We thought they would never enter the British Labrador Registry. We believed that The Kennel Club would see to it that these “silvers”, “charcoals” and “champagnes” would under no circumstances be registered as purebred Labrador Retrievers without any restrictions.
But it happened. To be precise: it started in 2006, when a few British Labrador breeders paid a substantial amount of money to import some diluted dogs from notorious American “silver” breeders, because they saw a business opportunity. The Kennel Club was very cooperative. Since the imported dogs were registered as “chocolate” by the American Kennel Club (AKC), they were simply registered as “chocolate” by The British Kennel Club, without questions being asked.
When registering the offspring of these diluted dogs, The Kennel Club’s consistency was hard to find. Some puppies were registered as “Non Recognised Colour”, others – sometimes littermates – were registered as chocolate or black. The British Kennel Club only looked at a dog and its colour to decide if the colour was recognised or not. Phenotype instead of genotype, even after 2007, when the DNA dilution tests became commercially available.
The problem is that all of these dogs were carriers of the dilution (d) gene, and they could – and still can in this day and age – freely spread these genes in the Labrador population.
“Owners know a KC registered pedigree dog will display the characteristics of the breed, in both looks and temperament,” say The Kennel Club on their website. If only that were true when it comes to the Labrador Retriever.
The dilution gene in the Labrador Retriever
The dilution gene (d) is alien to the Labrador Retriever breed. Every single diluted “Labrador” finds its origin in the United States. Frances O Smith, DVM, PhD Chair, Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. Genetics Committee writes, “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. (…) Recognized coat colours for purebred Labradors are black, yellow and chocolate. No shadings of coat colour are recognized for black or chocolate Labradors in either the Labrador Standard or the current research into genetic coat colours. (…) The omission of “d,” and thus the impossibility of a dd dilute gene resulting from a pure Labrador breeding, is certainly persuasive evidence that the silver Labrador is not a purebred.”
It all started with Mayo Kellogg, the “real father of the American pointing Lab”, who since 1946 spent forty years of his life developing pointing skills in his Labrador lines, because “a pointing retriever is superior to a retrieving pointer.” Kellogg came from a long line of puppy millers and he was sensitive to the desires of the “market”. I’m willing to believe that he was a skilful dog breeder who knew that you can breed the desired traits in, and the undesirable traits out, within a couple of generations. In his efforts to “invent” the “pointing Lab”, Kellogg bred several breeds, including the Weimaraner, a breed that is based entirely on the “dilute” (d) gene.
Back in the 1960s puppies and dogs were running free 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. Kellogg thought nothing about segregating intact animals, and the Labs coming from his business displayed physical characteristics of these other breeds, including the Weimeraner characteristics and colour. Jim Trotter, a dog expert who visited Kellogg in the 1970s, specifically cited the place as being a “shambles” with chains, barrels, crowded runs with holes under the concrete, dead rats…
If a chocolate Labrador bred with a Weimeraner, then all resulting chocolate puppies would look like field type Labradors and would then be registered as Labradors.
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, descending from Kellogg’s stock. All diluted “Labradors” have either Culo, Beavercreek, or both lines in their pedigrees. LabradorNet keeps an online Labrador database, in which you can find diluted “Labradors”.
Not just a different colour
Various expressions of the dilution gene have been noted. Some dogs with dilute color display minimal or no health problems; other dogs experience hair loss and skin problems. Colour dilution alopecia (CDA) and black hair follicular dyplasia (BHFD) can accompany coat colour dilution. These diseases cause recurrent skin inflammation and drying, bacterial infections of hair follicles and severe hairloss. Late 2013 a 12-week-old female silver Labrador Retriever was submitted to the Comparative Ocular Pathology Laboratory of Wisconsin, and was diagnosed with Malignant Uveal Schwannoma. Scientists believe that the dilute colour mutation may contribute to the cause.
Other disorders that could travel with the dilution gene are heritable Weimeraner genetic issues such as trembling disorders, autoimmune related vaccination sensitivity and intolerance, Von Willebrands Disease, hyperuricosuria causing painful bladder and kidney disease, and behavioural problems that are more common in the Weimaraner, such as separation anxiety, and dominant, protective, territorial temperament. Minimizing occurrence of these conditions would mean minimization of the dilute mutation. Selection against dilution is important in breeds that display health issues associated with the mutation. It is also important to minimize the dilution mutation inbreeds that do not have a standard written which include these colours. The Labrador Retriever is currently one of these breeds. Dilute coloured Labrador retrievers are – or should be – a disqualification according to breed standards. Those dogs carrying the dilute gene should not be registered as purebred Labrador Retrievers.
Meanwhile in the United Kingdom
The Labrador Breed Council represents the thirteen Labrador Retriever Breed Clubs in the United Kingdom. It is the official channel of communication with the Kennel Club. The Labrador Breed Council is responsible for establishing a consensus from among the member Breed Clubs on Judging criteria, training, qualifications and lists, Breed Standard, Health issues, KC Registration.
On April 12, 2012, the Labrador Breed Council met with The Kennel Club, to discuss the dilutes problem. Unfortunately the Labrador Breed Council can’t tell The Kennel Club what they need to do. They can make suggestions and submit them, but in the end it’s The Kennel Club who decides. At this time The Kennel Club organised a DNA test and found the dogs tested were proven to be purebred according to the results given. It’s such a pity that the representatives of the Labrador Breed Council weren’t aware of the fact that such tests are extremely unreliable. Current DNA tests cannot be used to determine if the dilute Labradors are purebred or if they’ve been recently mixed with any other breed. These tests could say something about the parents, and at most something about the grandparents, but anything beyond that remains a mystery. If the Labrador Breed Council would have known this, they wouldn’t have found themselves “dead in the water”.
A DNA test which is reliable, contrary to the DNA test The Kennel Club organised to prove that dilutes are purebred, is the test on the dilution gene. DD = purebred Labrador, Dd = carrier of the dilute gene, dd = affected by the dilute gene. Since we know that the dilute gene is alien to the Labrador Retriever breed, so a dilute can’t be a purebred Labrador, all The Kennel Club need to do is to test every imported Labrador for this gene, as well as all the offspring of previously registered imported Labradors.
The Labrador Breed Council is on our side. They still have to put the case to The Kennel Club and they are still keen to see this fraud corrected in the breed. I’m sure the breed clubs will, in turn, be very keen to support the ousting of this problem. So without doubt the breed clubs and the Labrador Breed Council in the United Kingdom will back our efforts to get rid of these unwanted fraudulent colours.
Worryingly, in the mean time about five hundred KC registered “Labradors” have been identified as dilutes.