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Lab Colors: Unraveling the Palette

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Labrador colors

Delving into the world of Labrador colors, one can find a fascinating blend of science, genetics, and a bit of controversy. Labrador Retrievers, arguably the most versatile and popular breed globally, come in a range of coat colors. 

The three main colors—black, chocolate, and yellow—have been widely recognized for centuries. But what about the rare colors like silver, red, or nearly white? How do genes play a role in determining these puppy colors? 

Some argue that color may even impact the dog’s behavior—could it be true that black labs are the calmest? This complete overview examines Labrador Retriever coat colors, delves into color genetics, and explores how coat color is inherited. 

So whether you’re a potential Labrador owner, a breeder interested in color predictions, or simply an avid dog lover, this comprehensive guide offers valuable insights into the captivating world of different colored Labs.

The Three Primary Labrador Colors

When we talk about the Labrador Retriever, the first aspect that often comes to mind is their distinctive coat color. There are three main colors acknowledged by kennel clubs worldwide: black, yellow, and chocolate. These three colors are not just about aesthetics; they reflect fascinating aspects of the breed’s genetics.

Black Labrador

Black Labradors Retrievers

The Black Lab is arguably the most recognizable variant of this beloved breed.

Genetic Factors

The black coat color is dominant in Labradors. This dominance stems from the ‘B’ (black) gene. A Labrador will have a black coat if it carries at least one ‘B’ gene and two ‘E’ genes, which allow the color to express. This means if two Black Labs mate, the color of the litter can be black, chocolate, or yellow, given that the parents carry the recessive genes for the other colors.

Common Characteristics

Black Labs are often seen as workhorses among Labradors. They are highly sought-after as service dogs, hunting companions, and therapy dogs due to their trainability and focus. Despite individual variations, many owners report that their black Labs are friendly, outgoing, and highly trainable.

Yellow Labrador

Yellow Lab

The Yellow Lab can range from a light cream color to a deep “fox red.”

Genetic Factors

The color of Yellow Labradors is controlled by the ‘E’ gene, which can either be ‘E’ (allows the color to express) or ‘e’ (blocks the color). A dog with an ‘ee’ pair will always be yellow, regardless of what color the ‘B’ gene suggests. This is because the ‘e’ gene restricts the expression of both the black and chocolate genes.

Common Characteristics

Yellow Labs are popular as show dogs and family pets. They are recognized for their friendly nature, intelligence, and adaptability. The Fox Red Labradors, a deeper shade of yellow, are particularly admired for their stunning coat color and are becoming increasingly popular.

Chocolate Labrador

Chocolate Labrador

The Chocolate Lab sports a coat ranging from light brown to a deep, rich chocolate color.

Genetic Factors

For a Lab to exhibit a chocolate coat, it must have two ‘b’ genes and at least one ‘E’ gene. As ‘b’ is recessive, both parents must carry the ‘b’ gene for a chance of producing chocolate pups. However, the chances increase if a Chocolate Lab is bred with another Chocolate Lab or a black or yellow Lab that carries the ‘b’ gene.

Common Characteristics

Chocolate Labradors are often seen as more laid-back than their black and yellow brethren. They are known for their affectionate and gentle nature, making them excellent family pets. Like all Labs, they are intelligent and versatile, capable of excelling in various roles from companion animals to search and rescue dogs.

The Genetics of Labrador Retriever Colors

The coat colors of Labrador Retrievers are more than just a beautiful feature. They’re an intriguing study in canine genetics, revealing how certain traits are inherited and expressed in a dog breed. Understanding the genetics behind these coat colors provides a deeper appreciation of Labrador Retrievers, their health, and their lineage. This understanding is crucial for breeders and pet owners alike.

The Role of B Genes

In the world of Labrador Retriever color genetics, the ‘B’ gene plays a significant role. This gene is primarily responsible for the black and chocolate colors seen in Labradors.

The ‘B’ gene can either be ‘B’ (dominant and results in a black coat) or ‘b’ (recessive and leads to a chocolate coat). This means black is a dominant color and will be expressed if a Labrador carries at least one ‘B’ gene. To express the chocolate color, a Labrador must have two ‘b’ genes, one inherited from each parent.

The Role of E Genes

The ‘E’ gene, on the other hand, is an essential element that controls whether the ‘B’ or ‘b’ gene will express itself. This gene can either be ‘E’ (allows the color to express) or ‘e’ (blocks the color expression).

An interesting aspect of the ‘E’ gene is that if a Labrador has two ‘e’ genes (‘ee’), it results in a yellow coat, irrespective of what the ‘B’ gene implies. This means that a Labrador with the ‘ee’ genotype will be yellow, even if it carries genes for black or chocolate from the ‘B’ locus. Thus, yellow Labs can genetically be either black or chocolate underneath.

How Genes Determine Labrador Colors

The interplay between the ‘B’ and ‘E’ genes, and their various combinations, produce the three standard colors of Labradors – black, yellow, and chocolate.

To summarize, a Labrador will be:

  • Black if it carries at least one ‘B’ and ‘E’ gene.
  • Yellow if it carries two ‘e’ genes, regardless of the ‘B’ gene.
  • Chocolate if it carries two ‘b’ genes and at least one ‘E’ gene.

Here is a simplified representation of how the genes work together to determine the coat color of Labrador puppies:

Labrador ColorGenotype
Black‘BBEe’, ‘BbEe’, ‘BBEE’, ‘BbEE’
Yellow‘BBee’, ‘Bbee’, ‘bbee’
Chocolate‘bbEe’, ‘bbEE’

It’s worth noting that variations like the Silver, Charcoal, and Fox Red Labradors are considered part of the three primary colors but involve additional genetic factors such as the dilute gene (d).

Understanding these genetic principles helps explain the wide range of color variations found within this breed and gives breeders a framework to predict the possible color outcomes of their litters. However, Labrador genetics is a complex field, with factors beyond coat color, such as health problems and genetic disorders, also playing a vital role. Therefore, genetic tests are increasingly used to ensure the health and well-being of future generations of Labradors.

Rare and Uncommon Labrador Colors

In addition to the three primary Labrador colors – black, yellow, and chocolate – there are several less common but equally captivating Labrador colors. These include the Silver, Red, and White Labradors. While these colors might not be as common as their primary-colored counterparts, they are a testament to the diverse color variations that the Labrador breed can produce.

Silver Labrador

silver labrador

Genetic Factors

The Silver Labrador Retriever is a result of a rare genetic variant in the breed. This color comes from a dilute gene (‘d’) that dilutes the traditional coat colors, effectively creating a silver coat from a genetically black lab, or a charcoal coat from a genetically chocolate lab. A Silver Lab is ‘dd’ and can be either ‘BB’ or ‘Bb’. The dilute gene is a recessive trait, meaning a puppy must inherit the gene from both parents to express the color.

Despite their unique coloration, the American Kennel Club (AKC) does not currently recognize Silver as an official Labrador Retriever color. They are registered as either black or chocolate, depending on their genetic color under the dilute gene.

Common Characteristics

Silver Labradors share the same physical and temperamental traits as their traditionally colored counterparts. They are known for their friendly and outgoing nature, making them excellent family pets. Silver Labs possess a silver-grey to light blue coat. They are sometimes called Blue Labradors.

Their coat is short, dense, and weather-resistant, which is ideal for their love of water and outdoor activities. Like all Labs, they are also used as service dogs due to their trainability and eagerness to please.

Red Labrador

Fox Red Labrador

Genetic Factors

Red Labradors, often referred to as Fox Red Labrador, are essentially a deep shade of yellow. The red color in these Labradors is caused by the expression of the ‘phaeomelanin’ pigment, which is controlled by the A and E loci.

Red Labs carry the ‘ee’ genotype at the E locus, allowing the yellow to express. Then, their unique red color is a result of particular genes at the A locus controlling the intensity of the yellow pigmentation.

Common Characteristics

Red Labradors share the same characteristic features and temperament as their Labrador brethren. They have a deep red or fox-colored coat, giving them their name. Despite their color variation, Fox Red Labs are registered as Yellow Labradors under AKC standards.

White Labrador

White Labrador

Genetic Factors

White Labradors are technically Yellow Labradors with extremely light coats. Genetically, they possess the ‘ee’ combination at the E locus, which allows the expression of the yellow color. However, their notably light coat results from the limited expression of the ‘phaeomelanin’ pigment, making the yellow coat appear almost white.

Common Characteristics

White Labs are known for their nearly white coats and are often regarded as one of the most aesthetically pleasing Labrador colors. They share the same robust build, expressive eyes, and friendly disposition that the Labrador breed is known for.

The Controversy Surrounding Labrador Colors

Despite the Labrador Retriever’s popularity as a breed, there are ongoing controversies and debates that surround the various coat colors of the breed. Two major areas of debate include the potential impact of color on a Labrador’s behavior and the authenticity of the breed’s rare color variants.

The Debate on Color-Affecting Behavior

One area of controversy concerns the belief that a Labrador’s coat color can influence its temperament or behavior. This claim is primarily anecdotal and often stems from general observations of dog owners, breeders, or trainers. It is essential to clarify that no conclusive scientific evidence supports the claim that a Labrador Retriever’s coat color directly influences his behavior or temperament.

A 2019 study published in ‘Canine Genetics and Epidemiology’ examined the relationship between coat color and behavior in English Labrador Retrievers. The study found that there might be an indirect relationship due to the genes associated with color and behavior being located close together on the chromosomes, leading to ‘linkage disequilibrium’.

This essentially means that if a Lab inherits a particular coat color, they may also inherit certain behaviors. This is not a direct cause-and-effect relationship and requires further research to fully understand.

It is critical to remember that an individual Labrador’s temperament and behavior will be influenced more by factors like genetics, upbringing, training, and environment, rather than their coat color.

The Debate on the Purity of Rare Colors

The existence of rare colors in Labrador Retrievers, such as Silver, Charcoal, or Champagne, has been a contentious issue. The main debate revolves around the genetic purity of these rare-colored Labs and whether they are purebred Labrador Retrievers.

The controversy arises from the fact that the dilute gene responsible for these colors is not recognized in the breed standard by many major kennel clubs, including the American Kennel Club (AKC). Some breeders and enthusiasts believe that the dilute gene was introduced into the Labrador gene pool through cross-breeding with other breeds, most notably the Weimaraner. You can read our article Silver Labs or Weimaraners to learn more about this topic.

On the other side of the argument, advocates for the Silver and other dilute-colored Labradors believe that the dilute gene has been part of the breed’s genetic pool for decades, possibly overlooked due to infrequent occurrence.

Despite these debates, it’s worth noting that a Labrador’s color does not impact its ability to be a loyal, loving companion. While the color can be a point of interest, it’s the Labrador’s characteristic good nature, intelligence, and adaptability that have endeared it to millions worldwide.

Labrador Color Inheritance and Breeding

The Labrador Retriever’s coat color is determined by its genetics, with two primary genes, known as the B (Black/Brown) gene and the E (Extension) gene, playing key roles. Understanding these genetic factors can aid breeders in predicting potential Labrador puppy colors and explains the role of dilute genes.

Predicting Labrador Puppy Colors

To predict Labrador puppy colors, it’s essential to consider the genetic makeup of the parent dogs. The B gene influences whether a Labrador will be black or brown (chocolate), and the E gene determines whether the Labrador will express black/brown pigmentation or be yellow.

If we symbolize dominant alleles with capital letters and recessive alleles with lowercase letters, then the color outcome will be as follows:

  • Black Labs: BBee, Bbee, BBEe, BBEE, BbEe, BbEE
  • Chocolate Labs: bbEe, bbEE
  • Yellow Labs: BBEe, BbEe, bbEe, BBEe

By considering the potential combinations of these alleles, breeders can anticipate the range of possible colors in a litter. However, they must note that this process does not guarantee specific results but instead predicts probabilities.

The Role of Dilute Genes

Dilute genes are responsible for variations in the intensity of the Labrador’s coat color. A Lab with a dilute gene has a ‘d’ allele, which can lighten the standard colors. For instance, black Labs can appear as charcoal, chocolate Labs can turn silver, and yellow Labs can show a champagne color. However, these color variations are not recognized by all kennel clubs, including the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Genetic Testing for Labrador Color Inheritance

Genetic testing offers a more precise method to determine what color puppies a Labrador might produce. DNA tests can identify the specific alleles present in a dog’s genotype. This information allows breeders to know definitively whether a dog carries the genes for black, chocolate, yellow, or dilute colors.

Although genetic testing is more often used for identifying potential health issues, it can also be applied to better understand the complex inheritance of coat colors in Labs. Testing can be particularly useful when breeders aim to produce litters of a specific color or avoid producing puppies of non-standard or disallowed colors.


The Labrador Retriever’s coat color is not just a physical attribute but a complex genetic trait resulting from the interaction of multiple genes. Three main colors recognized by most kennel clubs are black, yellow, and chocolate, with rarer variants, including silver, red, and white, also observed.

Although coat color in Labs has sparked debates on behavior correlation and breed purity, it’s essential to reiterate that no scientific evidence proves a direct link between a Lab’s color and its temperament or behavior. The value of understanding Labrador colors extends beyond aesthetics, providing insights into the breed’s genetics, health implications, and potential puppy color outcomes.

In the end, regardless of the coat color, Labrador Retrievers remain one of the most beloved breeds worldwide, celebrated for their good nature, intelligence, and adaptability rather than the shade of their fur.

Daniel Rowe
Daniel Rowe
Daniel is an experienced writer who specializes in canine topics. He has gained firsthand knowledge from years of research and engagement with dogs. This has given him deep expertise in breed profiles, behavior insights, and more. Fellow dog enthusiasts recognize Daniel for his authoritative content. He is dedicated to sharing reliable and trustworthy information. He is committed to enriching the lives of dog lovers through his writing.
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