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A Guide to Silver Labrador Retrievers

Updated on January 9, 2018
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Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

What are Silver Labradors?

If you have been looking for a Labrador puppy for some time, at some point you may have stumbled on some ads portraying silver Labrador retriever puppies, but what on earth are silver Labrador retriever puppies? From reading the ad you deduce that one thing is for sure: silver Labrador retrievers are expensive!

You therefore assume that most likely there's a good reason for the higher price tag, perhaps silver Labrador retrievers are rare. After all, when is the last time you saw one? Most likely, never.

Perhaps silver Labs are a rare line of Labradors reminiscent of ancient times, or maybe, just maybe, they are just quite difficult to produce. Perhaps, the birth of a silver Labrador retriever only happens once in a blue moon, hence the justification for the sticker shock.

Intrigued? It sure must feel empowering walking a rare type of dog that has heads turning and people asking: "What breed is your dog? Oh, what a lovely color! Your dog's coat is so shiny! Where did you get this dog from?" These dogs may make quite a conversion starter!

So next thing you know, you want to know more about them. Are they for real? Are they a true rarity, or are these dogs just another scam plotted by some astute dog breeders eager to make some extra money over the holidays?

The good news is that knowledge is power. All perspective dog owners willing to research the type of dog they are interested in are off to a great start. They deserve a big pat on the back. If more and more dog owners like you would thoroughly research dog breeds before committing, they could save themselves and their dogs from lots of unnecessary heartaches.

Labrador Retriever Coat Colors

 Edited to add captions.
Edited to add captions. | Source

Labrador Coat Colors: What the AKC Standard Says

Silver Labrador retrievers are flashy looking dogs, but what are they really? Do silver Labradors really exist? Last thing we knew, Labrador retrievers came in three different colors.

If we look at the American Kennel Club standard for the Labrador retriever breed we can see that coat colors listed are exclusively black, yellow and chocolate. Any other color or combination of colors are considered a disqualification!

Black Labradors must be entirely black, no brindle markings or tan markings are permitted. The only thing allowable is a small white spot on the chest, but even this is not desired.

Yellow Labradors may encompass coat colors ranging from fox-red to light cream, with variations in shading on the ears, back, and underparts.

Chocolate Labradors have coats ranging from light to dark chocolate. As in the black Labrador standard, brindle or tan markings are means for disqualification.

So how can there be breeders selling silver Labradors if the American Kennel Club doesn't recognize them? Some people have been assuming that silver Labradors are not purebred Labs, but rather must be some type of overly glorified mutt, possibly obtained from crossing a Labrador with a Weimaraner, a dog breed known for its distinctive silver/gray coat color which warrants his nickname "the ghost dog.".

So let's get a closer look into what silver Labradors truly are and important facts to be aware of.

Not all that shines is pure gold (or silver in this case!)

Not all that Shines is Pure Gold

Sandra Bolan in the book " The Labrador Retriever" clearly explains that silver Labradors are not purebred Labradors and that neither the American Kennel Club nor the Labrador Retriever Club officially recognize such color.

Labradors do not carry the gene for a silver bluish or gray coat color, so how are silver Labradors produced? Well, it appears that the creation of this coat color is under dispute and subject to lots of controversy.

As mentioned, there is suspicion that silver Labradors may be a cross between Weimaraners (a dog breed known for carrying dilute gene dd) and Labradors, more precisely, chocolate Labradors. According to the book "Advances in Veterinary Dermatology, Volume 7" this is a possibility, considering that when Weimaraners are crossed with chocolate Labs, a mixed puppy with a diluted coat color may be obtained.

Another possibility is that, within the Labrador dog breed, the silver coat color may have appeared spontaneously as a result of silver modifier genes. In black Labs these modifier genes may produce a charcoal coat color, in yellow Labs a champagne coat color and in chocolate Labs a silver coat color.

It is not unusual at times for recessive traits, such as dilution, to stay hidden in blood lines for many generations and then it suddenly plays a wild card when a dog carrying this trait is crossed with another dog with it, resulting in a batch of silver Labrador puppies.

Does the presence of this mutation due to modifier genes though make a silver Labrador purebred? Is a silver Labrador worth more money because it's an unusual color or is it worth less considering that this dog is substandard, basically a sign of impurity of the bloodline and therefore unsuitable for showing or breeding for the show ring? These are good questions that are worth pondering.

The only organization found in support of silver Labs is the Council for Purebred Labrador Retrievers, which argues that Labs with the silver coat along with the other diluted coats charcoal or champagne are purebred AKC pedigree Labrador Retrievers. This council has also issued a petition asking for the Labrador Retriever Club (the AKC Parent Club of the Labrador Retriever) to correct its unfounded claims regarding silver Labradors in hopes that the American Kennel Club adds “Silver” “Charcoal” and “Champagne” as accepted coat color registration options.

The Labrador Retriever Club, on the other hand, holds its ground and emphasizes that the only acceptable colors include Black, Chocolate and Yellow. The organizations considers a silver Labrador as not being a purebred Labrador retriever and warns buyers from falling into the trap and paying premium prices for a dog that is not purebred nor rare.

Although we cannot conclusively prove that the silver Labrador is a product of crossbreeding the Weimaraner to a Labrador, there is good evidence in scientific literature indicating that the Labrador has never been identified as carrying the dilute gene dd. The Weimaraner is the only known breed in which the universality of dd is a characteristic.

— Frances O Smith, DVM, PhD Chair, Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. Genetics Committee

Color Dilution Alopecia

Regardless of how silver Labs are obtained, something perspective buyers must be warned about when considering purchasing a silver Labrador are health issues. When dogs are purposely bred with coat color in mind, it is easy to forget about other vital factors such as behavior and health.

One issue common in certain dog breeds with diluted coat colors is a condition known as color dilution alopecia (CDA). This condition has a genetic basis and is commonly found in blue Great Danes, blue Yorkshire Terriers,and blue Doberman Pinschers. Silver Labrador retrievers are now added to the list.

Also known as blue balding syndrome, color dilution alopecia is a skin condition known for causing hair loss. Indeed, alopecia is a medical term for hair loss. This condition arises because of a hereditary structural defect causing an abnormal distribution of melatonin in the dog's hair shafts.

Affected dogs develop hair loss over the diluted colored areas often starting ar the topline and then spreading to the back. The coat may appear as dry and scaly and there may be several pustules.

Puppies are not born with this condition, in other words, they are born with a normal haircoat. Therefore, they may not show signs right away; however, signs may show up later on once the puppies have left the breeder's home and are settling in their new homes with their new families. Generally, this condition is noticed between 6 months and 3 years of age.

This skin condition does not typically cause any itching, but occasionally, opportunistic secondary pyoderma may set in and cause itching if widespread, explains veterinary dermatologist Dr. Michele Rosenbaum.

On top of skin problems, the National Labrador Retriever Breed Council of Australia warns about silver Labs and discusses high risks for inherited structural and heath defects including neurological disorders, thyroid problems and joint problems deriving from the practice of breeders in failing to test their breeding stock.


In some dogs the coat color dilution is sometimes accompanied by hair loss and recurrent skin inflammation, the so called color dilution alopecia (CDA) or black hair follicular dysplasia (BHFD).

— Philipp U et al. BMC Genet. 2005 Jun

A Word About The Costs of Silver Labradors

According to the Puget Sound Labrador Retriever Association, the only correct colors for Labrador retrievers are black, chocolate and yellow. Buyers should be therefore wary of breeders selling specimens of certain coat colors as "rare" and asking exorbitant prices.

The practice of selling "silver" Labradors at high prices is considered a scam because these dogs are either "mutts" derived from crosses with Weimaraners or they are simply "Labs" with a diluted chocolate coat which is not allowed per standard..

In this latter case, these dogs may be treated as "mismarked dogs" (purebred dogs with some kind of mismarking such as coloring that is either undesirable or disqualifying which prevents them from appearing in the breed ring).

However, with a diluted coat, there is much more going on than a simple mismarking, considering that there is no such thing as a dd Labrador Retriever and therefore, a specimen with this coat cannot be considered a 100 percent purebred Lab!

In either case, silver Labradors do not deserve a higher price tag. The only Labradors that should require a premium price are 100 percent purebred specimens with a champion blood line.

Of course, if you fell in love a silver Lab puppy, nobody in this world can tell you not to buy one, but it's always important to conduct some research and know what you're dealing with before paying that premium price.

Although we cannot conclusively prove that the silver Labrador is a product of crossbreeding the Weimaraner to a Labrador, there is good evidence in scientific literature indicating that the Labrador has never been identified as carrying the dilute gene dd. The Weimaraner is the only known breed in which the universality of dd is a characteristic.

— Labrador Retriever Club

References:

  • BMC Genet. 2005 Jun 16;6:34.Polymorphisms within the canine MLPH gene are associated with dilute coat color in dogs. Philipp U et al.
  • Advances in Veterinary Dermatology, Proceedings of the Seventh World ... edited by Sheila M. F. Torres, Linda Frank, Ann Hargis
  • The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc: The Issue of the Silver Labrador, by Frances O Smith, DVM, PhD Chair, Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. Genetics Committee

© 2018 Adrienne Janet Farricelli

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