Fox Red Lab: Your Guide To The Fox Red Labrador Retriever

four month old foxred lab puppy Bella

Fox Red Labradors are one of my great passions. Today we are going to delve into the history of the fox red Lab and look at the role of this beautiful red Retriever.

I’m going to share some photos of my red lab puppies as they grow from birth to maturity.

You can use the green menu to jump straight to those if you want to!

The photo at the top of the page is their mother ‘Bella’ as a four month old puppy, playing in some wild daisies.

We’ll also have a go at tackling the genetics behind this stunning Labrador color.

Fox red is a little more complicated to understand, than the other colors, but I’ll try to clear up some of the confusion. It’ll be fun!

Is it Fox Red, Foxred or Redfox?

There are no consistencies in the way fox red Lab is spelled. Whether fox red is one word or two. Or whether the fox or the red comes first. Although Red Fox Lab is far less commonly used than Fox Red Lab.

That’s a lot to do with the fact that fox red isn’t an official Labrador color.

It’s simply regarded as a shade of yellow.

Of course, we know fox red is much more special than that.

But as far as the AKC or the KC is concerned, it’s just another yellow dog.

At least it means you can spell it any way you like! I tend to say fox red Labrador, you can say redfox or foxred Labrador if it makes you happy.

Fox Red Lab Genetics

You may be tempted to skip this – but give it a go – it might be easier than you think!

We’ll have to have a quick recap of how the main coat colors are inherited first.

If you want the full story you can check out this article – Coat Color Inheritance in Labradors

Here’s the short version!

Think of a Labrador as a basically black dog.

Black is the default color.

The black coat is caused by a pair of genes called the B genes.

Your dog inherits one from his mother and one from his father – in a pair – like this: BB

B genes come in big or little versions. So your black dog could have a pair that look like this: Bb

Little b carries the code necessary to make a brown coat instead of a black one.

BUT, big B is dominant and switches off little b. So little b only gets a say, if two of them get together like this: bb, and when that happens, you get a chocolate Lab

The fox red lab is often from working lines and may be very agile
Fox red labs are often very agile

Red starts with yellow!

To get a fox red lab, you first of all need the genes that switch off both the black or brown coat color. And those are called little e genes. They also come in a pair like this: ee

And when they get together they have the amazing power to completely block the action of both little and big B genes.

What's in a name? Red Fox Lab or Fox Red Lab both refer to the same dog.A lab with two little ee genes cannot have a brown or a black coat and so the coat color now defaults to yellow.

Now we are getting closer to our fox red color.

E genes can also be big like this: EE or mixed like this: Ee, but when that happens the big E switches off the little e, and takes away its power.

This renders the little e gene useless and it can’t then in turn switch off the brown or black coat color. So you’ll get a default black dog (or brown if it’s a double bb).

If you don’t want those gorgeous red hairs all over your car – a cargo liner might be just the thing!

Only when the two little ee genes get together can they switch off the black and brown B or b genes and give you a basically yellow dog.

But how does a basically yellow Lab get a gorgeous red coat?

A red Lab is a variation of yellow, and every red dog has those essential little e genes that switch off black and brown. But then it starts to get a little bit more complicated.

Hang on in there, we’ll try and simplify it a little.

It centers on a pigment called pheomelanin.

This pigment is responsible for the depth of red coloring in the yellow lab’s coat. And it is controlled by two different sets of genes.

The A gene controls the production of the red color. And the C gene controls whether or not it is fully expressed or diluted.

one of our favorite beds for big dogs that like to snuggle

This is what makes things a little more complicated

It’s because there are two different pairs of genes interacting together in this way that we get such a range of different shades, from pale yellow to rich fox red.

It isn’t just a question of switching the red color on or off.

In fact, I am still over-simplifying it a bit.

There are other genes involved in coat color, some of which affect the labrador. Genes for example that control areas of darker shading which can cause that ‘saddle’ pattern on some yellow dogs.

But let’s not go there today!

Remember, you’ll be able to see the effects of the interaction of these more complex genes involved in producing our lovely fox red labs, only if the ee genes are present as a pair.

Otherwise the B gene will over-ride them. And you are back to black or brown.

Fox Red Retriever Origins and History

The potential for red coat color has always existed within the Labrador breed. Yet at one time, almost all Labradors were black.

This was partly due to nature, and partly due to a little human interference.


Because the double little e that is required to switch off that B gene is recessive, most Labs are not yellow. And because the dominant black B genes over-ride the recessive little b genes that give us chocolate most Labs are not brown.

The human element arises because both these alternatives to black were considered undesirable in the early part of our Labs history.

So that yellow or brown puppies were sometimes (maybe often) culled at birth. Adding to the predominance of the favored black coat

Other than that, all three colors of Labador Retriever, black, chocolate and yellow, share the same origins or history.

You can delve more deeply into the fascinating history of the Labrador Retriever in my guide following that link.

The rise in popularity of a particular color of dog has influenced the proportions of Labs that you see in each color, at any given point in time.

The passion for darker and redder coats in our retrievers tends to wax and wane like any other fashion. And when the demand for a darker (or paler) coat increases, then breeders will begin to respond by producing puppies of that color.

When I was a child in the 1960s darker colored yellow labs were very popular. There was at least one Labrador called ‘Rusty’ in every village.

And many people referred to Labs as ‘golden labradors’ a term that is still frequently heard even though it is not strictly correct.

The fashion in Labrador coat colors swung to paler and paler colors in the 1970s, and remained that way for decades. Especially among the dog showing community.

Fortunately a pool of dark yellow or fox red labs remained popular in the working gun dog community.

Possibly because a pale yellow dog, being far too easy for wildfowl to spot, is not an ideal companion in a duck blind or pigeon hide, or on the foreshore.

My fox red Lab Bella leaping over a fallen tree

It is largely from from this pool of working retrievers that we now have the stunning fox red Labrador Retrievers that we see today.

And because they are often American Lab type rather than English Lab type, they are often taller and more athletic in appearance than the paler yellow Labs

Breeding Darker Fox Red Labs

If anything, many of the fox red Labs we see today are darker than I ever remember seeing in a yellow Lab.

Presumably because breeders are selecting for the popular deeper coat color in order to increase puppy sales.

But it isn’t a straightforward matter breeding puppies of a particular shade of yellow, partly because of the complexity of the mechanism of inheritance.

In any yellow Labrador litter you’ll get a range of colors, and as a responsible breeder you cannot simply choose parents on the basis of the shade of their coat.

Especially when there are not large numbers of fox reds to choose from.

Health credentials and performance credentials have to be given priority

A few years ago, I mated my female fox red Lab to a lovely fox red working stud dog, and had the pleasure and privilege of raising a litter of fox red puppies.

They were not the darkest fox red you’ll ever see, but still a beautiful color.

My Red Lab Puppies

My female fox red Labrador Bella gave birth to a litter of beautiful red retriever puppies in September 2007.

Female fox red Lab with a litter of beautiful puppiesYou can see that the puppies vary in how dark they are

The puppies grew very rapidly – here is one a couple of weeks later, his eyes have just opened, but he can’t see very much yet.

One Week Old Fox Red Lab Puppy

Here’s one at three weeks old.  Starting to look a bit more aware of the world around him.

Three week old fox red lab puppyAnd just three weeks later, at six weeks old, they are proper little fox red Labs!
Fox red Lab puppy at six weeks old

Fox Red Labrador Tess

My aim was to keep one puppy to raise and train as a working gun dog.

This puppy was named Tess and she still lives and works here in Hampshire in the UK.

These are images of her in training during the summer

Foxred lab retrieving a rabbit skin bumperAnd working in the winter

Fox red lab in the snowLike most fox red Labs in the UK, she is an American type with typical narrow frame and a longer face with less of a stop than the English type or show bred Labs.

If you are tempted with one of these beautiful dogs, you’ll want to know how to find a red lab puppy. And your starting point will lie in finding a good breeder

Fox Red Lab Breeders

Your first step when bringing any Labrador into your life should be to make sure that this is the right time for you to do this.

We have a handy article to help you with this important decision. It’s called 6 things to consider before buying a Labrador.

The next step is to find a reputable breeder of Labradors.

Finding a nice fox red stud dog and making a list of all his recent matings is often a starting point. You’ll find help in this article: Labrador breeders – how to find a good one

You are most unlikely to find a good breeder who only breeds fox reds. This is because color is not the top priority for a responsible breeder. And remember, in most yellow litters there will be a range of shades.

Puppies may darken as they grow, or they may not. No breeder can guarantee you the final color of your puppy.

Red Lab prices

When it first starts to trend, a fashionably colored dog may be more expensive, and this is still happening to some extent with reds.

My advice is to be wary of paying an unusually high price for a red lab puppy.

It could indicate that you have found an unscrupulous breeder who may be cutting corners on health or other important matters.

The reason I say this is because many respectable breeders will look down on selling puppies of different colors for different prices.

So if you seek out a well established, and reputable breeder you shouldn’t have to pay over the odds for your puppy.

In fact paying the same price irrespective of color could mean you have a better breeder, and a healthier pup!

English Red Lab

As you have seen, in the UK fox red Labs are mainly the preserve of the working retriever community.

You don’t seen many in the show ring.

So if you want a typical English lab with the stocky body and blocky head, you’ll find it more difficult to get an English fox red lab puppy.

And if you live in the USA, you may have to do plenty of detective work to find one at all

That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but for the reasons given above, research your breeder carefully

You may have more luck looking for an American Lab type, from working lines.

Not sure which type of Lab is right for you? Check out my guide to the English Labrador Retriever. It explains the differences between the two strains of Lab.

Your Fox Red Lab Retriever

As you can see, fox red Labs are very special to me.   While fox red is strictly speaking simply a variation of shading in the yellow lab, it’s a variation that is very appealing to many of those who love the Labrador breed.

Despite the reluctance of some breeders to acknowledge that it’s okay to like one color more than another, I don’t see anything wrong in having a color preference when choosing a dog.

But please, whatever you do, make sure your future puppy comes from health tested parents.

All colors or shades of Labrador can get sick from inherited conditions that are entirely preventable with these tests.

Once you have the health clearances for a litter, then by all means pick a puppy of the color you love best.

Don’t forget to share your fox red dog photos on our facebook page or on the forum – we love to see pictures of your beautiful Labs


  1. We r due to collect our red fox Labrador puppy dog in 3 weeks.
    Have just been to our local dog training school where the owner said that we might have made a mistake choosing a dog instead of a bitch from a working background and a showdog would be better with less energy. We are willing to exercise at a minimum an hour a day up to 2-3 hours twice a week.We live on the country near the coast so ‘doggy heaven’! And although started our retirement so ‘at home’ now,we are both young and fit and will have time for training. Feeling confused and a bit upset. Can someone please reassure?

    • Hi Carol,
      I’m very sorry to hear that this dog trainer upset you.
      Working dogs tend to have more ‘drive’, so more instinct for fetch and interest in the wildlife. Show dogs tend to have a bit more ‘bounce’, so more social with people and perhaps therefore more lively in this respect. They are both different, but both lovely.
      You can find out more about the difference between working and show lines here:
      You could also join the Labrador forum here, where you will get to chat to owners of show and working dogs who will be happy to advise you further.
      My family’s working lines fox red Lab is an older lady now, but she has always been one of the most chilled out, keen to please, loving dogs you could ever hope to meet.
      I hope you enjoy your wonderful new puppy. Lucy.

  2. We adopted our Clancy two years ago from the local SPCA. I had never known there were red fox labs and they told us he was a lab mix. He is the most intelligent, gentle, easily trained dog. A co-worker just got a “red lab” so I investigated further. This is our Clancy! We still cannot believe how blessed we have been with him. Thank you for your info!

  3. I just took on my daughters red fox lab a 3 year old bitch she is very placid and loves being with me, It was either give her away or keep her in the family with me, No brainer decision, she is a beautiful girl, I have loads of time on my hands and we are out on the beach or common every day.
    Many have asked me if I have any intensions of Breeding her, Cant make my mind up

  4. enjoyed your article,we have a handsome lad called luther,.
    Bought from a very good breeder who knew his onions,our fox red is very much like your bitch in stature and lines,.
    And tireless in the field and on water,a joy to own,.

  5. My dog has always been a really dark color for a yellow lab, which is what I was told she was. For the longest time I thought the breeder lied and she was really half lab and half golden retriever. But I am so glad I came across this article because I didn’t know there was a fox red breed. She isn’t as dark as your Tess but she isn’t your typical light yellow lab either! She even has the American lab stature and nose!

    Thank you for this article!

  6. I bred a pair of black labs and two of the puppies were fox red. I had two different vets tell me that the red ones were not true labs!! That another male dog had mated with our female. We knew that was impossible since she was either in our house, pen or outside with us. I truly enjoyed reading this article!

  7. Who Knew! I have a 9 year old male who is this color, and additionally, his tail stands up, and curls towards his back. I also have a chocolate lab which is almost auburn; I refer to them as ‘Milk Chocolate, and Dark Chocolate’. I am in the USA, Arizona – the ‘fox color’ was bred in Utah, the dark chocolate was bred in Arizona. My ‘fox color’ male is the gentlest of all of my labs – I have had 5, and my dark chocolate lab had an ‘attitude’!

  8. Lovely article. Our gorgeous fox red lab Molly is now 14 and still in good spirits. She was bred by our daughter’s (then) boyfriend’s uncle and her boyfriend also took a dog from the same litter. This dog (Figo) is more your typical Andrex puppy. We always wondered why there was such a difference in colouring between the two dogs.