‘Silver’, ‘charcoal’, and ‘champagne’ are not recognised as colours existing in the Labrador Retriever. The only recognised colours are black, yellow and chocolate (liver). The original St. John dogs, brought from New Foundland to England in the early 1800s, were black, and to improve the breed several other breeds were introduced, like Golden Retriever, Flatcoat Retriever, Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and Curly Coated Retriever. This affected the colours of the Labrador. Although black has been the favorite colour for many decades, yellows were accepted in the early 1900s. Most breeders didn’t breed chocolates because they weren’t fashionable. Only after the war, more specifically in the 1960s, chocolates became more popular, although they’ve always been around.
Colour defects, like black and tan, a heritage from the Gordon Setters that once were used to improve the breed, were never allowed. Labradors with these defects were either culled or rehomed as pets, without a pedigree certificate. If – and I say if – the d gene causing dilutes has ever been in the Labrador, for instance through Norwegian Elkhounds that were used to improve the undercoats of Labradors, this defect would have been eliminated by selective breeding, way back in the 1880s. Given that all ‘silver’ Labradors come from America, and that all American Labradors come from England, it is extremely unlikely that the ‘silver’ gene originated in England. Today we know that every single known dilute in the world came from Kellogg’s Nick and / or Kellogg’s Kernel. Looking at the early ‘silver’ Labradors it seems plausible to me that the Weimaraner was used for this purpose.
In the 1950s a gun dog magazine published an advertisement from Kellogg’s kennels, in which they announced a litter of ‘rare gray Labradors’. Founded in 1899 by L.E. Kellogg and Harold E. Kellogg, Kellogg’s kennels are believed to be responsible for bringing the first Labrador Retrievers west of the Mississippi River. Mayo Kellogg, the ‘founding father of the American pointing lab’ introduced the ‘pointing Lab’ in his South Dakota line as early as 1946 and set out, over the next 40 years, to show that “a pointing retriever is superior to a retrieving pointer”. Mayo passed away in 2003 leaving his kennel to his son Hugh who reported that 95% of his buyers ask for labs that point. These people weren’t normal breeders, they were businessmen, always looking for new trends to introduce. They weren’t just breeding Labradors, they bred all kinds of dogs. It was a family business for many generations, and the American free spirit made them inventive. They knew every trick in the book to register a mixed breed as a pure bred dog. Why wouldn’t they do what the early English Labrador breeders did in the 1800s, only more professional and scientific? Who would stop them? The first American Labrador was registered in the AKC in 1917, and in 1927 only 23 Labradors were registered. After a 1928 AKC article in the magazine American Kennel Gazette called “Meet the Labrador Retriever” the Labrador became well known. Only then Kellogg’s kennels became involved in Labrador breeding, because it meant business.
Of course, when in the 1960s the chocolate Labrador became more popular, Kellogg’s kennels were among the first to introduce them in the U.S. on a broad scale. And once that chocolates were in fashion, why wouldn’t Mayo Kellogg have another go at the grays, in the 1980s, and call them ‘silver’ Labradors, just as Dean Crist did?
In the 1980s Dean Crist (Culo kennels) and (in the 1990s) Beavercreek kennels both decided to follow the footsteps of Kellogg’s kennels. They were going to specialise in ‘silver’ Labradors, so they bought themselves a couple of dogs, who were directly descending from Kellogg’s Nick and/or Kellogg’s Kernel. Back in the 1950s and 1960s puppies and dogs were running all over the Kellogg’s farm and record keeping was not as strict as today, so it was very easy for dogs to mix and breed. If a yellow (fox red) “pointing” Labrador bred with a Weimeraner, then all resulting puppies would look like field type Labradors and would then be registered as Labradors.
Typical or not?
Dean Crist (Culo), who calls himself the ‘most experienced breeder of silver Labs in the world’, told the public that ‘silver’ was a ‘mutation of chocolate’. The American breeders of ‘silver’ Labradors call their field-type dogs ‘typical’, contrary to the show-type Labradors, who they call ‘English style Labs’. And indeed, if you look at some black & white photographs of light ‘silver’ Labradors, it might as well be any yellow field-type Labrador from the American countryside. So these Labradorbilly’s are regarded as the standard, while the ‘English style Labs’ are regarded as alien to America. And that is how these breeders explain the similarity between their field types and the Weimaraner. However, business is business and many ignorant people would love to buy a ‘silver’ Labrador, if only it would look more like an ‘English style Lab’, with famous ancestors in their pedigrees. So these breeders started to use well known English style stud dogs, usually on carriers of the dd gene, to be able to meet the demand. Dean Crist: “Crist Culo Kennels’ Silver pups are of two physical types. Thick boned and stocky or lean and long legged.”
CPLR, the club of dilute breeders, published this explanation in their newsletter, issue 3, Sept. 2009, in which they blame an English Labrador for the poor type of their dogs: “That some of the “silvers” are houndy looking is also not due to a Weim — it comes from a particular (mostly English show-bred) bitch of the 1970s. Dudly Culo (whom I’ve seen in person) was descended from her, and was her spitting image from nose to tail, including her poor head and ears. Since most of the current “silvers” are heavily linebred on Dudly Culo and his sisters, it should surprise no one that this poor type became exaggerated and set into the current “silver” lines.”
Yet the CPLR praises the breeder of these ugly mutts: “Just as the 3rd Earl of Malmesbury is revered as the founder and one of the fathers of the Labrador Retriever breed, without whose foresight as devotion we would not have the Lab as we know and celebrate it today, likewise Dean Crist is indisputably the Father of the magnificent Silver Labrador Retriever; his foresight and absolute devotion has brought the Silver Lab out from obscurity and into the spotlight.”
The dilute gene
“Silver”, “charcoal” and “champagne” aren’t recognised colours in Labradors, as the dilution gene (d) comes from the Weimaraner after the era in which it was tolerated to breed in other breeds into the Labrador population, and after the stud books were closed. These dogs possess the homozygous autosomal recessive alleles “d” at the D locus, found on canine chromosome #25. The gene at the D locus is commonly called the “dilution” gene but is more correctly termed the “melanophilin” gene or “MLPH.” When a Labrador who carries the dilution gene (d), is bred with another Labrador who also carries the dilution gene (d), puppies can be produced in the litter that are either carriers of the dilution gene (d), are not carriers of the dilution gene (d), or who are affected by a dilute colour, being silver, charcoal, or champagne.
A “silver” Labrador is dilute and is an unsanctioned alteration of the color of a chocolate Lab, while a “charcoal” Labrador is dilute and is an unsanctioned alteration of the color of a black Lab, and “champagne” is dilute and an unsanctioned alteration of the color of a yellow Lab. All these dilutes carry the dilution gene (d). While AKC, UKC ACA, etc register them as purebred Labs, according to their “foundation” genetic colouring, being either black (charcoals), chocolate (light silvers), or yellow (champagnes), most non breeders of these shades insist there was intermixing at some point in time. In any case, no kennel club officially recognizes “silver”, “charcoal” or “champagne” as legitimate colours for Labrador retrievers, so beware spending a large amount of money on a dog where the seller claims otherwise.
Response of Robert Young of AKC on March 27, 2000, giving AKC’s official position on the issue of “silver” Labs. Consensus at the “Silver Lab” meeting held on July 14, 1997.
1) The foundation for the AKC registry is based on parentage and not colour.
2) We should register all Lab pups coming from purebred AKC registered Labs.
3) We should not register Labs as “Silver.”
4) After a review of pictures, the file and history of this issue which goes back to 1987, we feel the most appropriate color for registration is Chocolate.
We will entertain complaints of impure breedings on an individual basis, but complaints should be based on more than colour.
In 1987 we conducted an inquiry into the breeding of the litters that contained the dogs that were registered as silver and one of our representatives was sent to observe several of the dogs that had been registered as silver. Colour photographs of these dogs were forwarded to the office of the American Kennel Club where the staff of the AKC and the representatives of the Labrador Retriever Club of America examined them. Both parties were satisfied that there was no reason to doubt that the dogs were purebred Labrador Retrievers, however both parties felt that the dogs were incorrectly registered as silver. Since the breed standard describes chocolate as ranging in shade from Sedge to chocolate, it was felt that the dogs could more accurately be described as chocolate than as silver.
The Issue of the Silver Labrador
Frances O Smith, DVM, PhD Chair, Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. Genetics Committee:
“It is the opinion of the Labrador Retriever Club, Inc., the AKC parent club for the breed, that a silver Labrador is not a purebred Labrador retriever. The pet owning public is being duped into believing that animals with this dilute coat color are desirable, purebred and rare and, therefore, warrant special notoriety or a premium purchase price.
Over the past few years a limited number of breeders have advertised and sold dogs they represent to be purebred Labrador Retrievers with a dilute or gray coat color—hence the term “silver labs.” The AKC has accepted some of these “silver labs” for registration. Apparently, the rationale for this decision is that the silver coat color is a shade of chocolate. Interestingly, the original breeders of “silver” Labradors were also involved in the Weimaraner breed.
Although we cannot conclusively prove that the silver Labrador is a product of crossbreeding the Weimaraner to a Labrador, there is good evidence in scientific literature indicating that the Labrador has never been identified as carrying the dilute gene dd. The Weimaraner is the only known breed in which the universality of dd is a characteristic.”
‘Silver’ Labradors in the LabradorNet Database
As serious Labrador breeders would want to avoid the appearance of “silver”, “charcoal”, or “champagne” in their lines, I’ve decided to add the d-carrying and d-affected Labs that come to my knowledge to the LabradorNet Database. To be able to find all the d-carriers and d-affected Labradors in the LabradorNet Database, as well as their ancestors, and otherwise related dogs, just follow these simple steps:
Go to the LabradorNet Database.
In “Field to search” choose “Color”
In “Search string” enter “Beware!”
Click the button “Search now”
Studying the ‘silver’ Labrador population
When Dean Crist started his Culo line of ‘silver’ Labs in the 1980s there were hardly any known ‘silvers’ with which to breed. As a result, the Culo line became heavily line-bred, as his dogs were bred to their close relatives, to preserve the trait. Dean Crist’s foundation bitch Queja Culo’s grand-dam was Black Honey of Kemp, whose sire and dam were both direct descendants from Kellogg’s Nick and Kellogg’s Kernel. Culo Alex, the foundation dog of Silvertones, seemed to have more impressive bloodlines, but was also a direct descendant of Kellogg’s Nick.
In the mid 1990s Beavercreek also entered the field. Now there were two lines, it seemed, but Amber Ray Beavercreek, their “silver” foundation bitch, was also a direct descendant from Kellogg’s Nick and Kellogg’s Kernel, and also with a close-linebreeding history. Beavercreek contacted Dean Crist and they exchanged a few puppies. In the early 2000s the ‘silver’ Labrador became more popular, so more breeders entered the arena, most of them with Culo dogs, Beavercreek dogs, or both. In 2012, when I started to write this article, it looked like the ‘silver’ Labrador population had a fairly viable gene pool, with seven distinct, (almost) unrelated lines. However, today, in 2015, we know that every single known dilute in the world comes from Kellogg’s Nick, Kellogg’s Kernel, or both. The LabradorNet Database is a powerful tool to keep your lines far from the ‘silver’ lines. Use this tool when people want to use your stud dog(s) and check the pedigrees of their bitches thoroughly.
They call themselves “nondiscriminate breeders”. “We believe all colors of labs are created equal. We do not support the idea of one color of lab being inferior to another from any biggoted group. Therefore we breed all colors of the labrador retriever.”
So, if I wanted a brindle or black-and-tan Labrador, they would breed it for me? This is what you get if you project the ethics of human genetics on dogs, and mix it with misplaced religious dogmas. “All people are created equal” etc then becomes a new dogma: “All Labradors are created equal”. In the eyes of people ignorant enough to follow these dogmas, we must be racists, to say the least. I wonder if there are any intelligent ‘silver’ breeders…
Vitiligo, black-and-tan, brindle, silver, charcoal, champagne, etc., these are all mismarkings in the Labrador Retriever. You may think it’s ‘cute’, ‘rare’, or ‘special’, and sure enough it’s a market mechanism. Anything rare or scarce has a higher market value, which shouldn’t be a problem if these dogs would be an asset to the breed. But it’s easy to prove they’re not. Any serious Labrador breeder who comes across such mismarkings will eliminate them in his or her lines and make sure these dogs aren’t bred. Any breeder who doesn’t subscribe to these general ethics, is unethical. It’s as simple as that. It’s got nothing to do with ‘created equal’, religion, or whatever other nonsense these people tell you to make a buck. And now they’ve got their Council for Purebred Labrador Retrievers. Read my articles about this shady bunch.
What if… ?
Someone asked me, “Why couldn’t there have been ‘silvers’?” Well, that’s obvious. There weren’t many Labrador breeders in the early years, before they found their way from the U.K to the U.S. (Breeding Labradors was anything but a backyard activity, like it became in the U.S.) The breeders of this era wrote about their breeding experiences. Some of them published their findings in books. That’s how we know they came across yellows and chocs, black & tans, brindles, vitiligos, etc. For over 50 years never was anything like ‘silver’, ‘charcoal’, or ‘champagne’ mentioned in their reports. Therefore it’s safe to say that the ‘silver’ Labrador (the d-gene) is alien to the U.K., the homeland of the Labrador Retriever, and that none of the English Labradors that were shipped to the U.S. carried the d-gene. A mismarking like that wouldn’t have been unnoticed for over 50 years. So it’s safe to say that the ‘silver’ originated in the U.S. in the 1950s. Scientists still aren’t able to prove how the d-gene entered some American Labradors, while it was never seen in English Labradors, but it’s a fact that the gene is alien to the Labrador.
Now that they’re here, can’t we just accept them?
No, the studbooks are closed. The Labrador is a very popular dog, and many have tried to breed their own version of the Labrador, resulting in ‘Labradoodles’, etc. Fouling the genes of the Labrador population with those of the industrious products of breeders who want to take advantage of the Labrador’s popularity is simply unacceptable. The only ethical reason to breed is maintaining and improving the breed, and the dogs carrying the d-gene are certainly no asset to the breed. So yes, go ahead and breed ‘silvers’, ‘charcoals’, ‘champagnes’, etc., but call them ‘Labrananers’, or “Weimadors”, not Labradors.
The ‘silver’ Labrador in Europe
At present the breeding of ‘silver’ Labradors in Europe is a marginal enterprise of a fringe group of people, taking place on the internet. These people are not accepted by regular, serious Labrador breeders. The main dilute breeders in the United Kingdom are Dreamcoat, a silver puppy mill in London.
A guy from Germany thought to make a lot of money with a ‘silver’ Labrador stud from the U.S. (Stillwater kennels). He got himself a special internet domain with the name of his stud, advertised at hundreds of shady (free) websites, but only a few breeders responded, and now he can’t afford the internet domain, so he had to cancel it. Although breeders of ‘silver’ Labs act like they’re just one of many ‘ordinary’ Labrador kennels, they’re not actually part of the Labrador community. Many of them are extremely secretive when it comes to the ancestors of their dogs, and if they need fresh, dilute-clear blood, as the “Improvement program” requirees, they either need to fool respectable breeders, or buy from puppy mills. It’s a good thing that puppy buyers in general are becoming more aware and more critical. Google is a powerful tool to check a breeder and a puppy’s background, and with the information provided, they can easily draw their conclusions.
September 2012, updated October 2015