Labrador lovers the world over would do well to familiarize themselves with this fantastic breed’s history. Here are some important facts about the breed’s origins.
The ancestors of today’s Labradors
The Labrador’s early relatives lived in Newfoundland and Labrador which are both regions in Canada. Early settlers to these areas brought working dogs with them to help them hunt and fish. These early dogs were thought to be a mix of breeds from Portugal and the British Isles. Over time, these dogs developed into several distinct types of Canadian Water Dogs including the Chesapeake Bay retriever, the flat-coated Retriever, the Greater Newfoundland and the Lesser Newfoundland. The latter was also known as the St John’s Dog, and the Labrador is thought to be descended from this breed.
The St John’s Dog was used by the fishermen of Newfoundland to help bring in their nets, pull in ropes, and retrieve stray fish. They had a short haired, water repellent coat which made them ideal for swimming and didn’t freeze in cold temperatures, unlike the fur of longer haired breeds. These St John’s dogs had the perfect temperaments for working and they were loyal as well as loving.
Early history of the breed
St John’s Dogs were eventually brought to Dorset in England in the early 19th century. They soon caught the attention of the nobility, who realized these dogs had valuable stamina and retrieving skills. They were excellent in the water, being confident and brave swimmers. They began to be used by aristocrats for hunting waterfowl.
One such aristocrat was the Earl of Malmesbury, who noticed the dogs’ skills when on a visit to Dorset. He purchased some for his estate and began breeding them in his own kennels. Later on, the Earl gave some of his dogs to the 5th and 6th Dukes of Buccleuch, and the Buccleuch breeding program was born. This program produced the first ancestors of the Labrador breed type that we see today. Sadly, the St John’s Dog that gave birth to the Labrador breed type is now extinct.
Where the name “Labrador” came from
There are two theories as to where the Labrador breed got its name. The first, and perhaps the most logical theory, is that the name came from the St John’s Dog’s homeland, which was the Labrador region. The second theory is that the Portuguese sailors who first settled in Newfoundland referred to their working dogs as “labradores” or labourers. In addition, historians have noted that there is a village in Portugal called Castro Laboreiro where there were working dogs very similar to the St John’s Dog.