Would a Labrador Survive in the Wild? How Long Could They?

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Have you ever thought of how your Lab would cope if you weren’t there? Well, an untrained Labrador Retriever can run away from home due to fear, excitement, or anxiety. So, would your furry friend have the tactics to survive if lost in the wild?

A domesticated Labrador would find it hard to survive in the wild because it’s already used to being taken care of by humans. However, a particular Lab has appropriate survival instincts and attributes, such as a hunting and defense drive, it may be able to survive alone in the wild temporarily.

In this article, I’ll go in-depth to discuss attributes that could help a Labrador Retriever survive in the wild. I’ll also highlight why your dog wouldn’t be lucky enough to live away from your love and care. Read on to learn more and get tips on equipping your Lab with survival skills.

In this article

What Labradors Need To Survive in the Wild

Labradors are not used to living in the wild, thanks to generations of human care. That doesn’t necessarily mean a Labrador is bound to die in the wild. Labradors with certain survival skills and physiques have a better chance of surviving in the wild without human intervention. 

Let’s take a closer look at these attributes that can help Labs survive better in the wild. 

Muscular Bodies

Labrador Retrievers don’t top the list of American’s favorite pets for nothing. According to the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) standards, Labs have strongly built bodies. They’re also excellent athletes and retrievers due to their intense energy.

Since Labs are bred following AKC’s guidelines, most have strong and compact feet. Their fore and hind legs are also powerful and well-coordinated. Therefore, a healthy Lab won’t have a hard time maneuvering in the wild due to its muscular build.

Canine Instincts and Drive

Like all dogs, Labs’ ancestors were wild animals that utilized predatory instincts to get food. Despite man’s efforts of domesticating dogs into the ideal companions they are now, it’s impossible to erode all their instincts. You might, therefore, find some ‘unpleasing’ behaviors that you couldn’t expect in a tamed Lab.

While a drive is a strong urge to do something, an instinct is an inborn ability to do it. Dogs inherit general instincts from former generations but can also acquire specific ones from their breeds.

So, let’s have a look at some dog instincts and drives that would help a Lab if it found its way into the wild:

Hunting Drive

How would your Lab react if it crossed paths with a rabbit? It would most likely chase, capture, and potentially kill it. Well, this is due to its outstanding prey drive, a common attribute in untrained Labrador Retrievers. That’s why most Labs love chasing after things, including rodents and vehicles.

Training your Lab on self-control can gradually reduce this attribute. However, Labs would use their prey drive to hunt down small animals for food if they strayed into the wild. Their great sense of smell is also an added advantage - no wonder they gained popularity as hunting partners in the early 1900s.

black labrador duck hunt

Interest in Retrieving

As their name suggests, Labrador Retrievers are best known for retrieving items. For this reason, earlier breeders engaged the Lab’s ancestors during hunting adventures. Labs love bringing back items, and they perfected this drive by returning fish and fishing nets.

Therefore, Labs would probably bring back what they’ve hunted to their pack due to their retrieval drive. This was evident in the late 1900s when Labs assisted hunters in duck hunting. Also, their adaptation to swimming and catching fish would help them survive easily in wetlands. 

Lab’s swimming capabilities are due to their physical traits, such as:

  • Webbed feet - Labs have webbing in between their paws that assists in paddling.
  • Double coat - Labradors have a dense, water-repelling double coat. The outer layer produces oils that keep off the water, while the inner one offers protection. The coat is also an excellent insulator that helps Labradors brace the cold during winter.
  • Otter-like tail - A Lab’s tail is thick, tapering, and sturdy. It acts as a ruder that propels the dog and helps in changing direction.

Defense Drive

Every animal would require a defense mechanism to overcome threats in the wild. Labs show a flight drive when threatened. Hence, in most scenarios, they run away from danger. However, a Labrador can also attack the predator or become motionless to defend itself.

Intelligence and Versatility

Labradors are very intelligent; thus, they’re preferred as service dogs. Whether it’s in therapy, rescue, or search, Labs have shown their exceptional intelligence. Their versatility could help them adapt to different or difficult situations.

Moreover, their intelligence, energy, and endurance (when working for long hours) are characteristics that would assist them in surviving in the wild.

Reasons a Labrador May Not Survive in the Wild

Though Labradors have some chances of surviving in the wild, it isn’t guaranteed. A dog’s individuality would also contribute significantly to how it copes in unfamiliar and harsh situations. 

Therefore, your dog may have a hard time surviving in the wild for the following reasons:

Some Labs Are Weak Due to Selective Breeding

Breeders and potential dog owners have some desirable traits when breeding dogs. Some of these may lean towards making more dogs of a specific attribute, but with health complications. For instance, chocolate-colored Labradors tend to have a shorter lifespan than other Labradors.

Hence, your Lab may not survive in the wild if it has some attributes that could threaten its survival in the wild.

Labradors Are Too Friendly and Less Territorial 

Labrador retrievers are moderately tempered dogs. They aren’t as aggressive as other dog breeds and are less territorial. Therefore, marking territory and keeping off intruders in the wild would be an uphill task. Also, due to their friendly nature, they may easily trust strangers who can end up being predators.

Labs Rely on Social Bonds

Labradors are highly sociable. They thrive in environments where they can foster relationships with humans or other animals. Therefore, they have a high pack drive. Due to being accustomed to living and bonding with humans, Labs would probably suffer from social anxiety if left alone in the wild.

lab puppy playing with a ball

They Might Be Too Young or Old

Age is a major factor that would determine a Lab’s survival in the wild. Puppies, for instance, may not survive when abandoned as they need maximum care.

Senior dogs may also find it hard to cope in stressful situations due to age-related conditions. For instance, they’re more vulnerable to suffer from arthritis, heatstroke (in high temperatures), and hypothermia (in cold temperatures).  

Thus, very young or older Labs would probably die earlier in the wild.

They Have Poor Health

Like old age, illnesses could disqualify a Labrador from surviving in the wild. Labs are prone to suffering from inheritable diseases, including:

  • Arthritis
  • Eye disorders, for example, gradual retinal atrophy and cataracts
  • Hip and elbow dysplasia

They Don’t Do Very Well in Hot Weather/Climates

Labradors are well-suited for cold and wet regions. Their double coats aid in insulation and water resistance. Though shedding helps in adapting to different climates, Labs are prone to overheating. At extremely high temperatures (above 32°C or 89.6°F), the double coat seals the heat, making it harder for Labs to cool down.

Thus, the double coat would diminish a Lab’s survival rate in very hot climates.

labrador in snow

How To Train Your Labrador To Survive in the Wild

Here are a few ways you could prepare your Lab to cope with the situation if he ended up in the wild:

  • Train your dog to hunt or eat some plants, bugs, or small animals. The best way to go about this is by letting your Lab accompany you when out hunting and train them to help in hunting.
  • Spend ample time outside with your dog. It’ll help the Lab to develop wild instincts and learn specific scents, sounds, or movements.

Final Thoughts

Labradors are among the most preferred pets due to their friendliness, smartness, composure, and liveliness. Like most domesticated canines, living in the wild would require special survival skills and instincts. Unfortunately, not all Labradors would survive.