There is a general conception, especially in the working dog community, that chocolate Labradors are a bit stupid.
But is it true?
Are all (or even most) chocolate Labradors intellectually challenged?
Is the beauty on your hearth rug all beauty and no brains, or is the deficit in the ‘chocolate brain’ department just a nasty myth?
Firstly I should say that to my knowledge, no study has ever been carried out on the differing intellectual abilities of Labradors of different colours. All the evidence I have seen, has been anecdotal. Personal stories and experiences passed on from Labrador owners and trainers.
My own experience with chocolate Labradors is not extensive and the fact that the ones I have met have not distinguished themselves intellectually, is quite probably the merest coincidence.
So where did these rumours arise!
Field and show
I believe that the differences observed in the chocolate Labrador population are actually not linked with colour, but rather with type.
There is little doubt that ‘field’ or ‘working’ type Labradors are easier to train than those from show stock. Whether this is because they are actually better at problem solving (an indicator of intelligence) or because of their temperament, is open to discussion.
I suspect the latter.
Field bred labs tend to be highly sensitive, and 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.
In show dogs you 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.
This can make the dog somewhat harder to train. And that can result in the trainer concluding that the dog is stupid. Which is not necessarily the case.
Chocolate Labradors have more show ancestry
For the last fifty or more years black Labradors have dominated in the working gundog community. In field trial circles yellow labs are not unpopular, but the average shooting man wants a black lab.
Go to any working shoot in the UK and in most cases, ninety percent of all the Labradors there will be black. There is some logic behind this. A black dog blends into the undergrowth far better than a bright yellow one and so is more suited to hide shooting (in the USA hides are known as ‘blinds’) duck flighting and the like.
The popularity of chocolate Labradors has exploded in last few years, but until very recently, this explosion was largely confined to the show ring and the pet dog community.
Working gundog owners stuck to their black labs because that is what they liked. Now of course the fox red lab (just a dark version of yellow) is increasingly popular and many shooting men and women are also now showing an interest in the chocolate lab.
As chocolate Labradors ‘collect’ more working genes through recent breeding practices, we are likely to see a change in temperament, and indeed some chocolate Labradors are now competing successfully in the field against their black and yellow cousins.
For the time being though, black predominates in fieldwork competitions, and you can still see the preponderance of show genes in many working chocolates by their conformation. The nice otter tail, chunky body, small ears and well shaped head of this working chocolate Labrador, are a give away as to her ancestors And yes, I know that her owner won’t mind me saying, she is not the brightest button in the box!
How about you? Is your chocolate labrador stupid? Are you struggling with training? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.
Update Aug 2012: I am now raising my first Chocolate Labrador puppy. You can follow her story here: Rachael’s Journey
This article was written by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa’s recall training book is available now: Total Recall A complete recall training programme for dogs and puppies.
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