The Chocolate Labrador Retriever

chocolate-labsChocolate Labrador facts, features, and fun! This is a complete, in-depth guide to the world’s favourite brown dog. From the origins of the chocolate Lab, to how to find a puppy, it’s all here.

Throughout the history of the breed, a chocolate Labrador or two (sometimes referred to as liver Labradors) has appeared occasionally in litters of Labrador puppies

Way back in the last century,  puppies with this then undesirable colour were sometimes simply culled at birth. Black was the only colour considered respectable for a Labrador!

How things have changed!  Chocolate Labradors are now hugely popular and with good reason.

There is a ton of information here, so do use the green menu to skip to the bits that interest you!

Chocolate Lab Facts!

From finding a puppy to caring for your elderly chocolate Lab, we’re going on a journey of discovery!

You’ll find out where chocolate Labs came from.

We’ll look at temperament and intelligence, and explore many of the myths and facts that surround these wonderful companion dogs.

I’ll also give you some great tips for adopting or buying your very own chocolate Labrador Retriever!

Meet Rachael my beautiful brown lab

All labradors are beautiful, of course, but brown labradors will always hold a special place in my heart. In fact I am unashamedly biased!

You see, I am lucky enough to share my life with Rachael, a three year old female chocolate lab from a mixture of show and working lines.

rachael brown lab puppy

This is Rachael as a puppy

This page is a celebration of what is for me, one of the most beautiful dogs in the world.

Rachael has been a huge source of inspiration for this website, so this is a little tribute to Rachael and a thank you for all she has taught me.

We’ll hear some more about Rachael later.  But first of all, we’re going to take a little trip back in time.

 

Where do chocolate labs come from?

Labrador Retrievers were recognised by the UK Kennel Club in 1903 and by the AKC in 1917.  But they had been around for some years before that.

chocolate labradorThe Labrador breed was developed mainly by a couple of English aristocrats in the 1800s, from dogs they had imported from North America.  You can read more about this chunk of history here: The history of the Labrador Retriever

Although our early Labrador Retrievers were predominantly black, some of these original dogs carried the genetic information required to produce chocolate puppies.

Just as some also carried the information required to produce yellow puppies.

Sadly, a hundred or more years ago,  it was commonplace to ‘cull’ puppies that were not a desirable colour.

Black was the ‘in’ color for labs, so this meant that mainly black dogs survived to adulthood and mainly black dogs were bred from.

If mainly black dogs were bred from, you may wonder how any chocolate lab pups were ever born!

To understand that, we need to take a peep at the genes that carry the code for coat colour in the Labrador retriever.

How is the chocolate color inherited in labradors

You probably know that the instructions that tell your dog what to look like generally, and what color to be specifically, come packed in genes, and that genes come in pairs.

chocolate labsThis is true for the gene that determines whether or not the Labrador will be brown (this gene is called b) or black (B).  Every Labrador has either two genes for a black coat (BB) or two genes for a brown coat (bb) or one of each (Bb)

The color black in Labradors is dominant.  That means that if a Labrador has one gene for the color brown, and one gene for the color black, the dog will be black.

This is because his black gene switches off, the brown one.  The brown gene just sits hidden inside him doing nothing in particular, while the black gene takes control of his coat.

What about chocolate labs?

The poor old brown gene only gets to be in charge if it is paired with another brown gene – like this ->(bb).

So for a chocolate lab puppy to be born, he needs to have those two chocolate genes, one is not enough.

However, a black labrador can sneakily carry a brown gene (Bb) and pass it along to his children.  This is how the color brown can and did remain hidden in generation after generation of black labradors.

Why were chocolate labs not wanted?

So if there were always brown genes in our Labrador population, there have always been occasional brown puppies.

chocolate lab dogAll that was required to produce some chocolate Labrador Retriever puppies was for someone to mate a black dog carrying brown (Bb) with another black dog carrying brown.

And hey presto, half of this litter of puppies are brown!

And of course in the days long before DNA tests, and in a time when no-one would ever have bred from a brown dog, there was no way of knowing for sure that a black dog was carrying brown, until he had made some brown puppies.

By which time it was too late!  These brown labrador puppies were not bred from and no doubt some were quietly ‘disposed of’ without a second thought.

We don’t really know why the chocolate dogs were so disliked.  It seems bizarre to us now, in a world where chocolate is such a popular color in dogs.  But in the early 1900s only black would do.

By the way, if you are curious to know how we get yellow pups, click on this link: Coat color inheritance in Labrador Retrievers  you’ll also find some more fun facts there about chocolate Labradors, including how two chocolate labs can sometime have yellow puppies, and some great coat color charts to make things easier to understand.

When did chocolate labs become popular?

By the 1920s and 30s a few brown or liver labradors as they were then called were making an appearance on the shooting field but for some years more, brown was not widely acceptable to Labrador enthusiasts.

It wasn’t until  the 1960s  that brown Labs began to really grow in popularity. The demand for these beautiful dogs came from ordinary home owners and they much preferred the word ‘chocolate’ to describe their new companions.

chocolate labrador retrieverThat preference continues today, and we still often name our brown labs after favorite snack bars and chocolate flavored drinks! You can still register chocolate Labradors as ‘liver’ in color by the way. And I actually prefer the old fashioned term.  But that’s another story.

If you are interested in delving deeper into the fascinating archives of Labrador Retriever gene pools and history, you may enjoy a visit to Jack Vanderwyck’s site Labrador.net

English or show chocolate retriever?  

Show or bench bred Labradors are often known in the USA as English labs.  The first chocolate English Show Champion Labrador Retriever was Cookridge Tango in 1964.

marvin the mooseThe 1960s was a turning point in the popularity of the chocolate lab, but interest grew slowly at first.

Gradually, the public began to demand more chocolate retriever puppies, and gradually breeders began to produce them.

Over the next few decades, Chocolate Labradors became increasingly popular both in the show ring and as pets.

In the shooting community, where Labradors were expected to do a job of work,  the preference for black continued throughout the late 1900s, and into the present day, particularly in the UK. We’ll be looking a bit more at that later on.

American or working chocolate labs

Working or ‘field bred’ Labradors have become known in the USA as American labs.

A demand for chocolate Labradors as shooting companions is only just beginning to emerge in the UK, but in the USA,  the chocolate lab has now become more established in the working community.

brown labradorHere in England, it is still quite hard to find a chocolate labrador from good working lines, and we have yet to see chocolates doing well in field trials in any great numbers.

There is a rumour going around, especially in the UK working dog community, that this is because brown Labradors are a bit stupid!  But is it true?

Is there any factual basis at all in the stories that chocolate Labradors are somewhat challenged in the ‘upstairs’ department?  Is the beauty on your hearth rug all beauty and no brains?

Or is the ‘chocolate labs are stupid’ claim, a scurrilous lie.  Let’s have a closer look at some of those Labrador characteristics, and find out where they come from

Inherited Labrador characteristics

Just like you and me, every dog is a product of both his environment, and the genes he is born with.

We have seen that many chocolate Labradors come from show Labrador lines, and these bloodlines tend to have certain characteristics in common. Characteristics that are passed along from parent to puppy

Show Labradors (English) are often more heavily built, and somewhat slower and physically less agile than their field bred counterparts.

They are also more likely to have a chunky Labrador head and thick otter tail.  And while some feel that the chunkiness of the skull has been taken too far in show lines, there is no denying the beauty of a classic Labrador head.

A brown labrador is more likely to be from these show types of bloodline and are therefore more likely to share these general characteristics.  But there is more.

It isn’t just body shape that is inherited feeding2

Brown Labrador temperament and cleverness!

Field bred Labradors (also known as American labs) may have a more intense retrieve drive, or urge to chase and retrieve things than their show bred cousins.

They also tend to be not only physically faster and racily built, but more ‘sensitive’ and responsive to training.

Working strain Labs are keen to please

Field bred labs tend to be quite ‘dependent’ on their handler’s approval. In short, they are desperate to please.

Over many generations this ‘biddable’ quality has been bred into our working labs alongside their retrieving and hunting prowess, to give a dog with a rather different temperament from our show stock.

Easy going show Labs

In show dogs you may see a more robust temperament. A show bred lab is often less concerned over the little ups and downs of life. Its all a bit of fun. Nothing is taken too seriously.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that field bred labs are more clever, but they may less distractible, more focused and therefore easier to train.  This can certainly give the impression of a dog that is pretty smart.

These dogs may also be more likely to be black.

The differences are small

The important thing to remember is that these differences in ‘trainability’ if you like to call them that, are minimal.  Show / English Labs are still highly intelligent, highly trainable dogs.

The differences between field and show might give you the edge in competition, but they are not going to make any difference to your basic obedience training, or your pet’s behaviour.

They are also becoming increasingly irrelevant as we switch to more modern methods of training which are much better at motivating dogs to engage in the training process.

Now let’s find out why working retrievers are often black.

Any color as long as its black!

We mentioned earlier that the color black has long been favoured by the working retriever community.  Check out that link for a fascinating trip back in time to look at Labrador origins.

Experienced, working gundog enthusiasts are less likely to buy a puppy that is not from working lines, and when they do, they are more likely to chose a black dog.  Unsurprisingly this means that most working lines of Labs are predominantly black. Particularly in the UK where the ‘chocolates are stupid’ rumours originate.

In the UK, if you visit a driven pheasant shoot or a grouse moor, you’ll see black Labs vastly outnumbering their yellow cousins. Brown dogs are few and far between.  This is starting to change, but only just.

Part of the reason for this is simply that the early Labs were black and people don’t like change.

Black is also a great color for a hunting companion. A yellow dog really stands out in the countryside, even in poor light, so even when yellow dogs became more common, they were not so popular with the hunter.  Brown dogs are better camouflaged but became more numerous much later and were embraced first by the pet and show communities.

Nice but Dim? Are chocolate labradors stupid?

So is there any truth in the rumours?  Are chocolate Labradors stupid?  Hopefully we can put this one to bed.

Firstly I should say that to my knowledge, no study has ever been carried out on the differing intellectual abilities of Labrador of different colors.  Everything you hear is based on personal anecdotal stories, often passed along in fun. At least to begin with!
labrador chocolate

I have found my own female chocolate Labrador from mixed lines to be a lot more ‘playful’ and interested in other dogs, than my working bred labradors generally are.

She has very intense retrieve drive, but is less naturally keen to share the outcome with anyone.

She is also easily distracted and because of this she has taken me a little longer to train than my working line Labs.  I’ve heard others report the same observations.

But it is most unlikely that there is any distinct difference in intelligence between dogs of the same breed that happen to be a different color.

Being chocolate does not make a dog stupid

Let’s be practical here. Even if there were a difference in learning ability between different colored dogs, it’s important to remember that an association, or correlation, between two things does not mean that one caused the other.

The answer lies in the behaviour and temperament of dogs from different bloodlines.  The difference in trainability is in short a feature of the difference between the field bred dog and the show bred dog rather than a feature of the color of the dog.

It is a coincidence that many chocolate Labradors are show bred or English in type, and many black Labs are field bred or American in type.  Because of this coincidence the characteristics of the show bred Lab tend to be attributed to our brown friends. While the characteristics of the field bred Lab tend to be attributed to our black dogs.

So you can see how the myth got started..

The fact is, that chocolate Labs from working lines are just as easy to train as black Labs from working lines.  But you are less likely to meet a chocolate lab from working lines at the moment – in the UK at least. The division is becoming more blurred in the USA where chocolates have been competing successfully in Field Trials for some time.

You can read more about the division in type between the working lab and the show lab in this article: Which type of Labrador makes the best pet – work or show?

But rest assured, your chocolate friend is not stupid, and with modern training methods you can easily teach him to be a well behaved and obedient dog.

50 shades of chocolate Labrador?

Not really!  Unlike our yellow Labradors – which come in a wide range of shades, the color chocolate is pretty consistent in puppyhood, and most chocolate Labs are quite similar in color.

The color of your adult chocolate Labrador Retriever boy or girl’s coat will however vary depending on whether the coat is newly grown after a moult, or is about to shed. You can read more about shedding here: Shedding Labradors

As the old hair dies it starts to lose some of its colour, and the dead hair is much paler than the glossy new coat that will soon appear.

And though some chocolate labs are darker than others, even when taking the stage of moult into account, variations between individuals are fairly small, with one very contentious exception.  The Silver Labrador.

Where did silver Labradors come from?

Silver Labradors have a gene which dilutes the color chocolate and makes it a pale, silvery shade.  Some people find this very attractive, while others regard it as an abomination.

There is no doubt that a hundred years ago, there was no coat dilution gene in our Labrador Retrievers.  We know for sure that this gene has appeared quite recently.   What we don’t know for sure, is how it got there.

The strongest theory is that the gene arrived through cross breeding a Labrador with a dog that carries the dilute coat color gene.  A breed such as the Weimaraner for example.

The other explanation is that the gene causing the silver coat was some kind of genetic ‘accident’ or mutation.  This seems rather less likely. But you can read up on the whole silver controversy in more detail here: All about Silver Labradors.

The Kennel Clubs of UK and USA are currently willing to register silver labs, despite the dispute over their ancestry, but they can only be registered as ‘chocolate’.  Not as silver itself.

A bright future for chocolate Labradors

Throughout history, there have been a number of famous black labradors, and we tend to associate yellow Labs with the all important role of working as assistance dogs.
chocolate retriever surfingBill Clinton’s chocolate Labrador Buddy was famous simply for being the president’s dog, but it is harder to find examples of chocolate Labradors who have distinguished themselves.

This is not because chocolate lab dogs lack the qualities or abilities of black and yellow dogs, but simply because the popularity of the color is a relatively recent phenomenon.

There are as we speak, plenty of chocolate labradors serving in the military, working as assistance dogs and in the shooting field.  Their story  has only just begun, and as time goes on, we’ll be hearing more of their exploits.

Maybe you have a story to tell about your own chocolate friend, or maybe you are just starting out on your journey to finding a chocolate lab to share your life.  If that’s the case, read on.  We have some tips for searching in the right places

Finding your chocolate lab

There are two main ways of bringing a chocolate labrador retriever into your life.   And many people will tell you that the very best way, is to rescue a dog from a shelter or dog’s home.

The other way, is to buy a puppy and raise him yourself.

I can’t tell you which is right for your own family, though I will say that it is not as clearcut an issue as some will tell you.

There are pros and cons to both rescuing an older dog and raising your own puppy, I go into these in some detail in my new book “The Labrador Handbook”.

It may well depend on what stage of life your family is at and on how experienced you are with dogs in general, and with labradors in particular.

If rescuing appeals to you, and you are ready for the challenges and the many benefits of giving a dog a new lease of life, there are plenty of rescue societies that specialise in Labradors.

Rescuing a chocolate labrador

The first step is to make contact with your local Labrador Rescue. Most rescues don’t rheum dogs outside their own ‘catchment area’.

You can find details on Rescues in the UK and the USA on this page: Labrador Rescue Societies

Many people expect to be able to go along to a shelter and chose a dog.  But it doesn’t work quite like that.

The first thing that happens, is that the rescue society will want to check out you, and your family, to make sure your home and lifestyle is suitable for one of their dogs.  This means that they will probably want to visit you at home. Once you are accepted, you’ll be able to meet your future dog.

Many rescue dogs live with ‘foster parents’ rather than in a large kennel compound, so you’ll be able to see your new friend in a real life family situation.

Rescuing  can be a wonderful and fulfilling way of bringing a lovely brown retriever into your life, so do consider it thoroughly.  You can find lots more information here: Is a rescue Labrador right for you  and here The right dog for you- Puppy or Rescue?

If now is not the right time for you to rescue an older dog.  Or if you are getting a Labrador for a special purpose – as a hunting companion for example – you may be better off with a new puppy.  Let’s see how that works

Buying a chocolate lab puppy

Chocolate Labrador puppies are ready to go to their permanent homes at around eight weeks old.

If someone wants to sell you a puppy much younger than that, alarm bells should be ringing.  You also need to make sure you buy your puppy from the right place.

chocolate lab factsThis means choosing the right breeder.  And avoiding puppy mills and pet stores.  If you want a puppy for hunting, you need to go to a breeder that specialises in field-bred dogs.

If you want to get involved in the world of showing, you need to go to a breeder that breeds labradors for the show ring.

It is possible to train a show dog for work, though he or she is unlikely to get far in high level field competitions, but it is not normally possible to succeed in the show ring with a field bred dog.

Bear this in mind.

In the UK, only a few kennels are breeding chocolate Labradors for gundog work.

Look for names like Styleside and Grangemead in the pedigree if you want a dog with retrieve drive and trainability.

Your healthy brown Labrador Retriever puppy

Labradors of all colors suffer from inherited disorders.

Please, please make sure your puppy is from health tested parents – it may all end in tears if you omit this important step

You can find out more about health issues in Labradors in this article: Health screening for Labrador Diseases

And there is lots of information on finding a good breeder here: Labrador breeders – how to find a good one

Training and exercising your chocolate labrador

My advice for training and exercising your chocolate Labrador is to figure out what type of lines your dog is from and adjust your expectations accordingly.  Then to follow a good positive reinforcement training programme.

If your chocolate friend is field-bred, treat him like any other field-bred lab.  Make sure you exercise his mind as well as his body. Even if you never intend to take him hunting, he still needs a job to do, retrieves to complete, toys to find, streams to cross and so on.

Training him isn’t just necessary, it will be a whole lot of fun.

If your dog is from show lines, he too needs training and plenty of exercise, but he may also need plenty of play. Toys and games, and other dogs to interact with.

Training Rachael

Even at three years old, Rachael still loves to play with other dogs and with people.

Rachael is hugely enthusiastic about meeting people (and dogs) and prone to be over-friendly.

Whilst we certainly don’t want an aggressive or unfriendly working gundog,  this extra-friendliness makes the chocolate lab dog more prone to distraction by humans and other dogs.

I have therefore had to spend a bit more time ‘proofing’ basic obedience than I would with one of my yellow or black working bred labs.   And I have to make a special effort to ensure that she is not allowed to interact with visitors until she is sitting calmly.

On the plus side,  I have had to spend less time socialising Rachael than I would with a field bred lab.  As she takes everything in her stride.

Pay extra attention to proofing your show bred dog’s obedience in the presence of people and other dogs – you may find he is intensely friendly and rather distractible so this aspect of his education is important

You will find lots of training information and advice in our training section here: Labrador training articles

Above all, treat your chocolate labrador like an individual.  He is far more than just a product of his breeding and environment.  He is a unique character, there will never be another quite like him

Caring for an elderly chocolate lab

As the years pass by,  we leave behind one set of challenges, puddles, chewed up shoes, and boisterus behaviour, but they are replaced by new ones.

Failing eyesight, stiff joints, and declining hearing.

However, these senior years can still be happy and fun filled for many dogs, especially if you keep your dog slim.

If your chocolate friend is quite heavily built as many chocolates are, you need to be extra careful to  keep an eye on his weight as he ages.  More body weight means more stress and strain on joints, this can aggravate problems like arthritis in older dogs

I personally think that elderly chocolate labradors are particularly beautiful, with their greying muzzles and kind eyes.

Of course, you will want to make your old friend as comfortable as you can, and we have plenty tips and advice for those that share their lives with older dogs in this article: caring for the older labrador

What is so special about chocolate

I have been writing about Labradors for many years now, and there is no doubt in my mind that they are all wonderful dogs.  But the chocolate labrador is special.

It is hard to explain why to those who don’t share their lives with one of these beautiful dogs, but if have one, you’ll know exactly what I mean!

I’d love to hear about your own chocolate labrador, so do drop your story in the comments box below, or post his or her photo up on our Facebook page or in the forum.  Tell us what is so special about your chocolate labrador and why you think chocolate labs are the best.

Further information

Happy-Puppy-jacket-image1-195x300For a complete guide to raising a healthy and happy puppy don’t miss The Happy Puppy Handbook.

The Happy Puppy Handbook covers every aspect of life with a small puppy.

The book will help you prepare your home for the new arrival, and get your puppy off to a great start with potty training, socialisation and early obedience.

The Happy Puppy Handbook is available worldwide.

Don’t forget, you can comment below, or on our Facebook page, or in our forum.

232 COMMENTS

  1. What a great site, thank you Pippa 🙂 There definitely is something quite special about chocolate labs!

    I’m caring for my elderly chocolate lab, Rolo with his silver muzzle and eyebrows he is just as gorgeous as he was when he was a snub nosed, grey eyed puppy. He had a challenging start to life, bought from a ‘reputable’ breeder, I found out he had parvovirus a week after bringing him home. The vet didn’t think he’d pull through but he did, and we have the strongest bond having gone through some tough times together, and some days I had to leave him for long periods of time alone, due to unforeseen circumstances.

    He’s now coming up for 12 years old, and I’m trying to give him the best years of his life. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to work from home for the last few years, and for the last 3 months I’ve been feeding him a 100% natural, home made diet, which I would really recommend – people keep commenting on how well he’s looking 🙂 He has joint problems and kidney disease but since I cut out the shop bought food, he’s flourishing, jumping in & out of the car, and playing with his tennis balls again 🙂

    I can’t imagine not being able to look into those beautiful brown eyes but I’m preparing myself for when the time comes.

    Thank you again for your insight and mutual appreciation of this wonderful, loving, unique breed 🙂

  2. I really enjoyed reading your comments and advice on labs.
    I have been a lab owner all my life and in the last few years have had 1 ‘field’ chocolate and 1 ‘show’ chocolate. Your descriptions of the varied temprament is spot on!
    Thank you for your efforts in educating people about this special breed and the joys they bring.

  3. Today my man convinced me & took me and the kids to see a Choc Labrador puppy…we saw 3 actually, and we chose one. We chose the one that looked more friendly with the kids, the other ones were or afraid or not interested to the kids. Sooo next week our family will have a new addition with the name of Pawlina 😉

  4. i am planning to adopt a chocolate lab/ male/ 9 months old…his owner is leaving out of country… im worried about his acceptance/ adaptation to the new people (to us)and home… please advice.

  5. I’ve never owned a Labrador but am going to see a 6 week old chocolate Labrador puppy tomorrow. He’s one of a litter of 7 beautiful pups, all chocolate. He’ll be ready to spend the rest of his life with me the middle of December.
    My last dog was a Great Dane x Dalmation…jet black with a black and white spotted chest. He was the size of a toy horse and the most gentle and loving character I could ever wish for…the love that radiated from him was far more than any human could give. He developed arthritis in his spine 3 years ago and 6 weeks ago his legs started giving him so many problems with standing and walking, and it was obvious he was in so much pain…I loved him so much I just couldn’t bear to see him like that. On the other hand, I couldn’t get myself to make the decision to let him go. After trying steroids for 2 weeks with no effect, I had to make the hardest decision of my life and let him cross the Rainbow Bridge after 13 years. His name was Diesel and he’d just had his Birthday on 6th June. My best friend EVER.
    God knows how I’m writing this right now…I’ve read some lovely comments on this site and I’m sitting here crying…well sobbing like a baby…I miss him so very much and right now it feels like my heart has been ripped out.
    People always thought he looked like a Labrador. Anyway…wish me luck for tomorrow. A chunky, chocolate Labrador awaits a new life.
    Thanks for reading this and sorry if I’ve gone on a bit. Actually, the funny thing is this…God only knows how I’m going to choose 1 of 7 puppies…if I had my way they’d all be coming home 🙂
    Have a great day my friends 🙂

    • What a beautiful post Kevin x dogs are so loyal and definitely man’s best friend
      I’m sure he knows you loved him very much and would probably thank you for helping him out of pain. Hardest decision to make ever, I had to put my rabbit to sleep, I know it’s not the same as a dog but still a pet and tough decision to make
      Best of luck with your new baby and enjoy many years of loyalty and fun x 🙂
      Looking at this breed myself

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