I'm not sure you could find a more devoted and loyal pet anywhere.
As I write this, there is a black lab named Max sitting by my side. He belongs to The Muse and has been at her side for the past ten years, ever since we parted ways back in 1995. She went through many trials and troubles in the intervening years, and through it all, this beautiful old dog was by her side.
Most sources seem to feel Labrador retrievers were first bred in Newfoundland in the 19th century as St. John's Newfoundlands. They were likely bred for their strength and used to pull sledges loaded with fish from the ocean to destinations on shore. They are also noted as having a powerful sense of smell and ability to track down wounded game for hunters in any terrain or conditions.
Max is happiest when he is asked to retrieve a stick or similar such item. We believe it makes him feel useful, and when he brings back the stick, he'll drop it at your feet and nudge you enthusiastically to throw it again.
They are quite good at withstanding cold temperatures and at swimming, even in very icy water. Their thick, short fur seems to repel water extremely well. Max loves getting hosed down on a summer day, and while our other pets run at bath time, he'll jump in before you're even ready for him.
Labrador retrievers tend to have a compact head with a wide skull, and powerful jaws, but properly trained and cared for, they avoid using them aggressively. Max likes to remind us of this. When he's done playing fetch, he'll crush whatever stick or branch we've been playing with between his teeth and drop the remains at our feet. He's also extremely good at detecting and alerting us to the presence of strangers outside.
Labrador retrievers appear in black, chocolate and yellow. An adult male will weigh between 60 and 75 pounds, while the female will be between 50 and 70 pounds. They are not small dogs and need a lot of outdoor space, especially during their active years. Max is near the end of his life, and could leave us any day now given his recent history of illnesses and having been close to death twice in the past couple months, but he still needs plenty of space.
Older Labrador retrievers are prone to a form of arthritis in their hind legs, which causes them problems walking as they age. Even as Max stumbles along, sometimes almost dragging his hind legs, we're told it is not painful for him and he is continuing to fight to hold onto his life. They can also have problems with their eyes and ears as they get older. The issue with vision is apparent in Max, as his eyes have developed a "sad" droopy quality.
I've known a few dogs in my day, and I'm living in a house with dogs for the first time in my life. We have Daisy, some kind of mixed up dalmation looking dog that never stops whining and thinks the world revolves around her, and then we have Max.
The night The Muse was taken away in an ambulance, Daisy ran around the fire truck, barking and trying to climb on board, perhaps thinking she was a fire dog. Max, partially crippled and unable to walk very well at the time, struggled and fought to stay by The Muse's side as they put her on a stretcher and loaded her into the ambulance. I had to take Max inside and console him when they wouldn't let him join her in the ambulance. Have you ever seen a dog with a broken heart? I have.
And that may be all you really need to know about Labrador retrievers. I love this old guy, and when we talk, I always tell him he did a fine job looking after The Muse while I was away. It is sad to know he won't live through the winter, but when he dreams now, he moves his legs in a running motion, leading us to believe he's dreaming of his next destination, where he will run freely in fields chasing after bunnies with a big dopey grin on his face...