The Fox Red Lab is a dark shade of the traditional yellow Labrador Retriever. We love this red Retriever because it looks so different to the pale yellow coated dog you commonly see. But actually they are the same breed, and technically still classified as a Yellow Labrador.
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.
The two alternatives to black, chocolate and yellow, were both harder to breed for and less desirable for generations. Yellow or brown puppies were sometimes (maybe often) culled at birth!
Yet all three colors of Labrador Retriever, black, chocolate and yellow (including the red shade), share the same origins or history. Bred to be hunting companions, with bags of intelligence and a friendly disposition.
In recent years, these rarer colors are becoming more popular. Which leads to more people selectively breeding for them. And therefore more dogs being born with these coats.
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 hunting companion.
It is largely 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 the American Lab type rather than English Lab type, they are often taller and more athletic in appearance than the paler yellow Labs.
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
Breeding Darker Fox Red Labs
Many of the fox red Labs we see today are darker than ever. 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. There is a lot of pressure on breeders to produce certain colors. But a responsible breeder should not choose parents purely on the basis of color. Especially when there are not large numbers of fox reds to choose from.
Fox Red Lab Genetics
You may be tempted to skip this – but give it a go – it might be easier than you think! 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 a black dog could have a pair that look like this instead: 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
Red starts with yellow!
To get a fox red lab, you first need to switch off the black and brown coat color genes. This is done by two 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 genes that cause black and brown coats. 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 black or brown dog Only when the two little ee genes get together can they switch off the black and brown genes and give you a yellow dog.
How does a yellow Lab get a red coat?
A red Lab is a variation of yellow, and every red dog has those two 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. 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 override them. And you are back to black or brown.
Still confused? Do feel free to ask us any questions in the comments section at the end of the article!
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. 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 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. Make sure that both parents have good hips, elbows and a clear eye test, as well as a PRA clear certificate. Then your pup will have the best chance of growing up healthy.
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.
Fox Red Labrador Puppies
Fox red Lab puppies are born looking slightly darker than the average yellow Lab.
This shade gets increasingly darker over the first few weeks.
By three weeks old they are starting to look much more like the Labrador you know and love.
By the time you take them home at 8 weeks old they will have that lovely fox red shade.
Not all the puppies in a litter will be the same shade, even if both of their parents are fox red themselves. Just like any other Labrador, it will be important to dedicate their first few weeks in your home to getting them settled. Starting to work on important things like potty training and setting food habits.
Training and Exercising
Fox red Labradors are clever dogs, often with, as we’ve seen, a strong working background. They really benefit from positive reinforcement training. Using rewards to help encourage them to behave in a way that will help them to fit nicely into your family.
Exercise is important, but they won’t need too much too soon. Start off with no more than a few minutes of formal exercise a day when they are small puppies. And work up to any big walks or runs very gradually over time so as not to accidentally hurt them.
Is it Fox Red or Red Fox Lab?
Did you turn up here hoping to learn about red fox Labs, only to find us referring to them as fox red instead? Don’t worry, you aren’t really wrong! 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 red fox Labrador if it makes you happy. Ultimately they are all just gorgeous Labradors, with a darker shade to their yellow coat.
More information about Labrador types and colors!
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