Charcoal Lab: The Dilute Black Labrador Retriever

charcoal lab

This is your complete guide to the charcoal Labrador. In this article, you’ll find out why the new charcoal coat color is causing controversy, and how it differs from silver, or the traditional yellow, black, or chocolate brown coats.

We’ll look at the specific gene that causes the unique charcoal color. And whether it affects charcoal Labrador personality, health, or grooming needs. And we’ll finish up with some important advice on how to choose a healthy charcoal Lab puppy.

Where Does the Charcoal Labrador Come From?

The charcoal Labrador is still considered to be a purebred Labrador retriever dog in spite of the controversy over the dilute gene that causes the charcoal, or silver, coat color.

These dogs—the most popular pet dogs in the history of pet dogs—hail from Newfoundland in what is now Canada. The Labrador retriever is descended from a long line of working dogs called “water dogs.” However, the Lab is best known as a working dog in the “gun dogs” category. These are hunting dogs extraordinaire. The Lab’s job in a human/dog hunting team is to carefully retrieve prey from wherever it falls, even if it is in the middle of a lake.

Charcoal Lab Genes and the “Little D” or “Dilute” Gene

Labrador coat color genetics is fascinating, and just single gene: the “little d” or “dilute” gene, is responsible for the charcoal Lab’s unique coat color. This gene is a recessive gene, which means that both parent dogs must contribute a copy in order for a puppy to pop out with the charcoal coat color.

Experienced breeders of show (yellow, black, chocolate) Labs that are well-versed in dog breed genetics can control against the dilute gene in future litters of puppies. They do this by maintaining careful breed records and carefully matching parent dogs to avoid the contribution of two dilute “little d” genes.

Newer breeders that are learning the purebred breeding craft may inadvertently produce charcoal Lab puppies until they develop a more complete genetic map for their breeding stock. And some breeders deliberately create charcoal Lab puppies using that same genetic map.

Working Versus Show Labrador Retriever Charcoal Dogs

If you have ever attended a dog show you likely noticed that the Labrador retriever is also a frequent contestant in the show ring. However, only three coat colors of Labrador are currently eligible to be shown—yellow, black and chocolate (brown). The champagne (yellow dilute) silver (chocolate dilute) or Labrador retriever charcoal coat (black dilute) colors are currently not eligible to enter dog shows.

Among Labrador retrievers with show-eligible coat colors (currently, these are yellow, black and chocolate Labs), there are two recognized breed lines: the working line and the show line. There are some notable differences between the working vs show Labs, including appearance, rate of maturity, personality, temperament and trainability.

Since the charcoal coat color is a recessive (dilute) gene that may have been present all along in the Labrador retriever gene pool, it is entirely possible that a charcoal Lab could come from either a show dog or a working dog breed line. For this reason, it is worth asking your breeder about the breed line itself because this can give you valuable clues about what to expect as your charcoal Lab puppy grows up.

If you do want to participate in dog shows with your Lab, be aware that charcoal Labs are typically AKC-registered as “black Labs,” so they are typically sold with a purebred dog pedigree just like black Labs. However, as of the time of this writing, a charcoal Lab is still not eligible to be shown.

What Does a Charcoal Labrador Retriever Look Like?

If you have ever seen a Weimaraner dog, with their distinctive silvery-charcoal coats, you can already visualize what many charcoal Labrador dogs look like. And in fact, both Weimaraner dogs and charcoal Labs carry the same dilute gene, which is responsible for their shared unusual coat color. Also, as with all other dog breeds, the charcoal coat color can appear in a range of colors from lighter to darker.

In other ways, the charcoal Lab will typically resemble his or her black, chocolate and yellow Lab peers. However, in some cases, the charcoal Lab has been said to more closely resemble a classic “hound” breed, with its longer ears and rangy body, than do Labs with traditional coat colors. Often, this is a matter of personal opinion, since some people say they can see a difference while other people say the charcoal Lab looks like all other Labs.

charcoal lab

How Much Should My Charcoal Lab Weigh?

Charcoal Lab dogs, like all Labradors, generally have never met a meal they didn’t like. As research shows, Labradors are not just the most popular pet dog, but also the dog most likely to become obese. Like the unusual charcoal Lab coat color, the Labrador dog breed’s tendency to overeat also has genetic origins.

The responsible gene is now called pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC), and Labs can have one or more than one copy of it. The more copies a Lab carries, the fatter that dog is likely to be. What is especially interesting about the POMC gene in Labradors is that it is more like the POMC gene found in humans, which means that your cravings and your Lab’s cravings probably feel quite similar and may stem from similar nutritional imbalances.

This makes selecting the right Labrador puppy food and Labrador adult dog food vital to your Lab’s health. In other words, when you feed a whole and complete, nutritionally balanced dog food at every stage of your Lab’s life, your dog is less likely to experience cravings.

How Tall and Big Will My Charcoal Grey Lab Grow?

Labrador retrievers often show gender-based differences in height and weight at adulthood. The female Lab will generally weigh between 55 and 70 pounds and stand 21.5 to 23.5 inches tall (paw to shoulder). The male Lab will typically weigh between 65 and 80 pounds and stand 22.5 to 24.5 inches tall (paw to shoulder).

Charcoal Lab Temperament and Personality

The charcoal Lab is a friendly, loving, affectionate, loyal and enthusiastic “people” dog. Labs rarely meet a stranger, with their easygoing personalities and gentle natures. Labs are also really smart dogs and they are fast learners, which makes training beginning in puppyhood a must to help your dog learn to become a productive member of a multi-species family and community.

Is the Charcoal Lab Good with Children?

The charcoal Lab, like all Labrador retriever dogs, is a very good family pet dog. The one exception may be that if your children are still very young and small, an overly exuberant Lab puppy’s rough play may mean you need to be present to supervise every interaction with your children until your dog is fully trained and trustworthy to be gentle.

Grooming a Charcoal Lab Dog

The charcoal Lab, like all Labradors, has a thick, double layer, water-resistant coat. The top layer is waterproof and coarse while the bottom layer is softer and highly insulating. What this will mean for you is a dog that sheds a lot. Your Lab will shed particularly heavily with the changing of the seasons—an event that Lab owners call “blowing coat.” But your Lab will also shed year-round to replenish the coat so it can do its job well.

You will want to invest in a slicker brush as well as a pin and bristle brush for frequent de-shedding and brushing sessions. This will help keep coat shedding cleanup duties manageable.

Training a Charcoal Lab Dog

The biggest determinant of how easy your charcoal Lab is to train is which line (working or show) your dog has been bred from. Dog breeding and training experts assert that the working dog breed line generally produces Labs that mature more rapidly and are easier to train overall.

How Much Exercise Does a Charcoal Lab Need?

Here again, the breed line that your charcoal Lab hails from can have a great influence over how much exercise your Lab needs and craves. The working line of Labs tends to stay more active and vigorous throughout life, while the show line can become more sedentary in adulthood and later in life. This means that when you choose a working (sometimes called “American”) charcoal Lab, you are signing up for life with an active pup who will want to run, jump and play daily throughout life.

When you choose a show (sometimes called “English”) charcoal Lab, once your Lab progresses out of puppyhood, you can expect less of a need to provide daily intense play and activity for your dog.

What Is the Charcoal Silver Lab Life Span?

On average, the Labrador retriever dog can live 10 to 12 years.

Your Lab’s health will depend on several factors. The first and most important is to ensure you work with a reputable and responsible breeder to choose your charcoal silver Lab puppy—a breeder who prizes breeding healthy puppies above all else. Your charcoal Lab’s daily diet, exercise, enrichment and access to preventative veterinary care can also make a huge impact on how healthy your dog is and how long your Lab lives.

Charcoal Labrador Health Problems

The dilute “little d” gene that creates the unique charcoal coat color in charcoal Labs is also linked to a health condition called follicular dysplasia. This condition is not curable but it is manageable. In addition to follicular dysplasia, charcoal Labs can be susceptible to all other known health issues associated with the purebred Labrador retriever breed lines.

Charcoal Labrador Health Testing

The Canine Health Information Center (CHIC) recommends that breeders test all parent dogs for hip and elbow dysplasia, eye issues, exercise-induced collapse and D Locus (dilute) DNA. (The latter is to test for the coat color gene.) Optional but recommended additional health tests include centronuclear myopathy, cardiac issues and progressive retinal atrophy.

Picking Out Charcoal Labrador Puppies

You can count on finding that charcoal Lab puppies are just as cute and irresistible as all Labrador puppies. So you definitely don’t want to start out your search by going to visit a litter of charcoal Lab puppies.

Instead, start by carefully researching charcoal Lab breeders to find a health-focused breeder who ensures all parent dogs are prescreened and health tested according to current CHIC guidelines. This will rule out known genetic (heritable) health issues and help you select the healthiest charcoal Lab puppy.

Is the Charcoal Lab a Good Family Dog?

The charcoal Lab, like all Labrador retrievers, is generally considered to be an ideal family dog. There are two main issues to consider before making up your mind that a charcoal Lab is the best, future dog for your family.

The first issue is the Lab’s origins as a hunting and gundog. This means your Lab will have a strong innate prey drive and may be tempted to “hunt” other vulnerable family pets.

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The second issue is that a Lab may be the soul of friendliness, but this dog can still be quite strong and powerful, especially during puppyhood. This can make for rough play that may be a bit overwhelming for very young children.

As long as neither of these issues is a concern for your family situation, you truly can’t go wrong by choosing the Labrador retriever for your family’s pet dog.

Charcoal Lab: Is This the Right Dog Breed for You?

There is no right or wrong answer about whether a charcoal Lab is the right pet for you in years to come. There is only the answer that best fits your lifestyle, interests and time availability to parent an active, young dog. For the right person or family, a charcoal Lab can make a wonderful family pet.

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Resources and Further Reading:

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website


  1. Our 3 month old black pup has got a definite brown under tone. Next to her mum and black brother she was almost bitter chocolate from birth. In some photos she looks like a choc lab. Just wondering if she is a black dilute?

  2. Inbreeding in dogs has always happened at some point in the breeding process to keep the gene pool strong and pure. For example to fix traits in the breed. They did this back when they were making the “Labrador retriever” standard dogs. Please research more before listening to things that people put out to turn you away from something because they just want you to hate it. There is nothing wrong with your dog.

  3. I own a beautiful charcoal lab. I had never seen one before and was in love when we got him. After researching them, I came to understand that the reason they are not allowed in “show” is because breeding for recessive genes is ethically and biologically wrong. Breeders need to continually inbreed, like white tigers, to produce the dilutions. Eventually, it increases defects and weakens the animals. Our breeder, once they learned that the pairing of my dog’s parents produced dilutions, stopped using that pairing. I know these dogs are beautiful, but to breed them purposefully is not right.