The age at which Labradors become adults is a hotly contested topic. Depending on who you talk to, you’ll hear ages ranging from 12 months all the way to 5 years.
When are Labradors considered adults? Labradors are generally considered adults when they reach about 18 months of age, though not all Labradors have reached their full size or maturity level by this point. However, this age is hotly contested, and many other Labrador owners have differing opinions.
To understand why it’s so difficult to assign an age of adulthood to Labrador and to learn what actually makes a Labrador an adult, read on.
What makes a Labrador an adult?
Determining when a Labrador actually becomes an adult is a surprisingly difficult process. The general consensus is that 18 months constitutes adulthood, but there are many people who disagree with this statement.
Those who disagree have a point ‒ after all, why is 18 months the age that constitutes adulthood? Labradors reach sexual maturity around 6 months. They can also reach physical maturity before reaching the 18-month mark.
And many people find that full emotional maturity doesn’t come until at least 3 years in.
Why isn’t one of these dates used to determine whether your Labrador is an adult or now? Who decided that 18 months is the age we would use to separate puppyhood from adulthood?
Well, you’re actually free to make your own judgment call on that. Unlike with humans, Labradors ‒ and dogs in general ‒ don’t have a legal system that dictates when they become adults and gain access to certain privileges.
Labradors just grow, and eventually, they become large enough and mature enough that we consider adults.
It’s kind of similar to humans ‒ people in the United States are considered adults when they reach 18 years of age. However, humans don’t stop developing at 18. Many people still consider 18-year-olds to be nothing more than glorified kids.
And it makes sense ‒ the human brain doesn’t stop developing until around age 25.
This lack of a legally defined age of adulthood makes it extremely difficult to assign a specific age that Labradors become adults. In my opinion, the best way to decide when your Labrador is an adult is to use your own judgment based on their behavior and growth.
If you’re unsure of how puppy Labradors and adult Labradors differ, the next section should help you.
Differences between Labrador puppies and Labrador adults
Puppies are way more inquisitive
One of the biggest differences between young Labradors and adult Labradors is that adults have more or less figured out how their small, contained world works.
They know which time food is generally laid out, they know which areas are acceptable for sitting, they know where to go (or who to bother) when they need to go to the bathroom. They might not understand everything, but their world more or less makes sense, and they don’t question it too much.
Puppies aren’t like this at all. They don’t know anything, and they’re on a mission to figure it all out as quickly as possible. This can be a problem for your home, especially if your Labrador puppy is an avid chewer. Despite your best efforts, your puppy will inevitably bite, chew, and attempt to swallow everything in its path.
This is understandable ‒ a puppy’s mouth and nose are the two primary ways in which it understands the world around it. It can be tough to deal with if you have expensive furniture or leave your shoes lying around though.
Puppies are oblivious to danger
The scariest thing about owning a puppy is how oblivious to dangerous situations they are. It seems like every other hour they’ve found a new way to put their lives in danger. This includes the following scary situations:
- Running under your feet while you’re walking
- Running into the road and oncoming traffic
- Falling off of decks and stairwells
- Picking fights with larger, more aggressive dogs
- Eating things that are toxic to dogs
While adult Labradors aren’t geniuses and can still get themselves into trouble, they generally understand when an action isn’t safe and will take care not to injure themselves or others.
For example, adult Labradors are less likely to get themselves tangled up in your feet. They are also more mindful of stairwells and are less likely to fall down them and get hurt. They’re still liable to pick fights with other dogs, run into traffic, or eat toxic stuff though ‒ so you’ll always need to keep an eye on your Labrador, no matter how old they might be.
Puppies aren’t house trained
This is probably the most noticeable difference between young Labradors and adult Labradors.
Puppies have smaller bladders and bowels, so it’s harder for them to control themselves when they need to go to the bathroom.
They also don’t know that it’s not okay to go to the bathroom in the house yet, so they’re liable to relieve themselves in your home without thinking much of it.
While adult Labradors can still have accidents, they are much more likely to hold it in and wait until they get outside to go to the bathroom.
This tendency is strengthened by their increased desire to go outside ‒ puppies find everything fascinating, especially when they’ve just moved into a new home. As such, they don’t necessarily think about going outside as much as adults do.
Adult Labradors have grown accustomed to the surroundings of your home and therefore look forward to the wild and interesting adventure that is a walk outside.
Puppies are more independent
Human beings typically become more independent as the years go on. This tendency is kind of the opposite in Labradors ‒ they become more loyal and attached to you as they grow older.
Labrador puppies go through a stage of life called the flight period. This typically occurs between 4-8 months old, and is characterized by the following behaviors:
- The puppy runs away and hides when you call them
- The puppy stays just out of reach of your hand when you reach out to put a leash on them.
- The puppy attempts to break free of its leash and run away.
The best way to counter this troublesome period of time is to work on teaching your dog the “come” command. If you can successfully train your dog to come to your side whenever you want, the stresses of the flight period will be much less severe.
This quest for independence only increases when your dog enters the adolescent phase, which typically starts at around 8 months. The adolescent phase of your Labrador’s life is characterized by the following traits and behaviors:
- Your dog will start to romp around the house at breakneck speed. It might be a good idea to move any fragile valuables to unreachable places, lest your dog knock them over as he flies around the building.
- Your dog’s legs will become disproportionately long and lanky.
- Your dog will become defensive and aggressive toward strange men.
- Your dog will either become afraid of or aggressive toward other dogs.
- Your dog may stop listening to commands as it vies for the leadership spot in the pack.
If you’re worried about dealing with these troublesome behaviors, you could always choose to adopt a Labrador that is fully beyond these independence-seeking formative years.
Just know that their bond with you might not be as strong as a dog who has spent their entire life living with you and learning to trust you.
Do other dog breeds take this long to become adults?
Labradors are considered a medium-sized dog, which is where the consensus of 18 months until adulthood comes from. Smaller dogs reach physical and sexual maturity a bit earlier, reaching their “adulthood” phase from anywhere between 10 to 15 months of age.
Larger dogs can take a bit longer ‒ some breeds take 24 months before reaching the peak of their maturity.
Again, there is no hard and fast rule on when your dog is technically an adult.
While there are certain milestones you can use to estimate their maturity level, the best way to figure out whether a dog is an adult or not is to examine their behavior and make your own judgment.