The Myth Of The British Silver Labrador – Fallacious Reasoning Of Dilute Breeders


In the shady world of dilute breeders the myth is circulated that the “silver Labrador” originated in Great Britain, in the 1930s. A director of the “Council for Purebred Labrador Retrievers” (CPLR), the main organization of dilute breeders, proudly published “proof” of this event on his website, Mind you, this is all the “proof” he was able to produce.

So, let’s examine the “evidence”.
Amy Dahl is a former college chemistry teacher, who found training retrievers more appealing. She is not a geneticist.
Amy claims, “A couple of years ago I wrote an article on color genetics including mismarks, and as part of the research I spoke with Dr. Mark Neff at UC Berkeley, one of the researchers on the dog genome project. Dr. Neff has collected pedigrees of silvers born to unsuspecting breeders and he believes the data indicate that the gene has been in the breed for a long time.”

Dr. Mark Neff is a scientific investigator and Director of program for canine health and performance at the Van Andel Research Institute; however, his “findings” about the “silver Labrador” were never published. If he did indeed collect pedigrees of silvers, as Dahl claims, why would a scientist not publish those findings? Perhaps this is due to the fact that they have no scientific grounds.
“Unsuspecting breeders?” Surely, the ethical and dedicated reputable breeders, who coincidentally bred them, had only the preservation and betterment of the breed in mind when they decided to breed from the “silvers” despite them being a disqualifying deviation of the breed standard and thus not acceptable.

So, Amy Dahl searched further. “The earliest account I have found of possible “silver” Labs was a description of “bluish-white” puppies whelped in Scotland in 1932. “Bluish-white” is a pretty good description of the color of a newborn silverpeake–and I’m guessing the puppies in Scotland didn’t live long enough for anyone to see what the color turned into.”

There’s a lot of guessing involved in this “evidence”. In November 2014 Amy Dahl admitted that she found her “evidence” in Helen Warwick’s “The New Complete Labrador Retriever“.
From The New Complete Labrador Retriever, Third Edition, Helen Warwick, 1986, p. 114: “Regarding other rare colors, an interesting report from a 1933 issue of The Gamekeeper mentions a strain of “white Labradors” that was treasured by Mr. Austin MacKenzie at Carradale, Argyleshire. They originated from a dog owned by Mr. Fenwick, called Sam, whose grand sire was Stag, the sire of Major Portal’s Flapper. Sam came from the Duke of Buccleugh’s imported strain of Blacks, yet three litters by Sam were all buff-colored except one bitch which was pure white. This bitch was later mated with Lord Lonsdale’s Blanco, a bluish white dog by Capt. Radclyffe’s Ben of Hyde; the result was eight white puppies, and the color was apparently fixed.”

Unfortunately, Amy Dahl guessed that an account mentioned in a 1933 issue of The Gamekeeper, took place in 1932. However, the article referred to dogs who lived 25 to 30 years prior to 1933. Barnett’s Stag, the sire of Flapper, was born around 1900. These dogs were only a few generations removed from the very first registered Labradors. So was Ben of Hyde, the very first registered yellow (foxred actually). Apart from the fact that “white” Labradors are quite common nowadays, and that they don’t carry the dilute gene, the dogs that were mentioned by Helen Warwick can be found in the pedigrees of most British Champions.

Amy Dahl’s guess that “The appearance at birth of Chesapeakes with the silver coloration fits the description of Labs whelped as far back as 1932”, is another mistake. First of all the Labs weren’t whelped in 1932, but some 25 years earlier, and second wouldn’t a “bluish white” Labrador even slightly resemble a diluted Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

Helen Warwick’s “The New Complete Labrador Retriever” isn’t the only document to describe off colors in Labradors. For instance, in “Reaching For The Stars” by Mary Roslin Williams, the author recollects the litter of black puppies with greying coats which ultimately resolved into total black adult coats when the pups finished shedding.

In “Reaching For The Stars” (page 101) Mary Roslin Williams wrote, “There is another color which I had heard of but never seen and that was a rumor of a bluish or silver Labrador in the old days, with a dark stripe or stripes down the back. Funnily enough a litter of these turned up recently from a perfectly reputable breeding and in the hands of a good breeder who knew that no misalliance had taken place. The breeder took some colored photos of the litter in which the puppies were silver, marked all over with dark stripes just like a tabby cat. We were all stunned and fascinated and many were the guesses as to what they would turn out to be, but several of us guessed right and they gradually turned black although they had been a true light silver. However even in black Labradors there is black and black and I haven’t seen these puppies when adult to know what shade of black they became, whether a dull lead as I would expect or a true black.*
* Afterwards I saw one of this litter at a show and it was true black with a really good undercoat.”

On page 103 of “Reaching For The Stars” Mary Roslin Williams wrote,

Silverish or purpley-brown puppies in the nest will turn black and are very common in black bloodlines….
…Lady Howe wrote in “Our Dogs“, “As for the mousy or grey coloring in puppies, this always denotes a typical Labrador coat. My Banchory Danilo had grey flanks and quarters when young. In the best strains the roots of the hair on the tail are often white.” Mr. J.C. Severn also writes “All the best Labradors I have known ( black) have a mousy undercoat and many of them show a large amount of grey at the root of their undercoat.” I must say that this is the coat I have always liked best in my own Mansergh blacks, although I have sometimes been told I am wrong, but with such authorities as I have quoted. I stick to my guns that a Labrador may certainly have the white roots, the purpley or grey- black as a puppy and the mousy or contrasting undercoat. And I myself love the grey heels, this being a continuation of the undercoat.”

The conclusions must be:

– That Amy Dahl and Dr. Mark Neff (if that conversation actually took place) did a lot of guessing, but didn’t produce any evidence of the assumption that “silver Labradors” originated in Great Britain.

– That reputable British breeders have never been secretive about odd colors in their dogs. They wrote about these colors, they mentioned colors that didn’t resemble dilutes (“bluish white”) and “Silverish or purpley-brown puppies in the nest will turn black and are very common in black bloodlines,” but they weren’t dilutes either.

Dilutes suffer from the dilute gene, which doesn’t disappear when puppies grow up.

Jack Vanderwyk,
November, 2014

Note: “silverpeake” is not an existing word. Someone in a gun dog forum explains what it means: “The color, while rare, is in fact recognized by the American Chesapeake Club, it’s called ash. I just made up the name SilverPeake as a play on silver Labs (be nice if I could get silver Lab prices on them). It’s actually genetically a dilute brown. ”

Note: After making her remarks about silvers, Mary Roslin Williams, etc, on the Retriever Training Forum, Amy Dahl publicly apologized for the faulty information.

The New Complete Labrador Retriever, Third Edition, Helen Warwick, 1986, p. 114
Reaching For The Stars by Mary Roslin Williams, copyright 2000 by Doral Publishing, originally published as Advanced Labrador Breeding in 1988


About Jack Vanderwyk

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One Response to The Myth Of The British Silver Labrador – Fallacious Reasoning Of Dilute Breeders

  1. susan anne booth says:

    In my opinion when Labradors produce colours that are rare in the breed as they have occasionally over the years, it is due to the genes that the particular pair are carrying that go back to the past, to the time our breed evolved from the hounds taken over with the men from Cornwall to fish then live on the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. These hounds owed their ancestry to the great French hounds, They came in Black, Liver, Black and tan (more liver than tan ) and occasionally pure white. It is no secret that certain Black lines known to carry Liver have when put together produced Black and Liver. The Labrador has inherited many things from its hound ancestry, its amazing scenting powers, its temperament and its easy biddable character. The yellow gene is something different from another very old and pure source. incapable of being corrupted. hence the fact that there are never colour mixes. I will leave it to the experts to discuss Genes, I am of the old school, I know very little of genes, I just deal in the facts as I have learnt them. I remember many years ago being asked if the yellow and black ever mix together or if the chocolate was an in between of the two colour x. I could only assure the person asking me that no it never does and that no, Chocolate was a pure colour of its own, I could not explain why.

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