You get home from work and Rover piddles all over the carpet. Maybe he's chewed up all your shoes or perhaps he's made kindling of your window blinds. Your neighbors say he howled the whole time you were gone. You start to wonder—does your Labrador suffer from anxiety?
Because of Rover's social personality, he wants to be by your side every second of the day. He doesn't realize that following you around the kitchen while you prepare dinner might be inconvenient for you; he just wants your love and affection. Labradors bond with their human families more quickly and more intensely than many other breeds, which makes them ideal pets. However, it is also a recipe for anxiety. Labs are the worrying and doting mothers of the canine world.
Types of Anxiety
Perhaps the most common form of anxiety in Labradors is separation anxiety. It is most common when all human family members are out of the house for long periods, but Rover might be able to work up a good panic attack when you simply step out to get the mail. Loud noises and unfamiliar surroundings can also make Rover anxious, and some Labradors have much more specific anxieties, such as panicking every time you visit the vet.
Labradors are extremely playful and energetic, so their anxiety is often expressed through destructive behavior. Rover might chew up your furniture, dig holes in your carpet or even throw himself against windows. He might also lose control of his bladder or bowels, lose interest in his daily kibble, and lick or chew his coat. If you are concerned about Rover's health, consult your veterinarian.
One of the most effect methods of resolving anxiety in Labradors is desensitization. You don't want Rover to panic every time you grab the car keys and open the front door, so the goal is to teach him that being alone is no big deal. Try not to make a fuss over him when you leave the house or return home. If you resist the urge to coo and cuddle with your canine pal, he'll eventually realize that your absence is just part of his routine, and that he doesn't have to worry because you'll be back. Labradors are already high-energy dogs, so there is no reason to rile him up.
One way to make Rover feel more secure (and to protect your belongings from his teeth and claws) is to crate-train him. Being in the crate isn't punishment: a crate provides your dog with a safe den in which to snuggle while you are away, and it keeps him in a confined area where he cannot inflict any damage on your home. Make sure your crate is large enough for a full-grown Lab. A 42-inch crate should be sufficient if Rover is between 70 and 90 pounds. Make crate time fun by giving Rover a special toy or bone only when he is inside.
Whether you leave Rover in a crate, a run or loose in the house, make sure he is distracted when you leave. An educational toy is a good start, as it will keep his mind off the fact that you aren't there. These also work well for other triggers of anxiety. For example, if you move to a new home, make sure he is surrounded by familiar toys and that he has something to distract him from all the changes in his life.
- DogChannel.com: Should I Get a Labrador Retriever?
- Marchstone Labradors: Behavioural Problems—Separation Anxiety
- University of Illinois: Doggoned Separation Anxiety
- Riverwest Currents: Canine Separation Anxiety
- Claws & Paws Veterinary Hospital: Separation Anxiety
- Association of Pet Dog Trainers: Crate Size Guide
Laura College is a former riding instructor, horse trainer and veterinary assistant. She has worked as a writer since 2004, producing articles and sales copy for corporations and nonprofits. College has also published articles in numerous publications, including "On the Bit," "Practical Horseman" and "American Quarter Horse Journal."