Are Labradors dangerous and aggressive dogs? Why do they attack? In this article, I will show you the reasons why Labradors tend to bite people.
According to the AKC, the Labrador Retriever has been the most popular breed in the US for the last 5 years.
To consistently hold the top spot as America's most loved dog, it is clear that Labradors make great pets.
However, some Labrador owners still worry about the temperament of these dogs – some may wonder “are Labs aggressive?”
Labradors are big dogs, so an aggressive Labrador could be hard to manage.
Happily, Labradors are not known to be aggressive dogs.
In fact, they are generally known for having a laid back, friendly and patient personality – which makes them such a great family dog.
However, some Labradors can have behavioral issues.
Remember, just like humans, each dog has their own personality, and the way the dog has been trained and treated will have a bearing on its behavior.
So, let’s have a closer look at the beloved Labrador and learn more about their behavior.
Are Labradors Aggressive?
Labradors in general are not aggressive.
In fact, a study published in 2008 found that they were one of the least aggressive breeds of the group of dogs involved in the study.
However, the answer to the question “can Labradors be aggressive?” is a little different.
As with any dog, inherited characteristics from the parents and life experience will have a bearing on an individual’s personality.
So, while it is possible to come across an aggressive Labrador, bear in mind it is not a characteristic of the breed.
The Labrador’s history attests to the fact that aggression was never a trait that was favored in the breed.
Let’s have a quick look at where the Labrador came from.
History of the Labrador
The ancestors of the Labrador were working dogs, called St Johns Water Dogs.
Their main job was to assist fishermen. Aside from helping the fishermen catch fish, they also helped retrieve nets and ropes.
These dogs were bred specifically to withstand the chilly conditions encountered working on the water in their native Newfoundland.
English noblemen who had traveled to Newfoundland and observed these dogs were impressed by their fine temperament, great water skills, and work ethic.
As a result, in the early 1800s, some St Johns Water Dogs were brought to England and bred as shooting dogs.
This is when the modern-day Labrador started to make an appearance.
Unfortunately, the St Johns Water Dog has since died out. But we can still see remnants of these fine dogs in the Labradors of today.
This brief look at the background and breeding of the Labrador tells us aggression was never a quality that was required or encouraged in the breed.
3 Types Of Aggression
There are countless types of aggression – predatory, social, defensive – but, below, The Humane Society of the United States defines three of the most prominent:
- Fear-motivated aggression: When a dog believes he is in danger, he reacts with aggression, even if he isn’t actually in harm’s way. If he perceives danger, he may bite in order to protect himself.
- Protective or territorial aggression: With this type of aggression, dogs protect their "territory" – their food, toys, owners, or home - and can growl, snarl, and snap at those who they perceive as threats. (My dog is guilty of exhibiting this behavior; he marks our entire neighborhood so he often feels like he owns the block and can be unwelcoming to those he doesn’t know.)
- Redirected aggression: The Humane Society feels this form of aggression is relatively common, but often misunderstood by dog owners: "If a dog is somehow provoked by a person or animal he is unable to attack, he may redirect this aggression onto someone else. For example, two family dogs may become excited and bark and growl in response to another dog passing through the front yard; or two dogs confined behind a fence may turn and attack each other because they can’t attack an intruder.
Dog Aggression Behaviors
A dog that shows aggression to people usually exhibits some part of the following sequence of increasingly intense behaviors:
- Becoming very still and rigid
- Guttural barking that sounds threatening
- Lunging forward or charging at the person with no contact
- Showing teeth
- Biting – quick nips and bites and/or puncture wounds
Have an Aggressive Lab Puppy?
As we have mentioned, just like humans, dogs have distinct, individual personalities.
A puppy can be a bit grumpy because that’s just them.
The good news, however, is it’s actually very rare to come across a truly aggressive Lab puppy.
And to be clear, a puppy that playfully growls and bites is actually a perfectly normal pup. These kinds of behaviors are not a sign of aggression.
Causes of Labrador Puppy Aggression?
A truly aggressive puppy is in fact a frightened puppy.
Before attacking, an aggressive pup will cower and hide, perhaps accompanied by a low growl.
If their efforts to avoid you have been unsuccessful, an attack is usually the last resort.
There are ways to deal with an aggressive puppy.
And there are also steps you can take when picking a puppy to reduce the chances of ending up with an aggressive Labrador.
Pick a Happy Puppy
If at all possible, meet the parents of the puppy you wish to bring home.
In some cases, meeting the father may not be possible, but you should be able to meet the mother.
The mother dog should be happy to meet you – tail wagging and smiling (as only Labs can).
If mom is aloof, frightened, or worse—aggressive—sadly, her puppies are not likely to grow into well-adjusted dogs.
However, the genes the parents have passed on are not the only thing that will affect the temperament of your dog.
How the pup is socialized will also play a role.
As such, a puppy that has not been raised in a happy, healthy environment will likely have issues with behavior throughout its life.
Does the Type of Lab Make a Difference on Their Aggressiveness?
There is the belief among some people that the color of your Labrador affects their temperament. Is this the case?
If there is any difference in temperament between different colored Labradors, it does not come down to the color of the coat.
But there could be some differences in temperament as a result of the family tree.
As the Labrador breed developed, two distinct types came into being—the American Labrador and the English Labrador.
In short, the American Labrador is more of a working breed, while the English were bred with more of a focus on showing.
It is interesting to note that according to a study done in 2011, sporting dogs were more trainable than their non-sporting cousins.
So how does this relate to black and brown Labs?
Are Black Labs Aggressive?
Black labs are generally taken from the American Labrador bloodline, meaning they are bred as a working dog.
This means they are likely to be more trainable.
While this doesn’t mean they are any more or less aggressive than their yellow or chocolate counterparts, training them may be more successful due to their sporting dog ancestry.
Are Chocolate Labs Aggressive?
Conversely, it is often the case that chocolate labs are bred from the English line.
This means they may be more of a challenge to train.
While this does not equal an aggressive dog, it may mean your chocolate Labrador is more distractible, less accepting of correction, and less willing to obey commands than their cousins from American Labrador stock.
Labrador Suddenly Attack
For any dog owner, a normally calm and placid dog suddenly becoming aggressive is a distressing situation.
You may fear that you now have a ‘problem dog’ on your hands and that drastic measures may have to be taken.
But before you hit the panic button, remember that there are many reasons your dog may be acting this way.
With some observation and professional help, most dogs can be treated successfully.
Sudden Labrador Aggression
If your dog is in pain, it may become aggressive.
So, first and foremost, it is worth checking whether your dog is ill, or if it has sustained an injury.
They may not let you near the area that is hurting, so don’t put yourself in danger trying to investigate.
A good suggestion is to take a video of your dogs’ behavior.
Take the video along when you go to the vet, as your dog may not exhibit the same behavior at the clinic.
Even if the pain is not the cause of the problem, consulting a professional is the best way to deal with a dog that has become aggressive out of the blue.
While the behavior may seem strange or sudden to us, most veterinarians will have encountered similar situations over the years.
They will be able to help find the trigger and address the problem.
10 Ways To Help Your Dog Combat His Aggression
- Relax. I know owning an aggressive dog feels like a crisis, but it can be completely remedied. Take a deep breath and calm down because you don’t want to be stressed out, and you don’t want to stress your dog out. Dogs feed off of our energy so if we’re nervous or anxious, they, too, become nervous and anxious and can become aggressive thinking they’re protecting us.
- Assess. Have you ever heard the passive-aggressive break-up line, "It’s not you, it’s me"? When it comes to your dog, maybe it’s not him, it’s you. Maybe he needs more exercise or more love or more socialization or more mental stimulation. Cesar Milan, everyone’s favorite dog whisperer, says, "A lot of people assume that a dog is either naturally aggressive or not, but this isn’t really the case. Aggression is not a cause, but a symptom. If your dog is aggressive, then it’s telling you that something else is lacking. By paying attention to the behavior, we can understand what our dog is telling us and then figure out the cure to the problem." If your dog has been aggressive and snarled or snapped, think about the time(s) it happened. Who bore her aggression? When? Where? What happened before, during, and after her fit or attack? It’s helpful to know why she did it to help determine what can be done to help prevent it from happening.
- Don't bully your breed. Pit bulls, rottweilers, and dobermans get a bad rap. Yes, because of their size, when they’re aggressive or snappy, it is much scarier than when a toy poodle or shih tzu is aggressive, but it is unfair to assume their breed is the problem. Milan says, "remember, these dogs don’t dream of being in the news when they grow up. Bad dog behavior and dog problems are not premeditated. Bad things happen when powerful breeds (or mixes of powerful breeds) live with humans who like the breed but don’t understand and fulfill the animal in the dog. Many people consider the look or popularity of a breed before thinking about whether the dog works for their lifestyle. This is a recipe for disaster."
- Talk to your vet. Since dogs cannot communicate the way humans can, it’s important to rule out any medical conditions by getting them checked out. When dogs are in pain, they tend to lash out and exhibit signs of aggression when they really just want to get help. (In fact, the ASPCA defines this form of aggression as "pain-elicited aggression": "An otherwise gentle, friendly dog can behave aggressively when in pain. That’s why it’s so crucial to take precautions when handling an injured dog, even if she’s your own. A dog with a painful orthopedic condition or an infection might bite with little warning, even if the reason you’re touching her is to treat her.")
- Seek professional help. Since aggression issues do not go away by themselves. contact a behavioral specialist to help make the situation less stressful and dangerous. The ASPCA says professionals in the pet-behavior field fall into four main categories: trainers; certified professional dog trainers (CPDTs); applied animal behaviorists, certified applied animal behaviorists (CAABs) and associate certified applied animal behaviorists (ACAABs); and diplomats of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (Dip ACVBs). Once you identify which one professional you need, do a Google search or check out The Association of Professional Dog Trainers’ website to find one in your area.
- Be considerate. Your dog is your responsibility. If you fear he will bite another person, consider a muzzle or keep him confined and away from situations that trigger his aggression.
- Spay or neuter your dog. Like Bob Barker always said, "Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed and neutered." In addition to controlling the pet population, fixed dogs are less likely to display dominance, territorial, protective, and sex-related aggressions.
- Exercise. If you have a puppy or remember your dog when he was one, I have one word for you: energy. People tend to think that puppies have a lot of energy (and they do!), but so do most adult dogs. Dogs have a lot of energy, and they need to burn it off so it’s important they get enough exercise to keep them stimulated both physically and mentally. Dogs who get plenty of exercise are less frustrated and less likely to lash out.
- Refrain from punishment. In fact, punishment can often make the situation worse. If your dog is fearful, punishing, hitting, or raising your voice will only make her more fearful and more aggressive. If she’s dominantly-aggressive, punishing her will only make her want to be more dominant and overpower you as the leader.
- Evaluate. Think about your options. In most cases, aggression is solvable, but it is hard work and takes a lot of time. Can you handle it? Do you (and those you live with) have the time and patience to commit to it? Can you live safely with your dog, or are you and your family in danger? Remember, you need to do what’s best for you, your loved ones, and your dog. If you know your dog is aggressive because you cannot give him the time he needs to be properly exercised or socialized, consider finding another home for him.
So, are Labradors aggressive?
As a rule, no.
But can labs be aggressive? Well, yes.
Just like any dog can when they are threatened or have been treated badly.
So really, it is up to the owner to train their Labrador appropriately and avoid situations that confuse and frighten their dog.
However, you can rest assured that Labradors are by nature kind, gentle, outgoing, and fun-loving dogs that will delight their family with years of loyalty and companionship when given the right environment in which to thrive.