Labrador retrievers have been the most popular dogs in America for nearly three decades. They are not typically synonymous with aggression, but just like with any other dog, it can happen.
When it comes to aggression, the Labrador retriever leans the opposite way. Even its AKC breed description mentions how “nonaggressive” a Lab is: “The ideal disposition is one of a kindly, outgoing, tractable nature; eager to please and nonaggressive towards man or animal. The Labrador has much that appeals to people; his gentle ways, intelligence and adaptability make him an ideal dog.”
Although the tendency toward aggression is not innate in the nature of the Labrador, there is always an exception. Any dog can be aggressive under certain circumstances. The signs are all there: ears flat, pupils dilated, lips curled back revealing rows of pointed teeth.
But sometimes, aggression can come very suddenly with what seems like no warning. The dog may not even growl but, when triggered, suddenly appear to snap. However, there are usually warning signs that owners may not be noticing.
How Do You Know If Your Dog Is Aggressive?
The ASPCA has provided a list of behaviors to watch for that may indicate an upcoming aggressive episode. As the ASPCA explains, these episodes can be aborted or diverted if they are caught in time. Below are the behaviors…
Body grows very still and rigid
Deep, threatening bark
Jumping or charging the person, without making contact
Nipping without breaking the skin or leaving a mark
Muzzle punch, or punching with the nose
Bite hard enough to tear the skin
Bite hard enough to bruise
Biting with shaking
Look for one or any combination of these behaviors. Sometimes, the warning happens in the blink of an eye before an actual hard bite, but the warning is usually there.
Why Is My Dog Being Aggressive All of a Sudden?
In the case of a Labrador retriever, the first thing to do is probably take him or her to see a veterinarian. If it is not in your dog’s normal nature to be snappy, there may be a physical issue. Make sure your dog is not in pain. If your Labrador is growing older, you could be looking at such causes as arthritis or even dementia.
Other causes include:
Territorial Aggression: The dog attacks people whom he perceives as an intruder.
Fear Aggression: The fearful dog becomes aggressive if cornered.
Possessive Aggression: The possessive dog becomes aggressive to protect food or toys.
Misplaced Aggression: The dog is acting out, but can’t reach the target, so he acts out on the closest available person, animal, or thing.
Protective Aggression: The dog becomes aggressive to protect people or other animals.
What to Do About Aggression
The first step in dealing with your dog’s aggression is a trip to the veterinarian.
This will hopefully rule out any physical issues that may be causing the problem.
The second step
Is to find a local animal behaviorist, hopefully one that specializes in dog aggression. A positive motivational trainer should be able to help you identify the triggers that are causing the aggressive episodes.
They should work with you on methods to redirect the aggression and successfully eliminate the problem. Be aware that there likely won’t be a push-button solution. Adressing behavioral issues requires time and commitment.
The trainer might explain to you that there are several factors to consider when addressing aggression in a dog. The problem goes beyond personal inconvenience. There is a huge liability factor.
Here are some of the considerations:
Has the dog bitten before? If so, the dog is a known risk, as well as an insurance liability.
Suggested Article: How to stop a lab puppy from biting
Age of Dog:
Young dogs may be easier to train and change the behavior. But an older dog with an aggression problem may have a physical issue or might be living with pain.
Size of Dog:
A large dog, like a Labrador, is a bigger risk, as he can inflict more damage than a smaller dog.
Dogs who give little or no warning are more likely to be euthanized. Dogs who growl, avoid conflict, and show plenty of agitation before the bite are considered a lower risk. However, the same dog may not be consistent, which ramps up the unpleasant surprise factor. What is the dog’s usual target? Is there one predictable person or activity that seems to trigger the behavior?
Severity of Aggression:
Some dogs never go past a growl. Others will nip. Others will just go full Cujo. The severity of the aggression is a crucial factor when considering how best to deal with the problem.
Motivation Is the Key:
If you have a dog that is highly food motivated, you may be able to work with that dog. A behaviorist will be able to evaluate what interests your dog, be it a tennis ball or a bit of chicken, and how to use it to your best advantage.
Sometimes, a habit of redirection will break down the behavior, retraining it until it fades out completely. If you can predict the times and circumstances that trigger the aggression, it gets easier to thwart it by offering a reward for good behavior instead.
A good trainer can help you work to resolve problems on a case-by-case basis. It could be something as simple as giving your dog another hour of exercise each day. Or maybe he would benefit from more one-on-one attention. Like people, dogs can grow stale in their routines, and they appreciate a little change-up once in a while.
Prevention Is the Cure
Before bringing home a new dog, consider the actions you will take to thwart future aggressive tendencies. In all dogs, the importance of socialization cannot be overstated. This is easiest in puppies, when you are working with a clean slate.
But older dogs too can benefit from experiencing new places, meeting new people, and encountering all different types of situations. The more confident your dog is, the less likely aggression will become an issue.
Proper socialization takes a lot of energy. For a puppy, he should be exposed every day to new places, surfaces, and situations. He should go for car rides and meet all types of people. He should be exposed to every fathomable animal, place, and thing.
With an adult dog who needs socializing, think about doubling this effort.
But getting to the root of the problem is the least you can do for a dog like a Labrador who will give you utter devotion throughout his lifetime. Now is your time to return that devotion and help him work through these issues.
Remember you might have 15 years together; it is best to spend the years in a peaceful coexistence. If you work with your dog, you will learn things about him, and you might even help him be better than he was before the problem started. An unexpected bonus is that he can make you better, too.