Silver Labs: The New Fad in Dogs

October 12, 2011  

BEYOND THE BUBBLE

By Sydney Giesey
sschmidt@mail.smu.edu

Silver Lab photo courtesy of Creative Commons

Melanie Phillips has been breeding Labrador Retrievers for 13 years. For the first eight years she bred the standard colors: black, yellow and chocolate. Now she breeds a canine that many people have never heard of, a silver Labrador.

“Where did they come from?” “I’ve never seen one of these.”

These are typical comments Phillips said she heard when Southwest Georgia
Living Magazine wrote an article about her kennel, Silver Land Retrievers, and her silver labs in its July/August issue.

Phillips said one man who read the article drove hundreds of miles to her home in Georgia in the hopes of buying one of the unusual dogs. The man showed up at her doorstep and asked, “Have you got a puppy?”

“It’s not that easy, bud,” Phillips told him. At the time, she did not have a litter.

Melanie produced her first silvers by breeding some of her top females (a white female, a black female and a yellow female) with a male silver she bought. This type of breeding produced silver factored puppies.

There has been controversy around the silver lab and its origins. Supporters of the breed say it is a purebred Labrador and the silver color is simply the result of a recessive gene. Critics believe the canine received the silver color, and the corresponding gene, by being crossbred with Weimaraners.

“There’s no way to prove it or disprove it, to be quite honest,” said Tom

Beckert, a member of the Dallas-Ft. Worth Labrador Retriever Club. The club, which is a parent club, develops the breed standards for Labradors. The American Kennel Club then adopts the standards.

The AKC does not recognize the silver coat as a color unto itself. The group defines the Labrador Retriever coat colors as black, yellow and chocolate. Any other color, or combination of colors, is a disqualification according to the breed standard. The grey coat is considered a variation of chocolate or black. Silver is a dilution of chocolate, while charcoal is a dilution of black. Labradors with white coats are considered a dilution of yellow. The white coat is also a disqualification.

Dr. Tyler Foreman, a veterinarian at Hillside Veterinary Clinic in Dallas, said the silver labs he has come in contact with have behaved much like standard colored Labradors. They are fun loving, friendly and have a lot of energy, but Dr. Foreman said he isn’t entirely convinced they are purebred.

“If you put a Weimaraner and a Labrador Retriever next to each other, there really is not a large amount of difference to me,” he said.

He said the two breeds are similar in size and shape and have similar temperaments.

Whether they are purebred or crossbred, silver Labradors are a small subset in the canine population. Many people don’t even know the breed exists.

“I’ve heard of white labs, but I haven’t ever heard of silver labs,” lab-owner Susan Bovenzi said, watching her four-year-old black lab, Nelly Belle, play at the Wagging Tail Dog Park in Dallas.

Dr. Foreman agrees the silver color is not very common.

“I would probably say I could count the number of times I’ve seen one on one hand,” he said.

This exclusivity allows some breeders to put a high price tag on their litters. Some online websites charged up to $1,800 for silver puppies, and consumers are willing to pay it. Most purebred black, yellow or chocolate labs listed for sale online ranged from $600 to $1000 in price. White labs appear to be closest in price to silver labs with several websites asking for somewhere between $1300 and $1700 for puppies.

“Anytime there’s something new in the dog breed world, especially with a breed as popular as Labrador retriever, it’s bound to become a short lived fad,” Dr. Foreman said.

The silver lab isn’t the first Labrador to be part of a fad, according to Becker.

“Chocolates were in the same boat,” he said.

Becker said chocolates were the fancy ten years ago. Breeders could charge more for the brown color. Today you don’t pay nearly as much, he said.

“When they are rare, people pay a premium for them,” Becker said. “After a while, they become a common place thing.”

While a small population can bring in big money, it can also cause breeders to revert to inbreeding, also known as line breeding. Phillips said breeders originally had to rely on inbreeding to maintain the silver color.

Dr. Foreman said inbreeding can often have negative affects on a dog’s health and is common among purebreds.

“For any pure bred dog, Labrador Retrievers are unfortunately no exception, at some point they’ve been inbred,” he said.

Phillips said she never had to inbreed.

“In human relationships it would be incestuous,” Phillips said.

Regardless of the silver lab’s beginnings, Phillips loves her dogs. They play with her grandchildren. They are a part of her family.

“They’re a lab,” Phillips said. “If you love a lab and just want a different color, I would definitely recommend them.”

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