The Red Labrador Controversy

The Red Labrador Controversy

Author WDF Staff


There is no better family pet than the Labrador Retriever. This is the most popular dog breed in the world for over 20 years, and they show no signs of letting that title go. However, when it comes to certain color varieties with this breed, there has been some controversy.

The red, or fox red, Labradors are considered pureblooded dogs. Still, for years, they have been looked upon with color prejudice. Unlike the silver Labrador, which is not yet confirmed as a pureblooded Lab, red Labs can be shown in conformation. Despite that, they have been unfavorable for many years. Here is what you need to know about the interesting life of fox red Labradors.

Red Lab history

The red Labrador history is the same as the history of the “standard” black Lab. Their ancestor was the St. John’s Dog, who was a superior hunting and fishing dog that helped local Newfoundland fishermen collect their gear and fish. These dogs had a soft jaw and plenty of energy to keep up with the busy fishermen.

jumping red labradorImage credit

When British nobles came to visit, they were so impressed with those dogs’ working abilities that they asked to take some with them to England. They started selectively breeding them, and they have created several varieties of the same breed. These nobles named the refined breed the Labrador Retriever, honoring their place of origin - Labrador, Canada.

The exact moment in history when the first red Labrador appeared is not entirely clear. They have always been considered rare, and there is a strong possibility that breeders and owners didn’t register them. About 150 years ago, all non-black Labradors were even discarded because their color was considered faulty. The exact fox red Labrador history will most likely remain unclear.

Dog breeders and owners have special terms to define different Labrador types. Check out this article to find out more - Why Are English Labs Popular Dogs?

Where does the color come from?

The most important thing to understand is that red Labradors are full and recognized Labrador breed members. As such, they should have equal chances of winning dog shows. However, most major cynology associations do not recognize red color in this breed; they define it as a shade of yellow.

red lab puppy on couchImage credit

It is clear to see that these are two completely different colors, and even though the kennel clubs agree on how these dogs should be registered, there are plenty of red Lab owners that dispute their rules.

Labradors are one of the best dog breeds in the world. If you want to know more about them, check out this article - Black Labrador fun facts.

Red color

Genes are responsible for all coat colors that dogs might have, and fox red color in Labradors is no different. It is a rare combination of recessive genes that define the exact shade and color these dogs will end up having. All puppies inherit their genes from both sides of the family. When the combination of specific genes comes into play, there is a possibility a red-colored puppy can appear.

three red labs runningImage credit

The pigment responsible for the red color is called pheomelanin. It is controlled by a pair of genes called A and C. Gene A controls the production of the red shade. Gene C controls whether or not the color will be diluted and more yellowish. If you are interested in a more detailed explanation, check out this great article about red Labs that explains in detail the genealogy of the red Labrador

The show ring injustice

The gorgeous red Lab experienced great injustice in the show ring. Cynology judges have not always been fair when it comes to judging these dogs, or so claim the red Lab owners. Even though these dogs can and have to be registered as yellow Labradors, they have never won a Group or Best in Show title.

The problem is that judges did not prefer red-colored Labradors, mostly because of their coats’ color. All other characteristics were the same; they had the same height, same athletic abilities, demeanor, gait, and disposition. There was no reason they couldn’t be fully competitive members of a dog show. Yet, they were disregarded continuously and scored lower than yellow, chocolate, or black Labradors.

fox red lab with toyImage credit

The exact reason for that is still unclear; maybe the judges were afraid that somehow these dogs weren’t pureblooded Labs, and they didn’t want to be “the judge” that gave top scores to a mixed breed. This is, of course, speculation, but hopefully, with the advancements in genealogy and testing, we can finally give these dogs a chance they always deserved.

If you want to know more about Labrador Retriever’s colors, check out this article - Colors of the Labrador Retriever.

Characteristics of the red Labrador

Like we already mentioned, there isn’t much difference between traditionally colored Labradors and the fox red Labs; it is only the color. However, some owners said that red Labs have more delicate noses and more energy, but that should not be taken as evidence because that can happen among other colors as well.

Physical characteristics

Red Labradors have the typical physical characteristics one might expect from them. These dogs are between 21.5 and 24.5 inches tall, and they usually weigh between 55 and 80 pounds. They have a short, double coat, only their’s is red.

red lab with lipstickImage credit

Character traits

The red Labrador is your typical Labrador; they are an energetic, playful, cheerful, affectionate, patient, and incredibly intelligent breed. There is a good reason why these dogs are employed as seeing-eye dogs, police and military dogs, emotional support dogs, and therapy dogs. They are very trainable, and they make fantastic family pets. Check out this article about Labradors and kids.

Getting a fox red Labrador puppy

Getting your hands on one of these dogs will be tricky. They are still very rare, and most breeders don’t like to breed this color because it is not favorable in the show ring. If it is not favorable, they cannot compete and get the confirmation that this is a top breeding dog. If you are interested in a fox red Labrador puppy, be prepared to wait. There are some breeders, but they have long waiting lists.

The other thing you need to be prepared for is the price. Red Labrador puppies cost on average $2.000 - $4.000. Top working lines can go for a lot more, and professionally trained service dogs can go for more than $20.000.

Want to read more about the Labrador breed? Check out the full Labrador Retriever breed profile.

Cover image credit

World Dog Finder team

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