Champagne Labrador | A Guide to This Unique Breed
Champagne Labs are a color variation that has been very popular among buyers of Labrador Retrievers in the last decade. The Champagne color is one of three different “silver” variations of coat that also include Silver Labs and Charcoal Labs.
These coats are relatively new on the scene for the breed. They all share a common trait: a slightly metallic sheen to the coat that adds a special glow and luster to the look of the dog.
This article will explore what causes of these unique Labrador colorings, a look at the controversy surrounding them, and some words to the wise if you are considering purchasing a champagne coloured Labrador.
What Causes The Champagne Lab Color?
Coat color in canines is controlled by genes. In the case of the Labrador Retriever, the particular location of the genes most involved in colors are the B and E locations.
Genes are actually made from a pair of alleles, one allele passed from each parent. Each gene location has an associated dominant and recessive allele. The dominant is expressed by a capital letter, the recessive by a lower-case letter.
Let’s look first at the B location. If the puppy has a Bb gene, then they will be black, because B is a black allele and it is dominant. It would take a bb gene for the puppy to be chocolate, because the b allele is a recessive trait. That would mean that both the sire and the dam would have to contribute a recessive b allele on to the puppy in order for it to be a Chocolate Labrador.
Yellow labs are determined at the E location. In order for a Labrador to have a yellow coat, they have to have an ee gene at this location. Only when both of the alleles at the E locus are the recessive e allele, will the coat be yellow. When this happens, the B location is superseded by the E location, and the ee gene for yellow will determine the color.
The Champagne Labrador color variation happens at yet another gene location, known as the D location. It is also called the “dilute gene” location. Again, this gene is activated only in the presence of two recessive d alleles.
If the puppy has a recessive d allele passed on from both parents, they will have the “dilute gene” activated. The B and E locations still determine the primary color: Black, Chocolate or Yellow.
If a lab puppy is black, and has the dd gene, then they will have the color of Silver Labrador. If they are Chocolate and have the dilute gene, then they will be a Charcoal Labrador in coloration.
Finally, if and only if the puppy has a ee gene for Yellow lab AND the dd dilute gene then they will be the rare and beautiful champagne colored Labrador.
It is not clear to this day if the dilute allele d was present in Labrador Retrievers from the foundation of the breed, or if it was introduced by crossbreeding with another breed of dog.
This is the root of the controversy surrounding Champagne colored Labs. If the gene was present in the original Labrador Retrievers, it is possible that the trait remained hidden for many generations due to the fact that it requires two recessive alleles to be present at the same time, and the d allele may have been very rarely occurring.
If, on the other hand, the gene was introduced by cross breeding with another breed such as the Weimaraner (which is a dd breed) then the silver colors actually represent a breed impurity.
The Council for Purebred Labrador Retrievers, a group formed by breeders and owners of dilute Labradors including Champagne colored Labradors, argues that these colors are naturally occurring in the Labrador Retriever breed.
It should not be surprising to find a group that is made up of people that profit from the selective breeding of the silver color variations like the Champagne Labrador to be in support of these color variations.
Since the silver color labs fetch double and, in some cases, triple the price of traditional Black, Chocolate and Yellow labs, there is a strong incentive for these breeders to lobby for the acceptance of the diluted colors within the breed standard.
This organization argues that diluted color variations are known to have been present in the parent breeds of the Labrador Retriever. Further, other dog breeds with the same lineage from the St. John’s Water Dog, including Newfoundlands and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers, have long been known to have the dilute gene present.
It should be no surprise then, they argue, to find the dilute gene also present in purebred Labrador Retrievers. Champagne Labrador's are a natural color variation in the breed, according to the Council for Purebred Labrador Retrievers.
On the other hand, The Labrador Retriever Club, Inc. (LRC) has argued the opposite. It is notable that the LRC is the only organization the American Kennel Club has acknowledged as the parent club of the Labrador Retriever breed.
The LRC has been deeply involved in preserving and maintaining the standards of the Labrador Retriever breed since 1931. Their official position on champagne color as well as the other dilute colors of Labrador Retrievers is that they are NOT purebred Labrador Retrievers.
Their argument rests on the fact that the standard of Labrador Retrievers only includes Black, Chocolate and Yellow Labs, all of which are determined by the B and E gene locations. Therefore, the dilute color, responsible for the Champagne Labrador’s distinctive coloration, is an indication of crossbreeding with another breed at some point in that canine’s ancestry.
Moreover, the relatively recent appearance of the dilute colors in this old breed, which did not appear until the 1950’s, is evidence of breed tampering with other breeds. To further make their case, the LRC notes that the first Labrador retriever breeder who started regularly producing the silver colored variations was also a breeder of purebred Weimaraners, a breed in which the dd gene expression is always present and parents can ONLY pass down a d allele.
The LRC has a hardline stance: If your dog is a “silver” version of one of the standard colors, such as the Champagne color, then your dog is not a purebred Lab.
The truth is that the national kennel club standards on the Labrador Retriever have not yet converged on precisely how to deal with the sliver coat colors. There is a wide range of reception at the official level.
The American Kennel Club, for example, accepts registration of Labrador Retrievers based on lineage and conformation to the standard in other ways such as temperament and structure. They tend to see the silver color variations as falling within the three official color variations: Black, Yellow and Chocolate.
In this way, the AKC has registered silver variations in color, but only under the names of Black, Yellow and Chocolate. Champagne Labradors are variations of the Yellow Labrador and would be registered as such provided they conform to the other breed standards.
On the other hand, The National Labrador Retriever Breed Council of Australia has gone so far as to declare silver color variations, including the Champagne Labrador color variation, as a threat to the integrity of the breed. They have issued a “high alert” on silver color variations, suggesting that it can be an indication of inbreeding and other unethical breeding practices.
Champagne Labs: Are they right for you?
If you decide the controversy over sliver coated Labradors is much ado about nothing, then you may decide a champagne colored Lab is right for you. If your concerned about pedigree and registration with the AKC or other official national dog organizations, you can verify this with your breeder before buying.
Chances are that a Champagne Lab with registered parents can also be registered provided they conform to the rest of the breed standards. Likely you would register the color as Yellow.
A word of caution: Because the silver variations are in such high demand for their rarity, some breeders that specialize in producing these colors are breeding for the trait of dilute color above temperament and other standards of the breed. In some cases, they may be inbreeding irresponsibly to increase the odds of the recessive genes needed for the diluted colors.
Make sure that you do some research on your breeder, including asking for bloodlines and references from previous customers. In this way you can make sure that you are dealing with a breeder that cares about the integrity of the breed along the entire set of standards important to preserving the bloodline.
Sharon Elber (M.S. in Science & Technology) - Professional Dog Trainer
Sharon is a professional dog trainer with over 10 years experience. She is also a professional writer that received her M.S. in Science & Technology Studies from Virginia Tech.
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