Labradors are firm favorites as pets, especially with families. It is taken as read that these gentle canines can be trusted with adults, babies, children, and even cats and other dogs. Though they are generally docile, Labradors should never be taken for granted and you should always consider the possibility, however slim, of a change in temperament.
Do Labradors attack? Any dogs, labradors included, can be driven to attack. Though it’s extremely unlikely for a labrador to launch an unprovoked attack, it should never be assumed impossible. Always be aware of this possibility and look for any signs of a change in temperament.
Why Labradors don’t usually attack
It just isn’t in a Labrador’s nature to attack. The breed is gentle, sociable and loyal which is why they are one of the most popular family pets around. It is extremely rare for a Labrador to attack any person or any other animal. The way it is treated and socialized from the beginning of its life is key in how it behaves throughout its life. There’s more detail about this later on.
When a Labrador might attack
- If it’s an untrained dog – without proper training, a Labrador does not learn boundaries.
- If it feels threatened – a dog may attack if it feels it is under threat from someone
- To protect you and your family – a Labrador will consider you as part of its pack and may attack anyone who seems to be a threat to you.
- To keep your children safe – Labradors are really protective of the children in a family. For instance, if the children are outside and a stranger comes on to the property a Labrador may become aggressive or attack to protect them. Delivery people often find this!
- It’s injured or unwell – if your dog tries to attack you for no reason it could be in pain. Look for any symptoms and if you can’t get near you may have to call a vet for advice.
- It is not exercised properly – Labradors need to expend their energy properly every day. A lack of exercise can cause a dog to feel hyped up and then it is more likely to appear aggressive.
- Play that goes too far – some people go way too far with play. Tugs of war where you never let the dog win can encourage aggression. Rough and tumble play can over-excite a dog. Know when enough is enough. Teaching dogs to seize when playing is never a good idea
- It’s provoked on purpose – if you provoke a Labrador by taking a bone from it or a favorite toy, don’t be surprised if it becomes upset.
- It’s abused – punishing a dog with smacking or shouting is a recipe for disaster and often leads to it displaying violence driven by fear of you. Never physically punish a dog.
The signs that a Labrador might attack
- If its ears are back, its tail is tucked under and its mouth is tightly closed, a dog is scared of something and may bite if suddenly approached.
- A growling Labrador could become aggressive so be careful about approaching it. If the growl becomes more intense as you approach, back away and let it calm down.
- Sometime Labradors gaze into your eyes but if one stares intently at you with a frozen body stance it is in a challenging mood and could be considering an attack. Back carefully away to a safe position.
- Raised hackles are a sign of aggression so beware. This is often a sign that a fight is imminent. If there’s no other dog around, make yourself scarce!
- When a Labrador curls its lip up to bare its teeth, it could be grinning because it has been naughty but this could also be a sign of aggression.
- If a Labrador is backing away from you it could be scared and trying to get away. If you can’t encourage it to come to you don’t approach it as if it feels cornered it could attack.
- The dog is stalking you, with head low to the ground, an intense stare and a stiff body. Many dogs will do this behavior in play, but if it’s playful, it is usually accompanied by a play bow or relaxed body language. Stalking outside of play is predatory behavior and could mean a bite.
- When a dog is eating or gnawing a bone and you approach, a stern growl is a warning not to come near. Many dos do this and don’t attack, but there is a chance it could so don’t tease.
- If a male Labrador has designs on a female Lab who’s in season, you could get attacked if you try to intervene.
How to react if a Labrador attacks you
This is a very unlikely situation, but if a Labrador does attack here’s the best way to react:
- Keep your hands and arms in front of your body and as far away from its mouth as possible.
- Keep still and quiet and don’t make eye contact.
- Cross your arms and slowly turn sideways and completely ignore it.
- Do not try to grab its collar.
- If the dog bites you don’t pull away as you’ll endure more damage to your skin as its teeth could tear into you. Instead push into its mouth and hopefully, the dog will release you.
- If the dog doesn’t release you try not to let it shake its head or move you from your position. Keep both of you as still as possible to limit the damage.
- Try not to shriek or scream as this often makes the dog more excited and intent on attacking.
- A small person or child should curl themselves up as tightly as they can and keep as still as possible.
- Do not use your fists or feet to fight back unless absolutely necessary as this can make the dog more vicious.
- As soon as the dog backs down, move quickly away without looking back. Making eye contact could cause another attack.
What to do if you see a Labrador attacking someone else
Don’t become a victim too by just wading in. From a safe distance, shout to distract the dog. If this works, tell the person to walk away quickly without looking back. If you can, use something to get the dog to back off. If you have a bag or backpack throw it at the dog. If you’re in your car, a mat from the footwell or your car blanket might do the trick. Don’t put yourself in danger.
How to minimize the chance of a Labrador attack
- Train it – Labradors are intelligent dogs and so can be easily trained. The earlier you begin training the better. A well-trained dog will be obedient to its owners and much easier to control.
- Avoid training it as a guard dog – training a dog as a guard dog always introduces the possibility of unpredictable behavior. A guard dog is not particularly suitable as a family pet.
- Treat it kindly – if mistreat a dog, don’t be surprised if it retaliates
- Supervise children around dogs – children are notorious for accidentally upsetting dogs. They get into their faces, pull their ears and tails, poke and prod them. Take the time to teach your children how to respect your Labrador and treat it nicely.
- Protect it from provocation – there are some insensitive an unkind people around who take delight in teasing and tormenting dogs. Be sure you know and trust anyone who you allow to be around your dog to ensure it isn’t driven to attack.
How to ensure a Labrador pup won’t become aggressive
- Meet its mother – if the mother is a happy, well-cared-for dog, her puppies should also be good-natured
- Check how it has been socialized – for a Labrador puppy to grow into a confident and sociable dog, it needs to be socialized properly as a puppy. The breeder (or owner of its mother) should interact with the pups, they should be exposed to other people, children, and animals so they learn to be relaxed and comfortable around them throughout their lives.
- Train it – start puppy training as soon as possible to ensure your Labrador grow up to obey you and learns how to behave around other people and dogs. It is really important to ensure a Labrador will always be obedient for you.
- Nip viciousness in the bud – don’t allow any viciousness. Discourage it at all times. Don’t play fight or allow rough play that could lead to aggression.
Some of the above may sound worrying but remember well-trained, well-treated, well-loved Labradors rarely attack. You may find our article Do Labradors Bite helpful.