Out Of Control Dog: Are You Losing Control Of Your Labrador?

Chocolate Labrador runs out of control

Is your Labrador out of control? Is he embarrassing you? Are you worried about what will happen when you let your out of control dog off the leash in public? And what can you do about it?

Pippa takes a look at control issues in Labs and other large dogs, including why it is so hard to control some dogs outdoors, and what you can do to help.

‘Losing Control of Your Dog’ was written by our founder, best-selling author Pippa Mattinson. Pippa’s online dog training courses are available here.

Out Of Control Dogs On Walks

One of the most common problems experienced by many dog owners is a worrying lack of control over their dog once it is running free in the big wide world.

Some young Labradors are quite happy to trot along at their owner’s heels for the duration of a walk.

Many are not.

Out in the countryside, all too often, the dog seems to become totally deaf to commands taught and obeyed willingly at home.

out of control labrador

The understandably frantic owner may resort to yelling and screaming, blowing ever more powerful whistles, all to no avail.

If you feel as though you are losing control of your Labrador, then you probably are. And the time to take action is right now. Let’s take a look first at why you may be having problems.

Controlling Your Lab Outdoors

For most dogs, the sights and smells of a country walk are overwhelmingly distracting. This is especially true for dogs bred to seek out ‘game’. Including traditional retrieving breeds like Labs.

One of the key Labrador characteristics is their ability to track the scent of other animals.

Following scent is a hugely rewarding activity for a Labrador.

As a gundog, it has been bred for generations to do so.

Your dog will derive great pleasure from following the trails left behind by rabbits, squirrels and other dogs.

And just like people, dogs do what gives them pleasure. Which can result in some pretty out of control dog walks!

A Labrador Is Everybody’s Friend

In addition to their hunting urges, many Labradors are also extremely friendly. Either towards people, other dogs, or both.

This is on the one hand a blessing, and on the other hand a curse.

Many of us choose Labradors as our companions because they want a good tempered dog. But the fact that your dog wants to befriend every single person you meet on your walks, and even move in with them, can be frustrating and embarrassing.

An overly friendly dog can look a lot like an out of control dog to the other people you encounter on your walks.

One way to improve this situation, is to become more interesting to your dog.

Becoming More Interesting To Your Dog

Dogs do what rewards them, and what interests them. Labradors are intelligent dogs that need mental stimulation.

It can be hard to accept, but in many cases dogs are bored witless by their owners.

Once the dog gets free of that leash he is intent on having fun. And if you are not going to provide that fun, he will find some fun by himself.

Think about how bored you would be if you had no job, no responsibilities, no duties, no goals, and no objectives.

OK, that might sound quite attractive to you at the moment, especially if you are trying to hold down three jobs and raise a family as well as train a dog!

But actually, boredom is a terrible curse and a real mischief maker.

Give Your Labrador A Job!

Dogs need a job to do, a role to play, if they are to be truly happy and balanced individuals. That role could be quite simple.

It could be to find things you have hidden, or to fetch things you have thrown. It could be to follow your directions back and forward or side to side, to press buttons, or pick up toys or the laundry.

labrador fetching a ball
labradors love to fetch a ball

It doesn’t really matter what the ‘job’ is as long as he has one.

This is especially true of walks, and when your Labrador is young. A bouncy boisterous young lab out on a walk with no expectation of any input from you is bound to get himself into trouble sooner or later. Leaving him to choose his own entertainment is a recipe for an out of control dog.

Taking control of your dog’s activities when walking in a public place will make a big difference.

Engaging With Your Dog

By giving your dog jobs to do, you make yourself a source of fun, of mental stimulation. This reduces the chance that he will look elsewhere to keep himself occupied.

Teaching a Labrador to retrieve, and punctuating every walk with interesting retrieves can make all the difference in the relationship you have with your dog.

Retrieving is your dog’s birthright and he will love you to bits for it.

Managing Your Dog’s Free Time

Some dogs can be let out of a car at the beginning of a walk and ignored until the walk is over.

Their owners can chat to friends as they stroll, whilst the dog just potters along a few yards in front or behind. Stopping to sniff at this and that, or to briefly exchange pleasantries with other dogs.

It is a hard fact of life that these dogs are usually very old, or belong to other people.

Most young Labradors, and indeed most young dogs in general, need some degree of management during a walk. Some require a great deal of management.

A Zone Of Control For Your Dog

It is a good idea to have an idea in your mind, before you set off for a walk, of just how far away from you, your dog should be allowed to stray.

With a youngster of six to nine months old, keep this distance very short indeed. Twenty to thirty yards is far enough. When your dog reaches the limit of this ‘zone of control’, call him back, and sometimes reward him.

From time to time, and whenever you get bored with repeatedly calling him, bring him to heel and walk him along next to you for a few minutes.

Spend a few minutes during each walk doing a bit of training. Get your dog to sit and stay whilst you walk in a circle around him. Send him for a tennis ball you deliberately dropped for him a few yards back. Hide behind a tree so that he has to sniff you out.

Then give him a little more free time, watching all the while to make sure he does not get too far away.

Best of all, every now and then, turn around and start walking back the way you came. The “about turn walk”, based on this principle, is an excellent strategy for tidying up a sloppy recall.

Out Of Control Lab Puppy

Control is not just about ensuring your dog doesn’t run off or get lost. It is also about making sure he interacts appropriately with other dogs and people.

This can be challenging with a big bouncy Labrador puppy that is growing in both size and confidence.

Problem behaviors like jumping up and pulling on the lead are very common in puppies of around six months old.

The first step to improving your puppy’s behavior around strangers is often to teach them to focus on you more. You can do this by being more interesting in general. But also by training your puppy to offer eye contact with you when he wants something. This is one of the skills covered in our Foundation Skills training course.

Things Will Get Better

It can be upsetting when your expectations of what life with a dog will be like are shattered.

Strolling along in the sunshine whilst your dog does his own thing might seem very attractive and relaxing if walking your dog has become a bit of a nightmare.

You are bound to feel disappointed and let down.

But you can resolve these problems, and in many cases find a new and much more interesting long term relationship with your dog.


Taking Control Of Your Dog

Most control issues in young Labs are ultimately down to insufficient training. The solution is to start regular daily training sessions with your dog.

Modern training methods, like the ones used in our Dogsnet training courses, are fun and effective.

By training your dog regularly, you will build a stronger, happier relationship with them. And make yourself much more interesting to be with, and to listen to!

If you currently have an out of control dog, all is not lost. Start interacting with them more on walks, and get training regularly at home, and things will soon start to turn around.

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


  1. Our four month old male lab is ok until about six pm. Then he becomes obsessed!!!! He acts crazy and we can’t control him. This goes on for about an hour. Please help!!

  2. In short, do not get a dog, especially a Labrador, if you are not prepared for them to control all aspects of your life. And if you are in a position of not having understood that when someone ‘gave’ you a dog, you are in for some miserable times. Folks are more interested in forcing unwanted behavior on you, rather than letting the dog go to a home that likes being run by a dog.

  3. Great article a advise.I love it and I wish more dog owners would take the time and interest reading articles like this.
    I am a dog owner for 10 years.2 late rescue Labrador girls, 1 rescue Labradoodle and si ce 8 weeks a golden rescue Labrador girl. All my dogs have had sad troubled pasts from being beaten and neglected to used as breading machines.All of my dogs never have had any training before, nor have they been walked and played with. my 2 late Labs a my Labradoodle boy now 10 years old has been relative young when I adopted them ( 5 to 7 Month old). As a 1 time dog Mummy ???? I was quite nervous when I got my 1 rescue Lab.But I read many many books from training my dog to dog psychology and health problems, as well read lots of articles online.I went with my 1 dog to training g classes but to be honest I found it not very good and helpful.Yes my dog could sit stay a so on but I had the same problem like many of you here when being outdoors and distracted with other dogs, people etc. The 1 few walks I walked like so many other people relaxed and my dog on lead trotting along. But I found this sooooo boring that I really thought about how boring it is even for my dog.so I stared playing games like retrieving a ball, sniffing out treats or objects a so on.In less than 1 week my dog responded so well off lead that even she greeted other dogs or run in the bushes to sniff around, she came back in less than 1 sec when calling her for another game.Not only my dog was more happy on our walks I was as well and the bond between us couldn’t be closer.
    All my other dogs have learned from each other and the walks even with 3 dogs was always fun and relaxed as I knew they comming to me when called.I think the main issue with call back a dog is really making g it as much fun as possible and not only calling them back when time to go home.
    My newest rescue Lab who is 4 and never has seen a park, grass , streets or has been inside a house is a bit different. She absolutely loves to run.she runs like she runs for her life and is not interested in games apart from when we on a gras field where she likes to play ball.she disapear In the forest and bushes and calling her back did not work,was really scary first.thinking a really long time about how to get her not to run to far away that she gets lost , but still give her the freedom to run off lead costed me sleepless nights.Yes I also got fustrated when she didn’t react when I called her back and I also told her off, put her back on lead.we both ended up fustrated.and yes she listens to me very well apart fro being in the woods.So I 1 decided to go there where it is really save, no streets around in case she runs off.And she did run in the woods but I tried to relax visualising she will come back in a few minutes to look if I’m still there.i did not call her back straight away when she was running in the woods, I waited about 2 minutes exactly at the spot where we was when she run off.And to my supreme she came back after a few minutes without I called her.instead of been fustrated I praised her to come back showed her I really was happy and proud of her and that I trust her to come back shortly.That was the breaking point.Now I allow her to run in the woods knowing all she needs is that I trust her to come back as well as she trusts me to wait for her at the same spot as her nose is showing her the exact way back.we both trust each other now and now when I call her back she even turns around and comes to me know she is allowed to go to explore.I have learned a lot from her to see that she really needs exploring there where I can’t go so she is a happy stable dog.of course I only let her run their where it is save and she respect my decision when showing her here or there it not save and she has to stay at my side. Now I don’t even have to put a lead on when I want her to stay at my side, somehow she knows without words even when she can’t run around even when we going to new areas.I think we often underestimate how intelligent our dogs are and that they can read our emotion more than we are aware .every dog is different and we really need to find the deepest emotion and characters of our dogs to build the most trusting bond between them and us.I really love my girl for have showing me the way to learn to trust her as she trusts me.
    I always will be worried that somethin may happens, like it is with with when my children was younger and they went out into the world. ????????????????


    • Hi
      Do you allow your dog to play with other dogs and go in parks where he can run off lead? Maybe he needs a playmate regular and interact with other dogs more to get over the urge to run to them all in the neigbourhood the time when going out with you.dogs are much calmer when they have had a really good run.
      The other thing I recommend is make your walk fun.take a toy with you and play with him so he learns you can be as much fun as other dogs and their toys.walking on lead a trotting behind or at your side can be very boring for your dog.
      Hope you getting there

  5. We have a male lab who’s one in two weeks, he’s a lovely boy but despite always training him since we got him home and always using gun dog training he still prefers to please himself on walks. Without any distraction he walks on a loose lead, sits to heal, walks to heal very well, sits at a distance, recall is fine, he responds to a whistle great, he loves the dummies, retrieves very well and has an expert nose!
    But if there’s anything in his eye line, rabbit, bird or another dog, that’s it, we are no longer at all interesting and he bolts! No amount of shouting, calling, stern voices or whistling will even make him batter an eyelid or turn to look at us! He just needs to go, chase the scent or the game or meet the other dog and come back when he’s done. We both find this extremely frustrating as he has potential to be a good dog and a good worker but it’s a real problem and his hunting instinct is only getting stronger! The more he disappears into the woods self pleasing and not listening the more he’s doing it on every walk! I do always train on every walk, do walk to heal, use the dummy for retrieves, sit and stays, I have treats and we also don’t allow our dogs to go out of sight or too far but even so he is not interested if he suddenly decides to go! I have no idea if he will calm down and grow out of this boisterous stage? Or how much more recall and training we can do to stop this bad habit? We love our long walks, all in the country and off the leash, with our other gun trained spaniel but we both feel he is really spoiling most walks at the moment, leaving us with a head ache and feeling all we do is tell him off at the moment! I hope he will improve at some point!

  6. Excellent article as always Pippa .
    There was a time when, in my ignorance , I didnt realise how vital retrieving was to my young lad Sam, expecting him to just sniff around on walks like so many dogs do, but after all, he is a retriever and thats what he wants and needs to do . I had been totally selfish but then the work started in earnest , almost every walk becomming a job for him to do .
    He is now an adult dog and the bond is truly lovely , he doesnt leave my side unless being sent off to find and retrieve , my reward being to observe a dog working away , tail non stop wagging , looking to me for direction. He used to want to meet, greet and sometimes follow other people and dogs, but now he will give a wag of the tail when encountering other dogs, but his attention and focus is on me and for this I thank the brilliant advice given here and on the forum .

  7. We have had BUZZ our 2.5 year old Black Male Lab now for 10 weeks he was unwanted pet God knows why ????? At first we found it hard constant barking at night (we would joke that an ant must of walked past him LOL )but we would go out everytime and tell him it was ok give himThis would happen about a dozen times a night for the first 2 weeks a pat and walk around the yard would calm him for a while
    Walking was not fun BUZZ had been tied up everyday while the owner was at wk this would be from6am until 7pm 5 days a week so walks were part of his daily routine and being a part of the family was not alot of time either .Buzz would constantly pull on his lead we tried a harness that was ok but had our most success with the choker the first time and he walked great 7 weeks after we have had him we are able to let him run on our dog off leash beach .We are so blessed to have Buzz as a part of our family as he brings so much joy .We know we still have alot more training to do together but he is so accepting and smart I know he wants to learn more .

  8. Hi Pippa,

    Sorry, I didn’t explain myself very well I don’t think. Our dogs don’t run wild or roam free, we always walk with them and they are almost always (90% of the time) within sight and close by – our younger one especially always likes to see and know where we are. We don’t see walking them as a chore either – indeed we moved here from the city about a year ago because we – like them – wanted to be out walking in the wilds and in the forests and we spend a lot of time out walking them. However, once we are in the forest – because it is huge and there are no roads and next to no people either – they run and play a lot and sometimes they disappear for a few minutes at a time off into the trees, chasing deer etc. That seems OK to me – I don’t want them to have some freedom and they are fit and healthy and really relish the exercise. But when you say you wouldn’t let your dogs run free under any circumstances I’m confused – are you suggesting they shouldn’t be off the lead much if at all? My concern is that they sometimes take off unexpectedly – although we are with them – and don’t come back when called – when we are near a road or other potential dangers. We’re really struggling with getting them to come back at such moments if there are other things on offer. Thanks, Kirsty

    • Hi Kirsty,

      I understand now 🙂 By ‘run free’ I meant allowing dogs to take themselves off on walks unaccompanied.

      The problem you are having with dogs going too far on walks is a common one. Especially in dogs with strong hunting instincts.

      For a thorough answer you probably need to read Total Recall , but there are articles on this site which may help. The first thing to try is the About Turn Walk

      I hope you find it helpful


  9. We have two black labs, female aged 5, boy aged 3 and have much the same issues with them as Sue above. Retrieve? Forget it – maybe once, sometimes twice, then we have to go get the ball or whatever it is. Unless it involves swimming then the boy will go in repeatedly – our girl dog doesn’t like getting wet (I told her she was a labrador, but she insists water is not her thing). We have also tried using treats with them – but again as with games like retrieve – they are only interested so long as there is nothing more interesting on offer. We live near a huge 900 acre forest so often they can go off quite safely and sniff and run – but on the way to the forest from our house they are increasingly taking off even when called back, and even despite the possibility of a treat – in search of pheasants, deer, and above all else horse poo to eat! The trouble is that this takes them near and sometimes onto a road – a quiet country road certainly but still a road. We aren’t having much luck with stopping them and while you say that owners should work on making themselves more interesting our problem is that horse poo and other delights will always be more interesting than us – although we play lots with our two. Any advice?

    • Hi Kirsty,

      There are a couple of issues raised in your comment. Problems caused by ineffective training, and problems caused by lack of supervision.

      Training with treats is not the same as bribing. Bribes do not work because you can never hope to compete with the rewards on offer in the environment. Training creates an automatic response that enables you to get reliable results, even when there are no treats available. The treats are used to ‘train’ the response in the short term, and intermittently to maintain the response in the long term.
      This is a structured process and takes commitment, effort and some knowledge. There is more information in the articles in this section

      Retrieving ‘desire’ is fragile in some Labradors, especially those from show stock, and needs to be actively preserved and encouraged. It may be difficult to recover in dogs of this age, though a clicker retrieve would re-establish a basic retrieve that you could have fun with.

      With regard to your dogs roaming, I personally would not allow dogs to run free under any circumstances. I know this is common practice in some very rural areas, and my own parents took this approach with our dogs when I was a child. However, as in your situation, there are few areas now where a dog can roam in true safety. There are so many hazards, aside from the risk from roads. And the impact of your dogs on local wildlife is also a factor you might want to consider.

      Exercising dogs can be a chore, but it is also a huge opportunity for training and bonding that can never be replaced. My advice to owners to make themselves more interesting requires at least that the owner is present to some degree. Allowing dogs to exercise themselves without you is simply teaching them that you have nothing to offer apart from a place to sleep and free food. The behaviour you describe in your dogs is a direct result of the freedom you have allowed them, and resolving those problems would first require a huge shift in your approach to managing the dogs. A shift that you might well feel is not something you would wish to consider at this time.

      This reply must seem very negative to you and for that I am sorry. But the whole essence of building a good relationship with a dog centres around controlling the resources available to the dog. Access to ‘hunting’ opportunities are for many gundog breed the most important resources you can offer. I hope that your dogs stay safe, but I fear that allowing dogs to ‘run wild’ on any level is unlikely to result in a happy outcome.


  10. hi.we have 2 choc 6mth old dogs,nuetered, as told it would calm them down, there madder than ever,we go for long walks,they have a large garden to play in.the other day we had a very large and dangerous tree felled, eddie found the bird box what was in the tree,before I could remove it.after chewing most of it,with alfie,that night he sicked several medium sized pieces of bird box,how he didn’t chock is beyond me,very worried one day I wont be there to stop him swallowing wood…thers 3wk between them, alfie & eddie.

  11. My lab is a chocolate male, not castrated and 2 years old. Wonderful, happy,crazy character, very excitable and friendly until he was attacked when 6 months old. Forgot all about it until, after a long period out of training and walks because of elbows operation, we went out again in the woods, off leash, and he was attacked by the same dog…this time being just a year old he reacted and defended himself but needed quite a bit of restrain. After that we started to have problems both with recall again and aggression towards most dogs of all sizes and coming towards him or passing by. Had to call in a trainer and now after a long period of training and patience and dedication we are beginning to see light after the tunnel: the recall is much much better and so is the aggression even though I don’t feel still safe to let him free(he is most of the time with a 10m.long leash that sometime I let him drag along). The trainer comes every month more or less to see the progression and is very pleased with his improvements and especially obedience and coming back or stay close to me and even short lead walking. I no longer has to use the muzzle to avoid him pulling me everywhere!Still we have problems at times, unpredictable to say why and when, sometimes are completely placid dogs that he will growls and try to go for, sometimes he completely ignores the ones that growls at him or even run to him aggressively…he has been bitten by a bulldog(who previously attacked him twice and no longer has been seen)…and when this happens very rarely I can go happily as I have to really use all my force to pull him away…but having said that most of the times now we can quite happily go, meet other dogs and move along without major problems even when he seems quite tense he won’t make a sound and will come away…so my major issue is that even if the recall is so much better and according to my trainer really good I cannot let go of him off the leash as I fear he could attack other dogs or been attacked…I am at the point of wanting to ask you if you think I should approach someone with a strong experience particularly in labrador’s behaviour?! Please let me know as even though I am enjoying much more my walks now I am still far away from those beautiful times when he was off leash and running freely and happily with all dogs of all types I do appreciate he is now a grown up boy but still I see so many labradors,castrated or not, free and “good”. He is adorable and very gentle nature and very well behaved at home and with people(even if very lively never bad) so big contrast to his angry/aggressive side…many thanks for any advice or help!

    • Hi Concetta,
      Well done for making improvements in your dog’s recall. It sounds as though your dog might now benefit from being assessed by an experienced behaviourist, and a consultation with your vet. Aggression towards other dogs can sometimes be reduced by castration. And there are techniques a behaviourist can teach you which will help you to continue to make improvements in his behaviour. Best wishes, Pippa

  12. Thanks for your comments ladies. It can be very tough with a first dog, especially when bombarded with a variety of conflicting information and advice. Keep up the good work!

  13. I know I’ve done a lot of things wrong in trying to train my labrador and we do occasionally lose control of her totally (until she has flushed that pheasant she can smell and then back she comes). I accept the point that she finds it boring just walking with me – I’d often suspected that was the case. However – as regards giving her a job to do and/or distracting her from hunting, we have a problem. From puppyhood she will only ever be interested in anything for a few minutes. We do agility with her – she’s the French Resistance dog. Watch her very carefullee, she will do zis only wurnce. Does a course well, but just the once. Refuses to practice. If my husband or one of the other trainers takes her round she’ll do it again for them – just the once….. Do retrieves – she’ll do that about three times at a push, before losing interest. Carry something on a walk? Not a hope. We’ve lost balls all over England. Play with a ball? Absolutely, she’ll sometimes do this for half an hour in the garden. On a walk though, she will just wander off to do her own thing after a couple of kicks. We do vary the toys, we keep them in a box, she has something different every day, but sometimes even in the garden she’s just not interested, she’d rather hunt field mouse nests. It’s infuriating, but I keep it light and positive, I’ve got really good at not getting frustrated! She did recently retrieve a stick from a freezing pond three times and bring it all the way out each time, which astonished us because prior to that she loses interest in anything she has retrived from water before she actually gets onto the bank! (We won’t use expensive floating toys for that reason) We’ve tried playing hide and seek in the forest but we were disappointed because we wanted her to follow our trail and she just found us instantly by air scenting – having said that, seeking is her absolute favourite game but it’s hard to hide on a sea wall or a beach and by the time you’ve gone off to hide, she’s gone off to chase the wildlife! I frequently have to walk her alone – she’s much more engaged if I am with more people, but I don’t have a tame gaggle of people to walk with. I am going to have another go with a clicker however, go back to the beginning. It’s worth a try. We’ve been trying to train her for 4 years so far! I want to take on a new puppy (hopefully one that’s a bit more interested in Agility!) and the new one is going to start training the moment it comes through my door, so they can both learn together.