By Andrew Fischer
How to stop/avoid aggressive behaviour in Labradors?
Although Labradors are generally considered to be very happy, calm, and friendly dogs, you should know that even Labradors can sometimes behave aggressively. All Labradors use aggression to a greater or lesser extent depending on their mood, health, genes, experience, temperament, and training.
Early warning signs of your dog getting uncomfortable
There is a number of early warning signs that your dog is getting uncomfortable in a specific situation. By paying close attention to these signs you can avoid an aggressive escalation in your dog’s behavior.
Labradors and other dogs show early warning signs of discomfort by turning away or yawning.
If the situation doesn’t improve and your dog is becoming more and more uncomfortable he will increase the intensity of his warning signals. Dogs usually start to bark or growl.
If dog owners are insensitive towards the early and more intensive warning signs, the dog may be forced to snap or bite to make itself heard. Also, if the dog learns that his early warning signs are often ignored he may learn to directly resort to the more intensive forms of warning/protest such as barking, rushing towards strangers or biting.
Causes of aggressive behaviour in Labradors
One common cause of aggressive behaviour in Labradors is fear. Dogs have many fears like the fear of an unknown person approaching, fear of losing something they like, fear of pain etc. In order to reduce your dog’s fear, you should try to change his feelings about the situation so that your dog can move from fear to positive anticipation, joy or tolerance.
Predation is another cause of aggression in Labradors. Many dogs can get excited and start chasing fast-moving objects such as other animals or running people.
Another common reason of aggressive behaviour in dogs is pain. Many medical issues increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviour in dogs.
Pain is a very common cause of aggression especially in dogs that developed aggressive behaviour very suddenly. Some medical conditions such as infections, injuries, hip dysplasia or hypothyroidism are known to lead to aggressive behaviour in dogs.
Even if your vet doesn’t identify any source of pain it’s still recommended to trial a short course of pain relief to monitor any changes in aggression in your Lab.
If your pup suffers from pain then providing some form of pain relief is essential.
Frustration is another common cause of aggression in dogs.
Frustrated dogs that are denied things they want often redirect their frustration on to other dogs or people.
If your dog is frustrated for whatever reason, you should try to identify and remove the root of your pup’s frustration. You can also provide some outlet for your frustrated dog such as a chewing toy.
You can read more about Labradors’ aggressive behaviour in the article “Do Labradors Bite?“
Improving the dog's behaviour
One way of preventing your Labrador from attacking you and others is by improving his self-control and by transforming his behavioural responses to stressful and other trigger situations.
It’s essential to understand that aggressive behaviour cannot be corrected by scolding your dog. Scolding doesn’t help your Labrador to understand what you want him to do and usually only makes things worse.
Dogs that are often scolded are not only aggressive but also develop fear of your aggressive scolding. Fear leads to further aggression and to the development of a vicious circle.
If it’s possible, move the dog away from the cause of frustration. You can let the dog look at the frustrating situation from a distance. If he stays calm reward him with treats. This will teach him to associate the formerly frustrating thing with something positive.
Training techniques to stop aggressive behaviour
If your Labrador inclines towards aggressive behaviour it’s recommended to avoid playing tug-of-war and other dominance games with him. These games only strengthen aggressivity in dogs. You can rather burn your dog’s excessive aggressive energy by a brisk walk or jog.
Some experts believe that excessive chewing of bored Labrador puppies also leads to aggression when your dog reaches adulthood. Many untrained Labradors think that chewing and biting everything including people is fine. For this reason you need to make sure that you train your Labrador puppy well so it doesn’t develop aggressive tendencies.
Play with your puppy only using chew toys, avoid using your fingers and other body parts. If your puppy bites you during these games or during training, loudly say “ouch” and ignore him for a minute or two so that your dog realizes he did something wrong. Your dog will gradually learn that nipping leads to unpleasant situations such as an abrupt end to your attention and to the game.
You can also spray some anti-chew dog spray on your body. These sprays taste sour or bitter and they deter dogs from nipping at areas you don’t want them to nip. You can find some good sprays on amazon for few bucks HERE. Continue spraying your body for few days at least until your dog remembers that humans taste bad. Your pup will cease his attempts to nip you quite fast.
Many dogs are aggressive because they grew up isolated. Luckily for such dogs there are obedience classes where they can learn basic good manners and socialize with other dogs.
Many Labradors are not aggressive at home surrounded by people they know but once a stranger comes they may attack. Labradors are by nature protective dogs. However, they shouldn’t be aggressive towards strangers. If your Labrador tends to behave aggressively in the presence of other dogs and strangers, the cause may be insufficient socialization as a puppy.
You will find some obedience classes in every bigger city around the USA. These classes expose your pup to new dogs and people in a positive way, which teaches him to connect strangers with something pleasant. Dogs usually need to spend at least five weeks in these classes.
Neutering and aggression in dogs
Neutering Labradors before they reach adulthood is known to significantly decrease their aggressive tendencies.
Testosterone is a sex hormone that is known to cause aggressive behaviour in dogs. Neutered dogs have significantly lower amounts of testosterone which decreases their dominant behaviour and aggression.
You should consider well all pros and cons of dog neutering before you decide to let your dog undergo this surgery. More about neutering can be read HERE.
Best Strategies for Managing Aggressive Behaviour in Dogs
There are several methods whose supporters claim great efficacy, however many of these methods are unverified. The most common, effective and least controversial ones are the Desensitization and Counterconditioning and the Behaviour Adjustment Therapy.
Desensitization and Counter-conditioning
These methods are very effective in suppressing aggressive behaviour in dogs. Desensitization is a way of exposing your dog to the stimulus slightly below a level at which aggression is usually exhibited. This method should be set up to expose your dog with stimuli of gradually increasing intensity to safeguard a successful outcome.
Counter-conditioning is a method used to change your dog’s emotional response to the stimulus. This method is based on changing the dog’s behavioural pattern through positive associations.
The method of Desensitization and Counter-conditioning are usually used together. They help your dog to associate the stimuli that cause aggression with the arrival of something pleasant. Tasty food is usually a clear choice here.
Behaviour Adjustment Therapy
This method is relatively new as it was introduced back in 2009. This method is in many ways similar to counter-conditioning.
The base of the Behaviour Adjustment Therapy is to let your dog observe the trigger of his aggressive behaviour from distance where the dog can display a mild reaction to the stimulus. You should wait for your dog to offer an alternative non-aggressive behaviour to the trigger other than the usual aggressive response. This non-aggressive alternative behaviour can be something like not paying attention to the trigger, looking around or staying calm. At that moment you should reward your dog for his good behaviour.