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Silver Labrador Controversy

About Dilute Labrador Retrievers

AKC Labrador Retriever Breed Standard 

"The Labrador Retriever coat colors are black, yellow, and chocolate. Any other color or combination of colors is a disqualification. A small white spot on the chest is permissible, but not desirable. White hairs from aging or scarring are not to be misinterpreted as brindling. Black- Blacks are all black. A black with brindle markings or a black with tan markings is a disqualification. Yellow-Yellows may range in color from fox-red to light cream with variations in shading on the ears, back, and underparts of the dog. Chocolate-Chocolates can vary in shade from light to dark brown. Chocolates with brindle or tan markings is a disqualification." 

Black, Chocolate, and Yellow Labrador Coat Colors

The genes that control the basic coat color in Labradors are located on 3 separate chromosome sites known as the B, D, and E loci. 

  • Alleles at the B-locus code for black and chocolate colors. The dominant B allele codes for the black color. The recessive b alleles code for the brown color. 
  • The E locus alleles control the expression of the coat color alleles on the B locus. Black and brown pigments are not expressed in Labradors with 2 recessive e alleles. In these dogs, yellow pigment is produced.
  • A dominant D allele results in normal coat color development. The majority of Labradors have 2 dominant D alleles. 
  • Black Labradors have at least one dominant B allele and at least one dominant E allele. (BB/EE, BB/Ee, Bb/EE, Bb/Ee and at least one D allele result in a black coat) 
  • Chocolate Labradors have 2 copies of the recessive b allele and at least one dominant E allele. (bb/EE, bb/Ee and one D allele result in a brown coat)
  • Yellow Labradors with 2 copies of the recessive e allele. (BB/ee, Bb/ee, bb/ee and one D allele results in a yellow coat)

Rare Coat Markings and Patterns in Labradors 

In Labradors, alleles at the A and K loci code for traits that are rarely observed. These alleles associated with several unusual coat patterns, including brindling, black and tan points, and long coats. These traits were observed in the early Labradors when the breed was being developed in Great Britain so these dogs are purebred Labradors. There are genetic tests for the recessive alleles associated with these variations so these traits can be prevented in future generations. 

These rare coat markings and patterns are not associated with inherited heath problems. These dogs are purebred, but they can not be shown and they should not be bred. These dogs usually make wonderful canine companions.

Development of the Labrador Retriever Breed In Great Britain

The Labrador Retriever breed was developed in the 1800's in Great Britain. The ancestors of the Labrador Retriever, St. John's Water dogs or Lesser Newfoundlands, were imported from Newfoundland. English aristocrats, the Earls of Malmesbury and the Dukes of Buccleuch, developed the breed. Today's Labradors are similar to the original St. John's Water dogs imported to Great Britian. Once the breed was established, the occasional crossbreeding with other breeds was discontinued. The UK Kennel Club recognized the Labrador Retriever breed in 1903.
  • The early Labrador breeders in Great Britain were known for keeping accurate, detailed, and comprehensive records. Although the breeders in the 1800's and early 1900's preferred black Labradors, there is documentation of rare brown and yellow puppies. The first 2 brown Labradors were noted in 1892 and the first yellow Labrador arrived in 1899. Labradors with rare traits such as long-haired coats, black and tan markings, brindle patterns, and several other rare traits have been observed in the Labrador breed after the breed was developed. Some of the genes for these rare coat patterns and markings may have been present in the St. John Water dogs in low numbers. Other rare traits may have been a result of crossbreeding the St. John's Water dogs with other breeds when the Labrador breed was being developed. 
  • None of the meticulous records kept by these breeders indicated any dilute colored puppies. Initially, the first few generation of St. John's Water dogs were probably line bred to relatives. This practice increases the probability of an offspring inheriting recessive alleles from both parents. The Labrador gene pool was small in the early to mid 1800's. Both line breeding practices and the small gene pool would have increased the probability of produce dilute offspring if the early Labradors carried the d allele. No dilute puppies were observed. 
  • There is no indication that the St. John's Water Dog carried the dilute d allele. These dogs were the ancestors of Labrador Retrievers and several other breeds, including Flat Coat Retrievers, Curly Coat Retrievers, and Golden Retrievers. None of these breeds carry the d allele. The ancestors of the Chesapeake Bay Retriever were 2 Newfoundlands rescued from a shipwreck off the coast of Maryland in 1807. This breed was developed in America, and Chessies carry the d allele. The first Chesapeake Bay Retrievers were imported to England 1933, after the Labrador breed had been established. 
  • If the d allele was present in the early lines of Labradors in Great Britain, the first dilute Labradors probably would have been charcoal puppies born in England. They were not. The first dilute puppies were born in the USA in the mid 1900's. The first dilute puppies born in Britain arrived in 2006- to silver parents imported from America. The first charcoal and champagne Labradors were also born the USA, and they were related to the the silver lines. 
  • It's extremely unlikely that the d allele present in the Labradors in Great Britain in the 1800's and 1900's. No dilute offspring were observed in Great Britain until dilute Labradors were imported from America. 

Dilute Coat Colors

The dilute d allele in dogs is a result of a mutation of the D allele. 
  • Two recessive d alleles results in the formation of dilute coat colors. The dilute black coat is a charcoal color, dilute chocolates have a gray or silver coat color, and the dilute yellow coat color is champagne. 
  • The d allele has been in the canine gene pool for many years. It is absent or rare in some breeds, and common in others.
  • The dilute allele is common in Greyhounds, Whippets, and Mastiffs. 
  • Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and many other breeds of dogs may carry the d allele.
  •  All Weimaraners have 2 copies of the dilute allele. 
There are 3 possible sources of the d allele in Labradors.
  • The rare dilute allele has been present in a Labrador gene pool for many years.
  • A mutation of the D allele occurred in a Labrador after the breed was imported to the USA.
  • A Labrador at the Kellogg Kennel in South Dakota was crossbred with a dilute dog.
Dilute breeders believe that the d allele has been the Labrador gene pool since the breed was developed in Great Britain. 
  • There is no indications that the d allele was in the gene pool of the English Labradors that were imported to the USA in the 1910's,1920's, and the 1930's. 
    Occasionally, rare recessive alleles have been known to remain hidden for many years, but hey are observed, sometimes after long intervals. It's possible, but unlikely, that the d allele remained hidden for more than 100 years. Rare alleles associated with coat characteristics such as brindling, black and tan points, and long coats were in the early Labrador lines in Great Britain, and these coat markings and patterns are still in the Labrador gene pool. None of the lines in Britain produced any dilute puppies.
  • The first dilute Labradors arrived in USA in the mid 1900's at the Kellogg kennel. Gray or silver Labradors have 2 chocolate b alleles and 2 recessive dilute d alleles. The dilute alleles change the normal brown color to a shade of gray. All dilute blacks and dilute yellows are related to the first silver dogs.
  • All dilute Labradors have been traced back to 2 dogs breed at the Kellogg kennels in the mid 1900's-  Kellogg's Nick and Kellogg's Kernel.
  • There is no indications that the d allele was in any of the Labradors imported to other areas in the USA or other countries. Statistically, low frequency recessive alleles are rarely expressed so these traits can remain hidden for generations before they reappear. Labrador Retrievers became very popular in the mid 1900's and there were numerous litters being bred in America and other countries. The significant increase in the number of litters increased the probability that rare recessive allele would be observed. If the d allele was in the British lines imported to other countries, rare dilute dogs probably would have been observed in different regions in the USA and/or in different countries. They may have been culled, but their arrival would have been documented, especially after rare gray Labradors at the Kellogg Kennel were advertised. There were no reports of dilute puppies born in other states in the USA. Dilutes were observed in other countries only after dilute dogs born in the USA were exported. 
  •  The probability that the only Labrador(s) that carried the dilute d allele were at the Kellogg kennel is extremely low. 
    • In Britain, the breeder focused on breeding black Labradors. Chocolates were very rare in England. For years, the majority of these breeders tried to avoided chocolate and yellow offspring. 
    • Some of the Labradors imported to America carried the recessive b and e alleles. In the 1900's black, chocolate, and yellow Labrador puppies were born in America. 
    • The popularity of chocolate Labradors increased in the mid to late 1900's, so numerous breeders were focusing on breeding chocolates. Line breeding practices would have been utilized to increase the number of chocolate puppies available to the public. If a few Labradors that carried the d allele were imported from Great Britain, inbreeding and line breeding practices of chocolate Labradors in America would have probably resulted in rare dilute puppies other states and possibly other countries. None were reported.
The probability that the source of the d allele was a new mutation in the D allele in a chocolate Labrador after Labradors were imported from Great Britain is extremely low. 
  • First, mutations that alter alleles are relatively rare, random events. 
  • Second, there are several different genetic variants of the d allele that result in dilute coloration in dogs. Some variant are breed-specific. The genetic structure of the d allele in dilute Labradors is genetically identical to the d allele in Weimaraners.  
  • Third, it's almost impossible for 2 random mutations in different breeds would result in d alleles with the identical genetic structure.
Crossbreeding a Labrador with a dilute dog, or a dog that carried the dilute d allele, would have added the d allele to the Labrador gene pool. 
  • There is no indication that the d allele was present in the Labradors imported to America from England. The AKC started registering Labrador Retrievers in 1917. 
  • All Weimaraners have 2 dilute alleles. 
  • The genetic structure of the d allele in Weimaraners is identical to the d allele in Labradors.
  • All dilute Labradors have been traced back to 2 dogs breed at the Kellogg kennels in the mid 1900's.
  • The Kellogg kennel advertised "pointing Labradors". The HPR trait (hunt point retriever) is common in Weimaraners, and this trait had not previously been observed in Labradors. 
  • It's possible crossbreeding a Labrador with a dog that carried the d allele was planned with the hope of adding new desirable traits to their lines, for example, the HPR trait. 
  • The initial crossbreeding event could have been accidental. A dog that carried the dilute d allele may have "jumped the fence". If the breeder did not observe the breeding, the pedigrees of the offspring would be inaccurate.
  • The Culo and Beaver Creek kennels actively bred silver Labradors from the Kellogg line. Close inbreeding the early silver Labradors with siblings, cousins, and parents increased the numbers of Labrador that were silver or carried the dilute allele in these kennels.
  • Some dilute breeders have suggested that the d allele in Labradors was a result of crossbreeding a Labrador with a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Chessies were imported to England long after the Labrador breed was established. If the crossbreeding event occurred in America after the Labrador breed was established in America, the offspring and their relatives are not purebred dogs. 

 Testing Done on Silver Labradors

Claims that extensive testing proves that silvers are purebred Labradors are FALSE. 

  • Many dilute breeders claim that test results determined that dilute Labradors are purebred, but they do not offer any of documentation of the testing procedures and test results.  
  • The AKC did not do genetic mapping on silver Labradors. Canine DNA parentage tests was not available in 1987 when the AKC investigated the silver Labradors. 
  • A researcher at UC Berkeley did not include the investigation of the purebred status of silver Labradors. Dr. Mark Neff reviewed the pedigrees of silver Labradors with the hope of determining the source of the dilute allele. His educated opinion was that the dilute allele had probably been in the Labrador gene pool for years. The conclusion of his investigation did not prove that dilute Labradors are purebred dogs. 
  • Current DNA testing procedures do not determine breed purity.
    • "The Science Behind DNA Profiles"
    • "AKC DNA Profiles are generated using the same technology used by law enforcement agencies throughout the world. How does this work? In humans and dogs alike, each gene is present as two copies (displayed as letters). Offspring receive one copy of each gene from each parent in a random process. This technology does not use actual genes, but other DNA sequences that are also inherited one copy from each parent. For this reason, you dog's DNA profile does not provide any information about the conformation of the dog or the presences/absence of genetic diseases. Furthermore, AKC DNA Profiles cannot determine the breed of a dog or if a dog is purebred." From The American Kennel Club website

Source of Dilute Allele in Labradors

The source of the dilute allele in Labradors in unknown and it will remain a MYSTERY!  Without testing DNA samples from the sires, dams, and the first dilute puppies born in the mid 1900's, it is impossible to determine the source of the dilute d allele. The accuracy of the pedigrees of the early dilute Labradors can not be verified.

Based on historical information, established genetic principles, and logical deductions, crossbreeding a Labrador with a dog that carried the d allele in America in the mid 1900's is probably the source of the d allele in Labradors. 

AKC Registration of Dilute Coat Colors 

The AKC investigated silver Labradors at the Culo Kennels in 1987.

  • The sire and dam information supplied by the early breeders of silver Labradors must have indicated that their dogs were purebred Labradors. The registration of purebred dogs was primarily based on the honor system. The AKC registers litters and individual dogs based on the purebred status of the sire and dam. 
  • Based on the pictures and the appearance of the dilute Labradors during the AKC's investigation, there were probably no obvious"red flags" that indicated a crossbreeding event. Weimarraners are about the same size as a Labrador, and the overall build of these two breeds is similar. If the dilute allele was a result of crossbreeding a Labrador with a Weimarraner in the mid 1900's, the silver Labradors observed in 1987 probably resembled purebred Labradors. 
  • "In 1987 we conducted an inquiry into the breeding of the litter that contained the dogs that were registered as silver and one of our representatives was sent to observe several of the dogs that had been registered as silver." Color photographs of these dogs were forwarded to the office of the American Kennel Club where the staff of the AKC and the representative of the Labrador Retriever Club of America examined them. Both parties were satisfied that there was no reason to doubt that the dogs were purebred Labrador Retrievers, however both parties felt that the dogs were incorrectly registered as silver. Since the breed standard describes chocolate as ranging in shade from sedge to chocolate, it was felt that the dogs could be more accurately be described as a chocolate than as silver." Robert Young  of the AKC  
The decision to register dilute dogs as purebred Labradors was NOT BASED on scientific evidence. 
  • Before these testing procedures were available, AKC investigations were based on inspections, and the review of pedigrees and pictures of the dog or dogs in question. 
  • The American Kennel Club made an "educated guess" based on their trust in the accuracy of the pedigrees and pictures of silver dogs they reviewed in the 1987
  • It's possible that an unplanned breeding took place. The dog may have carried the dilute allele. If the breeder did not observe the breeding, the pedigrees of the offspring would be inaccurate.
  • Pictures and pedigrees can not prove or disprove the purebred status of a dog. 
  • The DNA parentage procedures needed to determine the accuracy of the sire and dam of early dilute Labradors were developed after the AKC made the decision to register silvers as chocolates, charcoals as blacks, and champagnes as yellows. 
  • There are no DNA samples from the first gray/silver Labradors and their sires and dams bred at the Kellogg, Culoor Beaver Creek Kennels in the 1900's that could be tested to determine the parentage of the first silver Labradors or the accuracy of the pedigrees reviewed by the AKC. 
  • Today, the sire and dam of a puppy can be verified using accurate DNA parentage testing procedures if there is a question regarding the lineage of a puppy or a litter of puppies. 
  • There is no DNA testing procedure that can determine the purity of a breed. The current testing procedures can evaluate DNA samples from a sire, dam, and puppy or puppies to determine the parents of the offspring.
  • It's unfortunate that canine DNA parentage testing procedures were not available in the mid 1900's when the first silver puppies arrived. Reliable scientific results could have determined conclusively that whether or not the early silver Labradors were purebred dogs. 

AKC/LRC Joint Statement on Alleged Silver Labradors

"According to the breed standard, established by the Labrador Retriever Club, Inc., there are three acceptable colors of Labrador Retrievers. Those colors are Black (all black), Yellow (fox-red to light cream), and Chocolate (light to dark chocolate). Silver is not an acceptable color of Labrador Retriever and is a disqualifying fault. Based on an agreement in 1987 between the American Kennel Club and the LRC, it was agreed that there was no proof that these silver dogs were not purebred and the breeders of the silver dogs subsequently registered them as chocolates.

Using parentage testing, it cannot conclusively be proven that silver Labradors are not purebred or are crossed with Weimaraners. The Labrador Retriever breed does not carry the dilute gene dd that appears universally in the Weimaraner and is responsible for the silver color. Responsible breeders are tasked with breeding for health and standard and not solely for aesthetic. While we respect the choice of pet owners to select the breed of their choice, the LRC, Inc. does not view silver Labradors as appropriate breeding stock and believes they should not be bred. They may compete in AKC events but are disqualified from the conformation show ring." Brandi Hunter, American Kennel Club Vice President, Public Relations and Communications, June 13, 2017

THE AKC DID NOT CONCLUDE THAT THERE WAS ANY PROOF THAT THESE SILVER DOGS WERE PUREBRED! Being "satisfied that there was no reason to doubt that the dogs were purebred Labrador Retrievers" does not prove these dogs are purebred. The accuracy of the pedigrees can not be verified without DNA parentage testing procedures. Pictures could be misleading if a Labrador was crossbreed with a dog with similar physical characteristics. A mixed-breed dogs with one Labrador parent often look like purebred Labradors.

Final Statements

The dilute breeders believe their lines are purebred, and mainstream breeders disagree. Neither side is likely to change their position. Dilute breeders deny that the addition of the d allele could have been a result of crossbreeding a Labrador with a Weimaraner or another breed that carries the d allele. Most mainstream Labrador breeders support the theory that dilute allele was introduced into the breed when a Labrador was crossbred with a dog that carried the d allele, probably a Weimaraner, in the early to mid 1900's

"It is the opinion of the LRC that a silver Labrador is not a purebred Labrador. The pet owning public is being duped into believing that these animals are desirable, purebred, and rare and therefor warrant special notoriety or a premium purchase price." Francis O. Smith, DVM, PhD

There is no scientific method that can verify that the dilute Labrador lines are purebred or a result of a crossbreeding event. DNA parentage testing was not available when the AKC investigated the silver Labradors in 1987. The study of pictures and pedigrees can not prove the purebred status of dilute Labradors. If samples of the first few litters of dilute puppies were available, the DNA parentage test results would indicate either the purebred or crossbred status of the these puppies. It's possible that dilute Labradors are purebred dogs, however, there are no DNA testings that can verify whether or not a dog is purebred. 

Current dilute breeders probably believe the inaccurate and false statements made by the early dilute breeders regarding the extensive research and testing done on silvers that proves that dilute Labradors are purebred dogs. 

The AKC does not "recognize" the dilute colors. They registers dogs base on the purebred status of the parents. Dogs with disqualifying coat traits and colors can be registered based on the purebred status of the sire and dam. The dilute offspring are registered based on the color the dog would be if it had at least one D allele. AKC will continue to register dilute Labradors as purebred Labradors based on the registration status of the sire and dam. 

Charcoal is not black!  Silver is not chocolate! Champagne is not yellow! 

Regardless of the purebred status of dilute Labradors, dilute colors are not acceptable coat colors based on the well established Labrador Retriever breed standard. Breed standards describe in detail the appearance, temperament, movement, desirable traits, and disqualifying characteristics of  breed. These standards serve as a blueprint for responsible breeders. The breed standards are also a valuable reference for potential dog owners looking for the dog that will be suitable for their lifestyle. All breeders should strive to adhere to the breed standard. They breeders follow the breed standard with the goal of preserving the qualities described in the standard. Labradors with dilute coats, black and tan markings, brindle patterns, and.or the Dudley nose have disqualifying colors and markings. These dogs should be excluded from all breeding programs.

Ethical breeders would never intentionally breed dogs with disqualifying characteristics. Purebred dogs with disqualifying characteristics should not be bred. 

Reputable breeders are dedicated to the betterment of the breed. They try to avoid disqualify traits and other known genetic problems in their breeding programs. Responsible breeders focus on health, temperament, structural integrity, intelligence, conformation, working ability, and the classic Labrador temperament. These breeders try to avoid disqualifying traits in their breeding programs. If these breeders have a puppy with disqualifying markings or coat colors, the puppy will be placed in a pet home with limited registration and a spay/neuter agreement. 

Dilute breeders promote disqualifying coat colors.

The acceptable Labrador coat colors are clearly stated in the breed standard. When breeders fail to follow the breed standard or focus on a specific trait, such as the dilute colors, the overall quality of the offspring is often decreased. DNA testing that identifies dogs that carry the dilute allele is now available, and many responsible breeder have their Labradors tested prior to breeding them. Since ethical Labrador breeders will not breed their dogs with dilute dogs or a known carrier, the overall quality of the dilute Labrador gene pool may be compromised. For many years, dilute Labradors were a result of inbreeding and close line breeding  practices.  

Breeding programs that focus on disqualifying characteristics are detrimental to the breed. 

Dilute breeders:
  • Disregard and disrespecting the Labrador Retriever breed standard
  • Make false statements regarding extensive testing that proves dilute Labradors are purebred
  • Focus on financial gain rather than the betterment of the breed 
  • May promote overpriced puppies as rare and unique 
  • Have a questionable code of ethics