Good Dog’s Coat Color in the Labrador Retriever & Dilute Policy

We developed a policy on coat colors and the dilute gene in the Labrador Retriever that aligns with the Labrador Retriever Club's position.

by Dr. Judi Stella, PhD - Head of Standards & Research at Good Dog

The Labrador Retriever Club (also known as the LRC or the parent club) recognizes only the following three coat colors as purebred Labrador Retrievers: black, yellow (from fox-red to light cream), and chocolate (light to dark shades). Dogs with the silver, charcoal or champagne coat color (known as the dilute coat colors) are not recognized by the LRC, despite the fact that they can be registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) under the foundation or base color (yellow, black or chocolate) (LRC: The Issue of the Silver Labrador).

Good Dog’s position and policy align with the LRC as they define the breed standard and, accordingly, Good Dog only recognizes black, yellow, and chocolate colors as Labrador Retrievers.

What is a Dilute Retriever?

Melanocytes are a certain type of cell in the skin and hair that produce black (eumelanin) and red (pheomelanin) pigment (or coloring). Pigment dilution is the result of either decreased production or decreased transfer of pigment. Several areas (or locus) on the dog chromosome have been identified as influencing pigment and coat color, including the tyrosinase (Chinchilla) locus, the brown locus and the D (dilute) locus. Mutations within or near the melanophilin (MLPH) gene in the D locus have been shown to cause dilute coat color in several breeds of dogs including the Weimaraner, Doberman Pinscher, Beagle, and Greyhound. These genetic mutations in the D locus are also responsible for modification of color in the Labrador, resulting in dilution of yellow to champagne, black to charcoal, and chocolate to silver.

Why are Dilute Coat Colors not Recognized by LRC?

There is no consensus in the dog world regarding the origin of the dilute coat colors in the Labrador. The dilute colors were unknown in Labradors until the middle of the 20th Century. It has been proposed that the dilute gene was introduced by cross breeding with a Weimaraner. Weimaraners are unique in that the dilute gene is fixed in the breed, meaning all Weimaraners are homozygous (have 2 copies) for the recessive dilute gene (dd). If a Weimaraner were bred to a Labrador all of the resulting puppies would have one copy of the dilute gene, Dd.

Then, if two dogs with the genotype Dd are bred, on average 25% of the offspring would have the dd genotype and the dilute coat color phenotype (or observable expression of the genotype). It is possible that the mutation spontaneously appeared in the Labrador. However, the gene is rare in most breeds where it is known to exist and combined with the lack of evidence of dilute colors in the history of the breed until the middle of the last century, it is unlikely. Therefore, many breeders consider the dilute Labradors to be crossbreds.

Dilute colored dogs are sometimes considered to be less healthy than non-dilute colored dogs. For most dogs this is not true. However, some associated health conditions have been identified in dilute Labradors. One is a form of alopecia. Color Dilution Alopecia (CDA) has been identified in breeds such as the Doberman Pinscher and is caused by a variation of the dilute gene (dl ). CDA is a recessive trait that causes patchy, thinning or loss of hair. These dogs are at increased risk of bacterial infections of the skin, in some cases with dry, itchy, scaly skin. There is no cure for CDA so breeding of affected dogs is not advised. A form of alopecia has been identified in silver Labradors although it is unknown if it is CDA or another form of alopecia.

A recent case report identified oculo-skeletal dysplasia (OSD), a rare disease of Labradors and Samoyeds, in five Labradors. The disease causes ocular and skeletal defects that can progress to advanced cataracts and blindness as well as severe osteoarthritis. All five of these Labradors were silver suggesting a need for increased genetic screening in this population.

Can Dilute Colored Labradors be Registered?

Dilute colored Labradors can be registered with the American Kennel Club (AKC) under the foundation or base color (yellow, black or chocolate). This is because the AKC registry is based on parentage, they do not assess ‘purity’. However, the LRC (and the UK Labrador breed club) consider dilute colored Labradors to be crossbreds. The breed clubs define the breed standard and have concluded these colors do not align with the ideal Labrador Retriever.

What is Good Dog’s Policy on Labrador Retrievers and Dilute Retrievers and Why?

Good Dog recognizes breeding programs producing black, yellow, and chocolate coat colors as Good Breeders of Labrador Retrievers. Programs that produce dilute coat colors, including silver, champagne, and charcoal, will be recognized as breeders of Dilute Retrievers.

Good Dog is a place for all dogs – whether that is a purebred, crossbred, mixed breed, a puppy or an adult, from a rescue or from a breeder. Our goal is to be a place for the public to learn about all types of dogs and all breeds and find the right dog for them. We hope that by providing education on things such as the difference between a purebred, crossbred, and mixed breed and dilute colors in Labrador Retrievers, we can help you make an informed decision about which dog is right for you and help connect you directly with a responsible source and avoid disreputable sources.

In consultation with our advisors, partners, canine geneticists, canine color geneticists, and other relevant experts, combined with our continued efforts to conduct in-depth research and gather information from consultations with veterinary and scientific experts and the relevant scientific literature we have made the following changes to our Labrador Retriever standards.

In order to be designated as producing Labrador Retrievers all dogs in the program will be required to have proof of the D locus (dilute) gene test and results must indicate a DD genotype. Any program breeding dogs with Dd or dd genotype or a dilute phenotype (champagne, charcoal or silver coat color) will be designated as producing Dilute Retrievers.

Due to the uncertainties surrounding the origins of the dilute gene in the Labrador Retriever and the potential for an increased risk for heritable conditions including alopecia and OSD, we encourage people to consider these potential risks to dog health and well-being when assessing Dilute Retriever breeding programs (Good Dog Guide to Health Testing). The new levels are as follows:

Labrador Retriever

Excellent:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Cardiac Evaluation (OFA)
  • PRA, Rod-Cone Degeneration (PRA-prcd)
  • Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC)
  • Centronuclear Myopathy
  • D Locus (Dilute) DNA test (negative result e.g. no copy of the gene present)

Great*:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC)
  • Plus 2 from this list: Elbow Dysplasia; Cardiac Evaluation (OFA); PRA, Rod-Cone Degeneration (PRA-prcd); Centronuclear Myopathy

Good*:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Plus 1 from this list: Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC); Elbow Dysplasia; Cardiac Evaluation (OFA); PRA, Rod-Cone Degeneration (PRA-prcd); Centronuclear Myopathy

*All Labrador Retriever breeders must add D Locus (Dilute) DNA test within 6 (Great) or 12 Months (Good)

Dilute Retriever

Excellent:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Elbow Dysplasia
  • Cardiac Evaluation (OFA)
  • PRA, Rod-Cone Degeneration (PRA-prcd)
  • Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC)
  • Centronuclear Myopathy

Great:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • DNA Health Panel
  • Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC)
  • Plus 2 from this list: Elbow Dysplasia; Cardiac Evaluation (OFA); PRA, Rod-Cone Degeneration (PRA-prcd); Centronuclear Myopathy

Good:

  • Hip Dysplasia
  • DNA Health Panel
  • Plus 1 from this list: Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC); Elbow Dysplasia; Cardiac Evaluation (OFA); PRA, Rod-Cone Degeneration (PRA-prcd); Centronuclear Myopathy

*We encourage all Dilute Retriever breeders to closely monitor skin and coat conditions. If hair loss is noted, consultation with a board certified dermatologist is recommended to rule out heritable conditions such as CDA in dogs included in the breeding program.

Feedback

Our community is founded on a commitment to listen, learn, and as with so many issues in the dog world, sometimes people have very different opinions and it can take time for us to determine what makes sense for our community. If you disagree with anything about our approach or have any questions or feedback for us, please feel free to contact us anytime at feedback@gooddog.com.

Thank you so much for your time.

Reference & Further Reading

Fadok, V and Vitale, C. 2012. Alopecia in silver Labrador retrievers. In Advances in Veterinary Dermatology. Proceedings of the Seventh World Congress of Veterinary Dermatology, Vancouver, CA. Ed. Sheila M.F. Torres, coed Linda Frank, Ann Hargis, pg 248. Blackwell Publishing West Sussex, UK. Kaelin, K and Barsh, S. 2012. Molecular Genetics of Coat Colour, Texture and Length in the Dog in The Genetics of the Dog 2nd ed. (Ed) Ostrander and Ruvinsky, pg 65-66. CABI Cambridge, MA

Philipp U, Hamann H, Mecklenburg L, Nishino S, Mignot E, Gunzel-Apel AR, Schmutz SM, and Leeb T. 2005. Polymorphisms within the canine MLPH gene are associated with dilute coat color in dogs. BMC Genetics, 6:34. doi:10.1186/1471-2156-6-34.

Sebbag L, Riggs A, and Carnevale J. 2019. Oculo-skeletal dysplasia in five Labrador Retrievers. Veterinary Ophthalmology. 00:1-8.

Smith, Frances O. The issue of the Silver “Labrador”. Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. Genetics Committee. https://thelabradorclub.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/The-Issue-of-the-Silver-Labrador-Fran-Smith.pdf

Welle M, Philipp U, Rufenacht S, Roosje P, Scharfenstein M, Schutz E, Brenig B, Linek M, Mecklenburg L, Grest P, Drogemuller M, Haase B, Leeb T, and Drogemuller C. 2009. MLPH Genotype-Melanin Phenotype Correlation in Dilute Dogs. J of Heredity. 100:S75-S79. doi:10.1093/jhered/esp010.