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Labrador Retrievers: The AKC Breed Standard

Naturally active and alert, the Labrador Retriever belongs to the AKC Sporting Group. Sporting dogs make friendly, well-rounded companions. But if you want your Labrador Retriever to participate in conformation shows, it must match the AKC breed standard. So, just what is the AKC breed standard for Labrador Retrievers, anyway?

Appearance standards

The AKC standard specifies that a Lab has to be clean-cut with a strong and athletic look. Labs are medium-sized dog with warm, friendly eyes and a well-balanced body. They need to look hardy enough to hunt for long hours under difficult conditions, yet have the personality of a family pet.

The ideal Lab demonstrates the suggested neck, topline, and back of the breed standard.
The ideal Lab demonstrates the suggested neck, topline, and back of the breed standard.

If you plan on showing your Lab, check with the AKC for more information and to see if your Lab qualifies. The American Kennel Club (AKC) is a nonprofit organization that's devoted to the advancement of purebred dogs. The AKC maintains a record of all registered dogs; sponsors a variety of dog, such as shows and agility competitions; and establishes the ideal standards for each recognized breed.

Of course, the standard does much more than offer a big-picture description of what a Lab should look like. The breed standard places far more emphasis on exactly how specific parts of the Lab's body should appear.

  • Size: Labs should be relatively short from shoulder to hip, but not so short that it interferes with their able to run and walk easily.

    • Male Labrador Retrievers should be 22-1/2 to 24-1/2 inches at the withers and weigh between 65 and 80 pounds.

    • Females should be 21-1/2 to 23-1/2 inches at the withers and weigh 55-70 pounds.

  • Head: A Lab's skull should be wide but balanced. The top should be parallel to the muzzle and both parts roughly the same length.

    The head should also be clean-cut with strong jaws.

    • The ears should hang next to the head, relatively far back and low. When pulled forward they should reach the inside of the eye.

    • The nose should be wide and black on black and yellow Labs or brown on chocolate Labs.

    • The eyes should be alert and intelligent. Eyes should be brown with black rims on black and yellow Labs and brown or hazel with brown rims on chocolate Labs.

    • The teeth should be strong and have an even bite, with the bottom teeth just behind the top teeth with the mouth is closed.

  • Neck: The neck should be strong without loose skin and long enough to make retrieving easy.

  • Body: The topline should be straight and level between the shoulder blade and the hips, and the body should have a nicely tapered rib cage (not too flat or too barrel-chested).

  • Tail: The Lab tail should be an otter tail that is very thick at the base and then tapers off. The Lab should continue the flow of a line from the top of the head to the tail tip.

  • Forequarters: The forequarters should be muscular and balanced with the hindquarters so that shoulders and hips are in proportion, as are front and back legs.

    Additionally,

    • Front legs should be straight, and when viewed from the side, the dog's elbows should be directly beneath the top point of the shoulder blade.

    • Feet should be strong and compact with arched toes and well-developed paws.

  • Hindquarters:The hindquarters should be muscular and balanced with the forequarters.

    Additionally,

    • Rear legs should have strong bones and defined thighs with steady knees. Viewed from the side, they should mirror the angle of the front legs.

    • Feet should be strong and compact, with arched toes and well-developed pads.

    • The rear toes should stand just behind the top of the rump when standing still.

  • Coat: Labs should have a double coat with a thick, dense, hard, weather-resistant top layer and a soft, downy undercoat for insulation.

  • Color: Labs come in three colors: black, yellow (from fox red to light cream), and chocolate (light to dark).

Appearance defects

The standard also discusses how judges should rate the less-than-perfect Labrador Retriever. If your dog has any of the following characteristics, he will be disqualified from show competition:

  • Shorter or taller than the height described in the standard (the margin is 1/2 inch)

  • A pink nose or one lacking in color

  • Eye rims that don't have any pigment

  • A docked or altered tail

  • Any other color or a combination of colors other than black, yellow or chocolate

    Few, if any, Labrador Retrievers meet all the standard's criteria for perfection. Some deficiencies are no big deal in the show ring, while others are considered so serious that the dog can't be shown. Still, disqualification from the conformation show ring certainly doesn't mean that the affected Labrador Retriever won't be a wonderful, healthy pet or participant in other dog activities and competitions, such as agility.

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