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Labrador Retrievers for
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Breeding Philosophy

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  Breeding Labrador Retrievers

Breeding dogs is a serious process. It affects the lives and well-being of both the resulting pups and the families that end up with them. Unless you are prepared to do it right, please do not breed your dogs. If you are looking to purchase a dog, please select a breeder that does it right even if the cost is higher. Most puppies sold in the U.S. are distributed through wholesale distribution channels and originate from puppy mills or back yard breeders. If you love dogs, do not purchase from those that buy or sell puppies through wholesale channels.

Enough polemics....

I breed AKC Registered Labrador Retrievers from field lines (as distinct from show lines) with four objectives in mind:

  • Good health, sound genetics
  • Sound temperament with the expectation that dogs will spend most of their lives as pets even if they become field champions.
  • Competitive potential as hunting, hunt test, or field trial dogs or in other endeavors requiring athletic ability, intelligence and trainability.
  • Breed integrity
All of my dogs live in my house. All pups are born in my bedroom and raised in my house. All are vet examined shortly following birth and at about six weeks. While I do not believe the distinction is very meaningful, my Labs come from American lines. They are typically sired by field champions or dogs with proven field trial records, and the overwhelming bulk of the dogs in their pedigrees are titled in retriever performance events. I compete with my own dogs, breed them only a few times during their lives, and have them primarily as pets.

Good Health

Good health begins with an objective assessment of both the sire and dam for any planned breeding. Are the dogs healthy, stable, happy, energetic, manageable, and good around children and other animals? Are their vaccinations up to date. Have they been tested and certified to be clear of genetic weaknesses associated with the breed? For Labrador Retrievers from field lines, these include hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, various genetic eye defects, Centronuclear Myopathy (CNM), and Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC).

For CNM and EIC, the issues are straightforward. These are simple recessive traits. Both parents must be carriers or affected for any of the pups to be affected. If at least one parent has been tested clear, no pups will be affected. If both parents have tested clear, no pups will be carriers. Your breeder should be able to provide documentation of the status of at least one parent. Absent such testing, there is a significant chance that you will end up with an affected pup. For CNM, this will probably result in having a pup that will need to be euthanized later in life. For EIC it is likely to mean a pup that cannot be used in serious competition or as an upland hunting dog but may live a normal life with care.

For CNM, the primary testing organization is the Alfort Veterinary School in France. Dogs that have been tested clear are listed on their web site at http://labradorcnm.com. Primary testing for EIC is done by the University of Minnesota Veterinary Diagnostic Lab. For information on EIC and testing, go to UMinn-VDL. For both tests, a small number of other laboratories can also perform these tests. Results may be documented by lab reports or by registration on the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals website at http://offa.org.

Problems with hips, elbows, and eyes are more complex since they are not, with the exception of some eye conditions, caused by a simple genetic mutation. For that reason, responsible breeders look not only at clearances for parents but also clearances for other related dogs. Tests for hip condition are done by two organizations: University of Pennsylvania PennHIP program (http://www.pennhip.org/) and the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals or OFA (http://offa.org). The OFA also evaluates elbow x-rays to determine if dogs suffer from elbow dysplasia, and is a repository for information on the genetic health of dogs' eyes and some other genetic conditions that have been voluntarily reported by breeders. PennHIP issues certificates to the breeder on the condition of the dog's hips. OFA results are published in the database on the OFA web site. For an example of the importance of genetics in determining the likelihood that a dog will develop hip dysplasia, see this article by Greg Keller DVM MS DACVR at Greg Keller Article.

Eyes are evaluated for the presence or absence of genetic problems by a board certified canine opthalmologist. At the owner's option, the results of this examination may be posted to the OFA web site noted above. Previously, the Canine Eye Research Foundation (CERF) maintained its own web site for checking eye clearances, but no longer does so. Information on canine eye disorders and their significance is on the CERF web site at http://www.vmdb.org/cerf.html. There are also genetic tests that can be performed for the most common genetic eye problems in Labs - Retinal Dysplasia/OSD (linked to dwarfism) for field Labs, and PRA/PRCD, a cause of blindness in older dogs) for show lines.

Beyond evaluating these specific problems, it is important to evaluate the pedigree of the planned litter as a whole. How long do animals in the pedigree live and how long are they active? Are there other known health issues such as epilepsy, other joint or ligament problems, back problems, etc. that might raise questions about the breeding? Information needed to answer these questions is not always available and every dog has issues in its pedigree. However, breeders need to make this assessment honestly before arranging a breeding, and should be honest in sharing information with prospective purchasers of pups.

The health of individual pups that we breed is evaluated carefully by a veterinarian. Pups are first seen when they are 2-3 days old. They are examined by the vet and their dew claws are removed. At six weeks they are seen again. They are given a complete physical examination, receive their first shots, and have a microchip inserted for permanent identification. A veterinary certificate is provided with each pup.

Good Temperament

Many dogs, particularly highly competitive dogs, may live much of their lives with professional trainers. However, my expectation is that almost every dog that I breed is likely to be living in your home, interacting with children and other animals, and being a member of the general community. I love Labs because they are among the least agressive of all dogs. I will not breed a dog that shows signs of aggression. My own dogs are in frequent contact with children and grownups, as well as with other dogs and cats.

Ultimately, however, temperament will be affected more by the way dogs are raised than by their breeding. I work hard to socialize puppies well before they leave my home. They are born and raised in my house. They have frequent contact with many different people of all ages and with my cat and dogs. They are handled continuously and introduced to many different surfaces, to crates, to riding in cars, to steps, etc.

That same conscious attention to socialization needs to continue when the pups go to their new homes. All dogs should be trained in basic obedience. All dogs need to be introduced to other people and animals in a way that helps them adjust and to interact without fear or aggression. These are basic responsibilities of ownership along with providing sound nutrition and health care.

Competitive Ability

Most of the dogs that I breed will never compete in any way. Many will never hunt. However, I enjoy training and competing my own dogs and value the fundamental capabilities that dogs must have from birth to make them capable of performing well as hunting dogs and field competitors. These capabilities include athleticism, durability, marking, drive, style, courage, and trainability.

While most people are likely to think their dogs are perfect, competition provides a broader measure of each dog's capabilities. For that reason, I only breed dogs from proven competitive lines. Virtually all sires will be retriever field champions with a proven track record of success at the highest levels.Tthey will come from lines where almost all of their ancestors are titled as well. All of my females have competed in hunt tests and/or field trials and achieved successful records evidenced by ribbons and/or titles. They come from lines dominated by field titled dogs. Not all litters have equal breeding. However, in every case a full pedigree is provided for the litter showing the track record of achievement for your pup's ancestors.

Breed Integrity

All dogs that I breed are AKC registered and are bred with the intention of preserving the basic standard for what defines a Labrador Retriever both in temperament and structure. They are not bred with the intention of being competitive in breed conformation shows since those dogs generally lack the ability to be competitive in field events.

Under no circumstances will we sell a dog to be used for breeding "designer" or mixed-breed puppies. Nor will we sell dogs to buyers that are seeking to resell to others. All purchasers are strongly encouraged to register their dogs with the AKC and to support the AKC's programs for performance and breed events, for legislation protecting pet owners, breeders, and pets, and to promote the AKC's efforts to protect puppies and buyers from abuses by some high volume breeders.


All pups are sold with a written health guarantee. This covers general good health at the time of delivery as well as providing a 28 month guarantee against genetic defects of hips, elbows, eyes, CNM, or EIC. Pups evidencing these conditions (as demonstrated by appropriate tests) may be returned for a full refund or kept and neutered with a 50% refund. The guarantee, which is an integral part of the purchase contract, also requires that no dog may be bred without first having a full range of tests performed on its hips, elbows, eyes, EIC and CNM and further requires that the results of any tests be disclosed fully to prospective purchasers of pups. Pups are sold with a full registration. However, they are not sold with the expectation that they will be used primarily or even necessarily for breeding. No guarantees are given that a pup will ultimately be suitable for or capable of breeding.

Breeding for Color

Labrador retirevers come in three colors: black, which is genetically dominant, yellow, and chocolate. Yellow and chocolate are both controlled by recessive genes. Yellows may range in color from nearly white to a relatively dark red. In our breedings, we are sensitive to color, but we do not breed for color.

We are sensitive to color for two reasons. First, we like all three colors and have had dogs that are chocolate (Sadie and Sola), yellow (Mae and Bella), and black (Misty, Blue and Shadow, among others). Second, we do not want to produce Labs that are colors not permitted by the Labrador Retriever standard.

We do not breed for color generally because repeated breedings to replicate a recessive trait (yellow or chocolate) results in a reduced gene pool and a much higher probability of genetic failures -- that is, genetic mutations that are detrimental to the breed. This is more of an issue with chocolates than with yellows since there is much more genetic diversity among yellows than among chocolates.

Some breeders explicitly try to breed for specialty colors. These include "silver" Labs and "red" or "fox red" Labs. Silver is not a color recognized in the breed standard and silver Labs are registered as chocolates if they are registered at all. "Red" Labs are recognized by the Labrador Retriever Club as a form of yellow that occurs naturally in many litters. However, breeders that specialize in trying to produce litters where the dogs are these colors are necessarily dealing with a very small pool genetically with a much higher risk of health problems. In all probability, silver Labs are, according to the Labrador Retriever Club, actually a product of unrecorded outcrosses with Weimaraners. The "dilution" gene that produces "silver" Labs is only found in Weimaraners and the lines that have produced silver Labs originated with breeders who were involved in breeding both Labs and Weimaraners. Historically, silver Labs have usually been registered as chocolates.

Almost no dogs being bred specifically to produce these colors have ever attained any performance titles and very few have ever passed any standard health screenings (hips, elbows, eyes, CNM, EIC). For the purchaser, this greatly increases the odds that there will be health problems with any puppy purchased.

In the write-ups on our dogs, we indicate the specific color background of each dog involved in a breeding (to the extent known) and in the pedigree for the pups that will result. Thus, for Misty the color is listed as Black (BYC) meaning that Misty is black in color but carries the genes to produce both yellow and chocolate puppies. For her to have a litter that includes yellows, she would have to be bred to a dog that also carries the yellow gene, either because it is a yellow factored black (Black-BY) or because it is yellow. We would not breed her to a chocolate factored yellow (Yellow-YC) or yellow factored chocolate (Chlt-CY) since either of these would result in a tri-colored litter where some of the pups could possibly produce pups with color combinations not permitted under the Lab standard. We would also not breed her to another tri-factored black (Black-BYC) like herself for the same reason. The reality, however, is that not all dogs that we use as sires will have been tested for color. Instead, color factors are assessed based on prior breeding results. This can occasionally result in surprises when litters are born, particularly with the chocolate gene that, in performance lines, is often hidden in a pedigree for many generations.

Because we know the color genetics of our females and the pedigrees of the males we use, we are able to predict, at least statistically, the color make-up of each litter before the pups are born. However, while statistics work on a large scale, the actual results in a litter can vary widely. In a recent litter for example, we would have expected 50% yellow and 50% blacks, just as we would have expected 50% males and 50% females. In fact, we had ten pups with six yellows and four blacks, but only three males and seven females. When we take deposits on pups we ask you to specify the color and sex of the pup you want in a litter. However, we don't know what will be available until the pups are born. If your sex/color desired is not available, and you do not want to switch to another, your deposit is refunded promptly.

Pure-Bred, Mixed Breed, Designer Bred

The Labrador Retriever breed traces its ancestry back more than 200 years, although it was only formally recognized as a breed by the American Kennel Club in 1917. The breed standard itself is controlled by The Labrador Club which is the parent club for the breed. Breeds have been developed historically to meet specific objectives. For the Lab the standard states:

"The Labrador Retriever is a strongly built, medium-sized, short-coupled, dog possessing a sound, athletic, well-balanced conformation that enables it to function as a retrieving gun dog; the substance and soundness to hunt waterfowl or upland game for long hours under difficult conditions; the character and quality to win in the show ring; and the temperament to be a family companion.

Physical features and mental characteristics should denote a dog bred to perform as an efficient Retriever of game with a stable temperament suitable for a variety of pursuits beyond the hunting environment." (see The Standard)

The origins of the breed date back to the Newfoundland dog and the desires of fishermen to have a dog that would fit easily in their boat and be able to help retrieving fish and game. The breed was imported into England where its development was more formalized and then came back to America.

The purpose of breeding and purchasing a pure bred dog is predictability in size, appearance, and temperament. Early breeders for any new breed must follow rigorous selection and breeding procedures to attain the characteristics they want and then to "cement" them into the breed (a process that can easily take 100 years or more). Ultimately, when the breed has stabilized with a large enough gene pool to be self-sustaining, breed registries are used to ensure that only purebred dogs are mated, preserving the integrity of the breed.

Inevitably, once you have an identifiable breed, you also will find specific problems that may be associated with the breed. Some of these may be purely aesthetic, such as patches of white on the body of a black lab. Others may be more serious, such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, CNM, EIC, and certain types of eye problems that may be found among Labs. Contrary to myth, these problems are not necessarily related to in-breeding. Rather, the existence of a defined breed makes it easier to identify the problems and easier to plan breedings to reduce the incidence of those problems. Vets actually report the same problems among mixed breed dogs but it is not possible to try to address these problems since, by definition, these dogs have been bred in an uncontrolled environment.

Mixed breed dogs, or mutts, have been bred more or less randomly. Unfortunately, one of the charateristics they share are owners that are at best irresponsible breeders (although even responsible breeders have accidents, they will tell you that is what happened).

If all dogs were bred randomly, over time you would expect that there would be a certain breed characteristic to dogs in a particular geographic region. Where farmers and hunters and herders used dogs for working purposes, you would expect them to share breeding stock and you would begin to see certain lines that excelled in definable areas.

This is, in fact, how early breeds evolved. However, haphazard breeding today produces unpredictable results with a bias towards problems.

Designer breeds, at their best, are tomorrow's future pure breeds being developed by conscientious breeders. However, few responsible developers of a new breed would ever sell their pups to anyone who was not also a conscientious breeder. Why? Because the results of such breedings are more likely to possess undesirable traits than any of the purebred lines mixed together in the "designer" recipe. These undesirable mutations need to be culled out of the breeding population and may not even be suited to live in a family. It typically requires many generations (possibly hundreds) to "fix" the desired characteristics for a new breed and then to verify that these characteristics will be passed predictably from one generation to the next.

Given this, how have so-called designer breeds such as Labdradoodles become so popular? Labradoodles may actually be the best case. A breeder of seeing eye dogs was attempting to breed a dog that would have the personality traits of a Lab but be hypoallergenic to meet the needs of an individual in need. Many crosses of Labs and Poodles were attempted and almost none of the pups were even minimally suitable. When the first viable pups were produced, there was a problem finding homes willing to foster these "mutts". The breeder in question then came up with the name Labradoodle to make it easier to find temporary homes. He has since apologized for having been the originator of what proved repeatedly to be a bad idea.

The fact is that these "designer" breeds originated with mutt breedings - whether intentional or accidental - and were popularized by puppy mills and retail sellers trying to turn accidents into cash. No responsible registry will register these dogs and no responsible breeder can claim any breed characteristics with any reasonable level of confidence.

If you want to be part of a process of developing a new breed of "Labradoodles", find breeders who are breeding their fifth or sixth generation of Labradoodles from Labradoodle grandparents and great-grand parents. Check the pedigrees to be sure there is not a lot of in-breeding. Look for health clearances on hips and elbows since these mixed breeds are more likely to suffer problems with both than either of their parent breeds. Check for membership of your breeder in a breeder's club that is organizing a breed registry to keep track of breedings to help prevent excessive in-breeding. Once you have done all of this, accept that there is still a strong chance that the pup you receive will vary widely from what you hoped in size, health, temperament, and appearance.

We do not support the use of of any of our dogs for breeding to anything except AKC registered Labrador Retrievers that have received all health clearances. This restriction is included in our purchase agreements.