The Functional Labrador
by Jill McMasters
I am despairing of what has happened to the functional Labrador in the show ring. The dog the Labrador Retriever standard was written about was a functional worker, he exuded moderation, he had a temperament that was biddable and tractable and he was a team member that was always eager to please the handler as he readily found and retrieved his game to hand. He had no fear and was friend to all, human and canine alike. He was usually required to work in close proximity with other dogs he was unfamiliar with, and he was never distracted by a need to growl or scrap with them.
This dog was an athlete, built with substance to sustain long hours working in the field or in the swamp. His steadiness endeared him to hunters everywhere and his combination of talents, good nose, patience, eagerness, style, action and soft mouth made him a much treasured hunting companion.
Today the Labrador Retriever in general is a coarse dog, unbalanced by his gross body on short legs, the upright fronts favoured in the conformation ring would, in most cases, preclude the dog from pursuing his purpose. A well made front is essential for stamina, especially in a retriever which must use his front constantly to pick up and carry quite heavy game over obstacles and through rough terrain. This requires a balanced dog. Never is the extreme acceptable, be it in the show ring (coarse) or in the working dog (racy).
It is not possible to win in the show ring today with a dog in working condition, conformation judges do not seem to be able to cope with assessing a dog that is fit and hard. The most likely reason is the inability of many, both breeders and judges, to differentiate between substance and fat ! Having just titled a working dog in the show ring, I found it necessary to put five kilos of fat on him in order for him to win, what a ridiculous situation ! This dog will not be shown again as his career as a working retriever requires him to be physically fit and not fat. How can we ever pursue the functional Labrador if the dual purpose dog cannot compete in both the conformation ring and the working sphere?
We are fortunate to have Labradors that are still functional, in many breeds the function of the dog has been so long neglected as to be lost forever. I hope that the conformation judges and the conveyors of the judges training schemes realize, before it is too late, that the only way for the breed to survive as the standard requires, is for it to be possible for judges to recognize functional Labrador Retrievers.