A lean dog is less susceptible to a multitude of orthopedic issues brought on by carrying extra weight. A lean dog is also less susceptible to weight related health concerns such as heart disease, some forms of cancer, hypertension, respiratory problems, and kidney disease.

 

Humans can make their own decisions about what they do with their bodies. If they want to starve themselves to be thin, or eat too much and be overweight or obese, or pump themselves full of steroids to look like an over-stuffed sausage, that is their choice. But dogs don’t make these choices.  They rely on the human and it is incumbent upon us to feed them the proper amount of a healthy and nutritious diet, to keep them fit, trim and in shape so they can have a long and active life. Pets can’t change the trend toward obesity, only their owners can.

 

Whether you are a breeder or just a Lab owner as we are, don’t be deluded by the appearance of these show dogs. That is NOT how a healthy Lab looks. That’s how an over-conditioned, beauty pageant dog looks. A healthy Lab looks like what the AKC Labrador Standard says: “LABRADOR RETRIEVERS SHALL BE SHOWN IN WORKING CONDITION, WELL-MUSCLED AND WITHOUT EXCESS FAT”.

 

Or they look like this Dual Champion that is actually pictured in the AKC Labrador Standard Booklet.

bramshaw bob

Debating whether or not the 2014 Westminister Labs are to the standard or not isn’t the point. Every Lab owner, in fact every dog owner, should do everything in their power to make sure their dogs are the healthiest they can be.

 

We certainly don’t have any illusions on impacting a change to the judging and breeding practices employed by the current dog show industry. Although seeing the Labrador entrants resemble the functional and athletic looking winners of the past would set the right precedent.

 

In the meantime, regular Lab owners should enjoy the dog shows for what they are and not as an example of what our Labs should look like.
 

 Please visit our Fitness, Food and Health sections for more information on keeping your dog fit and healthy.

 

Photo Credits:
http://www.shamrockacreskennels.com/

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http://www.thelabradorclub.com

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99 Comments

  1. Yep. We totally lost sight of what dogs should look like. Most of them. It’s time to wake up and smell the lard.
    Jana Rade recently posted…Living With The Dog Mamma: (Part 6) JDMy Profile

    • I am tired of hearing show dog confirmation qualities praised by show judges as field work attributes. This overweight issue is just a outcome of a grand disconnect. It is sheer dishonesty for a show judge to attribute strong working characteristics to any animal when these judges know nothing of real field work; field trials, hunt tests or hunting (working certificates are not representative of field work). The real test of working abilities is in the field. Show Labradors are now so different from real working stock that they can rarely make the lowest rungs of field competition. Judges, please find some other way to justify your bizarre mutation of our wonderful working dogs. I also and similarly take issue with the ‘water dog’ justifications and talk of health benefits of specific shapes and sizes (I’m not talking about overweight which is logically bad). Slight, short coated, leggy Field Trial dogs can and are as watery as thicker stockier long coated ones. Heath flaws show up in all configurations. Particular bloodlines may be healthier (while producing a variety of shapes and sizes). Thick tails don’t help them swim better, straight back-lines impede more then help hard running dogs. And don’t forget they need a nose…you can’t show that.

  2. The “freaky” way we have come to see most breeds is tragic but regarding labs specifically, people (strangers!) used to constantly admonish me (in public!) for Tynan being too skinny. And my answer ALWAYS was “you are just too used to seeing fat labs.” Most would shake their heads and walk away, others would engage me and I could explain that lean dogs live longer and healthier lives!
    Bethany recently posted…Black & White Sunday, Black & White BeachMy Profile

    • It’s a big re-education process that needs to be done.
      mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

      • When the show judges start to put up the “fit” Labradors maybe the people showing will get the message to keep them fit not fat, but remember that there are many parameters for a judge to consider besides the weight!

  3. The ancestral water dog from which Labradors and all the other retrievers but the toller descent was the St. John’s water dog, and these dogs were endomorphs and rather predisposed to getting fat.

    It may be that these traits were almost a “marine mammal” adaptation. These dogs were retrieving lines and nets (and shot ducks, sea birds, and even seals) from very cold water, and unlike any other water dogs that existed before, these were largely smooth-coated dogs. Being a water dog in these conditions led to a natural selection for endomorphic traits as well as a tendency to put on fat for insulation in the water.

    Further, when the dogs weren’t used for fishing and market hunting, they were allowed to roam wild in Newfoundland, which is the main reason why Newfoundland never developed an extensive sheep ancestry.

    When this dog arrived in England and Scotland, they instantly began to use it as a retriever. Any long-coated pups got exported first, and these became the wavy-coated retrievers, the ancestor of today’s golden and flat-coated retrievers. Long-coated dogs were not fast enough in the water. The Spanish Basque also brought over huge white livestock guardians, like what we think of as a great pyr, probably to protect against polar bears, which were common in Newfoundland. These dogs crossed with native water dogs and became the large Newfoundland dog that also got exported in droves. The long-haired ones were crossed with setters and spaniels and some collies. The smooth-coated ones that eventually wound up in England were kept pure– only two families actually bred them, the Earls of Malmesbury and the Dukes of Buccleuch. In the 1880s, these two strains merged and then were crossed with other gun dogs, even foxhounds, to create the modern Labrador retriever. The dogs they produced were more lightly built than the water dogs from Newfoundland. The modern golden and flat-coated retriever were all being extensively crossed with setters at the same time to make them faster on land, but when those two breeds split, the flat-coat became selected more for setter traits and the golden more for water dog traits.

    Since Labrador and golden retrievers have been become show dogs, there have been extensive pressures to breed for the old water dog type. Goldens are based upon a template that is based upon a dog named Nous, who was the founding dog of the strain, and was just a yellow wavy-coated retriever, and Labradors are based rather consciously on the old water dog.

    In both cases, it’s breeding for an anachronism. It’s breeding for a romantic history that no longer exists, and in the case of Labradors, allowing the dogs to be fat in the ring, is really having a terrible effect.
    retrieverman recently posted…Frolic in the snowMy Profile

    • Thanks for adding your insight and the historical perspective to this discussion. You’re right, it’s breeding for that romantic history, but it seems to really be accelerating over the last few years. The more it’s accepted, the more it will happen.
      mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

  4. I think people have just started accepting “stocky dogs” as normal just as heavy people have become normal. Mom says human clothes sizes have changed too with time as a size 2 now would have been a 6 or so in the 1950’s. Humans are just accepting “bigger is normal and okay” but it is not. We are with you on this slim doggy, it makes us furious! One thing Mom loves about the GBGV and Kuvasz is that they are not popular and not over bred. Our standards have not changed much over time. What they have done to the German Shepard is almost criminal. We hope that never happens to our breed. Stay healthy, fit and trim, that should be the focus! Mom would be embarrassed to go anywhere with the lab that won, she just couldn’t imagine having a dog that was overweight like that, show dog or not!
    emma recently posted…Love To Be A Responsible Dog Owner | GBGV | #ScoopThatPoopMy Profile

    • We agree with your mom – it shows a certain amount of irresponsibility to allow your dog to be overweight. I wish it wasn’t so, that so many dogs/breeds are allowed to be bred in a manner that is harmful, but as long as that is what keeps winning the prizes, it will continue.
      mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

  5. And, to some extent, Golden Retrievers are also being subjected to a heavier “norm”…

    Take for instance, my Shadow’s littermate, Emma. When they were not even 2 years old, Shadow was slim & trim at about 60 lbs. Emma, on the other hand, was “chunky” at 90 lbs., and inactive. My friends’ vet was unconcerned, claiming that Emma was at the right weight for her size. Now, don’t get me wrong — I’m not knocking my friends at all, just their vet. Emma was only slightly taller and longer than Shadow — by maybe a quarter of an inch, a barely discernible difference when they stood next to each other — and didn’t like to run & play with her older canine sibling. That last fact alone should have been sent up a red flag. What healthy GR pup doesn’t like to run & play, especially with another dog? Fast forward two years, and the vet “discovers” that Emma has hypothyroidism. She is put on medication and almost immediately starts to lose weight and become more active. Personally, I would have changed vets in the beginning, but my friends were in denial. Fast forward another 3+ years, and Emma loses her right rear leg to osteosarcoma. Thankfully, the vet oncologist was able to catch the cancer before it had spread to other organs and Emma is still in remission 2 years after her surgery.

    I stopped watching the dog show years ago because I felt — and still do — that it’s just another form of exploitation, just like all the human “beauty pageants”. I don’t judge those who do watch and/or participate…it’s their prerogative…but I just don’t believe it’s healthy. The so-called norms are skewed so badly that I just choose not to support them by watching the shows.
    Sue recently posted…HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DUCKY!!!My Profile

    • That’s a sad but unsurprising story of your friend’s dogs. We’ve found that some vets are reluctant to broach this subject with their clients, choosing to ignore it or gloss over it. Compound that with owners that are in denial and you have the situation we are in now…53% of dogs are overweight. I’m leaning towards your behavior around the dog shows. Wish they had more agility type shows on TV.
      mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

  6. PS Sorry that first comment was so long. I just get upset when I see an obviously overweight pet.
    Sue recently posted…HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DUCKY!!!My Profile

  7. As a dog show person who owns a sporting breed…it does look awfully heavy. We have Brittanys, and it is very prestigious to have a Dual dog…meaning can win in the ring and then do what it was bred to do in the field, point birds. Often times you will get counted down if your dog doesn’t appear in field shape …as conformation participants we need to remember the purpose..to exhibit breeding stock, which includes ability to do what that breed is designed to do. This is especially so in the sporting breeds, working and herding breeds.
    Kathryn Durno recently posted…Wordless Wednesday – Becoming a ChampionMy Profile

    • Do you think shows would ever require both activities within the same show? That might ensure the health of the dogs along with the conformation.
      mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

      • I’ll answer this. No way they could have them together and personally I would not want to live with a retriever field trial dog. But to your question, you need a lot of land to run retriever trials….I mean big acreage. So running a conformation event and field event together is not possible.

        Now with Chessies, they usually run a Working Dog stake along with our National Specialty show. That is a field certification (not the same as a title) but it is run after the show finishes and usually on a different property. The only time there is no working dog stake is if there is no land appropriate, (you have to shoot ducks for these field stakes and it gets harder and harder to find appropriate land).
        2 brown dawgs recently posted…Thunder Has A BlastMy Profile

        • Thanks for the answer – I guess you are probably right. A simpler answer would be to just expect the show dogs to be in healthier condition…
          mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

  8. My daughter always tells me “less is best” and that rings true here. I am so blessed with a vet that taught me early on about obesity in dogs. I used to think Leo wasn’t getting his “fair share” of food. I thought based on size he should be given more, more, more! I didn’t know – I had to get educated. Now that he is older I am so happy I listened. Your New Year program “Resolve” was such an eye opener to ME! We have enjoyed more walks, more exercise, and I am really more aware of what goes in my mouth. I’ve taken on the same principles of portion control and activities. So sad what is becoming the “new normal” for dogs and humans. Thank you for your informative posts Slim, people are listening…..
    Cathy recently posted…WHERE’S WILSON?My Profile

    • Your daughter is wise. Glad that our Resolve program has inspired and motivated you – that’s what it’s all about – keeping our beloved pets with us as long as possible and one way to do that is keep them lean and health!
      mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

  9. I believe we should make an effort to make judges aware of the harm the are perpetuating….As someone who has recently had her eyes opened, it not only makes sense aesthetically but more importantly heathwise….call me naive but maybe they just dont realize until its brought to their eyes….

    • It’s hard to think they wouldn’t realize it, but you might just be right. Sometimes you don’t see ‘drift’ until it’s pointed out to you.
      mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

  10. I missed the original article, and I am not an expert, but the Westminster winner certainly looks fat. Compared with the AKC photo, I am surprised it was even entered let alone judged a winner. I hope this trend for overweight labs is stopped by sensible debates like this.

  11. You’re so right about how so many dogs were overweight when they were the adults being shown (plenty of puppies haven’t had a chance to get fat yet), and we were actually talking about this during the show days when watching individual breed judging online. Everyone thinks that Barkly is underweight since there are so many chunky Corgi out there, and a lot of Black Russian Terriers like Vlad are also overweight. I think many people misunderstand the standards when they contain words like “substantial, large-boned, well-developed-musculature and considerable substance.” Instead of physically working a lot of these dogs to develop those words through muscles, people are using fat to fall in with those buzzwords–especially when big bone is desirable but just isn’t there. (Every breed standard we’ve ever looked at on the AKC site has a “Size, Proportion, Substance” section.) We keep both of ours at the lowest end of the “standard” as possible–Barkly due to his Corgi spine that can have orthopedic issues, and Vlad to protect his hips, shoulders and elbows. With Barkly, we actually go by the weight-standard for bitches instead of what the ideal weight for males is. We want them to live as long as possible, and these weights are where their vets want them to be. If anyone tries to tell me ours are underweight, I’ll probably snap and ask to see their veterinary license.

    • Interesting point that they are using fat to fill in that substance. It’s so much better to build muscle than fat, but you are right, it’s harder…you actually have to work the dog and exercise them rather than just feed them. Thanks for your input.
      mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

  12. We have a Labrador off working stock and he’s the complete opposite – leggy and lean and elegant looking (and a gorgeous fox-red colour). Unfortunately I find the really stocky standard both obese and obscene…..

    • Sorry but I don’t agree , my dog is stocky, and small legged, but does have a waist. My last lab was longed leg and lean she still died of heart disease at 12. I think if that’s is your opinion perhaps you should keep it to yourself

      • Our previous Lab, Sally was short for a Lab. We had to work extra hard to keep her weight down. There’s no guarantee around anything as far as your dog’s health goes, but a wise owner does their very best to keep them as fit and healthy as they can.
        mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

        • Well said. My Lab mix is lean and he’s naturally that way but I work hard to make sure he doesn’t gain weight. I watch his food closely and make sure he gets lots of exercise. Sure, some dogs have medical problems that might make it more difficult to keep the weight off, but what is the excuse for these show dogs?
          Lindsay recently posted…For my aging dogMy Profile

  13. Both my dogs used to be very heavy. Part of it was due to a trainer’s dog that was very thin and appeared (to me) to have little energy. Both my dogs, though heavy were very happy and active. My thought process was I’d rather have a fat and happy dog with a shorter life than a thin, unhappy dog that lives a long time. Oh my. I can’t believe I actually thought like that. 🙁

    When Delilah had her ’bouts’ and we finally discovered that she was having pain from carrying too much weight, well we set about helping her lose it.

    Now both my dogs are much thinner (although I think Sampson could still lose a few pounds) AND they have energy and are happy.

    Personally, I don’t care much for the dog shows, but I do think they are sending a wrong message. Thanks for tackling this touchy subject.
    Jodi recently posted…You Make Me Smile – February 16, 2014My Profile

    • It’s funny how we become somewhat enured to size sometimes – we kind of just don’t see it. I’m glad you’ve gotten Sampson & Delilah down in weight – I’m sure they are much happier.
      mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

  14. I agree with commenter who said that too many people misinterpret substance for fat.

    In Chessies they mistake “good bone” for heavy bone which is also something I do not like. I understand that there must be some substance but you need balance in a working dog. You cannot have them too slight or there will be nothing to support their muscles and you cannot have them too heavy or they cannot work. Moderation is what all should be striving for. The key is the breed clubs need to be educating the judges on what is acceptable. It was disheartening to see the comments on your last post on this subject and the “breeders” who feel that the dog who won BOB and BOS at Westminster were the idea of the breed.

    In our breed at least, many longtime breeders are trying hard to preserve the breed as it has always been. But I have to say there is constant pull from those who just want to win in shows like Westminster. We had a whole hubbub about it last year because some self-appointed experts in our parent club decided to put out a “guide” to explain the breed to judges. Great idea but the problem was that a lot of it did not tack with the standard. Where it diverged, it could change the breed (not for the better) in a few generations. Some of us spoke up, but I was surprised at how few breeders questioned this.

    To their credit, the Board made some changes and now I think it is pretty good (although I don’t agree with all of what they included but I won’t go there….lol.). If you have free time you might want to see how our parent club sees the modern Chessie. Even is you just look at the pictures, it might be worthwhile downloading the pdf. You will see dogs who look different, but any of them could do their job. (Doesn’t mean they will ever win at Westminser…lol.)

    http://www.amchessieclub.org/illustrated%20guide/ILLUSTRATED%20JUDGING%20GUIDE.pdf
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Thunder Has A BlastMy Profile

    • Thanks for sharing the Chessie info – I love that they have so many pictures of active working dogs in their standard – makes it hard to misinterpret the appearance. I looked at this briefly during the last week because Labs and Chessies are so similar, and yet the Chessies have retained their healthy, well-muscled, sporting dog appearance. Kudos to the Breed Club and you owners for holding the line. (And your dogs of course are fine examples!)
      mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

  15. I admire you both for taking a stand against overweight dogs. You can always expect backlash when you speak an unpleasant truth about size. People take talking about their dogs as if you were talking about their children. Everyone’s dog is perfect in their eyes. Thanks for taking a stand!
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…Scoop That PoopMy Profile

    • You are so right. Our intention isn’t too offend, but a dog can’t make his own decisions about what he is fed – we have to own that responsibility and too many people are letting their dogs down.
      mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

  16. Wow what a great post today. Someone needs to start bringing this to peoples attention that’s for sure! Its even just the fact that apparently the world sees a perfect dog as being overweight now, but its the fact that it isn’t healthy either!
    Looking at Tue photos from them and the photos from now, what a difference! Itsmtruly amazing how we humans can change our views on what things should look like
    ((Husky hugz))
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…OMD! Mondays ❇My Profile

  17. I have a gorgeous yello lab who’s from working breed so he’s naturally a bit taller and slimmer than some of the more show types and iv had people say he’s too skinny as they are standing there with a great lump of a lab. My dog gets high quality food and exercise and of course lots of love. There’s no way I’d let him get fat and increase his chance of arthritis and other health problems. Plus he has so much energy compared to the fatter labs iv seen panting and waddling along, breaks my heart it really does

  18. Great post Slimdoggy. Sharing on our website. You are so right. As we as a nation have become more obese and more unhealthy, so have our dogs. Our bad habits have become theirs. Sadly, we have made “fat” pets the new norm.

  19. Great follow up post! Though my Lab is tall and lean, I actually prefer the stocky body type. That said (sorry, Rudy), there is HUGE difference between a big boned stocky dog and an obese dog. (A bit off topic, but the same thing has happened in the draft horse circles, epecially Belgian and Percheron breeds. The breed standard used to be stocky, big boned, bred to work… 15-20 years ago tall, leggy horses became the “ideal.” Totally crazy imho and not healthy.)
    Sue recently posted…Adopt Rodrigo a Pitbull Mix Dog in MissouriMy Profile

  20. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again-we are appalled at the body composition and the way many of the breeds look now (not just the lab). And you hit the nail on the head saying it is because people see what wins and emulate it. The Basset Hound is a very sorry dog now full of extra droopy skin and the BloodHound has so many wrinkles and excess skin it is ridiculous and that poor dog has to now carry around all of that extra weight. The GSD with the weakest hips and back legs lowest to the ground is chosen to win, not helping with their Hip Dysplasia at all-actually, it increases the likelihood of the dog having the health problem and then passing it onto its offspring who will also more than likely have the same problem. We honestly doubt those low hind legged GSDs would be able to take down an “intruder” in Schutzhund or clear a 8 foot fence with ease like a well bred GSD or their ancestor counterparts. The sad thing is we’ve noticed the deterioration in a LOT of the breeds (we recently found out that Cavaliers will randomly have seizures or scream in pain because their skulls are too small for their big brains which is just so sad). The Collie’s narrow face does not allow enough room for its big beautiful brain either. And we found out about the smushed face of the Pug and Bulldog and how it impairs their breathing ability. It’s just so sad to see these be the “norm.” Great post SlimDoggy!
    Tiffany & the Cattle Aussies recently posted…TTT: Valentine’s Day Special: Family is Forever-the Brief Story of One Family’s ReunionMy Profile

    • It’s a travesty really what has happened to so many of the breeds. We’ve always had Labs, so that’s the one that is most near to us – but your list is frightening, and I’m sure longer. I think the AKC has to step up and do something. That may be our next post…
      mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

      • Agreed! And oh yes, the list is definitely longer…those were just a few off the top of our heads. And if you want help with addressing the topic or bringing awareness to the topic, let us know-we’d love to join forces! One of our 2014 goals was to write to the AKC about the breed deterioration and that something needs to be done about it. Maybe if enough people speak up, the AKC will have to change what is allowed in the ring and what wins in the ring. Loved that an English Lab breeder spoke up and said that is a poor example of the breed.
        Tiffany & the Cattle Aussies recently posted…TTT: Valentine’s Day Special: Family is Forever-the Brief Story of One Family’s ReunionMy Profile

        • I’ve been mulling over next steps all day and will certainly reach out to you. It would be nice to get a petition going or something…will have to think on this, there must be something we can do to alter the course of this.
          mkob recently posted…When did Overweight Labs Become the New Normal?My Profile

  21. Wow, what really struck me about those photos of the former and then more recent champs was not just their weight, but how much shorter their legs are! That is not at all what I picture when I think of a lab…I picture long legged and lean.
    I just got around to now reading both posts, and I just wanted to say great job. Your replies to those that disagreed with you were well thought out and polite (unlike some of theirs).
    I couldn’t agree with you more on all of this, and I didn’t end up watching any of the show (we watched some of the agility trials) but when I saw your first post on FB I honestly just couldn’t believe what those dogs looked like.
    The problem is as you said, other people watching those shows might think their labs should look like that. So many people just don’t understand that it’s a health issue, not an appearance one.
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  22. At least with our dog, it was incredibly difficult to keep him trim and fit even with regular exercise and controlled portions. After a bout with digestive issues, we found that “real” food not only helped with his digestive issues, but he had more energy and was able to eat substantial portions without weight gain. It can be a pain sometimes, but when I look at him I’m reminded what my motivation is for doing it. <3

  23. We show our Labradors and often get told they are skinny. One particular boy we have is leaner than the others but he can out move any Labrador in the ring at the moment, but he is overlooked because he is not the “generic” fatty that some seem to think is the norm. In the heat he doesn’t puff and pant and struggle in the show ring like these fatties do and I’m pretty sure he would also out work them in the field. He is a Champion, so he has been recognised and I thank those judges that have awarded him.

    I actually do like he chocolate dog that was opposite sex at Westminster but for many years on watching this show on the computer I have commented on how “fat” the show dogs look.

  24. Wow – very interesting topic and it’s generated some great comments and discussion! I agree with the majority, it seems – this year’s dog seems significantly different – shorter and thicker.
    I see overweight dogs – including labs – often, and it’s unfortunate that this would be their ideal standard to go from.
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  25. Over weight Labs are a common sight. The one thing that has improved over the years is conformation. Body structure has much improved and that is due to breeders of show Labs. Nothing wrong with heavier bone and more muscle though.

  26. The same can be said of the field trial people. They’ve bred a dog that has horrible conformation. Nothing is correct with those dogs. Horrible rears, straight stifles, tails that are not functional for the job, awful toplines. I honestly don’t know how those dogs do their job. Their horrible conformation equals physical breakdown.

    • Heather, I take issue with all field dogs having terrible conformation. Most the dogs I see at hunt trials are athletic and conditioned. I have a dog who has tremendous bone, great angulation, fluid movement and rock solid top line. He is well muscled and has all his genetic and orthopedic clearances but guess what? He would be laughed out of a show ring. Why? Because he looks like a Labrador NOT a mini Newfoundland.

  27. Healing this issue starts with re educating the judges. When shown an obese lab they need to think, ” is thiz dog capable of vigorous hunting in the field and water all day in the condition it is in now?” If the answer is a very obvious no then DONT REWARD IT!!! When did stocky start meaning shaped like a pot bellied pig?! This trend of flabradors has been growing for years but seems to have really gathered momentum in the 90’s. Call it English style, blah , blah all you want. When the specimens being held up as ideal cannot physically do the job they wrre bred for that is utterly disgraceful. I have a Pharaoh Hound an guess what? Looks pretty much the same today as when they were hunting with the pharaohs. Many sporting breeds have dual champions in field and show, but its pretty much unheard of in labs noe, and that is profoundly sad.

  28. It’s not just fat. The structure of the dog has changed, as it has with many breeds. The legs are a lot shorter on many breeds than they were in the 70s. The body is deeper and has more substance. Heads are shorter-muzzled and too broad. Bone is way overdone.

    I think a lot of it is for the “cute” factor! And, to novices, it appears “impressive”.

    Labs are not the only breed these very same things are happening to.

    • You are right, we’ve heard from many other breed owners that they same kind of drift from the standard for appearance sake is becoming frequent.
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  29. The change needs to start with the Labrador Retriever Club, not AKC. If you’ve ever been to the national specialty, you might understand more. Few, if any, of the working dogs competing there are in physical shape to be considered in the conformation ring. And vice versa, (including their breeders/handlers). Working dogs do get an opportunity to be evaluated by a conformation judge for a conformation certificate. There is also a Dog for All Reasons and working dog Challenge, which the conformation certificate adds points to the overall score.
    Here’s information on the 2014 specialty:
    http://thelabradorclub.com/subpages/show_contents.php?page=Schedule

    At the last LRC National Specialty I attended, one of the conformation judges asked me to bring my young pup over to the judges as an example of an acceptable color (she is fox red). There was my excited, fit dog, leaping in the air with excitement, thinking she was going to be able to run agility again. One of the judges did comment that she was in good shape. That’s one of the judges that needs to be encouraged to reward the fit dogs.
    And BTW, the conformation breeders were saying we just didn’t understand the 2014 winner’s triple coat.

    • Triple coat? I didn’t understand the rolls of fat…

      But thanks for your insight – I agree 100%, that is exactly the type of judge that needs to be encouraged. The health and fitness of the dogs should be first and foremost. Obviously we are a little prejudiced in that regard, but I want our dogs to live long and healthy. I agree, the more I am learning and talking with other breeds that have been susceptible to this drifting, the more I realize it starts with the Club.
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  30. Well said SlimDoggy! You are 100% correct and I commend you for doing your homework! AND the dogs you chose for comparison happen to be stellar representations of the breed, handled by people who know what a dog should weigh to be healthy and still be able to win. It’s the judges that need to be educated… by the Labrador parent club. AKC is not going to do anything about it. The judges need to be educated that dogs should be judged on their readiness to do their job, instead of Head, Coat, and Tail and nothing else. Clubs need to get involved. If overweight dogs quit winning, people will change the way they look… again.

    • That’s exactly the conclusion we are reaching from all of our great commenters here. Need to go the Labrador Retriever Club to impact any changes. Thanks for your input!
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  31. Except there is an English standard, its called the standard for the Lab they use in England. Not every country uses the same standard. That is what changed in 1994. Im not an advocate for overweight Labs in any venue, but you have to have accurate facts in order to effectively convey your point.

    • I have no doubt that England and The Labrador Retriever Club of England has a standard for the Labradors shown in their dog shows. But our conversation was regarding the Westminster Dog Show sponsored by the American Kennel Club and which uses the U.S. Labrador Retriever Club standard.
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  32. I understand what the conversation was about, as I read the whole article and do understand English. What I am referring to is your very first comment that there is only 1 standard for the Labrador Retreiver, which is simply not true. Each country has their own standard, which may be similar or not to the standard for a breed in the US. In 1994 the members of the Labrador Club of America voted to adopt a standard more in line with the standard in England, an thus change the type of Lab produced in this country. My point is that it’s hard for you to lend credibility to your argument that this type of Lab is unhealthy, when the facts are not presented correctly to begin with. If you want to elicit change then join the National Lab club and voice your opinion, rather than bash what respected breeders are producing.

    • I’ll try this again. There is only one standard used by the US Labrador Retriever Club & the AKC in the US for the Westminster show. The article wasn’t an examination of Labs or Lab standards around the world it was specifically directed to the US. We did not ‘bash’ anyone, we were simply comparing the health and fitness of the dogs and the obvious diversion from the size and fitness level of the US Lab Standard.
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    • Get your facts straight Kelley. There is no Labrador Retriever Club of America.

      • The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. is the AKC (American Kennel Club) parent club for the Labrador Retriever. http://www.thelabradorclub.com/
        So, maybe it’s not called the Labrador Retriever Club of America…but it is the Club that sets the standards for shows held and judged by AKC judges in the United States – including the Westminster show.

        Not sure we should be concerned with these minor semantic issues. Our concern should be on the health and fitness of the dogs.
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        • The point is still if people who arent involved with “show” Labs want to complain about them, then join the Parent club and voice your opinion. Otherwise all the complaining is for nothing.

          • Kelley, we aren’t complaining about the dogs, we are only trying to raise awareness to the average Lab owner that those dogs are not really the size or shape that a Labrador is supposed to be. We are trying to fight the 60% Labrador obesity rate in this country and it’s not easy to do when ‘show’ Labs are shown at weights that are unhealthy. Your point about addressing this with the LRC and AKC is spot on and plans for that are already underway. Stay tuned to our blog if you would like to be a part of that effort.
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  33. I totally agree, I’m so glad that someone finally got the nerve to post something like this. Show labs today are mere couch potatoes, or should I say x-pen potatoes, all for the sake of winning. They sure as heck can’t go out and work in field all day. I current own 4 choc. and mine are to the standard as it reads, and look just like the pic of the old lab, but honey I don’t win with in AKC. But I know what I got and I just be darn if I change to win in AKC. I’ll go over to UKC or just keep my correct dogs home and breed for great companion and not sell to anyone wanting to show. Maybe they will run out of “show labs”.

  34. My shelties used to be a bit rounder (not heavy but pet ideal). After doing agility a couple years, a more experienced handler took me aside and advised me they were chunky for agility dogs and I should treat them like athletes – an athlete wouldn’t want to carry unnecessary weight as it would be bad for performance and for their bodies! so much strain on their joints even carrying a couple extra pounds. I have since slimmed them down… I get the occasional pet owner tell me how skinny they are (mind you, you can’t feel their dogs’ ribs!) however, they are full of energy and can move freely and quickly.

    • SOunds to me like you take good care of your athletes…and dogs that do agility are absolutely athletes! Well done.
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  35. You did this post very well and it was very interesting and so true. Not to make light light of it but when I saw the body builder I scanned over it and wondered if I was going to see Arnold….I would of pee’d if I saw him :). I don’t think you are going to see anymore dual champion labs anymore and I hope that never happens to the chessies. We are one of the few dual champion breeds still out there and it would be a shame if it went the way of the labs and goldens.
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    • I think you are right and it’s a real shame. I commend the Chessie community for holding the line against this trend.
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  36. I’ll keep listening to my vet, maybe they should judge. My vet likes healthy low body fat animals.

  37. I don’t know if any one else would agree with me on this but I tend to see a lot more chocolate labs over weight than any other colour my lab is off working stock so he a bit taller and leaner than what is now the new norm

    • I have heard other people report the same. We had a Chocolate Lab and while she could have easily been overweight left to her own devices…luckily we controlled the food and exercise 🙂
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  38. I couldn’t agree more. The recent Lab champions are obese. It’s awful that they are setting some kind of example for what people think a Lab should look like.
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  39. Bravo. As an ex Lab owner, but still loving the breed, I have been dismayed to see what has been in the ring in the last 15 years or so. Anything that seems to be a more moderate Lab is sure never to win any more. I find myself constantly trying to defend this wonderful breed against people who have some very unflattering names for them. I had hoped that with the choice of Echo at the National Show in Philadelphia that perhaps some reason had started to creep in. Imagine my dismay on seeing the overly done Lab that was put up at Westminster. Breeders, please try to go back to what these dogs are supposed to be. This is a working breed and I would be hard pressed to believe that some of these BB would ever be able to put in a full day in the field, and they definitely wouldn’t get over any obedience jump. Let’s do what we should to bring this most exquisite dog back to where it should be.

  40. I have shown dogs, so I have nothing against breeding for and exhibiting in dog shows. I personally love to watch dog shows. But as someone who has loved and owned a show-type Labrador (back in the 70’s), I am saddened by the changes I have seen in the breed. “Briggs”, the 1964-born Lab in the top photo, is gorgeous. He is sturdy, but trim and looks like he could run and jump and work in the field. You can see where the neck ends and the shoulder begins (it’s a smooth line, not abrupt, but you can see it). The second Lab, the 1997 Westminster BOB, is more stocky, but has enough leg under him so that he seems well built. His skull is noticeably broader than Briggs (and his muzzle possibly shorter), and his neck thicker, but he still presents a harmonious, aesthetically pleasing picture of a healthy dog who could at least chase birds, at least as much as one can tell by a photo. And then there’s the male chocolate Lab who took BOS at Westminster last week: My first thought on looking at his photo is “what happened to his neck?”. The neck is extremely thick, looking to me like it belongs on a much larger dog. His head seems too wide in the skull, more like a Rottweiler’s head. His overall silhouette is completely rectangular, and rather than sturdy, the dog looks fat in the midsection. I can understand why the Labrador conformation breeders might have wanted to produce a type less rangy than the field-bred, but they have gone way, way overboard in their zeal to differentiate show dogs from field dog in the breed.

    • We’ve never shown Labs, although I considered it years ago. We see exactly the same as what you see in those photos. I looked at countless photos the last week and the slow but steady diversion from Briggs to the BOB and BOS at Westminster was pretty amazing. We plan to continue following up on this and seeing if we can create some conversation at the LRC and AKC levels. This is just such a shame for such a vibrant dog to be expected to be in this condition. Stay tuned.
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  41. Hey – I’m not breed expert but that labrador looks overweight to me. If it was my friend’s dog, I’d tell them he needs a diet 🙂

    We keep our Alfie at a lean weight, feeding him a raw diet and giving him plenty of exercise. Sure, he’s not a labrador – and many Entlebuchers we see carry more weight around than him but he’s happy, healthy and that tail never stops wagging!
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  42. Slimdoggy (and any other interested parties),
    Not sure if you have seen this documentary, but it’s something we’d definitely recommend checking out and sharing (we just finished watching it and were appalled and did not know a lot of what was covered). If the link won’t work, just type in BBC Dogs Exposed Documentary on YouTube. And keep in mind that we’re not sure if things are still the same way now as they were in 2012….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j9jROjFPAis
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  43. What’s really sad is that the AKC Labrador Parent Club did not follow the breed standard from the country of origin that developed the Labrador Retriever, the U.K. (as it is recognised throughout the world via the FCI …The Fédération Cynologique Internationale World Canine Organisation). A Labrador Retriever in the UK is required to have a Show Gundog Working Certificate to earn a title in the show ring. Some UK Labrador judges (who are greatly valued at Labrador specialty shows) have the opportunity to judge in the US, & are often faced with a dilemma in the AKC show ring with so many dogs that do not reflect the breed description reflecting a true gundog. At an AKC show, a much frustrated UK judge confided that if an “acceptable” candidate does not reflect the AKC “norm,” then putting up something other than the “trend” would draw great condemnation among the entries of the judge’s decision.

    • It’s a shame. We have heard the same from some show dog owners who’s dogs absolutely fit the standard are overlooked in AKC shows and they are advised to pack on more weight. What? That is such wrong headedness.
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  44. As a side note…I do have AKC Labrador Specialty Show winners…and they are excellent retrievers…one dog having 4 successive generations of AKC titled hunting retrievers, Multi CH & BISS ancestors immediately in the lines, both sides, all generations. The multi-purpose Labradors do exist out there.

  45. The feeding guide on even the most reputable dry food bags is also to blame for overweight dogs. Less knowledgeable owners feed per the guide – ending up with fat dogs because in fact they should be feeding only 1/3 – 1/2 of the volume recommended on the pack.

  46. That is a great amount of information that you have shared here with us about one of favourite dogs Labrador. They are usually calm and have a great amount of loyality in them. Yes they eat a lot and generally are found to be obese.

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