There are only good dogs. From the mutts and strays at animal shelters to the purebreds at Westminster all dolled up with manicures and designer shampoo, they all deserve their fair share of belly rubs and squirrels to chase. But when thinking about one dog in particular to celebrate, there is just something about a simple old labrador retriever, a breed as understated as they are ubiquitous. The most popular breed of dog in the world, Labradors are somehow just good at everything –– from playing with a baby on the living floor and catching tennis balls in the park, to bird hunting in the Canadian wilderness and then quietly lapping up spilled beer around the campfire.

Three Labs
Labrador Retrievers.

The ancestry of Labrador Retrievers go back to St. John’s water dogs in the early 19th century, a breed of dog from Newfoundland, Canada, who were themselves bred from older English, Irish, and Portuguese work dogs. Prized for their combination of intelligence, personality, and physical ability that made them exceptional fishing and hunting dogs. The British soon brought these dogs back to England, where their breeding was further refined, eventually by the mid 19th Century producing a breed that became known as Labrador Retrievers, named for an area of Newfoundland. By the turn of the 20th Century, the breed had the three main colorations that it has today: black, chocolate (brown), and yellow.

St. John’s Water Dog
Painting of the St. John’s Water Dog.

The first moment of national fame for Labradors came in December of 1931, when a black Labrador named Blind became the first dog to be featured on the cover of Life Magazine, after winning a retriever competition in Southampton on Long Island, New York. In the accompanying article, Blind is described as “marvelously intelligent” and “always friendly with children and the favorite of lady spectators.” The article also mentions the growing popularity of Labradors in America over the previous decade.

Black Lab, Life Magazine Cover
1931 Life Magazine cover with Black Labrador "Blind".

Today, Labradors are far and away the most popular dog in the United States as well as Great Britain. Popular as family dogs for their friendliness and ease with children, they also remain excellent hunting dogs, and their intelligence makes them uniquely suited for use as guide dogs for the disabled, with one such dog even capable of working an ATM card for its owner. Labradors have lived in the White House, tracked down IEDs in Afghanistan, sniffed out millions of dollars of counterfeit DVDs in Malaysia, and caught chewed up tennis balls in just about every park in America. If a dog is the ideal companion, one could do worse than having a Labrador Retriever alongside them.