Are Labradors aggressive?
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 Americas 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 their behavior.
So, let’s have a closer look at the beloved Labrador and learn more about their behavior.
In particular we will answer the question ‘are Labs an aggressive breed?”
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.
Background 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 travelled to Newfoundland and observed these dogs were impressed by their fine temperament, great water skills and work ethic.
As a result, in the early 1800’s 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.
Do You Have an Aggressive Lab Puppy?
As we have mentioned, just like humans, dogs have distinct, individual personalities.
It can happen that 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 which playfully growls and bites is actually a perfectly normal pup. These kinds of behaviors are not a sign of aggression.
What Causes 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.
Picking 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 their life.
What Type of Training is Best?
Gone are the days when establishing yourself as the ‘pack leader’ was considered the best way to train your dog.
Evidence has shown that positive reinforcement is the most effective way to train a dog for the health and welfare of both dog and owner.
If you would like more information on how to train your dog using positive reinforcement, have a look at this article.
Aggressive Labrador Retriever – Does the Type of Lab Make a Difference?
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 was 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.
What if You Find Your Labrador Suddenly Aggressive?
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.
Causes of Sudden Labrador Aggression
If your dog is in pain, they 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 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.
Are Labradors Aggressive? Summary
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.
There is a wealth of information on Labradors and how to train them successfully within this website.
If you would like to know more, be sure to have a look at some of the articles listed below.
- Labrador Behavior
- History and Origins of the Breed
- Labrador Temperament
- Aggressive and Reactive Behavior in Labradors
- How to Recognize and Treat Puppy Aggression
- Labrador Retriever Characteristics
- Dog Training Methods
Have You Had an Experience with an Aggressive Labrador?
Is there anything that we did not cover in this article that you would like to know more about?
Be sure to let us know in the comments section below.
- Duffy et al, “Breed Differences in Canine Aggression” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2008.
- Green, Ranny. “The Lab Rules Once Again – For Record 28th Straight Year! American Kennel Club, 2019.
- Borbala et al, “Trainability and Boldness Traits Differ Between Dog Breed Clusters Based on Conventional Breed Categories and Genetic Relatedness” Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 2011
- Serpell & Hsu, “Effects of breed, sex, and neuter status on trainability in dogs” Anthrozoos, 2005.
The Labrador Site Founder
Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.
She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program
Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website