Aggressive Behavior in Labrador Retrievers: Fact or Fiction?

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

LABRADOR CLOSE UP

Bred to be hunting dogs, Labrador Retrievers are large dogs and have a lot of energy.

They love to play and run around and are typically very affectionate with their families and people in general.

It is rare to hear about injuries to humans caused by Labrador Retrievers. 

Labrador Retrievers are among the least aggressive dog breeds, according to a study in canine aggression published in 2008. They are not aggressive towards human beings or other dogs. Any aggressiveness in a Labrador Retriever is because of external factors rather than the breed itself. 

One of the most beloved pet dog breeds, Labrador Retrievers make for incredible family dogs.

They are gentle and easy-going for the most part. Using my knowledge as a veterinary doctor, in this article, I’ll look at their behavior towards different people and animals and what you can do if your Labrador starts becoming aggressive. 

Are They Aggressive to Humans?

Labrador Retrievers are companion dogs that are typically very friendly with humans. They tend to make poor guard dogs because of their easy-going nature and personality. Keep in mind that behaviors like barking at unfamiliar faces or animals are not indicative of aggression.

It is normal behavior wherein your dog is trying to warn you of a potential threat.

A Labrador Retriever will not act aggressively with human beings unless they are afraid, uncomfortable, or other environmental or emotional factors.

Family Members

Labrador retrievers tend to be extremely affectionate with their family members and will not be aggressive unless provoked.

Younger dogs might be highly energetic, which may appear aggressive.

Babies

Labradors tend to be good with children of all ages and will be very protective of the babies in their families.

LABRADORS WITH A BABY PLAYING

This is because they will see the baby as part of the pack or family unit. 

However, not all dogs are alike. Dogs get jealous just like people do, and your Labrador Retriever may get jealous of a new baby and start exhibiting aggressive behavior.

This is not cause for alarm, just that you need to be attentive.

According to the CDC, the percentage of dog bites in infants that require medical treatment is very low.

Keep an eye out for attention-seeking behaviors like whining and pushing. This way, you can head off the jealousy before it manifests as aggression. 

Toddlers

Toddlers tend to get into all kinds of mischief. While it is good for your children to have supervised time with your Labrador Retriever, you must be careful. 

Labradors are patient and can put up with a fair amount of poking and prodding, especially from the children in their family unit.

Keep an eye on your toddlers and actively discourage teasing, shoving, or other behavior that might irritate your dog.

Older Kids

Labrador Retrievers make excellent companions for older kids. Both the kids and the labradors can play together and match each other’s energy.

Older kids are also less likely to get bowled over by your over-enthusiastic dog. 

In cases where your dog has seen your child grow up, the chances of aggressive behavior are practically negligible.

In such a situation, the bond between your dog and your child will be pretty strong. 

Adults

As a general rule, Labrador Retrievers are not aggressive at all and form close bonds with all family members. 

This is doubly true of the adults who look after them and their needs.

More importantly, the adults in the family are the people that the Labradors will respond to first when it comes to obedience training. 

LABRADOR WITH ITS OWNER

Between this and the fact that your dog will likely come to you to express any dissatisfaction, you will have the information and power to contain situations even before your Labrador can express any kind of aggressive behavior. 

Strangers

Labrador Retrievers are some of the friendliest breeds when it comes to strange people they might encounter.

They sometimes need to be trained to bark at strangers!

Of course, there might be exceptional circumstances in which your Labrador acts aggressively with strangers, but that is not typical of the breed.

In Your Home

In general, Labradors are very friendly with people, but they can get protective when it comes to strange people in their own homes.

When left unsupervised, your Labrador Retriever must use their best judgment regarding a stranger they encounter.

So they may become aggressive if they think it’s necessary.

Guests

All pets generally take cues from their parents on how they should react to the people around them.

When it comes to guests, most Labradors respond well and are extremely friendly.

It is doubtful that Labrador Retrievers would be aggressive with guests that you’ve brought in.

Intruders

While they aren’t the best guard dogs, Labrador Retrievers are very loyal and can be trained to act as guardians of their families.

Typically, even the friendliest Labrador will at least bark at strangers that they come across without their human beings.

But depending on the dog, your Labrador may or may not growl or attack the intruder in their home.

LABRADOR CLOSE UP IN THE PARK

Outside Your Home

Outside their territory, your Labrador will take cues from you. Your pet is likely to be calm and friendly with most strangers on the street unless they feel especially threatened.

Since they’re more likely to be leashed than not when they’re outside, you will have some control over your dog’s reaction.

Are They Aggressive to Other Animals?

Among all the dog breeds, Labradors are one of the friendliest with other dogs and animals. Many Labradors live peacefully and without issues in multi-pet households.

Other Animals in Your Household

Labrador Retrievers are especially good with other pets, including dogs, cats, livestock, and even small pets like rodents or birds if they’ve been trained to tone down their natural enthusiasm.

Most dog breeds can be raised alongside your Labrador – they get along well with just about every kind of dog and are intelligent enough to leave the more temperamental ones alone.

But if you’re getting your pet a companion, remember that they have a lot of energy and love to play and choose accordingly!

Animals They Encounter Outside

Labradors are more likely to be over-enthusiastic about meeting other dogs on their walks and will be curious about smaller animals like cats.

They’re relatively easy-going, so it’s unlikely that they will go haring off after a squirrel or a rodent.

They were bred to be hunting dogs, so some dogs might tend to chase after movement they find interesting.

But this is unlikely with well-trained and well-exercised dogs.

Are Female or Male Labrador Retrievers More Aggressive?

When it comes to differences in aggression between male and female Labradors, the fact is that it all boils down to training and not to any particularities of the temperament of female or male dogs. 

If they aren’t neutered, both male and female Labradors can get aggressive at different times, depending on the severity of their hormone cycle.

Apart from this, there is no significantly notable difference in the aggressiveness of male and female Labradors.

What Can Cause Aggressive Behavior?

LABRADOR ON THE DOOR

Although not naturally aggressive, some Labradors can develop aggressive behaviors if mistreated, abused, or suffering from an injury and discomfort. Labradors can also become aggressive when they don’t have enough exercise, are in a new environment, or aren’t adequately trained. 

Let’s explore some of these potential causes of aggressive behaviors and what you can do to resolve them.

Illness and Injury

One of the most common reasons dogs lash out is when experiencing pain or discomfort because of an illness.

If you see any uncharacteristically aggressive behavior from your Labrador, the first thing you should do is to immediately take them to the vet to rule out any illness.

Your vet will be able to guide you regarding a treatment plan.

As the treatment starts to take effect, your Labrador will come back to its natural good-natured self!

Fear and Abuse

Pet parents abusing the animals in their care is unfortunately prevalent. You’re likely to see aggressiveness in newly adopted puppies or dogs.

They may be aggressive or protective around food, loud noise, or any other trigger points.

In such cases, you should check with your veterinarian for advice and get your Labrador checked over for injuries.

You’ll probably need to follow the advice of an animal behaviorist or a trainer to help your new puppy overcome the abuse,

Environmental Changes

Minor and significant changes in the environment like construction noises or moving to a new home can affect your dog’s behavior.

Keep an eye out for any signs of discomfort, and try to make any changes as smooth as possible for your Labrador.

This way, you’ll be able to nip any potential aggressive behavior in the bud.

Lack of Exercise 

Labrador Retrievers are a high-energy breed that must be exercised regularly.

If you aren’t looking after their activity needs, they will get frustrated, and even their legendary patience will be tested.

LABRADOR IN THE CAR

The best way to avoid this is to play with your pup regularly, take them out on walks and runs and let them run around on their own with a toy.

Lack of Training and Socialization

Your Labrador may be predisposed to aggressiveness because of their parents. This kind of aggressive behavior is easily taken care of during training and socialization. 

However, if your pup has been trained incorrectly and not exposed to other people and animals to socialize with, they will develop territorial behavior.

This makes them aggressive towards strangers and animals.

In such cases, your pet may need to be re-trained by a specialist.

Is Your Labrador Retriever Being Aggressive or Protective?

The difference between protective and aggressive behavior is in the circumstances in which the behavior occurs.

If your Labrador growls at an intruder, the behavior is protective. Your pup has perceived a threat and is trying to defend against it. If your pup growls or snarls out of nowhere, or their reaction seems disproportionate to the situation, then the behavior is aggressive.

Learn To Recognize the Signs That Your Dog Is About To Get Aggressive

Here are some signs that your dog is becoming aggressive:

  • Low, constant growling
  • Baring teeth
  • Raising hackles
  • Crouching with intent to pounce
  • Ears pinned back
  • Loud, persistent barking

All these are signs that your dog is likely to attack and that you should start de-escalating the situation immediately.

What To Do During an Aggressive Episode

When your Labrador has an aggressive episode, the first thing to do is stay calm and assess the situation.

You must not, at any cost, react aggressively.

Do not corner your dog. Instead, try to understand the source of their distress and address it while speaking soothingly.

ANGRY LAB

Do not startle your dog but move calmly and slowly.

And never try to turn your back or run away from your pup because that will motivate them to attack. 

Usually, giving your dog some space and removing the stimulus quickly and calmly will help de-escalate the situation.

Leave your dog alone afterward so they can calm down. 

When To Get Professional Help

If your gentle, well-mannered Labrador becomes aggressive out of the blue and keeps up the behavior, you need to get professional help.

First, consult your vet to rule out any physical illness or injuries.

Based on their advice, you might need to consult an animal behaviorist who can customize a treatment plan based on your pup’s specific needs.

In some cases, a veterinary behaviorist might be necessary, particularly if your pet has an emotional or mental illness that needs to be medicated.

What Does the Rehabilitation Process Look Like?

The rehabilitation process might involve medication, specialized training with a dog behaviorist, and regular training with your dog at home. The rehabilitation process should always be tailored to your Labrador’s specific problems and temperament.  

Group classes are not advised for pets with behavioral problems.

But if you need to socialize and train your new Labrador puppy to nip aggressive behaviors in the bud, then group classes for basic training are perfect.

Final Thoughts

Labradors are not aggressive unless they are forced to be because of external factors. If your Labrador is acting aggressively, stay calm and give them space.

Then, consult your veterinarian immediately and follow the treatment plan drawn up to keep your pup safe and comfortable.

Labrador Retriever

References

  • Science Direct: Breed differences in canine aggression
  • Taylor and Francis Online: Opinions of veterinarians regarding aggression in different breeds of dogs
  • Plos Journals: Jealousy in Dogs
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Childhood Injury Report
  • American Kennel Club: Labrador Retriever
  • Your Purebred Puppy: Labrador Retrievers: What’s Good About ‘Em, What’s Bad About ‘Em
  • National Library of Medicine: Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog
  • VCA Hospitals: Dog Behavior Problems – Aggression to Family Members – Introduction and Safety
  • Ledger: Snyder: Distinguish between protective, aggressive behaviors
  • Dog Vills: Protective Behavior in Dogs – Protection vs. Aggression

Learn more about this breed on my one-page Labrador Retriever guide

Marcelle Landestoy

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