Best selling author Pippa Mattinson investigates the controversy over Silver Labs and digs down to the facts!
Find out the truth about your silver Lab, where silver Labs come from, how to buy a healthy silver Labrador Retriever puppy, and why people can’t stop fighting over them!
- What are the recognized Labrador colors?
- What is a silver Lab
- What do silver Labs look like?
- When did silver Labradors appear?
- What causes the silver coat?
- Where did silver Labs come from?
- Are silver Labs Weimaraner cross-breeds?
- Can pedigree Labradors ever be silver?
- What do the Kennel Clubs say?
- Reasons for opposing silver Labs
- Labrador breed purity
- Are silver Labradors inbred?
- Are silver Lab breeders dishonest?
- Are silver Labradors overpriced?
- Are silver Labradors healthy?
- Is it wise to buy a silver Labrador?
- Where can you buy silver Lab puppies?
- Silver Lab facts versus opinion
Silver Labradors are one of the most controversial topics being discussed within the Labrador community today.
Silver Lab controversy
People have been arguing about these unusual grey labradors for a decade or more, and in some ways we seem no closer to reaching any conclusions.
Many 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 these unusual pets.
The arguments about grey Labradors rage on
The arguments are not likely to go away anytime soon, and you can jump to some of the most interesting aspects of the discussion using the links in the green menu.
We’ll be looking at what is actually known about silver or grey Labs, in other words, at the facts. And we’ll also be looking at the different opinions of those that love them, and those that hate them!
Let’s have a look at the arguments and dig down into the origins of the Silver Labrador Retriever.
We’ll need to start by looking at Labrador coat color as laid down and recognised by international Kennel Clubs in their breed standards
Three recognised Labrador colors
There are three different colors of Labrador recognised by the Kennel Club in the UK and North America.
You’ll notice that ‘silver’, fox red Labs, white Labs and the grey Labrador are all missing from that list! But the story doesn’t end there.
Because although silver is not a recognised color for the show ring, it doesn’t necessarily mean a silver lab isn’t ‘registered’ with the AKC. I’ll explain in a moment. Let’s look more closely at what is a allowed and what is not.
What about white patches?
We do sometimes find white patches on Labradors, but strictly speaking, Labradors are supposed to be solid in color.
Any patch of different color apart from a small spot of white on the chest, is considered a ‘mismark’.
So, to fall within the breed standard , a Labrador has to be one of those three basic solid colors, brown, yellow or black, give or take a tiny spot of white.
Within yellow Labs there is a wide range of ‘acceptable’ shades.
From palest cream to rich dark fox red Labradors.
But until recently there has been no such variety of shades in Black Labs or Chocolate Labradors, apart from a very small variation in how dark or rich a shade the chocolate dogs may have. Gray/silver lab coats were not found within the breed.
That has now changed.
What is a silver Lab?
I say until recently because the silver Labrador, is by many considered to be a Chocolate Labrador ‘with a twist’.
A silver Labrador looks just like any other Labrador, but with a very different coat color.
You will often hear people say “There is no such thing as a silver Labrador”. However, there is no doubt that these dogs exist, in the sense that there are certainly dogs that look like Labrador retrievers, have Labrador Retriever pedigree papers, and that are silver in color.
We can all agree on that.
What does a silver Labrador look like?
Instead of the strong original coat color, the silver Labrador has a paler and quite distinctively different shade of fur.
Some people confuse silver labs with white labs. White Labradors are simply a very pale version of the yellow Lab and are registered as yellow on the Kennel Club’s database
But Weimaraners have been Silver for generations. Whereas Silver Labradors are a relatively new phenomenon.
When did these grey Labradors appear?
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.
The very first Labradors were predominantly black.
You may hear people say that chocolate and yellow Labradors are a more recent addition to the Labrador family.
This is sometimes used as an argument in support of Silver being a natural part of the Labrador genome. After all, if these two colors could remain hidden for so long, why not silver?
Yellow and chocolate Labradors have been recorded since the late 1800s. We are confident that the genes that cause the yellow and brown colors have always existed within the Labrador breed, yet dogs this color were rare for decades.
You can read about how they work in Chocolate Labradors in my in-depth article on Chocolate Labs.
The reason we didn’t see colors other than black growing in popularity in the breed until the 1900s were well under way, is simply that dogs that were not black were considered undesirable and unfashionable.
No-one bred from them, and initially they were probably often culled.
Over time people’s views changed and first yellows, and later chocolates, became popular too.
Reports of silver Labradors seem to have first appeared in the United States in the 1950s. Much later than chocolate and yellow. And how this new color came to be is a question that many people are asking, and arguing about.
Those who cannot believe that this new color has occured naturally believe this time discrepancy is proof that the color was introduced mischievously into the breed.
Not everyone agrees with them. And the capacity of ‘rare’ genes to remain hidden for long periods of time is a phenomenon that most scientists are aware of.
One of the early kennels to produce this new silver color in any numbers was Culo Silver Labs and 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.
What causes the grey Labrador’s silver coat?
To understand the arguments and controversy surrounding these dogs, we need to understand how the silver coat color is created. It’s all about ‘dilution’
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: 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 ‘little d’ switches it to ‘dilute’. But remember genes come in pairs. And big D over-rides little d.
So unless ‘little d’ is paired with another ‘little d’ it will have no effect.
Weimaraners all have two of the ‘little d’ genes. And the appearance of the double little d gene in chocolate Labradors is what has enabled silver Labs to appear on the scene.
The dilute gene in the Labrador Retriever does not only produce silver dogs. The dilution gene produces a different color depending on the base color of the Lab that carries it.
And the gene is not confined to chocolates.
When a yellow Lab has two ‘little d’ genes, his or her coat is diluted to a color that has been described as Champagne
Just like in chocolate Labradors, the yellow Lab can also be a carrier of the dilute gene.
Having only one ‘d’ gene won’t change his coat, but he will be able to pass that gene on to his offspring.
Coat color dilution is not always easy to identify in a champagne Labrador Retriever. This is because we are accustomed to seeing yellow Labs in quite a range of colors from palest cream to a rich fox red.
But once you have seen a champagne Labrador, you’ll appreciate the subtle difference.
Finally, Black Labradors can also have the little ‘d’ coat color dilution gene.
This produces a color that has been called charcoal, it is quite a subtle and slightly silvery effect but slightly easier to identify than champagne.
If there is any doubt, the best way to be certain what the genetic make up of any Labrador is with regard to the coat color dilution gene, is a simple genetic (DNA) test. This will also identify carriers of the dilute gene
The question we need to answer is not so much “how is the silver coat caused”, but more importantly “how did the dilution gene get into the Labrador breed”? Opponents of the silver Labrador claim that it simply was not there a hundred years ago.
But is this true? Is it completely impossible that the silver gene arrived on the scene without any mischief on the part of Labrador breeders?
I believe it is possible. Let’s find out why.
Where did silver Labs come from?
There are two ways that a new gene could appear in a closed register of pedigree dogs.
- Spontaneous genetic mutation
Genes can mutate. We know that.
For a mutation that occurred spontaneously to create a new gray Labrador coat color would be unusual, but not impossible.
Are silver Labradors really Weimaraner cross breeds?
The fact is, the dilution gene found in Labradors now, is the exact same gene that gives us the coat dilution in Weimaraners.
Many people feel that the spontaneous appearance of this dd dilution gene, in the Labrador Retriever gene pool is to say the least unlikely.
Diane Well of Blueknights labs does not go quite so far as to directly accuse the breeders concerned but points out
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 (L.E. 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.
Those in favour 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 while this may have been true in the early days of Silver Labs, most Silver Labs today look pretty much the same as any other Labrador – apart from the fact that they are silver.
Is silver a hidden Labrador gene?
There is a third option of course, and that is that the silver gene was there all along in a few dogs and that only recently has the chance meeting between two recessive genes carried by their descendants occurred.
“But surely” you cry “that is most unlikely!”
Well, actually, it isn’t as unlikely as we might think. The accidental pairing of two unusual genes to create new genetic blueprints in an individual dog is not that rare at all.
And it is becoming more common in pedigree dogs, as they become more inbred.
All pedigree gene pools shrink over time once registers are close because no new genetic material can ever be added and there is a natural and constant loss of genetic material over time
We also need to consider that Labradors were not always purebred pedigree dogs. Mixed breedings were common many years ago, and it is likely that there was mixed breeding between Labs and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers on more than one occasion in the past! (Chesapeake Bay Retrievers carry the dilute gene)
Is a silver lab a purebred dog?
But what does all this mean for the owner of a silver Lab today? Are their dogs purebred or aren’t they?
Some opponents of the Silver Lab will claim that Silver colored Labradors cannot be registered as pedigree dogs, but at the time of writing, this is not true.
In order to be recognised as purebred, a breed or a dog belonging to that breed must be registered with the appropriate kennel Club. In the USA this is the American Kennel Club or AKC
So are silver labs AKC recognized?
Many silver Labradors have been registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC).
They have been registered, not as silver (not a color permitted under the Labrador breed standard) but as Chocolate.
So although these silver dogs are registered and recognised as being true Labradors, the color itself is not recognised in its own right. The dogs are registered under the color that the dog would have been without the dilute gene.
You do still find people disputing this and claiming that silver Labradors cannot be registered with the AKC, even if both parents are registered pedigree Labs.
But this is not true. I have personally seen an email from the AKC stating that silver labrador puppies should be registered as chocolate.
Many Labrador breeders were outraged by the AKC’s acceptance of these dogs as pedigree.
What do Kennel Clubs say about silver Labs?
Five years ago there was a great deal of confusion over this issue, but more recently several Kennel Clubs and breed clubs have clarified their views on Silver Labradors
You can find some of these statements in the links below
There are also campaigns and petitions underway to try and stop the AKC in the USA from registering silver Labrador puppies at all.
If you enjoy your Labradors, silver or otherwise and don’t care much about coat color, you might well wonder what all the fuss is about. Where did all this bad feeling over a difference in color come from?
Reasons for opposing Silver Labradors
Many breeders of Labradors strongly object to the production of silver puppies for a number of reasons
- The feel that it threatens the purity of the breed
- They are concerned about inbreeding
- They object to false claims of ‘rare’ and ‘unique’
- They feel silver breeders are dishonest about the origins of the silver Labrador
- They feel that silver Labs are overpriced
- They are concerned about health issues
There are various websites where you can read about the campaigns opposing silver Labradors – here is one of them. Let’s have a look at a few of those reasons we just listed, in more detail.
Do silver Labradors threaten the purity of the Labrador breed?
Some might say that pedigree Labrador breeders are worried about the competition in terms of sales from those producing silver puppies, but I suspect this is not often the case.
Most Labrador breeders care very deeply about the future of their breed, and some are concerned about the impact of accepting a genetic change without (they feel) proper consideration.
Most pedigree breeders are also committed to the concept of closed registry breeding and are angry that what they believe is most likely to be an outcross, has been sneaked into the breed (in their view) dishonestly.
Preserving closed registers
As most Labrador breeders are in favour of a permanently closed register, or preventing outcrossing between different breeds, they object strongly to what they see as tampering with tradition and the contamination of the Labrador gene pool.
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.
For those in favor of maintaining breed purity in our pedigree breeds, and who believe that silver Labs are cross-breeds, these dogs will always be seen as a threat to breed purity.
Are silver Labradors inbred?
In order to establish their Silver lines, we could assume that breeders will initially have had to breed quite closely. Mating dogs that were related to each other, in order to establish the new color in their puppies.
It would at first glance seem likely therefore that the silver Labrador gene pool is fairly small. One way around this of course would be to accept them more widely so that their genetic diversity could be increased!
Of course inbreeding increases the risk of health problems arising or becoming exacerbated. But are silver Labradors particularly inbred?
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 is not going to the be the problem in Silver Labradors that it once appeared to be.
Breeders also object to what they consider are very high prices charged by breeders of Silvers, and to what they believe are untrue claims that Silver Labs are rare and unique animals. Let’s look at that argument next.
Are silver Labrador breeders dishonest?
Many mainstream Labrador breeders feel that Silver Labrador breeders lack integrity. They believe that these breeders are often dishonest about the origins of their dogs.
Woodhaven labs make this claim on their website
Silver breeders also blatantly lie. They have information on their websites that talk about DNA testing done by the AKC and a researcher at UC Berkley. Both are not true. AKC never did any genetic mapping of silver Labradors nor do they have any plans to do so since they are a registering body only and the Labrador Club of America writes the standard for the breed.
At the moment the claims to rarity are true. Only a small proportion of Labradors born each year are silver. Outside of the US, there are very few Silver Labradors available at all compared with the three standard colors. So not much dishonest there.
Are silver Labradors overpriced?
Objections to so called overpricing are common in dog breeding and not confined to the Silver Lab.
The same accusatons are hurled at Labradoodle breeders and Cockapoo breeders.
Many purebred pedigree dog breeders feel it is outrageous to charge large sums of money for dogs that are crossbred, and as most pedigree Labrador breeders view the silver lab dog as a crossbreed, this too causes anger.
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.
This seems a more logical approach. Surely 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.
But are silver Labradors as healthy as Labradors in the three standard colors?
Silver Labrador health issues
The color dilution gene, that double dd which gives us the pale silvery coat, is sometimes associated with coat problems. Specifically, 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 a life threatening condition, but it isn’t curable, and can lead to progressive hair-loss in young dogs.
However, not all dogs with the dd gene carry the faulty alopecia version and most silver Labradors are in fact free from alopecia.
Should you buy a silver Labrador?
The view that Silver Labradors were originally created by outcrossing one or more Labradors with a Weimaraner does seem to be persistent. And without absolute proof one way or the other the argument may never be resolved.
Whether or not that matters to you will depend very much on your own point of view.
Some people that own pedigree Labradors that are silver in color may feel tricked, or deceived, if they hear these rumors but many won’t care. They love their beautiful dogs and that is all that matters to them.
However, if you are thinking of buying a silver puppy you may be uncertain about going ahead.
It pays to be cautious when buying a puppy
It probably pays to be particularly cautious when buying a silver Lab pup, not because purity of color is important in any breed of dog, but because a breeder that falls ‘outside the fold’ of the wider dog breeding community, may not meet the standards we expect of a responsible breeder.
And it is a responsible breeder that you are looking for. Happily, breeding silver Labradors is not mutually incompatible with being a responsible breeder. But your choice of breeder is likely to be restricted because of the stigma attached to breeding Silver puppies.
There are also question marks regarding the registration of silver labs born in the future should the battle to de-register them succeed.
This may affect those who want to breed from their dog, or who want to compete with their dog in the show ring or in obedience or field trial competitions that are only open to registered pedigree dogs. But again, for most of you, that won’t matter.
An uncertain future for Silver Labradors?
The future of the grey Lab was looking uncertain. But with every year that passes it seems less likely that they will be excluded from the gene pool of pedigree Labradors in America.
Some people feel that the jury is still out on the origins of the Silver Labrador but despite the availability of DNA testing, no-one seems to have come forward with any evidence of Weimaraner blood in a modern purebred lab pedigree.
Where can you buy silver Lab puppies
When you buy a Labrador of any color, your first priority needs to be health. Do check out our information on buying a healthy puppy.
Finding a reputable breeder that produces pedigree Silver Labrador puppies from fully health tested parents, may not be the easiest task, but it can be done.
There is a movement underway to bring more silver Labrador breeders into the ‘responsible breeder’ fold and an increasing proportion of silver breeders are now fully health testing all their breeding stock.
Remember that a Silver Labrador, if registered with a Kennel Club, will be registered as Chocolate. Check the pedigree and health certificates very carefully and if you decide to go ahead, be prepared to come in for some criticism for your decision.
The silver retriever – English silver Lab v American silver Lab
If you are considering a silver puppy bear in mind that you may be more likely to find a silver Lab from American/field lines than from English/show lines.
And if you are looking for a hunting companion, you may well be able to get an American silver Lab puppy from titled parents.
There is no reason why a silver Lab from the right lines should not make a good hunting companion provided you take the time to train him properly
If hunting isn’t your thing, you’ll find an American Silver Lab can make a great agility dog and both American and English Silver Labs will enjoy the amazing sport of dock diving.
This is the fabulous Shenandoah competing in the USA
The price of silver Lab puppies
The price of your pretty grey puppy may be greater than the price of a Lab of one of the three recognised colors.
People are often willing to pay more for something they believe to be unusual.
Bear in mind that despite this high price, you won’t be able to enter your puppy into a conformation show, and you may cause a bit of a stir if you decide to enter your puppy in a hunt test or field trial.
Silver Labradors – facts versus opinion
This topic is often debated over on our Facebook page. As many of the debates on Facebook begin by referring to this article, I think it would be helpful to have this summary, which I posted on our page, up here too.
There are two things being confused each time the topic comes up. One is facts, the other is opinions. So I think it might be helpful to try and separate these two things out.
Opinion 1. Silver Labradors are not actually Labradors at all, they are mongrels
Some people do not agree with the AKC policy of registering dogs that carry the dilute gene.
They hold the opinion that this is wrong.
And they are of course absolutely entitled to that opinion, and to do whatever they can to persuade the AKC to change their policy. But it is only an opinion and is not supported by strong evidence.
Fact 1. The American Kennel Club does register silver Labrador puppies
The American Kennel Club does at the moment register silver Labradors.
It registers them under the color chocolate, because most Labradors with the dilute gene are dilute chocolate. It is however, possible to get dilute blacks (charcoal) and dilute yellows (champagne).
The fact that the AKC has this policy means that there are members of our community who own AKC registered pedigree Labradors that are silver in colour. Whether the rest of us approve or not.
Telling these people that their dogs aren’t Labs is not helpful and not true because they are indeed registered pedigree dogs. Telling the AKC would be more appropriate.
Whether or not the AKC can be persuaded to change their policy is uncertain, but it becomes increasingly unlikely as time goes on. Many silver Labradors have been born and registered and bloodlines are now becoming well mixed. It is difficult to see how such a policy would be implemented.
Perhaps we will just all have to get used to the color silver?
Opinion 2. Silver Labradors were produced by crossing Labs with Weimaraners
One theory is that silver Labradors are all mongrels and are actually crossed with Weimaraners.
People often post up on our Facebook page to say that there is DNA evidence to support this belief
Fact 2. No absolute proof for the origins of the silver Lab has been published, and there are other possible explanations
The introduction of Weimaraner blood is indeed ONE explanation for the dilute gene in our pedigree labs. But it is not the only explanation. Early on in the history of the Labrador, our breed was crossed with other breeds that contain the dilute gene, most notably the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
Recessive genes that are rare can take many generations to appear, but the chances of two recessive genes meeting increase constantly in a closed register of dogs due to genetic drift.
Which is why of course, we get new genetic diseases appearing all the time in our pedigree breeds
While rumours of tests abound, no one has linked to published concrete evidence in support of Weimaraner DNA in any individual pedigree Labrador on any of the threads we have had on this topic on this page, nor in any of the many emails I receive about silver Labs.
Weimaraners are one of the breeds that do show up in DNA tests, so this shouldn’t be hard to find if it exists.
On the other hand, I believe we have had someone publish a link, to DNA tests on our Facebook page, that shows that their silver dog is pure bred. If anyone else with a silver Lab has had a DNA test done, perhaps they would post a link to the results in the comments below?
Likewise, if anyone has a link to DNA evidence to the contrary, please post a link. Without evidence it simply isn’t possible to progress this aspect of the debate any further.
Opinion 3 Silver Labradors have no health clearances
It is often stated that silver Labrador breeders are all irresponsible and never health test their dogs
Fact 3 There are silver Labrador breeders that health test their breeding stock.
There are silver Labrador breeders that are health testing. And more of them are likely to follow suit. You can find them through the web page that I link to above.
There are also silver breeders that are irresponsible. In fact there are irresponsible breeders everywhere. They are not restricted by color.
Please people, make sure you get health test evidence before falling in love with your puppy!
Opinion 4 Silver Labradors are no use for anything other than pets
This opinion has been stated a number of times on our Facebook debates.
Fact 4. There are lots of roles that silver Labrador can play.
It is true that a silver lab cannot compete in the show ring. Only three colours are permitted when exhibiting Labrador at shows. If you like the idea of showing, don’t buy a silver Lab.
However, there are silver Labradors working as hunting companions, competing in hunt tests, obedience competitions and agility.
There is no reason why a silver lab could not be an assistance dog for the disabled for example, a military service dog, or a guide dog for the blind. These are all useful roles, arguably more useful than being exhibited.
Opinion 5 Outcrossing (if that is how Silver Labs arrived) is bad for the genetic health of our breed.
Some of you have stated that bringing new genetic information into the lab gene pool (if that is what has been done) is harmful genetically. This is a misunderstanding.
Fact 5 Genetic health improves with increasing genetic diversity
The main problem genetically with closed registers (pedigree breeds) is diminishing genetic diversity.
Increasing genetic diversity improves the health of a closed population not the other way around.
Rudeness towards silver Labrador owners
This is becoming increasingly common. Silver Labrador owners are referred to as ‘suckers’ for buying their dog, told their dogs are ugly, houndy, look like mongrels.
It is the AKC that have, rightly or wrongly, decided these dogs are Labradors, it isn’t reasonable to berate people that have chosen and paid for such a dog legitimately, for their actions.
We all love Labradors even if we differ as to what we think is best for them and I don’t want the owners of silver labs to be afraid to post pictures of their dogs on our Facebook page, or afraid to talk about their dogs there or here in our comments section.
I hope you don’t either and I hope that we can carry on debating this fascinating topic without being mean to one another.
How about you?
We love all Labradors, no matter how prestigious their pedigree, or what color their coat 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 love to know if you have experienced any prejudice against your dog because of his unusual coat color.
Whether or not you love silver labs or oppose them, your views, politely expressed are very welcome! Just drop them into the comments box below. Let us know what you think and why!
Help with buying a Silver Lab
For a complete guide to finding and choosing the puppy of your dreams, check out Pippa’s step by step guide to finding your new puppy.
Choosing The Perfect Puppy covers every aspect of finding and selecting the right puppy for your family, and is packed with gorgeous puppy photos.
It was published in April 2017 and is available worldwide
Silver Labradors was extensively revised and updated in 2016