Labradors come in several colors variations, but do these colors actually matter when it comes to their personality or temperament?
In this article we will explore:
- General Color Info
- AKC-Recognized Lab Colors
- Black Labs
- Yellow Labs
- Chocolate Labs
- Non-AKC-Recognized Lab Colors
- Silver Labs
- Fox Red Labs
- Champagne and Charcoal Labs
- Mismarked Labs
General Color Information
How many colors do Labs actually come in? Typically, Labradors come in three basic colors – Black, Yellow, and Chocolate. These are the only three colors that the American Kennel Club officially recognizes. Black Labs are usually completely black, although it is not uncommon for them to have a splash of white on them. Yellow Labs can range from a very pale yellow color to an almost red shade. Chocolate Labs range in color from light brown to dark chocolate.
Sometimes you will hear about (or may own yourself) Labradors of other colors like Fox Red, Silver, Champagne, and Charcoal, but currently, these colors are not recognized by the American Kennel Club. I’ll discuss these colors in more detail below.
Black Labs are genetically dominant and were originally the most common color of Labrador. Yellow and Chocolate Labs were not common at first but have gained popularity and proliferation over time.
All colors of Labs are remarkably loyal dogs who love being around people at all times. They are intelligent and easily trained. They love attention and are known for being even-tempered. They like to bark, but don’t make good guard dogs as they will tend to be friends with everyone. They like to be active and can get bored fairly easily if there isn’t enough to keep them occupied.
Many Labrador owners are convinced that there are personality differences between the colors. Some say the Yellow Labs are the sweetest and calmest, while Chocolate Labs are thought of as a little wild and rambunctious, and Black Labs are thought of as patient hunters. Many studies have been done to see if any of these biases are true but to date, there has been no scientific evidence to back up any of these claims.
The coat color of a Labrador is determined by two genes that have nothing to do with temperament. One of the genes determines if the hair will be light or dark and the other one determines if dark hair will be chocolate or black. In fact, quite frequently a litter of Lab puppies will contain more than one of the fur colors. If you would like more detail on the science behind Labrador fur color, see our article, Why Does My Black Lab Have White Spots?
While you may be drawn to one color of Lab over another, the best thing to look at is if the particular dog’s personality and temperament work well with you and your home environment.
AKC-Recognized Lab Colors
According to Wikipedia “The American Kennel Club (AKC) is a registry of purebred dog pedigrees in the United States.” A dog breed has to be recognized by the AKC to be a show dog or be considered a purebred. The AKC recognizes only three colors of Labradors: Black, Yellow, and Chocolate.
Black Labs are the most common color, mainly because the gene for black coat color is the dominant gene. They usually have dark brown eyes and black pigment on the nose and around the mouth and eye rims.
Black Labs descended from the St. John’s dog of Newfoundland. It used to be thought that they were first found working with the fishermen in Newfoundland and were taken from there to England in the 1800’s where they eventually developed into the Labradors we know today. However, we now think their story goes back further than that. It now appears that the Black Lab’s ancestors were taken to Newfoundland by British fishermen sometime in the 1700’s. The Labradors that worked in these icy, cold waters looked a little different than the Labs we know today. They tended to have longer coats and more upright ears. Many of the St. John’s dogs had white patches somewhere on their coat, and it is still fairly common to find Black Labs with white patches on their coats today, usually on the chest or paw.
Just like his Yellow and Chocolate relatives, the Black Labrador has an easy-going temperament and is a loyal, loving dog. They love being around people and make excellent pets.
Black Labs are often used as hunting dogs, but they can be show dogs as well. The hunting dogs are often specifically bred for field work and are referred to as American Labs. While the ones bred to be show dogs are often referred to as English Labs. The difference between these two types has nothing to do with where they are from. The two names simply distinguish what they are bred for.
Black Labradors tend to show up often at rescue centers and are frequently the last dogs adopted. One theory is that this happens because there are more Black Labs than other types so, statistically, more Black Labradors end up in rescue centers. Another theory is that they are overlooked because they are such a common color, so they don’t visually stand out from the other dogs.
Black Labs tend to show their age quicker than the other Labradors as the gray patches around the muzzle display clearer against their black coat. Our Black Lab, Trooper, is only 6 years old but he is already showing his age.
Yellow Labs can vary in color from a light cream to a dark fox-red. Sometimes lighter-colored dogs may have tan shading on their ears or shoulders. Occasionally, you may hear someone refer to a “White Labrador” – this is actually a Yellow Lab with a coat so pale it appears white. You may also hear a person refer to a “Fox Red Labrador” – this is actually a Yellow Lab with a coat dark enough that it displays a reddish tint.
Yellow Labs usually have brown or hazel eyes, and usually have black pigmentation around their mouth, eyes and on their noses. A “Dudley” Yellow Lab will have pink pigmentation instead of black and some Yellow Labs develop a “snow” nose, which occurs when the black nose fades to pink or a mixed blend of pink and black.
Yellow Labs also originated from the St. John’s dog, just like the Black Lab. However, they weren’t as common. One reason for this is that the genetic makeup needed to create a Yellow Lab has to be found in both parents, so the gene pool was much smaller. The second reason, sadly, is that Yellow Labs were simply not wanted as much as the Black Lab and were often put down as soon as they were born. Thankfully, over time those feelings changed and we now have a much larger population of Yellow Labs.
Since they are quite photogenic, Yellow Labs are the color more often seen in television and movies. Yellow Labs, as well as the other types, also make great show dogs and Service Dogs.
All Labradors have a tendency to shed a lot. Some people believe that the Yellow Labs shed more. But it is more likely that the yellow hairs tend to stand out against darker surfaces more than the darker colors.
Chocolate Labs can be found in shades from light brown to a deep chocolate color. Sometimes this shade is so dark that they are mistaken for a Black Lab. Their eye color ranges from a dark brown to a yellow color. The pigmentation around the nose, mouth, and eye rims is usually chocolate as well but can range from a pinkish color to a dark brown.
Chocolate Labs also originate from the St. John’s dog of Newfoundland, and, for the same reasons as Yellow Labs with regard to the gene pool and color-preference, they were not common at the breed’s beginnings. Since the gene for Chocolate fur color is recessive, it must be present in both parents for a Chocolate Lab to be produced. If the Black color gene is present, it is dominant and the puppy will be black. However, a dog with a dominant color can still pass on a recessive gene to its puppies, which is why the Chocolate color gene survived.
Chocolate Labs’ fur color is also sometimes called “Liver” – referring to the brown fur color. You can still register Chocolate Labs as Liver in color with the American Kennel Club if you so choose.
In the 1920’s and 30’s Chocolate Labs were starting to show up in the hunting field but were still not widely accepted. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that they started to gain noticeable popularity. The reason for this was that regular pet owners liked the term “Chocolate” when referring to their dogs. The popularity of the Chocolate Lab grew slowly over time but eventually, there was enough demand that breeders starting raising them.
Unlike Yellow Labs that tend to have a lot of different shades of coloring, Chocolate Labs tend to be fairly similar in color with only slight variations. Due to their breeding, Chocolate Labs tend to be a little chunkier than the other Labs and it is important not to let them get overweight as they age since this can cause health issues. Extra weight can put extra stress on your Chocolate Lab’s joints, which can aggravate issues like arthritis.
Non-AKC-Recognized Lab Colors
There are a few colors of Labrador which the AKC does not recognize as official purebreds for various reasons. These are Silver, Fox Red, Champagne, Charcoal, and Mismarked. Some of these color variations are the result of genetic dilutions within the three recognized fur colors of purebred Labradors.
Silver Labradors are the most controversial in the purebred world. There are many arguments going back and forth over whether they should be recognized by the AKC or not with a lot of emotion brewing on both sides.
Aside from their silver-grey coat color, Silver Labs look like any other Labrador. Their color comes from a diluted version of the Chocolate gene and creates Labs with a gray or silver coat.
The controversy surrounding this type of Labrador is over how their coat color was diluted. Some claim it was a hidden gene that the Labs carried all along but that didn’t present itself until later years when two Labs with the same recessive gene finally produced a litter of silver puppies. Others claim that the gene came about because of cross-breeding with another dog (possibly the Weimaraner) that carried this recessive gene. Still, others think the recessive gene came about through some genetic accident or mutation. At this point we still don’t know what the initial cause of the Silver Labrador was, all we know is they now exist. The argument still remains over whether these Labs are truly purebred.
Fox Red Labs do not carry nearly as much controversy around their coat color. Basically, a Fox Red Lab is just a very dark Yellow Lab and is classified as such by the AKC.
Thes Labs tend to come from the lines of Labradors that were bred to be working dogs and have more of an orange-red hue to their coats. This makes them appear to be closer to red than yellow. If someone tries to charge you more for a “rare” Fox Red Lab, don’t fall for it. This Lab is, in reality, a dark Yellow Lab and they are not considered rare.
Champagne and Charcoal
Champagne Labs are caused by the same recessive diluted gene as Silver Labs. However, they are just a lighter-colored Yellow Lab. Since Yellow Labs seem to come in a larger variety of shades, the champaign shade doesn’t stand out like the Silver and has not warranted the same controversy, as these types of dogs are still obviously Yellow Labs.
Like the champagne-colored Labs, Charcoal Labs are also caused by the diluted gene, only this time appearing in a Black Lab. Once again, they are obviously a shade of the Black Lab and so there hasn’t been a controversy over whether they are purebred or not.
Occasionally, a Lab puppy may be born with tan markings over his eyes and on his chest and legs. This is a throwback to the markings of the Gordon Setter. These dogs were bred with Labradors back in England during the beginning of the breed.
Another surprise puppy is sometimes referred to as a “splash” puppy. This is when a genetic mixup causes a puppy of one color to have patches of another color. It could be anything from a tiny spot of black on a yellow dog to larger “splashes” of yellow on a Black or Chocolate Lab.
“Brindle” color pattern is another example of mismarking on a Lab. These show themselves as tri-color or speckled patches of orange or tan streaks, and which will sometimes appear on the legs and chest of a Black Lab. However, this color variation is very rare in Labradors.
For more information on mismarks, see our article, Why Does My Black Lab Have White Spots?
Labradors come in many variations of three basic colors- Black, Yellow, and Chocolate. Some of the color variations have created controversy over what is considered purebred while others have just been accepted as shades of the main colors. While many people claim that there are differences in personality between the colors, no scientific evidence has ever backed any of this up. Labs, in general, are loving, friendly, loyal, people-pleasing dogs. Your best bet is to choose by the personality and temperament of a specific Lab rather than trying to choose one according to its color. No matter which color you pick, Labs are wonderful dogs to own.
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