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Service Dog Breeds: Labrador Retriever

In the working and Service Dog world, the stocky, solid, sweet-natured Labrador Retriever is an iconic sight. They’re well-known not only for their prowess as a search and rescue K-9, detector dog and Service Dog, but also for their die-hard loyalty and friendship to all.

Labrador Retrievers: The BasicsLabrador Retriever Service Dogs
Bred in Newfoundland from a stock of thick-furred, heavily-boned water dogs, the Labrador Retriever originated early in the 19th century as a sporting, hunting and working dog. The Labrador Retriever we know and love today began taking shape in the early 1900s as the breed caught the eye of fanciers and they began breeding to a working and conformation standard.

The Labrador Retriever is a sturdy, solid dog bred for one thing and one thing only: to pick things up, carry them around, and bring them back to his handler. While retrieving may be what the Labrador Retriever is bred for, this fleet-footed, muscular dog excels at nearly at task set to it. Extremely intelligent and trainable, the Labrador is quick-witted and a problem solver. Per the American Kennel Club breed standard, Labs should possess a “stable temperament,” weigh “55 to 75 pounds,” and be an “outgoing and devoted companion.”

Those qualities combine with a short, sleek, water-resistant coat, superb handler focus and the grit to keep working even when it’s tough to create a breed perfectly suited to assistance dog work.

Labrador Retrievers: The Puppy Stage
It’s important to remember that every well-trained Service Dog begins life like any other dog: as a puppy. Lab babies are high-energy, which lands them in some not so-good-situations with inexperienced owners. The Labrador’s calm demeanor and unshakable obedience are often touted, but what’s left out is the two-year kangaroo phase where they seem to have springs attached to their paws and chainsaws bent towards destruction in their mouths.

Labrador Retriever Service Dogs

Labrador puppies chew. They mouth. They carry. They steal. They’re exceptionally happy, wiggly dogs who wish to share their joy at having ANYTHING, no matter how stinky, big, or smelly, in their mouths with anyone who happens to be near them. They’re exceptionally friendly and social dogs, which if not carefully managed, can morph into behaviors that will exclude them from service work.

While the Labrador Retriever puppy phase takes careful work to overcome, the resultant animal is a friend, partner, and confidant for life. A well-trained and socialized Labrador is a calm, steady and reliable presence in the face of any of life’s obstacles.

Labrador Retrievers: The Rest of the Story
Labs are large dogs and they shed year-round. They come in three colors: black, chocolate, and yellow. Each color has varying shades.

It’s been proven via decades of field trials that black coated dogs tend to be better field dogs, chocolate dogs have a calmer demeanor but often suffer from skin issues, and yellow-coated dogs fall somewhere in between. The jury is still out on whether that’s the case because black Labs are worked more in the field and chocolate Labs have been regulated to the job of “house pet” or if there are actual genetic ties to coat color and working ability. Because they tend to be seen as “friendlier” in the eyes of the public, yellow Labs tend to be favored as Service Dogs, but you’ll see a smattering of other colors as well.

They have a thick, dense, almost waterproof coat. They also possess a strong love of water. Throw a stick in a pond for your Lab to go after and they’ll be the happiest dog around. They’re tireless workers, especially when it comes to retrieving.

Labrador Retrievers excel at flyball, dock diving, tracking, search and rescue, field trials and hunting, assistance dog work SD Denaliand obedience. They’re stellar hiking partners. Fortunately for most Service Dog handlers, Labrador Retrievers are quite adaptable. Once out of the puppy phase, they’re flexible with their needs. If you need a day to simply relax and lounge, they’re happy to keep you company. Once you’re ready to face the world, they’ll always be by your side, shoring you up, no matter what you’re doing or where you’re going.

Labrador Retrievers: Selecting a Service Dog Candidate
Unfortunately, due to the popularity of the breed, backyard breeders have introduced a number of health concerns into the Labrador Retriever gene pool. Hip and elbow dysplasia are of a particular concern and any Service Dog candidate should have parents who possess OFA or PennHIP certifications. For an easy-to-understand explanation of hip/elbow certifications, check out this chart by Just Furkids. When selecting a Labrador puppy for Service Dog work, above all else, consider the temperament of the mother. It’s been shown over and over again that puppies are likely to inherit the demeanor of their momma. Ideally, mom (and dad!) would have ATTS temperament certifications or possess other titles/degrees that showcase she’s trainable, solid in distracting environments and sweet-natured.

The Labrador Retriever is an all-around good dog who, with proper puppyhood education and upbringing, will excel at any job. They have a decades-long history in the working dog arena and for most Service Dog programs, are a breed of choice. With a properly bred and trained Labrador Retriever by your side, you can expect reliable performance, lots of laughs, a steady temperament, tons of shedding and a friend for life.



  • margie May 2, 2014

    I love the Labrador and the doberman pinscher. My husband suffer a stroke and the doctor recommend a service dog. What I have to do to see one of this dog and much this cost?
    Thank you
    Margie Robles

    • William R Marlin June 20, 2015

      Hello Margie, I am a disabled Vietnam Veteran, and I do understand your predicament. There are numerous organizations that can provide monitery assistance. Choose a Service Dog Facility that will be close to where you live and to make it as easy as possible for both of you. There will be numerous times that you will have to go back for training for You, Yours Husband, and for the Service Partner for your Husband. I personally am in the process of obtaining a Service Dog to assist me, I know how a dog can be very uplifting for the disabled and for there life partners. Just to give you an idea how these dogs inherently are as smart as they are. They will amaze each of you
      every single day. I go to the VA Hospital in Washington, DC numerous times each week. Sometimes I feel like it is my second home. One day I was in line at the Transportation Office and there was a Gentleman who wore a prosthetic leg. He also had a white retriever with him who was standing on all fours and I said to the Gentleman that his Partner is an absolute beautiful animal. With a few questions the Gentleman used Sign Language to his partner who moved forward to be with him as he had asked. I was so surprised seeing that I commented on it and the Partner of the Dog said that when he was in Aphfganistan he lost his leg but he was originally the dog’s handler. There is an unbelievable strong bond between the two involved and when they were both on duty they could not speak so the Gentleman and the Dog had special training together, in order for the two to converse with each other. This is the part of the Partnership that helps to create and strengthen the Bond that I have mentioned earlier. So please keep a positive and happy outlook in your endeavour for Husband and his partner.
      If you need any further help, I will be more than happy to assist you.
      e-mail =
      Home = 703-920-5792
      Cell = 703-981-7903
      And I live in Arlington, Virginia
      Thank you allowing me to insert some information to you and have a Wonderful Day.
      Bill Marlin
      Vietnam Veteran 1962 and 1963

  • Naima December 27, 2014

    It is well documented that coat color has noting to do with temperament or personality. The jury’s not still out. Check the Labrador Retriever breed club as they set the standards for what a Lab should look like and how it should act.

  • Lynn whitford April 9, 2015

    My service dog is a Jack Russell terrier. She is an Emotional Support Animal for my PTSD. She is small and easy to handle. She is unobtrusive and non confrontational.
    I am concerned that there are so many sites the claim legitimacy. How does one know?

    • Anything Pawsable Staff April 10, 2015

      Thank you for your comment! First of all, Emotional Support Animals (ESAs) provide a wonderful help to many, but are very different from Service Animals. ESAs help individuals by comforting them with their presence but are not required to perform work or tasks related to a disability. ESAs have their own rights, separate from Service Dogs. Under FAA guidelines, Emotional Support Animals may travel in cabin with a passenger if you give 48 hours advance notice and carry a letter from your doctor, and are also allowed in housing under the FHAct. ESAs may not be registered with us.

      Service Dogs help individuals with disabilities complete tasks they would otherwise have difficulty completing on their own. They are given their rights under the ADA law, which specifically disallows ESAs. The following is an excerpt of the legal Definition of a Service Animal. You can find the full text below in this email or at this link:

      Please read the following article:

      You should also read:

      How will you know when your dog is ready to graduate from an “in training” status to the status of a full fledged assistance dog with whom you are entitled to have public access rights?

      An excellent tool for evaluating a team’s readiness to graduate [e.g. finish up formal training] is the Public Access Certification Test (PACT) which can be found on the website of Assistance Dogs International at The ADI Public Access Certification Test was developed over 15 years ago as a consumer protection measure by the ADI Team Testing Committee, which included input from both providers and IAADP Partner members. Overall, the goal of the test is to discover whether or not a particular team is ready to go places out in public without trainer supervision. The safety of the dog, the handler and the public were the main considerations in developing the specific exercises for testing the team.

      This test creates a level playing field, since it does not matter whether it is a guide, hearing or service dog team being tested or who trained the dog. What matters is the team’s performance. Every ADI program is required to administer this test before graduating and credentialing a team.

      Disability mitigating tasks or work are not critiqued during the test. However, to establish a dog’s eligibility to take this test to become an assistance dog, ADI programs would ask for a demo in advance of at least three service dog tasks, three hearing dog sound alerts or a series of tasks known as “guide dog work.” To document the dog performs tasks in the home such as seizure response work, alerting to an attack of hypoglycemia late at night or fetching a portable phone or beverage, a program may ask the client to submit a video tape of the task(s).

      The Public Access Test evaluates the dog’s obedience and manners and the handler’s skills in a variety of situations which include:

      A. The handler’s abilities to: ( 1 ) safely load and unload the dog from a vehicle; ( 2 ) enter a public place without losing control of the dog; ( 3 ) to recover the leash if accidently dropped, and ( 4 ) to cope calmly with an access problem if an employee or customer questions the individual’s right to bring a dog into that establishment.

      B. The dog’s ability to: ( 1 ) safely cross a parking lot, halt for traffic, and ignore distractions; ( 2 ) heel through narrow aisles; ( 3 ) hold a Sit-Stay when a shopping cart passes by or when a person stops to chat and pets the dog; (4 ) hold a Down Stay when a child approaches and briefly pets the dog; ( 5 ) hold a Sit Stay when someone drops food on the floor; hold a Down Stay when someone sets a plate of food on the floor within 18″ of the dog, then removes it a minute later. [the handler may say “Leave It” to help the dog resist the temptation.] ( 6 ) remain calm if someone else holds the leash while the handler moves 20 ft. away; ( 7 ) remain calm while another dog passes within 6 ft. of the team during the test. This can occur in a parking lot or store. Alternatively, you could arrange for a neighbor with a pet dog to stroll past your residence while you load your dog into a vehicle at the beginning of the test.

      *** It is highly recommended the test be video taped to document the team passed it.

      IAADP agrees with ADI’s ethical position that the amount of training given to an assistance dog should NEVER fall below the minimum level needed to pass this Public Access Test.

      NOTE: Passing the Public Access Test does not mean the organization, ADI, officially “certifies” your dog, since ADI does not certify any dogs and neither does IAADP. It is up to the program or trainer giving the test to provide the desired credentialing. Most furnish a laminated photo ID Card signed and dated by the provider, certifying this dog [insert name] has been trained for the disabled client [insert name] as a Service Dog for the Disabled. [or as a guide or hearing dog] On the rear side, there is a helpful statement about the state or federal law granting access rights to disabled handlers and at the top, a reference to the state law, citing its numbers, and/ or the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).

      CERTIFICATION is not required in the USA. Many states lack programs willing to certify dogs that did not go through that program’s training course. The DOJ decided to foster “an honor system,” by making the tasks the dog is trained to perform on command or cue to assist a disabled person, rather than certification ID from specific programs, the primary way to differentiate between a service animal and a pet. It opened the door for people to train their own assistance dog, usually with the help of an experienced trainer, if a program dog is unavailable.

      Testers: If you are not enrolled in a program or taking lessons from a trainer willing to administer the Public Access Test and provide ID on successful completion of the test, it is worthwhile to find a trainer who would administer The Public Access Test. You could recruit a local trainer certified through The National Association of Obedience Dog Instructors ( or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. ( ) ,or an obedience class instructor, or a Canine Good Citizen test evaluator. Trainers usually will charge a fee for their time. You might ask a colleague, in a pinch, to video tape the test and score it, for scoring is self explanatory. Have the tester sign and date it, then keep the test with your training logs in case of an access dispute someday.

      Registering a dog does not make a dog a Service Dog. Registering with us is a formal way of stating that you understand what is involved with training and using a Service or Assistance Animal; how important your behavior, and that of your Service or Assistance Dog, is to the general public and other Service and Assistance Animal teams; the legal definition of a Service or Assistance Animal; the Minimum Training Standards for a Service or Assistance Animal and what is involved with a Public Access Test.

  • Brad Rushton December 9, 2015

    How can I adopt a quality dog that was not accepted as a service dog?
    I am interested in either Labrador or German Shepard
    My wife and I have 10 acres and are dog lovers.

  • Penny dockery February 12, 2017

    I’m paraplegic I’m wanting a service dog. But not sure how to get one.

  • Nancy February 18, 2017

    My granddaughter is in need of a service dog for mobility. She is about 170 lbs. We have an offer from a reputable breeder to donate a dog that our training service recommended and it is a German line Shepherd. We are trying to decide between the GSD or a Lab but are not sure which to choose. Any suggestions?

  • Lori December 29, 2017

    I need service dog as I’m deaf. Since for year to years that I’m very struggle to get large dog from somewhere for my low-income and have had doctor letter. Don’t know how to get one, Please help…Thanks


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