Welcome to your guide to the chocolate Labrador!
Trying to decide what kind of Labrador to bring home?
Chocolate Labs are simply Labrador Retrievers of a specific color.
For general information about the breed, visit our Labrador Retrievers article.
We’re going to offer an honest look at the features and health of this popular dog.
Where do chocolate labradors come from?
So let’s start out by looking at the origins of the Labrador Retriever.
And that lovely brown color that makes chocolate Labs so appealing.
Labrador Retriever history goes back to the early 1800s. Starting in England, they travelled across the world to Newfoundland.
And eventually back to England again!
Chocolate Labradors were Fisherman’s friends
Labradors worked with fishermen in harsh conditions in Newfoundland.
Swimming in freezing water, and retrieving nets and even fish.
Later they became hunting companions and retrieved ducks for their owners.
Brown was not fashionable
Scottish aristocrats took the Labrador back to the UK, but at this point they were nearly always black
The brown coat was at first considered to be a flaw!
Chocolate Labs were once called Liver Labs
Did you know that once people decided they quite liked the chocolate coat, they didn’t call it chocolate?
Brown Labs were called Liver Labs until the second half of the twentieth century
Becoming family pets
Labs were recognized by The Kennel Club in England in 1903, followed by the American Kennel Club in 1917.
Labs became America’s favorite breed in 1991 and continue to be the most popular dog breed in the U.S.A.
Thanks to their friendly and active nature.
There are three colors that naturally shows up in litters of Labrador puppies.
Yellow and brown coats are also common.
How dark should a chocolate Lab be?
The brown coat doesn’t vary that much. Most chocolate Labs are fairly similar in color.
However, there are differences in shade – light to dark.
This can be based upon the age of the coat – if it’s newly grown, it’ll be darker.
When did chocolate Labs become popular?
Back in the day, brown wasn’t a very desirable color for Labs.
Everyone wanted black Labs.
In the 1920s and 1930s, brown, or liver Labradors, started to appear more often.
But it wasn’t until about the 1960s that brown Labs really became popular.
Thanks in part to an English chocolate Lab named Cookridge Tango.
Today, though, chocolate Labs are often desired by dog owners, and their future looks bright.
The Genetics of the Chocolate Lab Coat
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Let’s dig into the alphabet for a moment
Bee genes make a black or brown dog
In Labradors, black is the dominant coat color, with its allele (gene variant) represented by a large B.
Brown is actually the recessive coat color, with an allele represented by a small b.
Big B over-rides little b whenever it occurs
So a dog with BB genes or Bb genes will be black.
A dog with bb genes will be brown.
But things are never that simple!
There are e alleles as well.
The yellow color of Labradors is actually determined by another gene, represented by an e.
Ee genes give us lots of yummy shades of yellow
The e genes can actually “switch off” the effects of the B and b genes and cause that yellow color.
This effect is called epistasis.
Epi what did you say??
Epistasis simply means that genes at two different locations are interacting to affect a single trait – in this case, color.
Big E, the dominant e allele, doesn’t interfere with the Bb genes at all.
It actually nullifies the effect of a small e gene.
But little e, which is recessive, can actually mask the Bb genes if both parents pass the small e down.
So, if a small e gene is present, and no big E gene is present, you get a yellow dog.
A brown Lab may have a genotype, or appearance due to genetics, expressed as bbE_, bbEE, or bbEe.
Confused about color?
Well, it’s quite complicated isn’t it?
As you can see, it’s hard to know what color a Labrador’s puppies will be unless you know the exact genotype of the parent.
Chocolate Labrador puppies can come from black or chocolate parents.
However, two yellow Labradors will never have brown or black puppies.
They do not have the big E genes that will “switch on” the masking effect.
And chocolate Labs bred together won’t have black puppies because they don’t have any B (black) genes.
Great. Let’s talk about how the color affects personality.
Chocolate Lab Temperament and Training
Labradors are really popular for a reason.
They’re known to be friendly, high-spirited, and good with people as well as other animals.
Labs are generally easygoing, affectionate, and companionable.
They have plenty of energy, so they can do many activities with their humans.
But how about the chocolate Labrador temperament and personality?
Are these good Labradors to have as pets?
Personality is affected both by genetics and environment.
But does the coat color of Labradors affect it?
Actually, there is a link!
A study from 2014 showed that chocolate Labs were more excitable than black Labs, and they fetched less.
Additionally, brown Labs were more agitated when they were ignored, and had some separation anxiety.
They also showed less fear of noise.
Chocolate Lab behavior included lower trainability and more unusual behavior than black or yellow Labs.
However, all these aspects are affected to a degree by other elements.
Including whether they were kept outdoors, their level of exercise, their gender, their working status.
And even their health and age.
Exercise has been shown to alleviate separation anxiety, for example.
Additionally, you’ll see differences in individuals.
So chocolate Lab training for your own dog may be just as easy as for a particular yellow Lab.
Either because of those other elements, or due to particularities in their genetic lines.
And, just so you know, there’s no real reason right now to believe these traits are linked specifically to coat color genes.
The more likely scenario is that traits were selected out by breeding for the chocolate color.
You see, chocolate Labs tend to be bred for show, as compared to dogs who were trained for the field.
So, let’s look into that aspect.
Breeding Lines of the Chocolate Labrador
When the first dog shows were starting to take place, Labradors were just beginning to become popular as pets.
As a result, the evolution of the Lab diverged.
Some were bred as working dogs for the field, and others were bred for their conformation.
The two types began becoming more distinct.
Field labs are fast and focused
Labs bred for the field became faster and more focused.
Show-bred Labs became heavier and stockier, with shorter legs.
In the U.S. we know the show-type as English, and the field-type as American.
That doesn’t mean an English Lab can’t fetch birds, and an American-type can’t be shown, of course.
They’re both sweet and eager to please, and have more similarities than differences.
Chocolate Labs are often from show or pet lines
Now, here’s where the chocolate Lab comes in.
It just so happens that many chocolate Labs are from show-bred lines – these are American chocolate Labs.
This is probably a coincidence.
But the fact that black dogs are more desirable for field work in certain areas (like the U.K.) may have played a role.
So people tend to associate show traits with the chocolate Labrador Retriever traits, versus the field line.
English Chocolate Labs do exist, though, and they’re also popular today.
Health Problems of the Chocolate Lab
Labradors of every color suffer from a variety of genetic disorders that can be passed down.
That’s why it is so important, when buying chocolate Lab puppies, to ensure the parents have documented proof of health testing.
As always, the health of your dog often depends on other factors you can control, such as exercise, environment, and diet.
- For the best food for chocolate Lab puppies, visit our article on the topic here.
- For the best food for adult chocolate Labs, visit our article here.
Luckily though, Labradors are generally healthy dogs, and you can expect them to live 10-12 years.
Adult chocolate Labs are generally 21-24.5 inches in height and weigh 55-80 lbs.
Watch the weight! Labs are prone to obesity and the problems that stem from obesity.
Chocolate Labs, like other Labs, may suffer from hip and elbow dysplasia, which are developmental abnormalities in the joints.
They are also more prone than other breeds to certain vision problems, such as progressive renal atrophy.
Labs can be affected by cancer, such as lymphoma.
Additionally, they may experience other inherited conditions.
Such as exercise-induced collapse, centronuclear myopathy, atopic dermatitis, and idiopathic epilepsy.
Please have your dog health tested for vision issues and dysplasia.
Chocolate Lab Facts
Chocolate Labs are popular for many reasons.
These dogs, whether show-bred or field-tested, are beautiful and sweet Labs with a genetic makeup that’s totally fascinating.
They have some physical issues you should watch for but are overall healthy.
Meet their needs with the proper diet and care, and you’ll have no complaints about behavior, either.
Do you have a chocolate Lab? What’s yours like? Let us know in the comments.
Resources and Further Reading
- American Kennel Club, Labrador Retrievers.
- The Labrador Retriever Club, Breed Standard.
- The Labrador Retriever Club, Research Programs.
- Cornell University Department of Animal Science, Basic Animal Genetics.
- Leighton, E. A. (1997). Genetics of canine hip dysplasia. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.
- Lofgren, S. E. et al (2014). Management and personality in Labrador Retriever dogs. Applied Animal Behavior Science.
- Templeton, J. W. et al (1977). Coat color genetics in the Labrador retriever. Journal of Heredity.