History of the Labrador Retriever

Labradors originated from Newfoundland, in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, North Canada. It’s believed that human settlers in the late 1500s brought working dogs into the area to assist with hunting and fishing. Ad-hoc breeding by the settlers (likely to be a mix of working dogs from Europe since tradesmen from around the world frequented Newfoundland for several centuries) developed a number of Canadian working water dog breeds: 

The Chesapeake Bay Retriever 
The Landseer 
The flat-coated Retriever 
The Greater Newfoundland 
The Lesser Newfoundland, also known as St. Johns Dog or St Johns Water Dog - widely accepted as the breed from which modern-day Labrador Retriever history stems from. 

Newfoundland fishermen used the St. Johns Dog to help pull in ropes from boat to boat, retrieve fish that had floated free of nets or hooks and help pull in nets from the water. 

They needed to be eager to please, strong swimmers and small enough to haul in and out of the two man " Dory" type boats. Their coat needed to be short, dense and water repellent that could withstand very cold water and wouldn't ball up with ice (this is evident with the Labrador of today as they are quite happy to dive in and out of freezing cold water). 

It’s believed by experts that early in the 19th century, St Johns Dogs were imported to Dorset, England which was an important location for the Newfoundland fishing trade. 

It’s alleged that the 2nd Earl of Malmesbury became intrigued by the breed during a visit to Dorset after seeing a St. Johns Dog retrieve a fish that a fisherman had thrown from his boat. The Earl was so impressed by their skill and ability to retrieve that he requested some to be imported for him and he devoted his entire kennel to developing the breed and bred them for duck shooting. It’s also reported that in the 1830s, the 5th Duke of Buccleuch, Walter Francis Montagu Douglas Scott, was one of the first to import dogs from Newfoundland 

The breed would have died out if it wasn’t for the fact that a few years later, the 3rd Earl of Malmesbury donated some of his stock to the 5th and 6th Dukes of Buccleuch who started to breed the dogs in the now famous Buccleuch Breeding Kennels in Scotland in the 1880s which is still going today. These dogs were mated with bitches carrying blood from those originally imported by the 5th Duke, developing a strong bloodline beginning with Buccleuch Ned in 1882 and Buccleuch Avon in 1885. 

It’s widely considered that this breeding program developed the true ancestors of today’s Labrador Retriever. There are different views on where the name originated from. Some believe it’s because the state of Labrador is situated North West of Newfoundland and others believe the names of the Newfoundland and Labrador were mixed up when arriving in England. The dog from Labrador became the large, long haired dog we know today as the Newfoundland, and the dog from Newfoundland became the Labrador. The Kennel Club recognised the Labrador Retriever as a pedigree breed in 1903, and the breed has become increasing popular over the years. 


American Kennel Club (online) https://www.akc.org/breeds/labrador_retriever/history.cfm - accessed June 14 
Wikipedia (online) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Labrador_Retriever#Historical_landmarks – accessed June 14 
All Labs (online) http://www.alllabs.com/labrador-library/history-of-the-lab - accessed June 14 
The Labrador Site (online) http://www.thelabradorsite.com/the-history-of-the-labrador-retriever/ - accessed June 14 
Labrador Training HQ (online) http://www.labradortraininghq.com/labrador-breed-information/labrador-retriever-history/ - accessed June 14 
Drumlanrig Castle (online) http://www.drumlanrigcastle.co.uk/field-sports/buccleuch-gundogs/history-of-the-buccleuch-labrador/ - accessed July 14