You come home from work and find that your favorite blanket has been chewed up and your dog runs up to greet you like nothing’s wrong! Doesn’t he know that this kind of behavior is unacceptable?
The reality is, your Labrador doesn’t know when he’s been behaving badly. Labs don’t understand morals. He doesn’t instinctively know right from wrong. He’s just engaging in behavior that comes naturally to him.
Many things that we call behavior problems are just Labradors following their natural tendencies. Most bad behaviors are caused by ignorance or lack of training. When we start seeing bad habits in our Lab we need to work on redirecting him toward more acceptable behavior. Fortunately, Labradors are eager to please and are easily trained, but it does take time and consistency.
Natural vs. Abnormal Behavior
Many behaviors that become problems are just natural tendencies for your Lab. Barking, digging, and chewing are just a few of the things that Labradors naturally do but when they become a nuisance or destructive these behaviors need to be corrected.
Owners need to keep in mind the natural tendencies of the breed of dog they have chosen. Many people choose Labs because of their intelligence. You need to keep in mind that with intelligence comes a tendency to get bored if not properly stimulated mentally and physically. Many so-called “bad behaviors” arise from boredom or too much energy.
They also choose Labradors because they are loyal and great companions. Since they are loyal they are also protective which means they will bark at any intrusion they think may be a threat. They love your companionship, so when left alone they may get anxious and chew on things.
Always look at both sides of your Lab’s behavior and learn how to anticipate some of these “bad behaviors” and redirect them toward a more positive response. Part of being a good owner is to teach your Labrador acceptable behaviors that still help to meet the needs of his natural tendencies.
Abnormal behaviors tend to be more psychological. Many Labs can suffer from anxiety, excessive fear, and aggression issues. These behaviors are not part of their natural inclinations. There are things that you can do to help in these areas but you won’t be able to just direct them to a more preferred behavior. Usually, for these types of issues, you will need professional help from a dog behaviorist or your vet. You will need someone who is trained to find the root of the problem and help treat your dog.
There are several different methods that you can use to help keep your Labrador from destructive behavior.
When your Lab misbehaves he is usually bored or looking for attention. If you yell at him to correct him he still perceives this as a form of attention and this only reinforces the behavior. Remember most of these behaviors are just natural Labrador tendencies. You need to calmly stop him from the behavior and redirect him to a similar activity that is acceptable. For example, if he is chewing on something he shouldn’t, get him to drop it and then calmly redirect him to a toy that he may chew on. Once he is engaged with the acceptable toy, reward him for that behavior. You will see some more examples of redirection listed in the Common Behavior Issues section below.
What if you don’t want him to chew things up or dig holes in the yard but you just don’t have a lot of time to work through redirecting him to better choices. If that’s the case then management may work for you. This just means removing the objects that tempt your Lab into bad behavior. It may mean keeping items off of lower levels where he can easily reach them and chew them up, or perhaps putting up a small wire-mesh fence to protect your garden. This doesn’t teach him better behaviors but it keeps him from performing destructive ones.
3. Basic Obedience Training
You might think that learning the basic commands like “sit,” “stay,” and “come,” won’t help with breaking destructive habits. However, basic commands give your Labrador a foundation of structure. These commands start to teach him to listen to you and obey. If he learns to follow these verbal directions you can use them to redirect his attention and guide him toward better behaviors.
4. Keep a Schedule
Labs like structure. They like to know what to expect throughout their day. If you stick to a fairly firm schedule for eating, walking, play time, and bedtime your dog will know what to expect throughout his day and will be less likely to misbehave.
Labradors often partake in destructive behavior out of boredom or to burn off excess energy. A good way to deal with this is to make sure he gets plenty of exercise. Take him for walks, play fetch, or go for a jog. A tired Lab is a well-behaved Lab.
6. Mental Exercise
This one goes along with the one above. Labradors are intelligent and need to be mentally exercised as well as physically exercised. Play a game of hide-and-seek or find-the-toy with your Lab. Teach him some new tricks or let him play with some type of puzzle toy. All of these things will help him use up energy and not act out because of boredom.
6. Keep Them Indoors
Labradors are social animals and love to be near people. If you tend to leave him outside a lot he will become lonely. This can lead to issues like excessive barking, howling, and digging. It is best for Labs to be kept indoors. For more detailed information on this issue, see our article, Are Labradors Inside or Outside Dogs?
9 Common Labrador Behavior Problems
1. Nipping and Rough Play
Puppies tend to nip all the time. Their mouth is what they use to explore their world. If you allow them to continue with this behavior it can become a biting issue as they get older.
Puppies who stay with their litters until they are 8 or 9 weeks old tend to learn the consequences of nipping from their littermates. They learn that if they nip too hard their playmate tends to yelp and run away. This teaches them that when they nip it can lead to the end of playtime. It is important for you to reinforce this information. When your puppy nips you, yelp like a dog and walk away. Let him know that this behavior puts an end to playtime.
The same training can be used for rough play. When you rough play with your puppy you are teaching him that this is an acceptable behavior. That may be fine when he is a puppy but think about a 70-pound Labrador wanting to play rough. It’s important to teach him proper behavior from the start.
When your Lab starts to play too rough then end the play time. Walk away and let him know that this is not acceptable. Once your puppy learns that certain behaviors end his playtime he will stop doing them. It is your job to teach your puppy to play correctly.
Your Labrador loves chewing. He doesn’t instinctively understand what is acceptable to chew on and what isn’t. You need to teach him. As I mentioned above when you catch your Lab chewing on something he shouldn’t, like a shoe, sternly say, “No Chew,” and take the toy away. Don’t yell but state the command firmly.
Once you have taken the object away give him a toy that he is allowed to chew on and reward him for chewing on that. Rotate his chew toys so that he doesn’t lose interest or chew one up too quickly.
Puppies usually chew to explore or expend energy. Older dogs usually chew out of natural habit but sometimes they chew out of anxiety, boredom, or fear. If your dog is chewing when you are around this is probably a regular behavior. However, if he only chews when you are away it may be stress-related. You will need to deal with the root of the problem and find ways to relieve his anxiety before you can resolve the chewing issue.
Digging comes naturally to dogs. They like to dig to bury things, to create a cool place to lay, and to hunt for critters in the ground. Unfortunately, when they are doing this they are often digging up your garden or lawn.
A good redirection for this is to create a digging box for your dog. All you need is a sandbox filled with soft, diggable dirt. Every time you catch your dog digging in an area you don’t want him in gently call him over to the digging box. You may want to bury some toys to encourage him to dig in this area. When he digs in the box reward him for his good behavior.
4. Excessive Barking
All dogs bark. This is a normal behavior for them. They bark to let you know that someone is outside, that they are hungry, that they want to play… and the list goes on. Constant barking is not normal and it can be quite annoying for you and your neighbors.
If your Labrador is barking excessively try to figure out why. Is he lonely? Is he bored? Labs that are left outside a lot tend to bark a lot, especially at night. They are bored and lonely and missing interaction. They want your attention and are making noise to get it. The best way to end this type of barking is to bring your Labrador inside.
Some other ways to curb unwanted barking are to make sure your Lab has plenty of exercise and block out things that can cause him to bark. Close the curtains so he doesn’t see every person walking by. Play soft, calming music to keep him from being anxious.
When he is barking excessively redirect him to another activity. It is usually a good idea to get him to sit first and calm down. Once he is calm give him something else to do. An occasional cheese or peanut butter filled toy is a great redirection. It is hard to bark when your mouth is full of peanut butter.
5. Jumping Up
When your Labrador is a puppy you probably encouraged him to jump up on you. It was so cute to watch him do that. However, once he thinks that’s ok he will continue to do it even when he has grown to a 70-pound adult dog.
Labs get so excited when they see you or any other human that they can befriend. They want to jump up and meet everyone face-to-face.
One way to redirect this behavior is to start when your Labrador is little. Teach him to sit when he hears someone at the door and to stay until you allow him to get up. Quietly and calmly introduce him to the new person and reward him with lots of petting.
If he does jump up, politely ask the person not to pet him but to turn away. He will learn that jumping up does not get him the attention that he is looking for. Occasionally you may have to remove the dog from the situation until he calms down.
Labs love food! He is also an optimist. He hopes that if you have food and he keeps begging eventually a tidbit will come his way.
Redirect by teaching him to sit or lay by your feet during meal times. NEVER give him anything from the table. You will only be fueling his optimism. If you want to reward him with some scraps do it at the end of the meal in his regular dinner bowl away from the dining table.
7. House Soiling
If your Labrador has been house-trained for a considerable time, but then suddenly starts having accidents, he may have a medical issue. Sometimes these issues are caused by bladder problems, diabetes, or several other medical issues. If your Lab has arthritis it may be painful for him to go outside as often as he needs to. If you think it may be a medical issue take him to the vet and have him checked over.
Sometimes this is a stress issue. Has something changed in the house? Did you get a new pet? If there is a reason for his stress try to work through that and see if it ends the soiling issue.
If your dog is still young he may just be regressing a little. Go through the potty training steps with him again. Take him out frequently and reward him when he goes outside.
8. Separation Anxiety
As I have said before, Labradors are highly social animals. They do not like being left alone. That said, you will inevitably have to leave the house at some point. If your dog becomes overly anxious when you leave this could lead to other destructive behaviors like chewing, barking, etc.
Try to desensitize him to being left alone. Go through the motions of leaving the house like grabbing your keys and purse, then don’t leave. If these tend to become more common occurrences and don’t always lead to you leaving he may start to feel less stress when you have to leave. Don’t make a big deal out of it when you leave or come home. Start out by leaving him alone for short periods of time, then gradually lengthen the duration. You may also want to leave the TV or music on for your dog.
Crating you Lab is also an option. Some people don’t like to do this and it is definitely a personal choice. We have found that our Labrador, Trooper, prefers to be crated when we aren’t home. It helps him feel more secure and less fearful. Always make sure the crate is big enough so that he isn’t cramped.
If you have to be gone quite a bit during the day consider adding another dog, or maybe a cat, to the house so that he isn’t alone all day. Dogs are pack animals and having another playmate in the house can help keep him occupied. Another option is to find someone who can stop by and take him for a walk every day.
If your Lab remains extremely anxious then there are medications that can help. Talk to your vet and see what she recommends.
Dog aggression seems to be on the rise. About 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs every year. Roughly 10 people are killed by dogs every year. I don’t say this to scare you but to make you aware that it is definitely a problem.
Most people-directed aggression is caused by stress. Sometimes it is also caused by pain. If your Labrador is in pain because of arthritis or another issue he can be quite snappish. Also, if your dog is losing his sight or hearing then he can be easily startled and snap at the person who startled him.
If your Lab is acting out aggressively you need to look for professional help. Talk to your vet or find a good behaviorist. This is an issue you don’t want to take chances with so seek help immediately.
The main thing to keep in mind about your Labrador’s “bad behaviors” is that most of them are natural tendencies. If you keep him entertained, well-exercised and give him lots of attention then chances are the behavior issues will decrease.
Teach him alternate, acceptable behaviors and reward him when he behaves. If you see signs of major stress or aggression then seek out professional help. Taking care of your Lab and teaching him proper behavior takes time but in my opinion, the love and affection you receive make it all worth it!
(Featured Photo courtesy smerikal)
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