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The Labrador Retriever: An Intelligent Working Dog

As the breed name clearly points out, Labrador Retrievers were bred originally to assist in the hunt by retrieving downed game. However, as years passed, their roles did not change but rather expanded to include numerous tasks and services.

No service rendered by a dog can surpass the role of Guide Dog. Through the work of these highly skilled animals, a blind individual is able to move in the mainstream of life, guided by the "eyes at the end of the lead." Such a human-dog bond reaffirms the valued place canines have assumed in our modern world. A Guide Dog and his owner share a special relationship, a dog that lives to serve and an owner who is able to live life to his fullest aided by the service of a life-long companion and friend.

The Guide Dog program originated in Switzerland in the 1920s under the leadership of Mrs. Dorothy Eustis. The original Guide Dogs were strictly German Shepherd females, bred by Mrs. Eustis at her Fonunate Field Kennels. Over the years, Labradors as well as Golden Retrievers were also recruited into the program. In Great Britain, approximately 70% of the Guide Dogs are Labrador Retrievers, and Australia uses only Labradors for this task.

In the United States, The Seeing Eye was the driving force of the Guide Dog movement. This organization started in 1929 by Mrs. Eustis and is currently headquartered in Morristown, New Jersey. It has maintained its own breeding kennel since 1941, producing 327 puppies in 1986, 117 of which were Labradors. Of a breeding stock of 40 adults, there are 15 female Labradors and four male Labrador dogs.

Only the very finest dogs are selected for this special breeding kennel. They must have successfully completed the rigorous training program designed by The Seeing Eye and exhibited stellar qualities in temperament and conformation. Labradors are commended as easy breeders producing large litters.

The Labrador Retriever excels as a Guide Dog primarily because of his size, working ability, well-rounded temperament, and ability to get along so well with people. The Labrador also has a small streak of stubbornness that the people at The Seeing Eye find useful.

While this makes the Labrador slightly tougher to train, this quality sets the breed apart from most in that a Labrador can take charge and refuse a command when confronted with an emergency situation—such as when a blind owner commands the dog to move forward and a hazard apparent only to the dog lies in the way.

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