Labrador Retrievers and the Quest for the Perfect Family Dog

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

Labrador with a girl

Labrador Retrievers, also known as Labradors or Labs, are among the world’s most popular dogs because they’re intelligent, outgoing, and affectionate.

They are also easy to train and easy to care for since they only require low grooming needs.

Thanks to their outstanding personalities, many families worldwide love them, but will they make the perfect family dog for you?

Labrador Retrievers love kids, so they’ll be a perfect addition to your growing family. They’re also gentle and highly trainable, making them ideal companions for kids, seniors, and smaller pets. However, they need plenty of physical and brain stimulation to prevent behavioral problems. 

With my background as a veterinary doctor, I’ll look into everything about labradors and your quest for the ideal family dog. While they’re one of the world’s top family dogs, it’s worth learning about their temperament, energy level, and other characteristics before committing to adopt them.

Let’s dive in.

Are They Good With Kids?

Labrador Retrievers are friendly, playful, and gentle by nature, making them great with kids.

However, Labs need to be trained on how to socialize with children. You also need to teach your kids how to behave towards the dog.

Babies

Labrador Retrievers are excellent with babies. They aren’t aggressive and are protective of their owners. 

Labrador Retriever face

However, they don’t always make the best guard dog due to their overly friendly personality.

You can’t expect your Lab to guard your baby. You must never leave a baby alone with any dog, to begin with.

Even the most docile dog can pose a threat to small children, let alone babies.

Helping Your Labrador Retriever Adjust to a New Baby

Labs love routine, like daily exercise and cuddle time with their owners, so if you ever bring a baby back home in the future, you must maintain your Lab’s routine to prevent jealousy and bad behaviors.

Labradors are protective of their owners, so they may feel jealous and defensive if a stranger (like a new baby) gets too close to their owners.

They may show attention-seeking behaviors, such as barking or jumping. 

Fortunately, Labs are easy to train, so it won’t be long until your dog acknowledges the latest addition to the family.

Reward your Lab with treats whenever they respond to your commands and behave nicely with the baby around.

Toddlers

Labrador Retrievers love pleasing their owners, no matter how old or young.

Your Lab will happily play with you and your kids or be part of a kid’s party. 

Of course, you must train your dog on what is and isn’t appropriate, like not jumping on children.

Moreover, Labs are big and heavy, so you want to keep an eye on them whenever they play with small children.

However, training and watching the dog is only one part of the equation.

You should also show your kids how to pet the dog and remind them never to pull its tail or take away its food bowl while it’s eating. 

Older Kids

Although Labradors are generally gentle with toddlers, they’re best suited with older kids because they are bigger and stronger than toddlers and have more stamina to keep up with a Labrador’s playfulness.

Labs have high energies, so playing with them can be overwhelming for toddlers.

They may also accidentally knock toddlers down if they get too rough. 

Labrador with a girl

Is the Labrador Retriever the Right Size for Your Family?

Labradors are medium-sized dogs, but their solid build tends to make them appear larger.

A male Labrador Retriever typically stands between 22.5 and 24.5in (57.15 and 62.23cm) and weighs between 65 and 80lbs (29.48 and 36.29kg).

Female Labradors generally are 21.5 to 23.5in (54.61 to 59.69cm) in height and weigh between 55 and 70lbs(24.95 and 31.75kg).

Although Labs are highly active, you can train them to control their energy levels.

When appropriately trained, it’s reasonably safe to let your older kids walk or bathe the Labs; it’s best to do the first few rounds with your older kids before gradually letting them do it on their own. 

Labs are heavy, so if you have to carry a 6-month Lab to the vet, you can’t rely on your small children to do that.

At that age, the dog may already be around 50lbs (22.68kg).

How Much Living Space Does the Labrador Retriever Need?

Labradors need plenty of space because they’re highly energetic dogs, so a home with a spacious backyard is ideal.

While Labrador Retrievers can tolerate cold weather, they will be happier living indoors where it’s warmer and more comfortable.

Besides, this breed loves human companionship, so they’ll always be most satisfied when they’re close to their owners.

Labrador Retrievers can also live in apartments as long as you dedicate enough time to take them out for their daily exercise and walks.

If you cannot devote much outdoor time to your Labrador, keeping this breed in a small apartment is not recommended.

Labs are big dogs, and they need plenty of room to stretch their legs and exercise.

Can Labrador Retrievers Cause Allergies?

Like many other dog breeds, Labrador Retrievers shed a lot.

Despite their short double-coat, Labrador Retrievers can cause allergic reactions in humans, as they often have flaky skin, and their dander can trigger allergic reactions.

man sneezing

On the bright side, people with mild allergic reactions can keep Labradors as long as they mitigate the causes.

If you or anyone in your family is allergic to dog fur, make sure you vacuum your home regularly.

It’ll help to let your Lab swim more often as this can reduce the dander in your home.

Do They Bark a Lot?

Your Labrador will bark when it’s trying to tell you something. For example, it’ll bark if it feels uneasy due to lack of exercise.

Labs don’t want to be left alone or neglected and will bark when they experience separation anxiety. 

Generally, Labradors don’t bark a lot, and while this is a good thing, it doesn’t help ward off strangers.

You may want to consider other dog breeds if you are looking for a guard dog that is also family-friendly.

If you must get this breed, the good news is Labs are highly trainable, so you can train them to bark appropriately, especially when they encounter potential home intruders.

Are Labrador Retrievers Aggressive?

Labrador Retrievers are known for their laid-back, easy-going, and friendly personality.

According to the American Kennel Club, Labrador Retrievers are one of the top 10 friendliest dog breeds. 

However, if a Lab doesn’t get enough exercise or is left alone for an extended period, they can develop behavioral problems.

What About Families With Seniors?

Labrador Retrievers are excellent guide dogs for seniors and people with disabilities or limited mobility.

They may be high in energy, but the more experienced ones can control their energy levels better (and won’t trample on people), especially with proper training. 

Labs are family-oriented dogs, so they’ll always be happy to accompany you or an older person in your family.

They can also encourage seniors to go for walks more often, which is good for both of them.

Do They Get Along With Other Dogs?

Two labradors

Not only do Labrador Retrievers love having people around, but they also love being in the company of other dogs, regardless of the breed.

This highly sociable breed will be happy to have a friend to play with at home. 

However, like humans, some dogs can be temperamental, even the most trained Labrador.

So, make sure you consider your Lab’s unique personality before introducing them to other dogs. 

Moreover, don’t forget that Labs are highly energetic, so if you plan on getting another dog someday, make sure you have time for two dogs.

Are They Good With Cats?

Despite their reputation as hunting dogs, Labs are friendly.

They tend to get along well with other pets, like cats, provided that you expose them to other animals early. 

If you’re bringing home an adult Labrador, you must train them to not consider cats as prey or chase and harm them.

Labradors are highly obedient, so if you teach them well, they’ll follow your commands and won’t do things you don’t like.

Final Thoughts

Labrador Retrievers are loving, easy-going, gentle, and affectionate. All these characteristics make them excellent family dogs.

They’re highly energetic and will always be happy to spend time, please, and play with everyone in the family.

Despite their high energy, Labs are also great with seniors—plus, they can get along with other dogs and cats if they’re trained.

Since Labradors are intelligent hunting dogs, they always need to be physically stimulated, especially during the first few years of their lives.

Lack of exercise, as well as separation anxiety, can cause them to develop behavioral problems.

Labrador and a woman playing

References

  • Dogsbite: 2015 US Dog Bites Fatalities
  • Journals.plos: Jealousy in Dogs
  • AKC: Labrador Retriever
  • Animalplanet: Can Dogs Live Outside In All Seasons?
  • Healthline: Dog Allergies
  • VCA Hospitals: Guide Dogs
  • AKC: 10 Friendly And Adorable Dog Breeds

Click here to read my one-page Labrador parent’s guide

Marcelle Landestoy

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