Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM
Labrador retrievers are the most popular dog breed in the world, and it’s easy to understand why.
Their delightful temperament, loving nature, and high trainability make many dog parents believe they are the ideal pet.
However, if you’re looking to adopt a quieter dog or trying to train yours out of excessive barking, what are your chances of success with a Labrador retriever?
Labrador retrievers don’t bark a lot. These types of dogs are gentle, playful, and not very vocal. They still bark, growl, cry, and whine occasionally; however, they tend to do so far more sporadically than other breeds.
Even though Labrador retrievers are usually among the quietest dogs, barking-related issues can still arise in some instances.
Therefore, in the following sections, I’ll dive into some of the most common causes of excessive barking in Labrador retrievers, how to best deal with such an issue, and how their vocalizing behavior varies depending on their biological and personality traits.
Why Do Dogs Bark?
The best way to get a well-rounded understanding of how a Labrador retriever’s barking behavior works is to learn more about the reasoning behind why dogs bark in the first place.
Dogs bark to call out to other dogs, grab your attention, express their emotions, and express pain or another physical state caused by external stimuli. Barking is a dog’s primary means of communication, which is why most of them can be very vocal throughout the day.
Barking is normal behavior for all dogs, which is why, as I’ll further explain in one of the following sections, attempting to train your pet out of vocalizing their needs and emotions will end up causing more harm than good.
Most dogs bark because:
- They’re excited.
- They want to grab your attention.
- They’re bored.
- They’re experiencing fear, anxiety, or pain.
- They’re being territorial.
- They’re reacting to external stimuli.
- They’re suffering from a health-related issue.
As you can see, barking by itself doesn’t tell us much regarding a dog’s emotional and physical health.
Therefore, when trying to decipher what your pet is trying to communicate, always consider their body language.
Why Do Labrador Retrievers Bark?
Labrador retrievers generally bark because they want to grab your attention, are experiencing a physical need, are feeling anxious or scared, or want to communicate their excitement.
Anger and irritation-related barks are far less common in Labrador retrievers, considering their delightful temperament and joyful nature.
However, they might still be encountered from time to time.
However, the breed is famously needy and requires constantly being on the receiving end of human love and attention; therefore, it’s safe to assume that most of their barking is used to grab your attention.
If you’re paying attention to your pet and they’re still barking, chances are they’re experiencing a physical need that’s not being fulfilled.
For example, your dog might be feeling hungry, thirsty, or signaling to you that they want to go out.
Alternatively, Labrador retrievers bark when they sense something unusual, causing them to feel fearful or anxious.
As I previously mentioned, even though they’re not the most aggressive breed, they can still sense danger and warn you regarding anything they might be feeling uneasy about.
Lastly, Labrador retrievers are one of the most joyful breeds, and it often can be hard for them to contain their excitement.
Therefore, they usually like to communicate their enthusiasm through a few barks to let you know they can’t wait to play outside.
Barking Behavior by Age
As your Labrador retriever grows, their barking habits will change and evolve.
While age isn’t the most significant factor affecting a dog’s vocality, it can still impact your pet’s barking loudness and frequency.
Even though Labrador retrievers might seem like they have the temperament of an overgrown puppy, in reality, the breed’s traits notably evolve as years go by, and barking habits are no exception.
Labrador retriever puppies won’t start to bark until a few weeks after their birth.
I’ve intentionally used a vague term to describe the timeframe, as each pup’s growth and development rate is different.
Generally speaking, you can expect to see the puppies vocalizing their needs at around 3-4 weeks.
However, chances are you won’t hear a real bark until your dog reaches 6-8 weeks of age.
Even as the Labrador starts getting comfortable with its bark, it likely won’t be very vocal as far as its physical and emotional needs are met.
Having said that, the breed is famously curious, so don’t be surprised to hear a few soft barks throughout the day as the puppy explores and discovers new stimuli.
The sound of a pup’s bark is also much different from that of an adult; therefore, stay attentive to even the faintest whines and cries, as your pet might be trying to communicate something.
As your puppy grows into adulthood, the nature and sound of its bark are bound to change.
For example, as a Labrador retriever becomes more attached to its parent, it’s natural for them to start suffering from separation anxiety, which often triggers barks and cries.
Therefore, even though most dogs of this breed aren’t particularly vocal, expect them to communicate their needs to you through barking if you’re gone for long periods or aren’t paying enough attention.
Moreover, if you’re about to go on a walk or give your pup its favorite toy, you’ll likely hear an excited bark here and there.
You have nothing to worry about as long as the correct body language accompanies the vocalization.
Barking Behavior by Gender
Male and female Labrador retrievers share many of the same delightful personality traits that make them so utterly lovable.
However, there are still a few biological differences that can often affect their unique barking habits.
Male Labrador retrievers tend to be a bit more territorial than their female counterparts, which, as previously explained, is a quality that often triggers barking.
Moreover, even though these dogs are much more trainable than other breeds, they still tend to get more easily distracted than females, making them more prone to barking and challenging to train.
Female Labrador retrievers tend to be even quieter than their already calm and playful male counterparts.
This is because they tend to be less territorial, more focused, and thus, easier to train.
However, if a female Labrador retriever is unspayed, their heat cycle might cause them to undergo hormonal changes that inevitably affect their mood.
Therefore, if this is the case, your pet might be a bit more vocal than expected due to the wide range of physical and emotional changes they’re experiencing.
What Can Cause Excessive Barking in Labrador Retrievers?
Even though Labrador retrievers are generally among the quietest, calmest breeds, there still are some instances in which they can become excessively vocal.
Finding the cause behind this sudden change in behavior can be crucial in ensuring your pet’s safety and your home’s peace and quiet.
Excessive barking in Labrador retrievers can be caused by separation anxiety, environmental changes, new external stimuli, hormonal changes, certain personality traits, and health-related issues.
The first step to determining the trigger that might be causing your pet to be more vocal than you feel comfortable with is to analyze their behavioral patterns.
Has excessive barking always been an issue, or is it a new phenomenon?
If so, when do you first recall noticing this behavioral switch? What changes have occurred throughout this timeframe that might have triggered a response?
Answering these questions will help you immensely when it comes to determining the cause behind your Labrador retriever’s excessive barking.
When Did the Barking Begin?
This is the first question you’ll want to be asking yourself throughout the troubleshooting process.
If the barking began recently, the reason why your Labrador retriever barks a lot might be due to a recent change in their environment. For example, a new house guest, pet, or furniture layout might trigger a dog to become more vocal.
However, if excessive barking has been an issue throughout your pet’s lifetime, the cause may be rooted in their genetic traits.
On the other hand, the phenomenon might also be related to a health problem, which is why if you’re not able to determine a cause and tone down your dog’s barking to an acceptable level.
In this case, you’ll want to consult with a vet immediately.
If excessive barking is a recent change, think back to every recent adjustment you’ve made to your Lab’s living situation.
Any pets, family members, noises, or other new external stimuli introduced shortly before you’ve noticed the switch in your dog’s behavior could be the culprit.
The good news is fixing a new behavior pattern is much easier than fixing a lifelong one.
Therefore, try taking away the new stimuli one by one to determine which one was causing the behavioral change.
For example, if you’ve just welcomed a new guest or pet into your home, try keeping them away from your Labrador retriever for a few days to see if your dog returns to its normal state.
If so, you’ve found the culprit and can take the necessary measures to introduce the new presence as gently and safely as possible.
If not, repeat the troubleshooting process until you find the trigger(s).
Can Barking Indicate Health Problems?
Barking can indicate health problems if accompanied by other signs of distress. Worrying signs include panting, whining, dry lips, and pacing. If any of these symptoms arise, visit a veterinarian immediately.
Excessive barking in itself doesn’t necessarily indicate a health-related issue; however, it does tend to accompany most illnesses, as your pet tries to communicate that they’re in distress.
For this reason, if your Labrador retriever seems to be crying, whining, and barking excessively, and you can’t think of any recent changes that might’ve caused the situation, you’ll immediately want to look for other signs of distress that might indicate a deeper root cause.
Regardless of whether you find something worrisome or not, if you feel uneasy about the behavioral change, don’t hesitate to visit a vet.
Making a potentially unnecessary appointment is worth it when the alternative is possibly missing warning signs that might end up saving your pet’s life.
How To Tell if the Barking Is Aggressive?
To tell if the barking is aggressive, look for cues in a dog’s body language. Aggressive barks are usually accompanied by growls, snarls, showing of teeth, lunging forward, mouthing, and body stiffness.
Moreover, the loudness and harshness of the sound can tell you more about its nature.
How To Reduce Excessive Barking
The first step to reducing excessive barking is identifying the cause triggering the behavior.
Here are a few tips on identifying your dog’s barking triggers:
- Analyze their body language.
- Consider the timing of the behavioral change.
- Always consult with a vet if necessary.
Here’s how to reduce excessive barking:
- Give your dog enough time and affection.
- Talk calmly and firmly.
- Try to keep your dog’s environment as stable as possible.
- Train your dog to bark less through positive reinforcement. For example, say “Quiet,” wait until your pet has stopped barking, then give them a treat. Repeat the exercise as many times as necessary.
- Make sure your dog gets enough exercise.
- Never reward attention-seeking barking.
Avoid These Pitfalls in Your Quest for Some Peace and Quiet
Here’s what you’ll want to avoid when training a Labrador retriever out of excessive barking:
Punishing Your Dog
Punishing your dog is one of the cruelest approaches you can use to reinforce the desired behavior, not to mention ineffective.
The practice can turn even the calmest Labrador retrievers aggressive and hostile, making the technique backfire horribly.
Therefore, always try to steer away from negative reinforcement.
Making Your Dog Think You’re Going To Hit Them
Following the same logic, you should never make your dog think you’re going to hit them.
Doing so causes the pet to distrust its parent, leading to a wide range of subsequent issues.
Any pain or fear-based techniques are risky and abusive, so avoid them regardless of the circumstances.
Shouting and Verbal Aggression
Shouting and verbal aggression can be just as damaging to a pet’s overall health as other forms of negative reinforcement.
The technique is cruel and ineffective; therefore, avoid using it at all costs.
Your pet doesn’t understand what you’re saying; they just register the tone of your voice.
Therefore, as you raise your volume, they’ll try to do the same, regardless of whether you’re yelling “Quiet!” or “Stop!”.
Use a calm yet firm voice instead.
At the risk of sounding repetitive, barking is natural! It’s neither normal nor safe for a dog not to bark at all.
By bark training your pet never to be vocal, you’ll be hindering their most important communication skill.
However, training to limit excessive barking is okay if it’s done safely and lovingly.
Using a barking collar is a cruel practice that should be avoided at all costs.
The electrical shock can cause severe physical and psychological damage to a dog, often turning them aggressive and hostile.
If you take anything away from this article, it’s that negative reinforcement techniques aren’t only inhumane but highly ineffective as well.
Labrador retrievers are a calm breed that doesn’t tend to bark a lot.
However, genetic and environmental causes might negatively affect these dogs’ barking behavior.
If this is the case, consider all possible triggers before attempting a solution.
Remember never to use negative reinforcement as a training technique.
- The Labrador Site: Do Labrador Retrievers Bark a Lot?
- American Kennel Club: Most Popular Dog Breeds
- American Kennel Club: Understanding Dog Body Language: Decipher Dogs’ Signs & Signals
- PetMD: 20 Signs Your Dog is Happy
- Pet Keen: Male Labrador vs Female Labrador: What’s the Difference?
Click here to read my post on whether or not Labradors are aggressive
Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society