6 Labrador Colors: Differences, Genetics & Rarest Coat

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The Labrador Retriever has topped the charts as America’s most popular dog breed for years. Labs are loyal, loving pets as well as dutiful and skilled workers.

There is no debate that Labradors are popular and loved around the world. Yet, there is a debate for which color is the best!

Three famous Labrador colors are black, yellow, and chocolate. But, rare colors such as silver, white, and red also exist.

Lab lovers argue that color affects their behavior, health, or pedigree status. In this article we share our opinion and present you with the facts so you can decide which Lab color is the best!

Labrador Colors Explained

Labrador Colors

According to the American Kennel Club, there are only three colors of Labrador Retriever. These colors are black, yellow and chocolate. However, as Labs have risen in popularity, other colors such as silver, charcoal and red have become recognized too.

There are now six recognized Lab colors:

  • Black
  • Chocolate
  • Yellow
  • Silver
  • Red
  • White

The science behind coat color is complicated and a result of various genes.

Black and chocolate Labs have a pigment in their fur called eumelanin. Eumelanin determines what shade their coat will be. A dog that produces lots of eumelanin will end up a black dog, while a dog that produces small amounts of eumelanin will be chocolate.

Whether a dog produces a lot or a little eumelanin all depends on their B genes.

The big B, the dominant gene, codes for high amounts of eumelanin and results in a black coat. The little b, the recessive gene, codes for low amounts of eumelanin and results in a chocolate coat.

Dogs inherit two B genes, one from each parent. A Lab with BB or Bb will have a black coat while a dog with bb in their genome will have a chocolate coat.

Yellow Lab coats are determined by the E gene. Just like the B genes, there are two genes at this locus, one from each parent. E genes will determine if the B genes are expressed or not.

The big E gene is dominant and does not interfere with the B genes. The little e gene is recessive and masks the B gene. This masking results in a yellow coat, rather than a black or chocolate coat.

Labradors with EE or Ee in their genome will be either black or chocolate (depending on their B genes), but dogs with ee in their genome will have a yellow coat:

  • Dogs with EEBB, EeBB, EeBb or EEBb genes will be black.
  • EEbb or Eebb dogs will be chocolate
  • eeBB, eeBb and eebb will be yellow.

Breeding two yellow Labs will always result in yellow puppies.

Two chocolate Labradors can have chocolate or yellow pups.

A pair of black Labs can have black, yellow or chocolate puppies. When you mix Labradors with other dog breeds, things get even more complicated!

Another complicated part of their genetics is the idea of dilute genes! The D genes can either be big D, which is a dominant gene and results in a non-diluted coat, while little d is a recessive gene that results in a diluted color.

A chocolate Lab with DD genes would be chocolate. However, a chocolate Lab with dd would have a color that looks like a diluted chocolate. They appear silver in the sunlight. This dilution can also occur in yellow to produce champagne or in black to produce charcoal Labs.

Breeders often perform genetic tests on their breeding stock to accurately predict the possible Lab colors their puppies could be. Other breeders skip this expensive step and just opt for a beautiful surprise of puppies who can pretty much be any color possible!

GenotypeColorDilute
EEBBBlackCharcoal
EEBbBlackCharcoal
EeBBBlackCharcoal
EeBbBlackCharcoal
EEbbChocolateSilver
EebbChocolateSilver
eeBBYellowChampagne
eeBbYellowChampagne
eebbYellowChampagne

Labrador Colors

1. Black Labrador

Black Labrador

Most black Labs are entirely black. But, some have one or two white spots on their fur. This interruption in their solid black coat is due to genetic traces left from their late ancestor, the St. John’s water dog. St. John’s water dogs had lots of white in their coat.

The black Labrador Retriever was historically the most common coat color. Even today, nearly half of all Labs are black!

When Retrievers were first bred, black coated dogs were the only pups deemed acceptable. Their popularity was driven by two reasons:

  1. Black is the favorite coat color for hunting.
  2. Four out of nine gene combinations result in a black coat.

Sadly, until the 20th century, all other Lab colors would be euthanized shortly after birth. They were not valued the same way black Labradors were.

Black Labradors were perfect for their original purpose, hunting.

Their dark coat color helped them blend in and move stealthily while hunting or participating in field trials. These Labs tend to have the strongest hunting instincts as their black coats were historically bred for hunting. Even to this day, they are focused, diligent workers.

These shiny, sleek dogs are not only beloved in the field, but they also make wonderful pets.

Many owners regard black Labs as the calmest and most affectionate of all Lab colors. However, there is no scientific evidence to back up this claim.

2. Chocolate Labrador

Chocolate Labrador

Chocolate Labs are the rarest of the three major Lab colors. These dogs are rarely used for hunting or working, but are champions in the show ring! Their color stuns judges and earns high marks in conformation shows.

The shade of brown that chocolate Labradors can come in varies.

Some are a rich chocolate while others are a dark brown color known as liver. Some even have a beautiful red hue within their brown fur! The chocolate color exists on a spectrum and can vary greatly due to genetics.

Many owners have made assumptions about chocolate Labradors’ personalities that are not supported by facts. Some of these assumptions have become widely accepted in the Labrador community.

Chocolate Labs are regarded as the most rambunctious with a bit too much energy for their bodies! These pups are spunky and often hard to train, which may explain why they are not used as service dogs.

Even if these Labs are a bit energetic and naughty at times, they are just as beloved due to their affectionate nature and goofy personality.

The unfortunate truth about chocolate Labradors is that they often suffer from more health problems than other types of Labs.

Some of these health concerns are minor and include hot spots (skin irritation) and ear inflammation. However, some are more serious and can shorten their lifespan. On average, chocolate Labs have a lifespan that is 10% shorter. They often live a year and a half less than the other Labradors.

3. Yellow Labrador

Yellow Labrador

Yellow Labradors may not be the most popular Labrador Retriever color, but they are the most beloved. Many owners claim that yellow Labs are the friendliest and most outgoing.

Their outstanding reputation is reinforced by their heavy presence in daily life!

Yellow Labs are often seen in movies such as the adorable Lab who played Marley in Marley and Me or the sweetheart who acted as Old Yeller. The media have also boosted their popularity as has their recognition as common service, search and rescue, and therapy dogs.

Similar to chocolate, the yellow coat color exists on a spectrum.

Some yellow Labs are a light brown or tan, others are yellow like a lemon, and then there are cream-colored Labs. There are also fawn Labradors. Fawn Labs are darker, but are not quite red. The yellow Lab may be the Labrador Retriever with the most variation in its coat color!

Yellow Labs are just as hard-working as black Labs, although they are not as commonly used for hunting. They are very similar to black Labs and are just as highly trainable, affectionate, and hard-working.

4. Silver Labrador

Silver Labrador Retriever standing on a branch

Silver Labradors are by far the rarest of all colors. These dogs are a light gray to blue color that looks silver in the sunlight.

These Labradors are often mistaken for Weimaraner mixes because of their silver coat.

Silver Labs actually have the same genetics as any type of Lab, despite looking very different. They are just as smart, fun, and loving as any other Retriever.

They have a dilute gene that overrides the designated chocolate coat color. Rather than being chocolate, these dogs have a silver or blue coat color.

This same coat color dilution can occur in yellow Labs and in black Labs. Diluted yellow Labs are known as champagne and diluted black Labs are known as charcoal. However, Silver is the most unique. Not many silver Labs exist due to the recessive nature of the dilute gene.

Silver Labs are undoubtedly stunning, but they have a higher potential of developing health issues. They often develop color dilution alopecia which presents as itchy skin or patchy fur.

5. Fox Red Labrador

Fox Red Labrador
Fox red is another rare color of Labrador Retriever.

Fox Red Labradors have the same genetics as a yellow Lab, but just have a deep yellow or brown hue to their coat. This deep brown looks rusty red and makes them look just like a fox.

Labrador Retriever fans adore fox red Labs because of their friendly personalities. They have lovingly nicknamed these dogs Ruby Labradors. Clifford, the beloved big red dog, is even based off a fox red Labrador.

The red color gives them a rugged look that many owners love!

However, this love does not extend to the American Kennel Club. The American Kennel Club does not recognize fox reds as a unique color and registers these Labrador Retrievers as yellow labs. Judges often view this dark pigmentation as a serious fault, so it is unlikely that a fox red Lab would ever win a conformation show.

Some people are highly suspicious of the fox red color.

They often argue that fox reds are not purebred and that they are mixed with Golden Retrievers. This is not true.

These beautiful golden/red colored Labs are still purebred. It is all the beauty of a Golden Retriever without the high maintenance and long coat that Goldens are known for.

6. White Labrador

White Labrador

White Labradors are just a variation of the yellow Lab. They have the same genetics as a yellow Lab, they just happen to be much paler.

White Labs are the lightest shade of yellow possible. This color exists on the opposite end of the spectrum than fox red Labs do. The shade of their fur is typically a pale yellow that looks white in the sunlight. They may also have brown or yellow ears and paws that are darker than the rest of their coat.

Their white fur gives them an aura of royalty.

Just like any yellow Labrador, white Labs are regarded as kind dogs who love everyone they meet. They make horrible guard dogs as they make friends with everyone and are quick to trust every stranger they meet! They are often pampered and spoiled beyond belief.

There are no known health issues associated with this color.

Most white labs are healthy because they are just a pale yellow, not true white.

Albino Labradors are rarer and also sensitive to bright sunlight.

Merle labs may suffer from deafness, blindness, and shortened lifespans.

Frequently Asked Question

Black and Yellow Labrador

Is Coat Color Important?

Discussing Labrador Retriever colors can be controversial.

Are silver and red Labs purebred? Do personality traits differ between different colored Labs? Should silver, red, and white have their own color category?

The answers to these questions are not simple.

Scientists and dog experts argue that color has no effect on a dog’s personality. They say that behavior is determined by genetics, socialization, training, and health. In their opinion coat color is just cosmetic.

On the other hand, there are owners and breeders who argue that coat color affects the personality of a Lab.

These owners and breeders have lived and interacted with Labs of all colors. In their opinion coat color is linked to characteristic personality traits. These Lab lovers have agreed that:

  • Black Labs are the calmest and most skilled at hunting.
  • Yellow Labs are the friendliest and best with people and children.
  • Chocolate Labs are the rowdiest, most energetic, and difficult to train.

On the side of science, color does not affect the behavior of a Labrador Retriever.

However, breeders and owners have recorded the behavior traits associated with each coat color.

It is up to you whether to decide if color matters for Labrador Retrievers or not!

Which Is The Rarest Color?

Silver is the rarest Lab color. Silver is rare because it can only come from a unique genetic makeup. The dilution gene needed to produce this silver hue is a recessive gene and is often masked by the genes for a chocolate coat.

If you ever happen to see one of these silver beauties, take the time to really admire them as you may never see another one again!

Which Color Is The Best?

This is definitely an opinion question that has no right answer!

Each color of Labrador suits a specific type of owner:

  • Athletic, hunting owners will want a black Lab.
  • Yellow Lab owners claim that their dogs are the best due to their friendly personalities.
  • Chocolate Labs win the most prizes in conformation shows.
  • Silver Labs are the rarest, to complicate the argument even more.

It is up to each owner to decide which color they love the best. An argument can be made for each Labrador color as to why that color is the best.

Which Lab Color Is The Calmest?

Among Labrador owners it is widely accepted that black Labs are the calmest. This could be a result of their hard-working, hunting instincts which cause them to be much more focused and level-headed.

Chocolate Labs who parade around show rings are often the most rambunctious.

If you ask the experts, you will get the answer that coat color has no effect on Labrador behavior. They claim each dog’s genetics, environment, training, and socialization are what molds their personality.

However, if you read various Labrador Retriever websites and forums, or talk to Lab owners, you may hear a different story.

Whether you decide to believe this claim is up to you! There is no scientific evidence to back the claim up that black Labs are the calmest Labradors.

Summary

Each color of Labrador Retriever is beautiful and unique in its own way.

Silver Labs are rare, black Labs are sleek and elegant, yellow Labs have an aura of kindness, white Labs are elegant, red Labs are devoted to their work, and chocolate Labs are gorgeous and show ready!

Experts argue that color has no effect on a Lab’s personality. They say that behavior is determined by genetics, socialization, training, and health.

Labrador coat colors are the perfect example that beauty truly is in the eye of the beholder.

Want to learn more about Labs? Read: English vs. American Labrador: Top 10 Differences.

Which coat color is your favorite and why? Let us know in the comments below!

Comments

  1. Some people say there are 8 colors: Black, Charcoal, Chocolate, Silver, Yellow, Red, White, Champagne. All are different yet come from the 3 main colors.

    Reply

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