Labrador Retrievers are the most popular breed in Britain and America and have been for quite a while. There are many desirable traits that make labs a top choice for families. Labs are patient and generally non-aggressive. They are friendly, some would say overly so, and crave human companionship and interaction.
Let’s look at the breed specifics of a Labrador Retriever. Labs are usually between 21 ½ and 24 ½ inches in height and range between 55 and 80 pounds. Of course, there are always exceptions in height, weight, and overall size, but these specifications are the standard for Labrador Retrievers.
Labs have a short, dense coat that is weather-resistant and seemingly destined for the water. This coat is known to shed quite dramatically if not brushed regularly.
They have an otter-like tail that is constantly in motion, often affectionately known as a ‘happy tail’. This tail helps Labradors steer themselves in the water by acting as a rudder. Labs are friendly, and love consistent interaction with their humans, interacting well with other animals as well.
Labradors are friendly and self-confident. They benefit, even thrive, in interaction with humans and other animals. They should be well-socialized as puppies to help avoid any nervousness or skittishness. They are not known for being aggressive, and positive interactions and socialization contribute to the overall well-being.
Labrador Retrievers are the ideal dog breed for families because they are lovable, fun, playful, and friendly. They are a breed known for being calm and laid back. They very rarely show aggressive tendencies in day-to-day life and are affectionate with both people and other animals.
Labradors are also strong and athletic. They have been bred to be able to run long distances while hunting and retrieving. As a water-loving breed, they are very strong swimmers. Most labs really enjoy their time spent in the water. It is in their overall makeup. They were bred to retrieve ducks and game, and have long been used as the boat dogs of fishermen, frequently seen retrieving in the cold Northern Atlantic and icy Canadian waters.
Loyalty or Protectiveness?
Labrador Retrievers are bred to be loyal. They are loyal to their owners and family and look to them as their pack leader. When trained well, Labradors are one of the top breeds chosen to enter training to become guide dogs. They are trained to assist their owner with day-to-day tasks, such as navigating for owners who may be blind or alerting owners to a bell or alarm, for owners who may be deaf. They are not timid when doing their work, or when protecting their owner from any unforeseen danger.
Labrador Retrievers have also proven to be effective when working with law enforcement as scenting dogs, and are excellent drug detection dogs. They can be seen working in airports, train stations, and other locations going about their work. They have also been trained and served well as search and rescue dogs.
Labradors are protective. They are protective of ‘their humans’. However, they are also extremely friendly to others, whether it happens to be other animals or other people. The friendliness of Labradors is innate. They have a difficult, if not impossible, time turning off their friendliness.
So, while their loyalty to their family is strong, they are outgoing and have little nervousness, which can cause them to “make friends” with an intruder or attacker, rather than become aggressive toward them.
Bark Bigger than Their Bite
Anyone who has been around Labrador retrievers for any length of time knows that they tend to bark…a lot. This can make labs great watchdogs. Labs are great at alerting their family to unknown people, including intruders or trespassers, which may cause the intruder to flee. Labrador retrievers have a deep, loud bark, which in most cases is bigger (much bigger!) than their bite.
Labrador Retrievers have the natural instinct and have also been bred to be on high alert, by using their strong senses of smell, hearing, and sight to detect their prey when out hunting or retrieving.
They have also been bred to be duck and bird hunting companions and scare the bird or other prey out into the open. They then wait patiently for their handler to give them permission to retrieve it. Being bred for the patience required for this type of behaviour actually lowers any propensity the labs may have to show aggression. This makes them excellent and alert watchdogs.
Watchdog vs. Guard Dog
Labrador Retrievers make better watchdogs than guard dogs, generally speaking. Watchdogs are trained (or have been bred) to alert when any unusual differences are noted. They must be aware of changes in their environment, strange noises, and unknown individuals in order to inform their owners. Labs can sometimes be a bit too easy-going when it comes to noises and alerting their owners to any intruders. They may consider them to be future “friends”.
Guard dogs alert their owners to disturbances, unfamiliar sounds and unknown people but additionally can be trained to defend and attack on command or in dangerous situations when needed.
What Qualities Are Most Important for a Guard Dog?
An effective guard dog will be both alert and intelligent. Alertness is crucial because it the factor that determines whether a dog is aware of strange sounds or strange people in their area of concern. The dog’s intelligence plays a key role in the dog being able to determine whether or not the sights or sounds are concerning or dangerous.
Effective guard dogs are territorial when it comes to their area of protection and family members. They are trained to not allow anyone to trespass around or near their yard or family. They know where their protection area is and keep it secure at all times. Some of these guarding tendencies are instinctual, but some can be trained as well.
Bravery is also an important quality for guard dogs. They do not run and hide from any perceived threats or dangers. Because of their loyalty and devotion to their owners, Labradors can be trained to confront and address any dangers that may come their way. This courageousness is important as guard dogs must be able to assert their dominance in any unfamiliar situation.
Can They Guard?
While almost any dog breed can be trained as a guard dog, not all breeds are equal in their ability to effectively protect a location or space. While they have the size, they do not typically have a natural level of aggression when it comes to strangers.
When assessing the best breeds for guard or protection dogs, Labrador and Golden Retrievers are ranked very low when it comes to abilities to be effective watchdogs.
Labrador Retrievers are not the best choice for guard or protection dogs for many reasons. First, Labradors are cheerful and have an outgoing and friendly temperament. They are not easily intimidated and have strong personalities.
Although labs are extremely devoted and loyal and are protective of their people, they are not usually protective to the point of intervening in a situation with physical aggressiveness. They are loving and friendly to almost anyone, which may cause them to not be very good guard dogs.
It is very uncommon for them to show aggressiveness toward others unless they are provoked. Labs are known to be a calm breed. Although they love the activity and hubbub common in families, it is also quite common to see them splayed out on a front porch without a care in the world.
Labradors are often so accustomed to human companionship whether it be with their own family, visitors to the home, at sporting events, or out hunting with their owner and others who may be strangers, that they lack the “stranger danger” component necessary to be a good guard dog.
To conclude, can Labrador Retrievers be good guard dogs? The answer is, it depends on your training of them. The natural instinct of the breed is not toward guarding either humans or property. They are not the first choice when it comes to choosing a guard dog to bring home. However, with proper, high-quality training, they can be taught to be great watchdogs, and in some cases good guard dogs.
Since they are loyal to their owners, they do have some innate sense of protectiveness toward their family. This protectiveness must be brought out and worked on intensely to develop any guarding instincts that the dog may already have. This can be challenging for owners.
Professional training by trainers who have extensive experience with Labradors may prove helpful for owners who want to train their lab to be a guard dog. If even with extensive training, your lab doesn’t show the types of guard dog characteristics that you are looking for, it may be better to focus on what he or she can do as far as barking to alert you to danger, and teaching them to become everything they are capable of, minus the guarding.