The Silver Labrador Myth

Can you tell which is a purebred Weimaraner and which is a 'Silver Lab'?

Years ago it was really hard to tell a silver from a Weimaraner. Unless you looked at the tail. In the US, Weimaraners have their tails docked to six inches. Other countries have outlawed cropping ears and docking tails, so looking at the tail in those locations is not helpful.

Over time, silver breeders have bred their dogs to purebred Labs so the silvers are looking more Lab-like. And they decided to lie and declare their mixed-breed dog are purebred Labradors. This is the silver Lab myth.

EARLY LABRADOR RETRIEVERS

The Labrador Retriever originated in Newfoundland and the early dogs were black. Some had white markings from the St John's dog.

Several of these dogs were imported to England and Scotland during 1800s. Impressed by their retrieving desire and overall work in the field, wealthy sportsmen imported more dogs and began breeding them.

The majority of these dogs were black, but breeders documented an occasional brown or yellow puppy. But black was - and still is - the most common color.

ORIGIN OF THE "SILVER LAB MYTH"

According to the Factual Review by Margaret Wilson, "There was never any mention in the meticulous and exhaustive breeding records, whelping logs, descriptions of markings colors, etc., and stud books kept by gentlemen of unimpeachable integrity of any dog being produced that was, in fact or in fantasy, a dilute. Not in ANY of the retriever breeds developed from the St. John's dog during that time in Great Britain. The dilute allele was introduced after the establishment of the recognized breeds. In the case of the Labrador this introduction occurred in the USA during the latter part of the 20th century."

Because a variety of breeds were crossed with Labs early in their history, occasionally a mismark will pop up. Some have tan markings like a Doberman, some are brindle like a Great Dane, some are splashed with white. These mismarks are rare, but they do still occur. Unlike the 'silver Labs' these dogs are considered purebred Labs.

Interestingly there was no mention of 'silver Labs' until the mid-1900s. And for years after that they were only found in the US. There were none in the United Kingdom until 2006 when some silvers were exported from the US. If these dogs really were purebred Labradors they should have appeared a long time ago in the breed's home country.

So where did this color come from?

Most likely from the Weimaraner which comes "in shades of mouse-gray to silver-gray" per the breed standard. Every dog of this breed has two copies of the recessive dilution gene ("dd") which gives them the silvery color.

Labs, however, do not have the dilution gene. A purebred Lab is "DD" which means they have two copies of the dominant, non-dilute gene.

Breeding Labs with Weimaraners will produce dogs with normal Lab colors, however they will all carry the dilute gene ("Dd"). Breeding these dogs together can produce dogs that don't carry the dilute gene and dogs that carry one copy of that gene. These dogs will have normal Lab colors. However that cross can also produce dogs that have two copies of the dilute gene ("dd") with diluted colors.

The dilute colors have been named "charcoal", "silver" and "champagne." These dogs often have a lavender cast to the coat and light greenish eyes, both traits from the Weimaraner.

When and how did 'silver Labs' appear?

Just about every 'silver Lab' can be traced back to two breeders - Crist Culo Kennels and Beaver Creek Labradors. They gained notoriety in the mid-1980s. Neither has a current website. There is also mention of a magazine advertisement for "rare gray Labradors" that appeared sometime in the 1950s. Although it's mentioned over and over again, no one has been able to produce a copy. They can't even even agree on which magazine it appeared in. Perhaps it's just a legend like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster.

In 1987 the American Kennel Club ("AKC") investigated a litter of silver puppies. After looking at the puppies and paperwork they decided "there was no reason to doubt that the dogs were purebred Labrador Retrievers." That statement is not the same as saying the dogs were purebred. Rather it meant they had no proof the dogs were of mixed parentage. Genetic testing would likely have proven the records were falsified, but without it they relied on the breeder's word. Read on to learn about his veracity.

Crist Culo Kennels

Dean Crist appears to be the first person to market 'silver Labs' and was adamant that they were purebred Labs. He even boasted that he "offered $100,000 to anyone who could simply prove" he was cross-breeding to produce 'silver Labs.' It was a safe bet without genetic testing. When testing did become available, it could only show whether a particular dog was a parent of a specific puppy. It couldn't prove anything about the first cross-breeding.

The dogs at Crist Culo Kennels were intensely inbred - mother to son, father to daughter, brother to sister. This was most likely done to increase the number of dogs carrying the dilute gene and thus his profit margin.

Half-truths, at best

On his website this breeder claimed "... there is also little doubt AKC will eventually have to concede to the growing public pressure to make Silver a recognized color for Labs in America." I guess he didn't know that AKC doesn't have the power to make silver a recognized color of Labradors. The Labrador Retriever Club ("LRC"), as the parent club for Labs in the US, is in control of the breed standard and does not recognize any dog with a dilute color as a purebred Lab.

He also claimed that "...kennel clubs around the world (who do not have the political pressure from mercenary American breeders of 'normal' color Labs) already accept Silver Labs without all the political fuss and pressure being applied to AKC." The truth is, except for AKC, no kennel club, anywhere, accepts "silver Labs" as purebred.

And despite numerous breedings of 'silver Labs', he claimed "Genetically speaking, Charcoal Labs are silver factored Yellow Labs." When in fact dilute yellow Labs are a pale yellow with a lavender cast to their coat and "charcoal Labs" are diluted black Labs.

In more hyperbole, he claimed "Chocolate Labs were both controversial and rare in the U.S. in the early ‘80s." Although not as common as black Labs, they were not controversial nor rare and many champions were chocolate:

  • Am Mex CH Gunfields Super Charger CD WC (born 1969),
  • CH Wingmasters Cobe of Mandigo CD (born 1972),
  • CH Shamrock Acres Coco Bo (born 1974),
  • CH Mallards Brown Spinner (born 1974, great great grandmother of NFC AFC Storm's Riptide Star),
  • CH Shamrock Acres Pot of Fudge CDX (born 1975),
  • CH Wingmaster's Swiss Ms CD (born 1977),
  • CH Wingmasters Chisim Trail (born 1979),
  • FC Mueller's Stormy Canada (born 1980),
  • CH Marshview's Danick Big Bang CD (born 1980),
  • CH Simerdowns Charley Brown CD (born 1980),
  • CH Fantasy's O'Malley CD (born 1983).

Saddest of all is that he claimed "sensitive skin or allergies ... occur at the same frequency in Silver Labs as they occur in Chocolate Labs" and blamed puppy buyers for feeding a poor diet. In fact 'silver Labs' are commonly afflicted with color dilution alopecia, a genetic disorder in which the dog loses most or all of its hair. It's not curable and is associated with the dilute color.

Although he has retired from breeding, other breeders of 'silver Labs' continue to spread his false information.

Beaver Creek Labradors

This kennel showed up in the 1990s - about 10 years after Crist Culo. They practiced less intense line breeding - using distant relatives - compared with the inbreeding done at Crist Culo Kennels. According to Crist, this kennel culled silver puppies until they saw him advertising 'silver Labs' for sale. He volunteered to sell the puppies for them so they could, apparently, avoid the backlash of cross breeding. Eventually they chose to market their own puppies.

Other breeders fell to the 'shiny object syndrome.' Some sourced their first dogs from early breeders, while others decided to breed their own 'silver Labs.' At least one was caught falsifying records and was suspended from AKC.

"EXPLAINING" SILVERS

There are a variety of stories told to explain the sudden appearance of "silver Labs" in the 1980s.

Some silver breeders point to gray puppies noted by Mary Roslin-Williams, however they only included the part that makes it seem like 'silver Labs' have been around for many years. What they didn't share is that when those puppies shed their puppy coat they were black. Not silver, not charcoal.

A Dutch researcher created a database of Labs and traced most silver pedigrees back to two dogs from a large mid-western kennel. However he failed to mention that to register Labrador x Weimaraner puppies with the AKC, a false name and registration number from a Lab had to be used in place of the actual Weimaraner parent as noted in the recipe below. The dogs he pointed to were likely the "parents" only on paper.

Another oft-repeated myth is that the level of inbreeding at the Culo kennel resulted in the silver color. Rather the tremendous amount of inbreeding in these early silvers suggests producing the silver color was deliberate.

It only took one fraudulent breeding to introduce the dilution gene to the Lab breed and then lots of inbreeding to develop a line of 'silver Labs.' Since then there have been many more fraudulent registrations of Labrador x Weimaraner crosses registered as purebred Labs.

Interesting how there were no 'silver Labs' until the mid-1900s. And for years after that they were only found in the US. There were none in the UK until many years later. The silvers there were all imported from the US or descended from imports. You would think if these dogs really are purebred Labradors that they would have shown up a long time ago in the breed's home country.

RECIPE FOR 'SILVER LABS'*

It's not hard to make your own 'silver Lab' bloodline, but it will take at least three dogs and two generations. Oh, and if the AKC catches you, plan on at least a lengthy suspension.

Step One:

If you have full registration for a Lab male and a Lab female plus access to a male Weimaraner, you could breed the Weimaraner to the Lab female and fraudulently claim the puppies' father is the Lab male. With the vast number of puppies registered every year, AKC can't check each and every litter.

Every puppy in this cross-bred litter will carry the dilute gene, but won't have the dilute-colored coat.

Step Two:

When the puppies are old enough, breed them together. Yes, brother to sister. Just like the Crist Culo Kennels did. Statistically, their litters should be about 25% dd (dilute color), 25% DD (non-dilute) and 50% Dd (dilute carriers). The colors you get will depend on the color of the Lab grandmother. If she was a chocolate, you should have some 'silvers.'

Step Three:

To "prove" these dogs are purebred Labs, buy AKC DNA kits and test the parents and puppies of this second generation. AKC is a registration body and will register any puppy when both parents are AKC registered and of the same breed. They don't care if the puppy is pink with purple polka dots. The DNA is only to check whether a particular puppy could have been sired by a particular male and out of a particular female. They don't check any farther back.

Congratulations! You have now committed fraud and potentially introduced additional health issues to the Labrador Retriever breed.

* Note: I do not condone fraud. This "recipe" is only to show how easy it is for crossbred dogs to contaminate a breed. And it is happening in many breeds, not just the Labrador Retriever.

However, not all crossbreeding is bad. In the Dalmation there is a problem with high levels of uric acid in their urine which can cause an obstruction. This problem is called hyperuricosuria (HU). Dalmations around the world were tested and all had HU, although it is rare in other breeds.

The Dalmatian/Pointer Backcross Project started by crossbreeding to a Pointer, a breed that does not have HU. After several generations of breeding back into Dalmations, the AKC accepted these dogs into the registry as Dalmatians. However it was another 30 years before a genetic test was available to determine which dogs carried the recessive HU gene and which were clear.

Why provide such a recipe?

To prove a point. Many people rely on the findings of that Dutch man who collected Labrador pedigrees. Developing the database was a wonderful undertaking. Tracing the dilute gene in his database and claiming it came from two dogs that were bred by a mid-western kennel was not.

As in the recipe above, the Lab males contributed NO genes to the puppies and grandpuppies. They were only listed as the fathers so the first-generation puppies could be AKC registered as purebred Labs. The male Weimaraner actually provided the genes.

Claiming those two dogs were the source of the dilute gene has cast doubt on the hundreds of actual descendants of those dogs.

HEALTH ISSUES

'Silver Labs' are prone to color dilution alopecia which is a painful and chronic condition linked to the dilute gene. Dogs appear normal as puppies, but at about six months begin to lose their hair. Some dogs may only have bald spots while others may lose all of their hair. Affected dogs may develop infections and granulomas which are the body's attempt to wall off foreign bodies. There is no cure.

Read about a lady who believed the hype that the dilute gene was "inherent in the Lab gene pool" and that silvers didn't have any health issues. Sadly her experience (and the experience of many others) was very different from what she was told. Her dog didn't lose some hair; she was hairless. Not knowing any better back then, the lady bred her silver and produced puppies with allergy and coat problems.

SILVER LABS AROUND THE WORLD

"The overwhelming consensus among breed experts from legitimate Labrador clubs, the position of these accredited Labrador clubs, and a growing number of recognized purebred dog registries, is that the dilutes are the result of a cross breeding, with Weimaraner being the source of the dilute allele, and are therefore not registerable in a purebred registry." LRC_News_Spring2018.pdf

In addition, the breed standards for Labrador Retrievers around the world only recognize the colors of black, chocolate and yellow. AKC lists any other color as a disqualification. Labs with the diluted color cannot be shown. Some countries do not allow them to be bred.

The Labrador Retriever Club (US)

The Labrador Retriever Club Inc is the parent club for the breed in the US and they are the liaison to the AKC. They do not condone the breeding of 'silver Labs' and have "good evidence in scientific literature indicating that the Labrador has never been identified as carrying the dilute gene..."

In other words, these dogs are not purebred Labradors.

The United Kennel Club and Hunting Retriever Club

The UKC standard is clear. Any color or combination of colors other than yellow, black, or chocolate is a disqualification. UKC does not recognize any form of silver coloration as a variation of the chocolate color and UKC does not and has not knowingly accepted registrations for Labradors that have a silver coat coloring.

Further they are not eligible to run in HRC hunt tests because the tests are only open to 'gun dog' breeds and dilutes are not considered purebred Labradors. They can participate in other UKC performance events, but must be neutered.

Great Britain

Dilute colors in Labradors are not recognized

Canada

Not a breed standard recognized color for Labrador Retrievers

The Netherlands

Dilute colors are not naturally occurring in Labradors. Breeding dilute Labs is banned.

New Zealand

At least one parent must be clear of the dilute allele.

Australia

Dilute Labradors may not be registered.

American Kennel Club

On the other hand, the AKC is a registration body. It's position is if two dogs have full registration and are 'registered' as the same breed, they will register their puppies.

CONCLUSION

Had the early silver breeders been truthful about what they were doing there would probably have been some backlash, but not to the extent caused by the lies. What I - and most Labrador breeders - object to is calling these dogs 'silver Labradors' when they clearly have Weimaraner characteristics above and beyond the silver color. It's particularly noticeable in the head, ear shape and eye color. Many 'silver Lab' breeders are now trying to breed to better quality Labradors to improve the look of their dogs. I sincerely hope that doesn't happen.

Too many lies have been told and too much false information has been spread by these 'silver Lab' breeders. It's time to ferret out every one of these cross bred dogs and stop calling them Labrador Retrievers. The LRC has offered to help them set up their own breed, but the silver breeders have refused. If they don't want to have their own breed, so be it. Strip the AKC registration of every one of these crossbred dogs and see the breeders' profits plummet.

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