Is a Labrador retriever right for you?

One of the dog blogs I subscribe to, Dogster, posted an excellent reminder last month.  When a movie about a dog or dogs is very popular, that breed becomes popular as well.  After 101 Dalmatians came out, dalmatians were all the rage.  Chihuahuas have been featured in several movies, and they’ve become more popular as a result.

The movie Marley and Me has been ruling the box office for the past few weeks.  I haven’t seen it; I’m waiting for the video so I can cry in the privacy of my own home (I know how it ends).  I’ve read and own the book, and it’s a great tribute to a terrific dog.

Marley, in the book, is a 98-pound yellow Lab.  He’s boisterous, exuberant, funny, and very destructive.  He eats almost everything that he encounters.  In other words, he’s a pretty typical Lab.

Ralph, in a mellow mood

Ralph, in a mellow mood

I have my own 98-pound yellow Lab, Ralph.  He’s mellowing somewhat as he ages (he’s 12 now), but he’s still boisterous, exuberant, funny, and destructive.  He’s not a destructive eater, he’s a destructive shredder.  He’s shredded the cushions on the family room sofa, torn up several dish towels and stuffed animals, put holes in the bath mat, shredded the mail and a phone book, and turned a comforter into rags.  He also eats all the flowers and buds off my hibiscus bush.  It hasn’t had a full bloom since I’ve had Ralph. 

That’s how Labs are.  As puppies, it can be a lot worse.  But, with the proper training, they can be well-behaved.  And they have the most fabulously lovable personalities.  They’re great family dogs.

But they’re not for everyone.  People who want calm, sedate animals shouldn’t have a Lab.  People with white carpet and expensive furniture shouldn’t have a Lab.  People with antiques and figurines sitting around shouldn’t have a Lab (they’ve been known to chew on furniture legs, and they can clear a tabletop with one sweep of a tail).  Labs are extremely intelligent, and they need to keep busy.  If they get bored, that’s when the trouble starts, because they will find ways to amuse themselves.  A Lab owner needs to be the alpha dog.  A Lab owner needs to train the dog, and be consistent about following up and reinforcing that training.

Obviously Labs can be trained to behave; they make wonderful guide dogs, search and rescue dogs, bomb and drug sniffing dogs, etc.  But it takes time and consistency.

I have Ralph because his first family got a cute, little Christmas puppy 12 years ago.  They weren’t “dog people.” They weren’t prepared for his adult size or his activity level.  They took him to obedience school, but they didn’t consistently reinforce his training.  (I’m suffering the consequences of that now.)  They had white carpet.  Finally, after several episodes of inventive bad behavior on Ralph’s part, he was banished to the garage, and his first “mom” started looking for a new home for him.  A mutual friend put us together, and I brought Ralph home, six years ago now.

I grew up with big dogs, and Ralph was my second Lab, so I knew what I was getting into.

The moral of the story: don’t get a dog just because you saw one in a movie and want a dog just like that.  Movie dogs

Proceed with caution!

Proceed with caution!

are intensely trained, and whatever dog you get, it won’t be “just like that.”  If you’ve never had a dog, don’t start with a big dog – start a little smaller and work your way up.  There are tests that you can take online that will tell you what kind of dog is right for you.  Talk to other owners of that breed and find out what problems they’ve had.  Read about the breed characteristics and make sure that the dog you’re considering is compatible with your lifestyle.

Don’t buy a Lab puppy until you’re absolutely sure you’re doing the right thing.


2 responses to “Is a Labrador retriever right for you?

  1. Pingback: Is this why they call them bird brains?? « Treading Softly

  2. Pingback: One change at a time « Treading Softly

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