Who First Called This Retriever a Labrador?

The Labrador Retriever was originally from Newfoundland off the northeastern Atlantic coast of Canada. Originally called St. John’s dogs after the capital city of Newfoundland, the earliest ancestors of today’s Lab spent their days working alongside their owners by retrieving fish, towing in lines,  even helping haul wood. After a hard day’s work, the dog went home with the fishermen to wear his other “hat:” Loyal family companion.

Ancestrally, some believe the St. John’s dog was interbred with the Newfoundland Dog and small water dogs to produce a breed referred to as the St. John’s Water Dog, a prototype for today’s Lab, but it’s important to note that there were lesser and greater St. John’s dogs. The heavier dogs were likely one of the progenitors of the modern Newfie. It didn’t take long for the breed’s usefulness and reputation for a marvelous disposition to spread, and several English sportsmen imported a few of the dogs, the “lesser” version, to England to use as retrievers while hunting. The Earl of Malmesbury was one of these sportsmen, and some sources think that it was he who coined the dog’s name when admitting that he “always called his dogs, “Labrador dogs.”

It didn’t take long for the breed’s usefulness and reputation for a marvelous disposition to spread, and several English sportsmen imported a few of the dogs to England to use as retrievers while hunting. The Earl of Malmesbury was one of these sportsmen, and some sources think that it was he who coined the dog’s name when admitting that he “always called his dogs, “Labrador dogs.”

Soon, Labs were being crossed with other types of retrievers, and between that, a heavy dog tax, and quarantine laws, the breed nearly died out in Newfoundland. Happily for all of us, the breed prevailed and a standard was drawn up by fans of the breed. Accurate pedigrees of today’s Labs go back as far as 1878, but the Lab wasn’t recognized as a distinct breed by the English Kennel Club until 1903, or by the AKC until 1917.  The backbone of the breed in America was formed from British dogs imported from the 1920s through the ’30s.

Image: “Lucy Moon” by Molly A Poole
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