Labrador Retrievers are some of the happiest and friendliest dogs on the planet. No matter what happens to them, they always seem to have a bubbly, playful attitude about life ‒ which makes them one of the best dog breeds to own.
Why are labrador retrievers so friendly? Labrador Retrievers are so friendly because they are genetically predisposed to be affectionate and loving.
This friendly nature has been bred into labs over the years, and they are now considered one of the most compatible dog breeds for all kinds of people.
How Labradors became friendly
While Labradors have always had a friendly predisposition, their ancestors didn’t always have this desirable trait. To trace the origin of Labrador friendliness, we have to go back in time to when the first dogs evolved.
Dogs exist because of genetic divergence with wolves, which occurred between 40,000 and 20,000 years ago. While many breeds of dogs are friendly now, the earliest dogs were not always friendly ‒ they likely showed the same feral aggression that wolves do.
It wasn’t until about 15,000 years ago that friendliness started to manifest itself in our canine companions, as this is when the domestication of the dog started to occur.
The process of how Labradors became friendly is intertwined with the domestication of the common dog. The first undisputed evidence of a domesticated dog is the Bonn-Oberkassel dog, a 14,200-year-old animal discovered in 1914. DNA testing is done on the remains of this animal ‒ testing that was done about 50 years after this discovery ‒ confirmed that this animal was genetically a dog.
So as far as we know, this is around the time when the friendliness that is so abundant in Labradors started to become a reality. The way in which labs became extra friendly compared to other dog breeds is due to the way in which they were bred.
How to nurture your Labrador’s friendliness
All Labrador Retrievers start out life-friendly and loving. Unfortunately, many aren’t born into the best living situations. Previous abusive owners, homelessness, and other factors can replace your lab’s naturally friendly demeanor with a protective shell of fear and aggressiveness.
If your Labrador shows signs of fear, aggressiveness, or any other emotion that could be masking their friendly nature, there are a few things you can do to put them at ease and slowly transform them into the happy pup they should be.
And even if you have a lab without these issues, the following steps will serve to further increase their level of friendliness and trust in you.
Gain their trust
Even though Labradors are some of the friendliest dogs in existence, they won’t show you that friendliness if they don’t trust you.
While having a dog who seemingly doesn’t trust you can hurt at first, there are a number of things you can do to increase their level of trust in you.
The first thing you should do when trying to establish trust with your Labrador is to remain calm in your interactions with them.
Don’t use a raised voice or speak with an alarmed tone that might cause panic. Labradors can sense emotion in your voice, and a voice that doesn’t sound calm and safe isn’t a voice they’re going to trust.
You should also avoid making sudden movements or hand gestures when interacting with your Labrador. Any movements you do make should be slow and deliberate.
This is especially true of touching and petting ‒ if your dog has experienced abuse at the hands of a previous owner, they will be extremely wary of any kind of physical touch.
Get on their level
The next action you can take to build trust with your lab is getting down on their level. I mean this literally ‒ sit down next to your lab so your heads are at the same height.
This is important ‒ in the animal kingdom, finding an animal that is significantly taller than you can be pretty scary. It gives off an air of dominance and superiority and can make smaller animals wary and place them on their guard.
While humans have more or less evolved out of this animalistic mindset, your lab certainly hasn’t. Your height advantage can make them view you as the superior animal, which can make them scared of you even when you have nothing but kind intentions.
To lessen this fear, you can get down on their level to show you’re not threatening. Whenever you interact with your lab, sit on the floor and speak with them as if they were equal.
While it may feel weird at first, this kind of effort will go a long way toward making your dog feel accepted and loved. After you do this enough times, your lab will begin to trust you, and will, therefore, become increasingly friendly with you.
Give them a safe place to retreat to
After gaining their trust, the best thing you can do to nurture your lab’s friendliness is to provide them with a safe location in which they hide when they aren’t feeling comfortable.
Depending on where you live, this could take a few different forms. The simplest way to do this is with a doggie bed in a quiet corner of the house. You can add to the feeling of comfort and security by placing some of their favorite toys and treats on the bed.
If the space in your home allows it, you could also dedicate an entire room to this cause. This might be a bit much, but the warmth and joy a happy and friendly dog can bring to a household is unquantifiable.
Speak quietly ‒ don’t shout
The last tip I have for developing trust with your Labrador is to speak to them in a calm and quiet voice. The key to doing this consistently is to be mindful of how you’re speaking whenever you are talking to your lab.
If you aren’t mindful of how you’re talking, even your normal conversational voice can come off as aggressive.
While friendliness is usually a wonderful trait for a dog to have, there are some situations where it can be less than ideal. A guest to your house might be allergic to dogs. Your lab might be approaching every stranger insight when you’re out of the house.
Whatever the issue is, here are a few ways to deal with excessive friendliness in your Labrador.
Keep them on a short leash
Once your lab has discovered the joys of being friendly, it can be hard to dissuade them. Think about it ‒ there are almost never any consequences.
The majority of people you meet will be more than happy to give your dog a pet or a hug if it greets them with excessive enthusiasm. And even if they don’t like it, they’re not going to stand in the street and yell at your dog for hours on end.
They’re going to brush them off and quickly get on with their day ‒ so your dog will never experience enough negative consequences to change its overly friendly behavior in any meaningful way.
Because a friendly dog can be hard to change, keeping your lab on a short leash is the best way to combat excessive friendliness. Your dog can smile and jump at all the strangers it wants, but it won’t be able to get to them and bother them if you’re holding it back.
If your lab is particularly strong, you might want to get a harness or a choke collar so they don’t hurt their neck as they struggle to get free.
I personally prefer using a choke collar, as harnesses are a real pain to put on and take off every time your lab wants to go for a short walk. However, some labs will be able to consistently break free of their collars ‒ if your pup is an escape artist, the increased security of the harness is probably a better bet.