Why Labrador Retrievers Make the Worst Guard Dogs

Labradors are lovable and clever dogs, but their incredibly friendly nature might not make them the ideal candidate for a guard dog.

Feb 28, 2024By Lisa Szymanski
why labrador retrievers make the worst guard dogs

Labrador Retrievers are rated in the top 10 of the world’s most intelligent dog breeds, according to the AKC. They seem to do it all, from being incredible athletes to serving as support dogs. But there’s one thing that many of these smart dogs seem to get wrong, and that’s being a guard dog. While all dogs can learn new tricks, some are born with the instinct to protect, while others are naturally gentle and playful. Let’s better understand why Labrador Retrievers make the worst guard dogs.

Labrador Retrievers are Friendly by Nature

labrador retriever sitting on fallen leaves panting
Labradors are more loving and cuddlier than protective.

The Labrador is a trusted and beloved family pet, but does this mean that they will jump to your defense when you need them to? The answer to this question requires a closer look at the characteristics of this breed. Labradors are not associated with the protective nature of a German shepherd or Rottweiler. They’re gentle dogs that are known for their friendliness and intelligence, which are among the reasons they make such excellent companion and support animals.

For this breed to excel at learning commands while being attentive to their owners, they have to be loyal with soft personalities. This doesn’t mean that you can’t come across an unfriendly lab, but that your average Labrador will not be aggressive or defensive. It’s also why these dogs are preferred among families with children. They’re keen to learn new things, so you can teach them all sorts of commands, but there’s little likelihood of them becoming guard dogs.

The History of the Labrador Personality

close up of yellow labrador retriever face
Labradors come from several friendly founding breeds.

To better understand the Labrador Retriever, we’ve got to go back to the 1800s. Hunters and fishermen of the 19th century wanted a dog that could fetch game on land and retrieve fish that escaped their nets. Dog breeds that possessed the traits they were looking for were selectively bred to produce a strong and smart dog with excellent retrieving skills. The St. John’s water dog was chosen for its athleticism and love for water. Newfoundland dogs were included for their incredibly gentle and friendly demeanor. Lastly, hunting dogs such as setters added keen tracking abilities to the Labrador’s origins.

The dogs that founded the Labrador Retriever were intelligent, friendly, and loyal. Today, many of these traits are what Labradors are known for, and that’s why they’re such popular family pets. It’s important to understand that certain dog breeds, such as pitbulls, are born with the instinct to protect. This is not the case with a Labrador Retriever.

Labradors Do Make Good Watchdogs

labrador retriever sitting on grass
A Labrador Retriever will keep watch out of curiosity.

If you want a true guard dog to protect you and your property, you shouldn’t consider Labrador Retrievers. Guard dogs are different from watchdogs in that they will attack and defend, while watchdogs will bark at strangers. Watchdogs can be trained to give you an alert as soon as they spot an intruder or an unfamiliar face. Much like a Maltese that barks at people they don’t know, labradors can be trained to inform you of a visitor.

You might be surprised to find that your lab puppy grows up to bark naturally when they’re around people they’re meeting for the first time. But this also comes down to socializing, and the more they interact with other dogs and people, the friendlier they become. If you want to train your Labrador as a watchdog, you’ll have to focus on obedience, and you must be patient. This process involves teaching your lab to only sound the alarm if they see someone unfamiliar. This way, you get the best of both worlds. A real-life alarm and an absolute sweetheart of a dog.

Can You Teach Labradors to Be Guard Dogs?

black labrador retriever play bow on grass
A black Labrador Retriever in the play bow position.

This is a tricky one to answer because a guard dog usually reacts to a perceived threat based on instinct. Yes, you can teach many dog breeds to guard their property and family, but it ultimately depends on their nature and personality. Labradors don’t typically make good guard dogs, especially if you want a dog that will keep an eye on your home. They’re more likely to investigate a noise or activity because they’re curious rather than protective. Some Labradors can develop an aggressive streak concerning food called resource guarding. It’s bad behavior that leads to them becoming defensive around their treats, toys, and meals. It is not the same as being protective against real threats.

Labradors are more likely to try to befriend a stranger than defend your home. While they’re the right size for a guard dog and they’re highly intelligent, so they can learn many complex commands, Labradors aren’t defensive. They’re more suited to fetching objects and accompanying you on activities than being a traditional guard dog. Although it is possible to have a professional train this breed to guard or attack on command, it depends on the lab’s personality.

Why Labradors Don’t Make Good Guard Dogs

chocolate labrador with green leaf on face
Most Labradors are gentle souls.

You would have to find one odd Labrador with a mean or protective nature to train them as a guard dog. That’s pretty hard to come by. Labrador Retrievers are docile, and they’re more eager to meet new people than to treat them with suspicion. It’s not unheard of to have a calm-natured dog suddenly jump to their family’s defense in a stressful and threatening situation. But on average, Labradors will not naturally guard your premises or protect you by attacking an intruder. If you want a guard dog to defend you, then look at other dog breeds that are known for their bold and brave personalities.

Of course, Labradors can make great watchdogs that are different from guard dogs. Most of them will bark when intruders are close, and they’re distracted by a strange sound or voice. For the most part, Labradors will not guard your property, and they don’t make reliable guard dogs. Despite their limitations in the guarding department, Labrador Retrievers are sweet and loyal, and they will love you with their entire hearts.

Lisa Szymanski
By Lisa Szymanski

Lisa is a wildlife enthusiast who enjoys hiking and gardening and has four years of experience volunteering at pet shelters. She is the proud mom of two dogs, a Pitbull named Ragnar, a Boerboel named Blueberry, and four feisty chickens, or as she calls them, the "queens of the yard," Goldie, Gray, Peaches, and Brownie.