Choosing the right Labrador puppy is an important and exciting decision. It’s critical to your success and a life of happiness for your dog that you choose wisely.
The right temperament and fit of a Labrador puppy to your lifestyle requires knowing what to look for and what to ask.
We’re going to help you with both.
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Labrador Retrievers are the most popular dogs in the United States, and having a Labrador puppy in your life can be an amazing, exhilarating adventure.
But Labs are not always the easiest dogs, and making a decision to bring one into your life is a major event.
With the typical lifespan of a Labrador between 11-12 years, you are making a long commitment to a particular puppy you choose. It needs to be right!
To help you make this decision well, we’re going to go over five important steps to take if you’re considering adding a new Labrador puppy to your life.
1. Determine if a Labrador puppy is a realistic fit for your lifestyle.
This is the most critical step, and one that many people really just want to skip over.
It’s not really a fun part of the process to ask some possibly challenging questions about what kind of dog will make a good fit for yourself or your family.
But it’s critical you take a true and realistic look at what your habits and responsibilities day-to-day consist of, and how a dog might fit into them.
What kind of time committment are you able and willing to give a new dog in your life?
Do you travel often? Are you gone at work all day?
Do you have kids that will help you… or only think they will?
Do you live in a city with more limited options for outdoor space? Are you someone with acres of land and room to run?
Do you have current pets that are demanding, or have significant health issues that require a lot of attention?
Do you have the time commitment to exercise a high-energy dog breed?
These are not really exciting questions, I know. But stay with me, it’s going to really matter for you.
Labs might be the most popular dogs for a bunch of great reasons, but truthfully they aren’t the easiest breed to get.
Their large-breed size and their exuberant energy demands make them not necessarily the perfect candidate for everyone.
While we happen to think they’re the most spectacular and amazing of all dog breeds, we’ve also worked with enough rescues to know that Labs aren’t always the perfect fit for every lifestyle, and people don’t always know what they’re getting into when they get one.
We’re encouraging you to ask these questions at the beginning, before you get too far into the process, and be realistic about the commitment that you’ll possibly be making.
It’s important for both your sanity and your future dog’s happiness.
It’s important to also know that even if you’ve decided for sure that the Labrador is your breed of choice, within a litter of Lab puppies you may find a wide-range of personality traits.
Some types of personalities in a particular puppy might be a better fit for you than others.
You can save yourself a lot of frustration by taking an honest look at the personality that will best fit your life.
It doesn’t necessarily mean you shouldn’t get a Lab… in fact, a Labrador might be the perfect breed of dog for you.
It’s just that you need to also be realistic about the temperament of the actual Labrador puppy you choose. This is where breed (and breeder) research comes into play.
Read more about the facts and history of the Labrador breed to find out if Labs are a good fit for your lifestyle.
As Labs are such a high-energy breed, evaluate not only your schedule but your access to exercise and outdoor space for your future dog.
If you have a farm and acres of land, a Labrador puppy that is more energetic could be perfect for you.
If you don’t have a fenced yard and have a smaller living space, this type of Lab might cause you a huge amount of daily frustration.
All kinds of personalities can be found within the same litter of puppies, so it’s important to consider these factors.
Be realistic about your expectations from the beginning, and it will go a long way to making a successful match with your pup.
2. Explore and locate options for reputable Labrador Retriever breeders.
Once you’ve moved past the initial evaluation of whether a Labrador is a good fit for your lifestyle, you’ve got several choices in finding a puppy.
You can begin to look at rescues and shelter to see if they have available pups, and we definitely encourage this as we’ve done it ourselves!
You also have the option of exploring Labrador breeders, and we’re going give you some suggestions here for how to approach this.
There are several great ways to begin your search for a Labrador breeder.
The best place to start is with people you know who are current or former Labrador owners.
Reach out to anyone you know with a current Labrador, or someone whose Lab has “crossed onto the rainbow bridge,” to find out information on what the breeder they used and how they found them.
Many times people will find such outstanding dogs from a particular breeder that they will return to this same breeder again, years in the future, to get their next Lab puppy.
You can also use groups on social media to find Labrador breeder recommendations. Be aware that you’ll still want to do extensive breeder research after getting recommendations, no matter who has given them to you.
We’ve been burned in the past by bad breeders, and we don’t want this to happen to you! It’s heartache that no one wants.
For more in-depth information about how to find an excellent Labrador breeder, see our section on Labrador Breeders: How to Find the Best Ones.
If you don’t have anyone in your network who is a current or prior Labrador owner, you still have some other strategies to help in your search.
One of the most comprehensive places to start is to search under the Labrador Retriever Club’s breeder directory, which you can search here.
The Labrador Retriever Club is a non-profit recognized by the American Kennel Club whose mission is to uphold the standard and integrity of the Labrador Retriever breed, and they network with breeders who pledge to do the same.
These are all ideas to give you a place to start in your search. You might begin to hear the same breeder names mentioned by different groups and by multiple people, which can be a sign of a good reputation.
No matter who you narrow your search down to, or if you’re able to find a puppy through a rescue or shelter, the next step is very critical for you to take.
3. Ask a potential breeder about the health history of the parent Labradors and what a veterinarian has tested for.
Breeders can have their veterinarians check for issues with hips and eyes, as well as other issues. Our veterinarian is also a third-generation Labrador breeder and her standards are impeccably high.
If you already have a veterinarian for a current pet in your household, ask them for an opinion on the health information that’s provided to you.
Some of the information you should be hearing the breeder discuss are tests for eyes, hips, elbows, and exercise-induced collapse.
We previously had a chocolate Labrador who was found to suffer from exercise-induced collapse, at a time before this was regularly checked for in breeding and litters.
We strongly urge you to ask the breeder if they’ve tested for this, because it can really impact your Lab’s ability to play, exercise, and enjoy the outdoors.
It’s also a good time to consider the temperament of your existing pet as well, if you have one.
What characteristics make them a good fit for you? What similarities are you looking for in adding a new pet to the mix?
While there will be a transition time when you add a new pet to your home, there are definitely some steps you can do to make it easier on you and the animals.
For more specific tips on introducing a new puppy to your household with existing pets, check out How to Introduce a New Labrador to Your Household.
In addition to asking a potential breeder about health testing and history, find out what size (weight) the Labrador parents are, as it’s a strong indicator of how large your puppy might grow to be.
Are the parents on the high or low end of the size for typical Labrador Retrievers? Are they closer to 50-65 lbs? Or are they closer to 80-100 lbs?
Your puppy’s future adult size can influence a lot of things throughout their life, including things like the cost of supplies, medications (weight-related) and what you’ll need to spend on increased food requirements that might come along with a larger dog.
A good breeder will already know you are going to ask these questions and won’t be annoyed or threatened by you asking them.
If you are working with a reputable Labrador breeder, they are usually thrilled to share information about the health history, and love to talk about their dogs.
The best breeders stand behind their dogs and have a true love for Labradors. They want to see each dog thrive and see you succeed in having them in your life.
It’s important to at least try to remain objective as much as you can during this process, when you don’t have as much emotionally invested in a particular litter or breeder yet.
Ask these questions first, at the beginning. It will save you a considerable amount of time and heartache if you find out that your questions can’t be resolved or that health is a concern.
Though this part of the process can take some time, and not be the most fun experience, the more you thoroughly research your breeder, the more likely you are to make the right choice. And the less likely you are to have health issues with your dog!
4. Research the temperaments (personalities) of both Labrador parents.
The next critical step towards choosing the right puppy is to investigate the temperaments of the particular dogs you’ve narrowed down your search to.
If you’re new to the Labrador world, be aware that Labs can be all over the spectrum of energy and varying activity levels.
Temperament is an inherited trait, dependent upon the temperaments (personalities) of the parent dogs.
This is why it’s critical you find out what the Labrador parent dogs are like!
The breeders should be very forthcoming with this information. They are likely breeding intentionally for temperament as part of their overall process.
It can be hard to be objective here when you consider that all Labradors are adorable, beautiful dogs.
Yes, but their temperaments are also REALLY important for you to ask questions about.
You want to try to find out how likely it will be that you’ll find a Labrador puppy from those parents that will be a good match of energy level and lifestyle for you.
What are the typical energy levels of the Labrador parents?
How would the breeder rate the amount of activity they need in a typical day to be well-rested and relaxed?
You want to get a general sense of the parents’ dispositions… are they extremely energetic? Very mellow and quiet? Do they seem well-socialized, trained, and friendly to people?
Temperament of the parents will influence the temperament of the litter. And this will have a huge influence on your day-to-day life with your own dog.
In some cases, the breeder will allow you to meet either of the parents and get a direct observation of their personalities in person.
This can give you valuable insight, so take the opportunity to do this if it’s offered to you!
Remember that this is just a snapshot of the personality of the parents, just one piece of the puzzle to help you get an overall complete view.
Find out if the information provided to you by the breeder seems to match up with what you’re seeing firsthand.
Trust your intuition… if something doesn’t feel right to you, ask more questions or move on to another litter (or another breeder entirely). It might just not be the right fit for you.
This is the time to speak up and be very deliberate in your decision-making!
5. Ask to meet the litter and see the particular puppies interacting together.
Ok, this might be funnest part of the process! Bring on the puppies!
When you’ve done your research, narrowed down the list of potential breeders, asked all the right questions, and explored their available litters, next comes the step of first-hand observation of the possible Labrador puppies you might choose from.
You’d be surprised how many people let someone else pick out their dog. It’s a decision with ramifications for many years, so here’s your chance to be as involved as you can be in this decision. Do this before you put down a deposit, if one is required of you.
Some breeders will not allow Labrador puppy selection in person, only ahead of time after discussion with them.
Others welcome your visit in person, usually after the 5-6 week point.
This will depend on the particular breeder you select.
Familiarize yourself with the basics of newborn Labrador puppy life as well, and learn about what changes they go through in the first few weeks of life.
It will give you a better perspective on what realistic expectations to have when you meet the litter of puppies for the first time. You can find out more about the first few weeks of life for Labrador puppies in our guide to newborn Labs here.
We strongly suggest you ask the breeder your health questions before you see the puppies or meet them in person.
If you do have any concerns, they will almost definitely go out the window once you hold those pups! Be sure to resolve any health issues or questions you have beforehand, because as soon as you meet the puppies, your impartiality will disappear!
When you meet the litter, examine the interactions between the puppies. Watch how they play and interact both with you and with each other.
Beware of “cuteness overload” interfering with your judgment here! This is especially challenging because all Labrador puppies are adorable… it can be hard to concentrate on assessing their individual personalities.
Try to do this with limited distractions and don’t bring a bunch of other non-essential people along with you (even if they beg you to take them).
You don’t want a friend’s opinion on which dog you should get, unless that friend plans to help you daily take care of this dog.
Though this part of the process is extremely fun, and very exciting, it can also be important to remain focused.
You will want to take EVERY Labrador puppy home with you, I promise!
But stay strong through this process. If you have kids, you might not want to bring them along on this step (at least for your initial assessment). See if it’s possible if you can bring them again later on, once you’ve made your initial evaluation.
Here is what to look for when you’re assessing the behavior of a litter of Labrador puppies in person:
- Watch how they interact with each other – are there some more curiously drawn to people? Some more mellow or withdrawn?
- Are some more interested in attacking their siblings and less focused on people?
- Do they climb on you? Do they hold back?
- How do they handle sibling interactions within the litter?
None of these traits would necessarily make a “bad Labrador puppy,” just be aware that some traits might be a better fit for your lifestyle and what you’re looking for.
When we assessed a litter of one of our Labradors, one particular Lab puppy was trying to find her way to a nearby lake, another was focused solely on cuddling with humans, and one was running off away from people chasing cars!
And all were sisters from the exact same litter.
And I’m happy to say that each Labrador puppy has grown to become a fantastic adult dog, but they are all in different home environments.
Each Labrador puppy was best-matched to someone with a particular lifestyle to fit their individual temperaments. This is a successful match for both Labs and people.
Each individual Labrador puppy can be very different from their siblings, and it’s important for you to see that for yourself if at all possible. It’s the best way to gain insight into making the most careful decision you can.
If possible, you should allow an hour or so for this process to take place. Sometimes a particular puppy will take time to “warm-up.”
What at first might seem like not a good fit might end up being the best choice for you later on. Don’t be afraid to take more time to examine the different puppy personalities of a particular litter that you’re considering.
Ask questions about what behavior or personality traits you might be seeing.
Ask the breeder if what you’re seeing is typical behavior for the puppy you’re considering.
Often an excellent breeder will comment on what they’re seeing with your interactions with the litter, and give you feedback on what they have observed over time with the litter.
Again, a great breeder who loves their Labradors will understand the significance of your decision, and be happy to share their insights. They want this to be a positive process for you and the dog!
Summary – 5 Steps in Choosing a Labrador Puppy
Choosing to add an amazing Labrador puppy to your life is an exciting adventure. With a few careful things to consider (when you get past all the cuteness and tail-wagging), you can confidently make the best choice for both your lifestyle and your Lab’s happiness.
Remember, it’s a huge commitment you’re making, both to yourself, your family, and your future dog.
By taking the time to ask the right questions and do some strategic research, you can be successful and confident you’re making the best choice!