The Labrador Retriever is one of the most popular breeds of dog and is a member of the Sporting Dog (or Gundog) Group. It’s popularity is due to its versatility as a family pet, service dog, guide dog and working gundog.

The Labrador
originated in Newfoundland, where the dogs were first used to help fishermen retrieve
lost nets and fishing lines and to pull the carts loaded with fish.  They were thought to be bred with hunting
dogs brought over from England, resulting in the modern Labrador.  This ‘new’ breed was then taken back to the
UK and used as a gundog by the sporting gentry.

They are
strongly-built, active dogs with a broad head, chest and hindquarters. They are
good tempered dogs, intelligent and keen to please humans.  This is what makes them so trainable for many
different roles, from family companion to sporting gundog. 

Coat Type

Labradors are a short coated breed of dog and can tolerate a wide range of weather conditions. The coat is short, close to the body, thicker around the neck area and has a harsh hair texture.  This harsh hair of the guard (top) coat allows the dog to cope with cool temperatures.  In warmer temperatures, the guard hairs shed profusely.  Those of us who have ever owned a Lab know only too well how much hair sheds off and how the sharp hairs stick into the carpets and upholstery.

Labradors come in three distinct colours, Yellow, Chocolate and Black.


Bathing Your Labrador

Labradors and other short coated dogs require bathing and drying every 1-12 weeks, depending on your level of tolerance of the dirt, filmy layer on the coat and the ‘doggy odour’.

Use a regular shampoo,
wash twice, rinse well and use a conditioner (either a leave-in or rinse-out
type).  You can read in detail about washing
and drying short coated dogs
in another blog.

After the bath, gently
wipe over the muzzle and face with a damp towel.  You can choose whether or not to trim off the
whiskers around the muzzle. 

Keep the eyes clear
of teary discharge. A Labrador’s eyes should by brown or hazel coloured, medium
sized and bright and intelligent looking. 

Ears need to be
cleaned regularly. Check the skin of the ear leather to ensure that there are
no cuts, lumps or red patches.  Turn the
ear over and clean the inside of the leather with a damp cloth, ensuring that
you clean any waxy discharge or dirt out of the ear canal.  You can also buy commercial ear cleaning
solution, eg. EpiOptic. Follow the instructions on the bottle when you clean
your dog’s ears. Get into the habit of smelling your dog’s ears; you should only
be able to smell a nice faint doggy odour. If you can smell any yeasty, fungus
smell then this indicates an ear infection or yeast invasion. If there’s an
infection, the skin inside the ear canal will be reddened and will smell
bad.  If this is the case, please take
your dog to the vet.

Your goal is to get
your Labrador’s coat clean, fresh smelling, lying flat against the body and no
shedding hair.  In order to do this, you
will need to brush him or her regularly, bath frequently and blow dry using a
high power dryer to remove the excess hair. A rubber curry comb is brilliant
for removing loose, dead hair.  A slicker
brush or grooming mitt used over the coat will bring it up to a lovely shine
and ensure that the hairs lie flat. 

Labradors generally only need a regular brush out, but sometimes owners choose to have them clipped short.  As a Groomer in hot Tropical Cairns, Australia, I frequently shaved Labs in the summer to help them cope with the high temperatures and humidity.  Also, my clients often requested a clip for the purpose of reducing shedding inside the house and for ease of bathing and drying.

Cutting Your Labrador’s Nails

An active Labrador
that also walks on hard surfaces will generally grind their own nails down
sufficiently, avoiding the need for you to trim them.  When the dog is standing on a hard surface,
the tips of the nails should not be touching the ground.

If the nails are
touching the ground and causing the toes to lift up or twist, then you must
trim them or take your dog to a groomer to trim them.  Nails too long will cause discomfort in the
toes and if left for a long time, can cause deformation of the toes and

Use a pair of large, strong, pet nail trimmers and cut off the tips that are touching the ground. Cut off a small amount at a time.  It’s safer to do several small cuts.  If you do one big cut, you risk getting too close to the quick where the nerve and blood vessels lie.  If you are nervous about using trimmers, then you could buy a nail grinder (battery or electric) and grind the nail back gradually.  Labradors are such good-natured dogs that, generally they will be very cooperative with nail trimming. Their nails are black, so it’s often difficult to see where the quick is; this is why I recommend trimming of small amounts at a time, to avoid an injury.  If you do accidentally cut a blood vessel, you can stop the bleeding with Styptic Powder (or cornflour or a bar of soap from your kitchen).

Cutting Your Labrador’s Hair

Some owners choose
to cut their Labrador’s hair, or pay a professional groomer to do it for them. You
can clip your dog all over, if there is a specific reason to do so.  I clip Labradors in Cairns, Australia because
it helps them cope with the high humidity. You may have other reasons to clip
your Lab, such as a medical condition or an active lifestyle that makes it hard
work to maintain a long coat. If your Lab lives in the house with you, you may want
to clip the coat to prevent shedding. It’s your choice.

You may decide to clip
just the legs and feet to keep them tidy. If you’re doing it yourself, then I
recommend using the #10 blade that comes with your clippers when you purchase
them. A professional groomer may use a #15 or a #30 blade, depending on the
preferred outcome.

Use the clippers to tidy the hair around the paw pads. You may also want to lightly trim the hair up the legs and around the hocks. If you don’t have any clippers, you could use a small pair of scissors or thinning scissors. 

Hand Stripping Your Labrador

Labradors are short
coated dogs with harsh textured hair, which means that they do shed profusely
at certain times of the year.

The best way to
deal with your Lab’s coat is by regular brushing, combing and hand-stripping.
Yes, it’s time consuming, but is really the only effective way of controlling the
amount of dead hair that ends up on your floors!

Hand-stripping (or
carding) is the removal of the dead (blown) hair on your dog’s coat. A dog will
‘blow’ its coat at certain times of the year. Your goal is to remove the blown
hair, leaving the remaining coat lying smooth, flat and glossy on the dog’s

Finger stripping means
that you literally pluck the blown hair from the dog’s skin with your fingers. It
takes a long time because you have to go over the whole surface of the dog with
finger and thumb.

A #40 blade is
often used by professional groomers. The blade is used like a comb, drawn
through the Labrador’s coat in the direction of the hair growth.

A stripping knife
is a professional grooming tool, shaped like a blunt butter knife and with teeth
along one edge. This knife is drawn through the coat like a comb in the
direction of the hair growth. As it goes through the coat, it pulls out the
dead hairs.

Warning – hand-stripping
is rather a harsh process for the dog, so proceed carefully. Work in sections
on the dog and do not strip in one area repeatedly because you will end up
grazing the skin.  It’s painful for the
dog and you will end up giving him or her red, sore and possibly bleeding skin.

Done carefully and
slowly, you will end up drawing out all the dead hairs, leaving a beautiful
glossy, flat coat that hugs the skin of your Labrador or other short coated

If you would like to learn more about grooming your own dog, or becoming a professional groomer, Jill offers an online course.