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Silver Labrador Retrievers: Controversy, Puppy Prices & More

Curious about the Silver Labrador? We examine the puppy costs, coat genetics, and controversy that comes along with this uniquely colored pup!

Emma Braby

Last Updated: August 27, 2020 | 12 min read

Silver Labrador Retriever

The Silver Lab is a gorgeous dog, with the classic looks of a Labrador but with a shimmery silver twist! He is beautiful, he has an awesome temperament, and he is at the forefront of much debate. His history is mysterious; he is believed to be either a purebred Labrador or a Lab mix. Not only is the debate raising his presence, but it is also raising his popularity.

Unfortunately, the Silver Lab has been caught in the firing line of much canine controversy, he is loathed by many but also loved by many.  There are a few theories as how the silver lab got it’s coat, and many breeders and clubs are divided about this topic.

Let’s look at the facts as they stand today, and if you are considering getting a Silver Labrador, you will be armed with the information you need to decide whether this pup is for you or not. Or, if you are here simply because you love a bit of doggy drama, then read on!

History and Controversy

Adult Silver Labrador Retriever
The Silver Lab has a controversy among Labrador breeders.

The Labrador Retriever’s popularity originates from the early 19th century in Newfoundland in Canada. He is a hunting dog, and traditionally worked on water collecting ducks, fish and many other small water creatures. He was, and still is, the fisherman’s favorite choice of canine colleague. His ancestor was called the St Johns Dog, and he was similar in appearance, but black in color. Visiting English nobles sailed him back to Britain, refined the breed standard and named him the Labrador Retriever. Ever since then he has become a firm family favorite across the world.

The Labrador community’s opinion of the Silver Labrador is split in two. There are those who believe that the they are a purebred Labrador, just as any other color is, and there are those who believe that the Silver Labrador is a mixed breed of Labrador and a Weimaraner. The unresolved debate first began when Kellogg’s Kennel advertised ‘rare gray Labradors’ for sale in the 1950s. This raised questions from many breeders and Labrador fanciers across the world, as it would appear that this silver color suddenly came from nowhere. The same debate exists with other lab color variations, like the red fox lab.

Despite the controversy, the Silver Lab is not recognized as an official color. They can still be registered as a Labrador with kennel clubs across the world. They can, however, be registered as a ‘Chocolate Labrador’ with the AKC.  It’s also possible to be registered as a ‘non-recognized color’ in the United Kingdom’s equivalent of the AKC. It is unclear exactly how common the Silver Labrador is. It’s clear that the surrounding controversy is definitely raising their profile.

Theory 1: The Silver Lab as a Purebred Labrador

Labrador Outdoors in Field
Silver Lab enthusiasts always attempt to prove that their color is from legitimate purebred lines.

It is commonly suggested by those who support the Silver Lab as a purebred that they have always been around. Silver Labradors were either recorded as a non-recognized color, or they were immediately euthanized to prevent their silver genes from entering the Labrador gene pool. This is because the breeders would have been accused of mixed breeding. Because they were euthanized once their color was realized they were never registered. Therefore, questions had not been raised until the 1950s. The Kellogg’s Kennel were the first official kennel brave enough to publicly advertise their dogs as Silver Labradors.

Supporters claim that the answer lies in the genetics of the breeds used to refine the Labrador that we know today. When the British refined the Labrador, they used the St John’s breed, a dog that was black, as well as the Chesapeake Bay Retriever. While this breed does have the diluted gene, this gene is rare. So it is a real possibility that the Labrador Retriever inherited this rare gene, and this would mean that the Silver Labrador is a purebred Labrador.

Since then, Silver Labradors are bred to create more Silver Labradors, and as such this rare color is becoming more available than it once was.  The silver color originated in the UK, but has gradually moved its way over into the us, and has both bench and show lines.

Theory 2: The Silver Lab as a Mixed Breed

Labrador Outdoors in Forest
Labrador Retriever purists often argue that the Silver Lab is just a mixed breed.

Those who are against the notion of the Silver Lab being a purebred suggest that the only possible explanation lies with the Weimaraner’s genes being mixed into the gene pool. The Weimaraner is similar in appearance and size of a Labrador, except his coat is distinctively silver.

The two original Silver Labrador breeders are notably Crist Culo Kennels and Beaver Creek Labradors. Their litters can be traced back to the first litter advertised in 1950 by Kellogg’s Kennels. Because the silver color was so rare, it meant that back then the dogs were bred with their close relatives to achieve the color. In-breeding is the term to describe this practice, and it is known to produce a wealth of health problems.

Campaigners against the color say that breeders are contaminating the Labrador’s gene pool by introducing another breed. They also say that the Silver Labrador, being in-bred, is riddled with health problems. Breed purists argue that these are not purebreds, being a mixed breed Lab. They also claim that Silver Lab breeders are simply ‘in it for the money.’  The typical argument is that these breeders do not care for the Labrador breed. They only want to breed as many Silver Labradors as possible with no regard for their health.

Of course, in order to protect breed lineage, other breeds should never be mixed and registered as a purebred. This is an awful thing to do and campaigners, if this is true, are right to object. However, recent studies suggest that there are now enough Silver Labs around so that inbreeding is not an issue. Inbreeding is not practiced by reputable breeders, and to this day there has never been any proof of wrongdoing.

Silver Labrador Color Genetics

Silver Labrador Genetics
The silver lab genetics is a variation of the chocolate colored coat.

The color of the Silver Labrador is often called a dilute version of the chocolate colored Labrador. Often in genetic terms, the variations in color are labelled as being a dilute gene, as this is what causes the ‘watered down’ color variation. 

All coat colors are controlled by a set of genes. Specifically, in standard Labradors you will read that the B and E genes influence coat color for Black, Chocolate and Yellow. However, the silver color is controlled by a different gene, the D gene. The D gene is present in all standard Labrador colors. The gene acts like a switch, on for full color and off for diluted. To understand it a little more, all genes come in pairs, this pair being the big ‘D’ and little ‘d’. The big D produces full strength coat color and the little d produces a dilute color.

The Silver Lab is a dilute chocolate color, so here are the possible gene pairings and color outcomes for the Chocolate Labrador:

  • Chocolate Labrador: DD
  • Chocolate Labrador: Dd
  • Silver Labrador: dd

The big D is always dominant and therefore it always overrides the little d. So, for the Silver Lab to make an appearance the pup needs two copies of the dilute gene in order to have dilute fur. So only the third gene combination bred would produce a Silver Lab. In certain breeds, Weimaraner’s for example, they also have two little d genes. This is why the recent appearance of the double little d gene in Chocolate Labradors has enabled the Silver Labrador to appear, and hence why the controversy commenced. 

In the Ring

Silver Labrador Running on Pavement Outside
Silver Labs are able to register as chocolate labs, but not as show dogs.

The genetics of this coloring of the breed can only be theorized and not proven. As a result, the Silver lab is allowed to participate in AKC events. They can be registered as a purebred labrador, but they cannot compete in show events.  If you are purchasing a puppy for the sole reason of showing the dog, you probably already know this fact and it’s a non-issue.

There are many breeders that continue to challenge the AKC and champion for this line to be able to compete.  There are others who side with the AKC and are equally opposed to this pup ever being able to compete in the ring.

Appearance

Silver Labrador in Field
Silver Labs have strikingly beautiful coat colors.

The Silver Labrador has the same appearance as any colored Labrador, except of course, his color. Many describe his color as a diluted brown, whereas many others describe his color as a shimmery silver. A Silver Labrador can be different shades of his color, this will be dependent on his parents and genes. They also tend to have brown noses, and light-yellow eyes. Many pups before they are 8 months old will have light-blue eyes, which gradually turn into a pale yellow.

Some people, mainly those who believe he is bred with the Weimaraner, state that the Silver Lab looks more ‘hound’ like, and that he gets these looks from his Weimaraner parent genealogy. They say that his ears are larger than a traditional Labrador, and his muzzle is longer and thinner. Some say that he doesn’t, and simply looks like a traditional Labrador.

The male Silver Lab measures 22.5 to 24.5 inches in height. Females will measure slightly smaller at 21.5 to 23.5 inches. He is quite a hefty pup, and the male weighs 65 to 80 pounds. Females weigh 55 to 70 pounds. They are stocky, yet well-proportioned dogs. Silver Labs have a cheerful and cheeky expression, with a strong muzzle and powerful neck. They also have an otter-like tail, which is long and thick, and they use this to steer themselves in the water.

Temperament

Adult Silver Labrador Standing on Hill
Silver Labs are no different than traditional Labradors when it comes to their temperament, making wonderful companions.

The Silver Lab is intelligent and trainable, and he simply lives to please and serve his master. Not only will he be the most obedient of pups (as long as you are you are consistent with his training and discipline) but he will always be at your feet and ready to lend a paw whenever he can!  If it is a true companion that you want, then the Silver Labrador would make a great choice.

He is also a seriously sociable pooch, who loves to join in with all the family games and a splash in the pool. He will retrieve anything that you throw and will entertain you and your whole family for hours on end. Not only does he serve his master, but he is loyal to everyone in the pack and will happily snuggle up with anyone who is in the room. Additionally, if he is socialized from a young age, he is also fond of small children and other animals. However, this sociability does have a slight downside, in that he is known to suffer with separation anxiety.

He is a happy-go-lucky kind of canine, and he is described by the AKC as ‘friendly, active and outgoing’. His temperament is one of the main reasons he is the most popular dog breed, and has been for over 23 years!

Exercise and Training

Silver Labrador Exercising Outdoors
As with any Lab, expect to spend plenty of time exercising and getting out excess energy.

Being a working dog, the Silver Labrador is a high energy dog. Silver Labs need around 60 minutes of exercise each day. This does not mean, however, that an hour walk per day will be adequate. As with any Labrador, they require intense exercise to burn up extra energy. Silver Labradors will need fast-paced and interactive exercise. Training your lab to walk or run with a harness is recommended, as they make excellent jogging partners. Other activities they enjoy include playing fetch, taking part in agility courses, and interactive games. Being the original fisherman’s friend, they still have an affinity for water, so swimming is another form of exercise they love!

The Silver Labrador is one of the most intelligent canines on the planet. This is one of the main reasons why Labradors are commonly used in working fields. You’ll often see them participating in search and rescue jobs, drug detection, and guide dogs for the blind. When you combine their intelligence with their love to please their master, they will forever spend every minute trying to impress you with their skills. This is of course, as long as you are consistent with their training.  Make sure you have plenty of toys to keep your pup entertained.

Health and Nutrition

Chocolate and Silver Labs in Snow
Expect the same health issues as you would any other normal colored Lab.

The Silver Labrador is a generally healthy dog, and he lives, on average, between 10 and 12 years. So, if you are thinking about welcoming a Silver Labrador into your life then you need to be aware of the following health issues:

Hip and Elbow Dysplasia

This is a common health issue in later life for most dog breeds. It is caused by an abnormal formation in the hip and elbow joints, and symptoms can eventually include joint pain and crippling arthritis.

Exercise-Induced Collapse

The pup can suffer a loss of muscular control following a period of excessive exercise. There is nothing that can be done to prevent this except to look out for symptoms such as collapsing and being totally unable to move or dragging their limbs behind them whilst they are running. In very rare cases the dog can die immediately, but the majority of cases last up to 25 minutes.

Color Dilution Alopecia

This is found in dogs that have the color dilution gene, dd, as described above. It’s not found in all dd dogs, and it does not always lead to this specific alopecia. It is caused by bacterial infection in the hair follicles and causes dry skin and hair loss. It will show itself between 6 months and 3 years and it can be managed by antibiotics.

Generally, the Silver Labrador will eat around 3 cups of food, and it should be a large breed formula made for Labs.  He will also eat anything and everything else that he can get his paws on! With any Labrador it is imperative to monitor his food and treat consumption to avoid obesity and other weight related health issues. Give him treats in moderation and try not to feed him high calorie foods or human foods such as cheese. You might be his best friend at the time, but he won’t thank you for it when his joints can’t take the extra weight.

Grooming

Labrador Puppy Outdoors
Grooming needs don’t differ between coat colors.

To keep the Silver Labrador warm against the cold elements he has a double coat. His undercoat is thick and dense, and water and ice resistant. This enables them to stay in the water for so long without getting ill, and his outer coat is short and coarse.

Labradors are moderate to heavy shedders. Their coats will need brushing once or twice a week. He will require a bath every 6 weeks or so to keep him smelling fresh from all that mud and lake water that he loves so much!

Breeders and Puppy Prices

Silver Lab Puppies
Don’t expect to pay less than $900 for your Silver Lab Puppy.

The average cost of a Labrador Retriever puppy ranges from $900 and up from a reputable breeder. Because the Silver Labrador Retriever is rarer, you can expect to pay more as the demand for him is considerably higher. From looking at reputable breeder websites, the cost is, on average, between $1,250 and $1,500.

Buying your pup from a reputable breeder will not only ensure that you are paying the right price for pup, but it will also ensure that you are getting a healthy pooch that has had the best start to life.

Should I get a Silver Labrador?

Lab Puppy with his new owner
Getting a Silver Labrador will depend on what your goals are and if color is a deciding factor.

Do you want him to partake in registered hunting and obedience trials? As it was mentioned earlier, the Silver Labrador is not recognized as a ‘Silver Labrador’ by official kennel clubs; the silver tick box does not exist on the registration form. As a result of having to register him as a Chocolate, or a non-recognized color, your pup will, unfortunately, be viewed as less desirable than all the other competing Labradors. Many competitors suggest that their Silver Labradors suffer from color prejudice within the competition. If entering your pup into events is important to you, then you should be prepared for this. If it’s a deciding factor, consider another color Labrador.

Once you’ve answered the competition question, then there are some other things to note. Firstly, many anti-silver campaigners suggest that inbreeding has caused serious health issues. However, there is no evidence for this claim. Until there is, don’t let this put you off. He has the same health issues as any other standard Labrador. There is also an added potential alopecia issue. The silver gene pool is now big enough that reputable breeders will not breed siblings or close relatives. 

Secondly, many anti-silver campaigners also suggest that Silver Labrador breeders are simply in it for the money. Again, this is not true. If you buy your puppy from a reputable breeder who is registered with the AKC, then his parents must be health tested. This way you know that your puppy has undergone the same health testing as, let’s say, a yellow AKC registered pup.

Final Thoughts

Whatever side of the fence you sit on, and whether you believe that the Silver Labrador is a purebred or a mixed breed, two things are very clear. Firstly, the history of their coat color will probably always remain a mystery. Secondly, and more importantly, whatever their genetics, Silver Labradors are loveable pups who make awesome family pets. As long as he is healthy, and you are ready to commit to having a dog, then you will both have a long happy life together!

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