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5 Remarkable Reasons Why Labrador Retrievers Can Make Great Service Dogs

Updated: Jul 6, 2023

As a nonprofit founded on the pioneering concept of increasing the availability of service dogs through the expert husbandry and nurturing of world-class puppies, we know that when it comes to Labrador Retrievers—there's no better breed for service work.

The reasons for this are many, but before discussing these wonderful traits, let's take a minute to look at the history of this remarkable breed.

 Labrador Retriever

History of the Labrador Retriever Breed.

Labrador Retrievers originate in the Newfoundland region of eastern Canada—specifically St. John’s Bay region—and are descended from the Lesser Newfoundland or the St. John’s water dog. (Not to be confused with the Newfoundland dog, which has also become a family companion breed.)

It has been speculated that the St. John’s water dog was a random mix of English, Irish and Portuguese working dogs. Given the geography of the region where these dogs lived, fishing was the predominant trade—a perfect fit for these medium-sized, stocky dogs with water-resistant fur.

The St John’s water dog’s temperament and working drive led them to become favored by fishermen in the region. The dogs would jump into the icy cold waters and retrieve fishing nets, ropes, and even fish that got off of a fisherman’s hook.

Unfortunately, local policies meant to encourage sheep farming in the region and restrictions or taxes placed on dog ownership led to the breed's ultimate extinction in the 1980s.

Importation of Labrador Retrievers to England.

 Labrador Retriever

Fortunately, specimens of the breed found their way to England in the early 1800s. St John’s dogs were imported into England by the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury, who came to breed and refine the dog for upland game and duck hunting on his estate. Eventually, he donated specimens to the 5th and 6th Dukes of Buccleuch, and breed refinement into the dog we know today as the Labrador Retriever.

The story has it that a servant of the Earl saw a young boy playing with a couple of dogs on the docks where the trade ships would come to port. The boy was throwing a ball into the water, and the dogs would continually jump into the water and return the ball to him.

When the servant reported the news about the dogs he saw to the Earl, it was suggested that he write to the Governor in Canada asking him to send a couple of his finest specimens to him in England.

Thus, refinement of the breed continued...

Refining the Labrador Retriever Mix Breed.

 Labrador Retriever

There were a number of great early dog breeders that worked to develop the breed into what it is today. One of the more famous dogs from the earliest twentieth century was Banchory Bolo—he truly left his “mark” on the breed in a number of ways.

One of those ways was with offspring that carried what became known as “Bolo marks,” which are little patches of white on the bottom of the front feet, feet, chest, and chin.

While several great breeders continued to to refine Labrador Retrievers in the years to follow, perhaps the greatest impact came from Mrs. Gwen Broadly, of Sandylands Kennel in England. Mrs. Broadley passed away in 1999, but her dogs can be found generations back in the pedigrees of most champion dogs of the breed in the United States. Her work, along with the great breeders today, is the reason why Labrador Retrievers are the breed best suited for service work.

Biggest Reasons Why Labrador Retrievers Can Be Remarkable Service Dogs.

 Labrador Retriever

1. Working Desire

Since the beginning, the breed was developed to be a working dog. Labradors Retrievers are a breed that works in close proximity to their master. (In fact, right at their side is often a Lab's preference.) In contrast, herding dogs or sighthounds work away from their master.

Service dog training requires a drive to work and the ability to accomplish tasks for an owner, like retrieving dropped items, opening doors by tugging on them, and turning lights on and off, among many other things.

People have come to distinguish between the American Field dog and the bench or conformation dog. The American Field dog is bred primarily for a high drive to work, while conformation is secondary. The bench or conformation dog is more of a gentleman's hunting dog.

These dogs are as happy out in the field with its owner as it is lying at the foot of its owner while they read a book.

2. Trainability

As the breed was refined over the years, breeders sought to produce Labrador retriever puppies that wanted nothing more than to please their owner by performing the tasks it was asked to do.

By continuing to breed sires and dams that exhibited this trait, today’s breed possesses a desire to please that makes them ideal for support dog training—always wanting to be with their person and please in any way possible.

3. Outstanding Temperament

They are confident yet forgiving dogs that can adapt to almost any environment if they receive the proper nurturing, socialization, and training during life's critical or sensitive phases.

4. Intelligence

The intelligence of this breed makes the dogs very well-equipped to master the variety of tasks involved in service dog training.

The hallmarks of the breed are its large, “blocky” head, thick dense coat, webbed feet, and otter tail. While most of these traits allow for increased physical ability, the blocky head allows for a larger brain—making the dogs an extremely smart breed.

In fact, Stanley Coren—a researcher noted for work investigating the intelligence of different dogs—ranked it as the 7th most intelligent breed out of more than 100 other breeds!

5. Size & Strength

It is a short, coupled, stocky breed of dog. Male Labradors should stand between 22.5 and 24.5 inches at the withers, while females should stand 21.5 to 23.5 inches at the withers. Males should weigh between 70 and 80 pounds, while females typically weigh 65 to 75 pounds.

Size and strength are two important factors in training a service dog because they need to accomplish tasks like getting up on a wall to turn lights on and off, tugging doors open and closed, and allowing their owner to brace on them if they have a mobility issue. (Some service dogs even pull their owner in a wheelchair, making size and strength imperative!)

Understanding the Importance of Outstanding Pedigrees.

 Labrador Retriever

While the reasons listed above apply to the breed at large, it’s important to remember that not all puppies with this breed will possess the same traits. When searching for a Labrador Retriever puppy or young dog to bring into support dog training, be sure to work with a breeder whose dogs have a proven success record training over the years—in addition to the attributes listed above—as well as a structured puppy nurturing, socialization, and early training program.

These factors are the core of Project 2 Heal’s puppy husbandry program and why our puppies are so successful in training for veterans, children with special needs, and adults with disabilities across the country.

Join Our Community & Learn More

In addition to our mission of increasing the availability of assistance dog to veterans, children with special needs, and adults with disabilities, Project 2 Heal strives to educate people about the increasing need for quality, ready-to-learn puppies for support dog training.

Most training organizations have no breeding program, typically leaving no choice but to train dogs taken from shelters. Unfortunately, on average, only 1 out of 12 shelter dogs becomes a successful support dog. This inefficiency leads to costs ranging from $25,000— $40,000 and waiting periods of up to 4 years.

For a veteran with PTSD at risk of suicide, we believe this is far too long.

Project 2 Heal aims to bridge this gap through the expert husbandry and nurturing of world-class Labrador Retriever puppies, purpose-bred and donated to support dog training organizations across the country. Since 2011, we’ve bred and nurtured more than 500 puppies, and between 65%—75% are successful in dog training.

Sign up for our newsletter to learn more about our work in the expert husbandry and nurturing of world-class Labrador Retriever puppies, which we donate for service dog training nationwide.


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