The Labrador Retriever has a long history as a selectively bred breed, both in developing as a working dog in eastern Canada, specifically in Newfoundland and the Maritimes, as well as later as a hunting dog. The Labrador Retriever was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1917, and the breed standard has remained very consistent ever since the initial standards were developed.
As with many breeds there are slightly different standards depending on which Kennel Club you are registering the dog with. The American Labrador Retriever is considered by many to be rangier and narrower of head than the slightly stockier, heavier and more squarish through the head and body English Lab. However, the temperament and the natural retrieval instincts are still the same, and many breeders use both types of Labs in their programs. In some literature the American Lab is often considered more to be the field line and a working dog while the English Lab is more of a bench line or show type dog. Although this is generally true, there is really no distinction with the breed as to an "English" or "American" Lab, other than the country in which they were whelped.
The following standards are the ones used by the AKC or American Kennel Club, and are also consistent with those used by the Canadian Kennel Club. The Kennel Club of the United Kingdom is very similar, however the size range and the trend towards stockier, shorter legged dogs is evident in the championship lines.
The head of the Labrador Retriever is very typical to most gun dog breeds, with a wider, substantial head and muzzle combined with a clean, and flowing look to the head. The skull is wide between the ears and through the back of the head without being exaggerated or overly pronounced. There is a moderate to well developed stop that breaks up the line of the muzzle and forehead. The cheeks are present but not fleshy or jowly and the lips should form a gentle curve down and away from the tip of the muzzle. They are not heavily pendulant or excessively loose. The nose itself is broad and wide, black on black dogs, tan on yellow dogs and brown on the chocolate colors. Slight variations in the coloration of the pigment of the nose are acceptable but a pink nose or one with no pigmentation is a disqualification.
The eyes of the Lab should be gentle kind and very alert in appearance and give the observer a feeling of a friendly and affectionate dog. They are not deep set or protruding and are well placed to the stop, not overly forward or to the side. Eye colors should be darkest on black dogs ranging to a lighter hazel color on the yellow colorations. Dogs should not have black eyes or extremely light eyes that are contract to the coat color. The rim of the eyes should match the coat color, black on black dogs and brown to tan on chocolate and yellow.
The neck of the Lab is muscular but not thick and should not appear overly heavy or throaty. A moderate arch to the neck is considered a trait of the breed, however the neck itself should come straight up from the withers when the dog is standing and attending. The topline of the body is straight from the withers to the croup and is kept that way regardless of the movement of the dog. The ribs are well sprung and the body is proportionate and strong, not light and narrow or very cobby and wide.
The chest is moderately deep and wide, giving the dog a solid appearance. Any slight or narrow chest is considered a serious fault. The chest is also not meant to be blocky or heavy and should taper to a midpoint between the front legs. This allows for the straight, solid front legs to move in parallel motion to the body, not with the elbows out as is see with some of the very heavy chested breeds. The bottom line of the belly is relatively straight without a noticeable cut up at the hind legs. The hind legs themselves are flexible, muscular and strong, parallel to the straight front legs and each other. The feet on both the front and back legs are compact and rounded with well arched toes. The toes are also significantly webbed between the pads, allowing for easy motion through the water.
The tail of the Lab is rounded, thick at the base, and tapers to a distinct point. It should be carried in line with the spine or topline, however the dog may carry it slightly higher when in motion. The tail should not be carried straight up from the hips nor should it curl up over the back or drop down to the hocks when the dog is in motion or standing.
The coat of the Lab is distinct and straight, dense and close to the body. The individual hairs are coarse and thick, not sparse or woolly in appearance or texture. Some Labs may have a slight wave to the coat along the back, particularly in the winter season. The undercoat is not visible and should not appear to bulk or fluff up the outer layer. It is also very thick and dense and provides protection from the weather as well as for going through thick brush and woods.
The Labrador Retriever is only recognized in three colors, black, chocolate and yellow. All colors must be solid, however a very small patch of white on the chest of the black coloration is acceptable but not desired. Some shading on the yellows and chocolate colors is considered appropriate, depending on the variation in colors and the coat. Brindles or distinctive markings or color differences are disqualifications.
The personality and temperament of the Lab is also part of the breed standard. They should be friendly and accepting of others in the ring and should not show signs of aggression or fear. This is true between the dog and humans as well as the dog and other dogs in the ring.