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The Silver Labrador Controversy

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 brindle. 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 Color Genetics

The genes that control the basic coat color in Labradors are located on 3 separate chromosome sites. 

  • Alleles at the B-locus code for black and chocolate colors. The dominant B allele codes for the black color. Two recessive b alleles code for the brown color. 
  • The E locus alleles control the expression of the color alleles on the B locus. The development of black and brown pigment is suppressed in Labradors with 2 recessive e alleles. In these dogs, yellow pigment is produced. 
  • The dominant D allele codes for normal coat color development. The vast majority of Labradors have 2 dominant D alleles. Dogs with 2 recessive d alleles have dilute coat colors.
  • Black Labradors have at least one dominant B allele, at least one dominant E allele, and at least one D allele. 
    • BB/EE, BB/Ee, Bb/EE, and Bb/Ee 
  • Chocolate Labradors have 2 copies of the recessive b allele, at least one dominant E allele, and at least one D allele. 
    • bb/EE and bb/Ee
  • Yellow Labradors have 2 copies of the recessive e allele, and at least one D allele. 
    • BB/ee, Bb/ee, and bb/ee

Rare Inherited Coat Markings and Patterns in Labradors 

In Labradors, there are several unusual coat traits and patterns that are rarely observed. Recessive alleles code for brindling, black and tan points, and long coats. These traits have been observed since the breed was developed in Great Britain. These dogs are purebred Labradors, but they can not be shown in conformation classes. Genetic tests for numerous recessive alleles that code for unusual coat markings are available.  

These traits are not associated with inherited heath problems. These Labradors usually make wonderful canine companions.

The Recessive D Allele 

The recessive dilute d allele is a result of a mutation of the D allele. 
  • Two recessive d alleles results in the formation of dilute coat colors in dogs.
  • 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. Several other breeds carry the d allele.
  • All Weimaraners have 2 copies of the dilute allele. 
  • The dilute allele is common in Greyhounds, Whippets, and Mastiffs. 
  • Some lines of dogs referred to as dilute Labradors may carry a faulty variant of the d allele. Color Dilution Alopecia is associate with a faulty form of the d allele. This painful skin disorder is associated with severe hair loss and reoccurring infections. 
  • Dogs referred to as dilute Labradors may also experience other health and/or behavior problems associated with the d allele. 
In dogs referred to as dilute Labradors(?) that have 2 d alleles, the black coat color is changed to a charcoal shade, the chocolate coat is changed to a gray or silver coat, and the dilute yellow coat color is champagne.

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. Their dogs were used for sport and hunting. Today's Labradors are similar to the St. John's Water dogs imported to Great Britian. Once the breed was established, 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. Rare alleles for unusual coat traits and patterns such as long-haired coats, black and tan markings, brindle markings, and large white spots were in early Labrador gene pool. These traits are still rarely observed. Some of the genes for these rare coat patterns and markings may have been present in the St. John Water dogs in low numbers. Some 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. The Labrador gene pool was small in the 1800's. Initially, the first few generations of St. John's Water dogs were bred to relatives. This practice increases the probability of an offspring inheriting recessive alleles from both parents. The line breeding practices and the small gene pool would have increased the probability of producing dilute offspring if the early Labradors carried the d allele. No dilute puppies were observed.
  • Black was the preferred Labrador color in Great Britain. If the d allele was present in the early lines of Labradors in Great Britain, the first dilute Labradors probably would have been dilute black puppies born in England. No dilute Labrador(?) puppies were observed in the 1800's or the 1900's. Several other rare recessive coat traits were observed and documented. A few of  English Labradors carried alleles for recessive traits including chocolate and yellow coat color alleles as well as alleles for several rare coat markings and patterns. 
  • The first dilute litter of puppies born in Britain arrived in 2006. The sire and dam of this litter were silver Labradors imported from America.
  • 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 Chesapeake Bay Retriever could not be the source of the d allele in Labrador bred in Great Britain. The ancestors of this breed were 2 Newfoundlands rescued from a shipwreck off the coast of Maryland in 1807. The Chessie breed was developed in America. The first Chesapeake Bay Retrievers were imported to England 1933, 30 years after the Labrador breed was established in Great Britain. 
  • The probability that the d allele was present in the Labrador gene pool in Great Britain in the 1800's and early 1900's is extremely low. 

Dogs Referred to as Dilute Labradors in the USA 

The first gray Labradors arrived in USA in the mid 1900's at the Kellogg Kennel in South Dakota. This kennel advertised "rare gray Labradors" around 1950 in a gun dog magazine. 
  • 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. 
  • The Culo and Beaver Creek kennels actively bred gray or silver Labradors that were related to Labradors from the Kellogg Kennel. 
  • Inbreeding the early silver Labradors with siblings, cousins, and parents increased the numbers of silver and chocolate puppies that carried the dilute allele in these kennels. 
Labrador Retrievers became very popular in the 1900's, and there were numerous litters being bred in America. The significant increase in the number of litters increased the probability that traits associated with rare recessive alleles, such as the d allele, would be expressed. 
  • If the d allele was in the Labradors exported from Great Britain to the USA and other countries, a few dilute puppies probably would have been observed in a few states and possibly in other countries. None were noted.
  • Some dilute puppies may have been culled, but the arrival of at least some of them would have been documented, especially since "rare gray Labradors" at the Kellogg Kennel were advertised. 
  • Dilute Labrador puppies were not observed in other countries until after dilute Labradors born in the USA were exported to these countries.
The popularity of chocolate Labradors also increased in the mid to late 1900's. 
  • Many Labrador breeders in America started 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 of these Labradors from British lines carried the d allele, their would have been an increase in the number of chocolate Labradors that carried the d allele and possibly an increase in the number of silver Labradors. 
  • Following the surge in the numbers of chocolate Labradors in America, a corresponding increase in silver Labrador puppies born in states throughout the country was not observed.
Dilute breeders support the theory that the d allele has been in the Labrador gene pool since the breed was developed, however, the facts do not support this hypothesis.
  • The probability that the d allele was present in the Labradors in Great Britain in the 1800's and 1900's is extremely low. The first dilute Labrador(?) puppies were born in Great Britain after silver Labradors were imported from America. 
  • It's highly unlikely that the only Labrador(s) exported from Great Britain that carried the dilute allele ended up at the Kellogg Kennel

The Most Likely Source of the Dilute d Allele in Labrador Retriever Gene Pool

There are 3 possible sources of the d allele in Labradors.

First, t
he dilute d allele could have been present in a Labrador gene pool all along in very low numbers. I
t's possible, but 
extremely unlikely, that the d allele remained hidden in the breed for more than 100 
years. 
  • No dilute puppies were born in Great Britain in the 1800's or the 1900's.
  • Occasionally, rare recessive alleles have been known to remain hidden for many years. 
    The recessive b and e alleles were rare in the early English lines, and the arrival of both chocolate and yellow puppies in England and America was documented. Other very rare traits in Labradors includes b
    lack and tan points, brindle coats, and large white spots. These rare coat markings and patterns are still occasionally observed in the breed. 
  • All dogs referred to as dilute Labradors have been traced back to 2 dogs bred at a kennel in South Dakota in the mid 1900's.
  • No dilute Labrador puppies were born in other countries until after dilute Labradors were imported from the USA to these countries. 
Second, a new mutation of the D allele occurred in a Labrador after the breed was imported to the USA. 
  • Although the d allele has been in the canine gene pool for many years, there were no dilute Labradors(?) until the mid 1900's.
  • Mutations that alter alleles are relatively rare, random events. 
  • A new mutation that duplicates an already existing altered allele would be an extremely rare event.
  • It's very unlikely that the source of the d allele was a new mutation in America.
Third, the d allele was added to the gene pool sometime after Labradors arrived in America, as a result of an accidental or planned crossbreeding event. 
  • All Weimaraners have 2 dilute alleles. 
  • A Labrador was probably crossbred with a dilute d allele at the Kellogg Kennel in South Dakota. All dilute Labradors have been traced back to 2 dogs breed at the Kellogg kennels in the mid 1900's.
  • The Kellogg kennel advertised rare gray Labradors and 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. 
  • It's also possible that the crossbreeding event was accidental. The Kellogg Kennel maintained a large commercial breeding program. A dog that carried the dilute d allele may have "jumped the fence". A Labrador could have been crossbred with a dog of similar size and appearance as a Labrador without the breeders knowledge. If an unplanned or unnoticed breeding took place, some of the pedigrees of the puppies may not have been accurate
  • 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 in 1933, long after the Labrador breed was established, and many years after Labradors were exported from Great Britain to the USA. If a crossbreeding event with a Chesapeake Bay Retriever occurred in America after the AKC started registering Labrador Retrievers in 1917, their offspring and future generations are not purebred Labradors.
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 the Labrador gene pool. 
  • It's possible, but extremely unlikely that the d allele was present in the British Labradors imported to America in the early 1900's. 
  • All dilute Labradors(?) have been traced back to 2 dogs from a midwest American kennel in the mid 1900's.
  • It's extremely unlikely that the d allele in Labradors at the Kellogg kennel was a result of a new mutation of the d allele. 
  • A crossbreeding event with a Weinaraner in the early 1900's is probably the source of the d allele in the Labrador gene pool. 
  • It's impossible to conclusively determine the source of the dilute d allele without testing DNA samples from the sires, dams, and the first dilute puppies born in the mid 1900's. There are no DNA samples from the early dilute Labradors.
  • Most likely, dogs referred to as dilute Labradors are not purebred Labrador Retrievers. 
The dilute allele has probably never been in the purebred Labrador Retriever gene pool.

AKC Investigation and Registration of Dilute Labradors 

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 with the AKC is primarily based on the honor system. The AKC registers litters and individual dogs based on the information supplied by the breeder regarding the registration status of the sire and dam. They do not register dogs based on color.
  • 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 they share other similar characteristics. 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 not 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 DILUTES AS PUREBRED LABRADORS WAS NOT BASED ON SCIENTIFIC DATA.
  • The DNA parentage procedures were NOT available when AKC investigated silver Labradors in 1987. The AKC started genetic tests in 1998, several years after the AKC made the decision to register silvers as chocolates, charcoals as blacks, and champagnes as yellows. 
  • Before genetic testing procedures were available, AKC investigations were based on inspections, and the review of pedigrees and pictures of the dog or dogs in question. 
  • Pictures and pedigrees can not prove or disprove the purebred status of a dog. Although this information is probably correct most of the time, occasionally mistakes happen. Some may be intentional and others may be accidental.
  • 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
    • Stating that  there was no reason to doubt that the dogs were not purebred Labrador Retrievers is not the same as stating that dilute dogs are purebred Labradors. The negative wording may indicate that the investigators had some doubts.
  • It's possible that an unplanned breeding took place with dog may have carried the dilute allele. If the breeder did not observe the breeding, the breeder would not know that the pedigrees of the offspring were inaccurate. The offspring may have resembled purebred Labradors if the other dog had characteristics and traits similar to Labradors. 
  • 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 and the accuracy of the pedigrees reviewed by the AKC. 
  • There is no DNA testing procedure that can accurately determine breed purity. The current testing procedures evaluate DNA samples from a sire, dam, and puppy or puppies to determine the parents of the offspring.

The Truth About "Extensive Testing" Done on Silver Labradors

For years, dilute breeders have been making FALSE statements regarding test results that prove that silvers are purebred Labradors. 

  • Many dilute breeders believe that extensive testing done in the late 1900's determined that silver Labradors were purebred dogsThe early dilute breeders have been passing along this inaccurate information to other dilute breeders for many years
  • These breeders probably never questioned this erroneous statement.
  • Dilute breeders claim that DNA testing and genetic mapping of silver Labradors was done by the AKC at the close of the twentieth century.
    • No scientific testing was done on silver Labradors in 1987. DNA testing was not available in 1987. The only "testing" that was done was the direct observations of dilute dogs, and the review of pictures and pedigrees. 
    • The AKC started doing DNA testing to insure the accuracy of pedigrees in 1998, 11 years after silver Labradors were investigated.
    • There were no DNA samples from the first generation of silver Labradors puppies, their sires, and their dams. Therefore, the parentage of the early silver puppies could not be verified.
    • The AKC has never done genetic mapping on silver Labradors.
    • The conclusions made by the investigators did not prove that silver Labradors are purebred dogs. 
  • The researcher at UC Berkeley did not conduct laboratory testing during the investigation of the purebred status of silver Labradors. Dr. Mark Neff reviewed the pedigrees of non-dilute Labradors that produced dilute offspring 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. Rare recessive allele can remain hidden for many years. 
  • It's possible, but very unlikely, that the d allele has been in the Labrador gene pool since the breed was developed. 
About Canine Genetic Testing
  •  "What You Need to Know About Dog DNA Tests"
    • "DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) is composed of a sequence of substances known as nucleotides. It carries the unique blueprint for every individual living organism- form the smallest bacterium to humans. Genes are segments of DNA, and these code for specific proteins that play the central role in building, maintaining, and reproducing a cell. Dogs have about 20,000 to 25,000 genes that are located along 78 chromosomes (compared to 46 in humans). In 2005, an international research team led by MIT's Broad Institute published a paper in the journal Nature, describing the sequencing of the canine genome. This complete set of dog genes gave scientists, breeders, and owner a powerful tool to better understand and care for dogs. The research was based on the genetic sequence of Tasha, a female Boxer. This breakthrough gave researchers a tool for identifying genes for specific traits, including diseases, in addition to pinpointing genes and parentage."
    • From the American Kennel Club website, DNA resource center
  •  "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, DNA resource center
  • Genetic testing procedures are now available.
    • The purebred status of the early dilute puppies can not be determined because there are no samples from the early dilute offspring and their parents. 
    • There are still no DNA tests that can accurately verify breed purity. 

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 decisions made by the AKC and LRC was based on the information and procedures that was available during the investigation in 1987. DNA parentage testing was not available when silver Labradors were investigated. The study of pictures and pedigrees can not prove that a dog is purebred. 

Only DNA parentage testing can determine the purebred status of a puppy. The study of pictures and pedigrees can prove that a dog is not purebred, if, for example, an inappropriate breed-specific characteristics is observed or a serious problem with the pedigree is noted. The accuracy of the pedigrees of the early dilute dogs can not be verified without DNA parentage test results. In large-scale commercial breeding programs, an accidental breeding can occur without the knowledge of the breeder. It is possible that a crossbreeding was planned with the hope of adding a stronger hunting drive in the offspring. Also, pictures can be misleading if a Labrador was crossbred with a dog with similar physical characteristics. Mixed-breed dogs with one Labrador parent often resemble purebred Labradors. Based on the photographs for the early silver Labradors, these dogs resembled field-type Labradors with some physical features that are common in Weimaraner breed. 

The AKC and LRC did not state that there was proof that the silver Labradors were purebred Labrador Retrievers. Being "satisfied that there was no reason to doubt that the dogs were not purebred Labrador Retrievers" does not prove that the dilute dogs are purebred Labradors. The double negative terminology in this statement may indicate that the investigators had some doubts about the purebred status of the silver Labradors. 

Summary

The dilute breeders believe their lines are purebred, and mainstream breeders disagree. Dilute breeders believe the rare dilute allele has always been part of the Labrador gene pool. 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'sNeither side is likely to change their position. 

"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 therefore warrant special notoriety or a premium purchase price." Francis O. Smith, DVM, PhD

DNA parentage testing was not available when the AKC investigated the silver Labradors in 1987. There are not DNA samples from the early dilute Labradors(?) and there parents, Therefore, there are no scientific methods that can determine if these lines are purebred dogs or a result of a crossbreeding event. The study of pictures and pedigrees can not prove the purebred status of dilute Labradors. It's possible, but very unlikely, that dilutes are purebred Labradors. Most likely, the dilute allele has never been in the purebred Labrador Retriever gene pool. 

Current dilute breeders probably believe the inaccurate and false statements made by previous 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 registration status of the sire and dam. The dilute offspring are registered based on the color the dog would be if there was at least one D allele. The AKC will honor the decision they made in 1987, and continue to register dilute Labradors as purebred Labradors. 

The probability that the d allele was present in the  Labrador Retrievers in Great Britain in the 1800's  is extremely low.

Regardless of the purebred status of dilute Labradors, all 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  the breed. These standards serve as a blueprint for responsible breeders to follow. 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. The goal of responsible breeders is to preserve and enhance 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, responsible breeders would never intentionally breed dogs with disqualifying characteristics.

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. Responsible Labrador Retriever breeders respect the breed standardIf 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. Reputable breeders often use genetic testing to identify disqualifying traits if they suspect their dog might be a carrier. 

Breeding programs that promote disqualifying traits are detrimental to the breed.

The breed standard states that any color other than black, chocolate, or yellow are disqualifications. There is nothing controversial about the fact that dilute coat colors are disqualifying traits. Responsible Labrador breeders support the established breed standard. When breeders fail to follow this standard or focus on a specific trait, such as the dilute colors, the overall quality of the offspring is usually compromised. DNA testing that identifies dogs that carry the dilute allele is now available, and responsible breeder can have their Labradors tested prior to breeding them. Since ethical Labrador breeders will not breed their dogs with dilute dogs or a known dilute carriers, the overall quality of the dilute Labrador gene pool is compromised. 

The dilute allele has probably never been in the purebred Labrador Retriever gene pool.

Dilute breeders:
  • Disregard and disrespect the Labrador Retriever breed standard
  • Make false statements regarding extensive testing that proves dilute Labradors are purebred dogs
  • Focus on financial gain rather than the betterment of the breed
  • Promote overpriced dilute puppies as rare and unique purebred Labradors