Are Labrador Retrievers known for being an aggressive breed of dog?
Not usually, though any dog has the capacity to be reactive or even aggressive. A well-loved and properly trained Labrador is more likely to be a friendly, adaptable, and gentle family member than aggressive.
What can you do to encourage good behavior in your Labrador from the start?
How do temperament, personality, and socialization play a part in creating a calmer dog?
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And what can you do as your dog’s primary caretaker and trainer to encourage a happy, gentle, and respectful dog?
We’re going to go over these topics below to help you understand more about the behavior of Labradors and give you 5 Ways to Train for a Calmer Dog.
Are Labradors Aggressive? Typical Temperament of Labs
Labrador Retrievers are famous for being a friendly, playful, and easygoing dog breed. They are generally even-tempered, adaptable, and flexible around different groups of people and other dogs.
Labs are typically bred with characteristics of playfulness, high energy, and a desire to please their human family members. These are some of the reasons why Labs have been such popular dogs for the last three decades.
Labs also tend to be very good dogs for families with children and generally do well in households with other pets, especially other dogs.
They are often protective of their family and household members, and are excellent watchdogs, but are often too friendly and welcoming to be considered guard dogs!
However, the temperament of your individual dog, as well as the environment they live in, will affect their behavior and overall disposition tremendously.
If you have a Labrador who’s been the victim of abuse or neglect, you may see behavior in them that isn’t typical of the Labrador breed and may be unusual.
This is sometimes seen in rescue Labradors, as they have been removed from environments where they have not had proper love, care, or socialization.
These types of Labs may also have been in situations or around people or events such as fireworks, thunderstorms, or loud concerts that may bring out signs of problem behaviors.
Signs of Aggressive or Hostile Behavior in Labs
What are the signs of an aggressive dog?
According to the ASPCA in the United States, here are some behaviors you may see in an aggressive dog:
- Lunging or charging towards a person or animal
- Severe growling or barking
- Hackle raised (fur standing up along the back of the animal)
- Showing teeth
- Becoming completely still and rigid
Though Labradors are usually docile and friendly, any dog can become aggressive. Any dog can become annoyed or triggered by certain events or situations, and respond in ways that could be a safety issue to humans or other dogs.
Sometimes events can be triggering for dogs and can cause an anxiety or fear response in a Labrador.
While some Labs might run and hide under your bed, others will react to fear or anxiety by lashing out and becoming aggressive.
Remember, all dogs, including adorable Labradors, communicate with their mouths (and their teeth) when they need to. This goes for communication with humans as well as with other dogs.
If you’re fortunate enough to be around a litter of newborn Labrador puppies, you’ll notice that the mother dog communicates with the litter of pups using her mouth, and the puppies communicate with one another by mouthing behaviors as well.
How Your Role as a Human Trainer Impacts Your Dog
Your role as your dog’s owner, trainer, and primary caretaker is critical in establishing good behavior from your dog.
It’s important to teach and model the behavior you expect your dog to follow and demonstrate. This is especially true in households with multiple dogs.
Labradors are highly intelligent dogs who generally pick up training very quickly, and are one of the overall easier breeds of dog to train (partially due to their love of food!).
Starting with training your young puppy, you’ll want to begin establishing a puppy schedule to create consistency and allow a routine that results in a better pattern of expected behavior from your dog.
When your dog knows generally the routine that each day brings, and what to expect from their family members, they become more well-adjusted members of the household.
Dogs that are not given consistency or routine tend to become more fearful and anxious.
If they don’t know when mealtimes generally are, or when they’ll be fed, your dog may become guarded, upset, and territorial against people and other dogs.
If your dog doesn’t get consistent, reliable care and response from you or receives mixed messages from certain household members, they may develop unpredictable responses to certain human behaviors. They may learn that humans can’t be trusted.
You want your dog, especially a new dog to your household, to feel safe and loved in a trusted environment. You don’t want a dog that’s reactive and unsettled because they don’t know what’s going around in their home, or what happens next.
The more consistency and routine you establish for your Labrador the more likely they will be to adapt to the new environment (of your home and your family) without beginning to develop anxiety or fear-based aggressive behavior responses.
Training Tips for a Calmer Dog
Now that you recognize the importance of training and your role in guiding and influencing your dog’s behavior, what steps can you take to train for a calmer dog?
1. Establish Basic Dog Commands
- Make sure you have a foundation of good, basic training commands with your Labrador, beginning from the first few weeks you bring your new dog home.
- Establish respectful guidance and training for your dog in a positive, loving way which will encourage the best traits of your Labrador Retriever to come out, such as cooperation and a willingness to please their family members.
- Teach your Lab to be respectful of all people, especially the smaller ones you might have in your household. Teach your smaller family members that any dog could have the capacity to become unexpectedly aggressive, and to respect the dog and give them space.
2. Keep a Consistent Training Routine
- We recommend a gentle but consistent training schedule of just a few minutes several times a day for young puppies and dogs new to your home. If you’re looking for a great place to start, we’re fans of Zak George’s dog training videos you can find for free here on YouTube.
- Use positive training methods and lots of praise and patience for young dogs or dogs who are in a new home environment. Don’t overwhelm your Labrador with unreasonably high demands or expectations, and have patience in the learning process for your puppy.
3. Proper Socialization is Critical
- Socializing your dog is critical to their development and overall success as a member of your family.
- For puppies, as soon as your vet gives you approval to have your puppy around other dogs (typically after a few vaccines in the first four months) you can allow your dog to carefully socialize in places like Puppy School or Puppy Obedience Classes.
- For older dogs, you can find a beginner dog training group or class at pet stores near you or at speciality training centers. You can take your dog with you to stores that allow dogs for additional socialization opportunities under your supervision.
- You want to socialize your dog with friendly and non-aggressive dogs. You don’t want to have a negative experience with another dog that causes your Lab to be reactive to other dogs due to their bad experience.
- Be cautious of dog parks. It’s better, especially for a young puppy, to socialize them in a Puppy Class or Puppy Playgroup rather than with a bunch of dogs of all sizes (and unknown vaccinations and temperaments) at the dog park.
4. Exercise and Activity are Important
- Exercise and activity are critical to help relax and calm your dog, and avoid sudden outbursts like what you’d see in a case of the Dog Zoomies.
- Labs are notorious for being playful dogs who tend to stay puppies much longer than many other breeds of dog who may “mature” or mellow out sooner.
- Before you pick out your Labrador puppy, make sure you’re fully aware of what to expect from this breed of dog, because although Labradors are fantastic dogs, they are not always the easiest breed of dog to get!
5. Monitor Your Dog’s Behavior & Response to New Situations
- Don’t allow or ignore hostile or aggressive behavior from your dog towards other people or pets. While a Labrador may be ready to take on a squirrel or duck in the outdoors, they are intelligent enough to learn and be taught that your child’s toy is not a fair target.
- Be aware of triggering events for your dog, such as fireworks, thunderstorms, or interaction with other dogs, and have a plan for how you’re going to prepare ahead of time.
- If you’re introducing a new dog to other dogs, read our guide for tips on how to introduce dogs to each other so that you’re less likely to have problems with aggression and more likely for them to get along.
Seek Help for an Aggressive Dog or One Who Won’t Respond to Training
If your Labrador appears to respond aggressively or demonstrate aggressive behavior, it’s time to get help. Don’t ignore problem behavior in your dog, especially if you have other household members or other pets.
Start with your veterinarian to rule out any medical or health issues occurring with your dog. They may also have suggestions for ways to respond to your Lab’s aggressive behavior and solutions specific to your dog.
Ask your vet what precautions you should take to protect your other household members and other pets while you’re working on treating the signs of your dog’s problem behavior.
If you’re working with a Labrador rescue organization, you can contact the rescue (or your dog’s foster family) for guidance and help on how to deal with some of the behaviors you may be seeing in your dog, as the rescue usually has a wealth of information and experience in dealing with dogs demonstrating difficult or challenging behavior.
You can also try seeking an advanced animal behaviorist who may have expertise in training a difficult or aggressive dog.
The Animal Behavior Society has a directory you can search here to locate a trained behaviorist in your area. You can also ask your vet for a recommendation in case they have someone they’ve worked with before.
Be sure that you keep your other household members and other pets safe from your dog if they’re showing signs of aggressive behavior.
Summary – Are Labradors Aggressive?
Labradors are not known to be an aggressive breed of dog, though any dog has the capacity to bite and be aggressive. Labs are typically one of the sweetest and most loving dog breeds that are very people-oriented.
Your Labrador’s temperament and individual personality will affect much of their interactions with other people and dogs, and your role as your dog’s primary trainer will also have a huge influence.
Be kind, caring, and consistent with your training, and remember that socialization and exercise are critical for managing a happy, well-adjusted Labrador. Seek help if you think your Lab’s behavior is becoming aggressive or unmanageable, and always be mindful about protecting the other people (and dogs) around them.