I’d like to take this space to address one of the most negative stereotypes of Labs:  destructiveness

Let me begin by defining stereotype.  Stereotype, a transitive verb, “a broad generalization or an oversimplified view that disregards individual differences,” or “a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion or prejudiced attitude.”

A stereotype can be both positive and negative, as stereotypes essentially function to increase our cognitive resources; i.e., by allowing our brains to make a quick assumption about a person, group, or idea, we use less cognitive resources and can focus on more important things (like running away from tigers and the like).

Unfortunately, stereotypes can be negative and can overlook individual differences in favor of broad, sweeping generalizations.  Also, stereotypes can be wrong.  Or at least, mis-informed.  Allow me to explain.

One of the most common complaints of Lab owners – and some other dogs in general, but Labs in particular – is that Labs are, in no uncertain terms, destructive.  Destructive, adjective, “capable of causing harm, injury, or damage.”  Chewing.  Digging.  Barking.  Chewing, eating – yes, eating – carpets, furniture, wires, t.v. remotes, couch cushions, beds, papers, floorboards, patio furniture, the list goes on.  Digging up the flower beds, the garden, the hallway carpet, hardwood floors, shrubs, tree roots, and random holes.  Barking at the neighbors, barking at the postal worker, barking at deliveries, barking at another dog, barking at a cat, at a squirrel, at a bird, at…nothing.

Here’s where I deliver a harsh dose, and a spoonful of sugar it is not.  I suggest that it is not the Lab that is being destructive, but the owner.  Unintentional?  Sure.  Still harmful, injurious, damaging?  Absolutely.

A destructive Lab is nothing more than a bored Lab.  A bored Lab is nothing more than a neglected Lab.  Neglect can take on many forms, but it can simply mean not enough activity for the specific breed.  For Labs, this is generally the case.  Labs are high-energy and athletic.  Labs were bred to spend all day long hunting, retrieving, concentrating, and being busy.  Engaging in focused, intense activities is hard-wired.  The desire is in their DNA.  

Imagine that same potential energy locked up or abandoned outside day after night, night after day, interacting with the owner for less than thirty minutes each day.  Labs do not do well in the absence of corresponding interaction.  It is simply not enough to let the Lab outside to “run off energy.”  Labs are bred for intense, serious, focused activities.  They cannot devise these activities on their own – the owner must create this environment.  Show me a Lab that hikes, swims, and retrieves, and I’ll show you a happy Lab.

That said, it should be easy to imagine why suddenly this high-energy, motivated, lively dog (or puppy) suddenly begins engaging in destructive behaviors when it is in an environment devoid of athletic stimulation.  Being the most popular dog in the United States since 1991, there are a lot of Labradors in the country (and in others as well), and the status has afforded me the opportunity to live next to or around a lot of Labradors.  I have heard some mighty fine complaints coming from Lab owners, for good reason.  I’ve seen the destruction wreaked by Labs:  patio sets completely torn through; little to no grass left in the yard from digging; actual walls in houses chewed through, floorboards dug up.  Almost every one of these circumstances involves the owner(s) engaging in what I consider to be destructive neglect for this particular breed.

Just as you wouldn’t expect a teacup Chihuahua to survive in the frigid air in the deep of winter for long periods, a Lab can’t be left unsupervised for long periods of time without suffering severe consequences.  They don’t deal well with being left to their own devices.

Now, there are exceptions.  Just as there are some genuinely destructive dogs (having little to do with owners), there are also genuinely adaptive Labs that begin coping day one with nary a problem.  But that’s not the point of this post.  The point of this post is to address the “in generals,” the “overalls,” the “averages.”  
Labs, in general, are not destructive by nature.  A Lab can live indoors, even in an apartment, just fine.  It is what is happening outside that living environment is what matters so much.  Outside the living environment, the Lab must have the ability to engage in a focused, active lifestyle. 

I’m far from an animal behaviorist or a dog trainer.  But I can tell you that a Lab that is having behavior problems likely has an activity problem.

I’ve learned this from my own two Labs:  if I start slacking off in my responsibility as an owner, I can tell almost immediately.  My Labs grow restless, overly responsive, hyper, and are a handful.  They are embarrassing.  The minute I start adding activity back into their lives is the moment that my Labs calm down and focus.  My two Labs like doing different things.  Different activities entertain their brains – we have a responsibility as owners to find out what these activities are.

Labs are NOT bad dogs.  They are NOT predisposed to be destructive.  A destructive dog most likely has a destructive owner – destructive in the sense of not providing an enriching, Lab-compatible environment. 

So here’s my challenge to you, the future, the current, the past, and the never-again Lab owners:  realize what the breed is capable of, and strive to match your environment to their capabilities.  If this isn’t the active lifestyle you want, don’t purchase or adopt a Lab.  Work against this negative stereotype of Labs.
In doing so, maybe those chewed couch cushions will be few and far between.  And, you’ll have one heck of a happy Lab.
 


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