Fox Red Labradors are one of my great passions. Today we are going to delve into the history of the fox red Lab and look at the role of this beautiful red Retriever.
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I’m going to share some photos of my red lab puppies as they grow from birth to maturity.
You can use the green menu to jump straight to those if you want to!
The photo at the top of the page is their mother ‘Bella’ as a four month old puppy, playing in some wild daisies.
We’ll also have a go at tackling the genetics behind this stunning Labrador color.
Fox red is a little more complicated to understand, than the other colors, but I’ll try to clear up some of the confusion. It’ll be fun!
Is it Fox Red, Foxred or Redfox?
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.
Fox Red Lab Genetics
You may be tempted to skip this – but give it a go – it might be easier than you think!
We’ll have to have a quick recap of how the main coat colors are inherited first.
If you want the full story you can check out this article – Coat Color Inheritance in Labradors
Here’s the short version!
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 your black dog could have a pair that look like this: 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 of all need the genes that switch off both the black or brown coat color. And those are called 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 action of both little and big B genes.
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 default black dog (or brown if it’s a double bb).
Only when the two little ee genes get together can they switch off the black and brown B or b genes and give you a basically yellow dog.
But how does a basically yellow Lab get a gorgeous red coat?
A red Lab is a variation of yellow, and every red dog has those 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.
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.
Because the double little e that is required to switch off that B gene is recessive, most Labs are not yellow. And because the dominant black B genes over-ride the recessive little b genes that give us chocolate most Labs are not brown.
The human element arises because both these alternatives to black were considered undesirable in the early part of our Labs history.
So that yellow or brown puppies were sometimes (maybe often) culled at birth. Adding to the predominance of the favored black coat
Other than that, all three colors of Labador Retriever, black, chocolate and yellow, share the same origins or history.
You can delve more deeply into the fascinating history of the Labrador Retriever in my guide following that link.
The rise in popularity of a particular color of dog has influenced the proportions of Labs that you see in each color, at any given point in time.
The passion for darker and redder coats in our retrievers tends to wax and wane like any other fashion. And when the demand for a darker (or paler) coat increases, then breeders will begin to respond by producing puppies of that color.
When I was a child in the 1960s darker colored yellow labs were very popular. There was at least one Labrador called ‘Rusty’ in every village.
And many people referred to Labs as ‘golden labradors’ a term that is still frequently heard even though it is not strictly correct.
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 companion in a duck blind or pigeon hide, or on the foreshore.
It is largely from 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 American Lab type rather than English Lab type, they are often taller and more athletic in appearance than the paler yellow Labs
Breeding Darker Fox Red Labs
If anything, many of the fox red Labs we see today are darker than I ever remember seeing in a yellow Lab.
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, and as a responsible breeder you cannot simply choose parents on the basis of the shade of their coat.
Especially when there are not large numbers of fox reds to choose from.
Health credentials and performance credentials have to be given priority
A few years ago, I mated my female fox red Lab to a lovely fox red working stud dog, and had the pleasure and privilege of raising a litter of fox red puppies.
My Red Lab Puppies
My female fox red Labrador Bella gave birth to a litter of beautiful red retriever puppies in September 2007.
You can see that the puppies vary in how dark they are
The puppies grew very rapidly – here is one a couple of weeks later, his eyes have just opened, but he can’t see very much yet.
Here’s one at three weeks old. Starting to look a bit more aware of the world around him.
Fox Red Labrador Tess
My aim was to keep one puppy to raise and train as a working gun dog.
This puppy was named Tess and she still lives and works here in Hampshire in the UK.
These are images of her in training during the summer
And working in the winter
Like most fox red Labs in the UK, she is an American type with typical narrow frame and a longer face with less of a stop than the English type or show bred Labs.
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.
We have a handy article to help you with this important decision. It’s called 6 things to consider before buying a Labrador.
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’ll find help in this article: Labrador breeders – how to find a good one
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.
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.
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
That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but for the reasons given above, research your breeder carefully
You may have more luck looking for an American Lab type, from working lines.
Not sure which type of Lab is right for you? Check out my guide to the English Labrador Retriever. It explains the differences between the two strains of Lab.
Your Fox Red Lab Retriever
As you can see, fox red Labs are very special to me. While fox red is strictly speaking simply a variation of shading in the yellow lab, it’s a variation that is very appealing to many of those who love the Labrador breed.
Despite the reluctance of some breeders to acknowledge that it’s okay to like one color more than another, I don’t see anything wrong in having a color preference when choosing a dog.
But please, whatever you do, make sure your future puppy comes from health tested parents.
All colors or shades of Labrador can get sick from inherited conditions that are entirely preventable with these tests.
Once you have the health clearances for a litter, then by all means pick a puppy of the color you love best.
Don’t forget to share your fox red dog photos on our facebook page or on the forum – we love to see pictures of your beautiful Labs
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