March 06, 2022
By Chris Ingram
Labs and duck hunting are about as synonymous to waterfowlers as gas station doughnuts and blind banter, and for good reason. The Labrador retriever was born and bred to excel at its craft—no need to ever doubt that, it’s right there in their breed name. If you’ve spent any time hunting ducks and geese with Labs, you have likely seen and heard many myths and misnomers by pre-assigning performance and personality expectations based on their color. And while the verdict is still out on whether these superstars and dunce cap dogs were the result of genetics or products of their environments, throughout the years and now across the online forums and duck blinds worldwide, chatter continues as to if the color of a Lab has any influence on their biddability, temperament, performance, and other field qualities.
Like all good adages and anecdotes that hunters love to toss around, many of these age-old beliefs about Labs always stem from pride and personal experience. If your father and uncles ran black Labs, they affirmed black Labs were superior than chocolates and yellows. If your first witness to a legendary water entry and triple retrieve is a memory with a yellow Lab, you might favor the yellow-coated dogs. Conversely, if you recently hunted with a buddy who spent the morning hollering and trying to handle his whiny, insecure, excitable chocolate, you might have the wrong perception that all brown Labs are cuckoo for Coco Puffs. With the volume of black and yellow Labs out there as hunters and pets, it's only natural there is an increased number of perceptions about them, both good and bad. Chocolates are less abundant which may contribute to a lack of proper representation. In reality, while there may be differences between individual dogs—even those from the same litter—the fact remains there is no evidence-based research, sequenced genetic code, or other biological reason for a Lab of any particular coat to outsmart, outlive, or outperform a Lab of any other color.
Truth of the Matter
Black. Yellow. Chocolate. These are the three colors of Labrador Retrievers as recognized by the American Kennel Club. Fox red and silver are not a standard color for registration. Choosing a Lab puppy is already an emotional process so don’t let the false notion of their coat color determine your destiny. Do your homework to locate a reputable Labrador breeder. Don’t be afraid to hop on a waiting list, there is a good reason for the wait. A good Lab breeder will not be breeding for coat color, rather for defining attributes that make a desirable hunting companion. Every breeder is an advocate for their own line, but good Labs are bred for genetics, trainability, and field function.
Josh Miller of River Stone Kennels in New Richmond, Wisconsin, breeds, trains, tests, and hunts champion Labrador retrievers. When considering coat color, he mentioned if you have a color preference for your puppy, that’s ok, you have to live with it and look at it and it can often be a family decision, but land on the right breeder first. “Traits like athleticism, trainability, drive, temperament, and other personality characteristics are far more important than color,” said Miller. “Check out the studs and dams if possible and find out what you like about a particular dog. Get with a breeder you can trust to lead you down this path and set you up with the right puppy. The right breeder provides the optimal experience and will guide you in finding the best fit and the right dog for you.”
The Problem with Papered Pups
Miller went on to discuss that reading a pedigree can also be a critical part of picking out a Lab puppy, but it’s only a piece of the puzzle. “While a pedigree does indeed show dogs that are highly titled, field-proven, and athletic, don’t just pedigree shop because other things that may be important to you can be missed and not guaranteed,” Miller explained. As a breeder himself, he mentioned that some of these dogs may not have the specific attributes that you may want. “Personality, handling, temperament, and other little traits and quirks like whining or vocalization, breaking, and other intangibles don’t show up on a piece of paper. A pedigree does not differentiate between what came natural versus what was trained into a dog, or whether they will be hard-mouthed or soft-mouthed.” Miller encourages anyone in the market for a pup to ask questions, work with a breeder, and spend time with a pup’s parents to make the most of this process.
Despite what you may think you know, you’ll do yourself a great disservice by generalizing and believing the myths and misconceptions about what the color of Labradors represents. If you gravitate to a color that works for you, great, stick with it. If you’re considering your first Lab, decide what works for you. While you are shopping for a puppy, do your diligence in selecting a good breeder. Develop your own set of standards and expectations for what you want to get out of your dog. While color may be an important part of your narrative, it should not be the top priority. Strong genetics, good line breeding, field performance, and health clearances should take precedence over what your dog looks like.