Understanding Your Labrador’s Fur Color and Markings
So, you noticed some white spots on your Lab and thought…
“Can black labs have white spots? Is this normal?”
“Does this mean my Lab’s not a purebred?”
Have no fear.
It’s perfectly normal for a Black Lab to have either white spots or other color variations. These are called mismarks and do occur naturally in certain dogs within all purebred Labrador color types.
Do Mismarks Prove My Lab’s Not a Purebred?
It’s a common belief that a Labrador with mismarks or color variations can’t be a purebred Labrador.
This is simply not true.
While mismarks in Labradors can indicate the possibility of a mixed breed, it is by no means proof positive that the dog is not purebred. Mismarks naturally occur in Labradors and have done so from the breed’s beginning.
In fact, the modern Labrador’s ancestor, the St. Johns dog, was known to have white markings on its paws, chest, and muzzle. These markings were passed onto the first Labradors bred in England before these features were eventually bred out of the line.
Want to know more about the modern Labrador’s origins and ancestry? You can read about it here.
Understanding Labrador Mismarks
Mismarks are color irregularities in the fur that occur periodically in the three main Labrador color types – Black, Chocolate, and Yellow (the only three colors officially recognized by the American Kennel Club).
While these mismarks will disqualify a dog from being shown in official competitions, they are by no means an indication that the dog is inferior or “defective” in any way.
Mismarks will manifest themselves in the following ways:
- White Spots
This can be white hair that appears to varying degrees on the chest and/or paws, or as small, white, circular spots called “Bolo Spots,” located just behind the front pad, on the “heel” of their foot.
These get their name from champion Labrador, Banchory Bolo, who lived from 1917-1925. Bolo was the first dog in England to earn dual championships. He passed these Bolo Marks on to further generations of Labradors. Many judges are aware of these marks and, depending on their size, will often ignore them.
If you are planning to show your dog competitively, it’s important to know that not every occurrence of white hair on a Labrador is automatically considered a mismark. According to AKC (American Kennel Club) standards, some white hair is permissible for competition. Although, you can expect the judges to mark the dog down to a certain degree.
- Black and Tan Markings
These appear as tan markings in various places, including the chest, paws, muzzle, and above the eyes.
Although they were once believed to be the result of interbreeding with Gordon Setters during the breed’s early history, tan markings are now understood to be the result of a recessive property of the dog’s genes. This recessive gene can pass undetected through multiple generations before manifesting itself.
Sometimes called “splashing,” brindling is a unique color pattern that presents itself as speckled or tri-color patches of orange or tan streaks which sometimes resemble tiger stripes. Labradors with brindling will often express this coat pattern on their muzzle, chest, legs, and paws. In some cases, this brindle pattern will cover the dog’s entire coat.
- Chimera or Mosaic
This describes large areas of the dog’s coat as patches of varying colors – as if its coat was stitched together from the coats of differently colored dogs. This is an accidental result of cell division before the dog is born.
How To Tell a Purebred Lab
While there is no sure-fire way to tell if your Labrador is purebred without a DNA test or AKC registration papers, you should be able to determine to a reasonable degree, whether your Lab conforms to breed standards as established by the American Kennel Club.
Check the following features on your Labrador against the official purebred standards:
According to AKC standards, an adult male Labrador’s height should measure between 22.5 and 24.5 inches tall at the shoulder. Females’ shoulder height measures a little shorter at 21.5 to 23.5 inches.
65 to 80 pounds is the accepted weight for an adult male Labrador. With a slightly smaller body frame, a female’s weight falls between 55 to 70 pounds.
Important note: There are few things Labradors love to do more than eat.
If left unmonitored, these loveable eating machines can quickly over-feed themselves and become obese.
Make sure your Lab is getting plenty of exercise. Measure out regular food portions and meal times. Limit them to two meals at about 2.5 to 3 cups of quality dry dog food per day. Don’t leave food out for your dog to “snack” on all day. And limit the number of treats they receive.
- Physical Features
Mixed breed look-alikes can often be hard to spot from a purebred Labrador. Paying close attention to the distinctive features of the head, tail, and coat can usually identify a full-blooded Lab from a mix.
Head: A true Labrador has a wide, squarish skull and forceful jaw. It tends to have a shorter muzzle. Its ears hang from its head and do not stand upright.
Tail: In an unagitated state, the breed bears their tails at the same level as their body. They do not curl their tails over their backs or stand them straight up. Purebred Labs have tails resembling an otter. It is thicker at its base and tapers near the end.
Coat: Purebred Labradors have two layers to their coat: a topcoat made of short, thick, straight hair, and an undercoat made of weather-resistant fur.
Your Lab’s temperament is another indicator. The AKC describes Labradors as, “active, friendly and outgoing.” If your dog is a Lab-mix, it’s temperament could be affected by the breed it’s mixed with.
- DNA Test
This is the most involved and thorough method for determining whether or not your Lab is a mixed breed. There is a wide variety of DNA test kits available for dogs, most of these can be purchased online. These can cost anywhere from $40 to $190 and usually come in the form of a cheek swab which is returned to a genetics laboratory by mail. Results can be given within several weeks.
How Do Labradors Get Their Color?
Fur-Color Science (Made *Really* Simple)
Dog genetics can get incredibly complex.
But don’t sweat it.
Here’s a quick, super-simplified summary for us “regular” folk.
Among the thousands of genes found in a dog’s DNA, there are only two (technically, altered genes called, “alleles”) that contribute to a Labrador’s coloring. Named “B” and “E”, how these two genes present themselves in the DNA will determine whether a Labrador has a Black, Chocolate, or Yellow coat.
Black and Chocolate Coat Colors
“B” comes in two forms – dominant (BB) and recessive (bb).
“B” is dominant and contributes to Black coloring. “b” is recessive and contributes to Chocolate coloring.
You may remember from 7th-grade biology that genes always come in pairs. When a Lab has at least one copy of the dominant “B” gene (BB) present in its chromosomes, it will be born with a black coat. But only if the Lab has two copies of the recessive “b” gene (bb) will its coat will be Chocolate at birth.
So, What About Yellow Labs?
That’s where the “E” gene comes in.
Unlike “B” or “b”, “E” (when present in its recessive form) actually works to suppress the “B” coat color and prevents it from showing itself.
In other words, if the “ee” recessive combination is present in the dog’s DNA, the Black or Chocolate fur color is kept from showing itself and the dog’s fur will appear yellow.
Whether “silver” is a genuine Labrador color (as opposed to a mutation) is a controversial topic which I have no intention of settling here. Breeders and owners are at odds with one another regarding how this variation of Labrador coloring is to be recognized.
The ‘silver’ coloration is the result of a third gene labeled “D”, which, in its recessive pairing, (dd) “dilutes” the black or chocolate coloring.
Some breeders believe this coloration to be the result of a purebred Labrador being mixed with the Weimaraner breed. Some claim it to be the result of a genetic “mistake” appearing sometime in the 1950s. They assert that since no other Labs at that time demonstrated this coloration, it was propagated through incestuous breeding practices in order to maintain the specific “silver” shade.
Suffice to say, the dogs presenting this specific coat shade are relatively new on the scene. In fact, the AKC did not register the first “Silver Lab” until 1985.
Whether or not these animals are legitimate, purebred Labradors has no bearing on the fact that these dogs should be loved, cared for, and treated like any other cherished pet in your home.
Love Your Lab, Spots and All
You should not let your Labrador’s coat coloring have any influence over how you care for and treat this valued member of your family. The appearance of a Labrador’s fur is the result of genetic happenstance and is purely aesthetic. It has absolutely no bearing on your Lab’s health, physique, or temperament.
The most important thing is that you love and care for your pet every day and be thankful for the time you have with them.
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