(Photo Credit: Amanda Roever)
With so many beautiful Labrador Retrievers in the world, how do you know which color Lab to choose?
There are three main colors of Labradors accepted by breeders, trainers, and the American Kennel Club: black, yellow, and chocolate.
Is there one color that’s smarter, easier, or healthier than the others?
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What color Labrador is best?
There isn’t one particular Lab color that is best, though there certainly are strong beliefs about and differences among all three colors. There are traits of each Lab color that are slightly different, so you may have a preference for a particular color based on health issues or other factors.
You should choose the color you want based on breeding characteristics and personal preference, remembering that temperament and health are everything.
Let’s go over this in more detail.
(Getting a new Labrador puppy? Make sure you check out our 6 Puppy Must-Haves before you bring your new baby home!)
The Three Main Colors of Labradors (And Other Sub-Colors)
The three recognized main breed colors of Labrador Retrievers as dictated by the Labrador Retriever Club and the American Kennel Club in the US are black, yellow, and chocolate.
There are several other colors of Labradors you may also see mentioned by breeders, trainers, owners, and in online communities as well.
Beautiful colors you might hear of including Fox Red, white, English cream, and Dudley Labs are all a form of yellow Labrador.
Silver Labs and charcoal Labs fall under the category of chocolate Labrador and black Labrador, respectively.
The breed standard as set by the AKC only allows for solid color dogs with a permitted small white patch on the chest, without spotting in other areas or mixing of colors.
Labrador owners can be passionate about their dogs, and some definitely have a color preference and strong beliefs about the personalities of the dog that are based on these three main colors.
To help you decide what color Labrador is best for you, we’ll cover some of the common beliefs about each color Lab, and the reputations that can sometimes come along with them.
Beliefs About Black Labs
Black Labradors are the most popular color of Lab. They are typically solid black with no other colors, markings, or spots, with the exception of an allowed small white patch on the chest.
The black color in Labs is the dominant color gene and you’re more likely to see black Labs as a result of this.
Historically, black Labs were the most commonly bred and most often seen, and frequently in dog shows, field championships, and hunting you’ll still see most often the black color dogs represented. Black Labradors are also commonly seen as service dogs.
Because they are the dominant color, black Labs are easier to find and breed. This may result in many of the positive breed traits being bred for and passed down, such as mellow temperament, intelligence, and excellent field retrieval performance.
For example, if you are a breeder wanting to breed your black Lab, you may have many more choices of a partner dog than a breeder of other color Labs, who may have fewer selections of a mate.
This can mean that black Lab breeders historically have had more selection in breeding out unwanted traits and being able to be more selective about the positive traits they are breeding for, which could result in fewer health issues and better behavior traits.
Black Labs have the standard life expectancy for Labradors of around 11-14 years.
This ability to be more selective in breeding could result in better dogs with better overall health. Still, much of this depends on the actual breeder you are using and the health and characteristics of their individual dogs.
Beliefs About Yellow Labs
Yellow Labs are the second most common color of Labrador Retrievers. They can vary in depth of color most of any of the three main Labrador colors.
You may see yellow Labs that range from very pale or light white in color all the way to darker reddish and tan-toned colors. Sometimes these color shades are referred to by names such as Fox Red or English Cream Labradors.
You might also see a special type of yellow Labrador called the Dudley Lab, which lacks dark pigmentation around the gums, eyelids, and nose. You’ll find those areas on a Dudley Lab pink instead of the typical dark brown or black.
Yellow Labs have a reputation for being playful, friendly, and sociable. You most often see them in work as service dogs and emotional support dogs.
Yellow Labs also have the same expected lifespan as black Labs, which can be around 11-14 years. Of course, much of a dog’s health is dependent upon its breeding and parental history.
Beliefs About Chocolate Labs
Ahh, the chocolates. Their beautiful, glossy coats typically range only slightly between milk chocolate and dark chocolate colors.
Chocolate Labs are the least common main color of Labrador Retriever, and the hardest to breed for. They have a reputation (not always deserved) of being the most rambunctious, hyper, and extremely energetic Lab.
At a vet’s office once with our extremely friendly chocolate Lab, we were chatting with another Lab owner, who laughed and said, “You know, the chocolates are the craziest!”
Yes, we’ve heard all the stories, and their reputation in the Lab world is definitely known. However, we’ve had chocolate Labs that were more mellow, calm, and easier to train than Labradors of other colors.
In an Australian study of Labradors published in the journal of Canine Genetics and Epidemiology, researchers found no evidence that chocolate-colored Labs were more aggressive or hyperactive than black or yellow Labs.
As for field hunting, we’ve had chocolate Labs so well trained in upland game and waterfowl retrieving that other hunters have offered us money on the spot to buy our dogs (and we’ve refused).
It’s not the color that determines the proficiency in hunting, it’s the training.
There are some health differences with chocolate Labs that you should be aware of though, if you’re considering one.
Because they are the rarest main color and are harder to breed for, chocolate Labs have a shorter than average Lab lifespan of 10.7 years and tend to have a higher prevalence of health issues, such as retinal issues, exercise-induced collapse, and severe allergies.
We always recommend you do thorough research to find an excellent and reputable Lab breeder if you’re looking to get a puppy, but this is especially important if you’re looking for a chocolate Lab.
If you’re adopting a rescue chocolate Lab, ask as many questions as you can about the health history of the dog, and review the rescue veterinarian’s assessment of the dog’s health status.
This is also true if you’re getting a designer mixed breed dog such as a Labradoodle which may have one parent dog as a chocolate Lab.
How Breeding & Temperament Influence Your Decision
Beyond stereotypes of Labradors by color, which may or may not be true for your next dog, there’s something more critical to consider.
You can’t generalize a dog based solely on its color, but you can look at its breeding lineage and parental history, as well as some environmental factors contributing.
A far more important factor than color in determining your dog’s individual personality and temperament is breeding and inherited traits of the parent dogs.
You can have a mellow black, yellow, or chocolate Lab, or you can have an extremely energetic, hyper, and hard to manage version of all three. This is true for the subset colors as well.
Our experience has been that it’s the breeding and temperament that dictate your dog’s personality and ease of ownership, not the color!
Make sure you ask the breeder about what personality traits the puppies of previous litters (from the same parent dogs) have demonstrated. As about health issues and behavior traits of the mother and father dogs.
If personality and temperament are important to you, ask the breeder if you can speak with any of the owners of puppies from prior litters to get a feel for what their dogs’ personalities are like as they grow up. It won’t guarantee you’ll get exactly the same personality, but it can be a strong indicator.
You need to make sure your breeder has tested for health issues in the parent dogs and given you health certifications through a veterinarian.
For more information about what to ask a breeder when you’re trying to choose the best puppy, read our Breeder Guide to find out everything you need to know.
Summary – What Color Labrador Is Best?
All Labrador Retrievers are wonderful dogs, and there isn’t one color Labrador that’s better than any of the others. The best thing to consider is what color is your personal preference, and what personality traits are the best match for you?
Take into consideration that stereotypes about Labradors by their color don’t always hold up to be true, and that inherited traits such as temperament and personality passed down through breeding are more likely to affect your life with your Lab than color will.
Pay attention to certain health issues that are documented to be more prevalent in chocolate Labs, however.
Choose the color Labrador you love and do thorough research on a breeder or rescue to find the temperament and personality of the dog that’s the best match overall. It’s the best way to lead to happiness and success for you and your next dog.
Dogs have 19000 genes and one (E locus) determines yellow vs black and one (B locus) determines chocolate versus black, and neither have anything whatsoever to do with behavior of any kind.
If you found a tiny populations of labs on an isolated island and they were black and tan, I suppose you could speculate sensibly that the a^t gene was correlated with behaviors, but in a giant population of dogs in an ocean of genes, any speculation that color is correlated with anything (other than the capacity to absorb/reflect sun) is truly silly. Fun maybe, but not to be taken seriously.
Wow, reading these stories makes me wonder how we were so unfortunate. Our 1 st yellow lab died at 8 years from liver disease. Our 2 nd chocolate lab died at 7 years from osteosarcoma. We got them from different breeders thinking they were the best and healthier. Broke our hearts to lose them. We did everything possible to extend their lives and still lost them.
That’s so sad to hear! Sometimes even doing all the right things can’t prevent tragedy. At times, even puppies from the same litter will have dramatically different health outcomes, it’s so hard!
We’re sorry to hear about the heartbreak of losing your Labs.
We rescued our Chocolate Lab and he is currently 15.5 years old. He had cancer about seven years ago but had no problem recovering after two operations. He has been cancer free since. He doesn’t do steps well anymore but still acts like a puppy when treats are involved.
Sounds like a wonderful Labrador!
I also had a beautiful chocolate lab who I never took him to the vet for more then his shots and heart worm he was healthy until he was 13 years old it seems that more of the chocolate labs live longer then they are saying .
I guess they need to update their information I have read a lot about the Labrador breed I have had 2 of every color of the lab over the years and I would not have another breed I also have the English lab so they are bigger and stocky breed with a large head and just wonderful dogs.
Your chocolate Lab sounds wonderful! And we completely agree that Labs are the very best dogs!
I had a chocolate lab that lived 14 years. Sweetest, kindest dog I ever owned. Other than stealing food off the counter at times, she was perfect! We recently adopted a chocolate lab and she doing wonderful.
We’ve had many of the counter-surfing variety ourselves! Happy to hear you’ve adopted a new friend!
I had a male chocolate Labrador for 17 1/2 year i have been told thats a great age for the breed what does other people think
That’s amazing! The typical lifespan of a chocolate Labrador is 10.8 years, so your Lab’s extra-long life is something special!
That’s awesome! Our chocolate got sick and the vet didn’t give us much hope at about 10-11. Well we took him home and treated him like a king and he loved another 2-3 years!
Every Labrador should be so well-loved! Glad you were able to enjoy extra time with your wonderful boy.
I had a chocolate male he died at 13 years old from cancer he was mild and so loving and very protective he potty trained in full in three weeks and never had an accident I miss him and miss having a lab at this time I am retired so I could use one now
He sounded like an amazing chocolate Lab!