While Labrador retrievers are generally known for their gentle and friendly personalities, some Labs may show signs of aggression as puppies, especially in the form of mouthing. Without training to curb your pup's aggressive tendencies, a relatively harmless little Lab can quickly grow into a large and potentially dangerous adult.
Take your Lab pup out for a brisk walk or jog on a leash and play engaging games like fetch and hide-the-toy with your little furball. Tug-of-war games are discouraged for any dog with any hint of aggressive tendencies. Labradors are a high-energy breed that needs lots of exercise to burn off their extra energy. They love to swim, which may work well if you have a pool -- but don't forget a doggie life jacket for safety.
A bored puppy who isn't properly exercised burns off this energy through destructive means, such as chewing on furniture -- or your limbs -- as part of his "play" behaviors. Labs are notorious for chewing on anything and everything around them. While this behavior is not necessarily aggressive to start with, it can lead to aggression when your dog reaches adulthood. If your Lab thinks that biting people or animals during play is okay as a pup, he'll continue to bite people as his jaws get stronger, a situation that can have serious consequences.
Play with your Lab puppy using chew toys, not your fingers or hands. If your Lab nips your hand during play, loudly say "Ouch!" to startle your pup and immediately stop play and ignore him for 30 to 60 seconds, recommends the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Do this each time your dog nips or bites you until your dog learns that nipping leads to something unpleasant: an abrupt end to the fun and attention. Reward proper behavior that doesn't involve biting with a tasty treat and praise.
Spray a taste deterrent on your hands or ankles, depending on which body parts are the target of your Labrador pup. These sprays taste bitter and unpleasant to your dog, and when biting or nipping at you results in this yucky taste, it will deter him from nipping at you in the future. Continue to spray your limbs and clothing for two weeks until your pup ceases his attempts to nip or bite you.
Enroll your Lab pup in a puppy obedience class to teach him basic good manners and to socialize him around strangers and other dogs. Your Lab may not be aggressive around you or your family, but may show aggression toward other animals and people. Labs tend to be protective dogs, wary of strangers, especially as they get older if they are not properly socialized as puppies.
Puppy obedience classes expose your dog to strange people and dogs in a positive manner, so he views them as something good. Your dog will also learn basic commands that make it easier for you to control him, decreasing the chances of aggressive behavior.
The American Kennel Club offers special classes for puppies called the S.T.A.R. Puppy Program, which stands for puppy socialization, training, activity and responsible owner. This is a basic obedience program that promotes good behavior and prepares your Lab for the AKC's Canine Good Citizen Program. Classes are offered around the country and last at least six weeks, depending on how quickly your dog responds to the training.
Spay or neuter your Lab prior to six months of age, the age at which most pups reach sexual maturity. Labs grow very quickly, and become large dogs by four months of age, according to Veterinary Partner. These pups grow into a 55- to 80-pound adult within the first year, an imposing and potentially dangerous size if your dog is aggressive. The sex hormones present in an intact male dog -- a dog who hasn't been fixed -- increase his aggressive tendencies and dominant behaviors.
Take your Lab pup to the vet for a checkup if he begins showing signs of aggression, including nipping, growling or snarling. Sometimes a medical condition such as hypothyroidism, an infection, a seizure disorder or an injury can make your dog irritable and more likely to become aggressive, according to the Labrador Retriever Rescue.
Feed your Lab puppy with his food dish in your lap or you can hand-feed him bits of dry kibble. Not only will your dog bond with you during this experience, but it prevents food and possessive aggression from developing or worsening.
Dogs who guard their food dish can snap at you or family members unexpectedly during feeding. Have other family members feed the puppy as well to get your dog used to being submissive to everyone in the home. Slip a treat into your pup's bowl while he eats to also help discourage food aggression from developing.
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Aggression in Dogs
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals: Puppy Mouthing
- Labrador Retriever Rescue: When a Dog Bites
- The Labrador Retriever Handbook; Audrey Pavia
- American Kennel Club: AKC Meet the Breeds: Labrador Retriever
- Rescue Every Dog: Breed Profile
- Veterinary Partner: Labrador Retriever Revelations
- The Humane Society of the United States: Dog Aggression
- American Kennel Club: Welcome to the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program!
- If your pup is afraid of a particular situation -- he becomes fearful in crowds or upset when restrained on a leash, for example -- wait for him to stay calm for a moment and immediately reward him. He will soon learn that being calm equals something positive: a treat.
- While positive training at a young age should help curb your Lab pup's aggressive behavior, some persistent cases may require more training than even basic puppy classes can provide. For these dogs, seek the help of a certified applied animal behaviorist or veterinary behaviorist who can work with your puppy one-on-one to deal with serious aggression issues.
- Labs are notorious jumpers who love to hop up on people when they get excited, according to "The Labrador Retriever Handbook." While not an aggressive behavior, in a few months, your growing pup's force can injure the human he's greeting so enthusiastically. If he jumps on you, say "off" and turn around, only giving him attention and a treat him if he sits calmly, recommends the ASPCA. When visitors come to the door, keep your pup on a leash and command him to sit, rewarding him with a treat for calm behavior in the presence of strangers. The leash allows you to control your dog and prevent him from jumping on guests in case a verbal command fails; if he begins to jump up, give him a the verbal cue of "off" and reward him with a treat when he sits.
- Never punish your Lab pup for aggressive behavior. Not only will this cause your dog to become fearful of you, but also to become more aggressive in the long run. Ignoring your dog when he behaves aggressively should be the extent of "punishment" for your dog.
- Don't allow anyone, especially small children, to approach your Lab puppy if he is having severe issues with nipping or biting -- a serious injury could result.
- Immediately and consistently use positive techniques and food rewards to train your puppy, don't lavish attention on him without making him earn it to establish your role as pack leader, and he'll learn that aggression is not allowed.
Based in Las Vegas, Susan Paretts has been writing since 1998. She writes about many subjects including pets, finances, crafts, food, home improvement, shopping and going green. Her articles, short stories and reviews have appeared on City National Bank's website and on The Noseprint. Paretts holds a Master of Professional Writing from the University of Southern California.