Silver Labrador Retrievers - All About Silver Labs

If you didn’t know that there is such a thing as silver Labrador retrievers, you are not alone. Most of us are familiar with the usual Labrador colours of black, yellow and chocolate, and these are the three official colours for Labrador retrievers that are recognised by the UK Kennel Club.

However, they are not the only colours Labs can exhibit, and whilst silver Labradors aren’t by any means common, they are currently attracting a lot of attention both within the UK and further afield – and not all of it positive.

The Labrador retriever is the UK’s most popular large dog breed, and according to our Pets4Homes dog breed popularity ranking, its currently the sixth most popular dog breed overall (as of January 2019). The handsome looks and amazing temperament of dogs of the breed makes them very versatile and much in demand with people from all walks of life, and dog breeders are continually working to improve their breed lines and provide what buyers are looking for in puppies. This can sometimes result in changes to the breed’s norms and recognised traits in individual dogs – such as colour.

Whether you have already fallen for the charms of silver Labradors and are considering buying one or if you were not even aware that silver Labradors existed at all, this article will provide an introduction to silver Labs. We’ll look at what silver Labradors are and the various schools of thought on how they came into being in the first place, why the silver colour in Labradors is controversial, and provide all of the information that you need to make an informed decision of your own. Read on to learn more.

What is a silver Labrador?

A silver Labrador is exactly what is sounds like – a Labrador retriever that has a silver-coloured coat rather than one that is a standard colour (black, yellow or chocolate). Aside from the distinctive colour of their coats, a silver Labrador usually looks just like any other Labrador retriever.

However, the quality (in terms of how closely any given dog conforms to their breed standard) of any Labrador can be quite variable, and this means the appearance of individual dogs of the breed can be variable in ways other than colour.

If you spot a silver Labrador out and about, the chances are that you will immediately recognise the shape and build of the dog as a Labrador, even if the colour throws you off. The exact shade of silver a silver Lab shows can be seen in a variety of hues too, ranging from a very pale silver-grey coat to a darker silver grey, and everything in between.

How long have silver Labradors been around?

As most of us here in the UK have never seen a silver Labrador, it would be easy to assume that this colour is a very new one that has only recently begun to develop within dogs of the breed. Whilst it is certainly fair to say that silver Labradors are not a common sight in the UK, the very first ones appeared a long time ago.

The first silver Labs that were formally recorded to exhibit this colour were bred during the 1950s in the USA, although some records indicate that silver Labs may have been first seen as early as the 1920s. Even though silver Labs have a much longer history than most of us expect, interest in the colour and demand for silver Labs is something that has only really begun to develop in the last couple of years.

Within the USA, silver Labs are somewhat better known and are present in greater numbers than they are in the UK, but they are still very rare worldwide.

Is silver a recognised Labrador colour?

When we talk about recognised colours in dogs, we are referring to the colours that are considered to be acceptable and normal within the breed, and that are cited within the official breed standard.

In the UK, the recognised Labrador retriever colours are black, yellow and chocolate, and as such, silver is not a recognised colour for Labradors. Silver is considered to be an “undesirable” or “unrecognised” colour within the breed for formal registration purposes, because it is not a colour that Labradors should technically exhibit.

Can silver Labradors be registered with the Kennel Club?

First of all, the Kennel Club in the UK doesn’t recognise the silver colour in Labradors, and you can only register dogs of the breed by colour in the specified colours of yellow, black or chocolate. This means that a silver Labrador that is otherwise eligible for pedigree registration cannot be registered as silver, but it does not necessarily mean that they cannot be registered at all.

In other dog breeds that can be found in colours outside of the breed standard, dogs that fall outside of the accepted colour norms are usually registered as “colour not recognised,” and choosing this designation to register a puppy means that they still receive their official pedigree paperwork.

Silver Labs may also be registered as chocolate Labs – and we’ll explain the reasons for this later on within our explanation of Labrador coat colour genetics.

However, you would not be able to enter a silver Labrador in a formal Kennel Club breed show – or rather, if you did enter them, they might be refused on the day or even if permitted to compete, would not be awarded a prize as their colour automatically discounts them from consideration by the judges.

How a Labrador’s coat colour is determined

Dog coat colour genetics can be complex to understand, so before we go on to talk about how the silver colour may be achieved in Labrador retrievers, it is a good idea first to provide a basic outline of how the colour of any given Labrador is determined, which we will explain in more detail below.

Across the three standard Labrador colours of black, chocolate and yellow, a different set of genes is responsible for the yellow variant than the other two.

First of all we’re going to look at the “B” gene in Labradors, which all Labs have two copies of, one from each side of their parentage. The combination of B genes inherited dictates whether or not the dog in question will be black or chocolate (more on yellow Labs later on). There are two types of the B gene, which are:

  • The dominant or “big B” gene, which is the gene responsible for a black coat colour.
  • The recessive or “little b” gene, which causes the chocolate coat colour.

If your Labrador inherits just one copy of the big B gene, this in effect switches off any little b gene the dog also inherits, resulting in a black coat colour.

If your Lab inherits two copies of the little b gene and no copies of the big B gene, they inherit the chocolate coat colour.

Even though a Lab that inherits just one big B gene will be black, they can still pass on a copy of the little b gene (if they inherited one) to their own offspring, which means that they may have chocolate pups, depending on the genes contributed by the other parent dog.

So, what about yellow Labradors? Well, the yellow colouration is caused by a different set of genes again, called the “E” genes, and as is the case with the B genes, they come in a big E and a little e variant. All Labs inherit two copies of E genes, just as they inherit two copies of B genes.

  • The yellow Labrador’s big E gene is dominant, but it does not influence the B gene, which all Labradors inherit two copies of.
  • The little e gene is recessive, but interestingly, this little e gene can override or mask the dominant B gene and cause the yellow colour to occur.

If a Labrador inherits just one copy of the big E gene, any inherited little e gene (the masking gene) is switched off, and the dog will be black or chocolate as dictated by their B genes.

However, if the Lab inherits two copies of the little e gene, this will result in the yellow colour, as the little e gene masks both the B and b genes unless overridden by the presence of a copy of the big E gene.

How is the silver colour achieved in Labradors?

There is a considerable amount of debate about the origins of the silver colour in Labrador retrievers, and most of this hinges on whether or not the colour first occurred naturally as a gene mutation or organic occurrence, or if the silver shade was introduced deliberately, possibly using genetic input from another breed of dog entirely.

We’ll look at the question of whether or not another dog breed has been integral to the development of silver Labradors shortly, but first, we’ll explain how the silver coat colour might have developed naturally in dogs of the breed, and is then replicated in later generations of the breed line.

First of all, whilst we have a relatively good knowledge of the basics of genes, genetics and how they influence coat colour and other traits, we still don’t know everything! New genes are found in all sorts of animals all the time, and genes can naturally mutate in individual dogs over time too.

There are a significant number of genes that remain dormant or undetected until they are activated or expressed, and regardless of whether the first silver Labs occurred naturally or were deliberately bred from the integration of other breeds, the resulting colour can still be explained in genetic terms.

Whilst it is the Bb and Ee genes that dictate the three core Labrador coat colours of yellow, black and chocolate, the silver coat colour comes about as the result of a separate dilute gene, and occurs due to the behaviour of a type of switching gene called the D gene.

Like the Ee and Bb genes, D genes come in two types; the dominant big D gene, and the recessive little d gene.

Inheriting a big D gene overrides or deactivates a little d gene, and so if the dog inherits one of each D genes or two copies of the big D gene, nothing unusual happens.

However, if a Labrador that inherits two little b genes (and so, the chocolate coat colour) also inherits two copies of the little d gene, unusual coat colours (like silver) can appear.

Silver is not the only possible colour that can appear in a dog that inherits this gene combination; but this is the coat shade that develops in dogs with the chocolate gene combination that also inherit the two little d genes.

If a Labrador that inherits the genes for a yellow coat also inherits two copies of the little d gene, their coat colour will be a pale champagne colour rather than a true yellow. If a Labrador that inherits the genes for a black coat also inherits two copies of the little d gene, their coat will be more of a charcoal or dark grey colour than black.

Regardless of how the silver coat colour genes come to be active in any silver Labrador – whether they expressed naturally or were introduced from another dog breed – selective breeding of these original dogs to produce offspring that share the same traits can then form the foundation of a new variant or breed line, which will subsequently reliably reproduce more dogs with the same trait.

Are silver Labradors purebred or cross-breeds?

A large part of the debate over silver Labradors comes down to the question of whether or not silver Labradors are actually purebred Labradors without any other genetic input from other breeds, or if the silver colour was achieved with the introduction of genes from another breed.

The most likely and most commonly-cited dog breed that might have contributed to the silver Lab coat colour is the Weimaraner, a pointing dog breed that is well known for its distinctive silver coat.

All Weimaraners inherit two copies of the little d gene that causes the silver coat colour, and many people feel that the silver coat colour in Labs must almost certainly have been introduced by selective breeding with Weimaraner stock at some point in the past.

The presence of two little d genes occurring naturally within purebred Labrador breed lines cannot be discounted and may well have resulted in some (or even all) of the silver Labrador breed lines around today, but it is equally likely (and in many people’s opinions, much more likely) that the introduction of Weimaraner genes resulted in the introduction of the silver colour.

That said, it would be unfair to say that it is highly likely that silver Labs aren’t purebred, because we don’t really know, and the possibility of previously unknown or hidden genes becoming active to cause a new coat colour or other physical change is one that cannot be discounted.

Anomalies of this type occur in animals all the time – they are what resulted in the modern flat-faced appearance of Persian cats, for instance, and up until around the middle of the 20th century, Persian cats had a more traditional appearance with a normal shaped muzzle.

Selective breeding to reproduce this trait in subsequent generations can result in significant changes to the breed over time – as is the case with Persian cats, and today it is very hard to find Persian cats displaying the more traditional doll-faced look.

To further muddy the waters, some UK breeders of silver Labrador retrievers used imported dogs as the foundation stock of their breeding programmes. Such dogs may well be registered pedigrees with the umbrella dog registry in their home country (such as the American Kennel Club or AKC in the USA), but as the foundation stock was not bred and first registered here in the UK, getting to the bottom of that silver coat’s origins gets that much more complicated.

The only way to find out for sure how any silver Labrador came by their coat colour (and so, if they are purebred or not) is to have them DNA tested to identify the different breeds that contributed to their genetic makeup.

If a dog’s ancestry cannot be proven with the appropriate paperwork (breed registration documents and a traceable ancestry going back several generations) then it is not eligible to be registered as a pedigree.

However, if the dog’s paperwork is all in order and its origins can be traced back the necessary distance, they are considered to be pedigree dogs once they receive their own paperwork.

How a breeder registers a pedigree silver Labrador in the UK depends on how they wish to recognise the colour – they might register the dog as colour not recognised, but as the silver shade results from dogs that inherit the gene combination for a chocolate coat, they might also be registered as chocolate Labradors instead.

What do silver Labradors look like?

A silver Labrador that is purebred or that at least has purebred ancestry going back several generations will have the same physical conformation of any other colour Labrador, and the only obvious difference will be their coat colour. Some silver Labradors may have blue or light-coloured eyes, but this is not always the case.

If the silver colouration was achieved with outcrossing to a Weimaraner, the dog in question might appear to be an obvious cross breed, and as such, is not a purebred Labrador and is better described as a cross. However, even this may not be evident, especially if the crossing is a few generations removed.

What is the silver Labrador temperament?

One of the main reasons for the Labrador retriever’s universal appeal is their temperament, and Labradors possess a range of unique traits that make them very versatile, and able to fulfil a wide range of different roles.

Labradors regardless of colour are large, intelligent and highly active dogs, which are often described as having very honest personalities. They are adaptive and intuitive in terms of being able to moderate their behaviour and follow commands, and they are capable of fulfilling a large number of different working roles including as assistance dogs, security dogs, sniffer dogs and much more.

One potential downside of owning a silver Labrador or a Lab of any other colour for that matter is that they are very food-oriented, even compared to other dogs! They have poor impulse control around food and may be adept beggars and scavengers, which means that dogs of the breed have a tendency to pile on the pounds if this is not carefully monitored, and they may accidentally eat something that is harmful to them too.

Silver Labradors, like other Labradors, tend to be outgoing, friendly, personable and social, and very keen to learn new skills. They work hard to please their owners and handlers and can follow a wide range of commands when properly trained, and exhibit them reliably in all manner of situations.

They love the company of other dogs and people alike, and are at their happiest when out walking with their families. They also have very nice natures and can be gentle and calm with smaller dogs and people who are often nervous around dogs.

It is always important to remember that every dog is an individual with its own unique personality and temperament, and this is as true for silver Labradors as it is for any other dog breed. However as a general rule, silver Labradors are excellent company, very responsive, and a pleasure to have around.

Are silver Labradors healthy?

The Labrador retriever dog breed as a whole is one with a large gene pool of unrelated dogs, because there are so many Labs in the UK. However, there are a number of hereditary health issues that can affect both Labrador retrievers of standard colours, and more unusual ones like silver too.

Any health issue that a standard colour Lab can inherit can also be inherited by a silver Lab, and regardless of the colour of the Lab you are considering buying, you should do plenty of research into the health of the breed and specific issues that can arise within it.

Many of the most common Labrador retriever health problems can be screened for prior to breeding, by means of DNA testing and other forms of examination like hip and elbow scoring.

You can find out more about some of the most common Labrador retriever health issues and health testing protocols within this article, and you should always ask any breeder you are considering buying from plenty of questions about health tests and breed line health before committing to a purchase.

Are there any health problems specific to silver Labradors?

In respect of any health issues or other problems that can be found in silver Labradors specifically, there are considerations you should bear in mind specifically because of the presence of this colour and the genes that cause it.

The silver Labrador coat colour is caused by two little d genes (which are colour dilution genes) and this can sometimes result in problems with the dog’s skin and coat as well as causing an unusual coat colour.

This is known as colour dilution alopecia, and is a health condition that can be found within some breed lines of the similarly-colours Weimaraner dog breed and others with dilute colours too. Whilst this isn’t a life-threatening or particularly dangerous condition for affected dogs, colour dilution alopecia causes loss of fur and potentially, an increased likelihood of the dog developing recurrent infections of the skin and hair follicles too.

Whilst colour dilution alopecia is generally painless and won’t impact upon the dog’s quality of life (other than if infections prove to be an issue) it can make the dog’s coat appear sparse and unkempt, and requires vigilance and care on the part of the owner to keep the skin healthy and in good condition, and to tackle infections.

This is the only currently known issue that might occur in silver Labradors that does not manifest in those of standard colours, and it cannot be reversed or cured. However, as silver Labradors are so few in number, there may be other health issues waiting to manifest that are colour-specific and that we don’t know about just yet – but this is only conjecture.

It is very important to bear in mind that by no means all or even most silver Labradors will also have colour dilution alopecia, and inheriting the silver colour genes does not necessarily go hand in hand with inheriting the gene that leads to this type of alopecia.

However, this is certainly something that prospective silver Labrador buyers should bear in mind and research before committing to a purchase.

Something else that anyone considering buying a silver Labrador should bear in mind is the potential for the dog they buy to have been produced by means of inbreeding or selective breeding within a fairly small pool of genetic diversity.

This is because in order to reproduce the silver colour within subsequent generations of dogs, dogs that are known to carry the little d genes need to be bred with each other. As silver Labradors are very rare and there are only a small number of them available as breeding stock, the chances of a silver Labrador being relatively inbred is subsequently a lot higher than it is for standard colours.

The more inbred any dog is, the greater the likelihood of their inheriting a hereditary health condition or genetic mutation that is harmful, which increases the risk somewhat for silver Labradors.

Do silver Labradors require any special care?

Having an unusual coat colour does not in and of itself mean that your silver Labrador will need any special care; after all, the only thing that sets them apart from other Labs is their coat colour.

However, if your silver Lab is found to have colour dilution alopecia, this is a chronic and lifelong condition that will require care and management for the whole duration of the dog’s life.

Dogs that have short and light-coloured coats may be more prone than other dogs to suffering from sunburn, particularly on exposed areas like the tips of the ears. Whilst silver Labs are not a colour that is widely associated with a higher risk of sun damage (which tends to occur in dogs with white coats and pink skin) this is still something to keep an eye on in very sunny weather.

Are silver Labradors a target for thieves?

One additional point to note that all prospective silver Lab owners should be aware of is how desirable a target for theft a dog of this type might be. The silver colour is very distinctive and undeniably beautiful, whether you agree with the colour itself or not, and both opportunistic thieves and professional dog thieves who steal to order may target a dog of this type, which may have a high resale value either as a pet or as breeding stock.

The relatively unknown nature of silver Labs in the UK at present and of course, the fact that they are so uncommon means that such dogs are not likely to be among the easiest to steal nor the most profitable targets for thieves. However, you should ensure that you don’t leave your silver Lab alone outside of a shop or in an insecure garden, as not only may they be targeted by thieves, but also, might find themselves in the hands of someone who is reluctant to give the dog up if they find it after straying or wandering off.

This is good practice for any dog owner, but if your dog is valuable or otherwise desirable like silver Labradors are, you need to be extra-vigilant.

What is the controversy surrounding silver Labradors?

Whether you are considering buying a silver Labrador or are just interested in finding out more about them, it is important to understand the basics of the controversy and debate over the existence of the colour at all, and why it is of concern for some people.

There are a range of different objections and points of contention over silver Labradors, and we will break down the major arguments below.

The pedigree debate

The first argument against silver Labradors originates from the school of thought that does not believe that the silver coat colour can or ever has occurred naturally within dogs of the Labrador breed. If this statement is correct, it means that any silver Labrador could not be a full pedigree Labrador (most commonly due to the supposed addition of Weimaraner genes) and so, should not be classed as such.

Whilst we covered the question of whether or not the silver coat colour did or did not first develop in the Labrador breed naturally earlier on, we may never know the truth of the matter for sure, and the current standpoint of many of those in opposition is that silver Labradors aren’t purebred Labradors.

The Labrador breed standard and health

The next issue is that silver Labradors fall outside of the breed standard for Labs, which states that dogs of the breed can only be found in black, chocolate or yellow. Other colours are considered to be incorrect or anomalous, and as mentioned, Labradors cannot be registered in these other colours.

Why the breed standard and conforming to it is so important to many deserves some explanation of its own. Breed standards are designed to ensure a level of uniformity across dogs of the same breed, and to outline what those dogs should be like in terms of looks and temperament.

This is then used as a benchmark for the breed’s ideal, and the more closely any dog conforms to it dictates their “quality” in showing terms. A dog that does not conform to the breed standard (particularly in a big way like colour) is ranked accordingly, and considered to be a poor representation of the breed, or in some cases, not a true member of the breed at all.

However, there is more to the defence of breed standards than simply aesthetics; breed standards are also intended to ensure and enable breed health and improvement, by striving to reward good quality, healthy dogs.

When you introduce a new or unknown factor like a new colour – however it is introduced – the colour of the coat may not be the only factor affected. The potential for a silver Labrador to inherit colour dilution alopecia is of course the most obvious objection here, but because of the unknown nature of the colour and its true origins, there is the possibility that further issues may become evident in silver Labs too when or if their population size increases in the future.

Selective breeding and inbreeding

The small population size of silver Labradors and the fact that they need to be bred selectively to replicate the colour in their offspring will potentially lead to health issues developing in breed lines over time, due to the lack of genetic diversity available within breeding stock.

Whether or not any silver Lab also possesses Weimaraner DNA is another consistent bone of contention, and the only way to put this argument to rest for any individual dog is to have them DNA tested to prove their origins. This isn’t something most silver Lab breeders or buyers are overly concerned with, but for many fans of the breed, is a major issue.

There are also wider-reaching concerns surrounding the impact that the presence of silver Labradors may have on the wider Labrador retriever breed as a whole, and that if the colour becomes widely accepted or even formally recognised, this may have a negative effect on the purity and quality of the breed in its entirety.

Demand for unusual dogs

Finally, many people frown upon the idea of breeders deliberately breeding dogs for an unusual or unrecognised colour trait, and particularly, the fact that such dogs are often in great demand and attract high prices in reflection of this.

Such dogs are often advertised as very rare, special strains, or are otherwise described in such a way as to incentivise a high sale price, which the opposition feels is dishonest, misleading, and apt to result in impulse purchases or puppy buyers failing to do enough research first and making an informed decision.

The UK Kennel Club

The UK Kennel Club has not made a formal statement on their views about silver Labradors as of the time of writing (January 2019) and so there is no official guidance available for breeders and puppy buyers – but the Kennel Club will not register the silver colour itself, even in pedigree Labradors.

How much do silver Labradors cost to buy?

The average sale price (according to our Pets4Homes live statistics) of a pedigree Labrador retriever in the UK is £795, and for non-pedigree Labradors, £611. These prices are fairly competitive given the size of the dog and their popularity, and reflects how common the breed is in the UK and the fact that it is not hard to find Labs offered for sale.

Individual dogs of the breed may of course cost less than this, or much more – particularly if the dog in question is an excellent example of the breed, has a show-winning pedigree, or otherwise possesses a unique trait that makes them in demand with buyers.

When it comes to the price for a silver Labrador however, the breed norms in terms of average pricing don’t really apply.

Silver Labradors are very uncommon and so, much in demand, and as yet, supply of silver Labs in the UK is much lower than the number of people who would like to own one.

There is only a limited amount of information available in order to provide a guide price of what you might expect to pay for a silver Labrador puppy, and these prices should not be taken as hard guidelines, as they are apt to be quite variable.

On Pets4Homes specifically, silver Labradors tend to be advertised for sale for prices around the £2,500 mark – which is of course a significant amount of money, particularly when compared to the average purchase cost for a Labrador in a standard colour.

Should you buy a silver Labrador?

The decision to choose to buy (or not buy) any given dog is one that can only be made by the people who are considering it, and there is no right or wrong answer that fits everyone.

If you are thinking about buying a silver Labrador, you should do a huge amount of research first, into both the Labrador breed as a whole and the silver colour variant specifically.

All of the information we have provided within this article should give you a head start on this, but you should also conduct plenty of independent research too, and if possible, speak to other silver Labrador owners to find out their views, and what (if anything) they would do differently if they had to make the same decision again.

You should also factor in the number of unknowns that come with buying a silver Labrador, and work out whether or not you can find out the facts behind them, or will have to accept the fact that there may be areas of uncertainty.

This pertains to things like whether or not you will know for sure if your silver Lab has some Weimaraner ancestry, the possibility that they might inherit colour dilution alopecia, and the potential problems that can be caused by inbreeding.

You can never tell for sure if any puppy is healthy just by looking at it, nor if it will remain healthy for the entire duration of its life. You should always factor in the various Labrador retriever health issues that can be found within the breed, and ask the breeder you are considering buying from about their own health testing protocols before committing to a purchase.

You should also talk to the breeder in depth about their silver lines specifically – why they chose to breed silver Labs, how the silver colour was introduced (and whether this can be verified), what they do to ensure the health of their breeding stock, and how closely related their breeding stock is, factoring in the risk of inbreeding.

Take care over any claims made by a breeder of silver Labradors, particularly if they contradict the evidence or cannot be verified. Don’t fall for the charms of a dog based on its colour alone, nor gloss over anything that raises a red flag in your hurry to get a puppy.

Find out from the breeder too what support they offer to puppy buyers after the sale – what happens if the puppy is found to be unwell, or has inherited a hereditary health condition. Make sure that you get a formal contract of sale outlining these things before you part with your cash.


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