Have you ever wondered about your Labrador’s behavior? For instance, why your Lab nudges you with their nose or why they seem to have an endless desire to play fetch?
Perhaps you’re curious about the subtler signs of their mood shifts or what their different types of barking might mean. Labradors have a special way of communicating beyond barks and tail wags.
Common Labrador behaviors are nuzzling to show affection and gentle mouthiness, a trait from their retrieving background. They often express their emotions through vocalizations like barking or whining and are known for their wagging tails, which can indicate happiness or excitement.
From the joyful leaps to the concerned whines, each behavior of a Labrador tells a story. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore 21 common Labrador behaviors and decode exactly what they mean.
So, let’s learn the language of your Labrador and gain a greater appreciation for these wonderful companions.
Common Labrador Behaviors Explained
Common Labrador behaviors include licking your face, their paws, or other dogs, nibbling, howling, barking at you or during the night, whining, groaning, rolling on their back, laying on your feet, rolling in poop, staring at you, tail chasing, peeing when excited, and circling before lying down.
There are many reasons why Labrador Retrievers manifest certain behaviors. For example:
- Seeking attention or giving attention.
- Expressing joy or anxiety.
- Showing dominance or taking a defensive stance.
- Showing excitement or aggression.
- Seeking or providing protection.
- Finding relief from or expressing pain.
- Marking their territory.
But before we dive into the world of common Labrador behavior, check out this fun video about the meaning of some strange dog shenanigans:
Why Do Labradors Lick So Much?
Licking is one of the most common Labrador behaviors, and most dog owners will enjoy a lick from their furry friend. But have you wondered exactly what your dog is telling you when he licks your face, licks his paws, or licks a fellow dog? Why do Labradors lick so much?
Labradors lick for behavioral reasons, including showing affection, looking for attention, excitement, boredom or stress, grooming, habit, natural puppy exploratory behavior, or they like the taste. Sometimes, there could be a medical reason, such as allergies, infection, or pain.
Let’s look at some specific dog-licking conduct and explain their meaning.
Why Do Labradors Lick Your Face?
Labradors lick your face to show affection and joy, to show submission, to get attention, to tell you they’re hungry, for reassurance, to comfort you, and because they like the taste.
When they lick around your mouth, they want to investigate you and get information, e.g., what you’ve had for lunch.
Below are some examples:
- Your Labrador will lick your face to communicate affection and happiness, such as when you come home from work. When your Lab has been alone, your arrival is a cause for jubilation, and your dog will want to express his immense joy at your homecoming.
- Your Labrador will also lick your face to investigate you and give and receive biochemical information. Since your dog cannot ask you how you are or what you’ve had for lunch, he will lick your face to detect the smell of what you’ve eaten.
- Your Labrador will lick your face to calm, comfort, and soothe if your visual expression tells him something is wrong. He’ll come to the chair where you are sitting, climb up, and lick your face to say he is sad you’re unwell, and he wants you to be better again. It has been proven that dogs can recognize human emotions.
- Labs will also lick your face to seek attention. If you have ignored him all morning because you are busy, he’ll lick your face to get your attention, as it may be time for his walk.
Why Do Labradors Lick Their Paws?
Labradors lick their paws when grooming or if they are bored or anxious. But dogs also lick their paws for medical reasons, such as dermatitis caused by allergies, an injury to the paw, a foreign object stuck between the toes, infection, arthritic pain, or obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Paw licking is typical for dogs as a part of self-grooming, especially after walking on muddy ground. But if your Lab intensely and repeatedly licks his paws, you can assume that something is wrong, and you may need to have him checked by your vet.
Some of the medical conditions that will cause your Labrador to lick his paws include:
- Allergies (seasonal allergies, atopy or contact allergy, flea allergy dermatitis, or food allergies)
- Sarcoptic mange (mites) and bacterial/fungal/parasite infections
- Injury and arthritis pain (as pain-relief behavior)
- Some prescription drugs
- Hormonal imbalance
Why Does My Labrador Keep Licking His Lips?
Have you ever seen your Labrador repeatedly lick his lips?
Labradors will lick their lips as a stress response if they feel anxious, nervous, or threatened.
Other reasons are health-related issues such as nausea, dehydration, oral discomfort, pain, or allergies. Occasionally, it can turn into an obsessive habit or attention-seeking behavior.
And have you ever noticed your Lab keep licking his lips just after looking at someone? If yes, check the person for an angry face!
Researchers in animal behavior in Brazil and the UK found that dogs licked their mouths in response to angry human faces. This study again suggests dogs have a practical understanding of human emotional expressions.
Why Do Labradors Lick Other Dogs?
My dog goes crazy licking other dogs’ ears when playing. Dogs will often lick other dogs’ faces, eyes, ears, privates, or even their wounds if they live together. But why do Labradors lick other dogs?
Labradors lick other dogs as part of normal canine social behavior and communicate with them.
They lick to greet them, show affection, play, bond, show submissiveness or peaceful intent, groom, or when drawn to the other dogs’ pheromones.
When dogs sniff another dog’s privates, they learn numerous things about the other dog, such as their gender, age, health, and mood.
But did you know that licking other dogs also have a dominant element in the doggie world?
People from a multi-dog household know that one dog may reign over the other and access things first, such as food and toys, or seek attention from their owner, always win fights, and receive more licks from their subordinates.
In this study on dog dominance, licking their subordinates less was one of the dominance indicators in 83% of dogs rated by their owners.
Why Do Labradors Nibble?
Nibbling is the gentle bite your Labrador will make, especially on your hands, toes, or other dogs. Like licking, my dog will nibble other dogs’ ears when she has fun playing with them. But why do Labradors nibble on you?
Labradors nibble as part of instinctual behavior, especially in teething puppies and exploring.
In adult dogs, nibbling is a special communication that strengthens and creates emotional bonds with you. It’s your Lab’s way of showing affection towards you or wanting to play.
When young Labrador puppies play, they’ll display conduct consisting of gently nibbling and biting each other as part of the game.
They learn their bite inhibition, often known as “soft mouth.” This is where the pup learns to control the strength of its bite.
It appears that this nibbling instinct is maintained into adulthood for fundamental reasons.
This study investigating the meaning of nibbling in dogs concluded that the behavior is unrelated to negative personality traits. Instead, nibbling has two functions:
- Nibbling demonstrates the highly positive emotions of one dog towards humans or other animals.
- Nibbling is a unique form of communication used to create and strengthen emotional bonds between animals, regardless of their social status.
Also, nibbling behavior in Labradors can be caused by several other factors:
- Itching and soreness due to teething.
- Attention seeking.
- An expression of extreme excitement.
- A sign that they are unhappy about something (nibbling may escalate to biting).
Nonetheless, you should discourage your Lab nibbling from a young age as it can quickly transfer to you or your furniture! Instead, give your dog acceptable alternatives to nibble, bite, and chew, such as exciting and fun chew toys.
You can also check out my article to learn exactly how to teach your dog rules and learn the correct behavior, How to Discipline a Labrador: What Not to Do!
Why is My Labrador So Vocal?
Dogs have been our best friends for thousands of years, and man’s best friend may have more in common with us than you think. We communicate vocally, just like our dogs, who may bark, howl, groan, or whine. But have you ever wondered why your Labrador is so vocal?
Labrador vocalization is generally linked to two main things: arousal and stress.
Labs are vocal when excited, upset, scared, or anxious. They use vocalizations to communicate as they can understand human language, recognize emotional cues from their owners, and respond.
Generally speaking, Labradors aren’t as vocal as other breeds, such as German Shepherds, who are very protective and territorial.
However, all dogs naturally “speak,” and your Labrador may become vocal for one or more of the following reasons:
- Happy or relaxed
- Seeking attention or boredom
- Territorial or resisting
- Lonely or afraid
- Anxious or stressed
- Injured or in pain
While your Labrador’s reason for vocalizing in these ways may vary, it’s essential to understand why. Let’s look more in-depth at why your dog may specifically bark, howl, whine, or groan.
Why Do Labradors Bark So Much?
When learning to decipher the different types of dog speak, you must understand why your Labrador is barking so much.
Labradors bark for many reasons, including alerting you of danger, such as a stranger.
They may also bark as a threat, when happy, during playtimes, if they’re bored, need exercising, suspicious, in fear, anxious or stressed, demand something from you, or when in discomfort or pain.
The next thing you need to do is get to know your Labrador’s many barks. This study showed that different barks mean different things, but don’t worry, as you’ll soon get to know them. Here are some examples:
- A warning or alert bark will be quick and sharp and may become more intense.
- A Labrador demanding food or attention will have a piercing and persistent bark directed at you.
- A bored dog will have a repetitive monotone bark.
- A Labrador suffering from distress, such as separation anxiety or panic, will have a high-pitched and highly repetitive bark. As the dog gets more stressed, the barking may become even higher pitched or howling.
- A fearful or suspicious bark will be fast and low.
- A playful bark will be high-pitched, more tonal, and modulated.
Why Does My Labrador Bark at Me?
Labradors are creatures of habit, thrive on routine, and are one smart cookie. They might also know how to “play” you! So, if your Lab constantly barks at you, you may wonder why.
Your Labrador will bark at you (demand barking) to communicate various things to you, especially when he wants to get your attention or get something specific from you, such as food, play, or to go outside.
The secret is to try and understand why your dog is barking in the first place and prevent it from occurring, for example, by ensuring he is sufficiently exercised.
When your Labrador barks at you, and notably, if he also stares at you – this is known as demand barking. It’s a learned behavior, as your dog has learned that when he barks at you, he’ll get what he wants.
To get your dog to stop this annoying barking at you, ignore him, and don’t even look at him until he stops for at least 5 seconds! Then, at that precise moment, quickly give him a treat and offer lots of praise with an enthusiastic “YES!”
Timing is essential – reward the second your dog goes quiet. He will eventually learn that when he is calm, he receives something positive. If you do this consistently, you can change your dog’s behavior in a few weeks.
You can also train your dog to the “QUIET” command.
Check Out This Cool Video On How To Stop Unwanted Demand Barking…
Why Does My Labrador Bark at Night?
Is your dog keeping you awake at night? Other than occasionally needing a toilet break or if he is ill or in pain, if this has become a regular occurrence, you will want to put a stop to it – quickly! So, why does your Labrador bark overnight?
Your Labrador might bark at night to alert you of a danger or if he is anxious, fearful, or wants attention.
Other examples are if he sees or hears other animals in the yard, hears another dog also barking, if he is feeling lonely or bored, or if he’s not had enough exercise.
Other than rightly alerting you to a threat or naturally barking at the sound of other nearby animals, you’ll want your dog to sleep well and not bark. Here are some tips to prevent your Labrador from barking at night:
- Use a crate from the first night you bring your dog home. Choose something like the all-inclusive models, as they usually have a divider and a wipe-clean tray.
- Don’t let your Labrador sleep in your bed, and reverse the privilege! He won’t be able to understand why and will feel lonely.
- Never go to your puppy when you hear him bark at night unless you believe he is alerting you to danger – you’ll soon learn his different types of barking. You’ll inadvertently teach him that you will come running if he barks! You have to ignore him.
- Ensure your dog is comfortable whether you leave him in a bed or crate. Have water and toys handy.
- Make sure your Labrador has been exercised enough throughout the day. Most well-exercised dogs are desperate to go to bed at night for a sound sleep!
Why Do Labradors Howl?
Most people will associate howling with the wolf-like Siberian Husky. But did you know your Labrador also manifests this wolf-ancestry behavior once in a while?
Labradors howl for many reasons, such as to warn you about a danger they can sense or respond to another howling dog in the neighborhood.
They may also howl when reacting to high-pitched sounds such as sirens or music, seeking attention, if in pain or distress, or if suffering from separation anxiety.
Usually, howling is a form of communication that dogs use outside their usual barking, groaning, or whining. When responding to high-pitched sounds, your dog acknowledges he’s heard the sound and is willing to answer. Unless it is incessant, you have a normal dog.
If your Labrador is howling to get your attention, treat this behavior similarly to demand barking. You must ignore him and teach him that howling at you will not work.
When he goes quiet and stops howling for a few seconds, use positive reinforcement, such as treats and toys, with lots of verbal praise.
Why Do Labradors Whine?
Have you ever taken your dog on a car trip and heard the most horrendous whining as you parked up somewhere? You may wonder why your Labrador is whining.
Labradors whine when excited, such as going to a new place. They may whine when they’re looking for attention or trying to get something from you, or when they’re anxious or stressed, ill or in pain, or suffering from separation anxiety, or when trying to appease you or another dog.
It’s important to recognize health problems that may cause your Labrador to whine. Here are some tips on how to identify and deal with your Labrador’s whining:
- Anxious whining usually goes hand in hand with other nervous behaviors, such as licking, pacing, or circling. Many dogs suffering from severe anxiety won’t be able to control their whining. Consult your vet if stress and anxiety have become an issue for your dog, as anti-anxiety medication may help.
- Separation anxiety. If your dog starts to whine, bark, pace, drool, or follow you around just before you’re ready to go out, he likely has separation anxiety. Treatments include counterconditioning that focuses on developing an association between being alone and good things, like treats. Desensitizing techniques can also help, along with medication. Again, consult your vet or a professional animal behaviorist.
- Attention-seeking whining is similar to demand barking, as mentioned in the section above. You must teach your Labrador that remaining quiet will lead to a more positive outcome.
- If your dog whines due to excitement, such as greeting someone, keep greetings short and don’t make any fuss. Divert your Lab’s attention to other things, such as his favorite toys, or train the “QUIET” command.
- Appeasement whining is normal canine behavior and occurs when your dog tries to appease people or other dogs when they perceive aggression or a threat. Try to build your dog’s confidence by increasing socialization, attending obedience training, or involving your Lab in dog sports such as agility or dock jumping. Never yell or physically punish your Lab, which only causes fear and resentment.
Why Do Labradors Groan?
There’s no doubt you will have heard your dog groan, moan, or sigh. My dog often groans with pleasure after eating and flopping down with a full belly! Sometimes, it can be really amusing. But why does your Labrador groan?
Labradors groan or sigh to show contentment, for example, during sleeping, when petted, or when disappointed, such as when it’s not quite time for their walk.
Medical reasons can also be the cause, e.g., arthritis or abdominal problems, especially if your Lab suddenly groans when lying down.
Behavioral groaning is of no concern and is normal canine behavior. However, consult your vet if you suspect your Lab is groaning due to a medical reason.
Why Do Labs Lay on Your Feet?
Labrador Retriever behavior consisting of lying or sitting on your feet can be cute – but sometimes annoying! So what exactly does it mean?
When your Labrador lays on your feet, it can mean a few things, such as seeking and offering protection, wanting attention, or initiating play.
Other reasons are to seek or show affection, feel warm and cozy, or mark his territory by spreading his scent on you.
Here are a few examples of why your Labrador may lay on your feet, sit on your feet, or even lay on you!
- Seek and offer protection. Your Labrador will lay at your feet to feel safe and offer you protection simultaneously. Among pack dogs, the alpha has a prominent position. So, laying at your feet shows that he recognizes you as the alpha. But he also feels safe and secure alongside you.
- To seek attention or initiate play. If you are busy tapping away at your keyboard for an hour or two, your furry friend will take what he can of your closeness, hoping to remind you that he exists and that it’s time for his walk!
- Seek and show affection. Your Labrador may lay on your feet or sit on you to seek affection or show you their devotion. Labs are very affectionate and friendly, have a warm temperament, and love to cuddle.
- For warmth. Have you ever wondered why pack dogs would lie close together, especially in cold weather? Most pack dogs would lie close to each other to keep warm. If your Lab feels a little chilly, it’s warmer near your feet, and he seeks that natural doggie closeness that is part of his nature.
- Territory marking. Your Labrador will communicate that he belongs to you by spreading his scent on you. To do this, he’ll need to be close to you. So, laying or sitting on your feet, lap, or belly whenever you sit or lie down is his way of labeling you with his scent.
- You’ve let your Labrador have his way with you! A study of 32 dogs showed that dogs preferred to be closer to pleasant people. So if your Labrador likes laying on your feet, you may have inadvertently made him humble, and he’s become used to flopping down on you!
Why Do Labradors Circle Before Lying Down?
You may wonder why your Lab will circle his bed, an area of the carpet or rug, before lying down.
Labradors may circle before lying down as they mimic innate wild behavior, such as for security – by checking there’s no nearby threat. Dogs may also assess their laying spot for anything harmful, such as vermin, or could cause them injuries before making a comfy nest.
Despite centuries of domestication, there is little scientific data to prove the above – except for the belief that dogs circle before lying down to make a comfy nest.
This small study of 62 dogs suggested that dogs are more likely to circle before lying down when presented with a soft, uneven surface to make a temporary nest to sleep.
A Labrador’s circling behavior may also be due to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, but this is extremely rare. OCD is a psychological condition that often has a genetic tendency.
Stricken dogs will repeatedly perform normal canine behavior and often fail to respond to therapy.
Why Do Labradors Sleep on Their Back?
Dogs worried about predators and protected their bellies by sleeping on them in the wild. Sleeping belly-down also allowed them to get up quickly if needed. So why do Labradors sometimes sleep on their back?
Labradors sleep on their back with their paws in the air to cool down or when they feel very relaxed with their environment and are at ease exposing their belly. They feel safe and secure and don’t feel threatened. This shift is the result of hundreds of years of dog domestication.
One of the cutest sleeping positions of puppies is when they sleep upside down – they are just more comfortable sleeping on their backs! Adult Labradors that sleep on their back for a while are also adorable. They are trusting of you and will no doubt sleep anywhere.
Why Do Labradors Roll on Their Back?
Labradors may roll on their back for many different reasons. This dog behavior might occur when your Lab is alone, playing with you, or with other dogs.
Labradors roll on their back when seeking attention from you, e.g., longing for a tummy rub. Or to groom or scratch themselves, mark territory, change their body smell (getting rid of a shampoo aroma), show confidence or contentment, or regulate body temperature.
A roll on the back is often interpreted as being submissive during dog play. However, research has shown that rolling on the back is a combat tactic, not an act of submission. Your Labrador may roll over when playing with other dogs for two key reasons:
- Avoid a bite on the side of the neck (be defensive).
- To launch an attack (be offensive).
Labradors often roll over to scratch their back – since they cannot reach it with their paws! This could be normal scratching, but it could also be due to a flea or tick infestation.
Related: Why Does My Labrador Itch So Much?
Labs will roll on their back to get a rub or tickle on their tummy when playing. Granting his desire reinforces your dog’s behavior. So, avoid it if you do not want him to always ask for it!
Your dog may also roll on his back to cool down. The fur on your Lab’s tummy is thinner, so exposing his stomach may help him cool down.
Why Do Labradors Roll in Poop?
This is one of the weird dog behaviors we find a little difficult to understand – rolling in stinky things, such as fox and badger feces or bird droppings! Some dogs love to cover themselves in foul smells that leave you spluttering in disgust. So, why do Labradors roll in poop?
Labradors roll in poop, such as fox poo, as it’s instinctive canine behavior. Dogs like pungent scents, and they encourage rolling action. They may want to naturally disguise their smell, leave their scent behind to mark their territory, or communicate with the “pack.”
While there’s no solid evidence why your Labrador rolls in poop, there are a few theories:
- Your Labrador is trying to mask his smell. Wild dogs had to hunt to survive. By rolling in their prey’s poop, they could disguise their scent and hunt without alerting their target.
- Your Labrador is leaving his scent behind. Your dog might be trying to leave his scent, similar to marking or spraying behavior. He’s letting other dogs and animals know that he is around and this is his territory!
- Your dog is interacting with you, his pack! One theory is that by rolling around in poop, your dog communicates with you (you are his pack) to tell you what he’s found! Other packmates would track the scent back in the wild, which helped with their hunting.
So, now you know why your Labrador rolls in poop, how do you prevent him from returning with a foul, pungent stench?
When walking with your dog, stay alert and limit his poo-rolling activities. Learn to anticipate it right before it begins. For example, I know the parts of the woods where the foxes frequent, so I’ll put my dog on the leash when passing.
If I notice my dog sniffing or tracking the ground with greater intensity, I know she can smell the strong scent of the fox. I’ll distract her and move away from the area. You can also teach your Lab the “LEAVE IT” or “COME” command.
Why Does My Lab Pee When Excited?
Excitement urination is mainly associated with puppies, and most dogs will grow out of this behavior. But why do Labs pee when excited?
Labradors pee when excited due to becoming exceptionally excited during greetings and playtime. Other causes are incomplete housetraining, accidental reinforcement, genetic predisposition, or a medical condition such as urinary bladder dysfunction or incontinence in elderly dogs.
Accidental reinforcement is when you sympathize with and excuse your Labrador’s inability to hold his urine, and he begins to use it to find sympathy from you.
I have a complete guide to potty training your Labrador if you need help in that department.
Once you have ruled out medical causes, there are some things you can do to prevent your Labrador from peeing when excited:
- Keep greetings low-key; stay calm and quiet.
- Greet your puppy outside when you return home.
- Avoid touching his belly area during playtime, which can trigger ‘excitement urination.’ Play outside if you can.
- If your puppy has an accident, don’t reprimand him. Take him outside to potty, and use positive reinforcement. Clean up the mess with an enzymatic cleaner.
Excitement urination shouldn’t be confused with urine marking (spraying). This is when dogs will pee to mark their territory.
Why Does My Lab Chase His Tail?
Do you find it funny when your Labrador chases his tail? Well, maybe you shouldn’t! It seems that the reasons behind it aren’t at all amusing. Here’s why your Lab might chase his tail:
Labradors may chase their tail due to boredom or insufficient exercise, including physical activity and mental stimulation – or attention-seeking behavior to get something from you.
Medical reasons are if they’re irritated by fleas or ticks, infection, or in cases of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
YOU are to blame if you don’t exercise your dog. Your Labrador will eventually find a way to amuse himself, which might mean playing a “chase my tail” game.
Labrador Retrievers are high-energy dogs, and most behavioral issues stem from monotony and insufficient exercise. Healthy adult dogs need at least two hours of daily activity, consisting of various walking, off-leash running, fetch, frisbee, agility, or swimming – Labs love to swim!
If you laugh whenever your Labrador chases his tail, you inadvertently reinforce his attention-seeking behavior. Labs are eager to please you, and your encouragement acts as positive reinforcement. He will, therefore, keep doing it, especially if he needs you to notice him!
Why Does My Labrador Stare at Me?
Has your Labrador been keeping an eye on you? Do you sense him intently staring at you from the corner of the room? Some stares may be cute, others not so. Some of your dog’s stares may be broken by blinking, and others not. Let’s decipher the meaning of your Labrador staring at you.
Your Labrador stares at you to communicate with you. Examples are expressing love and devotion, seeking attention, or manipulating you to get what he wants, such as food or playtime. He may also stare at you to communicate displeasure, sense your mood, or when resource guarding.
Staring is normal canine behavior, but you must be able to read your Labrador’s communication messages from his staring. Don’t worry, though, as you’ll soon get the hang of it and learn to tell the difference. Here are some examples:
- Seek Attention. Labradors will stare at you to seek your attention. It might be that you are eating a tasty meal, and he’s not had his dinner. His stare serves to remind you that he needs his meal, too!
- Manipulate you to get something. When your Lab stares at you with eyes of pity, he wants you to concede and let him have his way! It might be an untimely treat or a nap on the couch, where he’s never usually allowed. My dog will sit in front of me every evening and intensely stare when she wants me to play.
- It’s in his wolf ancestry. In the wolf world, staring is rude and threatening, and some dogs may retain that trait. So, if your dog stares at you intensely, without blinking, and has a stiff stance, he might be communicating some displeasure. And if the uninterrupted hard stare is directed towards a stranger, they should back away and not stare back!
- Resource guarding. This is often combined with a hard, aggressive stare where your Lab will guard his food or toys. Resource guarding is a behavior problem, and you may need to consult a professional dog behaviorist. Check out this article for greater insight into this topic, Resource Guarding in Labradors.
As you have now learned, there are many Labrador behaviors. Most are natural and designed to seek attention, protect, show dominance or defensiveness, express feelings, show affection or mark territory.
However, some dog behaviors may indicate an underlying medical issue. But you should now be able to identify those concerning ones where you should visit your vet.