The Silver Lab is lively, fun and friendly. A great family pet, ideal for active homes. What makes them extra special is the dilute gene, which turns their chocolate fur into a pale silvery gray.
But that attractive silver coat is also surprisingly controversial!
Best selling author Pippa Mattinson investigates the debate over silver Labradors and digs down to the facts!
Meet the Silver Lab
In this guide we’ll take a look at where silver Labs come from and how to buy a healthy silver Labrador Retriever puppy.
As well as finding out why people can’t stop fighting over them!
This is a BIG guide, so use the links to jump to the sections that interest you!
- Silver Lab FAQ
- The breed at a glance
- Silver Lab characteristics
- Coat color and the dilute gene
- History & origins
- Temperament and training
- Health and longevity
- Silver Lab pros and cons
- How to buy a silver Lab puppy
Silver Lab FAQ
- How much is a silver Lab?
- Are silver Labs good family dogs?
- How big do silver Labs get?
- Are silver Labs rare?
Some long established breeders of Labrador Retrievers consider these silver dogs to be a disaster for the breed.
Yet many Labrador owners across the world have fallen in love with them.
How much is a silver Lab?
Expect to pay upwards of $1000 for a silver Labrador puppy.
The price of your pretty gray puppy may be greater than the price of a Lab of one of the three recognized colors.
People are often willing to pay more for something they believe to be unusual. We’ll look at just how rare silver Labradors are in a moment.
Are Silver Labradors Overpriced?
You may have heard that silver Labs are overpriced.
Objections to so-called overpricing are common in dog breeding and not confined to the silver Lab.
Many purebred dog breeders feel it is outrageous to charge large sums of money for dogs that are crossbred.
And view the silver Labrador Retriever as a cross breed too.
Others feel it is entirely reasonable to charge whatever you can get for a puppy.
No matter what its ancestry, provided that it is healthy and well cared for.
Their view is that it is the quality of the puppy that counts, not the price on his head.
And like most prices in a free world, demand is what drives prices up.
Are silver Labs good family dogs?
Silver Labradors make great family dogs. They are ideally suited to active, outdoor loving families with children over five.
Labradors can be very bouncy when young so a silver Lab puppy isn’t always a great match for toddlers or those unsteady on their feet.
But an older, calmer, rescue Lab can make a perfect companion for younger children.
A silver Lab is likely to be happier in a family where there are people at home for part or most of the day.
How big do silver Labs get?
The recommended breed standard height for a Labrador is up to 24 and a half inches for a male. And an inch shorter for a female.
When it comes to body weight, the variations can be even greater and will depend on which of two groups (American or English) a silver Lab falls into.
Male Labs often reach about 70lbs in weight. Females about 10lb lighter.
But there can be as much as 20lbs difference either side of that average.
Are silver Labs rare?
As a relatively new color variation silver Labs are rare in some countries.
Partly because registration of silver puppies is not widely permitted.
Some national kennel clubs and breed clubs have clarified their views on silver Labradors.
You can find some of these statements in the links below:
However, the silver Lab is no longer particularly rare in the USA where it is registered under the color Chocolate.
The breed at a glance
- Popularity: The Labrador is the most popular breed in the USA
- Purpose: Hunting companion and retriever
- Weight: 65-80lbs
- Temperament:Co-operative, friendly, enthusiastic
Silver Lab characteristics
As ‘dilute’ versions of a standard Lab, many silver Labs look just like any other Labrador, but for their distinctive coat color.
“Dilute” is a commonly used term for variations in animal fur color.
Another feature of a dilute dog is the color of the nose and eyes.
The dilute gene is normal in many dog breeds but has only appeared quite recently in Labrador retrievers
We’ll discuss the science behind it, and the arguments that surround it, especially when it comes to the silver Lab, a little further on.
Although they appear to be all Lab to most, there are claims that the ears of some silver Labs can look longer than those of a regular Lab.
Others describe them as a bit ‘houndy’ in appearance.
And many have compared the silver Lab with the Weimaraner.
A naturally silver breed that has always carried the dilute gene.
Labrador coat color and the dilute gene
There are three different colors of Labrador recognized by the American Kennel Club.
Those colors are:
Missing from the list, you’ll notice, are:
Just as the silver coat is a diluted version of chocolate, so the charcoal is a diluted version of black, and champagne is a diluted version of yellow.
How the dilute gene works
Labrador coat color is controlled by a set of genes.
You can read about the way B genes and E genes influence coat color in this article on Labrador color inheritance.
However, the silver color is controlled by a different gene, the D gene. The D gene acts as a type of switch.
One type, “big D,” switches coat color to full strength, and the other type, or “little d” switches it to dilute.
In simple terms, genes come in pairs. Big D produces full strength coat color. Little d produces a dilute color.
A Chocolate Labrador can have three possible combinations of the D gene
- DD – chocolate Lab
- or, Dd – chocolate Lab
- alternatively, dd – silver Lab
And big D always overrides little d. This means that a Labrador needs two copies of the dilute gene in order to have dilute fur.
Only the third combination would produce a silver coat.
Unless little d is paired with another little d, it will have no effect.
In some breeds of dog, all individuals have two little d genes. Weimaraners, for example.
And the recent appearance of the double little d gene in chocolate Labradors is what has enabled the silver Lab to appear on the scene.
The big question is – “how did it get there?”
Where do silver Labs come from?
Reports of silver Labradors seem to have first appeared in the United States in the 1950s.
Culo Silver Labs was one of the early kennels to produce this new silver color.
You may be interested to read this report of an interview with the owner Dean Crist giving his account of the history of the silver Lab.
Exactly how this new color came to be is a question that many people are asking, and arguing about.
When such a dramatically different shade of coat appears in a long-established breed of dog, it’s only natural that people start asking questions about it.
In particular, they want to know how the double dd gene got into the purebred Labrador.
How did the dilute gene get into Labradors?
There are a number of options that can explain the appearance of a new gene in a purebred dog
- mixed breeding
- spontaneous mutation
- hidden genes
The first and most obvious explanation is that at some point, an outcross occurred, between a Labrador and a breed of dog that carries the dilute gene. A Weimaraner for example
#1 Mixed breeding
Many people believe that the first silver Labs were crossbreeds.
Not only is this theory plausible, there are clear motives for dog breeders to create a new color variation in an existing breed.
Motives could include financial gain (though they couldn’t have known initially how popular the color would be), attention, or just the sheer fun of creating something new.
Diane Welle of Blue Knight Labs does not go quite so far as to directly accuse the breeders concerned
“There have been accusations that these “rare” silver Labradors are actually a cross between a Labrador and a Weimaraner.
I will let you be the judge, as there is no evidence at this time, one way or the other.
However, it is interesting to note that Silver Labradors can be traced back to two breeders.
Those breeders are Dean Crist (Culo) and Beaver Creek Labradors.
Both of their lines trace back to Kellogg kennels (LE Kellogg and Harold E Kellogg) Kellogg Kennels began breeding Labradors in 1922.
Guess what else they’re famous for breeding? They’re credited for the ‘rare’ pointing Labrador of course!”
Her point is that ‘pointing’ is, of course, an HPR (hunt point retriever) trait, and Weimaraners are HPRs.
An update to her original article, however, also notes that she previously claimed that Weimaraners were also bred in those same kennels, but found out that that fact was in doubt.
Those in favor of the Weimaraner outcross theory often claim silvers have a houndy look about them.
To be fair, this is true of many field-bred Labradors of any color.
And most silver Labs today look pretty much the same as any other Labrador – apart from the fact that they are silver.
The cross-breeding theory has been a very popular one. But recently it has lost some credibility due to genetic testing of silver Labs which has failed to show a link to Weimaraners.
#2 Spontaneous mutation
It is not uncommon for genes to mutate.
This is another way that a rare or unusual characteristic can appear in a family of dogs that were previously unaffected by it.
This isn’t a popular theory for the appearance of the dilute gene in the silver Labrador.
Partly because the other two explanations are both so plausible.
For a mutation to be identical to a gene that already exists for an unusual coat color in another breed would be something of a coincidence.
Many people feel that the spontaneous appearance of this dd dilution gene in the Labrador Retriever gene pool is, to say the least, unlikely.
However, it cannot be entirely ruled out.
# Hidden genes
The capacity of “rare” genes to remain hidden for long periods of time is a phenomenon that most scientists are aware of.
This explanation for the appearance of the silver Lab in the 1950s is perhaps the most valid alternative to the cross breeding theory.
We know that some genes are dominant over others. And can mask or hide them. We call the masked or hidden genes recessive.
Many diseases are caused by recessive genes and only appear when the unfortunate individual inherits two copies
Genes carrying rare diseases can remain hidden for decades, only to appear when closely related dogs are mated together.
This happens more frequently when gene pools are small, as they are in our pedigree dog populations.
Colors can be dominant or recessive too
The B color gene that determines whether or not a Lab is basically black or brown, and favors black dogs.
Brown is recessive and a Lab needs two copies of the little b brown gene to have a brown coat.
Brown labradors only became common when breeders deliberately set about mating them to one another.
Some people argue that the rare dilute gene has also been present in Labradors all along, and that it only appeared, as rare diseases sometimes do, when two closely related dogs were bred.
The first Labradors were not registered by the AKC until 1917. Before then there would have been regular outcrossing with other similar breeds.
Including the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, a breed that does have the dilute gene.
So it is entirely plausible that the little d gene passed from Chesapeakes into one or two Labs before the Labrador pedigree registers were closed and remained hidden in the breed only to reappear in the 1950s when the demand for Chocolates was beginning to rise.
Silver Lab temperament and training
Whatever the origins of the silver Lab, the silver Labs we see today are very much Labrador in both temperament and conformation.
Training a silver Lab puppy is a huge amount of fun.
It takes a little time and patience as Labs can be rather bitey when small and rather bouncy as they grow into teenagers.
You’ll need to set aside some time for training each day, and you’ll find the following sections of this website helpful in raising your silver puppy
- A complete guide to Labrador Puppies
- Labrador Retriever training guides
- Help and support from our forum
Silver Labrador health and longevity
Silver Labs suffer from the same health issues as other purebred Labs. Including a predisposition to joint problems and to over-eating!
Two studies record Labrador lifespan at between 11 and 12 years of age and Labs also have a higher rate of cancer (at 31% of all deaths) than some other breed
On balance though, Labs are a fairly healthy and well constructed breed, free from some of the disabilities that plague some other purebred dogs.
There is a potential health issue associated with the coat color dilution gene which you need to be aware of.
Color dilution alopecia
The color dilution gene, that dd which gives us the pale silvery coat, is sometimes associated with coat problems.
Specifically, it may be linked to a kind of hair loss.
The problem is known as “color dilution alopecia” and is more common in dogs that have the color dilution gene, dogs like Weimaraners, and now, silver Labradors.
It isn’t usually a life threatening condition, but it also isn’t curable. It can lead to progressive hair loss in young dogs and potentially recurrent infection in the hair follicles.
Coat dilutiondoes not always lead to skin problems.
Not all dogs with the dd gene carry the faulty alopecia version and most silver Labradors are, in fact, free from alopecia.
The silver Labrador debate
Silver Labradors are one of the most controversial topics being discussed within the dog community today.
Each time we discuss this topic on the Labrador Site’s Facebook page there is some anger expressed by those that are opposed to the very existence of silver Labradors.
They object because they hold one or more of the following beliefs. They believe that silver Labs:
- threaten breed purity
- are not recognized by the AKC
- to be inbred
- are overpriced
- to be bred by the wrong people
Are Silver Labs Pure Bred?
There is no definitive proof that silver labs were created by cross breeding but even if they were, that is not necessarily a problem from a health or welfare point of view.
However, most Labrador breeders care very deeply about the future of their breed.
Some are concerned about the impact of accepting a genetic change without what they feel to be proper consideration.
They are angry at what they see as a dishonest Trojan horse operation to sneak what may be an outcross into the breed line.
Pedigree breeders are also commonly committed to the concept of closed registry breeding.
With so many concerns being raised over the last few years about closed registry breeding, this is a contentious subject with strong opinions on both sides.
Restricted gene pools
Many scientists are hugely concerned about the restricted gene pools created by pedigrees.
And would like to see pedigree registers opened, at least in a controlled manner, to allow new genetic material to enter.
Sadly, for those in favor of maintaining breed purity in pedigree breeds, and who believe that silver Labs are cross-breeds, these dogs will always be seen as a threat to breed purity.
Do the AKC Recognize Silver Labs?
With regard to the AKC, many silver Labs have been registered as pedigree purebred Labrador Retrievers.
Silver is not recognized as a color and not permitted in the show ring.
However, a silver Lab can be registered (as chocolate Labs) and entered into field trials and hunt tests provided that both its parents are registered with the AKC
Are Silver Labs Inbred?
The problems associated with inbreeding are a major concern for all those who care about canine welfare.
Inbreeding increases the risk of health problems arising or becoming exacerbated.
When a rare or unusual color becomes popular and demand rises there is always a risk that inbred puppies will be produced.
Former Labrador breeder Jack Vanderwyk, a vehement opposer of silver Labradors, conceded in 2012 that:
Today, in 2012, many, many generations later, the ‘silver’ Labrador population has a fairly viable gene pool, with seven distinct, (almost) unrelated lines. As a result, the average COIs (Coefficient Of Inbreeding) are often not higher than those of other Labrador lines. This means that we shouldn’t underestimate the ‘silver’ population.
So it may be that inbreeding in silver Labradors will not be the problem that it once appeared to be.
It is worth remembering that any risk of inbreeding can be reduced by ensuring a low co-efficient of breeding between the parents of each litter. A knowledgeable breeder will be able to help you with this.
There have been concerns that many silver Labrador puppies are irresponsibly bred by backyard breeders or in puppy mills
Silver Labrador puppy: buying tips
If you decide to bring a silver Lab puppy into your life, it is very important to find a responsible Labrador breeder.
You’ll need a breeder who health tests all their dogs before breeding, and whose dogs are a part of their lives, not just breeding machines.
Happily, breeding silver Labrador puppies is not mutually incompatible with being a responsible breeder.
But you will need to be diligent in order to avoid puppy mills and bad breeding practices.
Silver Labrador puppies should only be purchased from breeders that have tested the puppy’s parents for hip and elbow dysplasia, PRA (inherited blindness) and CNM (a muscle wasting disease.
Remember that a silver Labrador, if registered with a kennel club, will be registered as chocolate.
Check the pedigree and health certificates very carefully.
Pros and cons of silver Labs
One of the downsides to bringing a silver Lab into your life is that you may experience unpleasant reactions from those that think silver Labs are ‘ruining the breed’.
Or who believe that they should be banned.
- Some people may be rude about your dog
- You won’t be able to compete your dog in the show ring
- You may have to pay a higher price than you would for a regular color Lab
- It might be harder to find a responsible breeder in your area
- There may be a risk that your dog will get alopecia
- Your silver Lab is likely to have the health and fitness of any other Lab
- This Lab will be as lovable and trainable as any other Lab
- Your Lab will probably be a great family pet
- You will have the pleasure of owning an unusual dog
There are also questions regarding the registration of silver Labs born in the future. You should be aware that there are people campaigning to have silver Labs de-registered.
Should they succeed it could affect those who want to breed from their dog, or who want to compete with their dog in obedience or field trial competitions that are only open to registered pedigree dogs.
Silver Labs – summary
People have been arguing about these unusual gray Labradors for a decade or more.
In some ways we seem no closer to reaching any conclusions.
On the other hand, acceptance of silver Labs does seem to be steadily growing.
We love all Labradors, no matter how lowly their pedigree, or what controversial their coat color is.
If you have a silver Lab, we’d love to hear about your dog, and about your experiences in finding him or her.
We’d also be really interested to know if you have experienced any prejudice against your dog because of his unusual coat color.
Whether you love silver Labs or oppose them, your politely expressed views are very welcome! Just drop them into the comments box below.
Let us know what you think and why!
References And Further Reading
- “Purebred Vs. Mutt,” The Labrador Site, 2019
- “Dilute Coat Color D-Locus and New D2-Locus,” Animal Genetics, 2019
- “Dilution D Series,” Dog Genetics
- Welle, M, et al., “MLPH Genotype – Melanin Phenotype Correlation in Dilute Dogs,” Oxford Academic Journal of Heredity, 2009
- “Q And A With Dean Crist,” Silver Labs – Just The Facts
- Welle, D, “No Such Thing – Silver Labradors,” Blue Knight Labrador Retrievers, 1990
- “Breed Color Position Statement,” National Labrador Retriever Breed Council of Australia, 2010
- “Silver Labs,” The Labrador Club of New Zealand
- “What’s In The Gene Pool?” Institute of Canine Biology, 2017
- “How Population Size Affects Inbreeding,” Institute of Canine Biology, 2017
- Wagner, S, “The Truth Behind ‘Silver’ Labradors,” Woodhaven Labrador Retrievers
- Hered, J, “A noncoding melanophilin gene (MLPH) SNP at the splice donor of exon 1 represents a candidate causal mutation for coat color dilution in dogs,” 2007
- “Color Dilution Alopecia,” Animal Dermatology Clinic, 2010
- Philipp, U, et al., “Chromosomal assignment of the canine melanophilin gene (MLPH): a candidate gene for coat color dilution in Pinschers,” 2005
- Philipp, U, et al., “Polymorphisms within the canine MLPH gene are associated with dilute coat color in dogs,” 2005
- “Silver Labs – Improvement Movement,” Silver Labs Blog
- Zeirath et al Frequency of five disease-causing genetic mutations in a large mixed-breed dog population. Plos one (2011–2012)
This article was extensively revised and updated for 2019.
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