Labradors are a popular dog breed, especially among families and households with pets and small children.
Most people who own Labs say they are one of the most loving and lovable breeds.
Their sweet expression, soft-mouthed nature, even disposition, and lack of aggression have endeared them to people everywhere. When it comes to color, there are two primary color patterns of Labradors: black and yellow.
Does Labrador Colors Matter?
The three different colors of Labrador are often associated with different roles.
The yellow Labrador has become associated with Guide Dogs for the Blind, the black Labrador with gundog work, and the chocolate Labrador with pet homes and the show ring.
But of course,
Best Labrador Color: Genetics
You can still meet handlers who claim that yellow labradors are less trainable than blacks and others who believe that yellow dogs have more brains than blacks.
Both theories are, of course, nonsense, as a study of labrador genetics proves.
The color of the coat of a labrador puppy is determined by the genetic make-up inherited from its parents. Though the black gene is dominant, there are nine different labrador genotypes, allowing some different possibilities.
For example, if you mate two yellow dogs you will get only yellow puppies. Two chocolate dogs can produce yellow puppies, while two black dogs can potentially produce black, chocolate, and yellow puppies. It's a complicated subject.
It's essential for labrador enthusiasts who breed for a certain color to have a detailed knowledge of genetics and to understand the effects of recessive genes. It's possible to have your dog tested to discover its genotype and thus be able to predict with some accuracy the color of any progeny.
The American company VetGen even offers what it calls a “Coat Color Prediction Service, so you can reveal your dog's hidden color genes and then optimize your ability to breed the colors you want”.
Choice of coat color really comes down to a matter of preference: we all get on best with what we like most.
My enthusiasm for fox-red dogs is simply explained: they are much the best for photography. In contrast, black dogs are a nightmare.
There is, of course, one other disadvantage to owning a black dog, for they do tend to look the same.
I've never forgotten the embarrassment of two friends who took the wrong dogs home after a day's shooting. They were blissfully unaware until their wives voiced their suspicions.
How Many Coat Colors and Variations Do Labradors Have?
The American Kennel Club classifies the breed standard coat as either being black, chocolate, or yellow.
Although there are three official colors found in Labrador Retrievers and two different types, the breed has a plethora of different variations and shades, all within each individual coat color.
This makes for quite a diverse dog.
But how can you explain this biological phenomenon?
Why Was Black the First Color of Choice in Labs?
The Labrador Site mentions that the popularity of black-coated Labradors started in the early 1900s. The preference in those times was for a solid black dog.
Black Labs were so popular back then that breeders did not breed for other colors. Yellow and Chocolate Labradors were simply not in demand.
It has been theorized that most of the puppies that came out the wrong color were often called, which is what happened in Germany to the “grey ghost”, or the Weimaraner.
Color Inheritance - Labrador
There are three main Labrador colors, and a huge variety of shades of color too.
To find out much more about where these Labrador colors came from, and how they inherited their lovely coats, head over to our in-depth article on Labrador color inheritance.
Yellow Labradors are well known for a variety of roles, but perhaps best of all for being Service Dogs.
They are nice-tempered, easy to train, and full of love.
Although popular for highly trained roles, and of course very photogenic and therefore frequently used in charity literature, the yellow Labrador can still make a magnificent pet and be popular in the show ring too.
Fox Red Labs
Fox Red Labradors are officially a section of the much more common yellow Labradors.
These dogs tend to come from working lines and have a more orange hue to their coats.
They are still classed however on Kennel Club documentation as yellow Labradors.
In recent years some people have begun to refer to yellow Labradors as fawn Labradors.
If your Lab pup color is slightly darker than the traditional yellow, but not as orange as a Fox Red Labrador, you might well refer to him as being a Fawn Labrador.
However, this is not an official Labrador color, nor indeed is it really one that is referred to by Labrador breeders in the way that Fox Red now is.
Black Labradors have long been favored as gundogs, but also make wonderful pets, companions, and agility dogs too.
They are the most common color of Labrador, due to how their color genes are inherited.
Perhaps, for this reason, they are a little overlooked when it comes to people’s top picks for the best Labrador color, but they are still really remarkable dogs.
Chocolate Labradors make great family pets, as well as playing a role in the Show Ring.
In America, chocolate Labradors are quite firmly established in hunting lines. However, it is worth bearing in mind that in the UK, Chocolate Labradors have only recently been achieving awards in the field. Black and yellow Labradors still taking more prominence at least in Field Trial circuits.
Silver Labradors are a fairly new trend in Labrador breeding.
This amazing color inspires a lot of comments from Labrador fans, both positive and negative.
The color variation from chocolate is caused by a diluting gene, but how this got into the breed is the source of some controversy.
Which color is the best?
Some people have a strong preference for a particular color, but others are quite happy with either.
If you are not fussy about color, you will have more choice of Labrador breeders to put on your shortlist when setting about choosing the right dog.
Although you might love one particular color to look at, do think carefully about your priorities when it comes to picking a puppy.
Perhaps what really matters is your Labrador's breeding: his parent's temperaments, roles, and health.
Show vs Field Bred Labs
Whatever your color preference it is worth bearing in mind that Labradors have become divided into two quite distinct types, show, and field.
Finding a suitable dog will probably depend more on choosing the right type, than on choosing the right color.
With some colors, you will have more choice in one type rather than the other.
And with some types, you will have more choice in one color than the others.
To find out more about the differences between show and working bred Labradors.
When picking your new Labrador, you might be looking for an adult rather than a puppy.
When rehoming from rescue centers you won’t in all likelihood have a choice of color, but you will be getting the opportunity to give a lovely Labrador a better life.
BEST LABRADOR COLOUR: CURRENT COLOUR TRENDS
Quite what the founding members of the Yellow Labrador Club would have made of the current fashion for pale-lemon labradors is another matter.
Show enthusiasts are rarely satisfied with what they have, and always want to change and improve on the best labrador colour, which goes a long way towards explaining why the early fox-red labradors fell from favour as breeders, encouraged by judges, sought to produce paler and paler dogs.
In recent years there has been something of a backlash, as traditional fox-red animals have become increasingly popular in the shooting field if not on the bench. The UK breed standard is flexible, allowing the colour to range from light cream to fox-red.
The resurgence in enthusiasm for fox-red dogs as the best labrador colour isn't surprising. It is, of course, the ideal colour for a wildfowling dog, providing natural camouflage, and is a very acceptable colour for game-shooting, too.
In contrast, the pale yellow dogs appear totally out of place in the shooting field – they look best wearing tartan coats while being walked in the park.
Black has always been the dominant colour in the shooting field and in trials.
In 1941, Major Radcliffe wrote an article for The Field in which he described a strain of pure white labradors, bred by Mr Austin Mackenzie of Carridale.
They were described as very handsome dogs but, perhaps fortunately, this was one variety that never caught on. Equally intriguing are the Hailstone labradors from the Solway.
These were black-coated dogs with white spots, a sort of reverse Dalmatian. A keeper even showed one at Crufts, where it gained the approval of Lorna, Countess of Howe, one of the most influential of labrador people between the wars. She qualified no fewer than 24 dogs for the Retriever Championship between 1920 and 1936 and won it three times.