Cedarwood Labrador Retrievers
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First published by Retriever International, Mrs. A. L. Foote 1984

Written and revised by Diann Sullivan copyright 2014

To build a successful breeding program, you must be able to ask yourself ‘WHY’ each requirement in the breed standard exists and know exactly the reason behind it. Descriptive statements were put into the standard by the founding fathers of the breeds so that future generations of breeders could understand the ‘form’ that was required to produce the function that the breed had been created to do.   

Competitors in conformation, field trial and obedience have different have different ideas about what constitutes a winning Labrador retriever and how to breed a winner. Breeders have individual reasons for breeding and their own goals are based upon ‘the sport’ in which their Labradors are involved. Probably most breeders-- whether for field, obedience or show –believe that to produce winners, winners must be bred to winners. But is the breeder’s first priority to produce a winner?

Are all ‘winners’ within these many different Labrador sports outstanding examples of their breed ???

IIn evaluating the A.K.C. Standard for the Labrador retriever, many owners are confused about the meaning of structure and conformation terms, as well as HOW to evaluate their breeding animals and puppies at 7 – 8 weeks against the breed standard. ( This article used the ‘old standard’ before the Parent Club’s approved changes in 1994 and giving the expanded and current standard for the breed). Standards are hard to ‘read’ – apply to the dog’s body. “Why does that matter?”

For example, the breeders producing show prospects see the field dogs producing a totally different  dog, generation after generation, often without regard to correct, functional structure. The primary field breeder or hunt test competitor is likely confused about why the show dog is so ‘heavy’ and why he is not seemingly evaluated at all on retrieving skills, just on ‘beauty’. The obedience enthusiast and competitor is seeking a Labrador from sound stock that will be able to withstand years of jumping and whose eyesight will be excellent. Second to physical considerations, the obedience competitor seeks a temperament that is willing to please and just ‘high’ enough to be an ‘up dog’ capable of earning high scores, and drive even stronger is desired by those producing all-around dogs as well as dogs only hunting.  If our working breed is to be kept strong, sound, structurally correct as well as maintaining type, we each must care about the physical and mental characteristics we often strive separately to produce. Through learning to ‘see’ the physical structure as it is described in our standard, we can each selectively breed for better Labradors – not only to come up with winners, but to continue to improve and fix the traits important to function.

 According the standard, “the appearance of the Labrador should be that of a strongly built, “short coupled (short to medium length of back), a 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 and upland game, the desire and physical soundness to function for whatever they are called to do.   The illustrations were done by Rick Mullen of Bakerbay Labradors and I thank him. 

The length-of-neck is hugely important and should rise strongly from the shoulders. The first thing I look for when evaluating puppies, animals in the ring, or potential breeding stock is the length of neck. “The neck should be of medium length, powerful and not throaty.” WHERE THE NECK MEETS THE BACK is where the shoulder blades come together. A SHORT OR ‘EWE’ NECK (as in sheep), gives a LONG BACK and is incorrect.  Draw a dot at where the neck MEETS the back. When we read “sloping shoulder” hear of “shoulder layback”, it so helps to SEE that the shoulder bone or scapula is NOT in a straight upward manner but “angled or laid back”. This is an effort to help make this ‘visual’……

To ‘see’ the ‘sloping shoulder blades or 45 degree angle’, FIRST FIND THE PROSTERNUM. On pictures (at evaluation or as you go through magazines), the Prosternum is EXACTLY ABOVE THE TUFF OF HAIR. On stacked puppies or a dog you are going over, hold the head firmly with muzzle level and run your finger down the throat until you bump into the Prosternum. Dogs don’t have collar bones but their sternum or chest bone ends at a point that is present when upper arm is balanced to shoulder.  The “well angulated” and “balanced front” allows  us the ability to feel the Prostermumn. In the “Straight” dog (the neck is short and placed far forward, positioning the scapula or shoulder bone in a more “upright” position. In this “straight shoulder”, the Prosternum is hard to find). A short neckline joining  a “straight” shoulder can give the impression of extra length of back.       

The angled back shoulders form an angle with the upper arm (each angled about 45 degrees), that permits the dog to move his forelegs in an easy manner with  strong, forward reach and allowing him to cover ground move efficiently. For so long, it has seemed to me that we didn’t understand the important second half making up the front, THE UPPER ARM. From Prosternum to Elbow is the Upper Arm. This should be of similar length to the length of the shoulder blade AND of very similar angle to the shoulder. THIS makes a “Balanced Front”. The LAYBACK of the shoulder and matching upper Arm, gives and allows for good swing or Reach of front movement. The balance” of the shoulder to the upper arm sets the center of gravity during movement. We each want the dog to move effortlessly.

The Blueprint for the breed calls for the “stifles to well turned. The dog must be neither cow-hocked nor too wide behind”. To complete balance on our working Labrador , the hindquarters must not only be well developed they must balance the front. If the front is balanced and with good angle of the upper arm and the shoulder, we must have a strong rear with wide second thigh. To make looking at rear “angulations” easy, draw a dot where the hip socket should be and then eyeball a line straight down to the ground. Does the rear foot sit comfortably BEHIND the line ??? “The Labrador ’s hindquarters are broad, muscular and well-developed from the hip to the hock with well-turned stifles and strong, short hocks.”    When the dog is set up properly with the hock perpendicular to the ground, and the front set up with the front feet under the shoulder, it is possible to see IF the stifle is “straight” or “turned”.   What can be difficult is to learn to see the balance of “how much’ turn of stifle goes with the degree of angles the front carries.

Hind legs are strongly boned, muscled and with moderate angulation at the stifle, and powerful, clearly defined thighs. Angulation of both stifle and hock joint is such as to achieve the ”.

To complete the balance on our working Labrador , the hindquarters must not be only well developed but they must balance the front. It takes time and after going over many pictures (must be profile), and looking at many Labradors, you can learn to readily ‘SEE’ different degrees of rear angulation and, then to SEE how that matches the front angles for shoulder and upper arm.  The stifle or knee on the rear leg of the dog is called to be ‘well turned’ . When I started, I thought, “What does that mean or actually, “What does that LOOK LIKE on a dog ?” It is my desire to help those who can’t easily visualize what the Rear Looks like compared to the description in the standard; I hope these illustrations are helpful - 

The ability of the dog to ‘cover more ground with less effort’ is, again, releated to assembly. The ability to drive the rear legs out behind in response to the front reach. The ability to “push off” and flex depends on the longer length of the muscle and its ability to then develop strength.

‘TYPE’ for the Labrador is described as HEAD, COAT AND TAIL. “The most distinguishing characteristics f the Labrador Retriever are it’s short, dense and weather resistant coat, tightly wrapped and giving it a rounded appearance, an “otter tail”. Heads and each of our interpretation s of the standard to an extent of subjective or, matter of our opinions. The hope here is to help us SEE the balance of the front to the rears and better be able to evaluate dogs and puppies. 

If the goal of the breeder is to produce better dogs in each generation, there should be a desire to honestly evaluate each animal (puppies from a litter for future breeding programs and adult breeding animals. By learning which dogs and bitches are strong and dependable for specific features (soundness included), the breeder can plan the breedings that will ‘fix’ the desired features over time.

Too often, dogs and bitches are selected for breeding only on the basis of titles, wins and pedigrees. NOT ALL GREAT TITLED DOGS ARE GREAT PRODUCERS. Breed improvement comes when breeders involved in all aspects of the sport with our beloved Labradors , when we understand the ‘purpose’ of the breed standard (for effortless function), and learn about genetics or how features are inherited to improve the odds of achieving the correct structure and natural instincts.

Form follows function, and, in learning more about evaluating breeding dogs in accordance with the standard, the breeder will be able to produce a truly functional working dog.

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