Let’s start at the beginning…
Since in the mid-1980’s, the adjective “Silver” has become regularly used to describe the appearance of Chocolate Labradors that possess the homozygous autosomal recessive alleles “dd” at the D locus, found on canine chromosome #25. The gene at the D locus is commonly called the “dilution” gene but is more correctly termed the “melanophilin” gene or “MLPH.” The term dilution is used in a descriptive fashion in reference to the scattered and random nature of the pigment granules of the hair shaft found in “dd” Labradors (this gives them the silver look), which is in contrast to the continuous and organized granules seen in non-“dd” Labradors (Black, Chocolate and Yellow). Initially, the term “Silver” applied solely to dilute Chocolate Labradors, however, in time, it was understood that the MLPH gene also affected the appearance of Yellow and Black Labradors, to which the adjective “Silver” did not readily apply. Inasmuch as the appearance of these Labradors was not the same as is seen in the MLPH Chocolate Labradors, other adjectives were employed to better describe them, “Champagne” for Yellow Labradors and “Charcoal” for Black Labradors. Although the adjectives “Silver,” “Charcoal,” and “Champagne” are commonly used, it is clearly understood that the base genetic colors and hair pigment are “Chocolate,” “Black,” and “Yellow,” the breed standard-described colors for Labradors.
Labradors that carry the MLPH gene are AKC pedigree Labrador Retrievers whose breed purity is certified by the AKC.
The AKC’s Statements:
- “The foundation for the AKC registry is based on parentage and not color.”
- “We [AKC] should register all Lab pups coming from purebred AKC registered Labs.”
- In 1987 an investigation was done on the purity of Silver Labradors. This is what AKC stated “After a review of pictures, the file and history of this issue which goes back to 1987, we feel the most appropriate color for registration is Chocolate. We will entertain complaints of impure breedings on an individual basis, but complaints should be based on more than color. In 1987 we conducted an inquiry into the breeding of the litters that contained the dogs that were registered as silver and one of our representatives was sent to observe several of the dogs that had been registered as silver. Color photographs of these dogs were forwarded to the office of the American Kennel Club where the staff of the AKC and the representatives of the Labrador Retriever Club of America examined them. Both parties were satisfied that there was no reason to doubt that the dogs were purebred Labrador Retrievers, however, both parties felt that the dogs were incorrectly registered as silver. Since the breed standard describes chocolate as ranging in shade from Sedge to chocolate, it was felt that the dogs could more accurately be described as chocolate than as silver.
Accusations of intentional crossbreeding to introduce the MLPH gene from another breed are unfounded and categorically false. The Council encourages all breeders of MLPH gene Labradors to participate in the Breed Purity DNA testing program to publicly demonstrate breed purity.
Genetic Basis & Historical Basis
Regarding the LRC Position: “There is no genetic basis for the silver gene in Labradors” The phrase “Genetic Basis” suggests that the root of a condition is the result of genes.
It is a proven genetic fact that the “Silver” variation in Labradors is the result of a gene, “MPLH,” and it therefore has a “genetic basis.”
The MPLH gene is recessive and is only completely obvious in the presence of the gene responsible for the Chocolate color which is also a recessive gene. Chocolates were rare historically (until they became popular) making the silver gene even rarer. The genetic basis for the gene’s historical rarity can be tied to its recessive nature in combination with low numbers of Chocolate Labradors historically; a “genetic basis.”
The two closest relations of the Labrador Retriever breed, who trace their origins to the same foundation canines (St. John’s water dog) from the island of Newfoundland Labrador, Canada; are the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and the Newfoundland breed. Both possess the MLPH gene, another “genetic basis.” The Labrador Retriever’s origin began in Newfoundland Labrador, Canada – hence the name the Labrador Retriever. It was later shipped over to the United Kingdom and refined there. It is a Canadian breed.
The Issue with AKC Registration
While we understand why certain groups do not want MPLH gene Labradors being registered, the accusations that Labrador Retrievers with MLPH gene are of impure lineage is not fact-based. The Council looks farther into the repercussions of alternate registration for Labradors that carry the MLPH gene.
The Council seriously questions the wisdom in requiring DNA testing for any particular gene as a condition of registration. Such a policy produces the potential for an endless list of breed qualifying DNA tests ranging from physical conformation characteristics to genetic diseases. It would be ridiculous to require testing for a color gene and not genes that are responsible for debilitating diseases or conformational faults. Requiring these qualifications tests places an undue burden on the registrant and will ultimately promote the breeding of unregistered dogs. Screening for genetic traits should remain at the discretion of the dog owner and responsibility of the breeder. Color is not a disease, nor is it linked to any disease in the Labrador Retriever (Please read below on Color Dilution Alopecia). If we are going to require testing, why not make it for the top 3 debilitating diseases in Labrador Retrievers: Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC), Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) and Centronuclear Myopathy (CNM). Many top conformation lines carry more than one of these, why is color a top priority when these diseases debilitate all Labradors. Shouldn’t healthy be number one?
Some potential results of requiring DNA testing:
Loss of registrations with unquestionably the premier canine registry in the USA, if not the world. The AKC is a significant catalyst for the breeding of better Labradors and for developing more ethical breeders through kennel inspections, record keeping, DNA services, etc… Loss of registration means:
- Fewer AKC registered Labradors
- Poorer bred Labradors
- Deteriorated breeding practices
- Unregulated kennels
- Loss of ability to fairly compete and show in AKC companion and performance events.
- Reduction in well-trained Labradors due to a decreased inability to compete in specific disciplines requiring AKC registration.
- Loss of opportunity to refine and prove the natural abilities of Labradors.
The CPLR does not condone breeding with the “primary” intention to produce any one particular Labrador Retriever color, commonly called color breeding.
The CPLR recognizes that many Labrador Retriever breeders breed within a certain Labrador color but that their primary goal is not to just produce that color, but rather healthy, intelligent, good-tempered, and trainable Labradors – some which happen to be either silver, charcoal or champagne.
While it may be true that some people believe to develop a Silver Labrador you must cross it with a Weimaraner and thus have done so, these are not breeders educated in Labrador Retrievers nor are they considered ethical breeders. These breeders fall into the same category as Labradoodle breeders. The MPLH gene exists in many breeds including the Great Dane, Sheltie and Grey Hounds. The confusion arises because the grey solid color in Weimaraners and Silver Labradors are very similar. The Kellogg’s kennel argument also plays into this fiction but there is no evidence they EVER bred or even had Weimaraners. It is simply an easy scapegoat for Silver Labrador haters to hang on.
It is up to the consumer to inform themselves and investigate the breeder before purchasing a puppy. This goes for ALL BREEDERS OF LABRADORS. While good breeders allocate countless hours, money and effort into breeding the best possible Labrador Retrievers and constantly improving their lines, there will always remain bad breeders who don’t. Color does not play any role in the quality of Labrador Retriever if bred by an unethical breeder. Just like poor Silver Labradors, there are also many poor Black, Chocolate and Yellow Labradors. Quality is a direct result of a breeder’s choice; to decrease poor quality Labradors, consumers MUST demand the highest standard of breeding practice.
The CPLR promotes the participation in the “Improvement Movement,” a recognized program that rewards breeders for their efforts in improving their kennel bloodlines. This can also be a source for potential buyers to seek out breeders who uphold the highest standards in their breeding program.
Color Dilution Alopecia (CDA)
The notion that Labrador Retrievers that express the MLPH gene are more susceptible to the disorder “Color Dilution Alopecia” is grossly exaggerated and is not supported by modern research into this theorized connection (see: Welle M. et al. 2009. MLPH Genotype—Melanin Phenotype Correlation in Dilute Dogs. J of Hered, 100:S75–S79). There are presently no scientific data available for CDA in Labrador Retrievers.
The CPLR encourages member participation in research endeavors aimed at understanding and eliminating CDA in canines. We want to understand the problem and eliminate it. Health is a priority.