Dog breeds are a funny thing. While there are many fantastic-looking pets out there, the line between a cross and a true breed is razor-thin and often controversial. One breed that tends to bring with it a significant amount of controversy is the Silver Labrador, a lovely Lab variant that has a fantastic-looking silver-grey coat.
Getting the Know the Silver Labrador Retriever
A variant of the standard Lab, the Silver Labrador Retriever stands apart because of its coat color. This difference, known as a ‘dilute’ in breeding circles, is a genetic factor that results in the dog having a lighter coat color than most of the breed. This same gene expresses itself in the coloration of the dog’s eyes and nose, and it’s not uncommon in many breeds of dogs. What’s special, though, is that this gene is fairly new in Labs.
Labs and Coloration
The American Kennel Club currently recognizes only three Lab colors – yellow, black, and chocolate. While there are several other color variations out there, they’re all essentially considered to be diluted versions of the primary colors. As such, it’s important to understand the basic science by which a dog’s colors could vary from their ‘standard’ color sets.
Dog color genes, like all genes, come in pairs – one from the mother and one from the father. In Labs, the gene can either be expressed as a full-strength color (D) or a diluted color (d). If a puppy inherits two ‘D’ genes, it will have the primary ‘strong’ coloration. Likewise, if it has one ‘D’ gene and one ‘d’ gene, it will still keep that coloration. It is only when the dog inherits a diluted coloration gene from both parents that he or she will have the diluted color coat.
A silver lab puppy, then, is just a chocolate lab that happen to have gotten diluted color genes from both parents.
Color Change and the History of Silver Labs
The silver coloration of labs is actually somewhat controversial, as there are those who aren’t sure that Silver Labradors are actually purebred labs. To understand why you have to look a little more closely at the history of the breed.
Silver Labradors are relatively new to the dog world, first popping up in the US in the 1950s at a handful of kennels. There are three current theories as to why the dogs suddenly started expressing these genes – a crossbreeding with another breed, a mutation, or even hidden genes.
The Mixed Gene Hypothesis
Some people believe that Silver Labradors aren’t pure labs; instead, they believe that breeders specifically bred labs with other breeds like Weimaraners in order to create a lucrative new color scheme for their dogs.
The theory falls apart a bit, though, with genetic testing. There’s no genetic link between the two breeds of dog, nor are there any characteristics in the Silver Lab that aren’t seen in other labs beyond coat coloration. Even with this said, there are still many so-called ‘purists’ who will tell you that the Silver Lab must have somehow been the results of crossbreeding.
Another possibility for the surprise emergence of this coloration is simple mutation. It’s not a particularly popular theory, though, because it relies largely on coincidence. While genes can and do mutate, the idea that they would mutate so frequently and in such a widespread manner seems unlikely. Despite this, the theory holds on simply because there is no real evidence to dispute it.
Sometimes genes can remain unexpressed for generations at a time. Since the diluted color gene is a recessive gene, it’s entirely possible that it was so rare that it simply wasn’t remarked upon until the 1950s.
This seems to be a likely reason for the silver gene to show up, if only because the gene pool of pedigree-certified labs gets ever smaller. Recessive genes are more likely to show up with gene pool shrinkage, so it’s very easy for one to see the possibility of recessive genes becoming more common as they become a larger part of the overall genetic lottery.
Getting to Know Your Silver Lab
Regardless of where they came from, Silver Labs are very much like the other Labradors out there. This means that they take a bit of work to train and a lot of patience when they hit their energetic adolescence, but they are ultimately dogs who fit in well with families.
Unfortunately, the fact that these dogs are much like other labs means that they suffer from many of the same problems as other pure-bred labs. This means that the dogs tend to have joint issues as they get older, are prone to gaining weight, and can suffer from issues like hip and elbow dysplasia. Labs of all colors are also incredibly prone to cancer, with almost a third of all Lab deaths caused by tumor growth.
Don’t let the bad news scare you off of labs, though; most Silver Labs are actually quite healthy and free from a number of the problems that tend to plague popular dog breeds. Most of these dogs can lead long, happy lives.
Silver Labrador Retrievers and Alopecia
There is, however, one unique medical condition that all Silver Lab owners need to know about. Color dilution alopecia is a condition that tends to accompany that same recessive gene that gives the dog its unique color and it can lead to significant coat problems over the dog’s life.
The bad news is that this condition can lead to not only hair loss but infection in a dog’s hair follicles. The good news, though, is that this condition won’t kill or even hurt most dogs – it’s just something with which the dog and his or her owners must learn to live.
Not all Silver Labs have this condition, though, and the vast majority of them won’t suffer any kind of hair loss. In fact, you’ll mostly see that Silver Labs are identical to their other lab cousins in every way that matters.
The Silver Lab Debate
While it’s very clear that Silver Labs are probably just the product of random genetics and that they are, in every way that matters, virtually identical to other Labs, there is still a huge debate about these dogs. It’s not just about where they come from, but rather whether these dogs should exist at all.
The first big issue comes with the assumption that Silver Labs aren’t purebred. Some owners care quite a bit about breed purity, and they believe that any dog that’s crossbred shouldn’t be considered part of the lab family.
The truth here is that there’s no real reason to think that Silver Labs are crossbreeds and that most dog breeders are honest enough to keep real records about where their dogs come from. The scariest truth for the breed purity fanatics, though, is that Silver Labs do help to keep some variation in the lab gene pool – something that helps keep future labs healthier and that assures the future of the breed.
Another big point of contention is whether the American Kennel Club recognizes the Silver Lab as a pure breed. The answer here is a bit more complex than you think, as while Silver Labs can’t be shown they can still be registered. This means that the dogs can enter some events, just not the more famous dog shows.
There are, however, those who have concerns that are a bit more valid. Some fear that Silver Labs are too inbred, mostly because of the presence of recessive genes. This is a valid fear, not in the least because it’s been seen with so many unusually colored dog breeds. Luckily, even most opponents of Silver Labs will admit that Silver Labs actually have a relatively diverse gene pool at the moment, with seven largely unrelated bloodlines that are roughly as diverse as any other Lab breed.
Tips for Buying Silver Labs
So, if you’re still a fan of Silver Labs and you want to buy one you might wonder about how one would go about doing so. While it does take work, the steps you’ll take are fairly straightforward.
You will always want to start by finding a Silver Labrador breeder who has a good reputation for healthy, well-treated dogs. The breeder should pay careful attention to the dogs’ health whether they’re being bred or not and treat each dog like an animal rather than some kind of puppy machine. Though breeders do have bad reputations in many circles, there are plenty of dog breeders out there who do a wonderful job caring for their animals.
From here, you’re going to do some investigative work. You’ll want to make sure that the parents of the silver lab puppy have been tested for inherited blindness, CNM, and hip dysplasia, and that any registration lists the dogs as chocolate labs. You’ll want to pay careful attention to any paperwork that you are given, with a keen eye turned towards anything that looks wrong. More than anything, though, you’ll want to make sure that any puppy you adopt seems happy, healthy, and well-fed.
The Pros and Cons of Silver Labs
It’s never a bad idea to think about the downsides of adopting any dog. If you’re curious, there are some real downsides to adopting a Silver Lab, including:
- Dealing with people who hate Silver Labs
- Knowing that your dog can’t enter AKC dog shows
- Dealing with higher prices when finding a Silver Lab
- Having to travel to find a Silver Lab breeder
- Dealing with the potential of alopecia
With that said, there are also some real benefits to owning Silver Labs. These include:
- Getting a dog that’s just as healthy and happy as any other type of Lab
- Having a dog that tends to be relatively easy to train
- Having a dog who will quickly become a part of your family
- Knowing that your dog’s coat color is unique
At the end of the day, only you can decide if a Silver Lab is the right pet for you. While they might be unusual and some might not like them, they are great dogs. If you want a Lab and you’re looking for one that stands out from the crowd, a Silver Lab might be your next perfect pet.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Is a silver lab a real lab?
Yes, Silver Labs really are real labs. Despite the fact that there are some people who want them excluded from the breed, Silver Labs are simply Labs that have a rare color variation. In fact, the truth is that these dogs are just chocolate labs that have a specific set of genes that make their coat color a bit lighter than those of other dogs. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t real Labs – it just means that they look a bit different than their peers.
2. Do silver labs have Weimaraner in them?
No, Silver Labs don’t have any Weimaraner in them. In fact, genetic testing has been done that has shown no links between the two breeds of dog. This doesn’t stop those who absolutely believe that the Silver Lab is a crossbreed from making the claim, of course, but it is something that you should know. While there’s no way to say for certain that the Silver Lab wasn’t once crossbred with some breed of dog, the odds are that it is simply a type of dog that has a rare color scheme.
3. What is the rarest Labrador color?
Silver is the rarest Labrador color at the moment. The reason for this is fairly simple – all Silver Labs are, at a basic level, just Chocolate Labs. Since Chocolate is already the least common color among Labs, it holds true that a genetic variation among Chocolate Labs would then become even rarer. Remember, Silver Labs are just Chocolate Labs that have two recessive genes that make their coats a lighter color than average.
4. Do Silver Labs’ eyes stay blue?
While the blue eyes of a Silver Lab are very attractive, the sad truth is that most of them won’t keep this color scheme for very long. Though a few rare Silver Labs will keep the eye color their whole lives, most of them will see their eyes fade to a more common brown within a few weeks of being born. The amount of time it takes for the eyes to change color can vary, though, and some puppies will have blue eyes for longer than others.