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Silver Labradors: A Beautiful and Controversial Breed

There are three different colors of Labrador recognized by the Kennel Club in the UK and North America: Yellow, Black and Chocolate. Within Yellow Labs there is also a wide range of ‘acceptable’ shades, from palest cream to rich dark red. Until recently there has been no such variety of shades in Black or Chocolate Labradors, apart from a very small variation in how dark or rich a shade the chocolate dogs may have.

When Did Silver Labradors Appear?
While the very first Labradors were predominantly Black, Yellow and Chocolate Labradors have been recorded since the late 1800s. They were initially probably largely culled as unacceptable. But over time people’s views changed and first Yellows, and later Chocolates, became popular too. Silver Labradors however, first appeared in the USA in the 1950s.

What Causes the Silver Coat?
Labrador coat color is controlled by a set of genes. Weimaraners all have two of the ‘silver’ genes. And the appearance of the silver gene in Labradors is what has enabled Silver Labs to appear on the scene. The question is how did the dilution gene get into the Labrador breed? There are two ways for a new gene to appear in a closed register of pedigree dogs: spontaneous genetic mutation and outcrossing.

Many people believe that the spontaneous appearance of the “silver” gene, found in Weimaraners, is unlikely. However, it is interesting to note that Silver Labradors can be traced back to two breeders in 1922. Those in favor of the Weimaraner outcross theory often claim Silvers have a “houndy” look about them. But this is true of many field-bred Labradors.

Not Pedigree?
Some opponents of the Silver Lab will claim that Silver colored Labradors cannot be registered as pedigree dogs, but this is not the case. The American Kennel Club does accept these puppies. However they are registered as Chocolate, not Silver. Many breeders of Labradors strongly object to the production of Silver puppies for a number of reasons: they feel that it threatens the purity of the breed; they are concerned about inbreeding; they object to false claims of ‘rare’ and ‘unique;’ they feel Silver breeders are dishonest about the origins of the Silver Labrador; they feel that Silver Labs are overpriced.

The Purity of the Breed
Some might say that pedigree Labrador breeders are worried about the competition, but I suspect this is not often the case. Most pedigree breeders are however, very committed to the concept of closed registry breeding and are angry that what they believe is most likely to be an outcross, has been sneaked into the breed dishonestly. As most breeders are in favor of a permanently closed register, they object strongly to what they see as tampering with tradition and the contamination of the Labrador genetic pool.

With so many concerns being raised over the last few years about closed registry breeding this is a contentious subject with strong opinions on both sides. Perhaps of more concern to the average pet owner, are issues of inbreeding in Silver Labradors. In order to establish their Silver lines, breeders will have had to breed quite closely. It would seem likely therefore that the Silver Labrador gene pool is very small. Accusations of inbreeding in Silver Labs may be well founded, and of course inbreeding increases the risk of health problems arising or becoming exacerbated.

Breeders also object to what they consider are very high prices charged by breeders of Silvers, and to what they believe are untrue claims that Silver Labs are rare and unique animals. At the moment the claims to rarity are somewhat true. In the UK at least, there are very few Silver Labradors available compared with the three standard colors. Objections to so-called overpricing are common in dog breeding and not confined to the Silver Lab.

Should You Buy One?
With the jury still out on the origins of the Silver Labrador and concerns about inbreeding, you might want to exercise caution over buying a Silver Labrador puppy. Finding a reputable breeder in the UK that produces pedigreed Silver Labrador puppies from fully health-tested parents will not be an easy task. This is because most good breeders want nothing to do with what they consider to be the dishonest promotion of an animal that has its origins in an outcross.

Remember that a Silver Labrador will be registered as Chocolate. And you will probably pay a high price for your puppy. Check the pedigree and health certificates very carefully and proceed with caution.

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