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A Teaching Moment: My Response to a Misleading Article About Labrador Retriever Coat Color Genetics

Wow, I didn’t know I was doing anything special! Yesterday morning I woke up to this article from PEOPLE Magazine on my news feed (no surprise Google thought Lab news would interest me!)

For years, we here at Karemy Labradors, and many other quality breeders have known how, and regularly have, produced litters of puppies containing all three colors; though it is not something we try to do often. The reason People Magazine Staff considered it rare was probably because most reputable breeders try not to produce the no black pigment gene (NBP), which is commonly called a “Dudley.”

For comparison, here are two of our beautiful pups. Luna (yellow bandana) has the dudley pigmentation (NBP), and Lockett has black pigmentation.

Photo Credit: The Romero Family

Dogs with the dudley pigmentation are considered a disqualification in confirmation show ring and cannot be shown as a result. Because of this, there is generally a prejudice against them in circles of quality breeders. It is due to this stigma that breeders will tend to only breed black and yellow or black and chocolate together. You will also frequently see breeders who will exclusively work with one color. At Karemy, we do not intentionally breed for dudleys, but we also know they are just as healthy and happy as our yellows with black pigmentation so we don’t mind it. We’d love to see dudley’s be accepted into the show ring one day!

Returning to the article, I am upset with it because of the false impression it gives that producing three colors is rare in a litter. I am also upset because these breeders talk of breeding for color not health, structure, and temperament which are the three most important traits any reputable breeder should be considering. The emphasis on three traits are the reason the Labrador Retriever has been the most popular breed for 30+ years in America and many other countries.

As a note, when they do make a reference to health, they make the statement that, “Labradors can often carry a lot of genetic problems” which gives a false impression that Labradors are more prone to genetic disorders than other breeds. The only major genetic problem found in Labradors is Exercise-Induced Collapse (EIC), which can easily screened for and prevented with careful breeding.

For those who do not know how color inheritance works, please allow me to explain. All Labradors can produce black as it is the dominant color, the rest just depends on the combinations of the genetics of the parents to produce litters with all three colors. When both black parents carry yellow and chocolate, they can produce a litter of all three colors. It is important to note that when you breed the recessive colors together, yellow and chocolate, with each other like (i.e. a yellow with a yellow or a chocolate with a chocolate) you will only get an all yellow litter or a litter of all chocolates. There is an exceptions when you the breed two dudleys (NBP) together. In that case, you can produce a chocolate puppy from yellow parents.

With that said, how do we get the parent that can produce all three colors. The black parents will need to carry both recessive yellow and recessive chocolate, the chocolate parents will need to carry yellow, and the yellow parent will need to carry chocolate. Remember all Labradors can produce black. For example, if I bred Zeke (my yellow stud who only carries black) to my chocolate girl Maddie, they would produce a litter of all black puppies that all carry the three colors. Not so rare after all.

Finally, here are a few examples of our litters that have produced three colors. Turns out this has just been an elaborate ruse to show you pictures of our babies 😊.

So here is our Denali (chocolate that carries yellow) bred to our Kodie (yellow that carries chocolate)

Thanks to the wonderful people at Blue Knight Labradors, we can use a program that lets us project color combinations. Here is a look at what Denali’s litter projection would look like (100% of these puppies will be able to produce all three colors):

Below is a litter from Abby (black that carries both chocolate and yellow) and Gilly (a yellow parent carries chocolate)

Abby & Gilly’s projection looks like this (6/8 of the puppies from this litter will be able to produce all three colors)

Here is another example of the combination above from one of litters born via c-section that produced all three colors:

Below are more pairings that can produce all three colors in the litters:

⅓ of the puppies that can be produced will produce all three colors from this litter:

100% of the puppies produced from this litter will be able to produce all three colors:

In conclusion, here are the chances of producing an all three color litter from all the genetic combinations possible. As mentioned before, this information is easily found on the Blue Knight Labrador website where they have excellent visual charts to look at. The charts above came from their website.

Black to black parents have a 1/10 chance

Black to yellow parents have a 1/7 chance

Black to chocolate parents have a ⅛ chance

Chocolate to yellow parents have a ⅙ chance

Yellow to yellow 0% chance

Chocolate to chocolate 0% chance

Overall there is a 5/47 chance that of all the breeding combinations you can produce an all 3 color litter. Though the statistics are low, it all depends on what you are breeding for.

At Karemy Labradors, we choose to breed for structure, health, and temperament and occasionally this will result in an all three color litter. If it was our goal, it would be easy to produce 100% of the time. To produce it consistently, I would DNA test all my puppies and then only keep the puppies that held the genetics to produce all three colors. This is not our goal though and we encourage all reputable Labrador breeders to emphasize health, structure, and temperament over the color of their coat.


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