Are you looking to find out more about your wonderful black Lab?
Do you have training or behavioral questions about your black Labrador? Then this article will help you find out what you need to know.
Where do black Labs come from?
You’d think that a dog named ‘Labrador’ might come from Labrador wouldn’t you? But as you may have heard, black Labs are descended from the St John’s dog of Newfoundland
You may have heard that Labradors were discovered in Newfoundland, working alongside hardy fishermen, and taken to England in the 1800s where they were developed into the breed we know today .
In fact their story goes back even further than the hardy Newfoundland fishermen’s friend. It’s now pretty clear that the black Labs ancestors were taken to Newfoundland by British fishermen in the first place. Probably in the 1700’s.
You can read more about this fascinating history in our article: Where Do Labradors Come From
The black Labs that worked in the icy northern waters were not quite like the dogs we know today. Some had longer coats and even more upright ears.
Many St Johns dogs had white markings on their black coats, from the odd white sock, to large patches of white.
Even today, it isn’t uncommon to find a tiny white spot tucked away low down on the chest or under the paw of a purebred black Lab
In those days, there was no variety in color – no yellow, and no chocolate. The genes that give us yellow and chocolate Labs today, were there in some individuals, but rarely expressed and almost all the early Labs were black.
When yellow or chocolate puppies were born, they were unwanted and often disposed of. They certainly were not allowed to breed.
Why is black the most common Labrador color?
Black Labradors are the most commonly found color in this popular breed of dog, but this is not just down to the Labrador owners’ color preference.
Genetics dictate that far larger quantities of black Labradors are born than yellow or chocolate Labradors.
This is because the gene for the black coat color in Labradors, and many other dog breeds, is dominant. Whereas the genes for a brown or yellow coat are not.
A Labrador will only have a chocolate coat color if he doesn’t have the black gene. And he can only have both the black and the brown coloration ‘switched off’ in the presence of two yellow genes.
Sound complicated? Take a look at our color inheritance article for an easy way to understand coat genetics in Labradors. We even give you some handy charts to help you work out the likelihood of Labrador puppies having black coats given different coloured parental combinations.
Black Lab temperament
Just like his yellow and chocolate friends, the average black Lab has an outstanding temperament.
He is loving and lovable, brimming with enthusiasm, and will never tire of your company. He’ll go anywhere, and do anything, so long as you are with him.
If he has any flaws it is that his bouncy exuberance as a youngster, can sometimes cause problems for those that are not too steady on their feet.
So an adolescent black Lab will need to be very well supervised around a toddler just learning to walk, or an elderly person who is unsteady on their feet.
American black Labs versus English black Labradors
The black labrador has long been the darling of the hunting and shooting community.
These beautiful dogs in their handsome shiny ‘wash and go’ coats can be found busily retrieving duck and pheasants, rabbits and geese in many parts of the world.
Many of the black Labs you see working as hunting companions are specifically bred for fieldwork – these dogs are often referred to as American Labs. And American black Labs are very popular
But not all black Labradors are from working lines, plenty of show bred Labradors are black as well. You may hear these referred to as English black Labs. Though in fact the difference between them is one of role and purpose, rather than country of origin.
Black Labs from Work or Show lines will have very different statures, with show or English black Labs having broader heads and wider chests.
They will also have differing temperaments in general, with dogs bred for show or as pets tending to be slower to mature, more playful, and less likely to run off after the wildlife!
You can read more about the difference between English and American Labs in our article: English Lab – Your Guide To The English Labrador Retriever
Famous black Labs
We all know of course, that black labs are reknowned as skilled and courageous service dogs.
Working as search and rescue dogs, assisting our soldiers in the army, and helping to catch drug dealers crossing our borders.
Dogs like Jake, pictured right, with his handler Mary.
Jake burrowed through the terrible smoking debris after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2011
And came to the rescue once more in the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Some black Labs are famous for having famous owners!
Here is president Putin of Russia with his black Lab Konni
She was originally trained as a search and rescue dog and her puppies have been presented as gifts to foreign dignitaries.
There is even a children’s book about her adventures.
Should I buy a black Labrador puppy?
When you decide to take on a puppy, the most important thing is to choose one which will grow into a happy, healthy and well tempered adult.
American black Labs may need more exercise and mental stimulation than English black Labs, and will benefit from gun dog style training involving retrieving exercises.
Black puppies can be overlooked because the color is deemed too normal, but remember that your puppy’s coat is just a colour and black Labradors are just as wonderful as their yellow and chocolate counterparts.
Finding a black labrador puppy
Black Labs are so popular that you won’t have any difficulty finding a puppy. Many perfect and adorable black Lab pups like this one, are born each year.
It is even possible for a litter bred from a yellow dog and chocolate female to produce at least some black puppies, due to the dominant black Lab coat gene.
But not all puppies are born healthy, or destined to have the classic, perfect, Labrador temperament. So, you do need to choose your puppy with care.
And if you are looking for a black Labrador puppy you should go about it in the same way as you would if you had no color preference.
Your main priorities should be to find a breeder who is scrupulous in their health testing, and make sure your potential puppy’s parents’ temperaments are both excellent.
You might find it helpful to check out our article on Labrador breeders before you start searching for a pup.
You might also want to read Choosing the right dog. These articles will help you avoid some of the common mistakes people make when looking for their new best friend.
Black Lab dog rescue
Alternatively, you may be willing to consider adopting a black labrador from a rescue or animal shelter.
There are a number of breed rescues that specialise in Labs, and there are always black labs in them, waiting for homes.
Sometimes people worry that an older dog will have problems but this isn’t necessarily the case.
Some black Labradors find themselves homeless because their owners have fallen on bad times, or as a result of divorce or death of their owners.
Why are black Labs more likely to end up in rescue centers?
There are several theories about why black Labradors are more likely to end up in rescue centres, and why black dogs can get overlooked when people come to choose their new friend.
If you have more black dogs in a population overall, you are going to have more end up in rescue centres than their differently coloured counterparts. Once they are there, they become subject to what is known as ‘black dog syndrome’.
This simply refers to the fact that black dogs are common and therefore less likely to catch the attention of potential new owners.
There is no evidence to suggest that black Labs have less adoptable personalities, or cause more problems behaviorally that make them more likely to be rehomed.
Some rescues specialise in helping black dogs find new homes, to assist them in overcoming this unfair bias against them.
Remember, if you want to rescue a Labrador then your decision as to which dog to bring home should not be based on the dog’s color or looks, but upon their personality.
Matching an adult dog to an owner is not straight forward and requires lots of thought and planning. A responsible, caring rescue society or shelter will help you with this.
How do you train a black Labrador?
Basic obedience training for your Labrador should not differ depending upon his coat color, and at The Labrador Site we recommend that you use the most recent information on dog training methods to decide which you would like to use.
You will find it helpful to follow Pippa’s Five Stages of Dog Training, to give your black Labrador the best chance of succeeding.
Black Labs are slightly more likely to come from working backgrounds, and if your black Lab is an American Lab, you might want to consider giving him the opportunity to do plenty of retrieving.
His breeding may influence how far you can go with advanced training if you are thinking of moving on later to agility or gundog work.
Other than that, his coat color should not affect how you train him.
Regardless of whether you want to work with your dog, gundog training can help your black Labrador to stay happy and healthy, as well as becoming a better mannered member of the family.
Black Lab Exercise
All Labradors need regular exercise and entertainment, and your black Lab is no exception.
Although American Black Labs tend to be more driven to retrieve, English Black Labradors are still lively and fun loving dogs. They all need a good workout each day to keep them fit and healthy, and to help them relax at home.
You can exercise your black Labrador with a traditional walk, by going for a run together or through play. Retrieving games are a great way to give your Lab a lot of exercise without you having to travel quite such a long distance yourself.
If you have a fairly large back yard, you can even give him a good workout without having to leave your own property.
As intelligent dogs, black Labs will get a lot of out of working with their minds as well as their bodies.
And you can find some simple ways that you can help entertain him even when the weather is bad here.
Your Elderly Black Lab
Some black Labs can start to look old from quite a young age. With white or grey hairs forming around their muzzle, giving them a bearded or grizzled look.
This pale hair is nothing to worry about, and happens to most black Labs sooner or later in their lives.
As your black Lab reaches old age, you might find that he slows down a bit. Being less energetic and more inclined to spend the day in bed than bouncing up and down by your side.
Some medical problems may also appear, such as arthritis and a decline in vision and hearing.
Although many changes like this as simply as a result of old age, it’s still worth taking him for a quick checkup at the vets if you notice any differences in his behavior or feel that he might be in discomfort.
There are lots of ways you can help your ageing black Lab to stay comfortable too. You can find out all about giving him the best support you can in this article on Caring For Your Older Labrador.
The black Labrador is one of the most common dogs in the UK and the USA, but this does not mean he is in any way boring or dull. On the contrary, his joyful enthusiasm for life and kindly, intelligent personality are what has made him one of the most popular dogs on earth.
We love our black Labs and we hope that you do too.
Do you have a black Labrador? Why not tell us all about him in the comments section below!
More information on puppies
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.