Why Labs Love Water: Understanding the Labrador’s History

Why Labs Love Water: Understanding the Labrador’s History

Labrador Retrievers possess a friendly, trusting, and playful temperament that makes them a hit in families across America, and they are no stranger to getting wet!  A natural swimmer, Labrador retrievers will jump paw first into many aquatic settings with a reckless abandon unique to the breed touted as the “forever puppy.”

Their thick, waterproof coats once proved them admirable worker dogs for newfoundland fishermen in the early 1500s, setting the stage for the labrador’s hallmark loyal and loving nature that make it the most popular dog for adoption across America.

These trusting, playful, water friendly dogs can find a home in many environments, so long as you keep them active and stimulated physically and mentally. But why do Labs love water, and how can you encourage and facilitate this interest to ensure a healthy and happy pet?

 Why Labs Love Water: Understanding the Labrador’s History

            All Labrador Retrievers descended from the St. Johns Dog, a now extinct retriever with especially waterproof coats perfect for assisting fisherman.

Labradors are an incredibly active animal, due in large part who their ancestors where. As mentioned before, Labradors trace their history to Newfoundland, where fishermen used St. John’s Water Dogs to haul fishing nets, loglines, retrieve seals and catch other game in the cold waters of the North Atlantic.

The St. John’s dog garnered the reputation of a workaholic, as they seemingly enjoyed the retrieval tasks involved in assisting the british isles fishermen. The St. John’s dog would often come back to their fisherman owner as soon as one task had been completed to begin a new retrieval, eager to continue.

Today, labrador retriever owners see the effects of this ancestral trait, as their energetic dogs seek out activities, like walks, playtime, and praise at all hours of the day. If not rooted in a positive manner, like through visits to the dog park, your lab’s ample energy can lead to dysfunction, like eating paper towels, knocking things over, etc.

Why Labs Love Water: Understanding the Labrador’s History

            The last two St. John’s Water Dogs died in the 1980s

We can also thank St John’s dogs for the Labrador’s friendly personality and disposition! As companion working dogs, their Newfoundland fishermen owners would often bring the dogs home to their families after long hours of work to play with their children. Following centuries of such practice, kindness and loyalty are in the Labrador’s blood.

Unfortunately for the Labrador’s ancestral grandparents, the St. John’s water dog became extinct in the early 1980s, when the final two pure St John’s dogs perished, both male and unable to continue the breed.

Why Labs Love Water: Understanding the Labrador’s History

            St John’s water dog traits continue to appear in Labrador’s today

The demise of the St John’s water dogs began in 1780, when a tax and limit of one dog per household was imposed on those with working dogs to encourage sheep raising, leading to a decrease of the water dog’s prominence in their native land.

This decrease was only further exacerbated by the dog license and quarantine acts of 1885, which made import of canines like the St John’s water dog all but impossible. By the 1930s, the St. John’s water dog became rare in its original newfoundland stomping grounds.

Although extinct, you can still see attributes of the St John’s water dog in your modern labrador retriever. For instance, white paws and white spots found on black labrador retriever’s chests closely resemble those of the St John’s water dog.

Since all modern retrievers and tweed water dogs descended from theses dogs, water dog genes run dormant in all retrievers, and can be expressed through certain genetic combinations in breeding, so it’s not uncommon to find a water dog esque labrador.


Labradors have a wonderful history that makes them one of the best loved breeds in the country!


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